Friday, February 29, 2008

Emotional Rip on Fast Company

I got ripped on Fast Company's Web site. My blog post on how Westland/Hallmark could employ public relations and social media to manage a crisis situation was published on the magazine's new user content driven site (

A reader threw me in the same category as the fired employees who tortured sick animals. How dare I provide counsel to a company that had committed such an atrocity, she asked in a comment.

At first, this irritated me. Fast Company attracts an exceptional set of educated and informed business readers. How could someone let their emotional response color their judgment? Plus, this comment now lives online forever, attached to my name and the Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) brand.

I gave it a few days before responding. In that time, I came to realize that when you put yourself out there this type of harsh criticism is going to happen. And that's OK as it illustrates the dialogue driven nature of social media that makes it such a powerful channel to communicate with key audiences.

I often tell clients that to be a thought leader you have to have thoughts. And a thick skin.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Live from Satellite 2008

I have been in my share of press rooms over the years. They are all fairly uniform: coffee in the back with the pastries, stacks of press kits strewn across a table and a handful of journalists clicking away on laptops. It’s always quiet.

For the next two days I’ll be blogging from Access Intelligence’s Satellite 2008 Conference ( in Washington, DC. This is the premier trade show in this industry and it draws nearly 10,000 executives who work for, buy from, invest in or report on satellite technology and communications companies.

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) works extensively in this market and we have a couple of clients exhibiting at the show. I plan on walking the Exhibit Hall this morning and then spending Wednesday meeting with industry contacts and prospects. I’ll also check out a couple of the panel discussions on topics I find of interest.

Look for a post from me later this week with my thoughts on best practices in trade show marketing and promotion.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bravo for Buzzwords

From time to time a journalist becomes fed up with the buzzword-laden press releases that constantly arrive in their Email inbox and decides to take action. The latest to chide technology vendors and their public relations agencies for too much jargon is the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Worthen.

(Thanks to Steve Lunceford at BearingPoint for turning me on to Worthen’s article.)

Here is his assault on Oracle for a release announcing their new offering “designed to simplify the lifecycle management of complex IP-based services.”

Oracle’s Hot New Offering: Gobbledygook

While I find Oracle’s release suffering from a bit too much industry mumbo-jumbo, I am 100 percent comfortable standing up in defense of the buzzword.

For starters, in the technology markets words like enterprise, best of breed, solution and integrated actually mean something to customers, prospects and investors. In all marketing and promotion, it’s critical to talk in the language of the audiences a company targets.

Moreover, technology vendors have an expectation the journalists, analysts and bloggers who cover their industry have an understanding of the meaning of most of these buzzwords. It is typically business writers like Worthen who have a jargon meltdown.

The goal with a press release (or any form of writing for that matter) is to communicate in a clear and concise manner, while engaging the audience.

Here are two exceptional press releases from Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client Tellabs. Full disclosure: Strategic does write many of these releases, yet it is the folks at Tellabs who champion a more creative approach to their written communications.

Ongoing fall in viewer retention overshadows 36% mobile TV growthSurvey of 34,000 mobile users reveals revenue potential for operators if quality and reliability improve

Tellabs® 8607 Access Switch coming soon to cell sites near youNewest access superstar delivers video, data and voice to world's smallest screens

Friday, February 22, 2008

Microsoft's New Tune

Open source advocates cheered in the streets yesterday. That's because Microsoft announced it is releasing 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows (both desktop and server products) that were previously available to partners through a trade secret license.

Microsoft has finally capitulated to the open source movement by making Windows more interoperable with other software and the Web.

TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld described this as Microsoft "singing a new tune." Basically, that the gang in Redmond has had a change in thinking about how to view open source.

Microsoft Sings a New Tune - Wants to Play Nice with Open Source

No way. I think the headline to Erick's post is misleading. If Microsoft could continue to drive revenue from its anti-open source approach they absolutely would. There's no reason to give away what you can sell.

Rather, Microsoft's leadership has come to the realization that the way they will continue to grow the business is by embracing (rather than fighting) open source.

