Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Congrats, CMO! Your startup has been acquired at 10x revenues. You now have enormous goals to hit. And, your PR agency has been terminated.

By Joanna Kulesa
I’ve seen this over and over in my years of running PR agencies in Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs and marketing executives work with agencies to help put them on the map, develop their brand as ‘one to watch,’ get them short-listed with key analyst firms, and win all the right awards. When consolidation begins, they’re one of the first to be considered for acquisition by the ‘big guys.’ Cisco, CA, HP, Sybase, Dell and EMC, to name a few, have acquired our clients.

The acquisition goes through. Everyone is joyous. And then it settles in. You go from owning the entire marketing function for your company to relying on a large marketing organization that may regard your product as a mere ‘blip’ on the radar. Your success is number one priority for you; however, global marketing organizations need to contend with hundreds of products, and tens of internal clients.

Your company got acquired because it filled a crucial need for the acquiring company, completed a missing component of their suite, or helped them gain entry into a new market. Now, you’ve been given big marketing and revenue goals to hit. And, the acquiring company has – as a matter of course – terminated your PR agency. It happens almost without fail that all existing vendor agreements are cancelled at the close of an acquisition. It isn’t personal. It’s what acquiring companies do.

Here’s the rub. Why do CMOs and CEOs let this happen? You’re burdened with reaching aggressive goals and milestones, yet you’re losing an important part of your team. There are many, many important items to be negotiated during the acquisition process. I would argue that, if you feel strongly that your PR agency has played a key role in the growth of your business and brand, this is a negotiating point worth ‘going to the mat’ for.

A very large technology company bought one of our clients in recent years. They are one of the first companies to chart a different course. They’ve kept our agency onboard even though the parent company has an excellent global agency of record. We have continued to act like the aggressive startup the acquirer first fell in love with and it has been enormously successful. Both parties have progressive executives who innately understand the relationship and importance of the team as a whole. It’s a valued ‘team’ relationship; not your typical ‘vendor’ relationship.

Here are three things to consider before agreeing to your new MBO’s at an acquiring company: 1) Which of your vendor relationships can’t you live without in order to achieve your goals (and ultimate payout?) 2) Who on your startup marketing staff is essential to that success? And, 3) Is there a growth path for you at your new company once the typical 18-month payout is completed?

Joanna Kulesa is principal of Kulesa Faul, in San Mateo, CA. Kulesa Faul focuses on public relations, social media and communications strategies for enterprise software and consumer technologies companies—

Friday, June 3, 2011

Creative Huddles, Get Your Agencies Together

By Joanna Kulesa
I’m sure you have numerous creative agencies helping execute on your marketing and communications plan. Most CMOs have the likes of an ad agency, web design firm, digital marketing firm, and PR firm, just to name a few. In my experience, these teams are full of free thinkers, in addition to hardcore executers. Do you make a practice of getting your creative agencies together in a room? If not, you may be missing out on some serious brainpower and “cross-pollination” of ideas.

In general, marketing executives have become really good about integrating their programs. It seems like a no-brainer that marketing agencies would be brought together and integrated, too. Yet in my 15 years of running PR agencies in Silicon Valley, I’ve only had one CMO bring us all together Rick Jackson, a top notch CMO now heading marketing for VMware, who intuitively understood that the sum could be even greater than the parts.

From an agency perspective this type of gathering was incredibly insightful and stimulating. Not only were we able to sync up on the marketing strategy for the year and understand each agency’s role, but we also got to ideate across functional areas with some amazing talent and the collaborative output was undeniable.

If you’re going to consider a creative agency gathering, I’ll leave you with these tips from a participant’s perspective.

➢ Ask each agency to consider their own plans, and how they might impact or be integrated into other participating agency’s work, e.g., digital marketing firm walk in the shoes of the PR firm.
➢ In getting everyone ‘on point’ on strategy and plans, try and resist the “death by PowerPoint” format. Nothing kills the creative juices faster than 30 roadmap slides.
➢ Include an interactive exchange, or a game, halfway through. Getting the team interacting, talking, laughing and generally warmed up will make for looser ideating and more fun.
➢ Avoid too much structure, which can stifle conversation, and consider fueling the fire by offering beer/wine three quarters into the session. Keep the environment comfortable and social – emphasize that no one is here to outperform others.
➢ Continue the conversation. There should be ongoing communication between your creative partners so that the ideas continue to flow, ensuring one message, one story and at the end of the day one big impact.
➢ Make this exchange of ideas a quarterly or annual event – I guarantee all parties will look forward to it and come away more energized than before!

Joanna Kulesa is principal of Kulesa Faul, in San Mateo, CA. Kulesa Faul focuses on public relations, social media and communications strategies for enterprise software and consumer technologies companies—

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dear CMO, Can We Say Goodbye to the RFP?

By Joanna Kulesa
Woody Allen once cracked that the reason people call it "show business" is so they can distinguish it from "business business."

I think of that joke when I try to explain some of the more obscure aspects of the "PR business" when talking to potential clients who are in "business business."

One of the hardest ideas to get across involves explaining how the relationship between a PR agency and a client ought to get started in the first place. Decades of experience have led me to believe we need to shake up the process.

