What is California’s new consumer privacy law and could you be fined?

If you’re not familiar with California’s new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), you’re not alone. In August, an IT security firm ran a survey of 625 business owners in California and found that almost half the respondents had never heard of the CCPA and less than 12% knew whether the law applied to their business. Now is the time for your company to assess the potential impact and take steps to comply with regulations if required. 

What is CCPA?

Taking effect on January 1, 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is modeled on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and creates new consumer rights relating to the access, deletion, and sharing of personal information that is collected by businesses. The CCPA defines the responsibilities of businesses that collect and process personal information. The scope includes California businesses, as well as any business that conducts business with California residents. 

Among the rights ensured in CCPA are:

  • Consumers have the right to know all data collected on them, including what categories of data and why it is being acquired before it is collected, and any changes to its collection
  • Consumers have the right to refuse the sale of their information
  • Consumers have the right to request deletion of their data
  • Consumers have the right to opt-in before the sale of information on minors
  • Consumers have the right to know the categories of third parties with whom their data is shared, as well as those from whom their data was acquired
  • Consumers have the right to sue should breach occur or to ensure companies keep their information safe, and the state may also impose penalties for noncompliance or violation.

Which businesses are impacted?

The CCPA impacts both California-based businesses, as well as companies doing business with consumers in California. It applies to all businesses that meet any of the following three thresholds: 

  1. Has annual gross revenues in excess of $25,000,000.
  2. Buys, sells, or shares the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices. 
  3. Derives 50% or more of its annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information.

While the $25M gross annual revenue is intended to help small businesses and startups avoid CCPA requirements, many companies already have email lists or internal databases with more than 50,000 records of past, current, or prospective customers. If you’re using a marketing automation platform (for example, tools like Marketo, HubSpot, etc.), have ever bought or scraped email lists, or have simply been in business for an extended period of time, you might find the 50,000 record count threshold is easy to reach.

Note that “sharing” can include something as simple as passing information from a website form to your email provider (as with Constant Contact and similar software) or sharing information with Google Analytics (CCPA scope includes technical information that is passed by a user’s browser when they visit your website.) Even if your organization does not currently meet the three regulation thresholds, the CCPA is expected to become a model regulation that will be adopted by other states and, potentially, at the federal level. Ignore the CCPA at your own peril.

What is the potential exposure of non-compliance?

The California Attorney General’s office is scheduled to begin enforcement by July 1, 2020, with a twelve-month “look-back period” (to July 1, 2019), with fines up to $7,500 per violation. The specifics of enforcement are still being developed by the State of California. While the CCPA will generally be enforced by the California Attorney General, private citizens can also make claims directly against a company if there is certain unauthorized access and exfiltration, theft, or disclosure of non-encrypted or non-redacted personal information. (Note that this might include such things as unencrypted spreadsheets containing customer information on a stolen laptop.)

What to do now

We recommend that our clients be proactive in assessing the impact of regulation and taking steps to become compliant if needed. While the safest advice is to ask your legal counsel, there are several steps you can take on your own.

First, simply Google “CCPA compliance” or refer to the resource links below to get up to speed. 

Second, if you believe your company is either not impacted or that the business risk is minimal, we recommend that every client still update their website’s privacy policy to comply with CCPA requirements. (You do have a privacy policy on your website, right? If not, now’s a perfect time to create one!)

Third, if you believe your organization will be subject to CCPA requirements, now is the time to inventory the information you collect (or have collected in the past and stored). Determine what information you need to run your business. If you are collecting or archiving data that is no longer useful, you can reduce your exposure by cleaning up your data and deleting information that is no longer needed.

Additional CCPA Information Resources

We’re not lawyers, but Sterling has been working with clients with GDPR and CCPA compliance obligations. If you have questions or would like Sterling’s help, please contact Mark Bonham at (408)395-5500.

Advice for tech entrepreneurs from top VCs

In the frequently misunderstood world of Silicon Valley tech PR, startup marketing programs often begin and end with getting a nod from TechCrunch. While worthy of notice, don’t be fooled into thinking that one shiny headline is enough to land your next customer or your next round of funding.

Truly making a mark for your company — and gaining traction — takes much more than just one earned media placement. 

Widely respected TechCrunch journalists recently held a startup conference in the heart of Silicon Valley. Dirsruptors driving the future of smart cities and autonomous vehicles gathered to explore the technology of today and tomorrow.

