Sunday, June 29, 2008's Lucky Fender Bender has either a brilliant or unlucky sales team. Either way, they recently won a deal by showcasing their product in an innovative way.

On Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting with a software firm that helps organizations make smarter business decisions. During the informal pleasantries prior to the start of the meeting, the topic of discussion turned to their recent selection of as their hosted CRM solution.

They cited a number of factors for their choice related to’s flexibility and ease of integration with third-party solutions. Yet, the Executive VP in the meeting explained the clincher for was of all things a fender bender.

Just prior to a scheduled conference call, the’s sales executives working the deal were on their way back from lunch and reportedly got into a minor car accident. As a result, several of their colleagues had to step in and handle the call.

Fortunately, the replacements were able to review all of the necessary background information in their CRM system. The call went smoothly and they made note of how their own use of the technology helped them better manage the opportunity. Their prospect was sold and the next step was a contract.

While I would never recommend a company misrepresent themselves or a situation to secure a contract, unexpected and convincing tactics to demo a product often make all of the difference. Even if this car accident was merely a ploy, I sure give credit for their creativity.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Winning Proposition in New Business

There was a good article in yesterday's Ad Age e-newsletter about how small agencies can effectively match up against global firms when competing for new business. The writer -- Phil Johnson of ad shop PJA -- dedicates an equal amount of editorial to assessing competitor weaknesses as he does to playing up his firm's strengths.

My take: always focus on what you as an agency do incredibly well, relating that to what you perceive to be the client's priorities and requirements. At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we evaluate many new client opportunities that simply don't line up well with our core competencies.

It's tough to pass on new business. Yet, our experience has taught us that working with the right client at the right time in their maturation leads to great work. And that is a winning proposition for everyone involved.

Know Your Opponent

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Put Down the Blackberry, Torossian

I’d like to think that I am passionate about public relations and business…not psychotic. I sure can’t say the same for Ronn Torossian, president and CEO of NYC-based 5W Public Relations.

Here are a few quotes from his most recent blog post, simply titled “Work Hard.”

--In today’s hungry, new-money driven world, there’s always someone willing to work harder and push more, and the simple reality of life is unless one works in a minimum wage or civil servant position, they can’t simply punch the clock.

--And, the truth is, no one will force you to check your blackberry, but I guarantee people who don’t respond to client needs during after-office hours won’t retain their clients very long. For those of you in the PR industry who compete with my firm, I’d urge all of you to not check your blackberries after 6 or on weekends, because we always will.

--I am sure the folks at NBC, CBS and other competitors are hoping ABC folks don’t check their blackberries after hours… so they get scooped for their stories in this uber-competitive media world.

This morning I arrived at the office at 9:15 AM because I wanted to see my kids off to camp. And then, I left the office at 6 PM to spend an hour with my family, reading “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” to my boys before bed.

I’m all for hard work and anyone who plays pick-up basketball with me on the weekend knows I have competitive issues. Yet, a healthy and productive life is about balance. It makes us better public relations professionals and, more important, more caring people.

Ronn, lighten up. And for heaven’s sake turn off the Blackberry.

Thoughts from Ronn Torossian: Work Hard

Sunday, June 22, 2008

PR Lessons from the Starship Farragut

What can the Starship Farragut teach us about creativity in communications?

That’s the question we posed to Mark Hildebrand, the producer and director of award winning fan films based on the 1960s Star Trek television series created by Gene Roddenberry. (For more on Starship Farragut, visit

Hildebrand visited Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) office as part of our professional development program. Past speakers had included journalists, industry analysts, publishers and corporate marketing executives. Right in line with what you would expect at a public relations consultancy.

Our request for a presentation from a film director is symptomatic of a dramatic shift in the industry. Public relations content has traditionally been constructed to educate and engage an organization’s key stakeholders. It presents a perspective, opinion or corporate story, and then encourages dialogue and debate.Yet, a third "e" should be added to the measurement benchmarks for public relations -- entertainment. The ability to capture and hold an audience's attention in unique and innovative ways is now a must for any communications program.

That was the insight Strategic’s staff anticipated from Hildebrand’s presentation. We weren’t disappointed. On a shoe string budget, he collaborated with a group of talented (yet unknown) actors to create a movie true to Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek and, in the process, garnered a following among die-hard fans of the original series.

Hildebrand’s suggestions on how to create compelling and entertaining content serve as a primer for public relations and marketing professionals challenged to promote their companies in traditional PR and social media channels. Here are a few of his thoughts:

Sit in the audience’s chair. Content must always be evaluated from the perspective of the intended recipient. Hildebrand explained you want to challenge the audience, yet at the conclusion leave them fulfilled (rather than confused).

Create a dilemma. When following the problem/solution format, it’s critical to use anecdotes to demonstrate how the characters depicted in the content learn, thereby delivering an educating experience for the audience.

Change pace with emotional contrast. Deliver the unexpected and you’ll keep an audience’s attention. Hildebrand cited Starship Farragut’s use of humor in certain fight scenes. The same principle can apply in public relations by introducing an unexpected writing style. Strategic client Tellabs excels at this through a creative approach to their press release writing (

Embrace creative tension. While Hildebrand retains final creative say in his productions, he openly engages with actors and the other professionals on the set for their opinions about how to best capture a scene. The best result often comes from the resulting disagreements and discussion.

