June 12, 2013

Visualize media coverage

infographic-of-infographics

At VOXUS, we work with a great number of technology companies that have compelling stories to tell but often have a difficult time conveying the true nature of the problem they solve or the burden they ease. When this happens, a very effective tool in getting their message out is an infographic. An infographic is a visual representation of information, data or knowledge intended to present complex information clearly and quickly, so says Wikipedia.

Presenting data in an infographic has been utilized for decades. Think about when you read the weather forecast in the newspaper or online. That information is usually presented in an infographic. Why? Because it cuts to the heart of the matter and gives you the information you care most about.

We use infographics for the very same reason. Reporters and editors are bombarded daily with new technologies and don’t always have time for a half-hour briefing explaining why they should pay attention to our clients. With an infographic, journalists get the core information in an easy to read, compelling manner that more immediately gets to the story they will care about. And many times, the infographic is included in the story or will become the story all on its own. This is an excellent way to help reporters and editors convey your message to their readers in a very efficient manner where they don’t have to invest hours of time conducting research and writing.

May 13, 2013

When it comes to start-ups, there is no one size fits all answer about if or when to hire a PR agency

You can’t work in the PR business without developing a thick skin. Some folks in the media take an almost perverse pleasure in bashing the annoying habits or supposed incompetence of PR people and agencies. To be fair, as an industry, we suffer from more than our share of self-inflicted wounds. But that doesn’t mean every criticism is valid. Or even intelligent.

In a recent VentureBeat post, former journalist*, PR rep and now founder of a somewhat creepy site that helps guys stalk single women (sorry, it doesn’t deserve a link), Kevin Leu questions whether start-ups should ever work with a PR firm. Spoiler: he says “no.” Leu’s “5 Reasons You’ll Regret Hiring a PR Agency for Your Start-up – and What You Should Do Instead,” starts with a questionable premise and backs it up with sweeping generalizations unsupported by facts. Good thing he’s no longer a “journalist.” Here are just a few of the things he got wrong.

Choosing-a-PR-Agency-photoFirst, the basic premise: should start-ups hire a PR agency? The real answer, as with most things, is: “it depends.” Some start-ups do just fine getting the word out about themselves without any outside help. Some are really savvy about story-telling, building relationships with media and influencers, leveraging social media and creating content that’s both interesting and marketable. And some start-ups have the internal resources (meaning, mostly time) to put into PR. But many don’t. And if you’re one of the latter, you might need a PR firm.

But is it worth it? According to Leu, the “average” cost of retaining a PR firm is $12,000 per month with a minimum 6-month commitment. That’s a lot of cash for a series A-type start-up. Of course, he has no data to back this number up. And, of course, it’s a completely absurd figure. Do some firms charge that much? Sure, but it’s not “average.” Here at VOXUS, we successfully work with a lot of start-ups whose budgets are far more modest than that. I suspect we’re not unique. Also, in nearly two decades doing PR in Silicon Valley and the Northwest, I’ve never heard of a minimum half-year commitment. Not once.

With his bogus starting number, Leu does some questionable math to arrive at the conclusion that hiring a junior or mid-level PR person internally at somewhere between $70- $90,000 per year is a better use of money than an agency at $144,000. Wrong again. Ask anybody who’s run a business and they’ll tell you that the true cost of an employee is about 2X salary. So that one junior PR person is actually costing you $140-$180,000 year. Even if you accept Leu’s $144,000/year agency number, that doesn’t pencil out. Also, his suggestion that it’s somehow a detriment that agencies have more than one client makes little sense. First, respectable agencies don’t represent multiple, competing clients, so they won’t be pitching another client instead of you. And if they represent complementary clients, it actually helps to make them more knowledgeable about the markets their clients are in.

In any event, Leu’s beef seems to be that you’re paying an agency for the part-time work of two junior people when you can hire one full-time, junior person for the same cost. Once again, his basic assumption is wrong. The VOXUS model ensures that every one of our clients gets consistent, in-depth senior-level attention. And by “senior,” we mean people with at least a decade or more of PR experience and know-how. That in-house junior account person Leu recommends may eventually understand your business, but won’t be providing much in the way of strategy. Nor will he or she have much bandwidth overhead for major launches or when crises erupt. That’s why agencies use teams.