The TechCrunch panels also featured high-profile venture capitalists, including early Lime investor Sarah Smith from Bain Capital. (She left Facebook to become Bain’s FIRST female partner in 2018 — Sarah knew scooters would be cool way before they were unleashed on our streets!) VCs from Techstars and a Maniv Mobility also shared solid advice, with the goal of helping startups forge a successful path in today’s brutally competitive tech ecosystem. 

VC advice for startups
Silicon Valley tech investors and startups explored the tech of today and tomorrow together at TC Sessions: Mobility in Downtown San Jose on July 10, 2019.

Here’s some secret sauce for startups straight from Silicon Valley investors:

  1. Start with solving a real problem. Want to ensure fast growth and rapid scale as a startup? Investors are looking for startups that solve real, massively experienced problems in new and unique ways. Founders should critically analyze socioeconomics and be able to communicate how their innovative solutions will transform markets and/or life. 
  2. Distinguish where the money is, then get as close as you can in the supply chain. Promising high-profile companies have failed because they were unable to navigate the complexities of supply-chain management. Logistics are often overlooked by budding startups, so address supply management early on — duties and tariffs, regulatory requirements, and delivery details can be costly. 
  3. Consider partnerships that deliver operational and strategic advantages. From Boston FinTech disruptor Airfox partnering with a retail giant to bring financial services to the unbanked to local health tech startup Kenzen working with Gore to develop a precision health monitoring system, partnerships can provide incredible advantages ⁠— such as capital, traffic, marketing support, and mentoring ⁠— that help propel startups into the next stages of growth.
  4. Spend time with teens. According to Bain Capital Partner Sarah Smith, investors pay close attention to emerging trends and adoption activity among teenagers. Ideas are the currency of the future, and young digital natives accustomed to Instagram and Lyft bring different expectations and perspectives on how to connect with the world. Today’s teens will inspire and drive the next decade in Silicon Valley solutions. 

From seeking seed funding to gearing up for public launches: Startups are well-advised to continuously build relationships and reputation. Clearly communicating your vision and values helps establish credibility. Before building buzz, make sure your startup has a concrete mission and messaging that you can articulate. 

Do you need help fine tuning your VC pitch or prepping for a launch? Reach out to our Silicon Valley tech PR experts at go@sterlingpr.com

Networking checklist

The textbook definition of networking is simply interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. It’s a valuable exercise that can produce opportunities for productive collaboration and spark interesting new relationships. That’s the upside.

The downside is that networking can also produce a lot of anxiety. After all, the prospect of interacting with relative strangers and feeling pressed to make a good impression can be daunting. 

But whether scouting for new business or simply widening your professional circle, networking is worth the effort. A recent Forbes article cites some motivational statistics: networking is vital to the success of 78% of startups, and 85% of professionals say they develop a more meaning relationship after meeting someone in-person. 

networking tips
Sterling Account Director Dana Schroeder preparing to expand her professional network at a Gore Innovation Center event in Silicon Valley.

So get out there and mingle! For encouragement, here’s a checklist of tried-and-true tips to help you become a more successful (and less stressed) networker.

✔ Arrive early. Being among the first at a gathering allows you to start up conversations before the crush of a crowd.

✔ Accentuate the positive. Remember to smile before entering a room — it makes you appear approachable and feel more confident.

✔ Open your ears. Listen as much as (if not more than) you talk. Ask people why they’re attending the event and how you might be helpful. If you take a genuine interest in people, they tend to reciprocate.

✔ Be a willing student. Focus on learning from those you meet. Aim to discover something new instead of merely collecting or distributing business cards.

✔ Dress for success. Wear something interesting (an antique pin, a thematic tie, colorful suspenders or shoes, etc.). You don’t need to don a costume, but an intriguing accessory can serve as both a memorable identifier and a casual conversation starter.

✔ Observe. Watch and learn from expert networkers at events. You can always spot them and you may pick up some great techniques.

✔ Follow-up. If you exchange business cards or have a memorable chat, reach out to your new contact afterward. Customize an invitation to connect on LinkedIn within a week, and reference something about your conversation at the event.

✔ Think long-term. Focus on gathering information and building relationships instead of launching immediate transactions — networking shouldn’t feel like conducting (or receiving) a sales pitch.

