Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Conversation with Scott Kirsner Part 1: Embargoes and Exclusives

Last week Scott Kirsner, the Innovation Economy columnist and blogger for the Boston Globe, Ross Levanto, SVP at Schwartz Communications, and I sat down to discuss embargoes, exclusives, TechCrunch, social media, entrepreneurs doing their own PR, and other “under the covers” issues related to PR and the media.

This is the first of four posts that will come out of that conversation. We started with the hotly debated embargo issue, which has received more than its fair share of attention over the past few years in the wake of high-profile policies against embargoes such as Michael Arrington’s back in 2008. This summer we blogged about the issue when a major news daily “accidentally” broke a story on a piece of client news.

Scott posted his perspective in June where he included advice for how he handles embargoes (he is rarely interested) and outlined what he is interested in covering: “On the blog, I'm mainly focusing on trying to cover company formations, financings, important product launches, big-name new hires (and firings), shut-downs, and the like first.”

Embargoes and exclusives are designed to foster more in-depth stories. If we, as PR people, offer a reporter or blogger a story a few days in advance, he or she has time to do interviews, check their own sources and demo new products before the official press release hits the wires. This all sounds like a great idea – and it usually is – until one side of the agreement breaks down. Following is a recap of our conversation on the topic (edited for brevity and clarity), as well as actual audio clips.

Ross: The embargo is the biggest “gentlemen’s handshake” in the media relations business…It basically says that “I have news that I think you’ll be interested in, but because there is a group of individuals who might be interested, I am asking you to hold it until a specific date.” From a public relations standpoint, it’s primarily meant to be a tool that gives fair access to a large number of reporters.

Scott: Do you find some people saying I don’t want the story if 28 others people are also going to have it Monday at 9 a.m.?

Beth: Yes, we do. We find some outlets that just don’t do embargoes anymore. They want it exclusively or they just want the press release when it goes over the wire.

Ross: I personally have not had reporters who have said, “I’m not going to cover it because a lot of other people are covering it.” I would say that the PR side of the handshake, for which there is abuse, is that we have to be realistic about the stories that are legitimately newsworthy, and not use the embargo as a tool to make something seem more important than it is.

Scott: I have not said, “No, I don’t do anything under embargo.” But I do want to know who else is going to be covering it. Is that a fair question?... My resources are very limited and I don’t necessarily want to cover something if 58 other people are going to be covering it. I’d rather tweet the link.

Beth: Yes, it’s a very fair question…The challenge is whether you do or not do an embargo. We think about who is the audience for this news? And which publications or blogs will be interested? Does it make sense to give it exclusively to say, TechCrunch, who officially does not honor embargoes, although some of their bloggers do? Or do we want to go wide with it because we think it is a big enough story that everyone will cover it?

Click to hear more from our conversation about embargoes: 

Ross: Outside of the embargo debate, I try to avoid exclusives. There is tremendous value of a pitch that is targeted.

Scott: Wouldn’t you do an exclusive if there’s some new company that has a brain implant that can help you win at poker. You would go to Wired and say this is an awesome Wired cover story and we want to give it to you as an exclusive.

Ross: Just to play devil’s advocate. Let’s say there was a story like that and I made the recommendation to go after a competitor to you. There’s the risk that you, deservedly so, would be upset at the PR firm for offering the exclusive to your competitor. We run into this all of the time.

Beth: There are two kinds of exclusives. It comes down to the outlets that will do more thoughtful, thorough reporting and the ones that are strictly news driven. There’s a purpose for both.

Scott: Are you different from Ross – do you feel differently about exclusives?

Beth: For startups, exclusives can be good tools because they give you the opportunity to work with one outlet on a more thoughtful piece. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have a financing announcement that is a significant round, you’ll probably get pretty good coverage on it, so we would not do an exclusive in that case.

Scott: I’d advise that if you’re in the sub-$10 million range of financing, you might want to do an exclusive then because the Wall Street Journal is not going to cover that. You might want to say to a particular blog in your industry that you want them to have the exclusive.

Blaze Software, which is a recent Common Angels deal with guys who had been at Watchfire and IBM, was an interesting story for me to have exclusively even though it was $1.1 million in financing. There was a cool story about what always happens who someone gets acquired, which is “for my next trick, here’s what I’m going to do.”

Click to hear more from our conversation about exclusives: 

Scott: What do you do if a reporter breaks an embargo? Is there ever any reciprocity? Is there an angry phone call?

Beth: It hasn’t happened a ton, but most of the time it has been a mistake….We’ve frequently been able to get it taken it down, but if we can’t, we’ll call every other reporter who honored the embargo and tell them to go ahead and post. It’s awful though. It’s awful for us; it’s awful for you.

Ross: I would love to know what the impact of that [broken embargo] really is. Today, we’re hyper-cognizant of time, to the second. But what would be the long-term impact if a story went out 20 or 30 minutes before someone else’s?

Scott: The long-term impact is nothing except that your report card improves with the more stories you have first.

Click to hear more from our conversation about broken embargoes:

Later in our conversation, we talked about a related topic to the exclusive issue. Frequently, Scott will take time to meet with an entrepreneur with the assumption that he is the only one getting the scoop on whatever it is they have to tell him. It’s the same concept as an exclusive, with much looser parameters. Scott equates it to the “boyfriend/girlfriend issue.” He said, “I’d like to know who else you are dating, or who you were out with last night.” Since he does fairly in-depth pieces, it is a waste of his time if he spends a few hours with a CEO only to go back to the office and see a story from another outlet on the exact same topic. He added, “That’s almost never done by PR agencies, and more by entrepreneurs who just think they’re being clever.”