As for Leu’s assertion that agencies don’t know how to tell stories, I’m not sure he’s qualified to say. (Reporting on traffic and writing about where to find girls are hardly complicated beats). But for the record, storytelling is at the center of all we do. That said, no agency (or any start-up working on their own) is going to be successful getting attention if the only thing they have to sell is an idea. Facts, data, compelling user stories, ROI numbers, etc., are all essential to getting quality coverage in top-tier media. Lots of tech start-ups are founded by people with fantastic technical skills and great vision, but lack the communications skills to make their ideas obvious to a wider audience. Again, that’s what we do at VOXUS.

Leu does make one decent point: ensure that any agency you’re considering working with has a track record of recent success representing companies that are like yours, whether it’s in the same market or a similar business challenge.

I guess one out of five isn’t bad…

*Leu’s “journalism” background consists of a few months as a traffic reporter, about a year writing puff pieces for a third-tier bi-monthly lad magazine in Florida and the last several years writing his own blog called “SiliconValleyBachelor.com.” Most recent post: a girl in a bikini holding a drink. The New York Times, it’s not…

April 24, 2013

Trade Up!

magazinesWhen some companies engage a PR firm, they have visions of reading about themselves in Time or the Wall Street Journal. And while top-tier media coverage is always thrilling, it’s not the only way to reach your current and potential customers. You may find the best use of your agency’s time and your budget is to focus on smaller trade publications that speak directly to your customers.

At VOXUS, we have a plethora of trade publications we work with on a regular basis. From Network World and Computerworld to Mashable and TechCrunch, there are media outlets that concentrate solely on technology. So while a story in the New York Times will reach a larger audience, a story in Computerworld might actually be better for driving company sales.

Drilling down further, there are sub-sets of trade media that are even more targeted. One of our clients is a technology company that specializes in hosted accounting solutions. So again, while a story in Computerworld would be nice for it, a story in Accounting Technology is even better because it speaks directly to its customers – accountants. And at the end of the day, although you want your PR program to enhance your image and provide credibility,  you ultimately want it to impact your bottom line with increased sales.

The moral of this story is that, just because you may not receive major coverage in the national media, it doesn’t mean you are missing out. If you can have a clear focus on being a resource for your core trade media, you’re already on the path to a more impressive bottom line.

March 19, 2013

Does My Website Need A News Center?

Yes, your website needs a news center because, if it doesn’t, you are limiting potential media coverage. Reporters, editors and bloggers are all busier than ever and rely on public relations and communications professionals to provide them with timely information quickly and easily. By having your entire press kit and other vital materials online, when a member of the media has a request, you can either email what is needed or point to your online news center.

When we work with a client to build a news center for a website, we recommend it have its own page and include the following:

-High and low-resolution logos
-Branding guidelines for using logos
-Company backgrounderOnline_Newsroom
-Company fact sheet
-Press releases
-Historical media coverage
-Executive bios
-Photos of executives
-Product photos
-Product one-sheets
-Videos and b-roll
-Annual reports
-Analyst reports
-Investor relations contacts
-Media contacts

By having all this information in one place, any member of the media working with you on a story will be grateful. In fact, when they see all the information they have access to, your part of the story could automatically get bigger when they find they have all these resources at their fingertips. And let’s face it, we all want to maximize every opportunity we have when it comes to media coverage.

March 6, 2013

And The Award Goes To…

awardNow that awards season has finally ended and all of those stand out performances in the entertainment world have been dutifully honored, it would be a good idea to start thinking about ways your company can become an award winner. Of course I’m not talking about winning a Grammy if you are a hosting company, but every industry has its own set of awards, you just have to know where to find them.

In the technology space, there are ample opportunities to have your company, product or service recognized for innovation or excellence. Start by looking at your favorite tech publications and websites. By spending time researching the media, you are bound to find awards specific to many of them.

Other places to look for award opportunities are professional organizations in your company’s space. Say you provide a technology solution for the HR community. If you do some research on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) website you’ll find that they hand out awards and you can bet that there will be categories for technology.

