A blog about standing up, standing out, and standing for something in tech PR and communications.


Truth Matters

One of the simplest definitions of truth is “the property of being in accord with fact or reality.” Unfortunately, you can’t scan the headlines these days without noticing that there is no longer anything simple about the concept.

We have algorithms that amplify outrage over veracity, provocation via abuses in programmatic advertising, mistrust of science, charges of fake news and citations of “alternative” facts — even AI that can learn to falsify video. Reality seems a little less real and finding the truth gets trickier by the day.

In tech PR as in all professional communications, we all have a part to play in defending the truth. This isn’t a problem that will be sorted out in search engines or negotiated in newsrooms. It extends to what we all post on our blogs, share on social media, choose to include in OpEds, PowerPoints, whitepapers, press releases…you name it. Here are three tips excerpted from an article I wrote for MuckRack on standing up for truth —both in tech PR and in life.

1. Be honest
Authenticity is priceless. If your client hopes to do or be something, go ahead and say so. But be transparent about where they are in that pursuit. Don’t inflate or misrepresent the situation just to spice up a story, advance a brand objective, or win some pageviews. A bent toward hyperbole is an affront to truth and can easily snowball into catastrophe. (Theranos, anyone?) Conversely, feel free to tout real value and successes far and wide. Openly share vetted and verified data and hard-won experience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with staking a claim, so long as you back it up with facts.

2. Check your sources
Pause before you cite or share “found” content on social media or search engines: Do the links trace to valid data? Who are the sources? Where did referenced statistics or images come from? Assertions from screamy red-faced radio hosts and Macedonian teenagers may be entertaining to some, but that doesn’t make their screeds true — and their pronouncements most certainly do not carry the same weight as analysis from Gartner or Gallup or Pew. We can no longer rely on the notion that if anything seems too weird to be true, it probably isn’t. But if you come across something astonishing that the international press corps has somehow overlooked, Snopes it before you share it.

3. Do your duty
If you are a subject matter expert, please stand up. And if you work with an expert, nudge them into the debate.
Our world would be poorer if Carl Sagan never eviscerated pseudoscience, Marc Andreessen never suggested that software is eating the world, or Clayton Christensen never asked how to measure a life’s work. We need real research, real expertise, real analysis, real discourse.

In the words of Louis Pasteur, “knowledge belongs to humanity and is the torch which illuminates the world.” Do not let the flow of information fall to trolls and bots and no-nothings. Contribute genuine knowledge to the conversation and you are contributing to the cause of truth.

The 7 Deadline Sins

The great Douglas Adams once wrote, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

He never worked in tech PR.

All jesting aside, here at Sterling, we regularly work under deadlines for our clients: drafting and wiring press releases, placing contributed articles, nominating for awards or submitting speakers for industry conferences, scheduling social media posts, creating metrics reports, etc. We operate under internal deadlines as well to ensure the company functions smoothly and our tech PR prowess continues to evolve and expand.

When it comes to business, everyone faces deadlines. Thus, the internet is littered with handy lifehacks designed to aid in beating the clock. That’s great, but it’s also important to know what to avoid if you hope to deliver on your personal KPIs. So, I wrote up a compendium of deadline fouls for PR Daily, which I’m also sharing here. Avoid these seven deadline sins to successfully meet your obligations in the workplace.

  1. Assuming you don’t need approval or review: Give yourself (and your colleagues) plenty of time to review, revise, and/or approve the respective project. Don’t expect that no one else needs to see it before it’s officially complete — it’s very likely someone does, and at the very least, it’s always helpful to have another pair of eyes on the work.
  2. Calling in sick the day it’s due: If something falls through the cracks, don’t make matters worse by playing hooky and letting the burden fall on others. To offset situations that arise where you genuinely may be unable to work on deadline day, always prepare and convey the necessary steps and information so that someone else can complete the task seamlessly.
  3. Failing to ask questions: If something is unclear, it’s better to ask about it up front than to waste time heading down the wrong avenue. Review requirements at the outset and discuss any questions with the appropriate stakeholders. Clarity is the mother of productivity. Meeting a deadline is only successful if the completed work meets its criteria.
  4. Waiting until the last minute: Many of us still have recurring nightmares about this from our school years! Procrastination breeds panic. It can be easy to underestimate the amount of time, effort, and resources required to complete a given project. Start early so that you don’t wake up with dread on deadline day. There is only so much you can do in so many hours. Plan accordingly.
  5. Withholding status updates: You likely have colleagues involved in the project you’re working on. It’s always a good idea to communicate the status of your work at each stage so that collaborators are informed and up to date. This also serves as a safety net, since other people can often spot potential issues that you might miss while working in a silo.
  6. Expecting everything to run smoothly: Regardless of how optimistic you are or how much confidence you have in yourself and in others, hiccups are bound to arise. Allow yourself a buffer for unforeseen setbacks (and trust that they will occur). One best practice is to set an internal deadline ahead of the actual, final deadline — so that you’ll always have extra time in your pocket.
  7. Neglecting to create a schedule: Schedules and sub-deadlines are the most effective tools for staying on track. For larger tasks, try mapping out the various steps and checkpoints throughout the process. Even for smaller assignments, understanding from the onset who is doing what by when makes it less likely that an important box is left unchecked when deadline day arrives.

