Wednesday, August 24, 2016

3 Tips for Pitching Nonprofits/NGOs During a Crisis or Trendjacking for a Good Cause

When a crisis hits, NGOs and other nonprofits often seek to raise awareness of their missions and how they are helping people in need. The term for this is trendjacking or news-jacking, capitalizing a trending topic to bolster one's brand in the marketplace," according to an article, "Does Trendjacking Work: And Should You Be Doing It?" on the TweakYourBiz site.

Trendjacking can be a good way to leverage existing interest in a topic -- but it's not without risk. The main risk is for an organization to look like it is exploiting a trend or crisis -- and that can damage the organization's brand.

But there are times when a worthwhile organization should at least consider whether or not to leverage a trending topic. If you do decide to move forward, there are some logistical issues to address.

We have advised several terrific NGOs and charities, and here are five lessons we learned. 
  1. It's not enough to have experts, you need to have spokespeople with specific expertise on the ground. A nonprofit that helps with adoption from Africa seemed one that reporters would want to speak to as they wrote about children who were orphaned by Ebola -- but the media wanted someone they could interview in an Ebola-infected community. The media all felt the organization was doing good work but the organization didn't have specific information about what was being done for Ebola orphans and had no one who could talk about specific adoptions that had taken place in which a child, whose parents had died of Ebola, had been placed with a family in the U.S.
  2. Speed matters. It's amazing how fast network news can work to pull together stories. By the time you’ve read or watched an article about it, the producers will feel they’ve already told the story; there’s nothing more to pitch. To get the media's attention, you need to develop and implement your strategy, tactics and messages at the start of the crisis. You basically need someone on the ground or with direct expertise in the first few hours, especially someone who can do an interview over Skype. 
  3. Bring something strikingly new to the game by uncovering what the media hasn’t covered. Make sure to differentiate the charity from what others are doing, and from what the media perceives the story to be. Otherwise, reporters’ basic response will be, "Good to know there’s another organization that can talk about conditions on the ground but we've had already covered that angle."
Unfortunately, to get the media's attention, it takes more than doing good work to help people in a crisis. The point of helping an NGO during a crisis is to help further NGO's mission, which can include offering tips for others facing the crisis or offering additional ways for people to help those caught up in the crisis. 

The above tips assume you are working with an above-board organization. It might be worthwhile to develop a trendjacking plan to help you move more quickly in the case of a situation in which your organization's spokespeople can provide useful information that can help those caught up in the crisis.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The State of Mom/Dad/Parent Blogs

Recently, because there are people who always ask if something is "dead," a PR outlet asked if mommy blogs are dead.

Mommy blogs are far from dead – but those who treat it as a hobby may not have much of a future. This has nothing to do with the quality of their content.

There are two challenges facing mom bloggers and dad bloggers, too.

  • If you treat it as a hobby, it stays a hobby.

Those who treat their mommy blog as a hobby tend to start writing when their kids are newborns, and the content they provide can often be interesting, humorous and helpful. 

But then, their kids get older, and the issues facing teens and the parents of teens tends not to be as cute. (I say this as the father of three teens.)

And that's when mommy bloggers who are hobbyists tend to stop their blogs. 

At least that's what we found on behalf of a client looking to connect with local mommy bloggers. Our research found a lot of previously dynamic local mom bloggers had stopped maintaining their blogs within the past 18 months. In fact, we found that even a collective of mom bloggers (who had teamed together to create a more robust local mom blog) had pretty much shut down.

When we did some digging to figure out what had happened, it seemed that those who shut down had older kids. 

That might seem anecdotal but after that project, I came across a New York Times' blog post by Elizabeth Bastos: "Why I Decided to Stop Writing About My Children." In explaining why she wrote about her children, Bastos writes, "There is a hunger in our culture for true stories from the parenting trenches where life is lived mud-flecked and raw...We live in a break-the-internet arms race of oversharing." She initially defended a recent blog post "I had written about my son’s first signs of puberty," saying "adolescent sexuality is an emergent, fascinating topic, especially for parents who are figuring out how to address difficult questions with their children."

But, Bastos realized, "My children didn’t give me their permission to tell their stories...If I’m going to continue writing, I realize I need to find some new material, and for that I’m going to have to look more deeply within myself or entirely outside."

That's part of the problem for mom bloggers. What to write about. It’s hard to write about sleep training and other infant and toddler issues when you’re now focused on homework, screen-time addiction, etc.

So, there may be a natural life cycle for parental blogs -- I've seen the same thing occur with daddy bloggers, too.

  • It can't be only about your blog.

Another challenge for parental bloggers is that blogs themselves may not be the best mechanism these days. 

If your audience is on Facebook, parental bloggers need to make sure they’re doing more than writing new blog posts. They also need to constantly update their Facebook pages, Pinterests, Instagrams and Snapchats. It’s a lot of work.

And it helps to have a strong point of view and to think about reviewing and updating content along the way. That's what magazines geared to an age group (Cricket, Seventeen, Boys Life, Redbook, etc.) do -- they write new articles covering a standard set of topics like beauty, body, life, love and shopping (the key navigation buttons on I say this with deep respect for these publications that continue to cover similar issues but find new ways to address their readers' interests and needs.

