Red Cross blog: A life-long learner, profile of Stan Brasch

What makes any of us become an American Red Cross volunteer? Does it happen because of a change in our life circumstances, or because of a particular crisis or other event?

Stan Brasch recalls the moment it began for him: it was about three years ago when he retired from federal government service. He had returned to St. Louis after many years in Kansas City where he served with the Kansas National Guard and later the U.S. Army Reserves for a total of over 30 years.

“I wanted to help with the disaster recovery efforts,” he said. Brasch had already had extensive training for the U.S. Department of Transportation in delivering their own rapid response to emergencies.

You can read more about Stan on the Red Cross blog here.

FIR B2B podcast episode #138: Keeping it real

COVID has given new meaning to the value of authenticity. Paul Gillin and I riff on a few examples:

Marketing Week speaks to Salesforce.com’s CMO and what B2B can learn from B2C marketing. One thing is to keep it personal by forgetting about stock photos and telling personal stories. This helps to build trust and deliver better customer relationships. Of course, it helps to have a charismatic and opinionated CEO like Marc Benioff around to inspire the team.

Sprout Social’s Alicia Johnston writes about how to inspire action with your LinkedIn presence. Rather than making your vendor page a promotional smarmy read, take the time to be more aspirational and educational. This can help provide insights and make connections with your community. The piece also discusses ways to experiment to find your best corporate voice and how to time your posts for maximum impact.

Social media influencers are raking in the big bucks, and we think it’s because they build, rather than buy their audiences. But marketers and influencers alike need to keep in mind that paid relationships need to be disclosed, and penalties for failing to do so will grow along with paychecks. But we like this more toward promotion through authentic channels.

Our IT journalist colleague Sally Grotta writes that personal interruptions that once would have been inappropriate are now not just accepted as part of the online conference experience. The interruptions by kids, animals and delivery people make our interactions less formal and more real. Musicians have led the way, with many famous performers inviting us into their living rooms for concerts that seem so much more intimate than when given in a performance hall.

You can listen to our podcast here.

FIR B2B Podcast #137: Invoca CMO Dee Anna McPherson on Building Strong Customer Advocacy Programs

We talk today with Dee Anna McPherson, the CMO at Invoca, an AI call tracking and conversational analytics vendor. That is a mouthful and one of the things she is doing is trying to define and own a new product category. That could be a daunting prospect, except she has done this before when she worked at Yammer (before they were engulfed by Microsoft) and then at Hootsuite. When Yammer began, no one had heard about microblogging, as it was called then. McPherson managed to define “enterprise social networking” as Yammer’s category and the company was off to the races from there. With working from home now the norm, that kind of technology has become the de factor standard for communications among remote team members.

Paul wrote about Invoca last year for Silicon Angle on how they use machine learning to transcribe and classify calls.

McPherson tell us about the importance of customer communication in building strong customer advocacy programs. You need to figure out a way to tell their stories without using the words “customer case study” or “reference account.” Customers really do want to help as long as they aren’t seen as shilling, she believes.  This is a topic we’ve touched on before, such as FIR B2B #118’s discussion about how customers should be your best advocates as well as Paul’s written work on social media marketing. We close out the podcast talking about how things have changed for marketers in the pandemic, how customer supply chains are evolving and how marketers can benefit from this transition.

Listen to our podcast here:

FIR B2B podcast #136: The best and worst Covid-related pitches

Is your inbox overflowing with a virus? Sadly, it isn’t ordinary phishing or malware, but all COVID, all the time, with pitches and experts offered from all walks of life. It isn’t just the infosec vendors either. Paul and I have gotten pitches from genealogy vendors, from vendor selling ink cartridges and those who want to help us build a sales team working from home.

They have plenty of competition. Bad guys have come up with all kinds of scams and ploys preying on interest in information and remedies. Scammers cumulatively  created over 35,500 unique websites related to COVID-19 in the last month according to Atlas VPN research, Some of these sites tried to swindle money by selling masks, hand sanitizers, or even virus testing kits. Amazon removed over 530,000 coronavirus-related product listings due to price-gouging.

