Archive for category Public Relations

Pursue massive scale: And other startup lessons from my corporate life

After more than 24 years working in corporate marketing and PR positions that have inspired me, humbled me and taken me to four continents and countless industries below are my “short” notes on lessons from those days as I fight to scale my current start up.  I hope some of these are helpful to other founders and folks working at early stage companies.

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Focus on massive scale. In the fairly limited time spent working with Jeff Weiner when I was at LinkedIn I learned something from him in each and every interaction that is of value in what I’m doing now. One of his mantras back then was to focus on “massive scale.” In 2009, it meant having a LinkedIn member base that was in the hundreds of millions, densely interconnected and very active on the platform.  I joined when we were at 30 million members so it was still very much aspirational and clearly has hit massive scale since.  My takeaway on that now is for startup co-founders to plan for and anticipate bringing their business to a massive scale, because as I’ve learned, there’s a force multiplier effect on every aspect of the business when you go from 30 million customers to 300 million customers. And, if you can recruit someone to your team or board of advisors who has taken a start up from nothing to massive scale you must do it.  That experience is invaluable and will help you anticipate the potholes that lie ahead while giving you immeasurable street cred.

The other thing Jeff used to say in meetings was “there’s always a downstream” impact. He’s right of course.  Within a product environment like LinkedIn if you change something over here, something over there will be effected — maybe immediately or maybe six months from now.  But, there is always an impact — intended or otherwise.  Now that I am back in a consumer-facing startup, early in product development I have stapled that message to my forehead. It reminds me to go into every decision with eyes wide open — even if I don’t have a contingency for every consequence, I know to be ready to react. It echoes the Lean lessons to test, test, test your product before rolling out to a mass market.

Act like an owner. I’m not one for corporate missions statements. In fact, for the first 16 years of my career I used to roll my eyes at clients who spent time and money on these. When I got to eBay company values were everywhere. The one that stuck was: act like an owner.  It works universally for whatever you do and especially within a startup. Something magical happens when an employee knows its his company, too.  Suddenly, every detail matters and relationships with co-workers are worth building and protecting.  Startups need to be generous and open minded about how to structure early employee compensation and hire people who fit the demands of that stage of the company.  Being employee number 3 is very different than being employee number 3,000.

Your true self is revealed in the politics.  At some point you will be faced with making a decision based on what’s right for the customer or business and what the internal politics want.  Screw Myers-Briggs and all the personality tests, nothing reveals your true character more profoundly and swiftly than this moment. Someone asked me very recently and very bluntly why I had so many 2-year long jobs. Here’s your answer, pal. I made the decision very early on in my career that I was okay with losing a job for being unpopular with management, because I am not okay with losing a job because my programs or teams were underperforming.  For founders looking to build a team that will be tasked with making the impossible possible and facing the 98% failure rate of all start ups, I ask: who are you picking first for your kickball team?

Managers run operations, investors manage their money. In the mid- and late-90s I did investor relations for a many micro- and small-cap technology companies (in a wide range of industries) during the first tech boom.  I worked with some of the smartest CEO’s and CFO’s I’ve ever been around and prepared countless investor-facing materials and many Q&A’s for quarterly meetings and earnings calls. What I learned is that investors are in the business of managing ROI of their money. Period. While some were very knowledgeable and had good suggestions about how to make improvements that could drive growth and profitability — they never could see the full picture. Ever. In repositioning an equipment supplier to the then still burgeoning fiber optics market that would eventually serve this thing we call the Internet, a client’s investors were roiled about the change in strategy and positioning to capital markets.  Management was very smart to stick to its guns because this new strategy turned a $10 a share stock into a $500 a share stock on a split adjusted basis — within 18 months. For startup teams who take on investors the lesson is really clear — screen your investors as thoroughly as they are screening you.  Pick the ones who fit the stage of your business and have expectations in line with those of your company. For really early stage companies, listen very closely if a prospective investor wants to run operations or just provide capital.

