The Evolution of Technical Narrative: How Emerging Trends Are Shifting PR

Technology is constantly evolving and pushing societal boundaries as we know them, with new trends coming to light every year. These trends become top subjects – new buzzwords, new beats, new conference tracks– that take over the tech industry; new companies and innovators aiming to disrupt the new spaces hop out of the darkness. And in turn, a new wave of PR opportunity, challenges and successes emerge.

Where we’ve been:

For a solid two to three years, early in my career, PR launches were focused on all things mobile – apps for each device, new advanced features, new apps for literally anything – but over time, those trends tired out and became a must have, not a new and noteworthy story. Then we hit the wave of crowdfunding – hardware campaigns anyone could invest in were a hit – but the lack of shipping products and rags to riches to rags again stories, left the market fatigued and disillusioned. 2016 was all about artificial intelligence. Everyone was “doing it” but no one really understood what they were saying – they just wanted in on the action. We saw huge successes with companies like Google, Microsoft and Maluuba, but today AI has become less significant unless it’s something drastically different or new. We’re also seeing different levels of the technology arise like deep learning and NLP, but many established are straying away from using the term “AI” because the space is so noisy – machine intelligence is our new go-to.

2017 kicked off as the unofficial year of chatbots. With Facebook Messenger’s easy-to-use platform, it’s no surprise that they spiked in popularity with companies and influencers. It was a simple way to add basic AI to a company’s bill. Some chatbots succeeded, some failed – as is typical with many emerging technologies – but the trend has continued into the year. In the latter half of 2017, ICOs also blew up as Bitcoin stole the limelight – there were more this year than ever before, and it’s the first time we’ve seen reporters with an ICO beat and publications like Fortune and MIT Technology Review launch their own blockchain channels.

PR, as a result, has needed to shift the way it works with each trend. As we’ve progressed through these stages, telling interesting stories has become easier, and telling not-so-great stories has gotten harder. Launch strategies have changed and we’ve loosened the reigns a bit on what can/can’t be done before an official launch, but the goal still stays the same: get a killer story. Companies trying to break into the spaces of AI, chatbots and ICO have faced more challenges due to increased competition and reporter fatigue. At the end of the day, the companies who locked in meetings with media were the ones with unique, proprietary technology, a founding team with impeccable expertise or an absurdly interesting use case or customer that set them apart from all the rest.

Media expectations have changed over the years as well. It’s becoming harder and taking more time to secure deep, thoughtful stories because so much more vetting occurs on the media side. Editors and reporters are growing more wary about what they cover as they fight the masses of fake news, failed products and questionable CEOs. But this is a good thing. Gone are the days of cool parlor trick apps or device – the future will be focused on who’s doing what for good, how and why. And those are the best stories to read, and the most fun to tell.

Where we’re going:

 In 2018, I think ICOs will continue to grow in popularity and success; bitcoin and blockchain are still relatively unknown territories and there’s plenty of exploring still to come – at least until the bubble pops.  Autonomy will stay a steady subject but in smaller ways; new software features will emerge and we’ll start seeing it baked into more services and products, creating new narratives to enrich the autonomy story beyond the holy grail of the self-driving car.

On the PR front, the media strategy should continue to stay the same. Why reinvent the wheel just because a new vertical is not fully understood or absorbed? PR should continue to focus on telling the story about a needed solution to a problem, not one about someone taking action just for the sake of doing so.

But don’t get me wrong – PR is still changing in many ways, and will continue to do so into 2018. Print is dying and press releases are falling out of fashion. Media tours are losing their appeal – people no longer have time to set aside a few days to take meetings. Publications are losing interest in exclusives and becoming more specific about story requirements in the wake of fake news. More reporters are covering social issues than ever before, and writers now care less about being the first to cover fresh news. Instead, they care more about unique storylines, access and details to demonstrate why something matters and how it works. Data will continue to be king, and stories that demonstrate how tech is playing a positive role in society will rule.

If there’s one key thing PR needs from a company in order to succeed in 2018, it’s this: tell an interesting story. Have an epic idea, driven by both passion and proof points combined. You need to be doing something unique in order to get coverage, particularly if you’re in a crowded space – key word here is doing. Your idea is fantastic – sure, maybe it could change the world – but have to have data to back it up. Ideas are a dime a dozen; real world execution is rare and impressive. With a remarkable story, the possibilities are endless whether it’s 2018 or 2055.


