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What I learned about PR while staring at Helen Mirren

One of the best albeit ironic quotes I ever heard was during the Costume Guild Awards in 2007, (where I may or may not have been sitting two feet away from Helen Mirren, staring at her roughly 50% of the evening)…

“If the costume design is great, you never even notice it.”

The same can be said about PR. Unless the campaign is an epic fail or some politician has (yet again) done something inane, the term “PR” is rarely uttered or brought into the conversation.

It’s important to take the time to applaud the “PR WINS” that are often overlooked because companies are busy getting all the praise – assuming PR has done its job.

This week we kick off our monthly “PR Hack”, which provides a digest of sorts, highlighting important trends and celebrating some of the best PR moves we’ve culled from the month. We’ve also added some things we hope you find entertaining.

Let’s get to it!

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3 tips for crossing the PRTech chasm

A few weeks ago AirPR was mentioned in this round up story by Mizzen+Main co-founder Web Smith, which he posted to curated blogging platform Medium.

In that post, Web gave one particularly interesting insight into how the minds of both startup co-founders driven by numbers, as well as engineering-focused brains, tend to look at something as fluid and elusive as PR:

PR equation

The point?

Well for starters, and from my experience making the move from a mostly female driven PR firm to a mostly male driven technology company, if you want to get anything – yes ANYTHING – done in the future as a communications professional it will require major shifts in how you think and operate.

But before we jump into 3 key shifts that I’ve culled for your perusing pleasure, here are some interesting stats from IBM’s 2011 CMO study that give some context:

  • 79% of CMOs expect a high level of complexity over the next five years as data explodes and technology solutions are required for key decision-making.
  • 48% of CMOs feel prepared for this above stated complexity.
  • This leaves a 31% “complexity gap” that needs to be filled with new paradigms, communications strategies, etc.
  • 74% of CMOs will be focusing on customer analytics (aka data) to understand individual purchasing behavior as opposed to en masse purchasing behavior (markets).
  • More than two-thirds believe they will need to invest in new tools and technologies and develop new strategies for managing big data.
  • Likewise, nearly two-thirds believe they will need to change the mix of skills within the marketing function and enhance its analytics capabilities.

In other words: future marketers, PR pros, and communicators extraordinaire – all of whom generally take cues from CMO trends – will likewise need to make relatively significant changes in order to remain relevant.

The bottom line? Well, to keep up you must understand how to work with data as well with those who are responsible for the data (enter PRTech).

I am extremely fortunate to be in an environment where the talented engineering folks I work with don’t write me off as a dumb “former PR girl” or balk at my requests for tech assistance and data insights.

And this DOES happen at companies. A lot. To be frank, it’s an antiquated way of operating, but most organizations won’t catch on for another 3 to 5 years. Possibly 7. Oy vey!

This “open channel behavior” with my tech team allows me to unearth important information which in turn allows me to communicate better (and engage more effectively) with our customers, the media, and other core constituencies.

So whether you’re internal to the marketing team at a company (not just technology companies because most companies have IT or some tech component at this point) or you’re on the agency side, here are a few pointers for engaging those on the tech savvy end of the spectrum.

#1 – Understand their communication limitations

Not to be a generalization-a-list, but the truth is that the majority of those on the “data side” are male. And as anyone knows who has ever known anyone who is male knows…they are not necessarily winning prizes for “best-in-show communicators.” Therefore, it is highly unlikely they will be willy nilly offering up information out of the blue that will make you look like a rockstar.

What do you do? Ask. Figure out 3 to 5 key things at a time, put it in bullet points and support it with data as to why it’s important for you to know the answers. Then ask. And typically over food. Fastest way to a data-person’s heart… Continue reading…

Hacking Hammerling: what this tech PR queen bee gets right

A few months ago, after writing this blog post bemoaning an Inc.com article about how simple it is to do your own PR, I received this tweet from Brooke Hammerling – who is quite well known in tech PR circles.

Brooke tweet

There have been a few other tweets from @brooke over the course of the past year (most a lil’ snarky, but I like snark so it’s all good) with regard to AirPR. In my opinion, these tweets serve to generate a healthy dialogue among skeptics…because most great PR people know how to incite conversation. It’s what they do…they get things moving.

I’ve watched Brew PR (her firm) for the past several years, and I respect what they do and how they do it. And mostly, Brooke is spot on when she talks about PR and what it takes to get your story out there.

This week I wanted to highlight three important points about PR with the assistance of Brooke’s insights and AirPR’s data. Now THAT is a powerful, snark-on-snark, combo.