In addition, awards are given out in your own backyard. Local business publications and websites are always a good place to start building an awards program for your company. From being the “fastest growing” in the local business journal to being one of the “best places to work” in your city magazine, there are ample opportunities.

By becoming an award-winning company you accomplish two very important things. First you provide validation to your customers that they have indeed made the right choice by doing business with you. And secondly, awards give your staff a greater sense of pride in where they work and what they are doing on a daily basis.

February 25, 2013

The miracle of responsive web design

With the popularity of mobile devices growing faster and faster, it’s no wonder that getting your website to look right and operate properly on a smartphone or tablet is urgent business. Most retail and B2B sites see about 30 percent mobile traffic, and that number’s growing.

Tablet sales exceed 100 million a year, mobile devices will soon outnumber humans. How can you make sure your website is serving this critical change?

Responsive web design uses media queries to figure out what device the user’s using. The layout and content are sized to fit the screen, from basic phone to high-res Retina iPad. It takes more than scaling to make the transition effective. Column layouts need to change, usually from three to two to one, depending on resolution and display size. Media queries can even detect device type and change the site’s behavior adaptively—like swiping between items or changing button actions.

Sound expensive? You’re in luck. Commercial template builders offer state of the art responsive products built on CMS foundations like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla! and other formats. Licensing a generic template is cheap, usually under $100, and can streamline adding mobile capabilities to your site.

Another path is to purpose-build a site dedicated to a mobile form factor. A media query invisibly shifts delivery from your main desktop-display site to your mobile site. Most web developers can accomplish this rebuild, or you can work with a specialist firm like Womp. They offer a dynamically linked mini version that plays well in the mobile space, at a great price.

If you don’t have mobile optimization in your roadmap, better get planning. New and old customers alike share an impatience with sites that don’t work properly. When your clients and customers are away from the traditional desktop or laptop, they’re using a small screen. So get responsive and carry your message through even the smallest window of opportunity.

February 22, 2013

New Year’s resolution slipping? It’s Beeminder to the rescue!

imagesIt’s probably no surprise that 45 of every 100 Americans make a New Year’s resolution…but the depressing statistic is that only eight will see that resolution through to the end of 365 days.  That’s why the concept behind Portland startup Beeminder is so intriguing.  It offers goal setting with teeth: either meet the milestones for the goals you set, or you (literally) pay the price.  Beeminder combines the best elements of self-tracking and commitment contracts.  You keep all your data points on a Yellow Brick Road to your goal or you pay a financial penalty.  The combination is powerful, and Beeminder calls it flexible self-control.

In our continuing series of interviews with startup entrepreneurs, we asked co-founder Daniel Reeves to share a few thoughts on his startup, what inspired it and how Beeminder is reaching its audiences.

Question: What was the inspiration behind Beeminder?  Was there a personal goal you were trying to achieve, but not reaching, or were you wanting to become an  entrepreneur, and this seemed like a viable company idea?  How long did it take for the germ of an idea to gel into being an actual company? Who’s been most instrumental in your success to date?

Answer: There are two origin stories for Beeminder — both true! In 2005, the year after Bethany Soule and I met, I was trying to finish my PhD thesis, arguably the most procrastination-prone activity in history. Bethany came to my rescue with all manner of crazy incentive and productivity schemes. She dubbed it the Voluntary Harassment Program. So years ago, we were already heading in the direction of Beeminder but it wasn’t until 2008 that we first built a website embodying the ideas. That’s when I started helping a friend lose weight by implementing the principles from The Hacker’s Diet via email and Mathematica. Bethany was doing similar things in Excel for herself and we joined forces and hacked together Kibotzer, the kibitzing robot. That continued as a side project for a couple years till late 2010 when we quit our day jobs to work on it full-time, which is also when we changed the name to Beeminder. It then took us another year until we publicly launched, in late 2011.