All this means communicators need to be judicious about what you are pitching. In this podcast, we look at the best and worst examples that we’ve seen cross our inboxes. For example, we both liked this piece that ran in a local St. Louis magazine. It looked into the role two local university medical research teams – one at Washington University and one at St. Louis University – were contributing to COVID research work. David’s wife is an interior designer, and she has gotten her share of coronavirus-related pitches too. One  pitch is for a bunch of expert tips on organizing your home while sheltering in place. We both liked the practicality of the piece and how it offers some solid suggestions that anyone can use to straighten up while living in isolation. .

The email at left had a subject line “building your sales team for a post-Covid recovery.” That struck us both as opportunistic and being somewhat tone-deaf to the worldwide misery we’ve all been seeing.

Then there is the pitch from Dell below right that is trying to sell printer ink cartridges, with the subject line “working from home made easy.” Needlessly exploitative. It has nothing to do with simplifying work from home.

Finally is the personalized pitch. If you are going to go make a pitch related to an epic tragedy, don’t start with “Happy Wednesday.” It just comes across as unseemly.

So what are some lessons that we learned? First sharpen your pitch and and make it as relevant to your business as possible. Don’t make a reporter have to search for an angle. And it doesn’t hurt to ask a reporter what articles they are working on and offer to help.

Listen to our 19 min. podcast below.

Beating the odds: how STEM women succeed

{:name}I recently read Kelly Simmons and Patty Rowland Burke’s Beating the Odds: Winning Strategies of Women in STEM. I have known Patty for decades, first meeting her when she worked at Regis McKenna back in the go-go days when PCs were first coming into businesses. They have written a business book for everyone, especially those men that have filled tech companies with their toxic “good ole boy” bro culture. It takes the unusual approach of talking to several dozen women who have succeeded in STEM careers and studied the common elements of why they have done well while others have failed. Spoiler alert: it mostly isn’t their fault, and the hard part will be fighting this culture to affect real change.

Many younger people, both women and men, don’t remember how bad things were in the 1980s and 1990s, when corporate events included pretty raunchy moments. (I will spare you the details, but you can probably imagine.) Unfortunately, we haven’t really progressed much from these days. I remember when I was in engineering school in the 1970s, having a woman in any of my classes was a rarity. Having more than one per class didn’t happen. Sadly, while there are more women in STEM now, it still isn’t anywhere near where it could be. And where it should be.

One tech CEO — presumably male — told a female engineering manager this: “every company needs someone who is the API between the business and the technical. That’s really hard to find, and not often valued in Silicon Valley.” That is a good point, and I have often found myself in this API role in many of my writing and consulting efforts.

“One woman jokingly described the anxiety she felt in the workplace as ‘like being Jamie Lee Curtis in a Halloween movie, you never know when the guy in the mask with the knife will show up.”

Granted, many women appear at first glance to be less technical and suffer from impostor syndrome. This is usually defined at paranoia that you are a fraud and don’t deserve to be in a position or credited any of your accomplishments. But this isn’t exclusive to women. When I took my first job as the Editor-in-chief at CMP to start Network Computing magazine, I suffered from impostor syndrome myself. I had never started a publication, never held the EIC position, and hadn’t hired many staffers or even knew how to produce a publication. Fortunately, I had a great set of mentors at CMP to help me learn these things and the magazine is still around today, albeit in an online format. I went on to run several other publications as a result of this training.

This reminds me of another Jamie Lee Curtis movie — True Lies — where she doesn’t have impostor syndrome but manages to save the day and win Arnold back (who plays her spying, lying husband). Anyway, back to the book.

It dives into a very important area that I haven’t seen much of in other business books. “We have learned what makes successful women tick, why some of them persevere to lead major technical organizations and teams, and why others drop out in frustration. A senior technical women should not be an astonishing exception.”

The book is also filled with plenty of suggestions to help technical women succeed. One important aspect is to develop male allies and role models. The lack of these prevents many women from pursuing STEM careers. These include men who aren’t enlisted in the “boys club” network and  can support technical women in the company. This can also counter the feelings of aloneness and feeling of “otherness” that can cause frustration and lead many women to resign their positions.

