It’s interesting. I’m hearing about more and more stuff (like I just linked to) from Microsoft blogs before hearing about them from big-name journalists (like Steven Levy at Newsweek, or Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal).
It used to be that the only way to announce news was to talk with those two guys (and maybe a dozen or so others).
A lot of what these people do is keep relationships going with these journalists, hoping that they’ll write something nice when their product comes out. But the big companies still hold the big news for these guys. Why? Cause they still have immense influence due to the audiences that read their writings.
The hard part is when they want to give a jouralist an exclusive. Exclusives are important ways to reward journalists for writing a great review last time (which encourages them to write more good reviews, right?) but it also is just a way to reward someone for building an influential and large audience. If you were in corporate PR would you talk with, say, a geek with a few thousand readers like Scott Hanselman, or Walt Mossberg or Steven Levy first?
The thing is people in the new word-of-mouth network are figuring out it really doesn’t matter WHO you talk to first, as long as you talk with a diverse range of bloggers and make yourself available. Remember how I broke my news that I left Microsoft? I talked with 15 bloggers. I think only a couple of whom were in the top 100 on Technorati. The guy who actually broke my news? I didn’t talk with him at all and, in fact, didn’t know who he was before he broke the story. Total Z list (at that point).
Which is a key point. There is an invisible information sharing network among both big-name journalists as well as bloggers. When you put a journalist under NDA they tell their friends anyway. Or, at least give a good series of winks. Even something as simple as “I can’t tell you anything, but you should watch Google over the next few weeks.”
I call this “turning up the PR heat.” Everyone in the PR business knows it happens. They even have plans for what happens when news leaks. Usually they’ll have a list of other journalists to email or call if news leaks. That’s why when you see something happen it seems like everyone in the world starts talking about it all at once.
One thing about all this is to keep in mind Michael Gartenberg’s rule: those who really know don’t talk. Which is true cause they have signed an NDA.
It is something to keep in mind, most rumors turn out not to be true (or get blown out of relation because they are trying to read between the lines of a wink or a nod and don’t really have the right information). Remember the old “network” game we played when we were kids? Get 10 kids together, tell one of them something and tell him to pass it down. By the time it gets to the end of the line it sounds nothing like what the original thing was.
But it does get the line of 10 talking, doesn’t it? PR people know this intimately. They are experts at causing conversations to happen. The good ones are also expert at guiding the conversation so the right thing gets passed along.
This invisible information sharing network is real interesting. I remember the day when I learned about the “Universal Runtime” which was code name for .NET. I almost got fired for hearing about that six months before it was talked about publicly — someone who was in an Software Design Review told me “this will be a huge deal for software developers” and I used that information to email my own network about it. Someone told someone at Microsoft and I got in trouble cause, not only wasn’t I supposed to know that information at that time, but I just let a huge number of people know about it too.
Anyway, just cause it pisses off product managers doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen anymore.
Today my network is telling me that Google is showing around some sort of new Office-oriented suite of services. But they are holding everyone they are talking with to an NDA/embargo. My sources wouldn’t even tell me when the embargo ends.
But, this does cause some interesting distortions in the invisible news network. The pressure is building in the PR kettle. Sometime soon that pressure will release and it’ll be all over Memeorandum.
The weird thing is “does this PR actually get what companies want, which is adoption?”
Here, let’s check in again with Buzz Bruggeman, CEO of ActiveWords. He had a five star review in a USA national newspaper. On the front of the business section. With a picture even. He only got about 40 downloads from that. When he gets talked about on blogs, he gets a much higher rate of downloads (about 10 times, what he told me). He’s had quite a few newspaper reviews, by the way, and they, except for one in the New York Times, gave him small adoption increases.
Riya’s CEO, Munjal Shaw, says talking to bloggers is more important than talking to Walt Mossberg. I still don’t agree with that. Walt Mossberg or talking to the New York Times tech team is still more important, but here’s where I think Munjal is right:
If you start a PR campaign at the bottom of the stack. Yes, with Z listers, not A listers like me or Arrington or Om Malik, you’ll build a much better story.
It will only take a few hours for us to figure out something important is going on anyway and you’ll get a LOT more adoption that way. Plus, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal will have better quotes (from real users, even!) and they’ll be more likely to write about you, not less (you do have a hot product that everyone will talk about, right?)
So, who are the 40 Z listers you’re talking to today?
Hint: most big companies will never get this. They have to convince their bosses that their plans are correct. That means ALWAYS starting out with the A list and working down.
Anyway, even big-name journalists hate this game, they tell me, because it burns them more often than it helps them (and it puts pressure on them to only write nice things about the big companies, which they hate).
And the PR cycle continues. What you hearing from YOUR network? How are perceptions changing? That’ll tell you who has the better PR teams and methodology.
For myself? I used to believe in the “hand it to a big name first” methodology. I don’t anymore. When I have something to announce I’ll do it on my blog first, or I’ll show up at a conference where there’s lots of bloggers and show it to them equally there, with a blog to follow at first leak.
If you’re an entrepreneur, how do you announce your new products to the world?
Have you recently shipped a new product? Tell us about it here and link to your site.