As for who’s been most instrumental in our success, top billing goes to the folks at Beeminder.  But maybe that’s like saying we’ve been most instrumental in our own success, depending on how we’re defining “we!” So aside from the Beeminder team and advisors, we’d like to give a special shout out to Jim Huston and Angela Jackson of the Portland Seed Fund. We’re also grateful for all the folks doing amazing things with the Beeminder API. We’re pretty blown away by how much awesomer Beeminder is becoming thanks to the hacker community around it.

Question: Most folks use Beeminder to help manage weight loss, but there are other useful applications.  What’s the most interesting goal that Beeminder has been used to track?  What’s a goal that Beeminder has NOT been used to help achieve, but that you think would be viable for it?  What’s the one Beeminder feature you wish more people would take note of?

Answer: There are two uncommon but, I think, quite powerful goals that are among my favorites, both of which we’ve blogged about. First is Jake Jenkins beeminding his guitar playing and fulfilling a lifelong dream that he wasn’t finding time to bring to fruition without Beeminder.  The second is Gandalf Saxe beeminding his studying — every student who procrastinates and ends up cramming for exams should be using Beeminder!

If we’re allowed to answer this in a preposterously meta way, our favorite Beeminder goal is our own User-Visible Improvements to Beeminder. We have a $1000 commitment contract on averaging one user-visible improvement to Beeminder every day. We’re going on 700 improvements now — and we tweet about them. We can honestly say that Beeminder would not have made it as a startup if it weren’t for that Beeminder goal forcing us to keep making inexorable forward progress.

As for the feature more people should take note of, it’s the Road Dial. We talk about it in excruciating detail on our blog and we think it embodies what makes Beeminder better than our biggest competitor, StickK.  The Road Dial is the ability to change the steepness of your path to your goal, your Yellow Brick Road, and makes Beeminder very flexible, but not so flexible that it defeats the point of a commitment contract.  It lets you change your mind about what you’ve committed to, but always with a one-week delay, so you can never change your mind out of laziness (unless you’re particularly forward-thinking about your laziness).

Question:  How do people find Beeminder? It would seem that social media would be a good marketing outlet, but it takes time to build receptive audiences. How are you spreading the word about Beeminder? Any successful ideas you could share for others out there on a limited marketing budget who might be developing a B2C product?

Answer:  People have been finding Beeminder via various blogs like Lifehacker, Quantified Self and LessWrong. We’re involved in these communities and have also been gradually building credibility by putting a ton of thought into our own blog. Our biggest recent marketing coup was getting featured in Southwest Airlines’ inflight magazine, Spirit. That one was almost pure luck though. The one thing we did right was to have our phone number at the bottom of our site. The journalist who wrote the feature originally wanted to write about our competitor, GymPact, but couldn’t find a phone number for them. So he called us!

December 10, 2012

Outside Validation: Three Ways to Show You Get It

Every startup believes it is building the next best mousetrap…or it wouldn’t exist. But how do you communicate your vision or product with enough authority that others will sit up, take notice and agree with you? You use outside validation.

Every communications professional understands the value of a third-party endorsement. All of us recommend that clients obtain it. But it’s often not easy for an early stage, bootstrapped startup to figure out how to do it. So here are three ways you might be able to go about getting that all-important press release quote or product comment that will help make your value proposition even stronger:

1) Talk to an industry analyst, then ask for a quote. If your product is truly groundbreaking, an analyst will conduct a phone briefing even if you’re not a client…yet. You must be in the frame of mind for a give-and-take: you talk about your company and product, then listen to the analyst tell you how he or she can help accelerate your business through research and support. After the briefing, ask if the analyst would be willing to give you a quote for an upcoming press release or your website that, at the very least, endorses the need for your product or validates the industry problem you’re trying to solve. Please note that some industry analyst firms preclude its experts from giving quotes to anyone other than clients; however, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

2) Ask a beta user to tell you his or her experiences. Even if you can’t name the user or the company, you may be able work around it with qualifiers. For example, you might refer to Boeing as a North American-based aircraft manufacturer or to a game player as someone who has played first-person shooter games for more than ten years.

3) Talk to a partner, an advisory board member or an industry association official. While this may be more self-serving, having an advisor endorse your business concept or product (particularly if it is someone well-known in the industry) can elevate a press release or business pitch, particularly for search engine purposes.