The battle has been won. Open source it is!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

1st Amendment versus Confidentiality

A decision last week by a San Francisco-based federal judge to order the shuttering of presents an interesting dilemma for public relations professionals.

The Internet and other forms of electronic communications (i.e. e-newsletters, email, personalized social networks, blogs, etc.) is an effective channel to target, message and engage key audiences -- including customers, partners, employees and investors. Yet, if we view the Internet as communications and collaboration platform we then must assume the First Amendment rights provided to traditional news media also apply.

The other side of the argument is based on an expectation of confidentiality. As a PR representative for a number of publicly traded companies, I take the non-disclosure agreements we enter into very seriously. They establish a baseline of trust that affords us access to our client’s senior management. Violation of confidentiality by an insider or external consulting firm is simply inexcusable.

This is a tough issue and I’m torn. What do you think?

Judge Orders Wikileaks Web Site Shut
New York Times

The closing of, which invites people to post confidential material, presents a First Amendment test.

Monday, February 18, 2008

PR Can Help Heal Westland/Hallmark Meat

The Westland/Hallmark Meat Company’s recall of 143 million pounds of ground beef as a result of an animal abuse scandal documented in video by the Humane Society of the United States is disturbing on many levels. The American people long ago weighed in on what they think about individuals (or companies) who torture animals. Just ask Michael Vick.

I’m going to focus on what the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company can do now to survive. This scandal has the potential to be a company killer.

-Take immediate, aggressive action. In fact, they’ve already done this. The company voluntarily suspended operations pending the outcome of a federal inquiry. Additionally, several employees directly involved in the torture of animals were fired.

-Apologize…again and again. Westland/Hallmark’s president Steve Mendell told the New York Times that he was “shocked and horrified” by the videos. That’s a start. There needs to be an apology in every interview to go along with their formal statement of remorse (

-Open a direct line of communication with the market. An executive blog could be an effective tactic to express remorse and solicit comments. The comments are going to be ugly. Yet, by taking the issue head-on it will demonstrate a real corporate commitment to change.

-Once changes have been implemented, communicate proactively about the new processes put in place to ensure this type of abuse will not occur again. Keep everything open and honest, and continually self-assess progress.

-Partner with third-party organizations, including the Humane Society, for independent validation. And make sure to foot the bill for the cost of implementing these programs.

While there will be those who call for a complete shut-down of Westland/Hallmark, I believe that’s an overreaction. There is no excuse for this and it’s up to the company to rapidly put in place corrective measures.

I do believe people are inherently good and this was just the appalling behavior of a few rogue employees. A public relations program designed to foster an honest dialogue with the market won’t change what happened. Yet, it will facilitate the healing process.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mind the Gap at Trade Shows

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has a long-standing relationship with Karen Miller (*51_false_*2_1854). First as a client and now as a colleague who works with Strategic providing counsel and tactical PR execution on behalf of several of our clients.

Karen recently attended the Mobile World Congress and I asked her to share some thoughts and perspective upon her return. Here's what she wrote:

What’s the buzz? What’s hot? Those are questions you’re likely to hear at a trade show.

At the recent Mobile World Congress 08 held February 11-14 in Barcelona, the phrase thrown around by keynote speakers, vendors, reporters and analysts was LTE, or Long Term Evolution. It’s the move toward fourth generation, all-IP networks that provide 100 mb to the mobile device*.

But, a comment from a UK-based financial analyst who asked to remain anonymous provides some insight into how much emphasis a vendor should put on future-looking concepts when promoting their products and services at trade shows.

“I’m frustrated by the number of delusional vendors talking about LTE when they haven’t proven to me that they have solutions that meet the needs of 2008,” the analyst said.

By nature, technology reporters and analysts are interested in where the industry is headed. It’s a great ongoing story and a demonstration of thought leadership. Yet, the real opportunity lies in providing insights for interviewers (and ultimately their readers) about how to traverse the gap between now and buzz topic du jour.

