“Influencers Who Inspire” Series continues with Alicia Eler, ReadWriteWeb

We’re happy to share another powerful interview in our “Influencers Who Inspire” series.  Today’s interview is with Alicia Eler, Reporter at ReadWriteWeb. We have always admired Alicia for her in-depth coverage of culture, tech and social media topics – things we are very passionate about here at PerkettPR. Her admiration of technology and its impact on our culture is extremely interesting, as is her experience in moving from the print publishing world to online. She also shares some great tips for PR folks in regards to “courting” journalists.

Alicia is curently a ReadWriteWeb Reporter. Before joining ReadWriteWeb, she was the Associate Editor of MoveOn.org, the Web Editor of Sylvia cartoonist Nicole Hollander’s BadGirlChats.com, and the Arts & Entertainment Community Manager for the Chicago Tribune’s ChicagoNow.com. Her arts writing has been published in Artforum.com, Art Papers, Time Out Chicago, and the Chicago Tribune, among others. She can be reached at @aliciaeler and alicia@readwriteweb.com. See her full portfolio here: http://www.aliciaeler.com

You used to cover arts and entertainment before RRW – do you look for topics that have an art or entertainment-based angle, even in the tech world?

Yes, I always look for an art and/or culture angle. I am interested in entertainment (movies, music, TV) if I can look at a larger cultural trend within. So, for example, I am fascinated by pop culture and the way Justin Bieber has become a celebrity both on social media sites (Instagram, Facebook) but also on a larger, mass media scale.

When it comes to technology, I am interested in looking at the ways it shapes culture and vice versa. We can’t think about Facebook or Twitter without thinking about celebrity; we can’t discuss communication without talking about iPhones and emoji icons. Like a cultural anthropologist, I work best when I immerse myself in the culture and space that I am trying to understand and tease apart.

I am also an excessive user of both mobile and social – I have more apps on my phone than I care to admit. I am fascinated by the culture of “free” – the fact that if we use a platform for free, we are the products. We pay for it with our information, the data that we so willingly provide. I investigate the push and pull between sharing and consuming, particularly as it relates to our increasingly networked culture. What does it mean to live a life on social networks in addition to a physical, offline reality?

How has journalism changed over your tenure in the industry? Or has it?

I started off in the print world. Back then, the idea of publishing an article online seemed both novel and silly. I got paid for what ran in print publications. That was back in 2006. Now, six years later, I write almost exclusively for the Web. As I mentioned above, I prefer to act as a cultural anthropologist working in the realm of social media.

I still write about art that happens offline when I have the time to do so – I cannot give myself emotionally to technology. It is cold, glass, wires and electricity. When I spend too much time online, I start to feel at a loss for meaningful offline relationships.

This is why I prefer to think about social media in a detached way. I see social networking sites as an experiment, not a space where I clone myself and act as me. I am “me” on Facebook.

So, as I was saying, I do write almost exclusively for the Web – but one exception is an essay I am writing about Chicago-based artist Ellen Greene.  She came to me through Peregrine Honig, an artist I have worked with over the past five years. Ellen paints raw, intricate vintage tattoo imagery on women’s hand gloves. In her work, she juxtaposes the realms of nature and culture, exploring ideas of motherhood, what it means to be a “hero,” and investigates the possibilities of personal myth making. I have been moved to tears by her work. It is what I think about when I’m not immersed in social networks. I am also fascinated by the work of Danah Boyd, who studies teen tech trends, race and class.

How do you like to be contacted? What makes a great pitch?

I prefer to be contacted either by people I know, people with whom I have mutual friends, or through some sort of smart, witty email or tweet.

I really appreciate formalities and the idea of “courting” a writer – too often I get a bunch of garbage-type press releases. I feel like people think that if they can put together a press release and blast it out to folks they know, they will get coverage. That is not true. I generally ignore or filter out press releases, especially if they are not at all personalized.

My advice to PR people is take your time, do your research and intuit when the best time to approach a writer is. I am someone who remembers everything – so when I meet someone I don’t like, I remember it as much as someone I do like.

When it comes down to it, I am fascinated by people who truly believe that their product/idea/brand is the best thing ever. I like a good salesperson as much as the next guy.

What are PR people NOT doing that they should be? What are they doing that they SHOULDN’T?

Like I said above, PR people should be doing their homework and not sending spammy press releases. Court the writer! Also please do not tell me your sad story about why you need to be covered – there is nothing more unattractive than someone who is desperate.

