Tag: truth


Six clues to getting better technology press coverage

Across the pond and along the Thames, Adrian has a rant up on DailyDOOHabout the sorry state of press releases he gets all day, every day, from companies looking to get some love and attention in that blog.

He kindly mentions that when he gets press from pressDOOH, it’s actually useful and ready to go.

I am in this very weird position of being someone who develops press material for companies (among a buncha things), but also gets pretty much the same gush of PR material as DailyDOOH, as companies look to get a mention on Sixteen:Nine.

Adrian nicely covers off the formatting and ease of access issues, so I thought I would add to his rant by mentioning the other area – content quality – that plagues a lot of the press stuff that gets sent my way.

1 – Not getting to the point. In newspaper parlance, it’s called burying the lede. If I have to wade through seemingly endless blabber about “leading global provider” and “state of the art” before I finally start to build a picture of why this was sent to me, it’s either going to get ignored or – if your timing is bad and I am cranky – the press you get may not be what was hoped for, at all.

2 – Teeing up useless quotes. I completely ignore quotes that start with “We’re pleased …” or “We’re delighted/excited/thrilled/emptying our bladders …” I also ignore quotes that sound about as natural as something in the mission statement of the Maine Society of Retired Actuaries. Most press release quotes are invented, so there’s no reason why they cannot be natural sounding and enhance a story. Quotes are a great tool to reinforce the context of something, like, “In the testing we’ve done so far, this has improved performance by ….”

3 – Plenty of jargon, no context. You may have noticed a lot of Sixteen:Nine posts have some spin in them that amounts to my expressing why the people reading the thing should care. Software companies are particularly notorious for issuing releases that spew out lists of new bells and whistles and enhancements that mean something to the developers, but to few others. Too few companies issue releases that clearly state how adding this feature will reduce time or costs to do something by “X” or open up the ability to do “Y”.

4 – Lacking in credibility. It’s not a rampant problem, but there are definitely companies out there that send out stuff that either stretches the truth or carefully leaves out important details. If I don’t believe the release, I’ll tend to hit the delete button, or go the opposite way and call the company out. It usually takes very little searching to unearth the truth.

5 – Using filters and gatekeepers. If, as is too often the case, a news release doesn’t properly anticipate follow-up questions, someone should be ready on the other end of the phone or email to answer questions … within the hour of the release. If the only contact person is from a third party public relations firm, I don’t even bother. I don’t want to be handled. I don’t want to be scheduled. And I definitely don’t want to be monitored during a phone interview by a PR person “just sitting in” on the call. I want to be able to send a note to the CEO and get an answer kicked back directly from the person in the know.

6 – Assumptions of an editor. For decades, press releases were purely mechanisms to stimulate awareness and coverage by the mainstream or business press. The internet changed all that. What most people who generate press releases have failed to understand (and this is baffling) is that a lot of people read press releases straight off PR news wires or off the returns of search results. Even when there is a familiar media organization in the header of a “story” it is quite possibly just an automated feed from a PR service. So this notion that editors will “touch” releases and turn them into interesting, highly readable features is mostly wishful thinking.

There are opinion pieces out all the time trying to make the case that the press release is dead. It’s not. Press releases are terrific marketing and communications tools. The problem is that the formula and process that was used 10-15 years ago doesn’t now work, and too few people realize it. Good press releases tell stories that are complete and credible, and get you interested from the first words.



Is a torrent of BS an effective communications strategy?

Stating what would seem obvious, but evidently is not, your choice of words in your media material reflects how your company conducts business. So if your communications material is a torrent of BS, your credibility is in question before you even get to the starting line with customers.

Consider the release this morning from an unnamed company …

<Blank> Media, the premier source for <blank> advertising, is pleased to introduce yet another dimension to its growing portfolio of media assets: state-of-the-art digital advertising monitors.

Through <Blank> Media, distinguished brand partners now have an exclusive platform – of commercial broadcast quality – to showcase TV advertisements and video footage, as well as multiple static ads, to ultra-affluent consumers in a select, non-competitive environment.