Rely on the passion. Starship Farragut is truly a labor of love for Hildebrand, the actors and production staff. It’s self-funded and, due to licensing requirements, they distribute the films at no cost via the Internet. Companies who inspire a comparable passion from their employees typically produce memorable and entertaining content.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cracks in the Cloud

My head has been in the clouds today.

I’m not referring to a day off from work or even a brief mental break in the afternoon. In fact, I had to be sharp as I had three important meetings – with a client, with a long-standing relationship over lunch and then with a prospect with a world of potential.

It was during lunch that I had a fascinating discussion with a senior executive at an enterprise software developer about markets and functionality most appropriate for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering. There has been a lot of debate within this person’s company about the viability of SaaS in their core market. Ultimately, they have decided to stick to a traditional server-side license model because of the critical nature of the data their software touches.

Fair enough…yet I argued that innovation in the software space now only truly occurs within SaaS companies because of the economic realities of today’s market. Two of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) clients – GovDelivery and Avectra – are perfect examples of SaaS innovation.

I remain passionate about SaaS and hosted solutions as it allows a company to focus on its business (rather than the technology infrastructure), while better managing resources. However, I recognize the big fall down of SaaS is the availability of the cloud. No access to the Internet or the vendor’s system…no data or functionality.

I imagine Google’s application service customers were frustrated and helpless this morning.

Google's App Engine breaks down

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Universities Breed Tech Innovation

The ingredients for a thriving technology community are fairly straight forward.

--Smart and experienced entrepreneurs
--Well funded private equity and venture capital community
--Deep talent pool of engineers, developers, marketers and managers
--Research universities and not-for-profits

I’ve called the Washington, DC region home for my entire professional career. Our technology community is rock solid thanks to the presence of the federal government -- the world’s largest buyer of IT products and services. Yet, the region pales in comparison to the technology innovation in Silicon Valley and Boston.

Why? There are certainly cultural issues at work. (Hey, I’m the guy that actually showed up at the first day of the RSA Conference in San Francisco wearing a coat and tie.)

More important, the Washington, DC region has long struggled to find an educational institution to rival the innovation, talent and technology produced by Stanford and MIT.

That’s why yesterday’s news that Virginia Tech will invest more than $80M to build a 150-person research center in the region is so exciting. This is part of an initiative called Chesapeake Crescent in which five regionally-based universities plan to collaborate on research.

This region may never shed its dark suit and tie image. Yet, a stronger and more vibrant university network will serve as a breeding ground for technology companies with the potential for innovation and growth.

Virginia Tech to Build Ballston Research Hub
Washington Post

Monday, June 16, 2008

High Performer Promotion

It’s no secret that success in business results from attracting and retaining high-caliber people, and then creating an environment where they can establish productive, mutually beneficial relationships with external and internal audiences. This is much easier said than done.

Like most public relations consultancies, Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has had its struggles with the people issue. The typical agency model is to surround a senior team with a group of more junior-level staffers, requiring everyone to work extended hours in a high-stress environment. We followed this path during much of our 12 year history.

Recently, we’ve made significant changes to our business model which has led us to embrace a number of innovative employee programs, such as a highly flexible work environment and a blended staffing methodology. Everything is predicated on empowering the individual to perform and then holding them accountable for the results they produce for clients.

Something that remains a struggle for me though is when to promote. I am fortunate to have wonderfully talented colleagues who would most likely accelerate their professional development if put in a more advanced position. And I am certainly not a believer in some unwritten tenure requirement. (I launched Strategic when I was 24 years old.)

Yet, it is important to always set people up for success. It’s not fair to them, us or a client to have an employee in a position in which they are destined to struggle.

Jack and Suzy Welch’s recent column in BusinessWeek has me thinking about this issue. Their views on what constitutes superior results and how to evaluate whether an employees’ values align with organizational priorities is a must read for any business owner and employee.

High Performers Won’t Wait

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What's the deal with stealth?

I’ve seen a number of articles of late in which the journalist refers to a company having been in “stealth” mode. Here’s an example:

Apptio, a startup partly funded by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, came out of stealth mode Monday to push its SaaS (software-as-a-service) offering meant to help IT shops track exactly how much their assets cost the business. More of this article at:

Does creating the perception of a company being stealth heighten interest in a start-up to support a corporate launch campaign?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Time to BeFunky

Say hello to the new Strategic Guy!

OK...not really. Yet, I did enjoy working with UK-based Web start-up BeFunky to create what they call a "uvatar." The site also offers a wonderful "cartoonizer" feature that allows you to manipulate the color and appearance of any photograph.

Is this just for fun? Not at all. A successful, high-impact blogging program allows a company to extend the thought leadership of its executive team in a way that is consistent with its brand image and personality. This is accomplished through appropriate editorial mission, content and writing style, as well as complementary images.