Sometimes PR and marketing doesn’t matter.  I once had a very heated run in with a product manager who got in my grill and stated “PR doesn’t matter” as it relates to an upcoming launch.  I think my carotid just about exited my neck when he enunciated the m in matter.  Turns out, though, he was more right than wrong.  And this product manager has gone on to found a hugely successful company and probably could’ve retired four or five years ago.  In the years since I’ve more than once uttered to another marketing person a quote I saw that said “at some point, the product is the PR.” I remind myself of this lesson all the time and that if the product truly adds value to the customer’s life it will get adoption. Solving for that first and foremost trumps any marketing or go to market strategy you and any consultant can cook up.  When you’re sitting with your small team wondering if it’s time to turn on the marketing spigot — put your big boy pants on first and ask if it matters. Ask if you’ve proven yet that what you’re building is in fact a value add.

M&A gets done for one reason: Their growth, not yours. Specifically, the growth of the acquiring company. I’ve been involved on the investor relations or corporate communications side of well over 100 acquisitions and this is not a warm and fuzzy endeavor.  The acquiring company’s agenda isn’t to give the owners of the other company a soft exit, it’s to grow their company by 1) buying revenue and customers 2) acquiring technology or IP they can’t build themselves 3) buying talent that won’t otherwise go to work for them.  If you’re running a startup and your projected exit is via acquisition you better think through this now or you’re probably running a lifestyle business and don’t know it.

Lawyer up. In utopia there isn’t a need for lawyers, but this isn’t utopia it’s corporate America and if you’re building something with contractors and partners that is worth selling to the market it’s worth protecting your ass with strong legal counsel. LegalZoom is a start but soon after you fork over your $500 to get your LLC set up you’re going to need to sign on a contractor or investor and that will require a lawyer who understands your business, its risks and your objectives.  Having the conversation with counsel about who owns the kernel to software many years after it was built with millions of users on the platform is an intensely stressful conversation — been there and it sucks.

Higher education PR and marketing people are rock stars. The demands of doing marketing and PR within a university are unparalleled. I tell my former colleagues who work in corporate and consumer roles that it’s a lot like having 10,000 of your customers living in your building with their parents right around the corner.  If you’re looking for a marketing person to join your startup, look in higher ed. These folks tend to go under-appreciated but have the mettle to deal with unthinkable crises and have current experience engaging with the largest and most digital savvy generation in the history of the world — teens and young adults.

Customers buy what they want. If I had to list the companies I’ve worked with who promised a full suite of solutions to customers so that they can buy from a single vendor, I’d get a several dozen cease and desist letters and a bill from GoDaddy for the space I ate up on this blog. Its mind numbing how many companies — startup or mature — build their differentiation on the single solution provider value proposition.  Meanwhile, I can’t remember more than 10 case studies when a customer actually said “Screw it, we’re firing all of our other vendors and going with just you!” Most businesses in the U.S. are small- to medium-sized businesses and most of those companies aren’t organized in a way to buy from and manage a single provider.  So they tend to buy a la carte. Accounting buys bookkeeping services from a vendor of its choice while sales picks the CRM application it wants.  It’s the reality of the market.  For a startup — particularly a services company — looking to compete on this plane, I’d encourage you to think through this and focus first on the killer app, feature or product that could be your cash cow. Once you’ve proven that, build or buy adjacencies out over time. Google didn’t launch with Maps, Android OS, the Nexus phone, Gmail and ChromeBook on Day 1. It took them a couple of years to achieve world domination, so it might take you a little longer.

– Jose Mallabo

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Driving member growth: Sometimes it pays to be direct

When I was leading international corporate communications at LinkedIn in 2009-2010, we knew interaction between members was critical to driving growth in the overall member base. Critical to that was a singular act on the platform: Completing and updating your profile. The problem was most people only updated their profiles when they were about to look for a job. I was more than a little obsessed with driving that objective (See number 8 on this post), particularly in international markets where our member base was fast-growing, but relatively small compared to the U.S.

In India we had garnered national press coverage simply by announcing our presence in Mumbai — which helped further accelerate membership growth in that country. That gave us fodder for making more and more milestone announcement: “LinkedIn India surpasses 3 million members” then 4 million members, then 5 million. Like any news cycle, it gets salty quick and you have to be more inventive and sometimes what George Constanza did — the opposite.

Given our top priority was to get people to update their profile, I figured why not just ask them to do that directly? After all, we messaged members directly all the time. (Sometimes, the greatest clarity comes from being awake for 30 straight hours and staring at a hotel room ceiling 10,000 miles away from home.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 1.36.33 PMUntil then we’d been using press coverage and the buzz it created to drive member growth. To announce our 6 millionth member in India, we decided to announce the news directly to the membership base and let them carry it to the mainstream media — along with a tip to complete your profile.

