The Storyteller

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She who tells the best story wins.

Make a fabulous introduction

Everyone knows that networking is the way to get ahead in the world. This truth only gets more true in our increasingly connected, but also unequal, world.

Everyone also knows that networking, for most of us, kind of sucks.

There is a ton of great advice out there about how to network without networking. It’s worth seeking out. But one tactic that has worked for me is making fabulous introductions.

So let’s start with a basic principle: connecting begets connections. When you connect two people for their mutual benefit you become known as the connector. People will often return the favor, either when asked or even unprompted. Also, connecting people you know actually expands your network in all kinds of interesting ways.

That’s the why. Let’s now move to the how. Because let’s face it, anyone can send an email that says “Jen, please meet Jason. Jason, please meet Jennifer” and maybe include a few lines about how you think each will benefit the other.

I take a different approach that both ensures that both people want to meet each other and that both people are super happy they know me.

My introductions go something like this:

“Jen, please meet Jason who is one of the most fabulously talented designers I’ve ever met. He and I worked on a research study together and the way he used graphics to help tell our story was compelling, understandable and beautiful.

Jason, please meet Jen who is a diva of event management. Jen and I were colleagues at Acme, Corp. and she put on a customer symposium that absolutely wowed our biggest clients. She’s looking for some new designs for her next great event and I immediately thought of you.”

I think you can probably see, instantly, why this works. Who wouldn’t want to be introduced this way? It’s specific, it’s actionable (I know why I’m meeting this person), it’s true (it goes without saying, but I’ll say it, that bullshit gets you nowhere in this world). And you’ve left a fabulous impression on both of the people you are introducing – of each other and of you!

By the way, if you are reading this and thinking “No way can I pull that off, I would sound fake” let me assure you that the adjectives are optional. This is my style – it fits me and people who know me well know I only say it when I mean it. I’ve actually decided this is part of my personal brand – I can’t worry about people who will read it wrong because I am focused on people who love this about me. I’m a little over the top, but I don’t lie.

But the fact is the same type of introduction could work, even toned down to match a more reserved style. The point is to focus on exactly what you think makes these two people want to meet – what do you like about each of them and what do you think they bring to the table? Write that – clearly and specifically – and you will make a great impression, whatever your style.

Filed under: Inspiration

iVillage: A Eulogy

Mediabistro reported today that iVillage will be shut down as a standalone site and will be folded into Today.com, and NBC property.

It seems odd now, and maybe even a bit quaint, the idea that you needed a special place on the internet for women. But in 1995 it was Candice Carpenter and Nancy Evans who seemed odd to nearly everyone working in Silicon Alley at the time. Wait, you want to build a website for women?

The idea seemed crazy because no women were on the internet. I don’t remember the numbers and it doesn’t matter, but suffice to say they were low.

But Candice and Nancy had a theory. The theory was simple: women don’t go on the internet because there is nothing there for them. If we build it, they will come.

And come they did. By the thousands and eventually by the millions. Women who wanted to get pregnant, get promoted, get laid, get dinner on the table. The reasons were as varied as their lives, but they found on iVillage things that made it worth the trouble to log on — content, community, commerce. These are still the things that make the internet go ’round. It’s just that they are now available in so many places, in so many varieties. And we now have an entire cohort of girls and women who don’t even remember a time when women didn’t go on the internet.

As a former iVillager (I was there from 1999 until about 2002) I am definitely sad. But can I be a little weirdly happy, too? Happy, at least, that it’s no longer odd that women would want to be on the internet. Happy that we don’t need a “special” place. We’ve taken over the whole damn place. There are still too few of women running the show (cue Sheryl Sandberg), but the influence of women on the internet is unquestioned. If you are building a website today and you aren’t expecting women to visit you are likely building single-shooter games or porn. And maybe not even then.

I was only at iVillage for two years — it will amount to a blip on my CV by the end of my career. But in those crazy go-go years a lot happened, and that job likely changed the trajectory of my career in ways that led, somewhat indirectly, to what I do today. I worked with amazing women (and a few amazing men, too). And through message boards and email I “met” and got to know even more amazing women. They were the true pioneers of the internet — the women who came and shared their lives, their secrets, their longings. Way before everyone shared everything with everyone, these women found a way to truly connect through the computer in ways that never failed to take my breath away.

So good-bye, iVillage. Those of us who knew you, and helped build you, will never forget what you did for us and for so many more. And we can’t help but thank you for the part you played in creating a world that made you obsolete.