Perhaps it is time for your company to BeFunky with its executive blog program?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Take the Long View in Media Relations

A few years back Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) was selected by not-for-profit research and engineering firm Noblis (formerly Mitretek Systems) for a project to provide messaging and public relations services for the Process Control Systems Forum. This is an organization managed by Noblis (and supported by the Department of Homeland Security) to facilitate the sharing of best practices between industry and government for the protection of SCADA systems used to manage critical infrastructure (i.e. nuclear plants, water treatment facilities, etc.).

We generated a fair amount of industry and vertical market press coverage, yet interest among business journalists was tepid. Without a specific incident to demonstrate the ramifications of a poorly protected computer infrastructure, we came off as merely alarmists.

I bet that would be quite different today. As reported by Brian Krebs of the Washington Post, a nuclear power plant in Georgia was recently forced into an emergency shutdown for 48 hours after a software update snafu. Here is a link to Brian's article:

Much of effective media relations is establishing ongoing relationships with influential journalists. Even if there is no immediate story opportunity, we counsel our clients to take the long-view. Be proactive in ongoing dialogue with the a resource...identify ways to provide value.

When a story breaks, you'll be top of mind and all of the time invested in relationship building will pay-off with an exceptional PR result.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Content Credibility Question

Perhaps my most important responsibility as the head of a boutique public relations consultancy is to anticipate client needs and challenges. Like all small businesses, we bet our investment capital, professional development efforts and staff recruitment plans on these projections.

Accordingly, I spend a lot of time speaking with corporate marketing and PR/communications decision-makers. Where do they plan on investing resources? What obstacles will they face executing lead generation and branding programs? And (most important) how will their performance be measured?

For the past six months the story from the executive marketing suite has been all about content. Companies typically have lots of it, from highly technical white papers and product slicks to more sales-oriented presentations and advertisements. The questions corporate marketing and PR leaders must address include:

● How to identify, collect and evaluate the content that already exists?
● How to best create new content that is in-strategy and action-oriented?
● How to package and deliver content to audiences in creative ways?

This content conundrum has grown in significance with the adoption of social media by corporate marketing organizations. Blogs, podcasts, social networks, Web-based video, etc. are predominantly content-driven communications vehicles.

Recently, I penned an article about the “3Es” of public relations – education, engagement and entertainment ( While I stand by my assertion that content must embody these characteristics, I neglected to address one critical issue: credibility.

Credibility is simply saying what you mean and doing what you say. Following through on words and actions establishes a track record of believability.

Yet, in a business context the issue of credibility becomes a bit murky. Consider the following statements often incorporated into public relations, marketing and sales content:

● Company X is a leading provider of...
● Company Y offers award-winning service to its customers
● Company Z has long been recognized as an innovator in...

While these statements may be technically true, their credibility with and impact on influential audiences is debatable. Customers, partners, investors and employees have become appropriately skeptical and often demand third-party validation of such grand claims. It is incumbent on PR professionals to rise to this challenge to instill a higher level of confidence in our companies.

Here are a few ideas to help your company address the credibility question when developing content:

1. Back it up with numbers. BearingPoint has done a good job of this by citing an extensive portfolio of customer relationships when making a vertical market leadership statement.

2. Quote third parties. This can include customer statements, industry analyst commentary or earned media. The more credible the source (i.e. an article in the business media versus an industry blog), the greater the impact.

3. Make meaningful comparisons. A few years ago I attended a presentation from Cisco CEO John Chambers at the FOSE government IT conference. He supported a claim of industry leadership by explaining that Cisco's market valuation was greater than the combined worth of its competitors.

4. Review your writing through a skeptical lens. Are there any statements that an external audience might question? Are these comments hard to justify? If so, strike them from the text and focus on what is supportable.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Adocu, Extreme Micro-Blogging

A challenge in standing up an executive blogging initiative is the time investment required to consistently produce engaging (and entertaining) thought leadership content. That’s one of the reasons why micro-blogging platforms like Twitter have quickly gained market acceptance – a comparable value proposition without such a dramatic content and time requirement.

There’s a new Web-based platform called Adocu that is kind of like extreme micro-blogging. Ever post must be limited to one word for simplicity.

Is there value in this? I’m skeptical. Yet, I do see an application for Adocu in which people who elect to follow are pointed to other content sources.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Interactive Agency Lowdown

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we typically leverage social media as a content-driven channel to help our clients extend thought leadership, enhance executive visibility and connect with key market influencers (i.e. journalists, analysts, bloggers, etc.). It’s what you would expect from a public relations consultancy.

That’s starting to change though. We have now also taken steps to more closely align our social media activities with a client’s lead generation and sales cycle marketing programs. This starts with a careful analysis of keywords to incorporate into our content development for organic search engine optimization (SEO). It also involves identifying groups within social communities for appropriate participation and exchange of ideas. We refer to this as social network engagement.

As part of our move to hone a more social media/lead generation offering, we’ve begun to explore the possibility of a formal relationship with an interactive development/SEO firm. What are the attributes of a successful interactive shop that caters to B2B clients? Are creative capabilities more important than technical competencies?

This article in Adweek got me thinking about these questions.

The Next Generation: These give up-and-coming interactive agencies are looking at the Web in a different light