How win free media for your business – Part THREE (Press Releases)

In the THIRD post in this series on ‘how to win free media for your business’, we look at press releases.

Earlier we looked at the importance of thinking like the media, and there were also 15 pieces of advice to bear in mind when contacting the media.

A well written and target media release can be worth its weight in gold in terms of the free publicity and promotion it can provide for your business brand.

Be aware though that journalists may receive hundreds of media releases a week by email, so it’s important your message follows a recognisable structure and is easy to read (layout easy and clear with no typos and grammatical errors).

When I worked at Business News – a relatively small media business in the grand scheme of things – we received 1000 press releases a week, and very few (less than 10) probably ended up being a story.

Now, in my role running Startup News – an even smaller, niche publisher – I can tell you we receive several press releases a day, perhaps 50 a week, and only 2 or 3 become stories.

That’s because many of them are pretty rudimentary (this person has been appointed here or done that deal there) or are not targetted at the publication in mind (for example, Startup News only publishes stories on WA startups, so there’s no point sending us a press release about a Melbourne tech business with no connection to WA).

Faced with these odds, your media release needs to get to the point quickly, and have some degree of urgency.

The best ones will leave the impression that the media outlet needs to READ THIS NOW without resorting to click baity techniques like actually putting ‘READ ME NOW’ in the heading or subject line of course (!).

It’s fine line between appear authentic and having something to say without coming across as desperate.

Generally, an effective press release will have several elements to it:

  1. Inverted Pyramid – the most important information is at the top, in the headline, and first paragraph with supporting detail below. This will also be on the subject line of the email.
  2. First Impressions matter – most journos and editors do not read beyond the title (or the email’s subject line) and the first paragraph before they have decided to publish or not. It needs to be newsworthy. What’s new and interesting for their audience?
  3. Send by email – the universally accepted method of reaching media. The email itself should be short (no more than 2 paras with the main gist of the story and who is available for interviews and photos). The press release and photos (or links to photos) are an attachment to the email, in word format, not pdf, so the text can be copied and pasted. Ideally, the media could simply lift your release and publish it as is, or with minimal changes (except perhaps to make it even better.)
  4. Title your release ‘FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE’ in block capitals.
  5. An attention-grabbing HEADLINE then follows, with the BODY of the press release and CONTACT & ABOUT ‘XYZ Pty Ltd’ on the company at the bottom.
  6. Include QUOTATIONS from someone knowledgeable and authoritative (e.g. the CEO). It might be why this novel product is going to be useful to the industry.
  7. Clearly mark the end of the release with ‘ENDS’.
  8. Make the release no more than one page. Sentences should be no longer than 25 words. Every sentence starts a new paragraph. Make it as SHORT as possible to get the story across.

Here’s an example of a recent press release sent to Startup News…

PR1

Structure of a well laid out media release

Notice how the various elements of the release are clear and it has made it easy for the media to follow. This release has followed good practice to the letter, and it was no surprise that Startup News duly published the article, almost exactly as per the release. The main photo had also been supplied…

PR2

The resultant article mirrors the original release, almost word for word, including the headline and opening para.

What was then interesting was in follow up social media posting, there was acknowledgement of the article, from the person mentioned, and his friends, so the information reached an even broader audience…

PR3

Flow on effects of social media add to the reach.

That’s how to do it.

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How to win free media for your business – Part ONE

These days we are faced with a wide range of media channels. More than ever before. It’s a minefield. But there are ways to cut through…

It’s a tough old business

Firstly, perception switch.

Think of things from the media’s point of view. Media has become a very tough business over the past decade or so, having undergone immense disruption and change. Many media organisations are running very thin indeed with very few resources.  Barely clinging on in fact. No one has been immune – everyone from the local newspaper, magazine, TV station, radio channels and every other form of media has been struggling for a shrinking pie.

If you want to get your message out via the media, you have to be far more subtle than merely bashing out a press release to the local paper (although that can still work, to a degree, if done correctly).

Some business owners are (understandably) a bit shy or nervous about gaining media attention, but if you research and then select the most appropriate journalists, control the interaction between yourselves and the media channel, and have a clear goal in mind, things need not be problematical.

It is fairly easy these days to gain positive media coverage if you know a few ‘tricks of the trade’. The ideal is to have a drip feed of positive stories about your business over time. This all adds to your brand and name recognition, which can be helpful in all kinds of ways.

