Getting Media by Being Media

by Larry Chiang on December 11, 2009

Elliott Ng actually has an MBA from Harvard and can confirm that what I share is definitively not taught in Business School. I Tom Sawyer-ed him into doing my Labor Day homework for me… Its about getting press by generating a little media of your own.

Edited by Larry Chiang

by Elliott Ng

The Silicon Valley startup scene is obsessed with press.

A financing announcement in Matt Marshalls VentureBeat. A product review by Walt Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal. The ultimate prize: a TechCrunch blog post.

In the reality-distorted mind of the typical entrepreneur, a new startup is one blog post away from generating the flywheel effect that launches that startup into the next YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

As co-founder of a travel search engine UpTake, I was right there with the rest of the entrepreneurs, desperately seeking love from the blogosphere during our 2007-2008 launch.

At first I played the game. I hired a PR firm. I fired a PR firm. I hired another PR firm. That firm sent out massive amounts of email and made lots of phone calls. We annoyed a number of people but we did get some coverage. We did everything by the book.

After a while, I observed that the companies that did the best did not play the game. Instead of begging for media, they became media.

At UpTake we followed their example. We raided the PR budget and used the money to hire over 50 bloggers to create a widely read travel industry blog, and seven other consumer travel blogs. Now we get the press releases and the annoying PR emails.

** 1. Be Robert Scoble. (Or if youre not Robert Scoble, hire one.) **

Back in 2003, Scoble joined Microsoft to be a video blogger at a nascent Microsoft blog called Channel 9. He then started a blog called Scobleizer, where he proceeded to occasionally complain about Microsoft products. In the era of command-and-control public relations, a guy like Scoble wouldnt be able to say a thing to the press without a handler scripting out his every answer.

The personality, the celebrity, the transparency, and the independent editorial perspective — all made Scobleizer a media outlet in its own right. Microsoft, through Scoble, had become media.

photo credit Kris Krug

Today Scoble works for Rackspace. Frankly, they are brilliant because they are just cut-and-pasting what Microsoft did in 2003, and on top of an intensely boring core business. Think about it. Who really cares about Web hosting and server collocation? Isnt that a totally commoditized industry at this point? How much traditional public relations would you have to do to get the kind of noise and coverage that Scoble is producing for Rackspace? They knew they werent Scoble. So they hired one.

** 2. Stop trying to make news and start trying to break it. **

What if you just cant become Scoble, and you cant afford to hire one? My company is a good example of this. Unfortunately, were too humble to play the Scoble game, and were too poor to hire one. So what to do? So our solution was to stop trying to make news, and start trying to break news.

Honestly, our product just doesnt have enough story angles to get the press we need to build our business. A traditional PR approach is to try to manufacturer story angles. The thinking goes something like this: Maybe we can field some research and get some factoids. Maybe we can jump on a trend. Maybe we can reposition our product as something else. Well, after a while, this got futile and boring. So we took a large part of our PR budget, and launched a blog network – 7 blogs, 50 bloggers, who collectively are a lot funnier and more interesting than all those story angles we kept brainstorming.

Now were breaking industry stories. Were talking about industry trends. Were covering other companies launches. Were getting invited to cover conferences as bloggers. Weve built real relationships with people in the media rather than just pitching stories. And yes, now were getting to see all the PR sins of all the other companies who are still playing the game by the book.

Another great example is a guy named Brian Solis. Brians day job is straight-up PR firm called Future-Works. Hes supposed to be begging bloggers for stories. Instead, he launches his *own* blog, bub.blicio.us, and starts covering the industry himself! Then he hires bloggers from other top blogs. Then he takes incredible pictures and shares them out for everyone to use. Who do you think gets the love for their clients?

** 3. Dont wait for your media target list to write about you. Just start writing about *them*. **

Now that youre in the media (well, sort of), you dont have to wait around for David Pogue of the New York Times to write about you. You can just start writing about him! Try this Judo move: writing a critique of something he just wrote that has nothing to do with your company.

Try to stir up some controversy.

Be a little snarky, but stay nice, and try to engage in an interesting conversation that moves his thinking forward. Liberally sprinkle in the right keywords to trigger his ego searches. If it isnt obvious by now, youre not trying to stay on message with your companys marketing plan.

So follow these three steps. First, copy what Scoble is doing. Second, start blogging about your competitors. Third, get your media targets attention by writing about them before they write about you.

Anyone else have any ideas about how companies can be media? Post them in the comments below

Elliott Ng is co-founder of UpTake. We help people plan better vacations by searching over 5000 travel Websites so you dont have to. You can contact him via email at elliott at ngventures dot com.

Elliott Ng is co-founder of UpTake. We help people plan better vacations by searching over 5000 travel Websites so you dont have to. You can contact him via email at elliott at ngventures dot com.

Disclosure: I have blogged at Bub.blicio.us
Disclosure: Brians cat and my dog may know each other and my be working together to increase landing page conversions
Disclosure: I am speaking at Social ROI Summit and have a financial interest in it.

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