Another helpful idea is to set up a form of reverse mentoring, where younger women are mentors to senior managers to help them better understand their experience and points of view. This is particularly helpful to root out work processes and routines that were designed for all-male environments, and have become so embedded in tech companies. Just search for Uber’s early history if you need further convincing.

So read this book. Send a copy to your manager, and make him read it as well. Only by changing one dinosaur at a time can we evolve as a species. And perhaps be more inclusive to not just women but other under-represented people in STEM too.

FIR B2B podcast #135: TIPS FOR TRANSITIONING TO A HOME-BASED WORKFORCE

As the coronavirus spreads throughout the world, businesses are being faced with setting up policies and procedures to enable everyone to work from home (WFH). Doing this presents several challenges, some of them brought on by new demands on your IT department and some by demands of a new way of working that you may not have anticipated. A good reference point for the complexities involved is this Twitter thread about what Slack did to move to 100% WFH model. In this podcast, Paul and I draw upon their own decades-long experience as sole business owners. Among our advice:

  1. Think about printing, email and sharing files and the IT services that will be needed to support that activity. Be careful about SaaS services such as Dropbox; if users aren’t trained property they could expose your corporate data unintentionally.
  2. Make sure your infosec is up to par. A VPN isn’t just the only thing you need to worry about it. Is your home router secured with an appropriate password? Do you encrypt your network traffic across the Internet? Has your laptop been screened for malware? These and other questions need to be addressed before rolling out any work-from-home solution.
  3. Does your staff have the right tools? Just because everyone has a laptop doesn’t mean anything, particularly they’re used to having multiple monitors and great audio/video gear. You may have to purchase additional accessories to make your staff productive.
  4. Make sure your staff has a separate workspace that is isolated from the rest of the house. You want to minimize distractions and unplanned family “visits” during the workday.
  5. Get a good mic (I use the Blue Snowball, Paul uses a Logitech wireless). You should be able to get something decent for $50-$100.
  6. Standardize on a video conferencing supplier (we both like Zoom at the moment, although there are privacy issues you might want to consider) and make sure all your gear provides solid audio quality when you use it.
  7. Make sure your home bandwidth is sufficient. Pay attention to upload speeds, because these can impact your latency and video quality.
  8. Learn new video conferencing etiquette, review our previous podcast on some of our tips here.
  9. Set up a shared scheduling tool for everyone to use and standardize on a corporate instant messaging tool, too.

Listen to our 15 min. podcast now:

So you wanna buy a used IP address block?

For the past 27 years, I have owned a class C block of IPv4 addresses. I don’t recall what prompted me back then to apply to Jon Postel for my block: I didn’t really have any way to run a network online, and back then the Internet was just catching on. Postel had the unique position to personally attend to the care and growth of the Internet.

Earlier this year I got a call from the editor of the Internet Protocol Journal asking me to write about the used address marketplace, and I remembered that I still owned this block. Not only would he pay me to write the article, but I could make some quick cash by selling my block.

It was a good block, perhaps a perfect block: in all the time that I owned it, I had never set up any computers using any of the 256 IP addresses associated with it. In used car terms, it was in mint condition. Virgin cyberspace territory. So began my journey into the used marketplace that began just before the start of the new year.

If you want to know more about the historical context about how addresses were assigned back in those early days and how they are done today, you’ll have to wait for my article to come out. If you don’t understand the difference between IPv4 and IPv6, you probably just want to skip this column. But for those of you that want to know more, let me give you a couple of pointers, just in case you want to do this yourself or for your company. Beware that it isn’t easy or quick money by any means. It will take a lot of work and a lot of your time.

