SXSW, Social Media, IRL

SXSW Is Social Media – IRL

As an entrepreneur and a PR ‘guy’ SXSW is an interesting experience.  2015 was my second time in Austin and as I sit in a bar on my way to the airport I wanted to share a few observations and some recommendations for other entrepreneurs considering attending next year.

I was fortunate to be part of the Canadian trade delegation this year.  As an expat Brit living in Canada it was great to be allowed to represent my adopted home.  It was also great to see what some of my co-entrepreneurs are working on across the technology, film and music industries.  Canadians have a reputation for being not tooting their horn loudly enough.  We need to fix that – there is clearly plenty to ‘toot’ about!

So, what stood out this year?

The same old buzzwords;  continued lack of substance. 

If I had a dollar for every time I heard the word engagement I’d be a very rich man.  If I had a dollar for every time it was used correctly, I would probably not have enough to pay for a coffee at the airport.  The same is true for terms like brand, authenticity, “social”.

They have become mantras for the tech, PRublicity [my term for the army of ‘PR Pros’ that are actually publicists] and marketing industries but most within the industry – let alone their customers – understand either their meaning or their significance.

There’s no longer differentiation between PR, marketing and publicity

…but there should be.  My peers have lost sight of the value of each discipline.  The majority of events were public relations [despite the fact that most would not describe them as such.  The majority of what many would call marketing was, in fact, publicity.  SXSW has become a competition from companies to see who can make the most noise. and this leads to a lot of waste – wasted cash, wasted resources and wasted opportunities.

None of these are ever  long-term strategy for business success – but for many of the small businesses and startups attending it is the fastest path to running out of money.

This year, more than ever, the background noise was louder than ever.  Being heard was ever more difficult.  SXSW is a perfect illustration of how most companies are using social media platforms – as a tool for shouting messages in the hope they are heard, rather than a opportunity to better understand their customers, identify sales opportunities and complement customer service activities.

As a result, both social and SXSW are likely to become less attractive and less effective unless attendees change the way they use them.

The conference is about the speakers, not the attendees. 

I caveat this that I didn’t attend the conference but followed as many of the sessions that I could on twitter.  From what I saw it’s the same “celebrities” saying the same, hackneyed, vanilla stuff they’ve been saying for years!  There’s little practical value in the conference panels for the attendees paying thousands of dollars for the badge – it appears to be more a vehicle for people to promote themselves, rather than adding value to attendees.

[I also realize that my chances of speaking at the event are now zero!!]

The real value is in serendipity 

Everybody says that ‘south-by’ is about the people you meet in a bar or at a party.  And, it’s true.  It’s the random meetings; the conversations; the introductions to complete strangers, by complete strangers that will be the things that have lasting value in the weeks and months after we leave Austin.
Nobody can explain what it is they do – or why anybody should care

Part of what I do is helping customers figure out how they explain what they do and the value it provides for their customers.  I help them figure out why anybody – whether a prospect, investor, analyst or journalist – would care about their product or service.  At events I take time to ask people representing the exhibitors what they do – and I’m always surprised at how few are able to do it.  Most try; the majority use long-drawn out explanations that are full of meaningless words.  Almost none can do it in a sentence or two in words my parents would understand.

Having spent thousands of dollars to exhibit they fail to clear the first hurdle.

SXSW is social media – in real life.  

I was asked to sum up SXSW by a friend who has never been.  The best description I could come up with was that it’s like social media, only in real life.  Lots of noise, some interesting conversations and occasionally you meet somebody where there is mutual business benefit.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: focus on finding the people that matter most to your business and building and maintaining strong relationships with them.  Social media is fun, but real-life will always deliver more business value.

This is the first of a series of post-SXSW reflection pieces.  I’d love to hear your observations: the highs and lows, and the just plain weird.

How to measure ROI on public relations

As the year draws to a close–you’re probably trying to calculate the return on your investment in public relations.

Public relations companies have long struggled to measure the value of what they do. Some cite “awareness” or “engagement” but both are meaningless based on current metrics. Part of the problem is that they’re not selling public relations; part of the problem is that they’re selling something that is reliant on so many unknown variables – there are so many things that traditional PR agencies have no control over. The other problem is that their definition of return is based on an estimated financial value of advertising, rather than the value of the product of their labors.