Filed under: Uncategorized

The relationship between offline and online

Two recent articles that are related, at least in my head, around the theme of offline and online interactions.

First, David Carr (NYT media reporter) wrote on Monday about how Amazon “needs” Barnes & Noble. The theory is that while people love e-books and/or books delivered to their door (cheaper/easier) they “discover” content in the physical book store. Interesting note that Amazon sales dipped when Borders went off of business. If books fall out of sight they fall out of mind as well. Part of why I think this is interesting is because it runs a little counter to the theory in “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson, which, in a nutshell, suggests that online is better for helping content find small audiences since the online shelf space is infinite. Obviously these are two very different kinds of discovering, but opens the question of what the retail world looks like if B&N, and other retailers, fall by the wayside.

Second, from Ad Age: Meredith is going to turn AllRecipes.com into a print publication. For those who aren’t familiar, AllRecipes has been around since the original dotcom boom and is a wildly popular site for, well, recipes. That Meredith is turning this into a print pub is beyond fascinating. It’s just within the last 12-18 mos that both Gourmet and Everyday Food (MSL pub) got shuttered. I still think there is a market for print, it just gets smaller and more niche. Not sure that AllRecipes fits the bill, but will be interesting to watch how they try to make the leap.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Look Out The Window: Write the Press Release First

Talk about a great way to look out the window! According to this article from Wired, the way to pitch an idea to Jeff Bezos at Amazon was to write a press release. (You only need to read the first three grafs of the Wired piece — the rest is about Amazon’s foray into cloud computing.)

What a brilliant idea this is. Not because press releases are so important (they aren’t, and sometimes aren’t even needed at all.) It’s that the exercise of writing the press release first is the epitome of looking out — rather than in — when evaluating a new idea. It forces you to answer the question: Is this interesting to anyone but us?

I’d love to try this.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Look Out The Window

I believe one of the key roles that any marketing and communications professional needs to play is representing the view from outside the four walls of the company. I think people on the agency side fulfill this role rather naturally, but it’s also an crucial role for those of us on the client side.

What do I mean, exactly? My former colleague Leah Holzman had a great expression for this idea that I use to this day — you need to “look out the window.” If you only focus on what your business needs, you will have a much harder time moving your message into the marketplace. That’s because the people you need to leverage to spread the word — journalists, clients, conference organizers — don’t care about your business. They care about their audiences and their business objectives.

Some of this is about business empathy — the ability to think about the needs and wants of the people you interact with instead of only focusing on your own needs and wants. But it’s also about a few specific habits that can help you fulfill your role to look out the window:

1. Read a lot. You need to read as much as you can within your industry, but get beyond that, too. My regular media diet includes the NYT, the WSJ, the New Yorker, AVC, Feld Thoughts, and Seth Godin. I also pick stuff up from my Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook feeds.

2. Share what you learn. Part of your role of “looking out the window” is to point out the view to others in your organization. When you see a story on a trend that is related to your business, but in a slightly off-beat way, send that around. I’m not talking about the really obvious stuff — people should pick that up on their own. But, for example, I recently shared two stories — one from Morning Edition and another from AdAge — about the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) as the new place where marketers learn about consumer trends. This isn’t directly related to our business — we sell email intelligence solutions to marketers. But it’s indirectly related and gives a sense of what some of our clients and prospects are thinking about.

3. GOOTO (Get Out Of The Office). If you spend all your time talking to people inside your organization it’s hard to figure out what matters to people outside your organization. If you are in PR you should have a natural role in speaking with media, a great source of outside information. But anyone in marketing should be talking to clients, prospects, partners and prominent people within your industry.

What your your tricks for “looking out the window”?

Filed under: Inspiration, Marketing

Why I have a “hooray” file and you need one too

There’s a lot of bad career advice in the world. But early in my career I read an article with this tip: Any time you get significant praise, drop it into a file marked “Hooray.” Then, when you have a bad day, pull out your hooray file and flip through it. It will remind you of all the great things you’ve done and all the great people you work with.

I’ve been doing this for well over a decade and it really works. Not only does it help life my mood on a tough day (and, as a PR pro I’m likely to have a lot of those) but it also comes in handy at performance review time.

Your hooray file can be paper or electronic — I actually have both. I have an email folder since most praise comes that way now, and then a paper folder for notes and such. I actually recently started putting some of the physical notes up on the wall over my desk. That’s been a real mood and confidence booster.