Having an editorial about your business has about four times the value than a paid for promotional ad of the same size.

Remember, the media is not there to give you free promotion though.

Most of their business models rely on them gaining a significant readership in their local area or niche, then charging advertisers for publishing promotional messages to that audience.

The media understands all too well that businesses would love to circumvent their advertising models and get free exposure in their online and offline media, and at their events.

Therefore, be aware that your message should not be too ‘self-promotional’. It should be informational and targeted at the specific audience of the media in question.
Put yourself in their shoes.

Before you approach any media, make sure you have answered these questions:

  • Why is your story of interest to their readers?
  • What is the ‘angle’?
  • Is the story given exclusively to this media source, or is it for general release?
  • Why is this particular story relevant to this particular media source?
  • How can you help the media organisation towards their own goals?

Treat journalists like clients

With a little research, you can find out which writers, journalists and online influencers are relevant in each local media source (the daily newspaper, the business journal, the local free paper, various online news sites and blogs…)

Think about your local media contacts as if they are clients of yours. Contact them, take them out for a coffee or lunch. Send them a personally written Christmas card each year (yes, really.)

Ask them what kinds of stories they like to write about, and then, when the time is right, feed them this story. Don’t overdo it, but have enough stories and writers to keep you in the lime light over time.

A steady drip of positive news stories does wonders for your company’s credibility, brand awareness and positioning.

Plus your staff, shareholders, board, management team and clients will love it too. You will also find that this reputation will precede you, so that it will easier to attract higher quality staff, clients and investors as well.

It’s all ‘hidden’ to some degree, but it adds up and it is real.

Imagine someone (a potential client or employee or investor) researching your business online. What will they fund? If they discover a good deal of positive news stories written by independent media, this will only enhance your brand in their eyes.

Part Two in this series gives you 15 pieces of advice for approaching the media.

The fake fake news debate

Rather than put up an informed debate, all you need now do is roar ‘fake news!’ at anything you don’t like. How has it come to this?

Right off the bat let’s be clear what ‘fake news‘ is. It’s pure fabrication, invention and lies dressed up as a news story. It is intended to deceive. Anyone doing rudimentary fact-checking could expose the lies fairly easily.

Two things fake news is NOT…

  1. It’s not a new phenomenon. There are examples stretching back to Roman times and before. It is said Mark Anthony killed himself due misinformation spread about him by his opponents.
  2. It’s not news you don’t like. News you don’t like may make you feel uncomfortable. That’s OK. That’s how you learn new things. But that don’t make it fake.

New vs Opinion

It’s also important to distinguish between news and opinion.

The mainstream media publishes news (well researched and balanced facts) as well as opinion pieces (the author’s viewpoint).

Basically put, anyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their own facts.

Facts are facts.

Put it another way, opinions are cheap, facts are expensive. Facts need checking. The truth is not always obvious.

Thank goodness for real journalists. I have worked with them. I know one when I see one. I can also spot a charlatan, dressing up their opinions as facts.

When we employ journalists, we are not interested in their opinion. We are interested in consuming a well thought out, clear statement of fact. The story. The main headline, the actors involved, and how it might impact on us and others.

At the same time, we are entertained by opinion writers. We are interested in their views. They present facts, but line up an argument, usually one way or the other. We may disagree, we may be convinced, we may already concur. But we should be made to think.

In life, we need facts in order to make decisions: where and whether to buy or sell a property and what type, or whether to start or sell or invest in a certain type of business or even who to vote for… perhaps our most important act.

Fundamentally, we need to distinguish what is fact, and what is opinion. In order to trust our media organisations, on which we base these decisions, we need to be comfortable that they are telling us the truth, as best they see it.

If we are reading opinion, this needs to be clear. We need to know the difference between this and news.

Authors should also provide disclaimers if their ‘news’ story was paid for by an interest group. That makes it an advertisement, not a news story. Not even an opinion.

Writers should also declare a personal interest. If they are writing about Telstra, they should mention they own Telstra shares if they do.

Why publish fake news?

Due to the long standing ‘trust’ in our mainstream news organisations, and their behaviour hitherto (exposing lying politicians, or scandals in the Church, or whatever) we take information written about someone or some issue in an editorial context as being more powerful than advertising (that is known to be ‘paid-for’ communication).

