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.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Fortune Validates Our Prediction About Cord Cutting

With its Feb. 1, 2016 article, "The Bundle is Dead, Long Live the Bundle," Fortune validated our prediction. In Dec. 2015, we wrote, "We expect some people not to cut the cord because it’s more complicated and not necessarily cheaper if you cut the cable cord."

As the subhead to its article, Fortune wrote, "Fans of streaming video find that ditching cable doesn't always lower their bills."

That's frustrating but correct.

Thanks for validating our prediction!

Friday, February 12, 2016

New York Times Validates Our Prediction About Driverless Cars (Second Time!)

The New York Times again validated our prediction about driverless cars -- that the issue isn't strictly the technology but the liability.

Check out John Markoff's "Google Car Exposes Regulatory Divide on Computers as Drivers."

This is the second Times article to validate our contention: that "auto insurance will see that premiums will go down as accidents decrease – and that will change one dynamic of driverless cars (perhaps not theft, however)." (You can check out our prediction here:

We continue to expect more coverage of this issue.