Saturday, March 28, 2015

Five Things Every Startup Founder Needs to Know About Getting Media Coverage

A surprising number of the founders I meet are planning to send out a press release or to cold email an important publication to pitch their startup. Neither of these approaches is particularly effective. Press releases work best for established companies – when Apple sends out a release for a groundbreaking new product everyone will cover it -- otherwise it ends up being used only by minor blogs and websites. Cold emails are also rarely successful simply because you are just one in a very large crowd. But there are five things everyone should be doing if they hope to get coverage one day.

BE EASY TO FIND. At this very moment there is probably a journalist somewhere who is writing about your field and you would be mentioned if they could find you. They might try a Google search to see what comes up so make sure that you are easy to find. This is much easier than it sounds. All you need is a website and a few social media accounts to fill a page of Google search results. Google your name and keywords related to your business regularly. Make sure that people can find you.

BE EASY TO CONTACT. Believe it or not but more than once I have written about a company that was not my first choice just because the number one on my list was near impossible to contact. At the bottom of your home page make sure that there is an email address like “” or “”.  There should also be a phone number because some questions just can’t wait even a quick email turnround. And if you have a Twitter account – and you should – be sure than someone is monitoring the @ messages in case there’s an inquiry from the media.

BE RESPONSIVE. Once someone has tried to contact you get back to them very quickly to confirm that you have received the message and that you are interested in responding. Ask for clarification about the deadline and what is expected. Once you have taken the commitment deliver the answers on time. Rocket launches can be scrubbed, football games can be postponed but Tuesday’s newspaper will come out on Tuesday. There is no tolerance for late inputs. Respond too late and another company will fill your place.

BE CONCRETE. Some inputs from companies are completely unusable. Learn to explain what you do concretely without talking about being a “provider of technology solutions” or “leveraging synergies”. And don’t bother to say how excited you are. Nobody cares. Be careful to state the obvious. One especially common problem is for software companies to forget that not everyone makes software so they sometimes forget to mention it.

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. Just like everyone else media people tend to trust people they know more than strangers. Start early to build relationships with people in media. Be helpful even when you are not directly involved. If they are writing about a topic that you are qualified to comment on then be responsive, helpful and dependable. Then they will come back to you again and you get a reputation for being a good source, so maybe others ask you for comments, too. They when the day comes that you have an interesting story to pitch then people are more likely to listen to you.

This blog post is based on the lecture “What Every Startup Founder Needs to Know About Getting Media Coverage”. If you’d like to have this lecture at your meeting or event contact

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Social Media Posts Can Come Back to Bite You in Unexpected Places

When you post controversial stories and images you are probably not surprised when there is a negative reaction. But even if you stick to strictly innocent, professional posts on your social media sometimes they still come back to bite you in unexpected places.

Most people don't expect that their LinkedIn profile could ever do them any harm, but several stories in the news show that this is not always the case.

Recently Apple has been sued for poaching engineers to develop new electric vehicle technology. A report published by the Guardian newspaper on 19 February 2015, Apple Sued for Poaching Engineers with Deep Expertise in Electric Car Systems cites as evidence for the accusation a survey of LinkedIn profiles of company employees. These profiles, individually nothing exceptional, when placed together paint a picture of precisely targeted people moving to Apple at the same time. Very few companies address this problem but employee LinkedIn profiles are well known to be a valuable source of competitive intelligence. I have never heard of anyone trying to control employee profiles, but in the workshops I do for companies I draw attention to these risks and suggest that people reflect on what they write in their profiles.

LinkedIn profiles are not just interesting in the corporate world. Journalists are learning to use them as a source to verify other facts. New Statesman published an investigative piece on 2 February 2015, Is the story of the middle-class Heathrow homeless couple too good to be true?, where they examined a story originally published by a tabloid about a couple alleged to be living in an airport. One of the primary sources in this investigation was the LinkedIn profile of one of the people involved, providing names of employers to contact and an approximate timeline. Increasingly journalists are checking online profiles as fast as they can find them and before they are removed as a news story breaks.