News has the whiff of gravitas (‘it’s there in black and white‘). It has been considered considered, prudent, weighty. Certain laws exist to protect someone being libelled in the press, and news organisations are careful to check facts before committing to pushing the publish button.

So, if you can dress up biassed opinion – or even downright lies – as news, you might be able to persuade people. If a story says something bad about a politician you don’t like, it can confirm your opinion. If it’s about someone you don’t like, you may find a way to ignore it, or even attack the source.

What if that story was totally bogus? A few years ago, the self-defense mechanisms in our democracy may have corrected the situation. The media organisation could be sued, or challenged to print a retraction, or provide compensation.

Times have changed. Fundamentally, and possibly irrevocably.

Over the past decade or so, journalism has been under attack. The business model of the news media companies has been disrupted. Many editors, journalists, sub editors and photo journalists have lost their jobs. A whole industry has been run almost to ground.

Few media organisations have found “the way” forward.

Maybe NY Times (which has put on 1M+ new subscribers since the last election), Financial Times and, locally, Business News have found a way forward by persuading subscribers to pay for their news and data content through paywalls. In this way they have aligned their information with their readers.

It’s a brave path forward, but perhaps the only one if we are to protect good journalism. If people value it, they’ll pay, If they pay, the media businesses survive. Trust is paramount. If paying subscribers feel they are being dished rubbish, they’ll not pay.

By the same token, if we expect news to be free, then that’s what we’ll end up with –  opinionistas who tell us what we want to hear. I’m a blogger, after all – this is my opinion. It ain’t news!

Faced with depleting revenues, some ad-model news media have had to run sensationalist headlines to cut through and make money. It’s a race to the bottom. Clickbait. A mug’s game. They are failing. It’s not the way forward. (In my opinion!)

Meanwhile, people get their news in all kinds of ways, many of them highly dubious. Few of them are actual news organisations.

Taking advantage of the situation

Among all this maelstrom you have politicians who now seem to get away with telling lies, knowingly, for effect. (‘He/she tell sit like it is. Says what we’re thinking.‘) I’m not going to name them, but you can guess to whom this refers.

[By the way, since when should we only listen to people who tell us what we are thinking? What’s the blooming point of that?!!]

Debate has now been dumbed down to Twitter rants and trolling. Sound bytes. Pre-staged photo opps and ‘door stops’. Lies, exposed fairly quickly by an exasperated media, are ignored as the entertainment moves on to the next distraction. No one takes responsibility, and political discourse has been damaged.

Worse still, our democracy is weakened. For if the people cannot gauge easily what is fact and what is plainly made up, as it whizzes past them on their Facebook feed (which itself is manipulated based on what you already like to see) then those same people can’t make informed decisions. People get elected on lies. And worse, the worst people could get elected to high office.

How should we respond?

The media has to call lies out, shine the light and expose lies when they are there. It’s their job, in a democracy, to do so. They speak truth to power. They clarify and explain.

But that’s not enoogh. They also have do a better job of getting people to pay for news. To subscribe. To make the case for this. And we, the consumers, need to front up and pay. Yes, I know you can get free news anywhere, but in the same way you have to pay for your shoes, food, water and shelter, you need to pay for your news.

The alternative? We’re living it everyday.

I’d prefer ‘power to the people’. Which is literally what the Greek word ‘democracy’ means.

Freedom means a free press that you pay for

Have a look around the world at the less democratic countries, and there you will see a neutered or government-controlled press.

I was in a South-East Asian country last year on assignment, and the ruling government managed to put one of the main independent newspapers out of business declaring it had not paid its correct amount of tax. Within days, the owners had either fled the country or were in police hands. The paper was duly shut down. All staff were out of work. Within a few more weeks, the same government ruled the opposition party was illegal, and it was duly shut down. There are elections this year, it’s a slam dunk for the ruling party. It’s a sham for democracy and the people.

Having worked at a media company, I know what it is like to be inside a news operation, striving every day to ensure the correct facts are published. Readers have a right to know what is going on, which is why they are drawn to news media. Often the ‘truth’ is ambiguous, out of reach, fuzzy. It takes hard work and time to uncover it, especially when some people would prefer it left uncovered.

Opinion is cheap. Truth is expensive.

News media, run well, will hold the government and powerful of the day to account, lest they run amok. Politicians may not like the freedoms and protections of the press, the intrusions into their lives this entails, but they understand in their hearts that this is important in a democracy.

