We’re Suddenly All About Web Meetings

Since much of the world is working remotely at the moment and COVID-19 has put the kibosh on meeting in person, there’s been a surge in web conferencing to fill the communications void. All the tech events have gone virtual, the nightly talk show hosts now webcast from home, and Saturday Night Live even parodied the pitfalls of businesses adapting to Zoom togetherness. One startup cofounder is already publicly lamenting the uptick in meeting from home (MFH).

But like it or not, web meetings are here to stay for the duration.

We’ve always provided guidance for our clients on speaking with the media and appearing on camera, but MFH is a bit different. Taking the stress out of a now-common practice seems to be something everyone could use a few tips on these days. Here’s a brief overview on what you do and don’t need to web conference like a boss.

Equipment

Most modern PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones come with decent microphone and camera technology integrated into the device. 

Unless you’ll be broadcasting and recording for regular professional appearances on television or hosting your own podcast, you really don’t need to invest in purchasing a new webcam or XLR microphone. If you have the equipment, by all means use it, but it’s not essential for MFH. Microphone-equipped headphones or earbuds paired to your device are a nice accessory, especially if you’ll be participating from outdoors or anywhere with the potential for distracting background noise.

Setup

Make sure to test your web-conferencing app before the appointed time, and follow standard security/privacy guidelines.

Download any updates. If you’ll be screen-sharing documents, do a dry run to make sure you can launch and navigate through them in-app. Some web-meeting applications issue frequent background updates that may reset your preferences and permissions. That means you might be unable to pull up your PowerPoint slides at this week’s staff meeting without restarting, even though they worked fine last week.

Check microphone and video permissions and settings (make sure they’re enabled), and test sound and volume.

Position your computer or device so that the web camera is at eye level or slightly higher (stack your laptop on a couple of books if you have to) and make sure you aren’t backlit. Close the shades if you’re sitting in front of a window and dim any significant light sources coming from behind if you can — or position a lamp in front of you to illuminate your face.

web meeting tips
A backlit face (left) versus an illuminated face (right).

Virtual Meeting Tips

Try to look directly into the camera as much as possible. It’s the equivalent of maintaining eye-contact in person. 

If you’re in a large web conference or meeting, mute your microphone when you aren’t speaking. 

Try not to interrupt — wait until a speaker has finished before asking questions.

Unless you’re giving a presentation, don’t monopolize the conversation — give others a chance to participate.

If you are giving a presentation, make sure to pause frequently and ask if there are any questions before moving on.

Save the funny virtual backgrounds and filters for informal virtual gatherings. If you’re pitching a new client, MFH as the Cosmic Cat Head is not appropriate.

web meetings
Cosmic Cat web filter.

If your physical location is not something you want to broadcast on a web conference, a virtual standard office background is fine to use. 

web meetings
Generic office virtual background.

Be advised that virtual background function in Zoom and similar web meeting applications depends on specific bandwidth, processor, and/or green-screen requirements. But there are some free apps (like Snap Camera) that can help you workaround those limitations on many devices and operating systems.

And it may sound cliché but remember to be yourself and try to enjoy the opportunity to virtually leave your house. 

Gathering online for web meetings and conferences doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be a great way to stay engaged, connect with each other, and collectively keep our spirits up during these isolating times. 

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

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.

Today’s “Not-So-Social” Networks

Not-So-Social-Networks

At the heart of every technological innovation is the desire to strengthen relationships between people and the hope that we can improve quality of life. However, lately I feel we have created “not-so-social” networks. The mechanics of connecting with others has changed dramatically over time, primarily due to visionary inventors, accomplished technologists, and the growing pressure to continuously do more in less time. (more…)

How to Be Heard When There Are More PR Pros Than Journalists

Reporters and editors are being laid off, publications are closing, and journalists are crossing over into PR. That’s the world we live in today.

It’s been reported that PR professionals currently outnumber journalists four to one, a gap twice as wide as it was in 1980. With this enormous gap between PR pros and journalists, it’s even harder for PR pros to get the story out.

That said, even though there are fewer and fewer journalists, there are still ways to ensure your story gets out there.

(more…)

My Journey to Sterling

Unlike my coworkers, I didn’t gracefully land into PR. Instead, I stumbled and landed (on my face) into the world of public relations.

sex-and-the-city-kim-cattrallAfter deciding that law school wasn’t for me, a friend suggested that public relations might be an industry that would make me happy. The only thing I knew about the industry was what I learned on Sex and the City (á la Samantha Jones) and thought that her life rocked, so why not give it a try. I had two things working for me in entering a new field: I was (1)willing to work for free and (2)put in long hours.

Six months later, I landed an entry-level position at a glitzy agency. It was fast-paced, aggressive, and in a fancy location, but I felt like a tiny cog in a very big wheel.

I was lucky to find Sterling, an integrated communications firm. What drew me in was Sterling’s commitment to its employees. There are ample opportunities to expand upon your skill set. Sterling empowers its employees and allows them to take ownership of their career trajectory. I’m excited to join the team and add to Sterling’s value!

Sarah Fraser can be reached at sfraser@sterlingpr.comFollow Sarah on Twitter @sarahafraser.

Hypotheses on Google Glass & PR

UnknownOften times, when there is a new technology released, people don’t quite understand the kind of impact that technology will or won’t have.

