The Day When Storage Networking World Died

 

 

This week, the inevitable happened: SNIA and Computerworld/IDG announced they were ending Storage Networking World (a.k.a. SNW these past years), the father – it’s a male-dominated industry, so I will use “father” – of today’s storage shows.

I was one of the first SNW USA attendees, but I skipped quite a few these past three or four years. I wasn’t the only one.  Many people I met at SNW years ago did the same. They chose to meet at larger vendor conferences (VMworld, EMC World, AWS re:Invent lately, etc.) that gave them access to the same people and technologies plus so much more. While I truly believe that the problem with SNW was that it had simply run its course, I also believe that the communities around those other new shows were stronger, more vibrant, and more social-media-oriented. It was hard for SNW, a traditional tech conference, to adapt and compete with these events. Every time I see a show where the hashtag is only used by a handful of people (including tweets from vendor accounts), I know that the “influencers” are not there. It is certainly about the face-to-face interactions, but also about the discussions that people at the conference or those who couldn’t make it, but are following the event, are having during the show, generating more interest in certain sessions, technologies or vendors. It is a combination of real and virtual that we did not have in the early 2000s when we attended SNW. We had the conference hotel bar where we all met for briefings or get-togethers in Scottsdale, Orlando, Dallas, and, occasionally, in the Bay Area. I remember a slightly drunk “influencer” – at that time – introducing me to a CEO,  while I was just passing by through the bar area to my hotel room, who later became my client. Also, who can forget the SNW press room where non-exhibitors tried to sneak in all the time?

Youngest (Non-Official) SNW Attendee (Orlando, 2006)

After a day of press briefings, with bad bangs and a one-year old

To be honest, I was a bit nostalgic when I heard the news about SNW, because it is a place where I met many people I became friends with later. I was there while pregnant (twice) and I remember a couple of analysts who were pregnant at the same time, and how we told each other privately, not really wanting to share it with everybody else earlier in the pregnancy.  Later, I remember bringing my kid with me – in the stroller – and making it a business/personal trip. I also celebrated my birthday there, because they would always schedule it in April during my birthday.

I built friendships and I built relationships at SNW in the pre-social-media era. I was there then and I am here today… the day when SNW died.

 

 

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We Hire YOU to Put Us in the Front of the Right People

I hear that a lot. At first, I did not like the sound of it. Really, is this all I do? But then I realized that, even though it’s NOT everything we do, is actually very important. At a conference last year, a (very friendly) PR person told me that she had set up 12 meetings for her client and was very proud of it. Because I came from the corporate world and I am all about ROI, I tracked that specific company for the following weeks. Those 14 meetings turned into one article. I checked the Twittersphere… nothing, just the PR person talking now and then about her client without anybody commenting.

That got me thinking that putting a client in front of the “right people” is essential. Most PR firms (and I managed quite a few back in my corporate days) are all about monthly reports padded with a high number of meetings with people sipping their coffee at the other end of the line without much interest in what the startup is selling and with little knowledge of the market. The monthly report looks good though. That retainer seems justified. Also, I had clients who insisted that I should pitch every press release to every reporter I knew. I told them that I would not, because not every announcement interests every reporter and the advantage of working with a PR firm specialized on a specific market is that we know exactly what each reporter likes and covers. When they get an email or call from us, they know it is relevant. If the client insists, maybe it’s time to move on, I say. It’s hard to let go of an account, but it’s even harder to waste my time and an editor’s time, and maybe not getting a second chance when the client truly has relevant news. We build relationships with the right people, same way clients want to build relationships with the right customers and technology partners.

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Answering a PRWeek Question on Integration of Paid and Earned Social Media Efforts

In the December 2010 issue of PRWeek, Jason Shuffler asked five PR pros to answer the question: “How do you integrate paid and earned social media efforts most seamlessly?” and I was one of the virtual panel participants. I am pasting an excerpt below, but if you are a subscriber of PRWeek, you can read the full article here: http://bit.ly/eKNNpb.

“As PR professionals, we’ve all had to explain to our own parents – on numerous occasions, no doubt – how we do not work in advertising or paid media, but we actually get paid to help clients “earn” media.

Going back to our marketing classes, let’s remember an ideal integrated marketing communications program includes consistent, well-crafted messages brought to your audience through various communications tools, earned and paid social media being among the most prominent.

The key word once those messages have been identified is: integrate. One way of integrating earned media with paid social media is simply to include the results of earned media into your paid media efforts. Promote that great product review, feature article, or award through your social media ads. Third-party validation is also important to your audience. If you are paying to reach that audience through any form of advertising, you want to share what others are saying about you.

The opposite works as well. Post information on Twitter or a Facebook page about your latest webcast or YouTube educational video. You might be surprised how much attention it can get, assuming that, through your earned media efforts, you built a loyal audience that now trusts you and pays attention to your posts.

The same advice we gave clients when we were only exposed to “traditional media” applies to social media: don’t just “sell” your product or service. You need to educate potential customers and show them how your product or service could solve specific problems. They will come back to find out more.”

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Do We Still Need Press Releases?

It is a question I get now and then from start-ups (note that it doesn’t happen too often, which probably means that in most of the execs’ minds, press releases are still an important part of their PR tool set). Then, of course, the next question is: how many should we write every month?

While press releases are definitely not as “powerfu”l as they were a few years ago, they are still used by all of our clients. Also some editors still ask for them in order to make a decision of either taking or not taking a vendor call, and some even use them as a starting point for articles, following up with questions while writing it. I advise clients not to spam their Twitter or Facebook  followers with links to their press releases. I see both PR agencies and vendors doing that all the time and I know that it is frustrating to see these coming up in your Twitter stream.

Regarding how many press releases a month a start-up should issue, I say that 1-2 a month – if needed – would probably suffice.  Of course, I advise against sending “fluff” or press releases “made up” when things seem quiet. Things are rarely quiet in a start-up’s life (well, unless they run out of money, and we have seen quite a few of those this year), so instead of focusing on how many press releases they send out, companies should be looking at how many conversations they have been engaging in with editors, analysts, bloggers, and users.

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How Can I Justify PR Expenses to My CEO and Investors?

Most startups will invest in PR, because they know that it is the fastest and most trusted way to send information about a company and its products/services out to the world awaiting to try and buy that product/service. For some though, PR is still an abstract term and they do not know if they need to invest in it. I talk to prospect clients every week, and, from what I have seen in the enterprise space, most startups would benefit from PR. First of all, they don’t have the budget to advertise and the resources to measure ROI from their advertising efforts. PR and social media will generate immediate results and the marketing executives will not be worried that the board of directors will miss that banner or print ad about the company, because each investor has Google Alerts set up on his/her portfolio companies and will see the PR results right away.

Also, as social media is a big piece of the PR strategy these days, it is a quick way to engage in conversations with partners, media, and users. Google Alerts will track your Twitter conversations, showing the executive team and the board of directors that the world is interested in what their company has to say. In a lot of situations – depending on the product they are selling – companies get quality leads from their social media and PR efforts. Somebody took the time to read an article or Twitter post, and is contacting them back. They remember the company, what the product does, and want to know more. That is a hot lead.

Another option some startups consider is hiring somebody in-house to do both PR and Marcom. If the startup is lucky to find somebody with both PR and Marcom experience, who worked in the same industry and has strong relationships with both the media and publishers, it may make sense, but the startup has to be ready to spend more money on the PR tools needed to help the person do his/her job (news monitoring systems, databases of editors, awards and speaking opportunities, etc.). Most startups I know will not do that, because they will end up paying much more than hiring an agency. So, they do exactly that: hire an agency.

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FTC Rules for Bloggers Effective Today

As most of us know, starting today, the blogosphere will be regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which requires bloggers to disclose free products or payments they have received from companies they are mentioning in their reviews or blog posts. If they fail to do so, the fine could be up to $11,000. From mommy bloggers to tech bloggers, everybody will have to disclose, disclose, and disclose. It’s fair after all, but I expect some chaos in the beginning, as people are trying to figure out what and how to disclose. If some think that it doesn’t apply to them, think more, because it does. The best way to find an answer is to talk to an attorney.

The reaction the readers will have is certainly interesting to watch. Will they respect these bloggers more or will they stop reading some blogs, thinking that, because they received something in return, the bloggers may not portray the product or service accurately? In the end, knowing the relationship of the writer with the respective company/person helps readers make an informed decision. For us, as a PR agency, it’s easy to comply. All our current client names are on our website. Some agencies do not post them while others have a list of current and past clients – all together – making it impossible to know which ones are still paying for their services. At Silicon Valley PR, our Portfolio page has two separate categories of current and past clients. Knowing that we can’t sign up two competitors at the same time, this page shows prospective clients what companies we are currently working with, so they can make an informed decision when contacting us. Also, when we post something on our blog about a product or a company, it’s clear if they are or are not a client.

This is a new era for both PR and the media, a challenging, but a great time to be on either side. As in any business, the strong ones will find a way to make things work and keep their (brand) name untainted. For more information about these new regulations, go to the FTC site at http://bit.ly/9KMWI.

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The Role the PR Agency Plays in Your Social Media Strategy

The PR agency should get involved in your social media efforts; that could include designing and executing your strategy. From identifying the best places your audience “hangs out” to content creation, it is your PR agency’s job to get you going down that path. An agency with expertise in your market is vital here, because if it supports clients in different industries, what works for one may not work for another one, and you do not want to waste time and money, trying to get connected with an audience that is really not interested in what you have to say and sell.

The question I get from a lot of companies is to what extent the agency will get involved, and they pretty much want to know if the agency would blog, tweet, or maintain the corporate Facebook Fan Page on their behalf. If needed, yes, we would do it. It is not ideal though, because I still believe that it’s something that should be done in-house, especially when it comes to conversations such as the ones on Twitter, but if the PR person chosen to do that is familiar with the industry and the company, he/she can become the voice of the company. For startups, unless they are lucky to have somebody in-house who is social media-savvy, and wants to take this task on, bringing an “outside voice” may be the best way to go. Lack of resources or “fear” of the unknown when it comes to social media may be some of the reasons why a startup may not be ready to execute a social media strategy on its own. On the other hand, it is natural for some corporate execs to try to control the social media efforts as much as they can, approve copy, etc., and it’s not easy to find the right voice either. It helps if, for example, the person chosen to “do” social media on behalf of the company (under the company’s Twitter ID) has a strong and very targeted follower list on Twitter, because it is easier to get the same followers interested in their client’s tweets.  Also, it is easier to engage in conversations if he/she knows the right followers and  the right topics.

As with any information that is disseminated to the public, the PR agency should also advise on what can and what can not be said, because there are things such as roadmaps that you do not want revealed on Twitter.

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Tweeting on Behalf of Your Company/Employer

By now, most high-tech marketing and PR professionals have figured out Twitter or, at least, have heard of it. We all approached it differently though. I don’t claim to be a social media expert (and a lot of the ones doing so should not), but I am involved in it, I read a lot about it, and I participate in many seminars/webinars covering social media topics. In this post, I will share a few well-researched  and tested steps with you, the startup founder or VP of marketing, or the larger company employee trying to get acquainted with Twitter. 

So, you understand that a corporate presence on Twitter is vital for the company; you sign up and create a corporate account. The problem is that if you don’t have a social media strategy in place and you are not interested in social media (by that, I mean that you do it because it’s “trendy,” or your boss asked you to get involved, but you wouldn’t do it otherwise), you will discover in only a few weeks that your number of followers is not increasing even though your posts are.  Here are a few ideas to create a voice for your corporate account on Twitter and get things going:

1. In your profile, provide basic info about you/your company and add a link to your website, because people are more likely to follow you if they know more about you and/or your company. Use keywords to make your bio appealing to the right people, who will eventually become your followers. If you are the only person behind your Twitter account, sooner or later, the account will acquire your personality, and it’s best that you show more of your professional side, and less of your personal side in your tweets. Your tweeps will know about you as much as you want to share with them. You control your tweets. You can’t control though the way they are shared or interpreted, and, also, keep in mind that vendors have more work to do in order to get people to listen to them, because, oh, well, they are biased. This takes us to #2.

2. Engage in conversations to increase credibility and get your (corporate) name out more. Yes, we know how tempting it is to post links to your own press releases, but, if you are planning to do so, please tweet only major news (by that, I mean, “newsworthy” information). Also, tweeting or retweeting industry news can be a good start. Let’s say that you sell a storage virtualization solution; you may want to tweet links to recent press articles, analyst findings, or partner announcements in this space. Retweet what other people are saying, assuming it’s interesting to you, the business person.

3. Follow the right people. Twitter may seem like a popularity contest, but, for you, it is a marketing tool, which , like any marketing tool, will give you the the best results if you are able to reach your target audience – industry influencers and potential customers or partners – and disseminate the right message to this audience. Search for people in your industry, follow them and some will follow you back. If others don’t, don’t take it personally. Show them you bring value and once you start tweeting more, posting interesting content for the Twitter community, they may start following you.

4. Know how to tweet. Hashtags (so people can find you when searching), keywords (so the right people can find you), referencing people already on Twitter, and adding links that you can later track to see how many people opened them should be part of your tweets. “I am having lunch” is not interesting, but “I am having lunch at #vmworld with @leecaswell of @pivot3inc, talking about #virtualization in #surveillance implementations and LINK TO ARTICLE” may be for some.

5. Nothing confidential should make it on Twitter. Share only public info, so please keep the roadmap or the next press release to yourself.

6. Promote your Twitter account. Have links on your website, in your newsletter, and maybe in your email signature. I have also seen it on business cards lately. Talk to people about being on Twitter. Attend tweetups if you want to go a step further.

Keep tweeting.

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What Comes after Newspapers?

newspaper

I posted my latest blog entry titled “Reading or Ripping Print” and, only a few days after, I attended an event called “The Next Journalism – What Comes after Newspapers” with Tom Foremski of SiliconValleyWatcher and Carolyn Pritchard of Gigaom. The discussion made me think even more about what the future holds and if my very young kids will ever be interested in reading my precious books.

The topic was the coexistence of traditional and social media, which is the situation we are confronting with right now, with two very different tools trying to achieve the same goal: getting information to the readers in the fastest and most accurate way possible. Most journalists have adapted and are now blogging, tweeting, and getting in touch with their online audience in different ways, but offering similar stories they used to have in print. So, in the end, the quality of their work and their efforts to keep journalism alive are what we should all appreciate, because some are still doing great investigative reporting, which includes in-depth interviews with company executives, their customers,  partners, and industry analysts while looking closely at competitors and other events happening in the same market. That takes a lot of work and knowledge of the subject they are covering.

Going back to the topic ,”What comes after newspapers,” we don’t have to work in PR or media to know that newspapers and magazines are barely keeping their print editions alive, and we have digital books now. Also, we are all trying to save trees and fight for a green world. At the same time, we don’t have money for print advertising, so, even if we didn’t care about the environment, we would not be able to help print publications survive. On the other hand, print publications are finding ways to consolidate the digital and print worlds. Entertainment Weekly magazine will include a video-chip ad embedded in its September issue. As hip as it can get… today.

But what if at some point in the future, print will come back, somehow like radio did in various forms throughout the years: AM, FM, satellite, or Internet?

Tom Foremski made a comment that “we still have the old (media) world influencing the new world and that is going to be true for a while.” I think that is a good thing and if we could bring the magic, accuracy, and elegance of some of those print pieces to the online world, we should welcome the coexistence of the two or even the transition.

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Ripping or Reading Print?

The Future of Print?

We see it happening more and more. Print publications move to online versions, they go from monthly to weekly issues, and those who don’t abandon print versions certainly get “skinnier” with every issue. The smaller vendor marketing budgets affect advertising first, and the first area hit by that is print. It’s expensive, difficult to measure, and it will not bring results (e.g. leads) right away, requiring a long-term investment, although it certainly is still a good way to reach the company’s target audience. I personally think that advertising complements PR, and doesn’t compete with it, but,  if the company has to spend its limited budget money in one area, it will be PR.

While I still like the feeling of reading a magazine or a newspaper, and I subscribe to a few tech print magazines, as well as some parenting ones, I can’t stop wondering if by the time my toddler and my baby are teenagers, print will become obsolote. Governor Schwarzenegger’s digital textbook initiative certainly seems to take the new generation that way, and it provides undeniable benefits. Maybe that is good news for the storage world as well, both for vendors and IT administrators, because that information has to be stored somehow somewhere by somebody.

As PR pros, we always talk about where print will be in a few years, and while the “old-fashioned” ones want to see it stick around for longer, others are way too involved in the digital, virtual world to care. Time will tell, but, before then, I will continue to read to my children and enjoy the smell of paper books, something that the digital books do not have.

Although, wait, I read the other day that there is a spray out there that gives you the old-book smell while you read your e-books. Interesting idea, but I refuse to think that there is a market for that…

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