Friday, October 29, 2010

The Currency of Content

The notion of “content” has taken on new meaning in the age of social media. Public relations used to be limited in many people’s minds to media relations. But today, social media has given us all a platform for becoming part of broader conversations and creating dialogues that previously were not possible. In fact, the contribution of interesting content has become a virtual currency to broader recognition today.

This requires communications professionals to consider content in a different light. It’s not a 180-degree turn though, it’s a slight skewing of the angle. After all, content creation has always been the job of PR – a press release is actually supposed to be written just like a news story so that it can easily be repackaged as one. Ironically, those guidelines were developed (and proliferated through the AP Style guide) many years ago, but they are more important today than ever as bloggers simply repackage press releases as news stories.

Before the advent of real-time communications and social media, PR’s job was also to be a conduit for expert’s perspectives on the news to the reporters who cared about them. We had to identify issues of relevance and connect the experts to the masses. These same principles apply today as we look to help our clients create the content so critical to their visibility with target customers and partners. What’s changed is the pace and the channel – virtually anyone can connect with key influencers on social media.

So what does it take to break through all of this conversation? We tell our clients that they should still broadcast their messages when it’s appropriate, but that they must also contribute to the dialogue and join the conversations that matter in their industries. Remember though, that contributing does not mean posting your press releases on your blog. You need to add something useful – a perspective, data, case study, video – anything that adds context, background or interest.

The good news is that this content does not have to be created from scratch – it can be found within virtually any organization. Here is where you can start to look:

1.     Mine your data. What data do you have internally that could reveal something no one else knows about your industry? One year, we worked with a mobile voice recognition company and we asked them to look at the top 10 most common voice-powered Web searches. We didn’t know what we’d find, but the results showed that on mobile, people search for destinations such as “” When we looked at Google’s most popular desktop search terms, we saw a big difference. On the desktop, people search for topics such as “Michael Jackson.” We wrote a press release and got a bunch of coverage during the slow week between Christmas and New Year’s.

2.     Read the news. Do your executives have an opinion about what is going on in the news? If so, get it out there on your blog, through Twitter and directly to reporters who are covering the topic. Just make sure your executive has the background to make him or her an expert. And if that fails, make sure they have something controversial to say – controversy almost always breeds interest.

3.     Listen to your customers. What trends are taking place within your customers’ organizations? One of our clients offers disaster recovery and business continuity software and after hurricane Katrina, we discovered a number of customers who had used the software, and also had amazing stories about how they helped their businesses continue operations in the midst of the terrible disaster. We pulled these stories together into advice for other companies as they prepare their corporate disaster recovery plans.

Once you find this content, the next job is packaging it and timing it appropriately to make an impact (see our post on how to blow a press release). This topic could fill a number of additional blog posts, but the key to creating conversations is fostering a two-way dialogue. The starting point can be a press release, blog post, video, Tweet or Facebook status. It’s what you do with it afterward that creates the conversation.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Knowledge Sharing with the How-To Helper Video Series

Locking a door, opening a bottle, carrying a box, sharpening a pencil, peeling a banana, taking a breath, blinking an eye, hearing a sound. These things may seem simple but don't be fooled! They can flummox even the best of us. Not to be judgmental but I'll bet you've had trouble with some of life's little chores yourself. Friends, your troubles are at an end! We at InkHouse have devised a new learning series that will help you and you and you and ALL of you cope with the stress and stuggles of every day life.

The "How-To Helper" series - featuring that affable know-it-all Scott Montminy - sheds light on untangling life's most vexing challenges. In our first video Scott changes the water filter in our refrigerator. Perhaps not something you need to do every day but you'll be glad you watched this video in case you ever do!

In our second video, Scott takes on a task we've all faced: carrying water into a room and placing it on a table. If you've ever worked at a restaurant, had a meal at home or participated in a meeting in an office you've seen water on a table. But maybe you're not sure how the water actually got there? After watching this video, not only will you understand HOW water gets onto a table but you'll even be able to place water on a table yourself!