It Takes Two to Tango: The Ideal PR Partner

In the past 10 years, there’s been a dramatic shift in the way Silicon Valley views PR. It’s gone from a luxury reserved for established companies to a necessity key to every startup’s success – and it’s being encouraged more by every VC from SF to Sandhill Road. And it’s evolved this way for a reason – if you’re a new or growing company with the right set of criteria, PR can be the difference between flaming out and getting acquired, crashing and burning (cough cough, Bodega) or popping post-IPO. And although the potential for success is huge, there are fundamentals that must be delivered by you, dear client, in order for things to work out.

First and foremost, client relationships are a two-way street. We’re experts, and when aligned with your business goals we can do magic for you, but it really does take two to tango. So if you’re really serious about engaging PR, and are ready to hire a company that hustles as an extension of your team, take a peek at the below and see how you measure up.

Are you…

  • Flexible – willing and able to move your schedule around if we need to for a hot media opp. The same goes for product launches and news based on media interest/needs – open to discussion around shifting dates or activities based on what makes the most sense for your business from a PR standpoint so we can maximize the best return.
  • Reachable – open to multiple forms of communication (beyond just email) and reachable in times of need, whether it’s around a fire drill or a hot media opp. The best partners are responsive to communication without needing to be chased or pinged multiple times, and are down to be in touch even when slammed/traveling/heads down.
  • Transparent – honest about results and how you felt an initiative/story went, honest with feedback from yourself or the team, honest about what you can and can’t do/read/take on, honest about the state of the business and challenges/successes. Good partners also grant access to calendars so we don’t have to ping you every time we need to schedule something. Trust us, it makes your life easier.
  • Collaborative – open to discussions and brainstorms. We are not a vendor, we are an extension of your team and a sounding board that’s here to listen to you vent, brainstorm or share that brilliant (or wine-induced) idea. Our best partners loop us in on conversations for advice or counsel before a decision is set and willing to get on the phone or meet live to hammer important plans out together.
  • Delivers – gets us what we need in a timely fashion or connects us with the folks who can best help us. A solid partner delivers on what you say you can do in a realistic timeframe.
  • Respectful – understanding of our time and needs. In PR, we sell relationships and time. A solid understanding of how hours and contracts work is key and will help use our time to maximize results for you. And hey, we’re human – we love a client that is encouraging and appreciative of good work, kind and thorough in conversations with the team, and willing to work with every level (not just the most senior members).

If you can check off four or more of the above, you’re ready for PR. In fact, hit us up now – this could be the beginning of a beautiful partnership.


Pro PR Tips as Told Via the Alphabet

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Attitude goes along way. People pick up on more body language, tone and facial expressions than you think, so stay positive – even if you have to fake it to make it.

Be bold and curious. Stay hungry and eager to learn more – it will make an impact on the work you produce.

Cold call. Some press may hang up on your but for others, it’s the best way to get the most immediate results.

Delegate. Trust your team to take on important projects for you and delegate said projects accordingly to help show off their skills.

Exclusives; make them actually exclusively to one person only.

Friends not foes. Don’t create enemies in the PR world – whether with other professionals or reporters themselves. It’s a smaller world than you think.

Gauge interest from a reporter friendly before pitching them something that could be a total stretch. Give them a casual out first before pitching them hard on something they won’t want.

Hustle. Every day be hustlin’.

Imagination goes a long way. It’s easy to get caught up in nitty gritty details, tech specs, etc., but don’t forget to let your imagination and creativity run wild. Your clients will appreciate it.

Just do it. Don’t procrastinate, don’t make excuses, don’t get someone else to do you work. Psych yourself up and just do it.

Keep conversations warm by finding smart, relevant and interesting ways to follow up, even if you don’t have news or something to share at that specific time.

Listen to what’s happening around you. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn by being a more attentive listener.

Multitask like there’s no tomorrow. The more you can manage at once, the more sleep you’ll get at night.

Never say die. Never give up. Never stop trying.

Over do it: be careful not to, find balance with your days and a pace that works for you.

Praise your teammate for their good work more than you critique where they could do better

Quiz each other to make sure your team is staying fresh and sharp

Read every day. Magazine, Facebook, the news, books. Just read it all

Slow down and be strategic. Don’t panic and rush into a response; take the time to think and do it right.