November 28, 2012

How to Get Around Facebook’s EdgeRank

Recently, George Takei caused some controversy when he was critical of Facebook’s key algorithm EdgeRank. Because of that algorithm, he noticed that not all of his posts were reaching those who like his page. Other pages with similar amounts of likes may be seeing this happen with their pages as well.

What is EdgeRank?

Photo courtesy of Business 2 Community

EdgeRank is an algorithm that decides who will see a post in their newsfeed based on who’s most likely to share, like or comment on the news. According to Facebook, with EdgeRank, the average post is only sent to 15% of newsfeeds. This creates a problem for brands that are trying to communicate directly to their audience with the greatest possible reach. But don’t feel discouraged just yet. There are ways to work around this setback with one way being to promote posts. But if you read further we’ll share less costly ways to extend your reach through EdgeRank optimization.

Working Around EdgeRank

Encourage Your Fans to Opt-In

If you’re comfortable suggesting directly to your audience to opt-in to see all your posts, then this tactic might be for you. Have your fans mouse over the “Liked” button for your page, then have them click “Get Notifications.” They will then see all the posts from your page.

 

Facebook confirmed that this method will work in a statement made to Inside Facebook:

“We are currently rolling out the ability for people to receive notifications from specific pages, friends or public figures that they are connected to. This feature will help people keep up with the people and things that they care about most.”

EdgeRank Optimization for Your Page

If you’d like to take a more subtle approach and still get your message across, we recommend that you consider optimizing the content of your page to bump up your rank. Here are some tips on optimizing your content:

1. Post Photos. Pages get more fan engagement from photos than links or statuses, so get creative with them. For example, if you really want to link to a video, you may want to post a thumbnail of your video along with a link to the actual video. But be sure to not let the video preview show up—click the “X” button when it appears.

2. Create Photo Albums.  In newsfeeds, photo album posts show up as several photos, so they’re likely to get users’ attention.

3. Write More Text. With longer posts, there is a “see more” option that users click to read the rest of the text. Readers can help boost your rank each time they click because it shows they spent more time on your post.

4. Use Post Targeting. You can segment your fans and sort them into different groups based on things like age, gender, interests, education, location and more. The more targeted your posts, the more likely you are to increase post engagement.

By diversifying and adding more engaging content, you will likely increase your EdgeRank ranking and increase the likelihood that more of your audience will see your content. If you are interested, you can go so far as to use EdgeRank Checker, which is a free application that monitors your rank.

November 26, 2012

New Site “IT Central Station” is Yelp for Enterprise IT

Did you know an astonishing 70 percent of an IT buyer’s journey to purchasing a product is already done before they even engage with a vendor sales contact? And our digital world makes it easy: With social media, easy access online marketing collateral, and word of mouth recommendations ruling purchase decisions, why should enterprise IT buyers be bothered with sales when they can figure out for themselves the right products from sources they trust? And further, if this is the frame of mind buyers have, how can vendors intersect this independent buying route and educate potential customers on products before they miss opportunities?

To date, a centralized, online recommendation site like Yelp or Google Reviews hasn’t existed for enterprise IT buyers. Sure, some vendor-hosted recommendation sites and forums are around, but can a buyer really trust reviews that are backed by a company with a motive to sell?

Thankfully, the vendor-neutral, peer review website trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by enterprise IT thought leaders. A new website called IT Central Station just launched to fill the niche. The website allows enterprise IT buyers and CIOs to join the site through their LinkedIn profile to verify legitimacy of their role, but post anonymously about their current technology dilemmas and products they’ve used.

IT Central Station also recognizes the marketing and sales dilemma today’s path to purchase creates, and offers opportunities for vendors to see what current customers and potential buyers are saying to better position their brand and solutions. For a membership fee, vendors can join and create a detailed brand page with product options and benefits, post public responses to product reviews, and get leads from one centralized site.

IT Central Station answers the call for a trusted and verified enterprise IT peer review website and the need for marketers to interrupt the independent purchase path of today’s buyers. The site is young, and we’re excited to see how this resource changes the sales game for both buyers and vendors.