Sadly, there are many ways to miss a deadline, but avoiding these seven sins goes a long way toward preventing that “whooshing sound” as they fly by. Just check your pride at the door, stamp out sloth, … you get the idea … and start tackling your next deadline. (Right about now would be a good time.)

Lisa Hawes can be reached at lhawes@sterlingpr.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @LisaKayHawes.

Why Charting Your Course Matters

Three Keys to Charting a Virtuous Course: Values Fuel the Mission Built on Vision

Most folks are familiar with the concept of a vicious circle, wherein actions form a feedback loop that ultimately returns to the starting point without any benefit having been achieved. Conversely, there is the virtuous circle (more aptly described as a virtuous “spiral”), wherein positive feedback serves to elevate ensuing action toward ever more favorable results. Vision, mission, and values protect us from pointless spinning and enable that virtuous journey.

Without a vision, you cannot manifest that which you hope to build. Without a mission, you have no goals upon which to build. Without values, you have no tools with which to build. Communication is essential in forging all three keys, so that you may know what you are trying to achieve, what you need to do to get there, and how you’re going to do it.

The more time and effort you put into communicating your vision, mission and values, the more likely you are to feel passionately about your work and thoroughly enjoy your career journey. At Sterling, we strive to ensure that every employee understands all three and that our team operates in lock step (healthy debate notwithstanding).

For those who don’t know Sterling, this is our vision:

To help shape a brighter future by creating awareness and preference for technologies that deliver positive societal impact.

But penning a statement is not sufficient: A vision also requires group alignment.

We foster alignment around Sterling’s vision by seeking out clients that work to address pressing societal issues with cutting-edge solutions. Ideally, they’re tech companies capable of changing our world for the better in areas that really matter to members of the Sterling team. Sometimes it’s a matter of professional interest; other times, the interest is highly personal.

For example, one of our clients has created a solution to enhance diabetes management. My brother has diabetes, as does a Sterling employee, so this technology is highly relevant to us at a very personal level.

Several Sterling employees have elderly parents/grandparents who stand to save time and money (and reduce exposure to contagions common in waiting rooms and pharmacies) via the efforts of another Sterling client — a company that has developed a telehealth platform to radically improve access to common prescriptions for recurrent health issues.

We also have a client creating advanced technologies aimed at protecting people, structures, and communities from floods and earthquakes. The vast majority of our employees live and work near the precarious California coast, so that one is near and dear to all our hearts.

I could list several more examples, but you probably get the picture by now.

Group alignment is sustained by communication. We spend significant time at our annual Sterling Summit talking about our vision, and we actively encourage employees to be on the lookout for interesting companies working on issues that resonate with them personally. Not every client we work with fits neatly within our vision parameters, but the majority do. And when we’re looking at potential new clients, we always ask ourselves if we could get passionate about promoting the technology solutions they’re developing.

As for defining the mission, here is Sterling’s statement:

Our mission is to help our technology clients stand up, stand out, and stand for something.

You can see how our mission directly feeds our vision of “helping shape a brighter future by creating awareness and preference for technologies that deliver positive societal impact.”

The way we achieve our mission is to design and deliver high-impact communications programs that compel not just interest, but action — unique programs and campaigns that generate great ROI and leave a lasting, positive impression.

Our Sterling values have proven very helpful in keeping us “on mission” and attracting candidates who will thrive at our company; they guide the way everyone who works at Sterling relates with colleagues, clients, and partners. The entire Sterling team collaborated to cement our core values, which was a very fun and valuable exercise. To keep our values top of mind at all times, we’ve woven them into our hiring process, included them in our performance discussion documents, and listed them on a huge graphic that covers an entire wall in our open office.

Activating a virtuous spiral isn’t complicated. Define what you hope to build. Make your goals clear. Seek alignment and reward behaviors consistent with your values. Do everything you can to keep your vision, mission, and values top of mind.

We’ve found that at Sterling, charting a virtuous course—by communicating vision, mission, and values across the entire organization—begets satisfying partnerships…and builds a team full of passionate, enthusiastic colleagues who actively contribute to a fun and vibrant workplace.

