Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WebInno, the PR Panel, Recap and Some Thoughts

Glad I could make it to the Web Innovation Forum last night. Couple of interesting companies presenting as main dishes - missed most of BatchBook, but found Epernicus and Book of Odds quite fascinating (Book of Odds is sill under private beta, but those who attended the webinno, we got a special access code - sorry, can't share it, was asked not to).

The PR panel was hosted by Mike Troiano (who I am thrilled to have as one of the panel experts at the MIT Forum concept clinic I am organizing on October 15 - hope to see you there!) and had Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe, Wade Roush from Xconomy, Peter Kafka from AllThingsD, and Bob Brown of Network World. All in all, the panel agreed PR agencies are overrated. Kafka, sounding a lot like Joe Wilson, said a few times that if PR people tell you this, they lie.

Best way to get journalists' attention? Seek and get a personal referral - otherwise whether you do it or your agency does it for you, your pitch will go unnoticed. Then try and meet these journalists in person and tell them your story. Got the impression that journalists are looking for the raw material, that more often than not, they avoid media-trained people. Because they are after the juicy details, the things people don't tell you - so the more authentic, first-hand info they can get, the better the chance that they will listen to your story.

Biggest take-aways:
1. There are no rules on how to do pr anymore - whether you do it yourself or hire an agency to do it for you. Each reporter is different - Peter Kafka said that if you have big news, don't give him embargoes, exclusives, sneak previews - just publish it on your blog and get all the media to get the news at the same time. That may work for Peter, but does not work for 99% of the journalists out there.

2. PR is not a wholesale game - it is a retail game, to quote Scott. You have to pick a handful of media outlets that you find important and work with them. Newswire services like PR Newswire were frowned upon. I say use them when you have exhausted your top 3-5 media list - posting on Newswire services helps you with second and third-tier publications, which, if nothing else, boosts your SEO ranking. And btw, reporters do use them to do background research. So don't take anything one reporter tells you for granted.

3. Don't try to be smart - don't tell reporters you have no competition, that you are the first, the best, the leader - these are labels that remain in the domain of good, investigative journalism. Reporters won't take words for granted anyway - they will call their VC contacts, and they will get the scoop on who's doing what, who's doing well and who's floundering. Avoid using embargoes, exclusives, if you don't know the reporter well - Peter Kafka was proud he tweeted a press release yesterday that was sent to him under embargo. I guess he can afford to do that. Most of us would do (almost) anything to be in AllThingsD - I am jealous he can afford it, really.

When asked if they use HARO, none of the panelists raised their hands. Well, as an entrepreneur, you should. Even if some of the top guns in the business are not using it, there are plenty of reporters who use services like HARO to get their stories, information, and the expertise they need this way.

One final piece of advice from the panel - if you want a reporter to cover you, read their stories. And comment on them. Evidently all good reporters read and respond to readers' comments. Good luck with it - it turns out, you the entrepreneur, do need a 48 day, 8-10 hours of which dedicated to reading the press, commenting, and telling them your won story.

To follow the panel on Twitter, @pkafka, @scottkirsner, @wroush @miketrap (did not catch Bob's handle)
Yours on scratching on the subject of good pr,

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MIT Forum Concept Clinic October 15: The Start-up Candidates

I am thrilled to be organizing the MIT Forum of Cambridge’s concept clinic on October 15th. The concept clinic is designed to be like a workshop in which experts and audience deep dive on one partially-baked business idea and really help the entrepreneur sort out what their key issues are, whether they really have a business, and if they do, what are the key actions/strategies to move it forward. I posted about the format of the concept clinic a few days ago - .