By realistically evaluating the pros and cons of the what’s hot at the trade show – versus tying messaging to it – a vendor can better position how their product or service fits in the evolution of the industry. It can also serve as a bridge back to discussing the main messaging points a vendor wants to cover about its business.

*Endorsed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (, LTE is a progression of GSM's UMTS platform. The CDMA Development Group offers a competing UMB standard.

Friday, February 15, 2008

PR Can Make the Rat Irrelevant

Yahoo’s board has sprung a leak! The New York Post cited unnamed sources close to the situation in an article detailing how a group of Yahoo! board members (including chairman Roy Bostock) are amenable to accepting Microsoft’s offer to buy the company.

Board Bucks Yang
New York Post

This has got to be infuriating for Yahoo! chief Jerry Yang. Rightfully, he should expect that board-level discussions and disagreements be kept in the utmost confidence. Failure to do so by anyone on or associated with the Board is a blatant disregard for confidentially agreements, as well as ethically questionable.

From a public relations perspective, it is critical for Yahoo! to move quickly to implement a process to share information with the media and analysts on a consistent basis – even if the company has to disclose issues or discussions that it normally would not do.

Marginalize the information being leaked. Make the rat irrelevant.

Of course, they could always hire a few shadowy private investigator types to weed out the source of the leak. Strike that…that approach didn’t work so well for HP.

HP settles some pretexting cases

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Crisis Management in a Web 2.0 World

In my career I have helped manage public relations activities in support of two controversial programs – the Department of Defense’s Standard Procurement System (SPS) contract and the Navy Marine Corp. Intranet (NMCI).

Both programs involved a dramatic technology shift for a large and distributed user base who was relatively pleased with the status quo. As you might suspect, the adoption of a new technology platform on SPS and NMCI created quite an intense user backlash, through no fault of either contractor.

We had to deal with users contacting trade journalists with criticisms and complaints. The resulting articles and op-ed pieces were damaging and created morale issues for both the customers and the contractors.

In time, the programs achieved benchmarks and the user base eventually accepted change. We even got our fair share of positive trade media coverage.

My experiences on SPS and NMCI came rushing back this morning after reading Informationweek’s article about the laid-off Yahoo employees who took to their blogs. In our SPS and NMCI efforts we actually had it easy as our task was to manage relationships with a handful of trade journalists.

Because Web 2.0 empowers and provides tools to publish, managing a crisis situation today is more challenging than ever. The posts from the fired Yahoo staffers will live online, impacting Yahoo’s ability to recruit and retain.

Fired Yahoos Take to Blogs

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Point of Interview

In public relations there are a myriad of channels we tap into to help our clients communicate with their most important audiences. However, the business/financial and trade media continue to rise to the top when it comes to impact and influence. This is especially true in the business-to-business, enterprise technology and government sectors.

We've done exceptional work at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) designing and executing media campaigns. Strategic provides counsel to its clients prior to each media briefing, yet we can only take it so far. That's because ultimately it comes down to our client's ability to articulate a message in a clear and compelling way. I refer to this as the "Point of Interview." That is when the story is sold.

In its daily e-newsletter the New York Times includes a quote of the day. Here's the one from this morning:

"You're asking me to tell you how we're going to get to a place we've never been, with a map I don't have."

- COL. Steven David, a military defense lawyer, when asked for details on the capital case against six Guantánamo detainees.

Wow...kudos to Steven David. He's not a Strategic client, but he sure was spot on at the point of interview.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Build Versus Buy

The ACG National Capital’s Small Business Roundtable events typically draw an intimate group of a dozen or so senior executives for a moderator-led discussion of corporate best practices. During the past three years I have attended roundtables on marketing, sales compensation and employee retention.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I strolled into a packed Fairfax Room at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, Virginia. One of the ACG represnetatives told me the event was so popular they actually had to cut off registration.

The topic for today’s discussion was certainly timely, “Build or Buy: M&A Best Practices.” The big draw though was the speaker – Brad Antle, President/CEO of IT and network solutions company SI International (Nasdaq: SINT).

Here are a couple of comments from the discussion I found interesting: (note: not all are attributable to Brad)

--Nearly 90 percent of acquisitions fail to achieve their objectives, primarily due to poor planning related to integration.