Many companies still employ the age-old RFP process to find a PR agency⎯a tedious series of formulaic questions that elicit canned, mechanical answers, followed by an often stiff presentation of credentials.

Here’s the problem: the RFP process stifles the very things at the heart and soul of great public relations: Passion. Creativity. Flair. Excitement. Personality.

RFPs are like engineering specs, and they're great at forcing PR agencies to prove to potential clients they can follow a list of instructions. But great CMOs don't want a PR agency that marches in lockstep. Instead, they want PR to help their company, products, executives, and brand stand out in the crowd.

I just don’t buy a strong correlation between an agency’s ability to win through the standard RFP process, and its ability to mount effective PR campaigns on clients’ behalf. The "PR business" is different enough⎯yes, creative enough⎯that you can't make a business decision involving a public relations partner the same way you can another vendor, when a list of checkboxes is sufficient.

Then, there is the infamous ‘bait and switch’ experience, which I’m sure CMOs chuckle or steam about over cocktails together. Sound familiar?

Here’s the scenario. An agency deploys their “special forces,” their heavy-hitting closers during the RFP process to win your business. The witty, charismatic agency executive, the one with all the good ideas, vanishes once a contract is signed. In his or her place is a crew of newbies less adequate at grasping your business objectives to effectively build and execute a communications plan.

So what exactly should a "business business" do when looking for someone in the "PR business?" RFPs are from the era of "Mad Men" – they slow and confuse the process (though providing plenty of fodder over boardroom cocktails). Ditch them. Start using the tools from the age of "The Social Network."

• First, emphasize quality over quantity. Consult your network, visit websites and get to know personalities. Then, pick a half dozen or so agencies you feel a connection with, either through their web site content, domain expertise or client list.

• Remember, LinkedIn is an excellent resource; nearly everyone in the PR industry has a presence on it. Click around; it won't take long for you to find mutual acquaintances. Also, check an agency’s "clients" page, but also go to specific clients’ news pages to see the quality and quantity of media attention the agency has garnered them.

• When you have four or five agencies that pique your interest, call them up and let them know you're looking for PR help. Connect over a quick coffee or call for an initial conversation – doesn't need to be a long session; a half hour ought to be enough to get a sense of capabilities and chemistry. Get-to-know-you meetings should be face-to-face, ideally, or via Webcam if that's not possible. There will be plenty of phone conversations down the road.

• Contact previous clients early in the process to find out if they have the chops. This is standard advice, but a significant percent of the world's PR mismatches would be averted if it were followed. Agencies and clients part ways all the time, for all sorts of reasons, good and bad. Happy clients will gladly put in a good word for a former agency. And if no former clients will answer an email⎯well, that should tell you something too.

• Obviously, there's going to be a need for a big meeting or two between you and your final candidates for the job. Insist that they send the people who will be working on the ringers allowed. Keep the conversation high-level; perhaps ask them to respond to a couple of your top initiatives, rather than going through a lengthy PowerPoint presentation about what the agency has done for other companies. You care about your business. One easy way to separate the amateurs is by canned answers or worse, lapsing into jargon at the slightest provocation. Experienced professionals, by contrast, will dig deep to understand your business, the problem you solve, and the objectives you’re trying to meet before providing a thoughtful response.

• If the meeting is too stiff and formal, you've potentially got a problem. This isn't an 8th grade dance, with boys on one side and girls on the other. The whole point is to find a team that you can collaborate with to get amazing results, and have fun along the way. Oh yes, there should be laughter. Great PR and personality go hand in hand.

• Pay attention, because a good agency is checking you out at the same time. This is a busy time for PR firms, and the best ones have more work than they can handle. If an agency seems reluctant to ask tough questions, or too eager to please, they probably won’t be able to get the job done. Agencies that only know how to say "Yes" might be skilled at keeping their retainers, but they're not bringing their clients as much value along the way.

I want to make clear that just because I consider PR people "creative," it doesn't mean you should tolerate dilettantes and prima donnas from your PR team. PR is a business. In the process of hiring an agency, you'll be setting up specific expectations and metrics. If your agency doesn't meet those goals, then they don’t deserve to have your business.

It's just that in the process of finding the right PR business partner...a little imagination can and should enter the picture. Somewhere between “show business” and “business business,” there’s room for a little fun and creativity. Now, that’s just plain good business.

Joanna Kulesa is a principal of Kulesa Faul, in San Mateo, CA

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March Madness

By Scott Lechner
March Madness has always been one of my favorite sporting events. This year the bracket challenge transcended sports and found its way into technology, as Virtual Strategy Magazine announced its own March Madness. The competition puts 64 vendor-contributed ‘2011 trend’ articles against each other. Readers choose the winning articles, which then move on to the next round. The competition has been going on since last week and four Kulesa Faul clients were included: uptime software, Model Metrics, Dell KACE and CloudShare.

I am huge fan of both sports and technology, so seeing them together makes me a happy man. Take a look and vote for your very own Final Four leading 2011 prediction!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Behind the Paywall: Will you Pay up?