Results:

  • Day 1 – 15,000 updated profiles
  • Day 2 – 30,000 updated profiles
  • Press coverage hit more than 5 million impressions
  • Cost of distribution: Zero Rupees
  • Prep and writing time: 2 hours (one hour was spent just explaining it and 15 minutes spent on discussing the button)
  • Authenticity to the company mission and product purpose: Like a glove

In the weeks after this tactic, my PR colleagues started looking at LinkedIn the platform for what is today — the world’s most powerful business medium for professionals.

– Jose Mallabo 

 

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Is Savannah the next start up city of America?

When anyone considers coming to Savannah, Georgia for a visit or for work, it’s not for the abundance of game changing start ups. Yet.

Since leaving my last ‘real’ job I’ve jumped back into hanging out with a small, determined group of startups that call the Hostess City of the South home. Quickly, I’ve come to see that there are seeds in place that could add ‘entrepreneurship’ to the list of attributes when thinking of Savannah.

At the Aetho ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate its move into the Creative Foundry, I was invited to moderate a panel with founders from Aetho, Tour Buddy, The Quick it App and Oak.Works to discuss all the elements needed to build a great start up community.

And, in case my questions aren’t so audible here are the notes I was reading from on my iPad. I didn’t get to ask all of them, but maybe next time…

Questions for panelists:

1 – I’ve looked at each of your backgrounds and you’ve each come to Savannah for various reasons. None of you are native to the area. So why Savannah and why found and keep your company here?

2 – There’s a quote that has gotten a lot of mileage over the years about starting the next Silicon Valley:  “Take one part and two parts venture capital and shake vigorously.” What is your reaction to that? Is it over simplified and if its on mark where do you think we Savannah is on that path?

3 – When I launched my last start up (may it RIP) finding partners, vendors and talent of any kind to work at break neck pace, all hours of the night and on a start ups budget was a constant challenge.  Is it something you are facing and if so, how are you getting past it?

4 – Each of your companies has some kind of technology focus — as you continue to grow how to you plan to keep in front of the need for more technology talent?

5 – Are the regional and local universities providing enough talent into the start up community and if not, what more do you think we/they can do to make that happen?

6 – As a Savannah start up, what advice would you give someone who is in the crowd today considering
There’s an adage that you don’t want bureaucratic investors in the early rounds of a start up — how

7 – Do you ever think — hey why don’t we just up and move to the Valley or other community where there are bigger and more established start up infrastructure?

8 – If there was just ONE thing you can have more of here in Savannah that would make growing your company easier or faster what would it be?

The point that Tristan and the others made about the City of Savannah needing to get behind the startups in town is bang on. Hot shot designers coming out of SCAD don’t want to work in tourism or for the port — they want to be self made entrepreneurs.

If Savannah doesn’t get behind them by investing in the infrastructure to incubate their companies, they will continue to put the city in their rear view mirrors when they graduate.

– Jose Mallabo

 

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Updated: 7 (not 6) lessons higher education has taught me about marketing for Millenials

There’s been more research done to study Millenials than any other generation of American consumers. I’ve read my share of the studies, but the greatest lessons I’ve learned have been on the job at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) as senior vice president of marketing and PR.

Here are my top 6 lessons (so far):

1.  Be nimble.  Before I made the move to higher education I co-founded a fashion and lifestyle startup built on the Twitter platform targeting early adopter Millenials. As we were releasing our second product the core of our targeted consumer was still very much in love with Facebook and flat out dissed Twitter. Four or five months later, after I had taken over marketing at SCAD, that all changed very dramatically. Teenagers and young adults started leaving the suddenly parent heavy Facebook for the easier and more mobile friendly Twitter world. These platform shifts will continue to happen so pay attention and organize your teams to be able to react to major media consumption shifts like this.

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2.  Have a point of view.  Perhaps this is part of my personal opinion mixed in with the lessons this job has taught me but as the research has suggested Millenials have a more global view of social, political and financial issues than generations that preceded them as teenagers and young adults. More than anything they have a point of view about issues small and large that my generation simply didn’t start thinking about until much later in life. Trying to get your brand’s point of view in agreement with that of this generation would be a mistake. However, appearing to be neutral is a bigger mistake. It shows your company has no conviction and hints that perhaps your organization hasn’t bothered to give it any thought — which makes you neutral. In this very noisy, always on world neutral is invisible.