It certainly takes more work, and it may well be challenging to come up with yet another new slant back-to-school shopping tips, but that's what parenting bloggers need to do to -- if that's their goal -- to maintain their blogs after the kids become teens.

The good news is, of course, there will always be another generation of clueless parents (speaking as one) who need parenting advice and will look for it online. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In Gawker v. Hulk Hogan, I vote for Gawker

I am neither a fan of Gawker or Hulk Hogan, but the recent trial that resulted in $140 million in damages to be paid by Gawker to Hogan is wrong.

And I thought so before it came to light that billionaire Peter Thiel spent millions to fund the lawsuit against Gawker.

The facts are that Hogan 1) was a public figure who 2) talked publicly about his sex life and 3) the video in question also appeared on other sites. (One could also argue that Gawker has kept Hogan in the public's eye, enhancing his ability to generate cash.)

Gawker isn't a paragon of journalism in terms of always pushing for the greater good but trying to put them out of business seems to be an overreach. Now, the company has declared bankruptcy, and will try to sell itself and will layoff reporters.

As it is, already Hogan's lawyer has threatened Gawker with another lawsuit. And, at a time when a major presidential candidate is expanding the number of publications banned from attending his political events, this looks like part of a war against journalists -- and that's not a good thing.

I hope the Gawker gets the chance to appeal its case.

What hangs in the balance isn't just Gawker and its employees.

It's a matter of what standards apply to public figures. One can argue that a sex tape of a public figure is not Pulitzer Prize-material but the implications of this lawsuit is that journalists may decide to back off on how they cover public figures for fear of unreasonable damages. Think I'm overstating things? The other lawsuit threatened by Hogan's lawyer is because of an article Gawker wrote about a hair treatment clinic whose main client, apparently, is Donald Trump. While Trump is not the one threatening legal action for the article, it now seems to be open season not just on Gawker but our free press.

Again, that's a bad situation for our democracy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five Tips for B2B Startups Considering PR and Social Media

I was recently asked for five tips for B2B startups considering PR and social media. I came up with these five somewhat random tips, and will come up with more next month. This is not meant to be comprehensive but they are intended to help be specific to the process of PR and social media.

Let me know what you think.

1.      If your startup has never engaged in PR before, ask the following questions:
·        Are you ready? We’ve had some clients who thought they were ready to launch but weren’t. It can take time to actually be ready – but you don’t necessarily need a finalized product or service. You do need to have strong positioning and compelling messages, a clear understanding of what differentiates your business from the competition. This can be a challenge since startups often pivot their business model until they get traction.
·        Who will be coordinating the PR program? Will it be the founder, a marketing executive, an office manager, or someone else? And will that person have the time and resources? We’ve worked with people at those levels, and have made it work but it can be difficult if PR is just another plate they need to keep spinning.
·        Do you need ongoing PR or is project-based a better fit? From an agency perspective, an ongoing PR campaign is better – and not just from a cash flow perspective but because it enables long-term strategies -- but that may not be ideal for cash-stretched startups with not a lot of news. Talk to your prospective agency; if they aren’t interested in project work until your startup has established a regular flow of news, they might not be the right agency for you.
2.      Are you goals realistic? There are two levels to this:
·        Are you realistic in terms of your story, resources, customers, etc.? You may have a great product and a great proof of concept, but if you don’t have a paying customer, some media won’t be able to cover you. (This is particularly true in B2B markets.) We’ve also been told by clients that they want to launch within two months but when we get in, we find they’re not ready (see #1, above).
·        Are you realistic in terms of your goals based on your budgets and internal resources? Recently a prospective customer with the related businesses asked us to 1) Pitch radio and podcast interviews for both businesses 2) Get bloggers to write about them; 3) Identify speaking opportunities; 4) Provide content to external sites that will create back links; and 5) Maximize earned media. All these goals were reasonable – except his budget had only enough in it to pursue only one of these goals, not all five of them.
·        Are you realistic in terms of outcomes? You may have a great announcement but the media and those on social media may not be able to write about it. A reporter once turned down a story about a $30 investment round because he had declined to cover a larger round that had been announced the week before.
3.      Can you be a thought leader? To be successful and to engage with current and prospective customers on social media, you need to continually develop new content on topics relevant to your customers. You can use these pieces to show that you understand your customers’ pain points and can help them address them. These thought leadership pieces don’t have to be white papers and case studies – they can be 300-word articles. But it is important to make sure these pieces are useful and not all about you.
4.      Even if you don’t have the budget yet, plan for marketing integration. That means, make sure whoever is writing your thought leadership content also knows what your keywords are. Make sure your sales keeps you informed about key trends affecting your customers as well as customer wins and milestones – those are things that can be turned into articles and press releases. Make sure whoever is handling your social media is aware of what everyone else is doing – they can post content about your latest article or case study, about your trade show booth or speaking opportunity or sales promotion. Even at small startups, it’s interesting how many of those activities are kept in separate in a silo. But you can generate much more traction if you leverage all the sales and marketing efforts your undertaking. And, if you’re not investing in all these tactics yet, that’s okay; just keep them in mind for when you do.
5.      When focusing on social media, keep in mind: clients don’t like to be marketed to. So make sure only one in 10 posts is a true marketing post – the rest can be about your industry, your region, but especially about your clients pain points as well as about your company’s personality and values. More than ever, people want to do business with companies they like, and social media is a great way to create and enhance your company’s personality.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Forbes' D'Vorkin's 11 Observations about the New Business

