Influencers Who Inspire: Interview with Jon Swartz of USA TODAY

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

In a special edition of our “Influencers Who Inspire” series, we’re chatting with award-winning technology journalist, author and avid San Francisco Giants fan, Jon Swartz. Jon shares his thoughts on smart phones and peer pressure, guerrilla marketing tactics that actually work and how reporting compares to baseball.

We read your article on BlackBerry’s Z10 launch and their plans for a comeback; so tell us, what is your ‘go to’ mobile device?

I used a BlackBerry up until two years ago when the trackball wasn’t working as well as it should. At the time, I faced some peer pressure from my colleagues in the Valley to get an iPhone. There used to be a lot of iPhone bias in Silicon Valley, but it has gone away now for the most part. More people are using Androids, and I would certainly consider a move to a BlackBerry or Android from the iPhone. I can live without the iPhone. I find the battery life is awful, and I have to have a charger with me at all times. As a result, more restaurants and bars have charging stations (at SXSW we saw this all over the place).

You know, BlackBerry CEO (Thorsten Heins) is right; he calls the iPhone passé and says they (BlackBerry) have the same problem that Apple did. “We need to earn our laurels back.” It’s true because in tech things become old fast; the shelf life of these things aren’t very long now. Apple has traditionally done a great job of that, making the old version obsolete as they quickly move on to the next thing. So it’s no surprise others are following suit here.

We know you are huge San Francisco Giants fan. How did your obsession with baseball begin?

When I was six I went to my first game. I also got to see Willie Mays play when I was a kid, so that got me hooked for life. I also loved playing the sport. You become infatuated with it, and it never loses you. Baseball also has a long season, and it takes a lot of patience. It’s a lot like reading a novel. It’s not like other sports where the season is more like a quick sprint. The upside is that you can go to a game and actually explain what’s happening. You can also count on always seeing something different. I have probably been to more than 1000 games, and there is always something new to explain or something you haven’t seen happen before.

Baseball is a half-year long, and it changes with the seasons. In spring there is so much optimism, and then comes the summer when things really heat up. In the fall when things wither away, it gets dark and cold and with it comes a sense of desperation when the season ends. That is the beauty of the game. It’s very logical to me and different to other sports in that you can’t run out the clock. You HAVE to finish the game. No matter how well you played and how many runs you are up by, you have to FINISH.

Are there any lessons from baseball that can be applied to business?

Yes, I would never assume anything about anything. Baseball teaches you that you can’t assume something is over until it’s over. Like in 2002 (World Series game) when the Giants had a five-run lead over the Angels with only eight outs left. They had to keep playing until the end and ended up losing the game.

It sounds a little corny but in baseball it’s a different sport. It’s hard to excel if you have to prove it every day. That’s the same as being a reporter; you have to prove yourself daily, but when it’s over it’s over. With so much content and so many articles, today the shelf life for stories is too short. You finish a great story and you are proud of it for about 20 minutes before you have to do something else. You have to move on.

We are all constantly inundated and bombarded with news from all different sources. So every day you have to reinvent yourself to always do more. It’s like Freddy Lynn (MVP and Rookie of the Year) – he came out of nowhere like a comet. But then pitchers found his weaknesses. Unless you can adapt and reinvent yourself every day, you will hit a rut. BlackBerry went through it, and Apple went through it, too. In tech it happens all the time.

Speaking of re-inventing, with the most powerful images getting clicks in social media today, do you find yourself framing your stories differently with visuals or video in mind now?

I do think more about storytelling and how to interest the reader, but rather than visuals, it’s more about the people and the stories. It is necessary to think that way, though, and I am trying to do more of it.

How has your job changed in the last six months?

It’s crazy. In addition to reporting, I oversee all tech coverage in the paper. So I edit and manage people, too. While I’m talking to you I’m editing a story. It’s actually a story on baseball, and it’s coming out next week. There is no shortage of data in baseball, but trying to figure out which data to use and how to use it is the challenge. Just like in reporting, in baseball they too are struggling with deciding how much time to give to data. I have ton of notes but the bigger problem is what parts to use in the story. People ask all the time, “Why you didn’t include us or mention us?” There is only so much you can do given bandwidth and the amount of content to sift through. I write for people who are on the go and always busy, and you have to find a way to keep your story succinct.