Great travesties of justice have been exposed by a free press, be it the Vietnam War (so beautifully portrayed in ‘The Post’ movie), or Catholic abuses of children (2015’s ‘Spotlight’ movie), or Watergate (‘All the Presidents’ Men’). In fact, it is interesting that these David and Goliath investigatory battles all make for dramatic movies.

In many ways, the press has it hard. Not only can information be blurry, but with the leach of classified ad income to the internet, the newspaper industry has also lost its ‘rivers of gold’ revenue. Faced with declining income, they have been forced to cut back on editorial staff, the very life blood of any upstanding news organisation. The rush to ‘click bait’ and hits has seen a rush to the bottom, allied to the polarisation of media such that viewers only switch on to – or read stuff – that affirms their preconceived ideas. The ‘truth’ is now not so important. Readership, and holding on to your readers come what may, is all that matters.

Thomas Jefferson once famously said:  “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Or, as the supreme court famously ruled on the Pentagon Papers case, “The press is to serve the governed, not the governors.”

No wonder dictactors and coup leaders take over the TV and news organisations first. Putin has Russia Today, and Trump has Fox News. Anything else, is fake news.

With a weakened press (around the world), the splintering of media and consumers just seeking what they want to hear, media is in about as weak position as it as ever been.

In order to grab attention, media organisations scream sensationalist headlines in order to cut through the noise. The rush to publish, by less trained and lower paid  juniors, means the ‘lie is half way around the world before the truth has got its pants on‘ (as Winston Churchill once opined).

As one Congressman said a few years ago, “You are welcome to your own opinion, but you are not welcome to your own facts.

Facts are facts. Proven. Scientific. Sourced. Part of history. Full stop.

People are switching off ‘The News’ as it’s always about bombs and deaths and disasters (fear). Fear sells. But it also puts the audience off, who want to be informed without being alarmed all the time.

In many ways, our world is safer than ever. There are less wars, less deaths, less die from disease and hunger, yet you would not know this from the TV news.

Something has to be done to save media (real media, one that seeks truth and holds truth to power) before it goes down the gurgler forever. For that’s where it’s heading. Slowly, but surely, the news industry is dying. Journalist jobs are disappearing, and once gone, are not coming back. It’s a race to extinction in ever decreasing circles.

One ray of hope is in the recent example the New York Times. Harangued by the US President (as the ‘failing NY Times’), the paper has actually put on an extra million paying subscribers over the past year. They now have more than 3.5M, that’s double the number of just 2 years ago. Thank goodness too, as their print ad revenue continues to decline.

What’s happened here is interesting, for the more the President rails against the ‘fake news’ media organisations it does not like, the more people flock to them and support and pay for the very same mastheads. The more the President is seen to be telling untruths (over 2000 in this first year alone, reportedly), the more people want to know the truth from a reputable source.

Asking people to PAY for news is incredibly brave, as there are thousands of web sites out there that give away news for free. So to see the NY Times do so spectacularly well behind a paywall is encouraging not only for their future, but also for the future of the medium overall.

I worked for a news organisation that made the bold step to put up a paywall way back in 2002, and erect an even stricter one in 2013. The result? Traffic to the site ROSE five-fold over the past 4 years and subscription income became the largest single revenue source (larger than advertising or events). So it can be done.

I would therefore argue that a free press is essential in a democracy (the so-called ‘Fourth Estate’), and that the only way to ensure its survival is to create content that readers value and pay for. In this way democracy flourishes. For without an informed public, how are we going to know who to elect? The US are discovering this the hard way right now it would seem…

Get them on the drip

When we were contemplating the best revenue model for aussiehome.com, the online real estate portal we established in 1999, we considered the following main alternatives:

  1. Subscriptions – real estates agents pay regular fees to list their properties
  2. Advertising – advertisers pay for display ads on the website
  3. eCommerce – home seekers can buy/rent directly off the website

Any other revenue model you can think of is just a variation of the 3 above. Note that for each option you have a different paying customer. And knowing who your customer is, and what problem you are solving for them, as I have discussed in these pages, is critically important.

In subscriptions, your client is the real estate agent, and the users of the site (home seekers) get to use it for free. What would agents want in return? Enough enquiries (and as we learned over time, a listing edge) to justify these fees.