Few might have predicted that the four-wheel motor vehicle would eventually become a technology owned by just about every family on the block in different colors, shapes, sizes and brands.

There’s been a lot of buzz around the new Google Glass and its capabilities. There have also been a few predictions floating around on how the technology will change our society.

To bring you up to speed, the Google Glass is a wearable, voice-activated computer in the style of eyeglasses, which enable users to seek directions, ask questions, translate language, take pictures, send messages and more—which all sounds pretty cool to me.

If the $1,500 Glasses grow in popularity just as the Ford Model- T did, the potential ways Google Glass could impact our lives are countless.

Here are my thoughts on how Google Glass will change the game for public relations professionals:

1. Pitching and Interviews

No more pitching a story to journalists via phone, email, or even social media. If Google Glass gains enough popularity, video will become the most popular medium for communication. The accessibility and portability will outshine Skype and the iPhone’s Facetime.

With the ability to easily set up a video call with the touch of a button, or voicing a simple command, journalists will expect live product tests, reviews, statements and interviews via video, which can then be put straight into publication.

2. PR Collateral

Besides traditional public relations collateral such as the press release, media kits, infographics, high-res. images, etc., the media will want to see a video that places the public in the action of the product or services you pitch to them.

For example, let’s say your client offers an educational product that replaces the traditional classroom globe with a sphere-shaped touch screen that can play presentations and promotes learning through interaction. The media will be more inclined to do a story if you can provide a Glass video that can show how this product is being used, through the eyes of the consumer themselves.

3. PR Peeps Become Even More Social

The more background we have about someone, the more ways we are able to connect with people.  Google Glass will especially help public relations professionals gather information on a journalist or potential client, and do so quickly, without the distraction of a phone or computer.

Imagine this—You are at a conference or summit and happen to run into an editor or journalist who covers your clients’ industries. You will be able to quickly pull up the last few articles by that writer and skim through to get a background on what that journalist has recently covered.

Google Glass’ live translation will make communication between foreign clients or media a seamless process. You will be able to easily comprehend the other person and be able to better engage in conversation.

Even if my hypotheses are proven false, I’ll stick to my theory on Google Glass having a tremendous impact…perhaps I’ll call it “The Big Bang Theory”.

Natalie Wolfrom can be reached at nwolfrom@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @nwolfrom415.

Happy Birthday, Twitter! 7 Ways Twitter Has Changed PR…

TweetYesterday marked the 7th anniversary of the first tweet. For a service that was initially met with much skepticism (why does the world care that I’m eating a sandwich?), Twitter has steadily become a necessary PR tool, taking its place alongside (or in some industries, ahead of) the traditional press release. In honor of Twitter’s 7th anniversary, we have compiled 7 ways Twitter has changed the PR industry as we know it.

  1. Information dissemination. Perhaps the most tangible use of Twitter today is the ability to quickly distribute news to a mass audience. Twitter moves fast, and its users are constantly checking to see what’s happening now. The downside is that it’s easy to miss the opportunity if you don’t jump in quickly, and in some industries or organizations, a lengthy approval process can translate to missed opportunities for the organization. The solution? Sit down with executives, legal, investor relations, and anyone else who may be skeptical of the process and come up with a list of best practices and approved topics.
  2. Scandal. No doubt about it, Twitter can be a double-edged sword for PR pros. While the ability to quickly distribute news and opinions makes for more timely and relevant opportunities for a brand, it can also spell disaster when tweets are not thought through carefully before posting. Just a quick search in our own blog archives shows numerous instances where a Twitter faux pas has been the cause of a major cleanup job for a brand’s PR team (none of our clients, of course!).
  3. Engagement. PR used to primarily serve as a one-way communication function — and often a third party function at that. The traditional chain of command was brand –> journalist –> target audience. With Twitter, conversations look more like brand <–> target audience.
  4. Media relations. In addition to serving as a great channel for connecting brands to their audiences, Twitter has also become a great way for journalists and PR pros to converse, giving journalists story ideas and real-time feedback on their articles, in addition to discussing industry news in general.
  5. Humanization of brands. Whether a large enterprise, your neighborhood coffee shop or a celebrity, Twitter has enabled consumers to feel personally connected to people and organizations they wouldn’t have such close contact with otherwise. This human touch can go a long way in terms of making consumers feel more connected to a brand, knowing there’s a real human on the other side of the computer screen.
  6. Customer service. In the same vein that Twitter has humanized brands, it has also provided a valuable customer service channel. While some brands may shy away from having their dirty laundry aired for all to see in the way of customer complaints, how a brand chooses to address these issues can go a long way in shaping public perception. A brand that’s responsive – even if it’s just to say “email me at ___ and we can discuss this further” – looks more in-tune with the customer than a brand who turns a blind eye to customer complaints. Remember, conversations are happening about your brand, whether you’re a part of them or not.
  7. Viral tactics. How did things go viral before Twitter? Or was this term even a part of our lexicon before then? Whichever the case, there’s no denying that Twitter has been essential in viral marketing campaigns. The very nature of the retweet makes sharing as easy as one click, enabling links, videos and articles to spread like wildfire across a large audience.

So there you have it. 7 ways in which Twitter has changed PR as we know it. Did I leave anything off? Fellow PR pros – how has Twitter changed how you work?

Amanda Hoffman can be reached at ahoffman@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @hoffmandy.