Would you tell a student today to go into journalism?

I would say if you are a good writer you can work anywhere, as everyone wants content today. It is so important to have good writers. Smart companies like Salesforce and Mark Benioff understand you need to tell stories to get your customers to want to buy your products.

Has working with PR people changed?

Not really; I have been working with the same people for the last 10 years or so, and pretty much the same good ones. I always work with a core group of 50 of them that I seem to always interact with. It is like cultivating any relationship you built it over time.

What kind of (PR) people do you like to work with?

They should know their company well. Most people I work with have been there a long time. I like working with internal people who can get you what you need faster. They are usually more responsive. I work with a lot of good people. People at Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple; they are all on top of things and respond. Apple is much more responsive, and Yahoo is getting that way, too. They don’t have a choice anymore. Everyone used to have to wait to go to Apple, but now they have to cooperate with us and be responsive.

What was the nicest/most memorable thing someone has done for you?

I have so many stories of people doing something for me in my personal life. But in work life, I would say the most memorable “nice” things people do for me and/or others are services like the airport limos at SXSW and the SXSW survival bag. There was a company called Tagged that provided airport limos to drive us from the airport to town at SXSW. That was nice, convenient and smart.

If you had to cook one meal what would it be?

Pasta. Everyone likes and agrees on it in our family. Jackie is Italian, and pasta is the one thing that I would get no argument on.

What do you do when you’re not working, or at a baseball game?

We have four kids ages 12-25, so it’s a full house, and we are always going from one event to another with them so that means not a lot of free time. We do like to travel a lot to different places and really enjoy our time away.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Writing cover stories and features I can spend time on. It’s rewarding to do something that no one else is doing. Feature writing is a little different than what everyone else is doing. You always remember your great feature stories. They include more original thinking and have a long-term impact on things to come. They give you something to be proud of.

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.

The Way I Am Working Isn’t Working

SprinterAt least that is what I found out at my favorite SXSW session, “The 90 Minute Solution: Live Like a Sprinter,” with Tony Schwartz, bestselling author of “Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live.”  If you are like me, always tired, always working too long but not getting enough accomplished and being distracted by too many things, then this is for you.

Most people would consider me a workaholic – I work hard, I’m not afraid of long hours and I thrive on pressure and on getting things done.  But here is what I found out. I am living by the myth that the best way to get more done is to work more hours.

I am operating like a marathon runner. In my life, I am working and living in a long distance race with no end. And as a marathoner, I am reserving energy – always holding some back, because I don’t know when I will need it. The result is I am never fully engaged in a task, and since there is no end, I am never fully engaged in rest. According to Tony, we are not meant to be “always on” like a computer – our bodies are meant to pulse rhythmically between working and re-energizing. He says, “the sad truth is that most of us don’t do either one very well.”

What I need to do is work and live like a sprinter. A sprinter is fully engaged for the entire race. A sprinter knows there is an end and can see it, so they can put everything they have into that race and then they rest at the end.

According to Tony, the best way to live like a sprinter is to build in a rhythmic workflow with intermittent renewal.   Tony explained in detail how sleep and rejuvenation are more important than food, and why our bodies demand recovery during the day every 90 minutes. His advice boiled down to this:

  1. Go to sleep earlier, because you can’t get up later – most of us are already getting up at the very last minute possible, but aren’t getting to sleep when we can. He said to prepare for sleep and make it ritualistic so that you ensure that you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
  2. Spend your energy more skillfully. Work in 90 minute bursts like you are sprinting in a race. Pick an activity and completely focus on that activity for a full 90 minutes. At the end of the 90 minutes, take a break. This could be taking a walk, breathing deeply, stretching, a 10 minute nap – but something that will allow you to rejuvenate and be ready for the next sprint.
  3. Do the most important task you have first. Chose this task the night before so that you can sleep knowing you have a plan. Give that task your full attention for the first 90 minutes of your day and you will see yourself getting more done.