 

 

 

Recap: Sterling’s Agency Summit

One of the best traditions at Sterling Communications is our annual Agency Summit. For two full days, all hands gather to attend a corporate culture check-in led by our CEO, Marianne, learn more about each client’s business and technology from account leads, and partake in creative writing workshops and mission alignment seminars. Oh, and of course, we let our hair down with the shockingly competitive Sterling Challenge scavenger hunt. This year’s event, skillfully coordinated by our VP of Operations, Tiffany, did not disappoint.

Marianne opened this year’s summit by sharing her projections for the company in 2017, along with the results of an employee survey identifying Sterling’s seven core values:

  • Passion
  • Curiosity
  • Helpfulness
  • Flexibility
  • Accountability
  • Teamwork
  • Fun

After we heard a little bit about why each of these values made the list, we broke into groups to identify tangible examples of how we demonstrate each value in our work, the challenges each poses, and solutions for overcoming those challenges. Groups then presented their findings to the agency, allowing the whole team to see exactly how our core values inform our day-to-day lives at Sterling, and how we can continue to apply them effectively for ourselves and our clients.

Note: We’re still trying to think of a helpful acronym to describe the seven values, so feel free to send us your suggestions!

Having provided PR and communications services to Silicon Valley’s tech industry for more than 27 years, we’ve learned to take our own advice: We regularly update our messaging and realign our strategy to best reach and serve both current and prospective clients. Our executive team presented the annual results of this effort and our expanding services menu, which in addition to traditional public relations, now includes marketing and demand generation support, infographics and video production, web development and SEO. With Sterling, our clients get that all from one nimble team as opposed to having to contract and onboard multiple vendors. Our VP of Creative, Kawika, recently wrote a blog post on the diversity of modern communications needs and how PR isn’t just about press releases anymore. It’s definitely worth the read.

In the afternoon, appointed presenters shared in-depth analysis on their respective accounts, so every Sterlinger could learn more about each client’s staff, technology, and vision. As we have an open office and celebrate each account’s successes as a team, it was great to get more context on the various businesses we represent, put faces to names, and match concepts to products.

At the end of Day 1, the Sterling Challenge saw our crew divided into teams of four and given a mind-boggling list of items to find and activities to complete — all of which had to be recorded with a camera phone. Task scoring was weighted on level of difficulty (like sitting in the back of a police car or convincing strangers to share food in a restaurant!). Gloria, our finance manager and reigning Challenge champion of many years, was relegated to the role of host and judge, thus putting an end to her streak of dominance.

This year’s winners (dubbed the Fighting Amish) were announced at our holiday party the following night: Kawika, Madeline, Lloyd, and first-time combatant Jennine. Can you tell from the photos below that they were just a little excited to have won?

 

Day 2 kicked off with an informative (and very entertaining) briefing with Scott McGrew, tech reporter from KNTV NBC Bay Area News and host of Press: Here. Scott shared his insight on what makes for a great story. His best tip for PR pros: Does your pitch immediately trigger a slew of additional questions? If it doesn’t strike curiosity, it’s either not a good story or it needs a different approach.

For the rest of the afternoon, our senior content manager, Deirdre, led the company through a series of professional development sessions on sourcing content and creative writing. The writing exercises provided an opportunity to stretch our skills beyond the standard press release format on topics outside our B2B/enterprise comfort zone. There were some folks (*cough*VP of PR Lisa*cough*) who couldn’t resist displaying their mastery — in Lisa’s case, producing what may be the most creative press release ever written from a random prompt.

In her closing remarks, Marianne announced the winners of the Sterling Star awards, where everyone votes to recognize exceptional and inspirational performance over the course of the year. The two 2016 Stars are the extraordinary Lloyd Berry and Madeline Mains (both also anchors on this year’s Challenge-winning team. Coincidence? I think not!)

We also celebrated Pouneh Lechner, who had been named PR News’ 2016 Account Supervisor of the Year at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, earlier in the week. The cherry on top: Our client, Greenwave Systems, had nominated her for the award!

Day 2 wrapped with our holiday party at Marianne’s house, where we enjoyed amazing food by chef Lynne Howell, delicious wine, and general end-of-year silliness. During the white elephant gift exchange, our newest account coordinator, Jennine, scored a giant flask before it was stolen; account exec Josh picked an aromatic combination of oregano, rosemary, and thyme, which was also stolen; and someone stealthily slipped away with a whole pound of chocolate. I personally received a “Pull my finger” Santa, whose finger has now been pulled too many times to count (thank you, Deirdre!).