3.  Account for family influencers.  Remember that these are young adults who still rely on parents and other family members to make big decisions. This is especially true for making decisions about big-ticket items like college. The consideration to go to college runs very broadly into familial networks (i.e. legacy, heritage and location) but very specifically to mom. The lesson for college and non-college marketers alike is that when targeting Millenials you must address the conversation they will be having with parents and others in the family. Build a relationship with that influencer through the medium or channel of their choice – which will not be the same channel. See my note about Twitter and Facebook above.

4.  Test your message.  Millenials are nothing if not professional multi-taskers especially when it comes to media consumption. Gaming. Social media. Music. YouTube. Text messages. Chats. Email. All are used on multiple devices at a pace that makes us old farts rather dizzy. If your message is not on target immediately it is ignored. Unlike my generation (who disdained advertising and marketing as a rule) Millenials actually like to interact with great marketing but your message and content has to be framed within a worldview they already have. This is true for every consumer, but more so for the generation who has grown up with the unsubscribe button at their fingertips right out of the womb.

5.  Email is not dead.  Coming into my position at SCAD, I thought that email was irrelevant to our targeted consumer compared to search engine marketing, social media and PR. I was as wrong as acid wash jeans outside of a truck stop. Email can play a critical role in your communications strategy and media mix, but it has to be integrated with other content on social and the web. In my opinion, email to Millenials is something you introduce well after they’ve started to engage with your brand. It cannot stand on its own and less is definitely more. For people over 40 spam is annoying but tolerated. To Millenials SPAM is the devil burning Styrofoam cups on their iPhone. A few months ago, my team launched an email campaign (tied to other content) to an already used list of teenagers and we increased click through rates 383% and click to open rates by 502% from one campaign to the next — using the same list. We were very selective about the messaging, creative and time of delivery. It can be done. (See the before and after.)

6.  Print publications are (almost) dead.  I am writing this in a hip coffee shop where I am easily the oldest customer; and I just did a lap around the room. Not a single Millenial has the print edition of the Wall Street Journal or New York Times (or any print publication for that matter) open. As a 46-year-old who started my career in a New York PR agency, I love the feel of the New York Times in my hands. It makes me feel like a better person just clutching it let alone acting like I’m reading it in public. But I’m not my target audience, they are. So when it comes to launching an integrated PR/marketing campaign for Millenials save that earned print media push for their parents.

7.  Understand a 15 year old’s motivations.  Sophomores and juniors aspire to a lifestyle supported by a career and the money that comes with it. Your college is a way to get there, not a destination. Remember that when you’re drafting an email or copy for your web site — they don’t care about what it’s like to get there, they want to know what you can do to help them achieve their career goals. And despite the outcry and media headlines, money is no object. Families are more than willing to foot the bill to get their posterity on a career path.

Other stuff to read.  Other than this brilliant post, if you’re going to do some reading about marketing for Millenials pick up “Chasing Youth Culture and Getting it Right” by Tina Wells. It is far more than a primer on the subject but really expounds on the many issues identified above and in more white paper like research about this generation of consumers. I pick it up and re-read chapters just as I do with “The Tipping Point” or “Positioning” before I build a campaign.

– Jose Mallabo

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Email is not dead in Millenials marketing

After posting 6 Lessons higher education has taught me about marketing for Millenials, I’ve gotten more head scratching about advocating for email in the overall media mix for this group. There’s no doubt emailing high school students isn’t the same as sending email to working professionals way back in 2001 — when answering emails on a BlackBerry in public was a personal branding opportunity to announce: “I’m so important, I’m answering email right here, right now!” 🙂

My point was simply to not ignore it and to think through where in the overall mix between social, PR, content marketing email fits when trying to engage Millenials in your higher education (or otherwise) brand. We actually used email at various stages of the marketing funnel at the Savannah College of Art & Design during my tenure. Campaigns at the top of the funnel were by far the most demanding simply because the awareness level was generally fairly low. Remember, this is the generation raised on social and mobile. Understanding that young adults actually like visual marketing, we took a more mobile product launch mindset to help us break away from the approach that these were somehow personal notes between strangers who haven’t yet met.