Advertising income means your paying customers are your advertisers. In return for the promotional investment on your site they expect to see lots of views of their ads, and click throughs. Likely advertisers would be banks, mortgage brokers, home builders and any other home-related businesses.

The final one is pure ecommerce – taking on the whole industry, competing against real estate agents, and selling/renting properties directly off the site. Back in 1999, barely 3% of all properties in WA were sold privately (ie by the owner, not through an agent).  Fortunately, we discounted this 3rd option. We did not believe the world was ready for home owners to take a punt on a new website, chancing their arm with their largest financial asset (their house). 18 years later, this is still the case. Nearly everyone selling their property in 2017 does so through a licensed real estate agent, and REIWA member. ‘For sale by owner’ sites have floundered.

Selling ads, we thought, would be tough as we’d be up against Yahoo! and others and we’d need huge traffic to pull any decent ad dollars. This would mean raising a King’s ransom in funding, and blowing most of it on our own promotions. This seemed too risky. Another good decision this, as Google and Facebook would come along and scoop up nearly all of the digital ad money in Australia.

So, almost by a process of elimination, we plumped for subscriptions. Subscriptions is no easy solution though. Real estate agents, and most small business owners, resist paying ongoing fees. It adds to their costs, and makes their business riskier. They would be far happier paying for something large in one bulky purchase (as we found out, on such things as banner ads and websites).

Subscriptions is also a long, slow row to hoe. In order to get properties on the site, you need enough agents to be paying to load them up. Only then will visitors have enough content to peruse, find your site useful and return.

This is the major problem with brand new two-sided market places. You have to build supply and demand simultaneously, and this is extremely difficult.

When you’re building a 2-sided marketplace from scratch, how can you get demand when you have little supply, and how can you get supply when you have little demand?

Uber solved this curly one by paying the first drivers to sign up in a city some income, irrespective of whether they had passengers. They realised that the minute the first passengers used the service, there had to be Uber drivers nearby. Uber knew this first experience had to work well, so their early adopters would rave about the service. They grew from there.

We did something similar. We gave away 3-month free trials to our early real estate agents, so they could plop all their listings on the site, for free, in order to get some supply up there. As soon as the first people looked on the site, there had to be hundreds of properties for sale and rent. Once a few agencies were supporting us, it became easier to get others to give us a go. Obviously, this does not produce any income, so we could not do this forever. After our first year, we stopped giving away  free trials.

Slowly, but surely, we started to earn monthly income. As agencies came off their free trials, they started to pay a fee. Not huge bikkies, but something. Once you get customers paying for your service, you are in business. They take it more seriously than a free offer. They update their listings, and then, something wonderful happens – they start to get enquiries. We could see the email enquiries coming directly off the site. (We could not see phone calls of course, but these were happening, so we were told.)

On top of this base of subscriptions income, we added some ecommerce (users could buy Landgate sales evidence online) and advertising (banner ads for agents, and display ads for mortgage brokers and the like). We then moved into web site design for our agencies (building their sites off our system), magazines and in time feed income so that our clients could be on up to a dozen sites through us. But it was the bedrock subs income that built the strong foundation.

As Seth Godin wrote recently, the ‘drip drip drip‘ of subscriptions is the most sustainable business model.

Newspapers have had to learn this. The NY Times put on 800,000 new paying subscribers since Trump was elected. Their shares are soaring, built off a base of 2.2 million subscribers, up more than 60% in the past year. Failing NY Times fake news indeed. Quite the reverse Mr President!

One thing that took me to Business News in 2013 was that their readers had been paying for subscriptions since 2002. By 2017, these subscribers were renewing at record levels, and subscriptions income was the largest single income source. A great local story of a media company taking a brave route, and prevailing.

Netflix entered Australia 2 years ago, and now 1 in 3 Australian households have a subscription. Quickflix, its Aussie competitor, started more than 10 years ago, never passed more than a few hundred thousand subscribers. Although prevailing against all other local competitors, they could not compete with the US-backed giant and shut down within months of Netflix’s entry.

Realestate.com.au’s valuation today is north of A$9 billion. I remember when it was worth $6 million, after the throes of the dotcom crash in Easter 2000. But it built itself up, and the ‘network effect’ of having pretty much every agency on board meant every agency had to be on board, and everyone went there to view properties. A complete 2-sided market of immense power, they could pretty much charge what they like. It now costs more than $1,500 a property to list on the site.