Even if you never use social media and never post any online profiles they can still cause unexpected problems because other people use them. As part of a multi-part series about foreign owners of luxury apartments in New York's Time Warner Center the New York Times published an investigative piece on 9 February 2015, Amid Complaints in India, a Real Estate Deal in Manhattan, describing their efforts to determine if an Indian property developer Kabul Chawla was the owner of apartment 68F in the Time Warner Center. Chawla denies owning property in New York but journalists at the New York Times noted that his teenage son posted photos on Facebook showing the characteristic windows and view of this building. This isn't evidence because the son could have been visiting anyone else with an apartment at a similar height, but it is very suggestive and undermines all the work purchasing the apartment through a string of shell companies.

If there is a lesson in all of these stories it is that journalists have learned to parse every public profile and post you make, so you need to be even more cautious. It's not just the drunken party picture or the shirtless tweet to teenage admirers that you need to worry about. Sometimes it's just your apparently unexciting career history on LinkedIn or the background of a routine photo shot by a friend or family member.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Curing Toxic Email Syndrome in An Organization

When's the last time that you had an offensive, rude or snarky email in your inbox? If you don't remember then consider yourself lucky. If you're looking at one right now then maybe your organization suffers from Toxic Email Syndrome. Luckily we have a cure for that and it isn't so difficult to apply.

Toxic Email Syndrome seems to occur spontaneously in many workplaces. One person has a bad day and sends a mean-spirited email that they might regret later. Others respond to that in the same way and even more are influenced by the tone to follow in the same style. Over time the culture of sending toxic emails becomes sedimented in the company culture. But there is no reason for this to start and once it has started it can actually be stopped simply by following three best practices:

MANAGEMENT HAS TO SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. People don't do what you tell them to do, they do what they see you doing. When the management is sending impolite and disrespectful emails to each other and to employees this sets the tone for the communications in the entire organization. So the management has to be trained or at least advised to reflect carefully before clicking send. Management can also help by making sure that employees who send an offensive email are told by their direct supervisor that this is not the right way to do things and that they don't want to see emails like that again. When the response of management to a hostile email is always swift and negative people quickly learn the new company culture.

EMPLOYEES SHOULD NEVER SEND A TOXIC EMAIL. Employees should all be trained in some way that toxic emails are strongly discouraged by management -- which they will see in action if you are doing the first point. They should also be trained that toxic emails are also ineffective. In most cases they worsen the problem and, more importantly, they fail to achieve results. Remind employees that they are measured on results like sales booked, lines of code written and so on. Nobody gets a bonus for winning flame wars. Once employees realize that their work becomes easier in a non-toxic email environment it gets easier to convince them to follow policy.

EMPLOYEES SHOULD NEVER RESPOND TO PROVOCATIONS. Even if you apply the second point there will still be the occasional email that is out of line, perhaps coming from a newcomer or from outside. Every employee has to be taught how to deal with this. I have covered this in more detail in Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails but the key learning is that you respond to the substance of a message and ignore all the parts that you perceive to be rude, hostile or just snarky. Answer the factual questions and ignore all the rest. Not only does this help work get done, it also de-escalates conflict and makes people feel better.

Once a workplace email system has been purged of toxic emails employees will be more productive and less stressed. The negative consequences of toxic email syndrome are often underestimated so this small effort can yield impressive results. When people are no longer afraid to open emails, when they don't feel their blood boiling when the email notification appears then the are able to focus more energy on constructive work.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Simple Ways to Record a Natural Sounding Speech

Maybe you are a pretty good speaker but when you try to record speeches they always sound wooden, hesitant or just plain boring. Luckily there are some simple methods that anyone can apply to make recordings sound better, and perhaps also easier to make, using no more than a laptop and free sound recording software.

Before you start recording, though, make sure that you have practiced the delivery of the speech so that it sounds as natural as possible. Avoid reading a script, using instead a list of keywords to jog your memory about the key ideas. Unless you are a highly-trained actor it is very unlikely that you will be able to deliver a convincing performance from a written script.

Then when you have mastered the content use these best practices to capture a good recording.