In a recent post on First Round Capital’s blog, Brooke provides a very solid argument about why startups don’t “get” media. It’s a brilliant overview of how startups and founders should be thinking about PR. You should read it after you read my post, obviously.

#1 – A solid media plan needs a runway of three to six months

She asserts: “Even if you have a couple weeks and marketing material, that’s not enough. It’s not going to be effective and it’s going to look fake. When a company does this — and plenty still do — nine times out of 10 a launch will get botched, and they never get another shot at it.”

Our data show: “911” PR doesn’t work and many of companies we see come through our Marketplace (and we subsequently “reject” from the platform) believe they can hire someone today and be on the cover of Time next week. These misaligned expectations will kill any attempt at a productive PR campaign. Messaging, narrative, and product positioning take planning. For a startup, I think six months is probably a little long, but certainly 60-90 days should be standard planning period prior to launch. Continue reading…

Quantitative and Qualitative walked into a bar

Last week we kicked off the rolling, invite-only, stealthy, somewhat clandestine launch of our next product, which measures the ROI (aka assumptive value) of PR unlike any other solution on the market.

[Watch our video to learn more] 

Geoff MooreAs part of these activities, we hosted a speaker series last Friday in San Francisco where technology investor and author Geoffrey Moore (Crossing the Chasm, The Gorilla Game, Inside the Tornado) gave a keynote on the future of PR. The most “tweetable” sound bite from his presentation was the following:

“We have to have a quant front-end and a qual back-end. Because life is still about storytelling.”


The PR folks in the room were nodding vigorously and tweeting with wild abandon.

If quantitative data were the only kind in existence, the world would be a very flat, ultimately unfulfilling place. To be sure, we’d know the exact traffic patterns required to efficiently get us from point A to point B in record time (great, so we’re at the movie theatre 37.4 minutes early. Now what?), and perhaps the number of minimum licks it takes to get to the center of a lollipop (so we can lick vigorously as we wait for the movie to start)…but we’d be bored as hell.


Qualitative data on the other hand, which can also be thought of as anecdotal or observed data, requires a level of creativity and inference that give “color” to the equation. Quant gives us the fundamental truths, but Qual brings those truths to life and makes the actions digestible. Continue reading…

The myth of DIY PR (and why I yelled at Inc.com)

There are two particular things in life that make my blood boil to a point where I actually start having hallucinations:

#1 – People who can’t commit to anything fully and who often use words like “try” “should” “possibly” and “maybe”. Sometimes in the same sentence. These folks couldn’t stay in a relationship if they were chained to a bed and couldn’t make a business successful if they were handed $100 Million on a silver platter. Note: stay away from these types of people if you ever want to have sanity in your life.

Example phrase – often in the form of a text message: Oh, I am really going to try to make it for sure. I should possibly know maybe by like Friday. TTYL. LOL.

#2 – This second point is perhaps less personally annoying and just more generally, no completely, unacceptable: people who talk about things of which they have little insight or expertise but simply because they have seen it done or experienced it on some level they believe they are experts.

For example:

Exhibit A: Someone who has been divorced 5 times giving relationship advice to her 25 year-old daughter. This conversation can be overheard in places like, oh say, Beverly Hills, almost on a regular basis.

Exhibit B: Someone who has never actually started a business giving advice to an entrepreneur about how they should run their business. This also, ironically, tends to happen in places like Beverly Hills. And pretty much every other place on the planet.

Exhibit C: A Sales and Marketing blogger writing a grammatically incorrect and misleading article about Do-it-Yourself PR on Inc.com of all places. [And thank you Meredith Fineman for bringing it to my attention with this email subject line which pretty much sums it up: “head –> desk.”] Continue reading…

Top 5 PR don’ts from an important tech reporter we can’t name

To forward the discussion from last week’s post “How to pitch the press” I thought it would be fun, and possibly frustrating, to point out the Top 5 Don’ts courtesy of a really important tech reporter from a really big news organization that will go unnamed.

But let’s just say it’s one of the top ten, and if you ever appeared in print or online in this publication you’d be extremely happy with your PR efforts. I will also point out here that 40% of tech stories covered by press are about the big five: Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Twitter. This is an important factoid to note if you think, for ANY reason, you deserve or are guaranteed press coverage for your tech company on a regular basis.

The Journalist
Just who is this Tech Reporter X? Hmm

It ain’t happenin’. Fish elsewhere. Contribute to niche blogs. Write your own blog with an interesting point of view. Get social. Create meaningful relationships with influencers. This is all part of the PR machine.

This blog post is not intended for seasoned PR pros – because they will likely be privy to the points he (or maybe it’s a she?) makes below…save the last point which is still largely up for debate. We will get into embargoes next week. THAT will be a fun discussion.