These are only the first of the series. We hope you find them helpful. If there are specific topics you'd like to see explained please let us know. That's what we're there for - helping everyone make it through the day!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

MassTLCL2 - 42 Ways to Get Buzz for your Venture

Meg O'Leary from InkHouse participated in the MassTLCL2 unconference on Innovation today on a panel offering 42 ways to get buzz with Scott Kirsner, Adam Zand and Doug Banks. And here they are:

  1. How can I get you to write about my company’? Doesn’t work. “Need some romance first”
  2. Read Scott Kirsner’s blog post about how to get his attention.
  3. There is triage involved in how you do it. Figure out what your objectives are—employees? Investors? Users?
  4. For users, go to a consumer reporter or a producer where users may be.
  5. Three quarters of the world “news” is “new.” Come back with something new. Product launches are good, product updates are not so much. Novelty, funding, new exec level appointments are important.
  6. Meeting someone in person is much better than getting an email or a phone call.
  7. Get your story together before you reach out. What is important about your company and how are you going to talk about it? You are the PR person – have brainstorming sessions to talk about how to pitch
  8. Position yourself as part of a trend that’s happening – “this is how we relate to this trend.” It’s hard for reporters to write about companies that operate in a vacuum
  9. Be able to get your story down in 30-60 seconds – “Clear, Concise, Compelling”
  10. Admit who your competitors – you don’t want a reporter to pigeonhole you. Wrong: “Our only competitor is customer ignorance”
  11. Messaging is an exercise in cutting back. Listen to other people and figure out which part of your message is important. What 1 or 2 things do you want people to know about? It’s a hard thing to do because it’s a personal passion.
  12. Be able to answer “If you’re at a cocktail party and had to explain what you do to normal people, what would you say?”
  13. Tweet as a human being and not as your company. Journalists want to follow people instead of a sanitized twitter account
  14. Be careful pitching on Twitter. Some reporters don’t like it because it can be very generic and could be a blast
  15. Follow hashtags
  16. Video and animation can drive buzz – a product demo or screencast can be helpful. People will even embed your video. Be careful with videos that are too infomercial-like
  17. Once people know what you do and who you are, you need to inform and build buzz at the same time. A simple video can be good for reporters
  18. If you have a website with no phone number, it can be difficult for reporters to reach you. Don’t rely just on a contact form. Embed your phone number as an image if you’re worried about spammers
  19. If you want something in print, you need to be aware of deadlines
  20. Be quickly responsive to voicemail messages and emails
  21. You can’t build buzz based just on news (deals, etc). You need a good story to get any traction. The stories need to be unique. Don’t rely on press releases
  22. Have your customers do PR for you. They took a chance on you – have them pitch your product. This is easier for B2C than B2B. Customers aren’t just for case studies. Ask a customer “will you consider doing a virtual roundtable?” or other ideas. Make sure your product is good before you do this.
  23. It’s not necessarily press that are going to give you all of your buzz. Twitter can be too ephemeral to be effective – 3 days later there’s no more buzz from it. Blogs have more staying power
  24. Become an expert in a space instead of just “write about me, write about me”
  25. Find influencers on Twitter
  26. Be careful with “off the record” – it really doesn’t necessarily exist and there’s no standards amongst reporters
  27. Press may not be relevant to your product getting customers, but it can be helpful for other things, like getting investors
  28. Media relations and public relations are not synonymous. There’s more to launching then sending out a press release to a few people and hoping for the best
  29. Be sincere and genuine in your communications with journalists, but be cognizant of the timing of your messaging. Reporters want to hear a non-coached legitimate answer instead of a sterilized answer that doesn’t tell them what you do
  30. Be careful of overpublicizing before you’re ready for it. Make sure you build your business to the point where things are in order
  31. People can get their perception of your company from your tweets, both negative and positive
  32. Envision a headline first
  33. Share numbers and the “nobody knows this part of our story”
  34. VCs, investors, and service providers can do PR for you
  35. Get photos of your product and team that are good enough to publish
  36. Make sure you pick your shots and give people original content. Have an editorial calendar of what your news will be for the next 6 months
  37. Press release wires – for a news release, you need to release it. The wire can help for SEO, but some of them don’t reach journalists. No need to release national with the way things are distributed. Check out . Some reporters don’t look at press releases at all
  38. Inside look – give reporters a look at what’s actually happening inside a company. “Come down to Disney and we’ll take you underground to see the way the rides actually work.”
  39. Be ready to get negative coverage. Reporters are “not your outsourced marketing department”
  40. Don’t be afraid to be fun. Be human and authentic
  41. Tell the truth
  42. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