I don't always agree with what Lewis D'Vorkin writes in his column about the confluence of media and journalism in the digital age, but he's always worth reading. Sometimes his column is all #humblebrag about how smart Forbes is -- actually, based on a very unscientific survey, most of his columns are humblebrags. 

But his current column, "Inside Forbes: 11 Realities And Observations About The News Business, Like Them Or Not," is definitely worth reading for the following observations. (I'm not going to repeat all 11 items -- go read the column for yourself -- I'm just pointing out those I find most significant, and including some of my observations based on D'Vorkin's.)

  1. Content needs to be mobile-friendly and easy to consume -- but much of it is not. One problem is that when you click on a website on your mobile, often you'll get a pop-up ad (Forbes does this to, by the way) that you can't exit from because the form factor doesn't let you scroll easily to find the X. That's annoying and a problem.
  2. Ad-blocking software will get more popular -- a trend we didn't really address for 2016, but I tend to agree. The rise of ad-blocking will hurt online ad revenue that media properties can generate and depend on -- this is will lead to lower revenues, layoffs, and more media properties being shut down. Oh, and higher subscription fees for those media outlets that have a paywall.
  3. Facebook is not just a social network. It is a media play, and other sites' traffic rates are declining because people check out the headlines and comments on Facebook without clicking through. Again, that will affect online ad rates.
  4.  Lest you think Facebook is unstoppable, it is facing stiff competition from messaging apps like Kik, Snapchat and Whatsapp.
  5. A lot of the media sites (and quasi-media/e-commerce sites like Refinery29) that are doing well are targeting women. That says something for companies looking to target customers.
  6. Death of Page Views -- which even D'Vorkin admits has been a prediction that people have made for years now. But this time, it's different because there are new data and engagement possible via mobile.

Anyway check out his article.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bloomberg Businessweek Validates Our Prediction about Unicorns

In our predictions for 2016, we said that we should expect that Unicorns -- privately held startups with valuations in excess of $1 billion, would find this year to be much more difficult. (You can check out that prediction, "Whither unicorns and their business models?") 

Already, we've seen articles in Fortune, Wall St. Journal, and New York Times write about Unicorns this year, all validating our concerns about unrealistic valuations and pressures. Add to it, Bloomberg Businessweek, which wrote, "Unicorns Aren't So Beloved Anymore" (Print headline: "The Last (of This) Unicorn?") about Zenefits.

Zenefits has quickly become the poster child for unchecked growth, with a CEO who was ousted and concerns that the company may have broken laws and did not maintain compliance.

This isn't to say that all Unicorns are or will face a similar phase -- but just that we continue to think that 2016 and beyond will be a tougher time for Unicorns.

Left unsaid in our predictions is what the impact of tighter money, lower valuations, etc. will have on smaller startups. We think it could be a tougher time for them, too.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fortune, WSJ & NYTimes Validate Another of Our Predictions -- This Time About Unicorns

In December, we asked (somewhat pretentiously), "Whither unicorns and their business models?

We said, "Unicorns – startups valued at upwards of $1 billion – were big in 2015. Expect coverage in 2016 that questions whether the unicorn bubble will burst. This will be true not just of privately held startups but also of publicly held companies (that represent the next stage of unicorn development) that fail to fully monetize their businesses. Twitter and Yahoo! – that means you and other social media platforms that fail to live up to financial expectations."

In Fortune's Feb. 1st issue, an article entitled, "Good Luck Getting Out!," made the case that private investors have put $362 billion into startups over the past five years, pumping up the value of so-called unicorns. Now the broken tech IPO market is cratering. Who will survive the reckoning?"

And on Friday, the Wall St. Journal reported, "For Silicon Valley, the Hangover Begins: With venture-capital investors increasingly nervous, once-hottech startups are retrenching" while the Times' Farhad Manjoo profiled one unicorn that's facing a heap of problems in his article, "Zenefits Scandal Highlights Perils of Hypergrowth at Start-Ups." Both articles are worth reading.

Meanwhile, let's not forget that we called out Twitter and Yahoo!

Twitter shares "hit a nominal low on Thursday a day after it said that user growth had stalled for the first time since the company went public in 2013," The New York Times reported this month. 

And Yahoo!? Well, The New York Times also reported this month that "Yahoo Announces First Round of Layoffs as It Trims 15 Percent of Workforce."

We feel badly for the employees of Twitter and Yahoo! and other unicorns at risk, but we feel pretty good about our trend-calling ability.