I read an article recently that talked about how AVE [Advertising Value Equivalent] was outdated and suggested that a better measure of publicity activities should be gAVE [Google Advertising Value Equivalency]. It might be me, but it doesn’t sound much of an evolution – you’re still measuring an estimate of advertising equivalency based on a cost per page impression and using a value defined by a publisher – Google. The problem remains that a gAVE calculation makes assumptions: the most obvious one being whether the audience is the right one for your business but others like whether customers have a need, whether they have purchasing authority or influence in the purchase decision, or that they will be motivated to enough to reach out or click a link to a website to find more information. It also relies on the assumption [often incorrectly] that the reader or website visitor will initiate a conversation.

As entrepreneurs, we’re building businesses around a set of, hopefully validated, assumptions. We know that the problem we’re solving exists and we know who our ideal customer is. Right? So, what if, rather than trying to measure the value of public relations using an abstract like advertising equivalency we measure it on something that we already has value – relationships with the people that will help us grow successful, profitable businesses such as prospects, customers, industry luminaries, purchase influencers, advocates, journalists and investors.

We subconsciously measure relationship strength in our personal lives every day. We know if we’ve annoyed or irritated our spouse or partner, or whether a friendship is strong enough to support a disagreement. Whether we can count on somebody to help us when we need it – no matter what – or whether they’ll make promises but never follow through on them.

What if we measured the strength of our professional relationships in the same way? We could measure the strength of the relationships needed to achieve commercial goals and monitor whether our behaviors strengthened or weakened them. We could identify which relationships were necessary – and the strength of each – to achieve a specific outcome.

Try something with me now. Who are the 6 – 10 people that you need to have relationships with in order to achieve your next milestone? Write them down.

How strong do you need each of those relationships to be in order for you to achieve your desired outcome? Give each of them a rating between 0 and 10 with zero being no existing relationship and 10 meaning you have a relationship with them that you could call them today to ask for their help and they’d do whatever they could to help you.

Now use the same scale to give your relationship with each of the people on the list a value using the same scale. Zero being no relationship at all and 10 being a relationship you could bet your business on. How do they compare?

Chances are that there will be gaps – and that’s OK. It is the function of PR to help strengthen relationships where you need them to be stronger–and maintain the relationships that are where you need them to be. In many cases, to build a relationship with somebody on your list, you’ll need to build relationships with other people that can provide you with credibility, testimonials, social proof and, in some cases, introductions.

The list you have will contain the most important relationships for achieving your next milestone. Revisit and update it every time your goals change to ensure that you’re PR strategy is always focused on building and maintaining relationships with the most important 6 – 10 people for achieving that specific outcome.

Measuring public relations is easy when you know what you should be measuring – it’s all about measuring relationship strength with the people that are critical to the growth and long-term success of your business. When you’re defining the measures of success you want from for your PR activity in 2015, focus on relationship strength with named individuals and ask your PR company or your own team members about how they’ll help you achieve it.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: be clear on what your desired commercial outcome is before you start any public relations, marketing or publicity activity – it’ll make it far easier to measure whether you have delivered it.

This post also appeared on Launchable Magazine http://www.launchablemag.com/?page=post&title=Measuring-PR-Its-All–About-Relationships-Not-Coverage

PR & marketing killed Target in Canada

Target has just announced that its expansion in to Canada will end, with the closure of 133 stores.  Why? A fundamental failure of the company’s marketing.  Target failed to understand the market and, as a result, failed to provide the products Canadian customers wanted, at the right price and failed to promote itself correctly.

I remember my first trip to a Target south of the border in the mid 1990s. It was a revelation.  Living as I did in the UK there was nothing like Target – somewhere you could go to get almost everything at incredibly competitive prices.  Having visited Target stores in the US many times since I moved to Canada in 2010 the experience in my local Canadian store was a very different experience.

Having experienced the US stores, Canadians wanted that same combination of product choice and price that they experienced there, but the company failed to replicate it successfully in Canada. This breach of customer goodwill made Canadian customers think differently about the company.  Combine this with a lack of a clear differentiator between stores like Canadian Tire and Walmart and you have all of the ingredients for failure.

That, in my opinion, is the reason for Target’s failure in Canada.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: business success is based on building and maintaining solid relationships with the people that matter most to achieving it.  Don’t take your customers for granted and be prepared to stick with it for the long haul. If you change the brand experience – a combination of value proposition, core values and customer experience – then you fundamentally change the relationship you have with customers.

BlackBerry Has Lost Control

Update: An unsubstantiated rumour on May 11 2015 that Apple could be interested in acquiring all, or part, of BlackBerry caused the Waterloo-based company’s stock price to skyrocket.