Time. Track it in realtime, and be realistic about how long things take. Manage your time efficiently and speak up if you’re drowning/need help.

Under promise and over deliver. Better to wow than to disappoint.

Value your employees. Do things to show them you care and appreciate them and their work outside of their review, birthday or anniversary.

Work work work work work work. You see me put in work work work work work work.

Xanax may be a pill (which we are not endorsing or recommending) but it can also be a mindset. Don’t let your client’s anxiety be your own.

Yes is not always the magic world. Saying yes to a client or reporter because you’re afraid to say no can set you up for failure. Say yes and be able to back it up.

Zzzs aka catch some Zs. It’s harder to function on no sleep and caffeine than sleep AND caffeine. Get some rest!


A Redux of Fusion’s Real Future of Deceit

Are you your true self online? Do your Instagram photos, Tweets and Facebook posts reflect how you really live your life and who you are? If your answer is no, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Social media has made it easier than ever for us to hide our imperfections and highlight the parts of our life we want people to know. It’s becoming an epidemic of sorts with new apps, companies and social accounts being created each day to mimic a life that’s not reality.

We’ve been working with the Real Future editorial team from Fusion, helping them produce their new series of Real Future events, and the most recent one focused on – you guessed it, the topic of deceit. The Real Future of Deceit took place at BRIC Arts in Brooklyn on September 14th and brought in all walks of life – from press to artists/creators and students – to give people a look inside what’s really going on online. From a dogfishing website offering “adorable baby pugs” to a website that allows you to fake a vacation, deceit online is more prevalent than ever. So how can you tell if someone or something is fake?

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Over the past few months, the Real Future team dove into a variety of deceitful topics to investigate what really happens behind the scenes. They created a fake karaoke business and got reviews online, tested software that reads your facial expressions to show your “true feelings” and interviewed, Taryn Wright, the woman famous for busting people who fake illnesses to collect money online.

It was a night of live journalism, theater and yes, deceit – with the audience finding out at the end that one of the discussion sessions was completely fake, led by a very convincing actor.

While the topics at hand were serious, it was actually a very comical, entertaining and beautifully done event by our friends at Real Future and Kennedy Events. And hey, we helped too!

If you missed the event, fear not – articles on each deceitful topic are below – and we’ll be back at it with our biggest event yet in San Francisco in November. Make sure to follow @therealfuture on Twitter for all the latest info.

Real Future of Deceit Stories:

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Reporters, they’re just like us!

Whenever I get asked what makes Inner Circle Labs stand out from other agencies (other than that we kick a$$ for breakfast), my answer is always the same – it’s our relationships. Any PR person can rattle off the names of reporters at a publication, but it’s not just about knowing names, beats and contact info – it’s about actually knowing them and building a real connection.

PR people are stereotyped as always having an agenda so we have to go out of our way to break this mold so people see us as normal people and trust our word. Not sure where to begin? Here are our rules of thumb to live by:

  1. Be a real person. What do you like to do on the weekend? What was the last movie you saw or book you read? What did you really think of the latest news from F8? Talk about stuff that is interesting and relevant, don’t just talk about work. When someone is away from the office the last thing they want to talk about is, you guessed it, the office. Don’t fall into the mold of asking the same five questions as the next person, be edgy and really capture their attention and time.
  2. Play it cool. Working with media is just like dating – everyone likes a chase and people/places/things are always more intriguing when there’s an air of mystery involved. If you’re discussing a topic that’s relevant to a client, bring them up organically and don’t mention your relationship right off the bat. Bury the lead and instead talk about the client like you would to a friend – why is it cool, why do you use it, why is it changing the world? If he or she seems interested after that, that’s your cue to jump in and offer to connect them with the team if they’re interested. The last thing you want to do is force your client or story down a reporter’s throat.
  3. Follow up. Met someone cool that you connected with? Follow up! Whether it’s sending a link to the winery in Napa you mentioned or simply following someone’s social media channels, every little ping helps. Even if you don’t get a response at least you know you made the effort to close the loop and remind someone of your conversation. You’ll be pleasantly surprised too at how the most random email or tweet can come back from the dead and be interesting/relevant months later.
  4. Make people remember you. Approach media at parties that you’ve met in the past and remind them of who you are. If you have to tie yourself to an old client or random event, do it! People like talking to other people they’ve met before so lead with that and take the discussion from there. Even if they don’t remember you, they won’t admit it after that so if anything you’ve made them feel guilty and can use that to your advantage. ;)