As my cofounder Nick used to say to me, “Charlie, get them on the drip.” How right he was.

Post Truth or Expensive Truth?

Do facts matter anymore?

The person who would go on to win the 2016 US Presidential election made statements that were true (or mostly true) only 15% of the time over the election cycle. His opponent’s statements were true or mostly true 55% of the time. Fake news was shared more than correct news. Last year, the Oxford Dictionary made “post truth” its word of the year.

Yet this phenomenon is not new. At a recent UWA lecture by Stephan Lewandowsky provided analysis that showed how Fox News (in 2010) misinformed twice as much as other news outlets (running stories on Obama not being born in the US). Even earlier, in 2006, Republican supporters in the US believed there were weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, even after a report conclusively found (in 2004) that no such things were ever there, or found.

Post truth politics work, it would seem.

Two thirds of white males voted for the current US President, and he actually did better than his opponent in the mid-income range. The poorest actually voted for Clinton.

Despite all the lies and half truths, on both sides, supporters of each candidate believed their person was telling the truth 94% of the time. Research has shown that preconceived support is the largest determinant of whether you believe a proposition or not.

In other words, it’s become tribal. Even if supporters are shown that their candidate has told a lie, they accept this, and it does not change their support.

We like to hear good news – it’s only natural. We prefer to hear information that marries with our view of the world. Facts that differ with our own values and inner held beliefs are uncomfortable, and on the whole, we prefer not to be uncomfortable. We’re wired that way. When your team is being belted in the game, you might switch off in disgust, or start walking down the aisles to beat the traffic home. Why prolong the agony?

And then along comes social media, and we can gather whatever information we want. We can live in a cocoon of information that pleases us, whether it is true, biassed or just plain made up. In fact, Google and Facebook’s algorithm’s serve it up to us, because they know what we prefer. They know what we will pause and comment on, click and share.

Now, I’m not blaming the media, or social media, or tribalism, or how we are wired … it is what it is. However, we need to recognise this, if we are to deal with it. Because if not, then we are moving into a world where facts don’t matter, and that’s dangerous.

The trouble is that opinions are cheap and facts are expensive. Worldwide, media is trying to find a business model that will pay for facts, now that the former business model (classified and display advertising) has moved online. Some media don’t care as much as they used to about facts, and peddle opinions, or just promotions.

Yes, media should have seen it coming, but that’s easy to say in hindsight, and what move should they have made anyway? Were they always going to be bowled over?

True, truth is in the eye of the beholder, but we have seen instances (at the highest level) of just plain faced lies (proven lies) being waved off and ignored, as if at least trying to say things as they are is in itself unimportant.  It’s not how things are anymore (people don’t want that), it’s how they make you feel.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m out there looking… answers on a postcard please.

So many flearnings (my startup journey)!

flearning

Last week I did a talk to BloomLab, the university based co-working space for student startup folk here in Perth, WA. My slides are visible above (and also here).

Here is my 10 “flearnings” (learning from failures) – hard won advice from making the wrong decisions (many times), but learning from them.

  1. Startups are easy

Wrong, well actually, right – startups ARE easy, initially; as what you are mostly doing at the outset is “buying things”, and, as a board member once told me, “any fool can go out and buy something”. You raise some money, or maybe invest your own (along with friends, fools and family), and/or max out your credit card(s), and then go on a buying spree … buying programmers, office space, cool marketing campaigns, staff, …. It’s a buzz of excitement, and you’re wearing cool clothes, have ditched the jacket and tie, and are in a startup.

Wrong!

Businesses only survive if they are SELLING things, that is, collecting revenue. And that means someone ELSE is doing the buying, from you. Unless you are creating value by solving a problem for them (your clients), they will not buy from you. If they don’t, you ain’t got a business. Startups are hard. Selling is hard work. Not many startups are cut out for it. But everyone should be sales, including (and especially including) the fancy pancy founders and CEO.

  2. Build it, and they will come

Wrong! Although ultimately the service should sell itself, very few will do this from the get go.

Also, don’t fall into trap that the next release, the latest new functionality, will solve all your problems. ‘Once we add this feature we’ll be home and hosed’. Nope.

Having a great product is very important (as long as it solves a problem that people will pay to remove), but it’s a necessary, not sufficient, factor in your startup succeeding.