What are you waiting for? Start a hooray file today. You’ll be glad you did.

Filed under: Inspiration

Top 10 Tips for Media Interviews

You’ve been asked to do a media interview. Congratulations! It means you are deemed an expert on a certain subject and that your PR representative thinks you can be trusted to do a good job and represent the company well. All great. But still, you are a bit nervous. That’s normal, of course. But these 10 tips should help you a bit.

  1. Relax. I know, I know. Nothing is more annoying than someone telling you to relax. But it’s still good advice. Mostly because there’s no reason to be nervous. A good PR rep isn’t going to put you in a situation where you can’t be successful. So take a deep breath. Be yourself. Remember that this isn’t the Spanish Inquisition.
  2. Don’t spout talking points. Any messaging ideas that you get from your PR person are meant to give you some themes that you want to convey. Use your own words. Always be genuine. Your PR rep should be willing (eager, even!) to help you tailor the talking points to your own words.
  3. That said, it’s important to remember that the reporter is not your friend. Don’t tell them anything you wouldn’t want to see in print. Don’t say anything “off the record.” (As a general rule, anything that would seem like a piece of dialogue in a cheesy movie or TV show shouldn’t be uttered in a real life media interview.)
  4. Never, never, never, never lie to a reporter. Ever.
  5. Do not use industry jargon. Use the “how would I explain this to my grandmother?” rule. Don’t patronize the reporter, but use plain, clear language.
  6. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t answer the question. It’s perfectly okay to say that you need to find out the answer and will get back to him or her. Never say “no comment.” This is a red flag that there is an issue the reporter should pursue. Instead say something like “That’s a good question, but I don’t know the answer. I can find out for you or point you to someone who can answer it.”
  7. Make the reporter ask the question. Reporters will sometimes try to lead you down a certain road by saying something that is aimed at getting you to fill in his thoughts. It’s okay to politely ask, “What is the question you want me to answer?” That said, don’t come off as evasive. If appropriate you can offer the question you think is being asked and then answer that.
  8. Leverage your PR person for help. Practice with her answering questions. Hearing your answers out loud with help both you and her refine your answers.
  9. After the interview is over, let your PR person know how it went and if there is any follow up needed.
  10. It’s worth saying again: RELAX. In fact, try to have fun. Reporters can be smart, funny and usually ask great questions. If you relax you might find you are even learning something and having a good time while helping to spread the message of your company.

Filed under: Media Relations, PR Management

The Future Will Be Won By Marketers With Balls

{With apologies to my many sister marketers. I also mean ovum.}

This past Sunday the New York Times ran a Sunday Review piece titled Can Social Media Sell Soap? I don’t know if it can sell soap, but it can sell pants.

So, this is an anecdote. And I’m aware that the plural of anecdote is not data. But that is sort of my point.

I’m friends with Ann Taylor on Facebook. Truthfully I’m not even a 100% sure why. I do like Ann and have a lot of their clothes, but I don’t usually friend brands. Anyway, the Ann feed is what it is — pictures of stuff. They don’t post so often that it’s annoying and since I am generally a fan I don’t mind having the posts in my feed. (Ironically the posts where they try to be “social” are the ones that usually annoy me. We aren’t *actually* friends Ann. Knock it off.)

One day I’m scrolling through my feed and I see a post from Ann Taylor with a fabulous pair of black and white print, cropped pants. My immediate thought was “Oh my god, I must have those pants.” So what did I do? I didn’t post, I didn’t comment, I didn’t “like” it. I went that weekend to my local Ann Taylor, tried on the pants and bought the pants. And no, I’m sorry, but I did not post a note to all my friends saying “Hey, I just bought these pants.”

I bought the pants because of Facebook. It’s unlikely I would have gone to the store that weekend unprompted, although I sometimes do. Even if I had, the pants were way more compelling styled on the model than they were hanging on the rack. Not 100% sure I would have noticed them in the store. Facebook sold me pants.

Here’s the problem: No one at Facebook or at Ann Taylor knows that Facebook sold me pants. Maybe, maybe, maybe if the folks at Ann Taylor are super-sophisticated they can see that sales of those particular pants went up in the days following the post. Even then there is some skeptical C-person saying “Yes, but how do you *know* the post caused the spike in pants sales?” They can’t prove it.