What do you read for journalistic/industry knowledge and inspiration?

I read Techmeme, my Facebook news feed, Twitter, Tumblr like RappersDoingNormalShit & LesbiansWhoLookLikeJustinBieber, the stuff people post on my Facebook wall. (My Facebook community is awesome!) I love Atlantic Wired, Wired magazine, Buzzfeed, Wall Street Journal Tech, New York Times’ Bits Blog, and my colleagues’ work at ReadWriteWeb. Sometimes I try not to read that much – it’s easy to get caught up in trends and what everyone else is saying. I like to meditate, too.

Do you have any secret ambitions or hobbies?

I collect owl ornaments and figurines. I believe in intuition, serendipity and kismet. In fact, Kismet is my middle name. No, seriously.

What is next for you in 2012?

Becoming ever more immersed in the social networked world, coining new terms that will define this era, meeting lots of artists and creative thinkers/visionaries, travel, hanging out with Mark Zuckerberg. (Hi Mark!)

 

Influencers Who Inspire Series: Ramon Ray of SmallBizTechnology.com

We begin our PerkettPR “Influencers Who Inspire” series with a chat with Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com.

Ramon is a journalist, technology evangelist & editor of Smallbiztechnology.com, author of “Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses” & “Technology Resources for Growing Businesses” and a national, in-demand speaker.

What made you choose journalism as a profession? 

I didn’t choose it,  it chose me and it was quite accidental. I just really loved to write and so I started writing, then one day Black Enterprise and Inc. Magazine said could you write some articles for us – and the rest is history :)

What four  or five things are always “routine” in your day?

Deleting email, sorting email, sending email, toggling tons of tabs in my browser, wishing I could do puppet shows for poor kids in Mexico, Dominican Republic or somewhere.

Why is small business technology news of interest to you in particular? What has it taught you?

Not sure. I’ve always been a tech tinkerer (as in take apart talking teddy bears in the 1970′s/80′s, shutting off the lights in my home, etc). I think this love of tech and the blend of my love of reading/writing became the love of small business technology news. It has taught me that things change, companies go and come but relationships are forever, ideas are a dime a dozen, successful execution is all that matters.

 Over the years you have had the opportunity to interview some truly great public figures and influencers (such as Hillary Clinton). What has been your favorite interview thus far? Why?

A few things stand out… Back in the days when I didn’t know how to be a journalist I tried to slip Bill Gates a hand written note. His team saw it and took the note away. I didn’t know you were supposed to asked his PR person to interview him. This was many years ago.  I opened an event for Michael Dell and he said he read my blog – that was cool.  Scott Trip founder of TripIt – his story of his company’s growth was really nice (listen to customers). In another context I’ve meet President Obama, President Bush (both) and several other heads of state.  I also really love SXSW and other events where I can meet with my media peers from the world of small business.

What tips do you have to help PR professionals better work with you?

True relationships are so important; where I like you and you like me. Not giving me a story that does not fit. Knowing that I love the story and the market at times more than the feeds and speeds of a product. I like talking to people, but I’m also a massive reader so I get much more (at times) out of some video, blog posts, pdfs and other things than a phone call with an executive running a prepared PPT.  NOTE: the PPT talks are GOOD I just mean that there are other ways to get one’s message across.

What advice would you give to a small business to help them continue to compete with larger competitors this year?

Wow….I could write a book on that.

1)  Be honest

2) Over give

3) Be very excited

4) Do not take NO for an answer

5) There is plenty of room at the table for the big guys and the little guys

6) Fit in where you can and show your value

7) Don’t be afraid of big companies – even those who are direct competitors

8) Big companies who are evaluating you and a bigger one of your competitors will give you a big chance if you’re prepared

9) If you screw up, fess up and OVER make it right

10) I could go on…

You traveled a lot as executive producer of the Small Business Technology Tour and for other events you attended in 2011. What travel secrets save you time, money or sanity when you are on the road?

Plan in advance. Be redundant (I often have 2 notebooks, a tablet and 2 phones) failure is NOT an option. Leverage your network of friends. Pay people (even friends/or “child labor”) for work done (even if you ask for a discount). Review, review, review. Get a team member (I have lots of areas where I’m not so great – hence my team shine in those areas), have a virtual team – even if you are solo,  your virtual 1099 team can do wonders.

How do you unwind after a hectic work week? Do you have any interesting hobbies or little known facts about yourself you would like to share?