First you will want to acquaint yourself with getting your ownership documents in order. In my case, I was fortunate that I had old corporate tax returns that documented that I owned the business that was on the ownership records since the 1990s. It also helped that I was the same person that was communicating with the regional Internet registry ARIN that was responsible for the block now. Then I had to transfer the ownership to my current corporation (yes, you have to be a business and fortunately for me I have had my own sub-S corps to handle this) before I could then sell the block to any potential buyer or renter. This was a very cumbersome process, and I get why: ARIN wants to ensure that I am not some address scammer, and that they are selling legitimate goods. But during the entire process my existing point of contact on my block, someone who wasn’t ever part of my business yet listed on my record from the 1990s, was never contacted about his legitimacy. I found that curious.

That brings up my next point which is whether to rent or to sell a block outright. It isn’t like deciding on a buying or leasing a car. In that marketplace, there are some generally accepted guidelines as to which way to go. But in the used IP address marketplace, you are pretty much on your own. If you are a buyer, how long do you need the new block – days, months, or forever? Can you migrate your legacy equipment to use IPv6 addresses eventually (in which cases you probably won’t need the used v4 addresses very long) or do you have legacy equipment that has to remain running on IPv4 for the foreseeable future?

If you want to dispose of a block that you own, do you want to make some cash for this year’s balance sheet, or are you looking for a steady income stream for the future? What makes this complicated is trying to have a discussion with your CFO how this will work, and I doubt that many CFOs understand the various subtleties about IP address assignments. So be prepared for a lot of education here.

Part of the choice of whether to rent or buy should be based on the size of the block involved. Some brokers specialize in larger blocks, some won’t sell or lease anything less than a /24 for example. “If you are selling a large block (say a /16 or larger) you would need to use a broker who can be an effective intermediary with the larger buyers,” said Geoff Huston, who has written extensively on the used IP address marketplace.

Why use a broker? When you think about this, it makes sense. I mean, I have bought and sold many houses — all of which were done with real estate brokers. You want someone that both buyer and seller can trust, that can referee and resolve issues, and (eventually) close the deal. Having this mediator can also help in the escrow of funds while the transfer is completed — like a title company. Also the broker can work with the regional registry staff and help prepare all the supporting ownership documentation. They do charge a commission, which can vary from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the size of the block and other circumstances. One big difference between IP address and real estate brokers is that you don’t know what the fees are before you select the broker – which prevents you from shopping based on price.

So now I had to find an address broker. ARIN has this list of brokers who have registered with them. They show 29 different brokers, along with contact names and phone numbers and the date that the broker registered with ARIN. Note this is not their recommendation for the reputation of any of these businesses. There is no vetting of whether they are still in business, or whether they are conducting themselves in any honorable fashion. As the old saying goes, on the Internet, no one knows if you could become a dog.

Vetting a broker could easily be the subject of another column (and indeed, I take some effort in my upcoming article for IPJ to go into these details). The problem is that there are no rules, no overall supervision and no general agreement on what constitutes block quality or condition. IPv4MarketGroup has a list of questions to ask a potential broker, including if they will only represent one side of the transaction (most handle both buyer and seller) and if they have appropriate legal and insurance coverage. I found that a useful starting point.

I picked Hilco’s IPv4.Global brokerage to sell my block. They came recommended and I liked that they listed all their auctions right from their home page, so you could spot pricing trends easily. For example, last month other /24 blocks were selling for $20-24 per IP address. Rental prices varied from 20 cents to US$1.20 per month per address, which means at best a two-year payback when rentals are compared to sales and at worst a ten-year payback. I decided to sell my block at $23 per address: I wanted the cash and didn’t like the idea of being a landlord of my block any more than I liked being a physical landlord of an apartment that I once owned. It took several weeks to sell my block and about ten weeks overall from when I first began the process to when I finally got the funds wired to my bank account from the sale.

If all that seems like a lot of work to you, then perhaps you just want to steer clear of the used marketplace for now. But if you like the challenge of doing the research, you could be a hero at your company for taking this task on.

FIR B2B podcast episode #134: Fred Bateman on the evolving role of PR in a fragmented media world

Fred Bateman has been around the tech world as long as Pual Gillin and I have: At the dawn of the PC era he worked for various PR firms and then founded the Bateman Group, which grew to 90 staffers doing tech-focused PR and content marketing. Fred recently announced that he will sell his majority ownership to his three co-owners, who have re-branded the company as Mission North. He plans to partner with nonprofits to teach disenfranchised groups of people the business, writing and communications skills required for a successful career in tech-focused PR.