I felt privileged (and conflicted at the same) to get a number of great companies interested in participating in the October 15 clinic. 8 companies, 8 very interesting ideas, with potential and with as intriguing and diverse challenges one could possibly imagine. Very hard to zero in on one – see for yourselves:
1. Klick Mobile : integrated mobile solution offering a bundle of an iPhone application and a mobile-optimized website. Built Klick, a Flickr app, BlackBook Local Search, a number of magazine and slideshow applications, plus an auto insurance app in the works.
2. BIM Stream : BIM Stream: 'Google of interior space' digitally documenting interior space and making it available to various end-users via the iPhone platform.
3. Cadio Mobile: - mobile consumer analytics, using GPS data from individual consumers to provide consumer insight and lifestyle-relevant offers.
4. site where employers can post jobs directly to a community of student job-seekers. Facebook meets Craigslist.
5. Leotus Home Cooling : came out of this summer's Betaspring Program; redesigning the window-box air conditioner
6. StoeLiving : smart furniture for small spaces – created an ultra-comfortable bed that, when stowed away, reveals a compact 4" profile showcasing artwork.
7. WaySavvy : built prototype for a highly personalized travel engine, which offers exact travel itineraries to travelers.
8. : built prototype helping people find events and local businesses through the latest buzz on Twitter, in private beta

As hard as it is to choose, early next week, I will be announcing the one company that will share their idea with everyone who is interested in tackling a good, start-up challenge and will be present at the clinic on October 15th. In the meantime, feel free to check the other Forum events - the Forum organizes over 70 events/ year, all open to the public.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to Use Facebook if You Are a Brand: Quick Review of Facebook Profiles, Fan Pages, and Groups

I have had to look at and use Facebook for a few of my clients and thought I would share what I have found and learned so far. There is really no clear answer as to what brands and businesses should set up on Facebook – as usual, it all depends on what a company is trying to achieve. It can be prostrating when you start on a path to only figure there was a better way of doing things.

When to use Profile Pages, Fan Pages and Groups:
- Personal profile pages are for individual users (no brainer for me now but hindsight is always 20/20). Not that they are that different from Fan pages – it’s just those little differences. Profile pages can grow to 5,000 friends only (there is conflicting data on that subject)– at least that is the limit that seems to have be set to date. Profile pages don’t offer discussion modules either, which is a bummer when you want to engage your community.
- Group pages are great for promoting causes, events, and specific discussions and they have the best viral elements – you can bulk invite people to join your group and in turn people can bulk invite their friends to join a group.
- Fan pages are aimed at longer-term engagement and a great for SEO purposes as these are the only pages on Facebook that get indexed by the search engines such as Google and Bing.
Here are there great posts on the subject –
one by Ann Smarty, one by Leslie, and one on Mashable.

Brands with engaging Facebook fan and group pages – search for, Starbucks, and Ben and Jerry’s as a start.

What’s your experience on Facebook? What has worked? What has not? Thanks for sharing,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New MIT Forum Concept Clinic: October 15

It is true what they say - better write again than never. It has been a while for me - busy summer, helping a few great start-ups, including my favorite
- the first place where traders of foreign currencies connect and collaborate based on their real trades. But it is that time again - I am organizing the next MIT Forum concept clinic on October 15.

Concept clinics focus on start-ups who have not yet been funded (can be angel funded but no institutional funding yet). Usually these are start-ups with a winning idea/ good potential, but not a fully baked their business plan and execution yet. The goal of the concept clinic is to help these entrepreneurs get feedback from a panel of qualified participants so they can finalize their business plan and shop it for funding.

One company presents for the night - 6:30 to 8:30. Based on the needs of the company, the Forum helps bring together 3-4 experts. We break the room into 3-4 groups - each expert is then in charge of moderating an interactive discussion with their group around a question that is critical to the entrepreneur's success. We work with the entrepreneurs to come up with the discussion questions so experts know in advance what subject area they are covering (usually within their area of expertise).

The benefit for the start-ups - they gain exposure for their idea not only among the attendees, but among the Forum members (the MIT Forum promotes these events via member emails, their web site, etc. - here's a link to the Forum's web site) and the broader start-up and investment community in Boston. They also get great, actionable feedback, which helps them to finalize their business plans for funding. There are no restrictions on industries/types of start-ups.

I got some great start-up suggestions already - stay tuned - I will be sharing those with you over the weekend - and will need your vote on which stat-up to choose. Feel free to check the other Forum events, including the next start-up clinic where two cool new start-ups will present their challenges.