Straight from “Tech Reporter X” are the Top 5 Don’ts:

1) Don’t ask reporters to rewrite a press release. They take pride in THEIR work, not in being YOUR amplifier. [Sorry to jump in, but this goes back to the article “Journalists: it’s about them not you” from a couple weeks ago]

2) Take NO for an answer. Meetings are great. Introductions are welcome. Connections are awesome. They don’t always (often) lead to immediate stories. Trust that if a reporter wants to cover the news he/she will. Pressure from you to do so is only a deterrent. So in “don’t” form I guess it’s – Don’t be annoying! Continue reading…

Why does pitching the press feel like walking Captain Hook’s plank?

Two weeks ago, Sharam spoke on a panel (“How to pitch the press” moderated by Robert Scoble) with a handful of journalists at the Startup Conference in Silicon Valley. Now, don’t ask me how he managed to get himself on a panel with journalists when he is not, in fact, a journalist. However, I have watched him do a handful of super-hero-ish things as an entrepreneur, so I suppose this should not have come as a complete surprise. Exhibit A:

"How to pitch the press" aka Sharam crashes a panel

“How to pitch the press” aka Sharam crashes a panel of journalists
During this panel, I jotted down what I typically call “notable and quotable” information, which I will share with you here:

Press releases go directly to a folder that never gets read. I’m already at about 7k this week.”  -Robert Scoble, Rackspace/Blogger

“I make my decision [about what I read] in 1/10 of a second. Don’t misspell my name, don’t send attachments; we are dying for good content…so don’t give me a press release give me a great piece of content that doesn’t sound like a sales pitch.”  – Eric Wesoff, Greentech Media (Editor in Chief)

“Sometimes the story just isn’t a fit. Entrepreneurs are strategic when it comes to business but not when it comes to PR.” – Mike Cassidy, San Jose Mercury News’ Silicon Beat Blog (Columnist)

“Figure out what your mission and your purpose is and boil it down to what you could tell someone casually over breakfast.”  -Patrick Hoge, San Francisco Business Times (Tech Reporter)

“I’m trying to get to the gems of truth within a press release…get rid of all the superfluous info.”  AND “Help me to reach more people, I want to get read; give me something tantalizing and interesting. As far as opening your email, if you can leverage someone you know for referral or intro I’m more likely to open it.”  – Josh Moss, Upstart Business Journal (Editor)

And my personal favorite, again by Mr. Scoble: “Every company should have a blog.”

Yes, Robert, yes they should.

BONUS: these are the Top 10 Headline or Email Subject words they spouted off as most likely to grab their attention:

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Experience: the tailor to any saggy startup suit

There are good writers, great writers, and talented writers; then there are excellent communicators whose medium for connecting to the world happens to be writing.

These last folks, if you can find them, are invaluable to the forward movement of any individual action, company change, or global shift. They can articulate things in a way that leaves the rest of us speechless, or in my case, feeling like I should perhaps go back to Creative Writing 101.

Doug Crets is one of these [what I would call] communication intuitives. And yes, I just made up that term. But the point is, I’ve known this guy since he started at Microsoft BizSpark (provides valuable resources to promising startups at no charge) a little over a year ago at a Startup Weekend event. He wrote this post (#BikiniGate) and after reading it I thought: this is the kind of communicator I want to be. Storytelling, insight, reflection, and connecting the dots with a hint of humor.

microsoft bizsparkIn one year what he has done at Microsoft is nothing shy of magical. Within the confines of a massive, moving beast of an organization he has put BizSpark on the map and launched a live chat show, Startuplandia, where he interviews some of today’s leading thinkers, entrepreneurs, and founders. He provides the all-important human element to these otherwise monotonous tech stories. He fights for the little guy but can spar with the big guys.

Doug sat down with me last week to talk about the future of PR and super connectors, governments and their lack of inspiration, what makes for a great story, why startups fail, and a variety of other things. Anyone in the throes of creating something, anything – a company, a piece of art, a shift in thinking – can learn from his words and take to heart his unique approach to communicating thoughts and ideas.

To whet your palate, here are a few “gems” from his interview:

“If you take the experience out of a story, all you have is whining, or blather. Experience is the tailor to any saggy suit.”

“You know, people cling to media like they cling to flotsam in the ocean.”

“Government often uses [that] sentiment to feed the egos and the agendas of a powerful few.”

“London would not be London if you did not discover something that nobody told you about.”

I digress.

Rebekah Iliff: What is your definition of PR?