--When it comes to build versus buy, there’s no better return on investment than organic growth.

--According to Brad, SI’s goal is to maintain the speed and flexibility that defines a small business, while leveraging the financial and operational resources of a publicly traded company.

--Before pursuing an M&A strategy, it is critical to have a clear vision in mind of what you want your company to look like after the process. Establish clear benchmarks. And always focus on profitable growth, rather than merely amassing revenue.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Community of People

If you believe the success of any community is dependent upon smart, experienced people, than the DC technology scene just caught a break.

The press release announcing Gary Voight’s appointment as president/CEO of software vendor CorasWorks ( didn’t create many headlines. Yet, it was perhaps the most important news of the day for a region in need of proven leaders to shepherd its cadre of emerging growth companies.

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) worked for Gary when he ran Software AG USA, the North American business line of one of Europe’s largest enterprise vendors. A sales executive by training, Gary has also proved himself an accomplished strategist, technologist and motivator.

He jumped to Boston several years ago to run storage vendor start-up Archivas, taking the company through several rounds of venture capital, a product launch and eventual acquisition by Hitachi Data Systems.

Gary had a myriad of CEO choices from private equity investors across the country. Yet, he chose to return to the Washington, DC area and take the helm of a Novak Biddle and Edison Venture-backed start-up. And I’m real thankful for it.

Strategic may get an opportunity to work for Gary again. That would be great. More important, his return to the area gives another local company a better opportunity for success. It also means his team will gain exceptional experience and mentoring. Perhaps there is one or two future CEOs on CorasWorks’ senior staff.

Most recognize the Washington, DC regional technology community as one of the best in the country. That’s primarily driven by the presence of the federal government and the contractors that support it. However, we are not Silicon Valley. Or Boston. Or even Austin. And cities like Seattle are catching up fast. (See article below.)

I’ve always believed executives have a responsibility to invest in the community and to provide opportunities to the people around them -- employees, vendors, shareholders, etc. I suspect Gary feels the same. It may be the reason why his office is now in Reston.

Seattle Taps Its Inner Silicon Valley
Many communities dream of becoming the next Silicon Valley.
But Seattle is actually doing it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

IT Risk Takers Miss the Point

At times, I pity the corporate IT manager or network engineer. Users are rarely content with the performance of their technical infrastructure. Moreover, many vendors try an end run around them with the goal of building a ground swell of support for their application, forcing the IT department to accept and support it.

Consider Google’s new Team Edition for their hosted application suite. It’s easy to use and includes all of the functionality of Microsoft Office, minus the Email. Google is encouraging corporate users to fire up their browsers, open an account and start collaborating. Just don’t tell the IT person.

IT departments shouldn't get angry about Team Edition, Rajen Sheth, Google Apps Senior Product Manager, told IDG News Service’s Juan Carlos Perez. Because, unlike other software that employees use without IT approval, it provides an upgrade path to IT-manageable versions.

Of course, “The IT department always has the option to sign up for the Standard Edition for free if they want to provide control over this. This is a solid, happy medium.”

I am all for hosted technical solutions as it allows a company to focus on its core competencies. In fact, Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has outsourced its technical infrastructure to a company called Network Alliance.

However, as IDG’s Perez points out, “By its very nature as a Web-hosted software suite, an unmanaged Google Apps deployment can represent a concern for IT departments, since the applications and the data generated are stored outside organizations' firewalls in Google data centers.”

The business world is defined by rules and best practices for good reason. It ensures consistency across an organization and helps mitigate risk.

While I believe in creativity and individuality, it’s important to note in this case the person working with Google Apps outside the firewall most likely won’t face the ramifications for unauthorized disclosure of sensitive corporate information.

It’s easy to be a risk-taker when you have nothing at risk.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lessons from Dot Com Turkeys

About ten years ago Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) began an exciting growth phase as a public relations provider to venture capital backed start-ups.

Unfortunately, our fall was just as dramatic when the rules of the game changed and private equity firms actually expected their investments to make money. At the time, it was referred to as establishing a “path to profitability.”