Yesterday I explained that BlackBerry is facing its biggest challenge yet as it looks to turn the business around: an increasing number of people, including once loyal users, appear not to care.  Shortly before the markets closed yesterday a report surfaced claiming Samsung had approached the Waterloo-based company about a takeover.  The share price rocketed before falling back in after hours trading as the approach was denied by BlackBerry.

It’s another demonstration of a company’s future [and stock price] is in the hands of others.  The fact that the only people who appear  interested in BlackBerry are investors, looking to make a quick buck on M&A rumours, rather than a long-term recovery of the business through selling products customers – it has been reported the company is having trouble winning back corporate customers] want to buy then it reinforces the point I made in my earlier post.

The company has lost control of its own destiny.  It is at the mercy of its news agenda.  It cannot control [I would argue it is unable to define a clear brand or value proposition] its own destiny. It’s the last place a company ever wants to be and it appears not to know how to regain control.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?  Tell me in the comments below.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: whatever you do, retain control of your brand and its perception.  When a third-party has control your business is almost certainly doomed.

What do you really want from public relations?

I received an email today from a partner agency that proclaimed, ‘company X is disappointed they don’t have any coverage yet’.  I replied that I suspected they’d be equally disappointed if they had had coverage but it had had limited commercial impact.

I’d previously asked what the desired outcome was from the coverage. I got no response.  I had asked about the commercial impact of the last set of coverage the company had received [via their work with another agency].  I was told that it was likely minimal.  I’ve tried to offer advice on how to ensure that  this time the coverage actually delivers tangible results. But I keep getting the same response – they just want coverage!

I’ve also suggested that rather than simply sending out a press release, or blind product samples – the samples are the most expensive piece of their current activity [more than the cost of services provided by my company] and asked them to record short videos to personalize their company and the product; to show they care more than simply emailing a promotional press release. But, I’m told, they don’t have time or money for it.

They don’t have 60 seconds to sit in front of a cell phone and record a short video – yet they have money to send product samples to journalists in the hope that they’ll write about  them.  There’s no review guide, no demonstration video, no attempt to stand out.  But, worst of all, there has been no thought given to why they want the coverage – and, as a result, they’ll likely be no commercial value even if they get the coverage they appear to so desperately want.

I wrote about this because its current, but it isn’t an isolated situation.  It was one of the main reasons why I started THINK DIFFERENT [LY] – to help entrepreneurs realize that coverage for its own sake is valueless.  That the tired PR sausage machine doesn’t work any more.  That they should expect more just coverage from their public relations activities than a piece of coverage that, nine times out of 10, has no commercial benefit.  It drains money from their bank accounts – but does little to help refill them.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: When you’re reviewing your public relations activities over the coming weeks and trying to understand why it didn’t deliver the desired commercial value, consider that it is probably because coverage was the only goal.

To find out how to make public relations affordable, accountable and effective for your business contact lyndon@thinkdifferently.ca or call 1. 647.773.2677 today.

Blackberry iPhone Switch Deal Shows Nothing Has Changed

B

BlackBerry wants you to think that it has changed.  Its Black Friday deal demonstrates it hasn’t.  It’s bad news for the Waterloo, Ontario based company and is yet another example of how the company continues to get its PR and marketing wrong – to the detriment of the company.

The company is offering iPhone users up to $550 if they switch to a Passport on of after December 1.  The chances of persuading many to ‘trade up’ is slim. iPhone users are unlikely to switch – and $550 incentives is not going to be enough to persuade those that could be swayed to give up their shiny i device.

If BlackBerry had a clear business and communications strategy designed to bring users back to its devices, it would realize that iPhone users are not their target audience. The company should, instead, be offering entrepreneurs and small businesses incentives to choose the BlackBerry passport. These are the people who will get most value from the companies devices.  They are also customers that, once captured, are likely to be long-term and loyal.

Until BlackBerry figures out who its customer is, understands the value it delivers to them, develops a long-term strategic plan to communicate this to them, and build long-term mutually beneficial relationship with them the company will continue to flounder.

Read more about BlackBerry’s Marketing and Public Relations Disaster

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: focus on the people that value what your do, rather than chasing those that don’t.

How To Measure Success of Public Relations

Ask most PR professionals and they’ll tell you that measuring the value of public relations is hard to express.  As a result, they’ll say, it’s hard to be specific about the value they deliver.  The return on your investment is affected by so many variables it is hard to be able to give you tangible outcomes.

It’s all a lie.  Here’s how to measure the success of public relations.  It’s all in the strength of the relationships build or maintained as a result of your PR activities. We do it every day in our private lives, so why do we find it so difficult to do it in our businesses?