Doug Crets: I think what’s happened is that marketing and PR have been pushed into a new realm of customer communication and interaction.

PR is what I believe community managers and social media people are doing on the web and in mobile from big to small brands. PR responsibilities are still largely managed by PR companies or teams, but it feels to me that in many cases, those duties are locked into a behavior that comes from an older way of managing media sentiment. Today’s PR is more like curating. And discovering. It’s bringing people into your brand to help you mold and shape a voice for the brand and its community.

Brands are communities now, so PR means to me that you are helping the community govern itself and discover its values, so that it can act on them. And the more you empower those people to do that, the more they love the brand.

RI: What do you think BizSpark does right in terms of PR?

DC: What do we NOT do right? I mean, we’re amazing. All kidding aside, we are extremely responsive on social media channels and our team works very well, globally, to develop these relationships at scale. We are not only chatty, but we are inclusive, responsive when we can be, and curious. We function like a series of listening nodes, and we communicate well internally, so that we are as aware as we can be of the needs and moves of the community. We assist, as well as promote our members. Continue reading…

You named your startup what? 5 tips for getting it right.

Naming your company is like naming a kid; except instead of the kid taking the heat for a “bad” name (think Francis Bean, Tu Morrow, Zuma Nesta Rock, or <insert baby name of any really famous person>) YOU will actually take the heat.

In terms of PR, the name of your startup can either be a huge asset or, on the flipside, a rather sizable roadblock.

Love JuiceAs a general rule of thumb, the worst brand names usually fall into one of three categories:

1)    Sound and/or read like a sexual act of some sort.

2)    Sound and/or read like a derivative of a racial slur.

3)    Sound and/or read like toilet humor.

Just for fun, and for sake of example, you can go here to see what I’m talking about. A small sampling of this type of nonsense: Jussipussi, Asse, Gookie, and Zephyrhills.

But what’s in a name?

Well, according to branding and design expert Fabian Geyrhalter, founder of Finien, a whole helluva lot.

I first met Fabian roughly five years ago when we both worked on the launch of music tech company, Audiolife. Since then, his design firm has literally exploded; he’s worked with a slew of both consumer and business brands and won about 234238 awards. The proof is here:

Fabian Awards
Fabian’s Awards

To make Fabian extremely uncomfortable – which is not hard to do since he’s a (self-admitted) somewhat uptight, snobby Austrian – I asked him to provide a gut reaction to the name “AirPR” just to prove how objective we are and not to seem preachy when we publish a blog about naming.
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How to use “breadcrumbs” to tell a better story

Here in Silicon Valley it’s easy to get caught up in the tech-hype-vortex-bubble. This 4 sided beast includes everything from ad nauseum discussions about pedigree and educational background to a belief system which often rewards high potential above high performance.

Throw in a media environment which reinforces these messages, and what we are left with is a somewhat obsessive compulsive tendency to fixate on publications that offer us a stamp of approval but do little in terms of reaching our core audience, or customer for that matter.

In other words…

Is TechCrunch really the right outlet to announce your launch? Or would you be better off seeding the story to five influential bloggers on various niche outlets to get the buzz going about your brand?

The truth is, as an emerging startup, sometimes tech or business press won’t be interested in your story until you have <insert random number> of customers, <insert random $ number> in sales, or <insert sexy name> as your co-founder.

Blech. Blah. And often frustrating.

The other truth? As ego-fulfilling and investor-placating as those outlets may be, they may not be your best bet in terms of getting in front of actual paying, engaged customers. Furthermore, conversations – real conversations – don’t necessarily happen on outlets whose existence is to break news and report on fast moving trends.

As a former reporter for VentureBeat, Chikodi Chima knows a thing or two about this client-PR-media conundrum, and he has some interesting insights into a concept he calls “breadcrumbs.”

Read on. And start telling better stories to those who matter most.

Using Breadcrumbs to Tell Better Stories

By: Chikodi Chima, Founder of Moonshot

We live in an attention economy where getting a slice of someone’s attention is a precious resource. The right media exposure can flood you with new customers, help your startup close an investment round, or nab a cofounder coveted invites to speak at conferences.

But with so much riding on a good story, everyone who isn’t Apple, Google or Facebook competes for scraps of top-tier media attention. And while an above-the-fold writeup that hits Techmeme can do wonders, chasing “vanity media” can be a huge drain on resources. At VentureBeat I wrote three stories per week that came from pitches. Furthermore, early adopters and gadget junkies may read every shred of news in the tech press, but how many of them become customers? Not enough.

Stop sweating the tech press and use breadcrumbs to get your message directly to the people who need it most.

What are breadcrumbs?  Continue reading…