Power and Presence- the good, the bad, and the ugly in public presence

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Open Letter to Conference Planners

Dear Conference Planners (specifically those in charge of content):

You have a tough gig. You walk a delicate balance between informing and entertaining. But I want to give you some tough love. 99.9% of conference content is BORING. I don’t care what industry we’re talking about. It just is, and you know it. You could almost just label your sessions: “Five forty-something white guys talk about important stuff that will bore you to death.” Here are 5 ideas for sexing up your format.

1) Pick bombastic panelists: Yes, it is key to have a good pedigree, but also consider bringing on someone who will either a) piss people off or b) inspire people. Before you say “but how do we know who’s bombastic?!?” Come on. You meet people every day in your industry. You know who is engaging to talk to and who isn’t. I saw a panel recently where one of the panelists was just a mouthy, overbearing guy who delivered hilarious sound bites, one after another. People didn’t like him, but for that ONE session during a 3 day conference, no one was multitasking. People were engaged. And he up-leveled the game of the other panelists.

2) Choose unexpected panel topics or formats: Here’s the thing, talking about “what’s next” in the industry is safe. Yeah, people will attend. But they won’t pay attention. Instead of having experts up on the panel, have users up on the panel. Ask them what they want. And let the so called “experts” react, and explain why they don’t offer this stuff, or what needs to be done to meet these needs. Wanna know what’s next? Don’t ask the folks on the delivery side. As the users. Period. Make it mildly uncomfortable. Put people on the spot. Get ‘em sweating. Guaranteed the laptops will close and eyes will be active and bright.

3) Put audience members on the spot: Have panelists throw out questions to the crowd, and force them to be involved and engaged. You better believe if a mic is being passed around actively, people will be paying close attention. “What if they pick me!? I better have something to say!!”

4) Use props: Hand out a small red signs (think auctions) to the audience that say “I call bullshit” and encourage audience members to raise their signs whenever they disagree. Have fun with it… get people laughing at themselves at the industry.

5) Leverage technology: Have attendees text messages about what would be more useful, interesting to talk about as the panel is happening, or at least post panel to get feedback to improve it for next time. Kudos to AlwaysOn for streaming a live chat of people watching/commenting on the panels live. It is a bold move, especially because from time to time, the chats get more interesting than the panels themselves. Nice work.

I know this is hard. No one gets fired for status quo. But have some fun with it… it always feels good to shake things up.

All my best,
Your friendly neighborhood conference attendee

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Friday, July 11, 2008

PR Peeps: Drop What You are Doing and Read This

In case you’re not already a fan, take note: Sam Whitmore’s Media Survey is one of the most valuable PR resources available today.

According to Sam, “Our philosophy is to help tech PR pros reverse-engineer what does run, rather than gin up pitches and shop them with a moistened finger to the wind.” Yes, my brother.

Don’t let the 1997 web design fool you (sorry Sam), the content in the newsletters is like gold. They host weekly editorial conference calls with some of the industry’s top reporters, and they use their newsletter to deliver gems like how best to leverage video, slide shows and other forms of new media… the insights don’t come from PR people, they come from the publications and reporters themselves.

In terms of cost, Sam has fee structures set up for large agencies and one man shops alike. I highly recommend doing the free trial. Until you’ve received the newsletter, it just looks and feels like yet another ProfNet situation. But it’s much more… You will soon find yourself quoting info from Sam in every client meeting. Enjoy!

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Social Media Releases – what I like and what I’ve learned.

A lot has been said about the rise of social media press releases, so I won’t retread this topic. Net net, I’m delighted that as an industry we are now heralding the rise of press releases that a) get to the point b) provide reporters with value rather than spin and c) include grab-and-go content like video, graphics, and search optimization tools.

For those just now dipping a toe into these fresh waters, the folks over at Shift Comms have an excellent blog resource on this very topic, and researched what newswire vendors offer in terms of social media. From my experience, nothing beats Marketwire . (Although – note to Marketwire: as a blogger I sure would have liked an easy “grab and go” graphic to promote your services…the video of Thom and the image of a SecondLife Tower aren't exactly helpful here ;)

But to cut to the chase, here are a five things I’ve learned over the past 12 months - specifically about social media press releases.

1) Pitching Bloggers - Although it’s been said many times many ways (Merry Christmas), I’ll say it again – before you even THINK about pitching a blogging community on news, you absolutely positively need to be an active member of that community before your announcement. Here’s what it means in practice: a) smaller set of targets – you can’t effectively be an active community member on 25 different blogs. Translation: Set client expectations. You should not be hitting 50 bloggers at once by posting comments. b) if you don’t have an opinion on what people are talking about, you better find a way to come up with something intelligent to say. This may mean deeper research into the subject, and waiting it out and listening for a few weeks. With new technologies like SezWho , comments are becoming trackable and accountable to anyone who cares to see where you’ve commented before. c) to make life easier, subscribe to the blog’s RSS feature so you’re getting fresh content feed to you, vs. going out to each of these folks one by one.

2) Choosing a vendor - Like I said before, Marketwire is the best service, hands down. I’m not sold yet on their whole “record your headline for iTunes” thing yet, but I’m getting there. For the right news/brands it makes a ton of sense, but most of the time it’s just a nifty nice-to-have. God bless ‘em for thinking outside the box.

3) Images – the images that are embedded in your release are smaller than you think. This means screen shots a bit challenging, as bloggers want to be able to drop something straight into their blog, and most of the time, web site screen shots are just too damn hard to see. Double and triple check how it appears in the size the newswire offers.

4) Video – you would be astonished at how cost effective it is create smooth video these days. Companies like TurnHere can often turn around high quality video for as little as $5k, depending on length, specs etc. For things like high profile launches, or reviewer guides, this is really money well spent.

5) It does not totally replace the need for a regular press release for all types of brands. There are still instances where a regular press release makes sense (important corporate level news if you are a publicly traded company for example). Sometime, I would love to see a real survey of top business reporters and their appetites for both types of releases… anyone know of anything?

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