Bird PR is a virtual communications firm rooted in traditional media and consumed by social media. The firm was founded by Alice Chan in early 2011, who after 20 years working at traditional PR agencies in Silicon Valley and the UK, decided it was time to focus on her passions. At the core of all our services is creative, thoughtful storytelling that engages people and generates outcomes.
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I get nearly a hundred calls a year, if not more, from executives, communication leads and consultants, looking for PR expertise, and in probably 70% of cases, the conversation starts something like this: “We’ve been working with a PR firm, but they haven’t getting us results in the media.”
My heart sinks when I hear these words. Sure it means an opportunity for Bird PR, but it means a loss for someone else, and really, it just ain’t that hard to create stories that readers want to consume. And if you figure out that piece of the equation, reporters will be prepared to listen to your pitch and probably better it.
What people want to read = What reporters want to write about
You’d be forgiven for thinking that creativity and media execution are two separate skills, but in my experience they must be entwined. Few organizations can exist like say Apple, solely on product innovation to generate hundreds of thousands of articles each year. Few startups, think Pinterest or Instagram, are “sticky” or different enough that they go viral and have the likes of NPR approaching them about a story.
So what’s a PR pro to do? It’s simple, hack the news. Hack the news? What does that mean? It’s pretty simple. Publications want eyeballs it’s (still) what drives revenues. That means they’re simply not going to publish stories that nobody’s interested in, and yes, you guessed it, this is exactly why so many clients become dissatisfied with their PR firm.
Before I explain how to the hack the news, first, here’s what not to do. Clients: don’t tell your PR agency the story you think they should be pitching. Agencies: don’t let your client drive the message or the narrative, instead, do your job. It comes down to five simple steps:
- Read voraciously. Consume everything you can in the media about the company, its industry, and its competitors. If you haven’t read at least 100 articles, your job’s not done.
- Talk to people. Interview company stakeholders, including founders and investors, existing and prospective customers and business partners. Don’t forget those who were going to buy the company’s product and then didn’t. Or loyal customers who got fed up and walked away. Leave no stone unturned, story “nuggets” can show up in unexpected places.
- Analyze and storyboard. Figure out what your research is telling you and storyboard your findings. What’s making headlines and what’s not? What problems are people having? Who’s solving them? What remains unsolved? Where’s the opportunity for your company to add to this dialogue?
- Own your part of the story. Relate your company’s narrative to the map of the landscape you’ve just created. Identify the storylines you can and want to own and if you don’t possess the data, figure out how to get it. Commission research, hire experts, buy stock photos, share customer stories. Get creative!
- Make your story about a person. We’re all humans. Journalists are humans. Consumers are humans. Clients are humans. We are interested in other humans and what they are up to. Other humans inspire us. If your story doesn’t star a human as the main character, and instead, you let a product feature list take the starring role, your pitching efforts will be doomed. Make it personal.
I have taken numerous companies through this process. Here at Bird PR, it consumes the first few weeks of every new client engagement and thereafter quickly becomes part of the fabric of our storytelling.
Over the years one of my favorite examples remains an award-winning campaign executed for a former client, McAfee, called “Dangerous Celebrities.” It’s a brilliant example of hacking the news that made boring old security software as exciting and headline-grabbing as movie starlet, Jessica Biel.
Another round of insanity at SXSW draws to a close (at least for me) so I thought I’d jot down my top five takeaways:
- Compared to last year health, self-tracking and big data were huge topics, cropping up everywhere. I’ll admit, I was more tuned into these topics because our client Basis was at South By in force with two panels, interviews and demo locations. I got into a “friendly” contest with Wired snr. editor, Michael Copeland, comparing how many steps we took each day. The winner has yet to be declared.I walked about 18 miles in 3 days. Exhausting!
- Hacking is now perceived to be a good thing. Topics abound from hacking online dating to hacking your body, as well as the more traditional hackathons which are true to SXSWi’s roots.
- Over-subcription of hot panels continues with a 300 yard line for the BBC’s Science of Storytelling panel; no overflow room for Al Gore’s keynote and people trying to listen from hallways to sold-out panels. C’mon SXSW – you can do better than this! (I do think they’re trying – they accurately predicted that Basis’ Designing Habits panel would be popular and asked them to do it twice, the second time in a much bigger space at the Convention Center).
- There seems to be a ‘turning over’ of the audience that attends South By with less senior folks unless they are on panels, and many more mid-level managers who were here for the first time. The usual group of millennials – who get a crashpad on AirBnB and don’t buy a pass – is still there. Whether this means it’s still a place for deal-making vs. simply networking and partying, remains to be seen.
- Notwithstanding #4, there’s a pretty vibrant pre-seed, seed-funded, startup presence, particularly if you hang out in the hallways of the Hilton where StartUp America had a big presence. I enjoyed hearing Slava Rubin, co-founder Indiegogo, Steve Case, and others, talk about the promise of equity crowdfunding and the impact it might have.
- Maybe I wasn’t tuned in, but unlike previous years (Highlight last year, Twitter and Foursquare in the past) there was no “stand out” app or service and I still believe this isn’t a place to do a launch. In chatting with Rob Scoble yesterday he concurred and suggested companies launch their app the December prior to get a groundswell and iron out the kinks before being put them to potential breaking point at SXSW.
- Checking out the 20 minute author talks (usually in Ballroom G) is a quick way to dive into a topic and hear the writer bring their subject to life. Andy Smith, The Dragonfly Effect, and Porter Gale, author of the soon-to-be published, Your Network is your Net Worth, were two favorites.
- Finally, if you’re a company wondering whether SXSW is the place for you to invest marketing dollars, I still stand by what I wrote last year.