Luxury brands will enjoy exclusivity of message provided by <Blank> Media’s sleek, 46-inch Samsung digital monitors, which are positioned as the focal point in each <venue>. No other brand will share the monitor.

State-of-the-art digital advertising is available to premium brands through <Blank> Media Media in highly-trafficked <venues> across the United States including Los Angeles, New York City, Las Vegas, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago.

To learn more about how to broadcast your advertising message to Ultra-high Net Worth …

And so it goes.

State of the art is a meaningless term, particularly when it comes to some as pedestrian as flat panel monitors that millions of people now have in their homes. Laying on the sleek, luxurious, ultra this and that may impress a few people, but will just put others off.

Assuming the target readership for this kind of release is agencies and media planners, the simple message this company should be conveying is that it has a new means to effectively reach the attractive demographic it already delivers at these venues, presumably through posters. Then it should relay some information in terms these readers would actually care about, like age and household income ranges, how they index in interests and buying patterns, how long in the venue, frequency and so on and so on.

To gush out a release like a new opener to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is a largely wasted effort. Think less about impressing people with empty phrases and more about providing information the target readers can actually use. As it stands, most people won’t read past the state of the art cliche.



The problem with big, round numbers

I was just reading a press release about a media network’s plans to increase its footprint by 1,000 locations, starting with 500 by the end of Q3.

That may be entirely true, but as someone who has talked to hundreds of early stage network operators over the years, my BS Filter starts shaking and spitting out smoke and WD-40 when people start using big round numbers like that. Software biz dev guys hear endless variations on the “we’re going to do 1,000 sites” thing and struggle not to roll their eyes right in front of the client.

Once … just once … I had an early stage company’s VP Ops detail how they planned to something like 138 venues in year one. It was the one time I got a number that clearly wasn’t just pulled out of thin air. That one I believed.

So DOOH execs, when you issue releases with big, round rollout numbers like 1,000, just be aware that most of your industry brethren aren’t buying it.


PR 101 – Remember, they’re not stupid

Strangely, some of the worst work in press releases comes from companies that should have the money and experience to be really good.

Consider this work of art from ABC’s Family broadcast network:

ABC Family advertising sales executives Laura Kuhn and Mark Rejtig have both received increased responsibilities at the network, effective immediately. The announcement was made today by Laura Nathanson, Executive Vice President, Advertising Sales, to whom Ms. Kuhn and Mr. Rejtig report.

Laura Kuhn has been promoted to the newly created position of Senior Vice President, Strategic Sales Insights. She now oversees the revenue planning, sales research and sales marketing teams. Ms. Kuhn previously had served as Vice President, Sales Marketing and Promotions, ABC Family, since 2007.

Mark Rejtig has expanded his current role as Senior Vice President, National Sales Manager. The direct marketing group now reports to him, bringing all ABC Family line sales teams under his direct management. Mr. Rejtig has been a Senior Vice President at ABC Family since 2001.

“Laura Kuhn and Mark Rejtig each have done a tremendous job in bringing our advertisers top value from ABC Family, one of the most popular networks among millennials and viewers 18-49,” Ms. Nathanson said. “We look forward to Laura’s and Mark’s continuing accomplishments as they now widen their advertising sales responsibilities.”

OK, so first, it’s all about Laura Nathanson. Immediately, you can’t help but think this is someone you don;t want to meet, right or wrong. She could be Mary Poppins for all we know, but she comes across as Cruella de Vil.

The second and third paragraphs are just fine – who they are and what they do.

Next paragraph has the dreaded manufactured quote – in which people are quoted in a way about as far removed from conversational, and therefore believable, as could be imagined.

Finally, in the 5th paragraph, we get the nut of the story:

The expanded roles of Ms. Kuhn and Mr. Rejtig follow the decision by Joe Gallagher, former Senior Vice President, Sales Strategy and Planning, to leave the network to pursue other business opportunities.

So Joe got bingo’d and these two are filling his shoes. Aha!

When something happens, just report it. Don’t bury and hope no one notices. Pursue other business opportunities is code for he was punted. Everyone knows it. People are not that stupid. And don’t frame it up in a way that makes the protagonist look bad.