Paul and I spoke with Fred about how far the PR profession has come sine the dawn of the Internet era, how PR and content marketing people need to work hand-in-hand and how branded news sites such as Adobe’s CMO.com have created new avenues of influence for marketing organizations. Fred also reflects on the skills that distinguish the best PR pros he’s worked with from all the other and the complex role of influencers in today’s media landscape. You can listen to our 20-minute discussion here:

FIR B2B podcast #133: How to Construct a Compelling Case Study

This week we discuss case studies — both ones Paul Gillin and I have written and others we like. The best case studies are really about the storytelling, having a solid narrative arc with a beginning, a resolution and a moral. They bring to life a hero – or in some cases an anti-hero – and describe the drama that led up to a crisis point and how the situation was resolved. The best ones are simple, don’t burden the reader with needless details and have a news hook that makes them compelling during the time surrounding their online posting.

My own story about the Avast CISO Jaya Baloo, who faced a security breach on her first day on the job, was instructive at showing the conflicts over how to respond to a breach and how to rally her staff to fix the problem, but it also provided insight into her personality and her leadership strengths. Paul’s story about the rise of Domino’s Pizza from whipping post to Wall Street darling starts out by describing customers who described Domino’s’ product as tasting like cardboard. It’s an unusual way to start a story but a nice narrative for a turnaround. The chain took control over its digital technologies and saw a 50-fold increase in its stock price as a result.

Sometimes stories – like Paul’s piece on J.C. Penney’s attempted turnaround – don’t bear the test of time. While Penney’s tried to restart its brand with members of a team that led the successful digital transformation at Home Depot, the story shows that sometimes hope is not the best marketing strategy.

And sometimes stories have anti-heroes at their core, as this piece that Kaspersky ran last year about the increase in the number of cities that have suffered ransomware attacks. It drew our attention as a reminder of how devastating these attacks have been, and why they continue to be attractive to hackers, using storytelling as a hook.

Finally, case studies can have a visual element, as this piece on rebranding cranberries for the millennial generation did. The folks behind marketing this seasonal fruit used the fascination that millennials have with taking pictures of their food to put together a nice social media campaign last Thanksgiving that moved what many consider a boring traditional dish into the spotlight.

Listen to our 12 min. podcast here.

FIR B2B podcast #132: Worst PR Nightmares of 2019

This week we take a moment to reflect on the past year’s major PR blunders. Thanks to the folks at Crain’s Chicago Business, we have five doozies to relive with you. They run the gamut from Hallmark’s lesbian bridal spot to Sallie Mae’s Hawaiian junket to the various missteps of Boeing’s now ex-CEO.  All have a few things in common:

  • The companies were culturally tone-deaf, whether to gender, racial, or other sensitive topics. Being woke isn’t just a fixed state of mind but a commitment to keep up with the cultural norms and mores and memes in this diverse world.
  • They failed to talk. The first hours after a crisis are critical and require a response — even if it is “We are working on a response and will get back to you.” Crickets will just inflame passions and create the impression that the business fails to understand its mistakes. “An organization is more likely to survive a crisis with its reputation intact if it immediately speaks for itself rather than allowing others to speculate about its motives and behavior,” Crain’s wrote.
  • They reinforced stereotypes. The Peloton ad would have worked if it had showed the woman gifting her husband, not the other way around. Why not run these ideas by impartial third parties who can identify the land mines? Hire a couple of journalists to poke holes at your message.
  • The companies waffled in response. Hallmark first pulled then reinstated its bridal TV spot. The ad was bold and progressive. Why not stand your ground instead of yielding to criticism that you know is coming?
  • Don’t be Facebook. We have beaten up repeatedly on the social network over the past year (#117 on alternatives  and #102 on how to fix some of their most egregious flaws).  Crain’s gives Facebook a dishonorable mention for stating that it won’t vet political campaigns ads.

You can listen to our podcast here: