Why Blockchain PR Is Way More Than the Usual Block and Tackle

I’m saying it now: 2018 is the year blockchain goes mainstream.

If you stay up-to-date with current news or have any interest in the tech industry, you’ve probably heard this term – even if you don’t know what it means.

Blockchain was formed in 2008, when it was defined in Nakamoto’s original source code for the digital currency Bitcoin. To put it simply, the technology has created the foundation for a new form of internet; it allows information to be distributed, but not copied (Blockgeeks). There are multiple blockchain platforms that already exist like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Hyperledger, and it has become a massive subject of discussion in 2017.

And that’s just the start – there’s much more growth to come in 2018.

In the next year, blockchain will move from a fringe subject – an area that “only the tech crowd knows about” – to the mainstream. Right now, execs from every industry are paying attention to how, where and when this technology will impact their market and company. That won’t stop anytime soon.

This technology is such a new space – some people are calling it the next wave of the internet – that there’s ample room to explore and expand in the coming year. PR will be a huge part of making this happen, as it can and will aid how the technology is brought to the masses. To do so, PR will need to find a way to bring everyone into the fold and demonstrate why blockchain is worth the attention in a simplified, everyman’s way – without trivializing the technology or shying away from the risks.

Let’s consider how much blockchain has grown in the past year. In the past year, we’ve moved from a place where no one knew what blockchain was to a new group of individuals that are truly blockchain whisperers. Even just from 2016 to 2017, blockchain technology has grown from a $210.2M market to a staggering $339.5M, and there are no signs of stopping anytime soon (Statista).

It’s important to note 2017 brought a lot of ups and downs on the blockchain front, particularly in the latter half of the year. For example, there was one point this fall when the bitcoin exchange had too many bitcoins – really (Bloomberg). But this happens to the best of us, and is expected with such a new, foreign technology. 2017 is behind us and the industry is moving forward. 2018 will be the year of blockchain – it’s the year where the vaporware will finally decrease and the people with a real business model will rise.

To make this happen in a thoughtful way, PR will need to work with their partners to drive education on blockchain’s value.

Next year, the technology will continue to grow in significance and in worth – for example, initial coin offerings (ICOs) have made an impressive impact in 2017, with $103M in funding raised in April, $232M in May and $574M in July (Forbes) – and they’re not done yet. But not everyone is aware of all of the potential around this technology, and there’s an immense amount of work to be done to demonstrate its value.

Enter PR and its ability to shine a light on exactly that.

In 2018, PR can help define what blockchain will mean to the “average” individual – aka, those who are not the techie elites or Silicon Valley residents of the world. People need to know why blockchain matters, who it will impact and how, and what it can mean for a day in the life of the ordinary American citizen.

As with any new and hot technology, a lot of riff raff will emerge – companies and “thought leaders” that have no business and/or expertise. PR teams will need to surface the best and brightest voices carefully and make clear why their guidance must be heeded. A company with ambition to reach the limelight should a) have a vision, b) understand the market, c) be involved in said market because they believe they are the only ones who can solve a problem, and d) be prepared to show that they’re capable and already executing on their vision.

It is also PR’s responsibility to make sure that blockchain companies and partners are demonstrating their individual value in the industry and highlighting their opportunities, challenges and successes. It’s the best way to ensure transparency, share relevant knowledge about the space and prove their own worth.

Since its creation, blockchain has built a thriving community that surrounds it. The community will continue to flourish, but PR needs to focus on multi-channel outreach and messaging to reach a larger audience.

Looking at 2018, there’s no shortage of industries circling blockchain. Banking, finance and regulation will be some of the most significant in relation to the new tech in the next year – but blockchain also has the potential to open the door to new possibilities for real estate, voting and cybersecurity as well.

If there’s one thing to remember from 2017, it’s this: keep your eye on blockchain. It’s not going anywhere.


When is it time to fire a client?

We recently talked about when it’s time to break-up with your PR agency, but now it’s time to look at when it’s time to fire a client.

We believe in partnerships and have had the opportunity of working with many of our partners for years. In any partnership – even the best ones – there’s the inevitable ups and downs. While there are obvious times to cut the relationship – legal matters, harassment, late/non-existent payments, etc. – sometimes it’s trickier to know when it’s time to pull the cord for good.

Below are those nuanced behaviors to keep an eye on. It’s worth noting that none of these are deal-breakers if they happen once or even sporadically throughout a long-term relationship. But if any or a combination of the below describe an expected and ongoing pattern from a partner, it’s time to break up for good:

  1. Tactics > strategy – a solid program has a well-defined strategy on how PR will help the client achieve specific business objectives. To know if the strategy is working, the client needs to share short and long-term business objectives as well as how PR campaigns are helping (or hurting) these goals. All too often, we hear and see clients tell the PR team to just do more – get more coverage, write more press releases (which is another issue entirely…) and/or post more on social. For the most part, these are all fine tactics, but without being given any insight on how PR tactics are making an impact on business goals, it’s a waste of everyone’s time and resources.
  2. Dismisses counsel – any agency can get results. A good agency can demonstrate a consistent batting average across clients. A great agency does all of this and lays out the strategy that shows how the program will reach and influence target audiences and support the client’s short and long-term goals. Our CEO said it best in a recent post on how to get value from PR: “When you want PR to be a mirror of your own mindset – a function that simply gives you a ‘yes’ – you miss huge opportunities to uncover a path to greater success.” If the PR team consistently offers counsel that’s ignored by the client, it’s time for the PR team to move on.
  3. Assets are not aligned with expectations – regardless of the industry, profile coverage in a household name publication is usually considered a big win. While we wish we could wave a wand and make it happen, PR needs access to a variety of individuals and assets on the client’s side in order to work with the reporter and pull this story together. Or, in order to launch a product and drive sales, the product needs to work, be available and offer the market something new. If any of these elements are missing and the client is still demanding premiere results, there’s a giant misunderstanding of how PR works and no one is set-up for success in this scenario.
  4. They’re nowhere to be found – PR teams can and should be able to work independently, but if the client consistently doesn’t return emails, calls, Slacks, whatever it may be, it’s likely not a partnership that will ever yield meaningful work from the PR team and meaningful impact for the business.
  5. It’s always a fire drill – any PR team should be able to work under pressure and roll with changing business/market needs. On the flip side, we’ve seen partnerships where every email is high-priority or known about news is dropped on the PR team at the last minute. In an ideal scenario, the PR team and client have a plan and team structure in place that keeps both teams moving toward key goals, though also enables the teams to bob and weave with changing needs. But if the PR team is in constant scramble mode and playing catch-up, it becomes increasingly difficult for the PR team to achieve meaningful results.

There’s a variety of ways to handle the above scenarios and there are times where even the best partners will show some of these behaviors. Again, that’s a part of an ongoing partnership. But if the PR team constantly finds themselves in the above situations, tries to constructively resolve them with the client and the relationship isn’t improving, it’s time to re-evaluate the longevity of the partnership.

 


When is it time to break up with your PR agency?

A strong communications agency is like an extension of your internal team – they believe in the vision of the company, they know the business’ goals and they have a strategy in place to achieve those goals.

Unfortunately, not every PR firm fits this description. While we firmly believe it takes two to tango when it comes to building a successful agency/client relationship, here are the signs that it’s time to move on from your agency:

  1. The ability to secure coverage relies on news – a media relations program without news does take more hustle, creativity and time to lift off the ground. That said, one of the key markings of a solid PR team is the ability to secure coverage, with or without the hard news hook. It’s tougher, but with the right creative oomph, it can be done.
  2. All you get is crickets – communications is the job – if your agency can’t manage to keep up with internal client comms, how do you think they’re handling the external comms? Whether there’s big news coming up or the agency is cranking away at proactive initiatives, the team needs to keep you in the loop on progress.
  3. Senior staff are rarely seen – while it’s inevitable that senior staff are more involved in the beginning, they also need to be involved and visible once the program is off and running. If the senior folks you saw in the beginning have now ghosted the program, it’s time to move on.
  4. They won’t level with you – the makeup of the team and the ability to score results is fantastic, but the agency needs to offer strategy, counsel and a path forward, even if it is counsel you don’t want to hear.
  5. The focus is on quantity, not quality – most communications plans target a specific volume of coverage (and FWIW, for many programs, targeting for volume is more than ok). However, when the coverage secured is with a publication that doesn’t reach your target audience and/or doesn’t include key messaging/positioning, can anyone really count that as a win? It’s unrealistic to expect every piece of coverage to be a feature made of gold, but an agency worth keeping around will want to know the impact of their work to determine how to refine their approach.
  6. Results are not aligned with goals – similar to point #5 above, the communications team needs to develop the narratives, cadence and targeting that reach and influence your desired audiences. We recently spoke with a lead that said their previous agency pitched the company’s CEO for a profile in a vertical they have no plans to sell to. There’s a variety of factors that probably led up to this agency pitching this story, but ultimately, the right agency knows how and where to focus their time and yours.
  7. Excuses rule the day – as much as it breaks our Type A hearts, not everything will be an A+ campaign. Things happen, though the communications team needs to foreshadow the possible risks prior to the campaign and raise the flags early and often. Following a mess-up they need to be honest, transparent and accountable about what happened and what about the process will change the next time.

PR teams should take smart risks and should experiment with different approaches and channels, though a strong team will anticipate any challenges and have a plan in place if trouble arises.

As they say, there’s two sides to each story. We’ll share some thoughts shortly when it’s time to fire the client.

 


Busting the Top Six PR Myths

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A few years ago, I sat across the table from a friend’s new boyfriend – a surgeon – who asked what I did for a living.

When I mentioned my PR career, his immediate response was, “Oh, so you lie for a living?”

Though his response was wildly frustrating on several levels, he (unintentionally) uncovered a very real frustration facing PR teams: no one really gets what PR does.

What doesn’t help this misunderstanding is the common myths circulating about what a PR team should be and should do.

With that, we break down six common PR myths:

The PR team needs to be local

If the goal of the program is media results, content, social media, managing and / or submitting for speaking and awards opportunities, the PR team does not need to be local since all of this work can be done remotely.

For PR teams that are not based local to your target market and / or your office, you need a team with a communication style and process that works for you. Also, there should be some flexibility on both sides to travel and set-up those valuable face-to-face meetings.

The PR team needs to have experience working with companies like yours

If your company is creating the world’s first pet sitting service, asking for a PR team that has pet sitting experience might seem like the right approach, but it will eliminate the teams that can deliver the results and give expert, third-party counsel.

Picking the PR team that has the niche experience is kind of like dating the same person over and over again – you know what works, you know what moves they’re going to use and you know how it’s going to end. If the PR need is tactical, this approach may work, but often times the PR need is more than just landing coverage.

Instead, companies need a team that has experience working with a similar-sized business and a proven track record for effectively reaching the target audience.

The PR team needs to match the client’s company size

For some reason, there’s often a perception that startup companies shouldn’t work with the large PR agencies and the large company shouldn’t work with the smaller, boutique PR agencies.

When it comes to PR, size doesn’t matter – companies need a PR team that can dedicate the time to your account and has the experience to help reach the right goals.

Business press coverage is always the #1 PR goal

We love locking in business press coverage as much as any PR professional does, but going after business press may not always be what’s right for the company’s overall goals.

For example, if your company needs more developers, the Wall Street Journal is not the right publication to reach that audience. The PR program needs to be built around the client’s business goals. While the PR team should have ideas on how to effectively reach your target audience, they also need insight from the client on if these results are making an impact on the bottom line.

Once the contract with the PR team is signed, they’ll be able to get results

A strong PR team can and should be able to run independently, creatively propose new campaign ideas, identify new media relationships and consistently deliver business counsel.

However, if no one from the client’s side is giving them feedback, sharing the latest news within the company or helping to make the right spokesperson available, the PR program won’t be a success.

There needs to be a dedicated and consistent investment in the PR program from the client’s side, especially in the initial weeks of working together. PR is a high-touch relationship – each side needs to establish a process of communication, keep an open line and be accountable for their deadlines.

The more senior people on the PR team, the better

Senior staff is critical and they need to be actively engaged in the program, but in an agency, it’s unrealistic to expect the CEO, SVP or VP to be a day-to-day contact.

The PR team needs to be clear in terms of how much time senior leadership has to dedicate to the account and should set expectations with the client. Though a client may not hear senior leadership on every phone call or see several daily emails from them, they should expect that the account manager and the rest of the team is keeping them looped in and is getting consistent, behind-the-scenes counsel on how to make the program better.

The relationship between a client and their external PR team is a lot like dating: there needs to be mutual fit, a dedicated commitment to making it work and accountability that both sides are going to hold up their side of the agreement.

For companies looking for a PR team, look for the team that’s passionate about what they do, experienced in reaching your audience and has ideas to help you reach your goals.


Four Tough Questions to Answer before Any Crowdfunding Campaign

 

Over the past few years, we’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked with some truly groundbreaking companies, many of which were successful crowdfunding campaigns.

Contrary to the naysayers out there, crowdfunding is here to stay. The tricky part is doing it right and capturing your target audience’s attention from the very beginning, which is much easier said than done.

If you have a crowdfunding campaign in the future, ask yourself these four questions before you begin:

Is there really news?

If you’ve publicly talked about your product in the past on-stage, with a reporter or at a major event before launching, be prepared to highlight significant new features once you launch your crowdfunding campaign. Unfortunately, the fact that you’re launching a crowdfunding campaign for a product that’s been out there publicly isn’t going to cut it. Unearth the top features and / or specialties that are completely new to the market and own them.

Why do you need the funding?

There have been a few bad eggs that have used their crowdfunding money for things other than their product. These instances aren’t deal breakers, but they certainly haven’t helped consumer confidence. Inspire consumer trust by opening the kimono and laying out why you need their support and how you will use their funding to bring your idea to life. Giving the community this type of access lets them in on your larger vision and makes them feel as if they are a part of something bigger.  

What’s your vision?

Unfortunately, not everyone will be a Pebble, Ouya or even a Jibo. But not all is lost. With the right marketing and communications team, pre-order and crowdfunding campaigns can reach the target audience. Own what makes your product unique, champion the individuals who have helped bring your concept to life and show how your vision has a chance to make a real and lasting impact on people’s lives. Being authentic and true to your mission will help you reach the people that will believe in your goals and support you on the way there.

Are you ready for a blowout?

Let’s put the chicken before the egg for a moment and envision the absolute best case scenario. Are you ready to fulfill thousands of orders? If your campaign is a consumer product, do you have additional colors you can offer? If you’re selecting a Kickstarter or an Indiegogo platform, once you hit your goal, do you have stretch goal perks and ideas to offer the community? Things get nuts once the campaign is live, so planning for the best case scenario not only takes one more thing off your plate, but sets your company up to reach a larger audience.

The above questions are by no means all-inclusive or insurmountable, but should help you determine if you’re ready to bring your vision to market.


Three ways to make your pitch rock

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As any PR pro will tell you, pitching media is the bread and butter of the job. Email, phone, Twitter, whatever – it’s a daily thing.

On the flip slide, as many reporters will tell you, a good pitch is hard to find. Some would even argue they’re unicorns – they know they exist, they just haven’t seen it.

To keep upping our own standards, the Inner Circle Labs’ crew recently kicked off a new monthly tradition: a pitching contest. Each month, a few of us review anonymous pitches and select the best pitch (and of course, resulting coverage) of the month. The winner is selected based on a variety of factors, with the common denominator being: how did you build a relationship. Also – the winner receives a pretty sweet pitching trophy.

So what does it take to deliver that unicorn pitch? The past three winners sound off on their best advice:

Know who you’re talking to
And speak their language. Consumer writers care about very different details than tech and business writers. Make sure that you highlight the news/services that actually matter to their audiences and coverage areas. Fortune might not care that a new fitness app can show you cool new places in San Francisco while giving you a body like J-Lo, but magazines like Shape or Cosmopolitan are a completely different story. – Samantha Robinson

Know your sh*t (or their sh*t, as it were)
Do your homework and know what the reporter cares about and covers. Get specific – know their stance on a certain trend or what their favorite companies to cover are and find a way to relate your client to that content. And if it’s not a fit, be upfront about it and explain (succinctly) why you think they should go out on a (short) limb to hear you out. – Brittany Votto

And my own:

Be a human being
I’ve had reporters show me the pitches they get and it breaks my heart to say they all look the same: no personality, a total template and a jumble of marketing gibberish. Yikes! Be better than a robot. If you’re pitching via email, write it the way you would talk to a friend (or as Brittany suggests, a friend of a friend). Inject your own voice and find a way to connect that’s authentic. Reporters are humans too, so treat them as such.

We wanna hear it: what pitching tip do you swear by? Or, what’s your pet peeve when it comes to pitches?


Join ICLabs as a rock star intern

Looking to kick start your PR career? Whether you're a student or have already graduated, Inner Circle Labs is on the lookout for rock star interns who are passionate about consumer technology and helping a team achieve blow out results. Responsibilities include developing media and social media materials, leading client research, drafting content, managing media and events databases and leading the charge on event logistics.

Our interns know they are the world’s future marketing rock stars and are just looking for the right place to get their start. They are experience hungry and want to learn and grow more than the average intern ever will. We are looking for never-say-die types with excellent organizational skills, strong written and verbal communication and a bordering-on-weird obsession with details. Are you the type that edits signs you see in shop windows in your head? Bothered by that extra space on a restaurant menu that no one else notices? Love the thrill of the chase and the afterglow of celebrating with the people who worked together to win? If so, we want you!

Interested in starting your career off on the right foot with a paid internship at Inner Circle Labs? Send an email outlining why you want to join the labs along with your resume to dowhatyoulove(at)innercirclelabs.com.