DS PR 101: Don’t pretend something didn’t happen

I don’t write about companies to embarrass them, so I almost never actually run the company name in the post. Most people will know who this is anyway, but here goes:

BLANK, a premier provider of digital signage and networked media solutions, today announced the addition of team members in the roles of business development, sales, and solutions management.

A GUY joins BLANK as President and will focus on business development and driving further growth and adoption of BLANK’S solutions in the market. Blah blah blah, and furthermore, blah …

The release this week goes on to talk about some other people who have been hired and how excited everyone is. Yippee!!!

What the release doesn’t say, anywhere, is A GUY is replacing DIFFERENT GUY who has been the president and highly visible face of the company for many years. This is the guy who all the company’s clients and business partners know. There’s nothing in the release about the departure, nothing about his choosing to pursue new opportunities. Mutual agreement. Just nothing.

I don’t know what went down, but the guy is highly respected and was front and center at the company’s booth at the industry’s biggest trade show only two weeks ago. By issuing press that ignores the big orange polka-dotted elephant in the room, the company is creating the perception that the departure was unpleasant and that it is no one else’s damn business.

My guess is that’s not really the case at all, and it was more like differences in opinion and direction that weren’t going to get resolved.

When something big happens, that your industry and your clients are going to notice and talk about, don’t try some silly misdirection by celebrating one part of the story and forcing people to draw their own conclusions about the other, more interesting half.

Be open and direct, and the response will be, “Oh! Interesting …” Be evasive or pretend it didn’t even happen, and you create a nice big, dark cloud over your company.

In such a crazily competitive, hard to differentiate industry like this, you need to carefully manage perceptions.


Differentiate or perish

It is really interesting to spend many years in this industry, pitching sets of pots and pans and trying to win over prospective customers … and then stepping back from the contest and realizing what’s going on.

Damn near everyone is using the same sales pitch.

I am talking suppliers. And I am talking operators.

When you manage to escape from the bubble that is your company, or the larger bubble that is your general technology or media proposition, you start to realize the sales and marketing pitch – those bullet points that people use to excite prospects – is pretty much the same one the next guys are using. And the next guys. And the next guys.

Everyone is the industry leader. What they do is the next generation. They’re the best in class. The audience is premium. Their medium is highly targeted.

My work now gives me the blissful perspective of looking from the outside in at the industry, functioning as a smarty-pants consultant and communications specialist. I get asked now to help companies pull together their marketing copy and strategy, and enable them to stand out from the many other companies that offer variations on essentially the same products, services or audience.

The problem is … most companies are so busy getting everything else done — to organize, launch and run a technology or media company — that the actual time spent developing a compelling set of marketing messages is minimal. It’s one of those, “Oh crap, we need a sell sheet and some stuff for the Website!” situations, that usually involves someone who shouldn’t be doing marketing pulling together a few points during spare moments.

I have done a couple of competitive analyses for technology companies lately, and what really struck me was how similar the value propositions are between technology companies. Go through 15 company sites and you will find most of them highlighting the things that everybody else is highlighting, like flexibility and scalability and support for most media formats.

Ad network operators are not as bad, but the same issues apply.

Volkswagen markets itself on statements like “The art of rocket science.” It does not plaster signs on its windows reading, “Tires on our cars are filled with air!”

So why, when I go to many Websites for vendors, do I read excited bullet points about Day-part scheduling!!!

Well, woohoo! Peddling features and benefits that just about all your prospective customers already assume you have is not the path to glory.

There are clear indications much of what gets written and trumpeted is a variation on what a competitor has on its site. Chances are, that copy was ‘inspired’ by another competitor’s copy. And so on. Companies need to spend more time thinking about how they set themselves apart from the mob, and far less worrying about how their competitors market themselves.

What is it that you guys do, or have, that makes you different? Are you particularly strong in a vertical market? Does your technology have some whiz-bang component that’s rare or unique? Is there something you are doing that others can’t touch?

There are companies I won’t name who market themselves on technology offers that aren’t even unique, but they’ve nonetheless made that gadgetry their own. They’re the guys who do (insert not terribly unique thing here) and they let people know. Compare that to what most companies go out with, which is essentially: “We’re one of countless industry leaders and we offer the same dynamic, flexible and cost-effective stuff for digital signage networks that you’ll find on the next 14 sites you browse and sell sheets you read!!!”