Think about the most important people to your business right now.  Do you have relationships with them at all?  If not, they score a zero.

Of the people you have relationships with how strong are those connections?  Would they drop everything to help you if you asked them to?  Would they willingly do everything within their power to help your business overcome its current challenge?  Will they go to bat for you if you needed them to? Will they introduce you to people within their network that may have a need for your product or service? Will they testify to your credibility or vouch for the quality of your work?

If they would then score those relationships a 10.

If they’re not a 10 then you need to figure out where on the scale they are currently.

Perhaps they’re a new connection that will help you with advice, or will provide feedback on your product development.  They might be willing to introduce you to people that are potential customers or partners, but won’t provide a reference or testimonial.  They will help if they can, but you can’t guarantee they’ll come rushing in an emergency.  Would they help if they really were your last hope? What incentive would you need to offer in order to get them to help your business if you needed them to? Do you have direct access to them? Who are the people that you rely on to give you the access you need? Do you loose access to these people without the intermediary?

Make a list of the top ten people your business needs relationships with and score them, between 0 and 10, based on these criteria.  Having benchmarked the relationships that are most important to your business achieving its next milestone you can develop a PR programme designed to build, strengthen, or maintain these relationships.

Measuring the success of your PR activities can then be tracked, based on whether these relationships strengthen, weaken or whether you are able to maintain them until you have achieved your desired outcome.  If you reevaluate each of your ten most important relationships every 30 days you can quickly see the impact that public relations is having on your business.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: benchmark relationship strength and build a plan to ensure you have the ones you need in place.

Do You Trust Your PR Advisors | THINK PR Espresso

Public relations has a bad reputation.  Often, with good reason.  But in some circumstances companies employ a PR company only to have them do what they want, rather than taking their advice.  Would you get on an airplane and try telling the pilot how to fly it?

Today I have a plea to anybody using a PR company.  Let them do the job you employed them to do, listen to the advice they give you and judge them on their ability to deliver, rather than having them do what you want and then asking them why you didn’t get the results you wanted.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip:  If you don’t trust your PR company enough to take their advice FIRE them and find a company you do trust.  Bad advice may be ruining your PR company’s reputation, but it’s doing damage to your business  and your cash flow.

 

$BBRY, BlackBerry, Mobile, Telecommunications

BlackBerry has a death wish!

The BlackBerry Passport launches tomorrow. The question is will anybody care?

The company has, yet again, failed to build the relationships it needed to change the perception of the company, and its marketing around the launch of the new handset has been woeful. Again.

I wrote 18 months ago about my launch plan for the company’s BB10 devices and have been reflecting on what I would do differently for Passport. In reality, much of my BB10 remains unimplemented and would have give the company a better chance of success than anything I’ve seen to date.

The only thing I would change from my original plan would be the device cost. Announced yesterday, $599 dollars off contract is too much. A 50 dollar difference between the Passport and the iPhone 6 won’t persuade people to give BlackBerry another chance. Many wouldn’t switch if the price differential was $500. It’s not so much about the handset, although the Passport is an acquired style choice, but about the brand image.

There are those that have claimed, ‘market share is not BlackBerry’s game’. Some have said it’s about margin. Some who say the company is focused on Enterprise, not consumers.

So why even mention the price differential to the competitors? Why mention the comparative size of the screen? Make a clear statement that you’re focused on a different market.

Lastly, and most importantly, BlackBerry has failed to communicate these clearly via PR and marketing to build relationships and get people to take the action you want them to. BlackBerry has failed on all counts and it’s running out of runway.

I wrote almost three years ago that BlackBerry was its own worst enemy.  Nothing I’ve seen since convinces me otherwise!

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip:  Don’t get distracted by the competition. Don’t be scared to sell on differentiators. Be prepared to trade on the value you deliver in the eyes of your customers and prospects – and if that doesn’t work… it’s over.

BlackBerry

BlackBerry’s Turnaround Has 7 Days To Succeed

If the response to the BlackBerry Passport, which launches next Tuesday in Toronto, Dubai and London, is the same as the one that met the company’s BlackBerry 10 announcement the company’s turnaround will likely fail.  Over recent weeks I’ve been analyzing the communications portions of the Passport pre-launch, as well as following the rumours and speculation to see what the company has learned from its recent failures.

While there have been some improvements – there can be no doubt that John Chen has done an amazing job stabilizing a critically ill patient: cutting costs and reducing headcount has been the easy part.  Now, the company must show it can overcome the more difficult part of the turnaround – repairing the company’s brand and reputation, as well as selling the device in large volumes.