I hope I’ve conveyed some sense of why I love Sterling’s annual Agency Summit. It reinforces all the reasons I’m proud to be a part of the Sterling team. We’re fun, passionate, and curious people who cherish our esprit de corps, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!

Rosie Brown is Creative Project Manager at Sterling Communications. You can follow her on Twitter at @lilmsrosieposie.

Tread Lightly, Journalists May Bite

As we said goodbye to Thanksgiving and welcomed the holiday season, one thing was evident here at Sterling—we readied ourselves for what we call the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) Sprint. We always look forward to what CES brings, but with all the anticipation and excitement comes a flurry of fast-turnaround PR initiatives to ensure you rise above the noise.

We start planning early. We watch for CES predictions, formulate media pitches, and draft client announcements (ideally before December begins!) so that we’re ready to contact journalists when the trade show’s mega media list is unveiled. Why the rush to pitch, you ask? Because the road to CES success can be a prickly path if not well navigated. Just check out Twitter to see what all the fuss is about.

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Video Killed the Press Release Star

via GIPHY

A decade ago, I told a nonplussed supervisor that the future of public relations would be in creative. She had good reason to doubt my forecast. For every enthusiastic proclamation I got right (“Twitter is going to be huge. Reporters are going to love this!), I got many more spectacularly wrong (“RSS feeds are the future of news publishing!” “Digg is going to be your new home page! “Facebook’s ubiquity will dilute partisanship around the world!”)

In this case, though, the prediction was prescient.

Only 27 percent of agency leaders think “public relations” will adequately describe the work they do five years from now, according to a new USC Annenberg study. This dramatic shift isn’t so shocking to firms that started offering creative services with communication programs years ago. (more…)

‘Flip or Flop’ For Company Websites: 3 Tips to Enhance Virtual Curb Appeal

In some ways, a corporate website is like a house. Regardless of whether you inherit a fixer-upper or have one custom built from scratch, there’s always room for improvement.

Company websites often undergo construction before all the necessities are assembled. And there are usually fixed deadline and budget constraints, so requirements and tasks are subject to continual triage to ensure the whole project launches on time and within scope. The end result is that many company sites stand stripped of important functionality, much less finishing touches.

company websites, home improvement, improve websites, website design, website development

“Home Improvement” is still the best DIY home show ever. So, consider this “Tool Time” for websites.

Unlike homes without baseboards or lighting fixtures, websites need certain enhancements to perform with purpose. Here are three quick and essential website retrofits to improve your company site without revisiting the building plans: (more…)

Typoglycemia and the Perils of the Post

True confession: I often mistype my first name as “Derider” instead of “Deirdre.” The habit formed long before the advent of stored signatures and autocorrect-enabled everything. Working primarily as an editor for the past two decades, this foible has generated no small amount of hilarity for my friends and colleagues — my “secret” evil nature and Freudian typos are the stuff of legend.

I’ve come to peace with my sloppy typing technique, but what continually amazes me is how often I read and re-read a misspelled word and fail to catch the error. It doesn’t happen often when reviewing the work of others, but it happens all the time when I review my own writing. My brain, like yours, has an autocorrect function that mentally fixes or skims past glitches in my prose with remarkable efficiency. While that may be no big deal in a text or email to my sister, it can certainly cause a bit of embarrassment when it comes to professional communications or something as public as a blog post. To spare myself unnecessary humiliation, before I publish a new post, (more…)

The Things You Think You Know

We take National Hot Dog Day pretty seriously.

We take National Hot Dog Day pretty seriously.

Every third Thursday, Sterlingers gather after work for a bit of group bonding and low-key fun. Sometimes we celebrate something silly like National Hot Dog Day, sometimes we play trivia games in a nearby park, sometimes we just shoot the breeze over cheese and crackers. It’s a nice way to blow off steam and catch up with coworkers, it fuels our tight relationships, and it always generates great conversation. This month, our Third Thursday event changed my view of the world.

Our Operations VP sought special permission to hold a movie screening and we invited friends and family to convene at our offices for a group viewing. On September 15th, 2016, we all gathered to watch Equal Means Equal, a documentary that reflects on how women are treated in America.

Coincidentally, on September 15, 1981 — 35 years to the day before we watched the movie —the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman ever to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court (a group formerly known as “the Brethren”). What some folks at the office did not know is that the same Sandra Day O’Connor also happens to be my grandmother.

Every day in my childhood home, I would nonchalantly walk past a photo in the hallway of Grandma with President Ronald Reagan on the day she was sworn in. While the picture is symbolic of a historic stride in women’s march towards equality, for me, it was just a snapshot of the crowning honor in Grandma’s impressive career. (more…)