3. We’ve got a great product!

A related fallacy to #2 above. The worst sales person falls in love with their  product. The best fall in love with their clients’ problems.

We thought we were building the greatest map-based property web site (even if we were that was irrelevant). We thought we were solving home searching and making it easier. Well, yes we may have been, but they weren’t our clients. They were our users. Our clients were real estate agents, and paying a monthly subscription. We had to solve their problems. What was their problem? NOt selling properties. Properties sell. Buyers seek them out (buyers like to buy, remember? espeically property, especially in Australia.)

‘Getting listings’ is the real estate problem. Good listings. Ones that will sell. Ones that have nice owners. As soon as we realised this, we developed more and more features (including web development and even a magazine) that helped them get listings. ‘List and last’.

Who is paying you? They are your clients. Solve their problems. Full stop.

4. Spend loads of money on ads

If we’d had a bucket load of money for ads, we would have just used it. (There’s that buying itch again!) So what? We might have felt good watching our TV ads, hearing the radio commercials or watching the bus ads zoom by. So may our staff and investors. Would it have brought us revenue? Probably not. So many dotcoms spent huge amounts on advertising (or ‘brand’ as they euphemistically put it), so more people would come to the site, have a ‘meh’ experience, which meant you had to raise more money to get a different set of people to the site. And so on.

Have you ever seen an ad for Google? [Well, OK, I did see this one, and it was great, but it was not a traditional ad in any sense.] Promote the site through making it easy to spread, make it sticky (people stay on), make it elastic (draws people back). This could be about design, in built devices (such as Dropbox offering extra storage if you referred customers), encourage content sharing, etc. Use the free media; journo needs stories. Treat journos & influential bloggers as clients. Take them out for coffee. Don’t just do mass press releases; tailor your media approaches and provide exclusives.

5. Do regular, massive big upgrades

No; keep innovating, but not in a wholus bolus way, as that will ruin things for your users. Changing how the whole site works really annoys your loyal fans. Keep improving things, based on testing and feedback, in an iterative manner. Be fluid, add features, yes, but also think of ways to keeping it simple. UX (user experience) is all important these days. It’s a refined skill, and you will inch (not blast) your way there.

6. There’s either a tech solution or there isn’t

It’s not that cut and dried. The times I was told something was impossible, then the programmers would wander in all sheepishly and show me how they’d solved it (bless their little cotton socks). You get to learn what’s hard and what’s easy. I’ve found a simple truth in all this – it’s never the technology, it’s the people.

7. You’re on your own

Not true! There are multitudes of people out there, probably hammering away at similar type businesses solving similar problems, every day. Network, go to startup events, find people, ask questions, provide value yourself (give and it shall be returned). Years before Spacecubed, Perth Morning Startup, Startup Weekends and the rest, a few internet enterpreneurs still going in the mid 2000s formed ‘eGroup’, as much for the emotional support as anything.

There are now over 30 places and programs you can visit in Perth alone to find alike minded people and support…

Perth-Startup-Network-Sep15

View a full list here

8. SEO is a black art & expensive

I learned much of what I know by trial and error, but the importance of ‘title tags’ and ‘H1’ headings were not lost on me. Get these right and 80% of your search engine optimisation is done. Also, hire someone local who knows that they’re doing. (Direct message me if you want to be introduced to Perth people I have used and recommend.)

The SEO and SEM (search engine marketing) ‘industry’, along with social media and web/app development, is not a regulated so anyone can hang up a shingle and claim they have knowledge. Beware of stupid ‘I can put you on the 1st page of Google’ claims, because no one can guarantee that (well, not before knowing what search phrase is important, and how competitive that is, and how your site is written/updated).

And don’t try to cheat the system. Do not engage in ‘black  hat’ tactics (hiding white text on white backgrounds, keyword stuffing, content automation and the like) to get a higher ranking. Anything that looks like a shortcut is a shortcut, and could get you blacklisted (removed) from search results. It’s hard work, done over time. It’s cumulative. Google is only trying to find the most appropriate site for the search terms entered, so be that site. Have interesting, fresh content. Change it up and keep posting.

9. Social media is all nonsense / waste of time

Really? How do you view the telephone, email or web sites in general?