If the idea of networking still feels foreboding, consider volunteering. Serving a purpose while being at an event makes interactions more comfortable and extends an open invitation for attendees to approach you.

PR agencies could learn a lot from the Warriors, says a Celtics fan

Look, I don’t care about the Golden State Warriors.

My Boston sports blood runs strong and I’ll be a Celtics man ’til death, even though I live and work in the sunny Silicon Valley.

That said, my friendly neighborhood Warriors proved unstoppable once again this year. Led by a front office willing to invest in success, the Warriors have appeared in an amazing four straight NBA Finals, winning three, sweeping the last. I don’t care if LeBron goes for 70 against them, they just can’t lose.

They are a wonder to behold and there are some great business lessons a PR agency can learn from them.

1. Teamwork

Have you seen the Warriors pass the ball? They’re selfless.

Golden State’s league-leading 29.3 assists per game this season means everyone on the floor is engaged in supporting each other’s opportunities.

Most public relations agencies are bogged down in structure and definitely don’t want just anyone taking a big shot. By all means, have your Kevin Durant go for a jumper from the key when you need a bucket, but is it too much to ask for everyone on an account to have permission to speak with a client during the normal course of business? No, it’s not!

The Warriors show that when everyone’s getting touches, the team tends to be set up for an open look or slam dunk.

2. Helpfulness

Stepping up, even when it’s not your game, is essential in a run to glory.

It’s a backup player being thrust into the limelight and thriving in an unfamiliar role. It’s a coach moving a player to a new position, or asking for “less shots, more rebounds.” It’s the opposite of Malcolm Butler refusing to play slot for the Patriots in the last Super Bowl (I’m still salty, leave me alone).

For the Warriors, asking players to be helpful on the defensive end of the floor has translated to an efficiency rating ranked in the top third of teams in the league. Nobody on the team exemplifies this value more than Draymond Green, a defensive utility tool who has covered every single position on the floor. He’s an animal, I love it.

PR pros should be Greens, not Butlers. If an account lead justifiably asks someone on the account to inject some utility into their life, everyone else on the account should support that person in taking on the role adjustment.

The team is the thing. Always.

3. Curiosity

This is probably the first time that a basketball team has even been characterized as inquisitive. But the Warriors are as curious as George.

Consider Steph Curry’s constant stream of “imaginative” bank shots, runners, floaters, crossovers, and assists. Consider Steve Kerr’s openness to exploring, “What if I let the players’ coach for a game?” Consider Joe Lacob coming off a Game 7 loss to the Cavs in 2016 and thinking, “What if we took two of the best shooters in the game and then added a third,” then signing Kevin Durant.

PR agencies can foster a spirit of curiosity by encouraging employees to stretch and really dig into the industries of the accounts they cover with open minds. Hold discussions on why things are the way they are, and then work backward to see how a client might fit into that world in an unexpected way. Challenge the status quo to see if there’s actually a better way to deliver a company’s message. We’ve all heard the “adapt or die” mantra.

The Warriors show PR teams how to “explore and thrive.”

4. Flexibility

Flexibility in action for the Warriors is a low-key “next man up” attitude, where players like Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell were inserted into the lineup in the absence of injured mainstays and continue to help the team win.

The Warriors have had their share of injuries during this golden era, missing Curry, Durant, Andre Iguodala, and the departed Andrew Bogut for significant chunks of time, but there’s always been a player to fill in and keep the engine running. If you notice a crossover with the second Warriors principle, you’ve identified a Captain Obvious statement: Being flexible is helpful to everyone.

Similarly, PR agencies should understand that it’s a two-way street with clients, especially when it comes to activity volume, monthly retainers, or unexpected shifts in messaging needs or goals. Understand that no client fits perfectly into a cookie cutter mold, and maintain an open dialogue to ensure that your activities meet the real needs of your client as circumstances shift.

5. Passion

Passion for the game of basketball is the odor that gives “Roaracle” arena its funky smell. It’s embedded in the sweat of guys like Curry and Green, and literally makes the entire venue reek with its potency. There’s no way to fathom Steph practicing his circus shots as long as he does without acknowledging how much he obviously loves the game.

PR agencies should be passionate about the work they do, too. Passionate employees have that Roaracle stench about them, and clients can smell it.

6. Fun

Is any team having more fun than the Warriors on the floor? I know winning is fun, but take a look at the sheer joy on display when Steph does a shimmy or bernie. The Warrior commitment to fun explains why killer reputations survive things like the China Klay incident, why JaVale McGee is on their bench, and maybe even why Kevin Durant came on board.

