Wednesday, August 12, 2015

After Hacking Scandal, It's Time to Stop Using PR Wire Services

Justice Department officials announced yesterday that they have busted up a global hacking and insider-trading operation that allegedly made $30 million in illegal profits by trading on press release information stolen from Business Wire, PRNewswire and Marketwired before the press releases went out.

The stolen press releases covered earnings and mergers involving companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Netflix, Delta Air Lines, Boeing, Bank of America, Ford Motor, Honeywell and Viacom.

According to news reports, the hackers and their clients have had access to the computers of the wire services since 2010, stealing 150,000 press releases in the process. The hackers were so brazen – and so sure that the wire services wouldn’t catch on – that they provided tutorials to their customers and took “shopping lists” from traders looking for specific information.

There’s no question what needs to happen next. Public companies should stop using the wire services and develop their own secure methods for meeting the SEC’s disclosure requirements and protecting investors. The SEC does not mandate press release issuance via one of these wires – it just says that companies must use methods that are “reasonably designed to provide broad, non-exclusionary distribution of the information to the public.” The wire services have long been the easiest way to meet that requirement.

The next thing that should happen is that the SEC should add a cybersecurity requirement to close this gaping hole. It should be the issuers’ responsibility to ensure data integrity, not the wire services’. Clearly, they have already proven utterly ineffective at providing that security, and they don’t deserve a second chance.

The Internet should have made these services obsolete years ago, but the need for a public company disclosure system has kept them alive and made them such cash cows (global distribution of an earnings release can cost $5,000 a shot) that Warren Buffett bought Business Wire a few years ago.

After the news broke, neither PRNewswire nor Business Wire expressed the slightest contrition, nor did they take responsibility for compromising their customers’ information and facilitating a criminal operation that hurt countless investors.

Here’s a story that includes a statement from Business Wire – I could not find an actual press release from Business Wire addressing this news. Here’s PRNewswire’s statement. Marketwired actually took some responsibility (without apologizing to investors), but only provided an emailed statement.

Once upon a time, the press release distribution services provided a real value to companies by piping their news directly into newsrooms, first by teletype, then by fax, and finally by proprietary wires into media computers. But those days are long gone. It's time for these services to be gone too.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Keeping it on the Sunny Side: Airbnb's Successful Approach

I’m a happy customer of Airbnb, and I’m pretty impressed with their current public affairs campaign as well, which aims to put a positive spin on the company’s short-term rental business.

In a series of radio and TV ads running in the Bay Area, Airbnb goes on the offensive and points out the economic and social benefits the service provides. The ads assert that Airbnb makes it easier for renters and homeowners to afford their homes in this pricey region, and that the service helps to spread tourism dollars around to local shops that might otherwise be spent at standard tourist attractions.I think it’s a pretty good argument, one that shows the power of taking a positive approach, rather than being defensive or going negative.

Airbnb is likely running the ads to counter political attempts to portray the service negatively, including charges that hosts may evade hotel taxes and take housing stock out of the market. Given the massive popularity of the service, they could have chosen to go negative, rallying their users and attacking politicians and special interests.

I’ve long advocated presenting a positive story whenever possible, one that focuses on the good that a company does, what its goals and mission are, and how it is working to create a better futureEvery business I’ve ever worked with has had such a story to tell, but I often find that clients initially want to adopt a defensive stance and counter-attack against competitors and critics.

I try to bring to the conversation the wider perspective, since executives are so often immersed in their businesses that they can’t see the forest for the trees. I’m glad to say that it works most of the time.

What’s your perspective? Is it always good to start with the positive approach if you can, or are their legitimate times to go negative? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Monday, March 30, 2015

BusinessWire #Fail: How to Burn Bridges With a Long-Time and Ex-Loyal Customer

I'm having a dispute with Business Wire about a bill, and I wanted to alert you to the situation and urge caution in continuing to use this distribution service.

To make a long story short, I mistakenly ordered $1,200 worth of add-on distribution services to what would otherwise have been a $600 press release. I was able to bill my client the $600, but I'm on the hook for the other $1,200. I figured out my mistake within a couple of days of placing the order, but by then it was too late. We got absolutely no coverage out of this extra stuff I ordered - in fact, I've never even seen any evidence that the materials were actually distributed.

I've paid the bill for the actual release, and I'm trying to negotiate a compromise with them on this bill. They've offered only a $200 discount, so I'd still have to pay $1,000 out of my own pocket - for absolutely nothing.

I'm told this has already been brought to the attention of an SVP, but I'm going to take it all the way to CEO Cathy Baron Tamraz if necessary. And I'm taking it to you as well.

Needless to say, there are many other choices for press release distribution besides Business Wire. You might want to keep this story in mind if you are still using their service, especially the part about their ordering process, which is confusing and does not meet current Internet shopping cart standards.