Try this exercise: Print off your main Web pages and sell sheets and grab some Hi-Liter pens. Underline in yellow those phrases and features you’ll admit are common across many companies, and in another colour highlight those features that are unique or more compelling than common. If there’s a lot of yellow, you need to get to work.

There are many, many reasons why a company might prosper or fail, but a really strong predictor for failure is a company that can’t put into words how it is different and why that matters. The same disciplined work that goes into product development, budgets and staffing needs to also go into how your company goes to market and sets itself apart.

If you can’t differentiate, you perish.


Fine-tuning your message so that prospective customers notice, and care

This post was also recently posted on the Website of the Digital Signage Association ...

How digital signage and digital out of home companies craft their communications on their Websites, handouts and in press releases is critical to their success.

So why is so much of it so bad?

The industry executives I speak with almost uniformly admit they know they could and should do better, but don’t have the time or resources. Coming from technology, ad sales and retail backgrounds, they also haven’t the insight or experience to recognize the good from the bad.

In the interest of helping better shape the message, here are a few tips:

Figure out what makes your company unique, and go hard with it

For whatever reason this is a “me, too” business, with most vendors marketing themselves on the same general range of features and capabilities that their competitors are also trumpeting. It’s hard to stand out from the pack if all you have to half-heartedly report is the written equivalent of, “Yeah, ummm, we do that stuff, too.”

There will be something your firm has developed, or work your team has done with a client, that is at least uncommon and worthy of a little marketing noise. Maybe your company had to figure out a solution that involved GPS and mass transit? That experience and capability is far more intriguing than telling the world your platform does all that stuff everybody else does, too.

Get to the point

Anyone who has been involved in this sector for a while knows how important it is to have good programming that quickly captures the attention of viewers. The same thing applies with a company’s written communications. Between emails, RSS feeds, tweets and texts, people are carpet-bombed all day with marketing messages. That means your message better make its point quickly, or it will be passed by.

Empty phrases that clutter the opening lines of announcements need to be dropped. The point of your communication can’t be buried somewhere in the third paragraph of your e-mailer. You can’t write something that people need to read twice just to figure out, because they won’t .

Put your key messages in context

When you are banging out your key features and benefits messages, and announcements about new gadgets and gizmos, make sure you do the extra work to explain what that means for your prospective customers.

When your company celebrates the release of a new energy efficient combination of PC and display panel in an all-in-one package, don’t stop there. It’s better described as a technology combination capable of dropping energy consumption for a signage deployment by as much as 25%.

Adding 250 more screens and locations doesn’t mean your ad network is now in 600 locations in five states. The message for prospective advertisers, the ones you’re after, is that the addition of 250 sites means your highly-targeted digital out of home media network is now reaching 200,000 affluent consumers every week.

Think through the whole communications chain

How many times have you read a press release, or the news story that spilled out of it, that was effective enough to send you to the company Website to find out more, only to find there was no “more” to be found?

Marketing and media communications have to be carried through the whole chain. If there’s an announcement, it needs to already be up on the Website and easy to find. The sales people need to be briefed on what it is about so that they can respond knowledgeably and not feel like doofuses. They also need material, ready to go, they can send out as follow-ups to calls, and it shouldn’t be just the same thing the prospects just read.

Meanwhile, existing clients need and expect to get early word of new goodies from their vendor, and to first learn of it on some blog.

Choose your words with care

There are powerful phrases, and there are empty phrases. Good writers choose their words carefully, and think about things like the rhythm and emotion of the message. Most of the people writing copy for Websites, email updates and press releases are doing so not because they like writing, but because they have to … so even if takes forever to prepare, those people spend little time actually thinking about the message.

That’s how the industry has ended up with a vast sea of empty phrases and buzzwords about leading, turnkey solutions and revolutionary, state of the art development. If someone only has to write copy every now and then, there’s a natural tendency to look around and borrow on what other companies are doing. They read three press releases starting off with “leading provider” and figure they better get that in there, too. They see Websites that talk “turnkey” and figure that needs to get in there. The result, every day and everywhere, is yet more of the same blabber.