There are still some worrying signs that tell me BlackBerry will struggle – and it has just seven days to fix them.  Here’s my take on the PR and marketing efforts to date, and what I believe the company needs to do on Tuesday.  If it fails, the turnaround will be fail.

Let’s start with the advert BlackBerry ran in the Globe and Mail last week.

BlackBerry, BlackBerry Passport, BlackBerry Turnaround
Canadians Love A Good Comeback

With the headline, “Canadians Love A Good Comeback” the body copy reads, “At BlackBerry we’re proud of our Canadian Heritage.  It’s what pushes us to continuously push security and productivity boundaries, allowing those with unstoppable energy to work smarter, collaborate better and accomplish more.  The soon-to-be-released BlackBerry Passport is further proof of our commitment to serious mobility for serious business.”

It’s wordy.  It also doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Being Canadian pushes the company to push security and productivity boundaries? I don’t see the link – or why it matters.  While it’s in a Canadian newspaper [the company playing to a home audience], the advert has been shared globally.  Perhaps I’m nit-picking!  Given the obvious associations with travel something more global would perhaps have played better.

The company says the upcoming Passport is further proof of its commitment to serious mobility for serious business… again, I’m not sure that there’s been much proof of that lately.

Serious mobility for serious business appears to be the strapline under which the Passport will be launched.  It’s not bad.  But it’s not great.  It’s something that would have worked had it been the company’s strapline back in 2006 – differentiating itself from consumer-chasing handsets like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S-Series.  Now it seems more like a defensive tool to protect from competitors that, having captured consumers have now focused their attentions on BlackBerry’s supposed core market.  BlackBerry is back-peddling.

Then there’s the web form used to sign up for more information on the Passport, which has been circulating in recent weeks.

The subhead reads “Don’t limit yourself to the narrow world of today’s phones. See the bigger picture.”, followed by three bullets [the power of three!] focusing on a large, square touch screen, an innovative touch keyboard and a day-long battery life.

That’s it BlackBerry?  That’s the best you’ve got?  The reasons for buying a PassPort over a competitor handset is a square screen, an innovative touch keyboard and a day-long battery life?!

BlackBerry Passport, Marketing,  BlackBerry Passport Launch
BlackBerry Passport Web Form

Let’s look at the launch invite.  Save The Date. See the Bigger Picture. OK.  What about references, either explicitly, to a Passport?  I didn’t receive an invite, so perhaps they sent invites that were passport-like?  The biggest issue for me here is that there is no US launch which, many, have interpreted as meaning the handset will not be available there at launch.  We know about T-Mobile [the obvious partner for BlackBerry] and the delays in persuading US carriers to carry BB10 devices 18 months ago, but if true this is a major blow to the launch.

BlackBerry Passport, Passport Launch,
BlackBerry Passport launch invitation

The map on the invoice is slightly strange.  Most recipients will likely know where London, Dubai and Toronto are.  The plane’s route on invite is also bizarre.  Is it recognition that the company’s journey has been less than direct?

Now on to the real problem.  The price.  Many have rumoured it to be around $ 800 and GBP 500 [I can’t find a Dirham price].  If this is accurate, the company will be pricing it alongside some very popular and established devices.  This could prove to be the biggest sticking point for the company whose handsets are, let’s say, less than fashionable right now.  That may not – and, I’d argue, should not matter – but it will.  Perhaps not to BlackBerry’s core market – the loyal ones that have kept faith with the company and are not worried about the stigma that has been attached to being a BlackBerry user in recent years.  But, it matters if the company is to attract some of the defectors back; they are the people who the company needs to be targeting if it is to turn around its long-term fortunes.

BlackBerry needs to show that it is taking care of business.  It needs to show that, in addition to operational and cost-savings it can sell devices.  That requires it to rebuild relationships with customers that chose competitor devices; it requires the communication of a clear value proposition; it requires the company to inspire potential customers; it needs clear and effective marketing. Come to think of it the recent Globe and Mail advert should simply have said, “BlackBerry Passport: Taking Care of Business” or “BlackBerry Passport: Business Class”.

To date, I’ve seen none of this.  BlackBerry has just seven days to turn things around or its turnaround could be taking on water within the week.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: experiment using small test groups of customers, prospects and those that buy from your competition until you find a value proposition and message that works.

Tomorrow, I’ll explain how I would launch the BlackBerry Passport.  Until then, read my plan for the BlackBerry 10 launch

BlackBerry Turnaround: the hard part is still ahead