Below is the before and after — resulting in an increase of 383% click through rates and an increase of 502% click to open rates to the same list of high school students.  In short, more people opened and clicked through to the new email campaign (which was the fourth one these students received from us) than on the first campaign when performance rates are almost always higher.  It can be done.

Before. Lots of text, hyperlinks instead of buttons:

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After. And, better. Stronger positioning, buttons for easy mobile click throughs:

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– Jose Mallabo 

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Does talent matter?

Does talent matter? Of course it does. But how that talent is deployed within an organizational design matters more.

Every day and nine times on Sunday you pick Michael Jordan first (sorry Hakeem and Sam) for kickball, basketball or whatever because talent is talent and like every coach or manager in the world would say you can’t coach talent. People have it or they don’t.

Most of us lead highly matrixed (particularly in PR and marketing) teams so I would never argue with the virtue to hire the smartest, most talented people you can find. But it won’t matter if you can’t put those people into a system that makes the most of that talent at scale and over time.

It took Michael Jordan seven seasons (and a banged up Lakers team) to win his first NBA Championship. It took getting him into the vaunted triangle offense and building a supporting cast of characters around him for him to became the greatest basketball player ever. Without that triangle offense (what we office workers would call organizational design) Michael Jordan, dare I say, may have become the Dr. J of his time: great talent, amazing jumping ability and bring-the-house-down dunks but not the greatest ever.

In public relations and marketing, how you organize talent matters immensely because of the need for scale, repetition and consistency every day. No one thinks of it, but PR is closer to operating like finance than you think. Just like finance with its need to consistently report the same figures across multiple channels, PR and marketing programs and messages must be repeated consistently plus the added degree of difficulty in localizing those programs at a consumer level all around the world. It would be like the CFO having to report earnings or a Form 10-K simultaneously in multiple languages, media and channels in Asia, Europe and North America everyday.

That’s today’s marketing.

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The only way to ensure that is an organizational design that allows your people to focus on executing programs instead of wasting time with administration or office politics that are typical of lower functioning companies. Michael Jordan wouldn’t be the legend he is now if he spent his career worrying about where his teammates should be standing when the ball was in play or if Scottie Pippen was upset about the email exchange from earlier in the day. The triangle offense and great personnel management took care of that and allowed Jordan to be much more than his God-given talent.

Unless you are Bruce Almighty’s boss, you can’t control for how many uber talented people were born in 1975 and are now in the job market. But you can control for where you put those people once you find them.

When I got to LinkedIn to run international corporate communications, there were essentially two PR teams: the one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. (which served as the hub for PR agency teams in 6 European countries). The two were loosely tied but served different agendas. After opening and launching offices in India and Australia I set to organize the international PR functions into a single group that worked in concert with the U.S.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t about staffing at all.

PR in Europe was being led by two incredibly hard working and sharp people – who spent a big chunk of their time managing and administering 6 different PR firms in 6 different countries. The rest of their time was spent managing internal teams in London and reporting into Mountain View. Not enough time was being spent on executing actual strategies and programs in each of these countries that drove member growth and engagement with the product. 

We reorganized the internal and agency structure to allow them all to execute on market and customer facing programs and less time reporting to each other. Instead of my internal team serving as the administrative hub in London to each of 6 agencies operating in each of the 6 countries, we moved to a single agency (5 less invoices, contracts, weekly calls and monthly reports) with the hub relocated to Spain. And, in this new model the agency served as hub (not my internal staff) and was comprised of a multicultural and multilingual team that could execute media relations and content campaigns from central Europe into each of the 6 countries. It allowed my remaining internal PR staffer to have a single point of contact on the agency team, which freed up his time to coordinate strategic direction with LinkedIn leadership in London and Mountain View.

I can’t tell you how much money we saved, but that happened, too.