Whether it’s Website copy, email blasts or press releases, whoever gets charged with doing the writing should ignore what else is out there, forget they ever read phrases like “best of breed” and “taken to the next level”, and think through the messages that would actually resonate with prospective customers and partners.

It’s an after-thought for a lot of companies, but developing the right message that helps drive product awareness, build credibility and boost sales needs the same attention to detail as product and market development. You can have a kickass product, a fabulous network footprint, or do amazing creative, but if you do a bad job of getting the word out, few people will know.


How to write a digital signage press release: Step 5 – Footer

Readers will go to this information if they have made it all the way through the release, because you have done enough to intrigue them. So take it just as seriously as the rest of the piece.

The footer is a distinct, and in some mechanical way, separated paragraph summary of your company. This is where you must, for one last time, not surrender to temptation and rattle off something about Brand X being a leading global provider of groundbreaking, state of the art software thingdoodles. You are restating your credibility, and are far better off stating Brand X is a profitable, 12-year-old subsidiary of Agent 9, one of the world’s largest suppliers of Y. Or something, anything, that honestly tells readers that you are real and not a bunch of knuckleheads who could disappear off the radar as quickly as you came on.

This is also the place where you provide contact information. Ideally, it is for someone who can be reached directly and will be able to speak knowledgeably when asked questions.  You may want to include a specific phone number or e-mail contact, or you may not. You may want to filter inquiries through a main email drop and phone number, and in some cases, even use a third-party like a publicist. This keeps the nuisance factor down, but also means you will get less direct press action because writers in this sector are waaaay too busy feeding the beast to waste time negotiating interviews with a hired go-between.

The bottom line about contact information is to ensure you don’t make it hard work. The day you do the release, if you expect action, don’t have your key person out of town or booked in meetings.

If you really do want journalists to write or call, encourage it with some sort of invitation to call for more details.

If you have a real Website, include it. If you have a Web page with an animated Under Construction graphic, don’t. If you know there will be technical questions, attach an FAQ, or figure out some why to make that FAQ easily available.

Next – Distribution


How to write a digital signage press release: Step 4 – Body copy

The headline and the summary and leading paragraphs have hopefully done their jobs of drawing people into your news release. Now it’s time to fully explain what you are up to, why people should care, and get into the nitty-gritty of how or what’s being done.

You want to be sure the five W questions are covered off – who, what, when, where and why – as well as any other Ws that matter, like which.

This is your chance to provide accurate detail on the project or product, and when you can make statements about the impact. Those statements are things like driving sales lift, enhancing navigation, making a task easier, allowing people to work in their native language, any number of potential benefits.

The body copy is where you can also go into more detail about your company and market position, and use one or two tight quotes from the appropriate representative for the company. The person quoted should be someone who, if pressed, could actually speak with some degree of knowledge about the project, product or service.

This is not critical, but I really like quotes that read naturally, like they really are quotes. Almost all quotes in press releases are planted words, and most of them read that way. You can dilute the credibility of a message if people reading it are marveling at how stilted the quote is instead of taking in what it says. If you are creating a quote, just read it back and ask yourself if it sounds even remotely natural. If not, that’s easily tweaked.

Keep it tight. Your press release is ideally only seven or eight paragraphs in length. You will start losing readers if you go much longer. If there is a lot of technical detail to go through, consider attachments or a Web link where the propellerheads can go to get a jargon fix.

Paragraphs should be reasonably uniform in size and sentences should not run on and on. Have a look at newspaper articles to get some sense of how information is broken up. If you write overly long paragraphs, they look like intimidating walls of characters that people don’t even want to start on.

Some fundamentals:

  • be honest and accurate
  • you are selling your company and goods though useful information, not hype and lots of exclamation points
  • if there are other parties mentioned in the release, ensure they approve what is written and asserted
  • it should read easily all the way through

Next – Step 5 – footer and contact information


How to write a digital signage press release: Step 1 – Define your objective

I spend a lot of time with this blog slapping around companies that do a truly terrible job of media communications, and by pointing out the mistakes, trying to educate them and others.