Next week, come back for the next installment where we will discuss the fantasy of many entrepreneurs to be covered by TechCrunch and how to properly target the right reporters and media outlets.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Counting our Blessings

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece the nature and science of gratitude. Not surprisingly, people who are more thankful are also happier in general. Initially, I sat down to write a post about all the things we can collectively appreciate here at InkHouse – more employees, more clients and a new office space in 2010. But then I sent an email to everyone at InkHouse asking them to share their personal lists. Their responses made me laugh and cry so I’ve posted them below verbatim – they’re better than anything I can write.

·       Thankful that I am actually living my dream of having my own agency and a family -- without feeling compromised in either camp (which leads me to my next thankful item)
·       For a business partner who supports me personally and professionally, and who without, InkHouse would not be possible
·       For clients like Nuance, Raytheon, and several others who could choose to partner with any the largest agencies in the US, yet choose us. They believe in us, we are grateful for that and work hard to earn it
·       For great clients like AdMeld, Coveo, KickApps, 5Min, Demandware, and other young companies that bet on us to help them make their mark on the world. We are fortunate to work with you
·       For an amazing staff that is comprised of some of the smartest, most talented and funniest people I have ever met. If you have not met them, you are missing out
·       For a husband and two daughters who make every day worth living

·       The basics, being able to spend time with family and friends, good office mates and my health

·       A friendly work environment and being part of this inspiring, knowledgeable and supportive team
·       My family and friends…and for not having to take the train in the morning (as I work outside the city now)

·       My dog whose optimism inspires me every day. He can’t run up a tree to catch a squirrel but gosh darn it, he still tries every time

·       The fact that I have a place to go at the end of the day where I'm warmly welcomed
·       Good friends met in strange ways
·       Fantastic faces
·       Delicious beer - Dogfish 60 FTW!
·       Awesome video games

·       The unconditional love my 4-year old son gives me
·       Having a job in an economy where many people do not
·       Being able to put food on the table and presents under the tree this year!

·       I’m thankful for Tyler Seguin

·       An exciting new job!
·       The health of my family
·       Taste buds to enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving feast
·       Internet, salt and duct tape—without them, the world just wouldn’t be the same

·       My big family, great friends and hysterical co-workers
·       My iPhone
·       Joanne Chang’s homemade pop tart recipe

·       Amazing mentors, inside and outside of the office

·       Having phenomenally supportive, loving and hilariously entertaining friends and family to spend time with…and cranberry sauce

·       How we work hard here but never lose our sense of humor
·       Any food with pumpkin as its main ingredient
·       The smell of Elena’s mango hand cream

·       A great job and an inviting work environment with colleagues who get it
·       A firm that encourages creativity instead of stifling it: at InkHouse, clever ideas actually make it from the conference room to execution—and those ideas come from ANY and all of us.
·       Growing family.  As my family's older members become cherished memories, my greatest consolation is growing the next generation and creating new memories :)
·       Dark meat — you can keep the cranberry sauce and white meat, pass me a leg, some potatoes and gravy—and ok, maybe a little stuffing and carrots.
·       The Internet—how dreary would life without be without Google and free access to online media content. I still remember the days of forgetting (for example) an actor's name, and hoping you'd run into someone you knew who might have the answer—it could drive you crazy for days before you ran into someone who knew what the heck you were talking about…Now we can just Google up a serving of instant gratification as needed.

As for me, I am grateful for this team of smart, creative and amazing people who make me look forward to coming into the office each day. I have a wonderful family – a daughter who help me enjoy every minute, a husband who reminds me who I am, parents who helped me believe in possibility, and a brother and sister who inspire me. InkHouse has given me so many amazing things, most of which is my business partner, Meg, who makes my ideas better, stands beside me, and shares the journey.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Good and Bad of NOW

A few things happened over the past week that have gotten me focused on the importance of immediacy. First, New Hampshire announced plans to crack down on its ban on texting while driving – reminding me of how addicted we all are to the ding of a text notification. Second, I read Om Malik’s post on “Perpetual Nowness.” He is suggesting that we are constantly seeking the next thing and “suffer from a collective cultural amnesia about what happened five minutes ago.”

Naturally, this got me thinking about PR and the state of news media. Public relations has always been fast-paced and social media has only amped it up. It’s also the same for bloggers who are under intense pressure to be the first to break a story, even if it comes out at 1 a.m. We’re all nagged by the constant urge to check the text/IM/email/Facebook/Twitter notification we just heard beep in the background. But is all of this “nowness” helping us or hindering us?

Working in PR requires an insane attention to detail and the ability to do 10 things at once. This is my nature and I embrace it because it makes me good at my job. If you’ve met me, you know I’m not a very Zen kind of person. I’m type A. But the call of now from all of my devices and alerts has given me pause to consider whether it’s making me a better PR professional or just a more manic one.

As it turns out, my 22-month old had the answer. She’s been working very hard at teaching me how to be here, now. As all parents know, it’s pretty close to impossible to think about anything else when you’re in the midst of a meltdown over which pair of shoes your toddler is going to wear to the park. But in all seriousness, I get small slices of each weekday to see her, so I made a decision that during those periods, I would sign off. Cue the panic alarms!

Miraculously, my experiment is working. I am not missing anything, I’m coming up with better ideas for work, and am finding more moments to enjoy with my family. It turns out that “here and now” is more than a Letters to Cleo song. So cheers to the here and now, but please, don’t make me respond to every message within the minute. I’m silencing my notifications, pledging NOT to check messages in the park and banning email from meetings! Wish me luck.