Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tech Blogs Event Last Night

The 'Tech Blogs' gathering last night at Cambridge Innovation Center was a lot of fun, and the food was really good (thanks go to Schwartz PR, Morse Barnes-Brown & Pendleton, and CHEN PR for picking up the tab.)

Dan Bricklin has posted a podcast and some photos from the event. (Dan was also kind enough to bring the sound system.)

The panelists were all really thoughtful, and there were a number of bloggers in the audience, like David Laubner from 93South, Mike Feinstein from The Fein Line, and David Cancel. Paul Gillin was there, and posted some notes.

One thing we did which I think kept it from being a traditional panel was to weave in comments, questions, and rebuttals from the audience throughout the night -- from the very first question. Chuck Tanowitz from Schwartz played Phil Donohue, running around with a wireless mic.

Don Dodge from Microsoft was very funny, telling a story of how he was nearly fired for criticizing Microsoft's attorneys on his blog...and I challenged Nabeel Hyatt to talk about a post that he headlined "Idiots at NY Times write about virtual goods and miss the entire industry." Is that a good way to make friends with journalists? (He said he e-mailed the writer of the NY Times piece, but never heard back.) Listen to the podcast...

I hope to do more free events like this, where we get together to talk about some aspect of the Innovation Economy in New England. Your ideas are welcome...

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Where Web 2.0 Start-Ups Go Wrong with PR

Lots of Web 2.0 start-ups try to avoid hiring a public relations firm as long as possible, to keep a tight grip on costs. That’s a decision I totally get.

But why do they make it so hard for journalists to contact them?

Over the past five years, a number of things have happened which have been counter-productive when it comes to getting free publicity in mainstream newspapers, magazines, and Web sites.

In the olden days of the Web, every site had a prominent “Contact” page, which listed the company’s address, phone number, a general e-mail address, and perhaps the names of the founders or senior executives.

From a journalist’s perspective, that was great.

If you were writing for a newspaper in Minneapolis and were looking for a particular type of start-up in that city, Google would help you out, leading you directly to a company you might’ve never heard of before...because they let you know that their headquarters were in the Twin Cities.

If you needed a quick quote at 5:30 PM (for most newspaper journalists, this is usually in the last hour before their deadline) about a particular news event that happened that day (Microsoft buys Your Main Competitor), you could easily find a start-ups phone number, dial it, and ask for the CEO. If that person wasn’t in, you’d often get their cell phone number from their voice mail, and get a comment from them that you could include in your story.

But what has happened in the wonderful new era of Web 2.0 is that companies have suddenly gotten coy about where they are, and how to reach them. Most sites, if they have a contact page, tell you nothing about where they’d headquartered, and if they give you a way to contact them, it’s a generic e-mail address ( or a “Contact” form (“Just fill in these seventeen fields, click submit, and someone from our PR team will get back to you.”)

And when Web 2.0 companies put out press releases, there’s often no contact info at the bottom.

I suspect that’s happening for two reasons: a lot of Web 2.0 companies have no office (they’re based in a dorm room, a Starbuck’s branch, or another company’s borrowed conference room), and they have very few employees. Why make it easy for every user who has forgotten his password to dial you up and waste your time?

Unfortunately, you’re also making it harder for journalists to get in touch when they’re working on stories. I almost never send e-mail to addresses, or fill out contact forms – usually because you never get a response, or if you do, it comes three days later, when a story has already been wrapped and published. Instead, if a company doesn’t offer a phone number and I really want to talk with them, I search Google for a few minutes to see if I can get their phone number, call 411 if I happen to know where they’re based – and then usually give up after about four or five minutes of trying. I just move on to another prospective interviewee.

Here’s an experiment you might try for a few months, to see if it produces any results. (I’m certainly open to the possibility that it could generate scads of unwanted phone calls.) Put the name of a person who is responsible for PR on your Web site, and their e-mail address, and their phone number. If you really want to make yourself accessible to journos, put a cell phone number there, too.

This person could be one of your team members, or, if you have a PR firm, the person there who handles your account. (Just be sure you keep the name of this person updated, since the cast of characters at PR firms sometimes seems to change weekly.) When you send press releases over the wires or just post them on your site, put this same contact info at the bottom of them.

If this experiment doesn’t work, just go back to the old way:

Yes, you can try to prove to journalists how cool you are: "We don’t use phones anymore… instead, Skype us, IM us, leave your question as a comment on our blog, or post a message on our Facebook profiles."

But unfortunately, I’d estimate that about 80 percent of professional magazine/newspaper/Web journos working on deadline don’t have time to do that. (Bloggers may be a different story, since I think they tend to be more averse to picking up the phone.)

There may be a time when journalists up against a deadline no longer want or need to call sources on the phone for a quick five or ten minute chat. I just don’t think that time has arrived yet.

So why are you making it so hard for journos to get in touch?

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