When my now business partner convinced me to quit my job with a steady salary to begin our own business, I was excited, ambitious…..and didn’t know what I didn’t know. It’s been almost four years, we’re up to about 20 employees, and are lucky to count a good number of high profile startups, venture capitalists, and Fortune 500 companies as clients. We’ve learned some things: a lot of things. There’s no manual for starting, growing and running a business. And even if one existed, I’m certain I would have ignored it. The only lessons I learn well are the ones I learn the hard way. Here are 10 of the best lessons we’ve learned so far:

  1. Hire every employee as if they were your first. You will scrutinize your first employee almost as much as you did your spouse. It’s a big step – someone will now be relying on you for a salary. That person must be able to share the load, contribute thoughtful ideas, and live up to your standards. Don’t ever lose sight of this. When you are a small and growing business, every single person matters, and you cannot afford to have dead weight. If you do, take Jack Welch’s advise and find out who it is and get a replacement immediately so you can stay focused on your core business.
  2. Focus on your strengths. You probably got into business because you like your business, not because you’re good at accounting, payroll, benefits or building out new space. Know your skills, use them to their fullest, and find other experts to help you with the rest. Don’t let the administrative details distract you from your core business.
  3. Be an expert. Why did you get into business in the first place? You probably have a unique point of view on how to do your particular business. Use that to your advantage. No one will hire you because you are the 10th PR firm in town. They will hire you because you specialize in a technique or point of view on how to be successful.
  4. Know when a client/customer is “worth the investment. We all have them….those customers we take because they will get us to the next level. Maybe it would broaden your sector expertise, or is a brand name that will carry cache. There are certainly times when this makes absolute sense. And there are times when it could be the worst decision you ever made. For every business, the criteria that separate the good from the bad “investments” will be different. Identify yours, write them down, and live by them.
  5. Don’t rest on your brand. Once you’ve established your brand with some homerun customers or campaigns, don’t rest easy. You are only as good as your last campaign, and unless you are a household name (and even if you are) you still need to treat every campaign or customer as if they were your first.
  6. If you are the business, you have a problem. You will never grow the business if you are the only one who can get things done or to whom customers come for advice. Empower your employees.
  7. Mentor. Get used to the idea that no employee will ever work as hard as you do, and don’t resent them for it. You own the business and at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. However, spend the time to mentor your staff. Give them the opportunity to grow and take charge. The first time you teach them how to do it, it will definitely take longer than if you did it yourself, but by the third time, perhaps you won’t be needed.
  8. Stay nimble. Small businesses, like startups, can innovate more quickly than large enterprise organizations, so use that to your advantage. Stay aware of industry trends, learn new best practices and incorporate them into your offerings as fast as you possibly can.
  9. Make hay while the sun shines. My business partner would always say this to me when we were overwhelmed with new business opportunities. She’s right. At InkHouse, we call those good problems. Find a way to take advantage of a big pipeline.
  10. Go big or go home. This is what we say when we’re looking at an opportunity we’re not sure we can get. If you don’t go for it, you won’t win in. So prepare the best proposal you can, walk into the meeting and act like you own the room, don’t fuss with your clothes, and deliver that pitch like you’ve done it 100 times.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why Ozzy Osbourne and Amnesty International Work Together

If You Want Headlines, Write a Good Headline

I started out with a lofty ambition to identify the 10 best or worst press release headlines of the week. But a quick browse through some of this week’s releases on PR Newswire made that mission more difficult than I thought because there were very few standouts – good or bad.

However, two did catch my eye. This one was hard to ignore: Amnesty International and Ozzy Osbourne Salute 70th Anniversary of John Lennon's Birth With Exclusive Digital Release on iTunes Store. It’s the sheer unusualness of hearing Ozzy and Amnesty International in the same place that makes this work. Likewise, this one caught my eye because I’m not really sure what it means: World's Largest Social Media Conference to Include Exclusive Social Media Business Summit. Presumably the Social Media Conference will include some sort of content on the business of social media, so this doesn’t tell me more than I might have already guessed.