For me, Business Wire still has a chance to make this right before I have to pay the $1,000 to avoid collections. If they don't, I will certainly take my business elsewhere, after almost 20 years as a customer. And I'll be sure to keep you fully posted on their response to this situation.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Marc Andreessen on His VC Firm's Content Marketing Strategy

Andreessen Horowitz, one of the top VC firms in Silicon Valley, recently made a high-profile hire to beef up its content creation and its overall content marketing strategy. At a rare one-on-one interview with Pando Daily's Sarah Lacy, Marc Andreessen elaborated on the reason for the hire and A16Z's content strategy.

[Notes: The first "Ben" referenced in the answer is Ben Worthen, who recently joined Sequoia Capital to work on content. The second "Ben" refers to Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz. This audio clip was pulled from the 1 hour+ video of the interview.]

Some of the key points Andreessen made:
  • We have been trying to fully articulate how we think about the world and what we are like to work with
  • If you read Ben Horowitz' blog from front to back, you basically already know Ben by the time you sit down with him. You know how he thinks about companies, stages. It gives entrepreneurs comfort before they walk in the door.
  • Prior to hiring Michael Copeland [from] to be an in-house content specialist, it has basically been "amateur hour," sitting at our keyboards at midnight with a glass of scotch, blogging. So Michael, among other things, is going to help us "up-level" that and professionalize it, be wittier and more articulate and really broaden that approach out. 
  • Put it in the category of trying to explain and be more transparent, so people are prepared and educated.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

18 Content Marketing Hashtags for Twitter

One of the best ways to follow and participate in the Content Marketing revolution is through some of the popular twitter hashtags people use.

Here's an easy list for you to cut-and-paste from. Feel free to add any I missed in the comments section!


Friday, June 21, 2013

5 More Content Lessons from Quinoa's Pinterest Fashion Board

You never know where your content marketing lessons will come from these days. One of my friends in the social media world retweeted a blog post about a very interesting Pinterest board, and now I have some thoughts to share on the subject myself. Inspiration!

The subject of this lesson is a Pinterest fashion board about a pint-sized fashion-plate named Quinoa and her very well-dressed little friends.

You can read the story of Quinoa here, but here's the executive summary: While brilliant and funny, the entire board is fake - it is simply fashion photos of little girls and boys, with funny age-appropriate captions written from an adult's point-of-view.

"My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter" is the modest creation of Tiffany Beveridge, a copywriter from Philly and mother of two boys, who was having fun with it as a way to indulge her fashion itch in a house of shorts and t-shirts. When the week started, she had about 100 followers.

Today the board has 20,700 and counting.

What happened??

Here's what: The board caught the eye of Ann Handley, the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, who has 197,000 marketing-savvy Twitter followers, and she wrote a blog post about it. As Ann wrote in her post, virality happened, and in short order, Beveridge's board was being passed around and enjoyed by thousands.

For starters, I hope it gets Beveridge lots of good gigs. She's got talent.

Ann's post contained some good lessons from this episode. Here are five more:

  1. Nothing beats getting picked up and shared by someone with 200,000 followers. Or by anyone with a lot more followers than you. That's the brass ring of Twitter and by extension, social media. How does that happen? Create shareable content.
  2. What's shareable? As Ann points out, this board is shareable because it is funny, doesn't take itself seriously, and has a clear voice and point-of-view. It's also not the creation of a for-profit business, which gives Beveridge creative license (It's not so easy for a real brand with real (cranky) bosses to pull this off). But the lesson is that you have no choice if you want to interact with people via social media, rather than just posting and hoping someone finds your content via search.
  3. What you CAN do: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Simple. Simpler. Simplify. Am I clear?
  4. Here are some ways you can make your otherwise dry content simple and shareable: bulleted lists, person-on-the-street interviews, slideshows. 
  5. The Internet is good at identifying talent, but it does take persistence and some luck. But if you are creating content that is largely non-promotional and gives someone else a chuckle or an insight, and you keep at it, you will build an audience.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Getting Stuff Out the Door

No matter how much content you produce and post, I'd be willing to bet that you think you ought to be doing more. And if your job responsibilities include marketing, I'd double-down on my bet.

Contributing interesting and valuable content to the worldwide conversation is easy to do – there’s virtually no barrier to publishing – but it does take time and focus. And that’s always in short supply.

For instance, I have an e-book idea in the works about brand journalism, and another idea to start posting Google+ video interviews with content marketers. Great ideas, but they haven’t seen the light of day yet.

What’s on your desk that you can’t get finished?

Gary Vaynerchuk, the hyperactive social media marketer, has figured out one way around the roadblocks. He has assigned one of his employees to be his Content Assistant, to help Gary capture more of his ideas and turn them into finished content. I think this is a brilliant idea and a likely new corporate communications job. I liked it so much I blogged about it in my last post (thanks for the inspiration, Gary!).

Don’t despair if you don't have a Content Assistant following you around. Here are some tips for getting more content posted:

  • Break it up into smaller chunks. You don’t need to write a novel or even a 1,000-word post. Shorter is better anyway.
  • Share visuals. No writing involved.
  • Trawl Twitter and LinkedIn and other social media for interesting links you can share. Even better, write a one-sentence intro to the link when you re-post it. Again, shorter is better.

Working with people to achieve their content marketing objectives is what we do at JGC, so if you’d like some help navigating the roadblocks, give us a shout at