– Jose Mallabo

 

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Top 5 things I am looking forward to at San Diego Comic-Con 2014

On July 26 SCAD’s Sequential Art program will be hosting a small booth-like presence across the street from Comic-Con in San Diego at the Wired Cafe at the Omni Hotel. Having lived in San Diego back when Comic-Con wasn’t quite the socio-entertainment global geekfest that it is today — I am really looking forward to the trek from Savannah to the place I called home for so long. But mostly I am looking forward to:

  1. Unleashing a small squadron from my dusty fleet of cool and slightly off-putting t-shirts and calling it business attire. On day 1 of the conference I will either wear my “I’m not sleepy, I’m Asian” or my “Brown Man Rising” shirt. Tweet suggestions to @josemallabo.
  2. Seeing and hearing what 130,000 geeks, celebrities, media, groupies and doodlers looks and sounds like so I can finally answer the question that’s been playing in my head for years: “Who would win in a street fight between fans of Comic-Con and the Super Bowl?” My money is on Comic-Con not because they outnumber Super Bowl attendees almost 2-to-1, but because they’ve conceived an alternate reality where wearing capes isn’t weird and super powers exist.
  3. Being in a group of people where I know without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not the only one who has ever worn a Lieutenant Uhura uniform (replete with the wig and ear piece.) 
  4. Chilling out at Wired Cafe with all the entertainment muckety mucks to see if someone will finally admit to me that the Oscar for Best Picture awarded to The English Patient was a result of a lost bet.
  5. Just being in San Diego — home for one of my alma maters and the place where I’ve consumed the most quesadillas after 2 a.m.

Good things to know if you’re going to Comic-Con  

Black Widow

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Top 5 tips on how to get more Twitter followers

Sorry.

Sorry.

Sorry…for the all-too-obvious SEO- and Huffington Post-inspired headline.  This post has little to do with getting more followers on Twitter. Could be worse.  I could’ve named it: “Is Twitter more important than the Wall Street Journal?”

The first lady can Double Dutch

Social media, especially Twitter, is a global 24/7 session of Double Dutch.  Only it’s with 500 million+ jump ropes none of which will slow down to let you in even though you just laced on a shiny new pair of Nikes and are carrying a swanky-fun handle.

Like Double Dutch you don’t run into the fray with your mouth open unless you want a 20-gauge rubber rope behind your bicuspids. You wait. You find the rhythm of the conversation then jump in prepared to be part of it.

Based on using Twitter in corporate communications and on building a company on the Twitter API, I’ve learned two things:

  1. Before you start tweeting: Shut up and listen!
  2. Never build a company on the Twitter API.  (Another story for different day.)

By listening for a bit you’ll get a sense what the language and conversation is on Twitter and you’ll see what gets the most interest in whatever topic you’re keen on. No matter what subject, I think you’ll see that people who have a constructive point of view get the most engagement on Twitter.  So when you do want to start opening your mouth, think back to the way back days of TechCrunch (circa when we thought Friendster was the big ticket).  Michael Arrington made that blog more influential than mainstream papers by having a point of view.

So, if you get stuck on finding a voice for your next tweet or post, ask yourself – what would  @arrington do?

Then when you’re jusssst about to hit send on your 11th tweet stop, drop and roll. Take a look at the first ten tweets and count how many of those are about: A) broad topic of conversation that we all care about, B) dialogue with other tweeps, and C) how wonderful you are.

If more than two are focused on category C, put the mirror down and remember this guiding principle:

As @louhoffman reminded me last week no one you first meet at a cocktail party wants to hear a commercial about how wonderful you are.  They want to engage with you about new and common areas of interest. And, they’ll stay for a full cocktail or maybe two if you’re a smidge entertaining.

New rule is the old rule:  50/30/20

Spend 50% of your time talking about broader subjects on Twitter.  Then, 30% actively engaged with other people. And, just a wee 20% woofing about your parents’ progeny.

I lied. I’m giving you some tips. The last one is: Who you are on Twitter is somewhat reflective of who you are following. Follow wisely.

If you want to be seen and served up in the Twitter “Who to follow” engine as a global leader in M&A but are following 1,500 skateboarders . . . then odds are Twitter thinks you’re more like Tony Hawke than Larry Ellison.

– Jose Mallabo

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A letter to my former PR team circa 2009

Who says email is worthless? Occasionally a former co-worker or in this case staffer of mine digs up a blast from the email past and I hear an echo of something brilliant or stupid that I wrote years ago. I still think about PR this way. And I still don’t own any clothes from Lacoste.

See below a verbatim note from sometime in 2009:

Dear XXX and XXX –

Given that both of you have the unique challenge (erm, pleasure) of being managed by me from far, far away I felt I’d give you some insights into the things that rattle in my head. 11 points for today.