Imagine work that feels like play. Wait, you’ve heard that one before? Me too, the Warriors embody it.

And PR agencies would do well to copy their winning playbook and encourage a culture of fun — where accomplishment is shared, camaraderie is cherished, and champions flourish.

*This article was originally published on Muckrack here.

Failing to Prepare = Preparing to Fail

In the tech industry as in all things, disaster is always within the realm of possibility: Be it earthquake or flood, product malfunction or sudden stock slide. Measured and timely communications during crises are often key to mitigating damage and sustaining company mission.

Having an established crisis communications plan “in case of emergency” is simply sensible. It requires establishing situational awareness within your organization and outlining how your company is going to solve problems quickly as a team. Who needs to make decisions? What is the process for response or outreach? What will determine resolution? A crisis communications plan is like an emergency preparedness kit — you may never have to use it, but you’ll be glad you have it if disaster strikes.

Here are three tips excerpted from my PR Daily article on how to stock your crisis communications emergency kit.

1. Assemble the team.

Effective crisis communications hinge on activating the right team members. Response team documentation should clearly identify decision makers and supply contact information, note approval hierarchies (and back-ups), and assign spokespeople (and back-ups).

A typical enterprise critical response team may be comprised of the entire c-suite (CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, CMO), as well as legal counsel, the HR lead, head of corporate communications and product and/or regional leaders, as appropriate.

Back-ups are key. Remember you are planning for a crisis; it’s fair to assume some team members will be unreachable.

2. Appraise the response.

Communications audits are great preparation for crafting crisis plans. Trust departmental instincts to identify experts and knowledge bases within key groups and seek their input. Be sure to poll outside partners about their concerns in the event of a crisis and exchange emergency contact information.

Response time in a crisis can be crucial, so developing pre-drafted and pre-approved communication materials will give you a head start when you need it.

3. Plan of action.

Your course of action when dealing with a crisis event will address an issue spectrum (a list of between 6 and 20 areas where the company is potentially vulnerable). When developing an issue spectrum, always begin with the most likely and most potentially damaging.

For example, if you are a cybersecurity firm operating in Miami, your top two crises on the spectrum might be getting hacked and getting hit by a hurricane. Even something as simple as a pre-written online statement, such as “We’re aware of a problem and will keep everyone posted as we gather more information,” should be ready to launch.

More comprehensive action plans will include detailed messaging, an FAQ, holding statements, a press release or media alert draft, a landing page, customer/partner communications templates, and sample social media posts for each issue on the spectrum.

A word of caution: Companies tend to focus heavily on obvious dangers and overlook important, but less conspicuous, potential crises. For example, commercial airlines have well-developed crisis playbooks for responding to a plane crash, but some carriers seemed ill-prepared in the face of customer service calamities.

A great way to ensure you aren’t neglecting to prepare for a solid issue spectrum is to analyze what has happened in the past to other companies — particularly competitors — and model how you’d respond in similar instances. While most organizations won’t need to engage in exercises as drastic as The New York Times’ recent crisis simulation, it is helpful for response teams to periodically engage in a little role-playing. You can also monitor media coverage of how other organizations deal with a particular crisis, note things that help or hurt, and practice running through some scenarios.

No two companies are completely alike, but everyone can learn from others’ experiences.

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.

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.

 

 

 

There Is No ‘I’ in Project Management

All the project management jokes I see indicate that project managers are universally hated. You hear a lot of complaints about nagging emails, endless meetings, spreadsheet worship, inflexibility, indifference, and general inhumanity. Only evil people could possibly fill such a role, right? But the definition of project management is simply “the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria.” That’s not exactly evil, especially if you agree that the operative words are “team” and “success.” And this definition outlines skills that most people will have to acquire and use during their careers — regardless of whether they ever carry an official “project manager” title.

Personally, I'd wish for projects that managed themselves. ;)

Personally, I’d wish for projects that managed themselves! 🙂

One of the things I’ve learned in my PM role for Sterling Communications’ creative department is that lots of folks serve as project managers in disguise. No matter your official title, if you train yourself to be communicative, proactive, detail-oriented, and organized, every team you work with will benefit greatly from your contributions. Here are some “evil-free” project management tricks of the trade to help you and your teams succeed: (more…)