RECORD THE SPEECH USING SOFTWARE THAT ALLOWS EDITING. Record your speech using a laptop with digital audio workstation software like the free Audacity package, which you can download free from or the new ProToolsFirst free version of the industry-standard ProTools package. You can also use audio recording tools like Hokusai on a tablet or even on a smartphone in an emergency. The advantage of these tools is that you can very easily cut pieces out of the recording, adjust levels, adjust speed and otherwise improve the recording. You don't need much skill in sound recording to do the basic editing; with tools like Audacity you can literally cut and paste chunks of sound with your mouse.

WARM UP YOUR VOICE BEFORE YOU START. If you start from cold and speak for a few minutes you'll notice that your voice probably doesn't stabilize for the first minute or two. If you try to warm up the voice then pause before the actual recording there will still be a brief time when your voice is still warming up. The way to avoid these problems is to talk for a few minutes then segue smoothly into your speech with just a short gap. Start the sound recording software before you start the warm-up and leave it running until you have finished the recording of the speech. Later you can trim the recording to remove the warm up. You can warm up saying anything you want, though I usually just use the introduction of the speech repeated a few times until it feels smooth.

RECORD IN ONE LONG, CONTINUOUS TAKE. A professional actor can record a speech then go back later and record additional words to correct an error with a voice that matches exactly the tone of the original recording. Normal speakers rarely have that skill so it is much easier simply to avoid the problem. Instead you should start the recording, then the warmup and then the speech in one long continuous take. Don't start and stop the recording because that can be distracting. What happens if you make a mistake? Simple, just repeat that section again. You can always delete all the bad sections later using the editing tools. To make this easier for yourself it helps to mark bad sections by making a loud click which can be seen very easily in the recording.

These best practices will help you to make a better recording, but you will still need to make sure that the delivery is good even to a live audience. There are some things that you can fix in the editing and post production, but if the speech sounds boring there is no ProTools or Audacity plugin that can fix that.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

How to Personalize LinkedIn Connection Requests

Networking experts never tire of telling people that they should always personalize LinkedIn connection requests. Many people ignore standard "I'd like to add you to my network" requests or at least are more reluctant to accept them. What the experts often don't tell you is that over the years personalizing these requests has become more difficult.

Back in the noughties when you clicked on the connect button you were taken to a dialog box where you have had the option to change the standard message to something more personal -- and more effective. More recently the connect button has been changed to send the request immediately. At first you could personalize requests from People You Might Know and user profiles. Today the only place where you can do this is from a user's profile.

What this means is that the connect button that you see in the People You Might Know section today is a one-click automatic request with the standard message:

The Connect button in LinkedIn's People You Might Know section. This is a one-click automatic request with no personlization.

In the same way the connect button you find next to people in the search results is also a one-click automatic request with the standard message:

The Connect button in LinkedIn's search page. This is also a one-click automatic request with the standard message.

But when you visit the personal profile of a user there is an identical connect button near the top of their profile:

The Connect button on LinkedIn's user profile pages looks exactly the same but opens a dialog box.

But in this case when you click instead of sending a standard request LinkedIn gives the dialog box which allows the text of the connection request to be personalized.

In the dialog box you can include a personal note, which you most definitely should do if you want the request to be accepted.

Connection requests with a personalized text are much more effective than standard requests so I would recommend that people always send requests from a user's profile page. This also has the useful side effect that just before someone receives the request they see that you have looked at their profile. I am always suspicious of people who want to connect to me but have not even read my profile.

Exactly why LinkedIn makes it so hard to personalize connection requests when this is so important is a mystery to me. In the past I have contacted LinkedIn to point out this problem but so far they never seem to go beyond acknowledging my suggestion. Here is one Twitter exchange on this topic from 2013:

Perhaps one day LinkedIn will address this problem. Meantime, remember that you should always send requests from a user profile page and personalize the text.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

How to Prepare Quotes that Journalists Can Use

Part of the everyday work of PR professionals is preparing quotes and comments for journalists. I have done it myself in the past but I have also been on the other side when I work as a freelance journalist and I have noticed that there some responses are exactly what I need, some are completely useless and most are somewhere in the middle -- ok, but could be better.