The reason I think the future will be won by marketers with balls (and ovum) is because some things can’t be measured and they never, ever, ever will be measurable. But in a world drowning in data, the pressure to prove your theories will be intense. Don’t get me wrong — I love data. I love using data to make smarter decisions. But it doesn’t answer every question. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith. Sometimes you need to just believe that putting your message in front of some significant number of people on a regular basis induces those people to take some action. That some number of those Facebook friends bought the pants. (And a cute top to go with them. Did I mention that?)

The real problem, I fear, is that in a world of “data-driven” marketing, marketing starts to become really restricted. Marketers focus on only implementing strategies and tactics that can be measured. The might win some, they might lose some, but they can show a quantity. “I did this, we got this. I will do this more. I will do that less.” The strategies that can’t be measured get abandoned or at least so poorly funded as to be meaningless.

So the future will be won by the ones who can take a risk. Who can take that leap of faith and do the thing that they know is making a difference even when they can’t definitively, beyond-a-shadow-of-doubt prove that it made the difference. They will be using data. Tons of it. They just won’t be so chained to it that they can’t see the opportunities that lie just beyond the reach of the spreadsheet.

Filed under: Marketing

Better Than Resolutions

My friend Charlie has a blog and a newsletter that are must-reads for anyone working in tech in New York City.

Before the holidays he blogged a list of things to do in 2013. I like this way better than resolutions.

Here’s some of Charlie’s list:

  • Three people I’m actually friends with that I would like to be better friends with.
  • Ten people I should know, but don’t.
  • Five people I’d like to help be successful.
  • Three things I’d like to learn.

Check out the rest of Charlie’s list here. And sign up for Charlie’s newsletter here. It’s full of all kinds of great events in New York for people working in tech. Which might inspire you to add “Go to more tech events” to your list of to-dos in 2013.

Filed under: Inspiration

Your PR Program Will Fail If You Don’t Do This

I have a pet peeve. (Actually I have a lot of pet peeves, but that’s a subject for my personal blog.)

I really get frustrated when people start discussing marketing tactics in the absence of a business objective. Let’s do a whitepaper! Why? We should host a webinar! Why?

PR, in particular, is a function that is prone to failure if you don’t have a strong objective defined. To illustrate this I’m going to outline a couple of specific objectives and some ideas on the tactics that would help meet that objective. I think it will show how very different the activities will be depending on the objective.

Objective #1: We need to raise money. For fund-raising you want hits in TechCrunch, ValleyWag, Business Insider and similar publications that are read by the VC set. You want to articles to focus on what makes your business hot and interesting. You also want to try and get on “The Top XX Start-ups to Watch” lists. Profiles of your founders can also be good, especially if they make the business seem hot/cool.

Objective #2: We are a B2B company and we need revenue. You need articles in the top trade publications that are read by your prospects. And you need those articles to focus on the problem you solve. Research is very helpful here — can you publish data that shows that some (large) percentage of companies struggle with the problem you are solving? Remember that negative news gets more ink, but positive news can work too. You also want to focus on speaking engagements at your industry’s top conferences. Thought leadership is the focus of your efforts so content creation is the key. Think about hiring a few freelancers to keep it cranking out.

Objective #3: We are a B2C company and we need more users. I’m not a consumer expert, but here you want to think about placing articles in mainstream articles that are focused on how cool your service is or how you solve a consumer problem. But you might also consider that this is an objective that doesn’t have a PR solution. You might need SEO instead, for example.

Objective #4: We are planning an IPO. This objective is similar to #1, but the audience is different. You aren’t looking for VCs anymore, you are trying to impress institutional investors. So you want mainstream business publications like WSJ, NYT, BusinessWeek and so forth. But the story is also different now. You want stories that illustrate a combination of growth (nowhere to go but up!) and stability (this is no flash in the pan business!). Data that shows the size of the market you are going after are important.

Objective #5: We are hiring (and man is it harder than we expected given the economy). Also similar to objectives #1 and #3 in terms of possible publications to target, but here the story is about how great your company is to work for. Focus on culture, unique perks and the opportunity to be part of something cool. Think about what positions you are most focused on. The messages that will attract engineers might be different from those that will attract sales guys. Also, submit for “top workplace” awards. Start with ones that cover your local market since they tend to be easier to win, then move to national awards.

See? Five objectives, five really different PR plans. Outline your objectives in order to figure out the activities that are most likely to meet those objectives. Your chances of success go up exponentially when you know what success looks like.

Filed under: Marketing

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