I play piano, love doing puppet shows, love joking around and laughing loud, love great food at restaurants (I hate those restaurants that give you a big white plate and a tiny piece of food and charge you $78 for it), watching movies (Bourne, Bauer, Ethan (as in MI3) are my heroes and others like that). But really in my downtime – I TOTALLY ENJOY email, RSS feeds, Twitter – related to small biz tech (I know it’s lame but I really, really LOVE IT).

What are you most looking forward to in 2012?

I’d love to speak lots more to audiences on tech, marketing/pr and/or entrepreneurship. I’d love to provide more content on my own site and for others. I’d love to speak lots more to audiences on tech, marketing/pr and/or entrepreneurship (you know I think I wrote that twice..hmmm). Event production is tough, but I really love it and I think I do it well so working with bigger companies to produce events for their audiences would be like mint!

I’m looking forward to being 40 years old in 2012!

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Do you have any follow-up questions for Ramon? Suggestions for other influencers you would like to see interviewed in the PerkettPR Influencers Who Inspire Series? Please add them in the comments below.

Jennifer Aniston Goes Viral with ‘Smart’ Sex Tape

What do you get when you throw a gorgeous actress into a room with adorable puppies, a cute lip-synching kid, dancing babies and double rainbows and then give it a title that makes people stop in their tracks and do a double-take? A viral video that’s the talk of the Internet this week, with 4.7 million views and counting on YouTube, that’s what.

SmartWater hit a home run with spokeswoman Jennifer Aniston’s cleverly-titled “sex tape” spoof, a nearly three-minute ad that showcases the key elements that make viral videos spread like wildfire. The premise goes something like this: Aniston, coached by a team of “three lovely Internet boys” attempts to make an advertisement for the bottled water go viral – or, as she says, “apparently, um, turns into a virus.”

Dancing babies seem like a good option, until they start grinding on one another, prompting Aniston to ask, “Where’s the mommy?” She then apologizes to one fan, an unsuspecting victim of her crotch kick, explaining, “Apparently, that’s worth about 100,000 hits.” The former Friends star even pokes fun at herself with a parrot, which instead of saying “I love SmartWater” squawks, “Rachel, I love your hair.”

The video ends with Aniston asking, “Is it hot in here?” and shocking her Internet gurus by tossing her hair in slow motion before sexily sipping SmartWater, even letting a few droplets fall onto her chest. When asked what she thinks of the “sex tape” title, she says, “I love it!”

And apparently we all do, as the explosive number of views indicates, bringing the video to official viral video distinction.

But beyond gimmicks and clichés, what really makes a video become an Internet sensation? Here’s why we think SmartWater struck (liquid) gold with this one:

  • They took a chance: As we all know, you can’t make something go viral. If it’s good enough it just happens. But you never know until you try.
  • They thought outside the “bottle:” Ever thought there would be a viral video about water? The folks at SmartWater knew they’d have to step it up and think creatively to get people talking.
  • They lightened up: By teaming up with current viral stars and even poking some fun at herself and her own brand, both Aniston and SmartWater come across as refreshing (pun intended) in the video.
  • They kept a few key things in mind: It’s what every ad should be – simple, fun, memorable and appealing to the eyes. And the call to action? After watching Aniton’s slow-motion hair-tossing sequence, I’m betting more than a few folks will be reaching for that water to cool off.

What do you think – do you like the video? Is it worthy of its viral video status?

Old School Media Relations: The way of the past or a lesson for the future?

With college graduates flooding a still challenging job market, I couldn’t help but reminisce about my early days as a fresh-faced, energetic PR coordinator for a large national agency based in Boston. Those were the days! It’s both astonishing and amusing to realize how much PR tactics have changed since then. I remember spending countless, neck-kinking hours reading the broadsheets and weekly hard copies and manually cutting and pasting print coverage into neatly organized clip books for my clients.

And who else remembers printing and collating those expensive, full-color press kits with a meticulously edited pitch letter on the client’s letterhead then sending it in the last drop-off of the night by FedEx for the media VIPs on your target list? In some ways, the art of media relations was more about a compelling mailing presentation and who-you-know than it is today. The best PR executives prided themselves on their relationships with key media contacts and bolstered those relationships with coffee or lunch meetings or exclusive invitations to industry or client events.

Pitching processes have changed a lot over the years as well. As recently as a few years ago, I worked for a hospitality PR agency where we literally taped photo slides to calendar listings, and mailed them by the hundreds. Today, we’d be hard pressed to generate the sheer number of calendar listings and news briefs accompanied by photos that regularly appeared as a result of this mass mailing. Yet, in technology PR, we’d never dream of such broad net pitching.