The typical press release headline is very predictable though. “XYZ launches new version of XYZ product” or “XYZ Company Wins XYZ Award.” Here are just a few from this week:

I like these because of their brevity, but unless a reporter is seeking out information about your company because you’re in a hot space (Boxee) or are a blue chip company (IBM), it’s tough to get noticed. For both of these headlines, I still don’t know why the announcements are important or what makes them unique.

Now let’s look at a few headlines from the top tech blogs this week:

These both create a little bit of tension, while explaining the importance of what you are about to read. PR agencies are tasked with the daunting challenge of writing headlines that their clients will approve and the media will read and then write about. Frequently, these two goals are mutually exclusive, but I will leave that battle for my fearless colleagues and their own clients. Here are my two cents on the three things that make for a good headline (and thanks to Lisa Mokaba for #4 and #5):

  1. Keep it short. Twitter has made us used to 140 characters and more importantly, to optimize your release for search engines, you need to get your keywords in up front. The rest simply don’t matter.
  2. Controversy breeds interest. Find the tension in your story and lead with it. And if you don’t have controversy, Ozzy Osborne is always a good option. We did a campaign awhile back where the winner would get to eat Thanksgiving with him at his house. Let’s just say that TMZ posted it with an interesting graphic of Ozzy biting the head off of a bat over Thanksgiving dinner.
  3. Highlight why this is important. Having a new product is not news on its own. How does it change the landscape of your industry? Is it the first of its kind? What will its impact be? Find the things that set your announcement apart. And if you don’t have them, maybe you should not be making an announcement.
  4. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. To quote the Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” One headline I read this morning announced an “unhackable system.” To me, that’s just asking for trouble. Same with “only,” and “first.” Make sure you’re really first, because math doesn’t lie.
  5. Tell us how you really feel. Your company may be proudly announcing something, excited for someone to join the team or looking forward to the future. We know. That’s why you are putting out a press release. Tell us what it means, not how you feel.

Don’t make your headline an afterthought. They should be the centerpieces of your announcements. Make them interesting, informative or fun. At the very least, make them something. Happy writing!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

No Cameras, No Recording Equipment, No Sense

Last night I saw Gorillaz at the Agganis Arena at Boston University. The show was amazing. It's really easy to find really terrible examples of mixed media performances but when you see one that nails it . . . well, it's just an amazing thing to see. From the first song - which featured a video of Snoop Dogg on vocals to the last pounding encore Gorillaz wove sound and light and video into an intense narrative.

Even within each media type there were so many elements and styles and tones and textures that it could leave your head spinning. So given this commitment to flexibility and quality and creativity around content it was weird to see that old tag on my ticket "No Cameras, No Recording Equipment."

Now if that were actually enforced (or enforceable) I *might* be able to understand it. Sure, every artist (or production company or record label or venue) would like to have full creative control of the content they make or produce or distribute or present - but that isn't possible any more. Here's a shot of the crowd at Gorillaz:

There were dozens and dozens of people photographing and recording the show. Guess what though? Photographs/video/audio captured with an iPhone or point-and-click camera aren't great. Here's an example that's actually better than most:

Even though it's good for the genre, the quality isn't that good.

Here's another - this was was made with a proper HD video camera and the difference is evident. It's still not great but it's a step in the right direction:

Here's a third example that shows what can be done with two cameras and editing:

There are big differences in the quality and experience of the content in these three cases. It makes me wonder, "what's the logic behind the ban on recording?" Is it to protect the original content? to boost record sales? sell merch? fill clubs? Does the ban - or its unintended fallout (poor quality content) accomplish these things? I have no idea but am curious. For me personally, quality fan content makes me want to experience the band and its content for myself.

What about poorly produced fan-generated content? If anything, it may have a cooling effect on someone's desire to experience a performer. I think of it this way - the low quality content functions as a souvenir. It allows the producer to say "I was there" but rarely conveys much about the quality or experience of a performance. Of course the quality experience is exactly what you want to be conveyed. That's what builds and excites a fan base.