By Kelly Indrieri
The time we’ve been dreading has, not Armageddon, although it may seem like it recently. Actually, I'm talking about paying for online news content. This isn't entirely new, but the New York Times, one of the most well-respected newspapers in the world, just announced this week that beginning March 28 home delivery non-subscribers will have to pay up or go elsewhere for their news. The options are many though, non-subscribers will still be able to access up to 20 online articles for free each month, but will have to take out their wallets and pony up either $15, $20 or $35 a month to get more.

Paying for news content online is a sticky situation and many media corps are still trying to figure out what it will look like exactly. Offering some content for free and then often layering a confusing payment model for other content seems to be the new normal. For instance, WSJ has been doing it for years, Rupert Murdoch recently unveiled a paid iPad-only publication and now the New York Times is throwing their hat in the ring. The question I have is with all of the free content out there, including bloggers and online news sources like CNN and MSNBC, will people really pay for their news or is this a losing game for the big media conglomerates? Me personally, I think I’ll stick to CNN and my free 20 New York Times articles and save my money for the latte I like to drink with my morning news. How about you? Will you pay up or go elsewhere?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cloud Connect 2011

By Danielle Salvato
This week, my colleagues and I attended the annual Cloud Connect conference in Santa Clara. Produced by TechWeb, Cloud Connect is an intimate, niche conference that brings together the entire cloud ecosystem to better understand the transformation defining the technology industry.

This particular conference has received a good amount of buzz this year, with large IT trade publications and reporters covering the latest and greatest and more than 3,000 techies visiting the Expo floor and daily sessions (up 50 percent from last year’s event!). There were 70 or so exhibitors, including Rackspace, Electric Cloud, Apica, and RightScale, as well as IBM, Intel and VMware.

While Cloud Connect didn’t provide extravagant lighting, sumo wrestlers or endless free SWAG like the recent RSA conference, attendees were treated to some pretty snazzy light-up yoyos from a leading cloud testing and performance monitoring vendor, Apica. Here is a photo of our very own Cathy Wright demonstrating her yoyo skills with the company’s CEO, Sven Hammar. (Fun fact: Cathy was a yoyo champion in the 4th grade!)

We’re steeped in the cloud every day here at Kulesa Faul. Our growing cloud practice includes Model Metrics, Meraki, Host Analytics, Apica, Jitterbit, RainStor, and Soonr⎯companies that are directly focused on developing interesting products and defining new opportunities as more businesses move to the cloud. To learn more about our client successes, please visit Kulesa Faul.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Technology and the Breakdown in Human Interaction—Take II

By Julie Tangen
Technology brings us together in so many ways, but from a social standpoint, what are the repercussions of its advances? Do gadgets, like iPhones, shut out the world around us and are we on the verge of a breakdown in human interaction? I posed this in a blog a few years back.

Since then I’ve come to realize how powerful technology can be for deepening relationships. Thanks to my iPhone I can watch my little nephew take his first steps via video chat. I can check in with family members more frequently via text. I’m able to respond to client and editor requests quickly, no matter where I am. My iPhone has also helped to expand my business and social network. For instance when I meet someone out and about I can immediately connect through Facebook or LinkedIn and start developing a friendship with that person, where as five or ten years ago their business card might have been filed away in my rolodex with other interesting people I’ve met along the way.

I’m typing this while waiting for my latte, by the way. Am I missing an opportunity to chat with the person in line next to me because I’m so focused on my iPhone? Maybe. But I’ve been able to create more meaningful friendships with the people who make my coffee because we’re now connected through Facebook.

Do you find that your iPhone/iPad/gadget opens you up to new people and experiences?

Friday, February 18, 2011

RSA 2011

By Kristina Molfino
If the expo floor of this year’s annual RSA Conference in San Francisco is any indication of the state of our economy, I would say we are headed up! Hundreds of vendors were out in full force this week at the Moscone Center, showcasing their latest and greatest security technology. The fresh, electric, excitement that had been lacking the past few years is back. Huge exhibits, signs, lighting, sumo wrestlers, SWAG…they were all back.

I met some new people and saw some familiar faces, but overall, walking the expo hall was refreshing. The cherry trees aren’t the only thing blooming in the city – IT security is alive!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Can there be an Apple without Steve?

By Cathy Wright
The recent story of Apple CEO Steve Jobs taking medical leave was big news. Some media outlets (and the stock market) seem to think Apple is doomed without him. I don't agree. Not to diminish Mr. Jobs amazing contributions to the resurrection of Apple, but it's a huge company now thanks to him. I find it hard to believe its entire future still rests on the vision of a single person.

And let's be honest here, Mr. Jobs has been dealing with his unfortunate health issues for some time. I very much doubt he's been putting in 12 hour days working with the product development team this past year. And yet Apple has been rolling along very nicely indeed, which I guess says something about the caliber of people he has hired beneath him.

Disney made it without Walt, and I predict Apple will make it even if Mr. Jobs is forced to step down. Come to think of it, I believe Steve owns a big hunk of Disney also. I'm certain he'd give it all up in exchange for being healthy again. I wish him a speedy and total recovery.