I obviously have a lot of opinions — good, bad or indifferent — and I’d counsel you to bring me in early into your planning and campaigning process. I enjoy that part and think we have so many cool things we can do this year.

-Jose

1. Media coverage is not a panacea. If it were, Monica Lewinsky would be president of the U.S. and BP would be the company of the decade. I subscribe to the doctrine of ‘agenda setting’ when it comes to media relations/coverage. The media doesn’t tell people what to think, it tells them what to think about.

2. I’ve launched more than 100 products, announced more than 125 acquisitions, 50 partnerships and dozens of events across North America, Asia Pacific and Europe. Two or three were memorable.

3. The best PR campaigns are those that are experiential and drive activism at the grassroots or customer level. Most of these can then elevate into media coverage.

4. TiVo was the worst press launch I’ve ever worked on. It was 100% focused on the technology and never considered the lifestyle play. It remains my biggest learning lesson. HP’s “e-services” launch was the second worst project I was involved with.

5. One of the brands I admire most for its recent resurgence is Lacoste. Once a brand for preppy suburban teens that died with the advent of hip-hop and grunge culture – now transcends both demographics and two generations of consumers while maintaining its niche appeal. I own no Lacoste clothing.

6. Everyone in the company does PR and will tell you how to do your job — until there is a crisis or someone asks how to measure PR. The best PR people are prepared for both.

7. My favorite quote is from the late great John Wooden: “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” It’s both a memorable sound bite and universally applicable for anything.

8. I am frustrated by the fact that our number one priority has been to get members to update their profiles and we’ve done a total of 2 tactics worldwide to drive this activity in the first 6 months of the year.

9. Your biggest challenge as an in-house PR person will always be staying focused. See #6 above.

10. PR people train spokespeople on the fact that audiences remember very little about a message and are impacted mostly by the visuals and experience of the communication event – yet we spend most of our day-to-day time spinning on…messaging.

11. Occasionally I hear a PR person say something that I think is bang on. This is bang on – and Nick is one of the best media relations people I know.

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Media relations is a wee portion of brand communications

I remember not too long ago that the “PR guy” was the guy who wrote press releases and called down a list of reporters to ask if they got the release or not.

I swear. Like acid wash jeans — this happened!

While I think it’s been fascinating to watch the art of story telling make its way into PR and communications work, I think it’s even more important to see how the convergence of traditional PR with areas that might have been called marketing in the past is changing the way we think of PR and how we organize the function — whether it is in-house or on the agency side. I’ve been interviewing and prospecting for clients over the last 5 months and I can usually tell by the line of questioning whether or not the opportunity is going to be a good fit or not.

When a prospective employer or client asks me about my media contacts the giant reg flag goes up and I start looking for the exit signs. But when the questions are about engaging the right audiences using a mix of tactics and levers I think: “Winner, winner chicken dinner!”

So many companies go to PR people to help fix the business or make management happy that they lose sight of why you would initiate a communications campaign and they go into the market shopping for tactics instead of results. Here are some questions I’d ask if my boss told me to go get some PR help:

  1. What are we solving for?
  2. What exactly do you expect to get with more ‘coverage’?
  3. How should we integrate it with social, marketing, employee communications and the brand?

The answers to 1 and 2 are often intertwined in some sloppy hot mess about driving sales or the stock price or the b-word that drives strategic communications people the battiest: buzz. Whoever sold and popularized that BS term “buzz marketing and PR” needs to be dunked in a vat of ice and forced to watch re-runs of the first season of Seinfeld. If you can nail down the business objectives and explain that coverage is no panacea then and only then do you move on to 3.

This is organizational design and the only way you get to keep your job a year from now when someone asks why what’s on Facebook isn’t aligned with what’s on the blog and in the press coverage.

The best PR functions I’ve seen of late are built like this:

At the heart is the brand — including the stories and messages that work to connect with people over the long term — supported by an integrated effort of all the areas a person could come into contact with it and your product. Amazon and Apple have raised the bar very high here . . . and have wired people to expect a similarly consistent and high-level experience with every other brand and story they come into contact with — including yours.

So, who is the PR person today?

A story teller who can organize campaigns at the brand level and across all these domains. Let me know if you are in the market for one, because I may know a really handsome, witty guy who will ask you incessantly: “So, what are we solving for?”

– Jose Mallabo 

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