Encouraging fan-content is nothing new. The Grateful Dead managed to become pretty successful not in spite of fan recordings but in part because of fan recordings of their shows. Artists who include their fans in the process of creating a strong content-based community can and do thrive. The best way to create a strong content-based community is to allow fans to create strong content - NOT to force them to create sub-standard content with outmoded restrictions.

The idea of not just tolerating - but actively encouraging - content creation shouldn't be limited to artists. Virtually any brand can benefit from strong user-generated content. Some brands do this well, while others try to exercise control. Control is gone and has been for a while. People will say what they will say whether you want them to or not. The only control that can be exercised is how easy you make it for people to make quality content.

Aiding and encouraging content creation (and recognizing quality content) helps connect current fans/customers more tightly to the band/brand/movie/etc. It can also helps attract new fans (how many of you have checked out a band on YouTube based on a friends recommendation or because you've heard they're coming to town?).

By putting content restrictions in place all that happens is that poor quality content is produced. These restrictions squander the opportunity to build an engaged fan base, add additional content to multiple channels and reach new people. It's time for these types of restrictions to be lifted so more people can participate in a positive content experience.

What do you think? Do limits on content creation help or hurt?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Losing Friends and Fans on Facebook

Time Magazine has an interesting piece out today on how to lose friends on Facebook. It’s based on a study done by the University of Denver, which finds that the things that annoy real friends are pretty much the same things that annoy virtual friends. I for one am tired of all of the Farmville updates that clog up my Facebook feed. Not surprisingly, people don’t like lots of political or religious comments – although I always enjoy a good debate!

This is a good reminder for companies who are seeking to build up their fan bases on Facebook as well. No one wants to hear about the 12th product update today, and few care about your new Web site or the award you just won. While these are important things for your company and employees, it’s always good to use them sparingly.

A company’s social media presence should create space for conversations. There are certainly times for pushing out messages from your brand, but also look for places to seek interaction with your fans. And remember the power of humor. You want to give people a reason to come back to your page once they leave. If they are entertained, the odds of a return visit are much greater.

Friday, October 1, 2010

InkHouse Exec Catches Office Record Number of Swedish Fish

InkHouse VP of Operations Claims 18 in One Package, Drowning the Package Average of Seven

WALTHAM, Mass., (October 1, 2010)InkHouse, a public relations and social media agency serving innovative technology, consumer and services companies, is pleased to announce that one of the individually wrapped Swedish Fish packages that were mysteriously delivered to their office is purported to have contained 18 Swedish Fish. All staff members have been consuming the delicious gummy candy, without abandon, for more than a week despite it being dropped off by a stranger who may or may not have actually worked for Cadbury.

“When Pat sent out an office wide email claiming 18 Swedish Fish, I could not believe it, it just didn’t seem possible,” said Meg O’Leary, InkHouse principal and co-founder, speaking of office record holder (and records keeper), Pat Monaghan, vice president of operations. “What was even more surprising to me was the number of people that hit ‘reply all’ and sent out inane emails regarding this latest development. I had no idea how strongly people felt about Swedish Fish. No one replies that quickly for other endeavors, like staffing the office on ‘work from home Fridays.’ ”

“As PR people, we are constantly keeping our ears to the ground to stay up to date on what’s going on in our clients’ industries. It enables us to proactively uncover new opportunities, engage the media and develop relationships with thought leaders,” said Beth Monaghan, InkHouse principal and co-founder. “Apparently we also like to eat candy and the mystery box of Swedish Fish has really opened my eyes to how much the folks in our office not only enjoy free candy, but how competitive they can get as to who has the most in one package.”

InkHouse staff members were quick to post photos on Twitter and Facebook at the outset of the Swedish Fish delivery and enthusiasm for the treat has not diminished. Since the original claim of 18 Swedish Fish in one package, another confirmed record bag was opened, as well as several others containing 10 or more. Cadbury officials were not reached to discuss this latest development, although InkHouse assumes they would say something along the lines of, “They seriously wrote a press release about this”?

About InkHouse

InkHouse is a public relations and social media agency serving innovative technology, consumer and services companies. InkHouse provides public relations, communications strategy planning and content services by intertwining time-tested techniques with next-generation communication methods such as social media, blog relations and one-of-a-kind “buzz” programs. Headquartered in Waltham, Mass., InkHouse was founded in 2007. Visit for more information.