We represented a number of dot com turkeys. They were companies that had no game plan for how to monetize their technology or the communities they had created. They shut down…quickly. Strategic was left client-less with uncollected fees.

Fast forward to today. I am all for social media technologies and believe they present an exciting channel for companies to communicate and engage with influential audiences – customers, partners, employees, investors and the community.

Yet, the market is still figuring this all out. What is the ROI for an executive blogging program? How about creating a personalized social community? Or perhaps establishing a corporate page on Facebook?

We’re simply not sure yet and that is OK. It just means that we are going to be measured in our approach using these tactics and the recommendations we provide clients.

As for the social networking companies, it’s important for their management and investors to visit the dot com graveyard so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past. In business, you have to establish a clear value proposition for customers. It’s not about community. It is revenue and profits.

Here’s a great blog post from Jordon McCollum that looks at this issue within the context of Facebook’s financials.

Will Social Networking Ever Make Money?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

GCN's Old School Journalist

Bill Jackson is refreshingly old school. The senior writer and “Cyber Eye” columnist for trade magazine Government Computer News considers his job well done when he produces a thorough and accurate article. Bill’s focus is his readers, and he takes pride in providing them with information, analysis and insight that helps them do their job better.

Unlike many influential journalists, Bill maintains cordial relationships with PR executives. It is all about the story for Bill and if an excellent idea originates from a public relations pitch than so be it.

With that in mind, Bill stopped by Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) office in January to visit with our staff. His 45 minute talk and Q&A session provided insight into how companies can effectively position their products and services for inclusion in his stories.

Here are a few of Bill’s suggestions:

-Read the publication. Know his areas of interest (communications, networking and security). And clearly explain how government customers benefit from using the product. Bill is amazed by the number of PR people who merely Email press releases with little thought to who they’re sending to.

-While Email is his preferred means of contact, Bill acknowledges he only opens about two percent of the 200 plus Emails he receives a day. Make the subject line interesting and get to the point quickly in the first few sentences of a pitch.

-A customer willing to talk on the record about how they use the product makes the story. Other sources Bill will consider for validation include industry analysts and recognized subject matter experts, such as BT Counterpane’s Bruce Schneier for issues related to network security.

-When it comes to an interview, his best advice is never make a comment you would not want to see in the magazine.

Interested in more insight from Bill’s visit to Strategic? Check out my colleague Chris Parente’s take in his “Work, Wine and Wheels” blog:

Sunday, February 3, 2008

PR is Professional When the Focus is "Why"

There are two reasons why this article from the NY Times about Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Yahoo is an exceptional piece of writing:

1) It provides perspectives on “why” Microsoft’s play for Yahoo is relevant to the broader technology markets; and

2) It puts this deal into context with the overall instability in the economy.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we adhere to a context-based approach to public relations in which our understanding of the client's business goals and the trends shaping relevant markets impacts our counsel and tactical execution. In our opinion, it's the difference between being a true public relations counselor and a "smile and dial" PR hack.

Yahoo Sale Could Be Bad for Minnows
Microsoft's proposed mega-bid for Yahoo is based on its own particular corporate needs and may not be a harbinger of rampant deal-making in Silicon Valley.

Friday, February 1, 2008

SES' Savvy Satellite Wiki

Strategic Communications Group's (Strategic) one-time client SES Americom continues to embrace social media as a means of promoting their thought leadership in the satellite market.
Here’s the latest: the introduction of a wiki that explains the history of the satellite industry.

This is savvy as SES Americom’s marketers are challenged with how to best differentiate the company from other satellite operators, such as Intelsat. Moreover, the wiki was announced via SES Americom’s “This Really is Rocket Science” blog.

SES Americom, an SES company, has introduced, a Web site devoted to the satellite industry which allows users to add and edit content collectively, the company announced Jan. 31. uses the same software used to power Wikipedia, and allows browsers to explore the history of man-made satellites, definitions of satellite terms and learn about how satellites impact a wide range of industries from oil and gas to television.