Sure, we’re still looking to generate hits, and we do, but we go about it a little differently and a lot more carefully. With the likes of the Bad Pitch blog sharing the latest ill conceived, poorly written, audacious pitches, you’d just be plain foolish to spam your media contacts or send file attachments without permission. Those of us who’ve been in the business for a while understand that good media relations requires a lot of research and very targeted, personal pitches. This method absolutely takes more time and effort and requires a more narrow focus on fewer media targets, but the results are well worth it.

Thinking about the old school method of media relations, one has to wonder if our industry has lost some valuable strategies along the way to the digital age. As these outdated pitching methods have given way to the online press kit, email communications, and 140-character pitches via Twitter, have we forgotten the basics of good media relations?

Personally, I think there’s something to be gained by recalling the archaic methods of PR’s past to remind us of the foundation of our livelihood. Here are a few of my favorite tips from Rafe Needleman’s Pro PR Tips Blog that reiterate that the Old School lessons learned are still pertinent today:

  • Stay on target: Study your target. How hard is it to read his/her stuff before you pitch? (#10)
  • Don’t Nag: 90% of the phonecalls I get are people asking if I got the press release they emailed. Yes, I got it. Did I read it? Maybe. Do I care? You’d know already. Oh, wait. Here’s something new and even more annoying: A phone call from a PR person telling me she will be emailing me a press release later. Argh! Just send it! (#82)
  • Anything you say… Remember…Anything you say…can be used against you. Or for you. Assume that your phone call, email, IM, or Twitter message is on the record. We sure do. Want to be off the record or anonymous? Agree to it beforehand. (#110)
  • Three Degrees of Lame Lesson: If you’re going to ship a presentation in a clever package, the message should fit the medium. (#118)
  • Circle Jerks: Don’t blast a ton of people with the same crap. Pick and choose your media targets, and write personal notes to them. (#127)
  • The Only Rule: Ryan Block said it best: “Pro PR Tips can always be summed up as: Do your homework and be courteous.” (#100)

I’m not suggesting we regress to faxing press releases, or spend our clients’ money wining and dining editors, but by keeping in mind the hands-on approach and results of those old school methods, we find the key to better and lasting media relations today.

Do you still rely on the core foundation of traditional PR tactics you learned in your first jobs or have you morphed these tactics into something new and better today? Do you consider yourself a traditionalist with digital communications skills or do you consider yourself a digital communications professional with a background in PR?

Share your perspectives on “old school” vs. new media techniques for capturing the attention of important media targets. How has our profession’s media tactics evolved and where will it go next?

Extra Bonus Question: What’s the name of the “Old School” character pictured above.

Whiny WashPost Reporter Makes His Point: Respect the Genuine Article (Or, Is Gawker Destroying Journalism?)

Okay we’re not Gawker but I couldn’t resist using the headline that Ian Shapira, a reporter for The Washington Post, suggested to them for a story he wrote about how outlets like Gawker are killing journalism.

Aptly titled, “The Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition),” Shapira writes about how he was at first elated when Gawker, “the snarky New York culture and media Web site,”  blogged about his story in that day’s Washington Post. However – after showing the coup to his editor who replied, “They stole your story. Where’s your outrage, man?” – he began to grow more and more “disenchanted with the journalism business.”

In an effort to not also steal and reprint Shapira’s story, I’ll just link to it for you to read in full. The reason I mention the story here is that, as PR professionals, it’s important for us to pay attention not only to what reporters are writing and working on, but what they are facing in their own industry. (Shapira’s lament on how long it took him to research and write the article, as compared to how long it took Gawker to write their synopsis of it – and what the income for such a Gawker reporter is – is particularly interesting.)

work-hard

As our own industry has been under fire lately, so too has that of the media – one of the biggest and most important constituents to a PR professional’s job. We need to pay attention – the transparent nature of the Internet – particularly digital content and social media – is shifting the careers of both journalists and PR executives, and it will be interesting to see where we all end up.

In fact, another recent example of this shifting landscape came in the form of  YouTube’s “News Near You” – explained in this New York Times article today. “News Near You” allows news outlets that have signed up with YouTube to post news packages and split the revenue from the advertisements that appear with them. 

If you’d like to further explore the topic of journalism’s shifting landscape (in particular, of course, “how Gawker is destroying journalism”), Ian Shapira will be online to chat with readers at 11 a.m. Tuesday. You are invited to submit your questions before or during the discussion.