What resonated with me most about his talk was when he said – we’ve lost our finish lines and we need to reinsert them in our lives. When we are engaged we need to be fully engaged. When we are resting we need to be fully engaged in rest.

I once asked my dad when I was a kid, “at work, how do you know when you are done for the day?” He told me, “I’m never done.” Like him, I have no finish lines. So I am going to give this a try, I am hoping it will make me be more productive, less distracted, better rested, and probably a much more enjoyable person to be around.

I’m interested – do you work like a marathoner or a sprinter?  Do you see any value to this advice and do you think it could make you better at your job and your personal life?

Note: I wrote this in 90 minutes. Time for a break.

Photo credit: Sheffield Tiger

Define Trust. Not So Easy, Is It?

Yesterday I presented at the Social Media & Community 2.0 Strategies Conference in Boston, where I was lucky enough to have some great folks attend my session. They asked thought-provoking questions and provided insightful feedback – which is always appreciated. One of my industry friends, Michael Pace, asked me a question at the end of my presentation, and it sparked a longer discussion among some of us after the event.

What is trust?

Michael said that he keeps hearing all the social media “gurus” at conferences like this, SXSW and others, talk about “trust” in their presentations, but no one seems to define it. He has a “three-pronged” idea of trust – which if we’re lucky, he’ll post in the comments here – but no one in the room could agree on one solid definition of trust, and how brands build it. Do people really trust brands? What does that entail? How is it earned, and how is it lost? Michael is focused on customer service and support at work, and thus, it’s a question he ponders on an ongoing basis. The topic definitely made for a lively discussion around branding, marketing, customer service, customer care and social business.

I said that I thought trust was sincere intent followed by consistent, related action. If a brand tells me something, and consistently backs it up, I trust them. It’s not so different from my personal relationships, really. You can make all the promises in the world, and say all the sweetest things, but if your actions don’t reflect your words, I won’t trust you.

Chris Brogan wrote a lot about trust in his book, “Trust Agents.” He uses phrases and words like sincerity, adding value and being truthful in regards to trust. I don’t know if he answers “what is trust” specifically, rather he and his co-author Julien Smith, seem to define its attributes. But what is its definition? Chris, if you’re reading (which would make my day), Michael and I thought you’d be the perfect person to ask …

Dictionary.com uses words such as reliance, which I thought was interesting, as well as confident expectation.

So what is trust? Is it sincerity? Action? Commitment? Faith? How do you earn it? Better yet, how do you keep it? For something that is so often discussed, so hard to earn, so easy to lose, and really super hard to gain back once you’ve done so, you’d think we’d all have a pretty definitive answer.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject, readers. Thanks, as always, for visiting and commenting.

Persuasive Picks for the week of 03/21/11

Pepsi RefreshPepsi Refresh: Social Media’s Pearl Harbor or Waterloo?
This post by Chris Yeh on the Agency Collaboration blog responds to Bob Hoffman’s “scorching” Ad Contrarian post with a fresh and insightful view on the highly publicized Pepsi Refresh campaign.

Why I’m Glad I Went to SXSW (Despite My Reluctance): One Virgin’s Experience
Fresh off the heals of our own @missusP’s post about her first-time SXSW experience comes this entertaining recap from MarketingProf‘s Ann Handley. And yes, this is the second week in a row that Ms. Handley has appeared in our picks…let the rumors begin!  ;)

Three social media marketing techniques that brands should probably ditch
Econsultancy tech reporter Patricio Robles provides a short list of social marketing techniques that brands should consider avoiding when deploying new campaigns.

Why Social Media is Perfect for Small Businesses
TMCnet.com contributing editor Gary Kim shares the results of a recent American Express survey that revealed that word of mouth is still one of the primary ways small businesses gain new customers – which is also one of the benefits of a properly executed online social strategy.

Facebook Questions Goes Where Quora Can’t
Quora certainly rocked the “buzz meter” in the beginning of 2011. ReadWriteWeb‘s Mike Melanson shares highlights from Facebook‘s announcement of its newly enhanced Questions feature that will make it more valuable to users.