My Favorite CES Things

*read to the tune of The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things”

Tour buses of people and lines out the door
Starbucks coffees in hand and Nikon bags galore
Multicolored badges around necks via Sony strings
These are a few of my favorite CES things

Small and big objects made fresh from 3D printers
Beam Pros and Drones and iPad Air winners
Loud music and chatter to make your ears ring
These are a few of my favorite CES things

Booth babes in dresses with high heels and fake lashes
Exhibitors breaking into emergency business-card stashes
Drinking Red Bull all day to give you wings
These are a few of my favorite CES things

When my feet hurt
When my head aches
When the Wifi connection goes bad
I simply remember the amazing coverage we secured
And then I don't feel so bad!

[Repeat for four days]

CES Beam

ICLabs Does National Bike to Work Day 2013

National Bike to Work Day was Thursday, May 9th and one gutsy ICLer (cough, cough: me) decided to strap on her helmet and give it a go. Having only owned a bike in the city for two weeks, I was excited and nervous to hit the road with my fellow biking commuters. To help prepare, I attended a class at the SF Bicycle Coalition with a girlfriend to learn all the rules of the road along with tips and tricks for biking the crazy and hilly streets of San Francisco.

After several trial rides to and from work, the big day finally arrived and with my backpack packed, helmet on and earbuds in (at a low volume for safety!), Viv (my bike) and I hit the road. While biking from my apartment in Nob Hill down Polk Street, I stopped at one of the main SF Bicycle Coalition stations outside City Hall. There was live music, free coffee, bagels, awesome schwag and bikers everywhere. Everyone was in a terrific mood and more than willing to chat about their bike routes, bike names, the Wiggle and more. There were even pedal-powered bikes set up that blended smoothies on the back providing fun conversation, a solid workout and delicious treat.

I camped out at the station for a good thirty minutes before hitting the road again - this time down Folsom Street. Bikers at other stations clapped and cheered as I pedaled by, adding to the supportive and fun vibe that made me forget it was still only 8 in the morning. Participating in National Bike to Work Day was an excellent experience and the city did a terrific job keeping bikers safe, fed and entertained. Extra kudos to the SF Bicycle Coalition for putting it on. For those of you considering buying a bike in the city, I highly recommend it and encourage you to join me next year!

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Cheers to Three Years

Three may be an odd number but it’s also a magic number. And when Inner Circle Labs celebrated its third birthday on January 8th, the age couldn’t have been more fitting. The Inner Circle Labs team – now 14 people strong – is an odd group, just like the number three. The company was founded three years ago with a mission to be different and go back to the “lab” to create a new, better formula for PR excellence. Three years later, we’ve done just that.

To celebrate our successes on this third birthday, the team spent weeks concocting a secret surprise party for our founders, Julie and Jon. When we all met for our monthly team meeting, we successfully surprised them with a delicious cake from Noe Valley bakery, three massive balloons (one even sang Happy Birthday), a signed picture frame of the team and a gift card to one of their favorite restaurants in town, State Bird Provisions. The team then spent the morning eating cake for breakfast and reliving fun memories from the past three years.

Thank you to all of you who have made these past three years exciting, challenging and successful – we couldn’t have done it without you!

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August Dom & Digital Party

There's nothing like a little Dom Pérignon to kick off your Wednesday night. We helped host the second of our digital discussion series, Dom & Digital, on August 10th at 620 Jones and we must say, it was the best yet. The limited edition Dom was glowing all night while guests mingled, ate and toasted the night away. From media to digital experts to some of our dear friends, everyone came out to make the event a great time. We have a lot to live up to next time around...
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Mobclix+Groupon WWDC Mashup Party

The ICL team attended (VIP style we might add) the Mobclix+Groupon WWDC Mashup party to celebrate the latest iOS achievements and demo one of our own app partners, Zite. Zite had a table in the heart of the action, near the dance floor, which allowed us to check out some sweet moves amidst showing off Zite to hundreds of interested invitees. We were even asked to do an interview for a tech broadcast OOBLY and our own broadcast pro, Meredith Klee, was happy to step up to the plate for her five minutes of fame. We mixed, we mingled and we met a lot of great media and developers fresh off the heels of WWDC Day 2. ICL topped the night off by taking a shot (well, shot glass) from the ice luge sculpture that doubled as Steve Jobs.
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