But I don’t want to dwell on the negative stuff, and thought it might be useful to put readers through the basics of writing a press release to distribute in this industry.

This is not done through the lens of someone who took formal public relations training and has some certification to that effect. My background is daily newspaper journalism, as down and dirty as investigative reporting, and I have been reading press releases for 30 years because I had to. There may well be a formula that’s been laid out in textbooks, but here’s what I think actually works in getting the attention of editors and bloggers, and readers who get things direct through news readers and filters.

I’m going to break this up in parts, so that the post is not too long and I can drill a little deeper into the process and then the components.

The very first thing you need to sort out is why you are doing a press release.

What has happened, or will happen, that compels your company to issue information about it? Is what you are about to tell the world actually interesting or valuable to anyone beyond the walls of your company? Or are you issuing a press release because, as is common, it’s been a while and you want to keep the company name out there?

For example, a press release about your company’s new Website is only relevant if the facelift changes the way your clients do business with you. If it’s the online equivalent of a new hairdo, forget it. Changing office locations isn’t PR-worthy, unless you are hiring a bunch of people or adding new facilities like a lab or hosting center.

New product developments that advance the company or the industry, or big deals, milestones or hires, that’s cause for press. If your company trades on an exchange, you may be legally required to issue press releases on any business dealings or status changes.

The point here: if you have nothing, really, to announce … or don’t have to be law … just don’t do a press release.

If you do, develop an angle for your story to make it more compelling. Announcing your advertising network has added some new venues is nice, but not overly compelling. Announcing that a new set of venues added this month to the WhizBang Media Network means ads are now being delivered to a weekly audience of more than 250,000 affluent, gourmet food-loving consumers is another matter entirely. That’s reminding your target advertisers you just got to a big number and might get you to whatever it is that constitutes critical mass.

Think about what you want and need to announce, and how you’ll spin it to make it interesting to your target readers.

Keep in mind spin is one view of the facts, but is still, hopefully, maintaining some grip on reality.  You should be able to defend your spin, so if your angle is that your service is the first of its kind, is it? Can you defend assertions that what you’re doing is the best? Is what’s going out some largely empty and indefensible chest-beating exercise (common), or something people will read and send to friends because it looks like what your company is doing is something they and others will want to know about.

If it’s just hype, most people see through it. People don’t like being “sold” in press releases. They expect worthwhile information. Press releases are an opportunity to talk about good work you’re doing, and the successes  you’ve had or are coming. You want people to read what you’re doing and conclude they either need to know more, or have reinforced that these guys are busy and clearly making a mark. Press releases can show market momentum and corporate excellence.

But bad press releases can have all the wrong effects. If they are written poorly that reflects on the company’s smarts and ability to communicate. If the releases are nothing but empty phrases and unsubstantiated assertions wrapped around a small hint of news, your company is telling people you’re really not up to much. And companies that announce relentlessly, with near constant releases about pretty much anything, can create reader fatigue – the equivalent of hearing someone drone on and on and wishing they’d please just stop.

The audience for press releases has changed dramatically in the last decade. For scores of years, press releases were only ever seen by journalists, since they were distributed in one way or another only to media outlets. Releases were written entirely for the editors, with the expectation that if a press release was noticed and picked up, it would be seriously filtered, with the BS removed and the story recast from the perspective of the assigned journalist.

The Internet means press releases go everywhere, immediately, and there are now several target recipients.  Mainstream journalists may see  a release and pursue a full story, but the more common scenario now is for releases to get noticed and largely repurposed by online industry publications, and sector bloggers. Some of these writers get their hands dirty and filter and repackage stories, or even take the releases in unintended directions. But most just pass the releases though largely unfiltered, the contents re-formatted more than edited.

That means the plan and the wording of the release you put together is that much more important, because while it may pass through other hands, it can easily go through pretty much untouched. It will be rare when a journalist comes back to you and asks what you were trying to go on about in the release. You won’t find out it’s really bad until someone reads it and tells you. Someone like your now unhappy CEO.

NEXT – Step 2 – Headlines