Crafting usable quotes is a mission-critical skill for any PR person. Usable quotes are more likely to be chosen and less likely to be edited. You are also more likely to be asked for comment again in the future if your response is usable.

So what exactly makes a usable comment? Why are some better than others and how can PR people learn to make their quotes easier to use?  Here are five essential tips:

DELIVER YOUR RESPONSE ON TIME. If you have been asked to deliver a reply by Monday then make sure that you are on-time. If you are late or might be late because you are waiting for an approval then send a note to alert the journalist. When you receive the invitation to comment don't forget to confirm that you are going to respond. Two days ago I received a request from the Wall Street Journal for a comment. The deadline was Friday 4pm. I confirmed within minutes of receiving the request and sent my comments on Thursday.

WRITE ANSWERS THAT STAND ALONE. If you have been asked a question don't prepare a reply makes no sense without the question. In most cases the question is asked to elicit a comment and the comment will be printed on its own so it has to be entirely standalone. This is actually good practice in any exchange with media, but especially important when you are asked for a comment. 

AVOID ANY DIRECT SELLING. Resist the temptation to add a sales pitch to your comments. Make your response commercial and usually your comment will not be used and you will never be asked again. This is especially true when you have been asked a generic question about your business simply because you are an expert.

READ OUT LOUD TO CHECK SOUND. Way too many comments sent to journalists do not sound like they were said by the person they are attributed to and sometimes they don't even sound like they were uttered by a human. Always read your draft comments out loud to see if they sound reasonable. Try also imagining the person quoted saying these words. Is it the sort of thing they would really say or is it brochurespeak? Be brutally honest.

GIVE A LITTLE MORE THAN ASKED. When a journalist asks you for a short comment you should not send a longform essay, but it can be helpful to give a little extra so that they can choose the parts they find most useful. Ideally the comments you send should all be able to work alone, so that the journalist can take one sentence if that is all they need or more if that fits better. In cases where they set a precise upper limit you should respect that. 

Not every inquiry is clearly expressed so it is sometimes a good idea to ask for clarification -- especially about the amount that is required. Journalists receive more email than they would really like so don't be surprised if there isn't a quick response to your request. One simple workaround for this is to provide quotes at two different lengths so that they can choose them. Another technique I often use is to add an additional useful paragraph that adds another point and can be omitted without affecting the rest.

Related posts
Three Ways to Ensure That Journalists Will Contact You Again
How To Make Sure Journalists Quote You Correctly
Three Social Media Hacks To Find Media Opportunities

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Lessons from Old Media: Making it Easier for Readers to Share Content Through Twitter

Twitter has become an important source for news. Many people like myself find links to interesting articles in their feed and news stories that go Twitter viral soon end up being covered in media and the subject of conversation.

For many years newspapers, magazines, blogs and other media have all had one-click icons to share article links. Some even added a suggested tweet text to make it even easier. But now media are adopting other techniques to encourage readers to tweet, simple ideas that anyone can adopt without any special web development or coding.

Looking at an article published in today's Los Angeles Times Leading scientist warns that Ebola eradication may be elusive, for example, we see the usual Twitter sharing icon both at the top of the article and at the bottom. Clicking on this icon opens a Twitter composition window where we find a suggested tweet with a link to the article. Readers can edit this tweet or add hashtags before sending it. Readers with little time can simply click send, moving from article to tweet in just two clicks.

This much is standard practice, but where the Los Angeles Times takes it one step further is that there are also up to three more different suggested tweets under the title. Readers can thus pick the one they like the most, making it more likely they find something that they want to tweet and also making the tweets more varied.

There are even more prompts to share the content. When there are quotes highlighted beside the copy under each quote is another Twitter icon to share that specific quote.
At the end of the article there is, of course, another icon to tweet the whole article, so that nobody has to scroll back up to the top to use the first one.

These multiple twitter options encourage readers to tweet content from the LA Times more often. They are especially useful for readers using mobile devices who might want to share a story but can't easily type their own tweet. For papers like the LA Times this is now critically important, but website designers and communications managers everywhere can learn from their example, applying these surprisingly simple methods to encourage sharing.

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