Social media is just a communications tool. Use some or all of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram … to engage with your audience, build your brand, learn about your market/competitors and all the other things it can do. Use them as part of your overall strategy. You can’t do everything, so decide what makes sense for you and what you can execute on well. And keep doing it, and keep learning.

Allocate time for it, and who is going to do what. Best case is everyone does some of it, and lends a hand to some degree, in the same way everyone probably uses email or the phone to some degree. Don’t allow it to be addictive. Have a plan, train your staff, measure what you do, keep what works and ditch what doesn’t.

In promotional campaigns, mix traditional advertising and social, and watch the impact of your promotions make a larger impact and last longer.

Do not buy links, likes or followers. Build your social media presence organically (the occasional Facebook promoted post, OK), and watch your Klout score to gauge which activities work the best.

10. I will build for a PC 

Think mobile first, because that is now becoming the largest environment online. Build for mobile, and then PC. With a mobile responsive site, you can pretty much have your cake and eat it. 40% of Australian traffic is now on mobile during weekdays, and more than 50% in the evenings and at weekends.

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So there you go, 10 flearnings, from 10 failed mistakes I have made (some of many, many more I could bore you with). Despite making loads of these errors, and learning the hard way, we did survive 10+ years, so we did OK…

All the best with your startup!

SLIDES AVAILABLE HERE >> http://www.slideshare.net/CharlieGunningham/so-many-flearnings-my-startup-journey

Newspaper circulation falls, and falls, and falls (again)

Circulation on the downer

The latest newspaper circulation figures for Australian media organisations make for more sorry reading. Every title, no matter how they try to dress it up (and, boy, have they tried) is in the red, as the graphic above shows (courtesy: ABC News).

Fairfax media seem to have totally given up on print’s future, calling the newspaper circ numbers a “historical production metric” (translation: they are so bad, we are not going to pay much attention to them anymore, in fact, they are a thing of history).

The bright side in all this is the growth in digital subscriptions to newspapers… err, sorry, media organisations.

‘Digital only’ paid subscriptions to the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age now surpass the ‘print and digital’ offer (interesting) and are almost as large as the ‘print only’. Total subscriptions though are well down, although the pace of decline has slowed.

Even our local print monopolist, the West Australian (apparently the most expensive, and best performing daily in the country) has seen subscriptions fall another 4.3%.

The Fin Review has (so I am told) 15,000 digital subscribers (not many for a national product) and the Australian around 55,000. Meanwhile, the Financial Times has 700,000+ print/digital subscribers around the globe, 70% of them are digital mix or digital only. The New York Times has 800,000 subscribers, and a team of 300+ staff to manage them.

A migration to digital platforms is now gathering pace. People who want quality news, specialised news, niche news, are increasingly OK with paying for it. Most people get their general news from free web sites, TV news broadcasts and (increasingly) Facebook feeds (i.e. the news that friends of theirs post daily). Facebook has even begun experimenting with its own Facebook news product (‘Instant Articles‘), so publishers can post directly onto newsfeeds of its 1.1billion or so users.

This major ‘print to digital’ trend is now the main game in news media organisations, and within digital (now the largest media category) there is a move to social and mobile.

Will print die? Interestingly, some commentators think it might still have a role ‘in the mix’. Albeit a smaller one.

When a wily investor like Warren Buffet forks out US$344 million for 28 local newspapers in the States (in 2013), then you know there is something of value still there. His reasons for this included the power local papers have to disseminate news to a community, who, bored of the depressing nature of the global news, turn to something they are a part of, and can understand. Newspaper organisations with a ‘sensible Internet strategy’ will do the best and can still make good earnings.

We live in interesting times.

 

The challenge to media companies, writ large

adchart

As you will know, dear reader, I made a career change earlier this year, to work for a local business news media organisation. Looking at the chart above, you may wonder why!

I’m absolutely loving it. The attraction of the position was to be front and centre of a major shift in how media companies arrange themselves, operate, what they stand for, how they are to be viable (in some cases, simply surviving would be a feat) and how they plot their future. Could we protect journalism as a profession, or is it doomed? What business model would/could work for media?

Today, we hear the Business Review Weekly (BRW) is to close its weekly print publication. The oldest newspaper in the world (Lloyd’s List) closed last month (read story). It began in 1723. It has 16k+ paying subscribers though and has simply turned off the paper. All digital. In the UK, AutoTrader did similar earlier this year. All digital.

In Australia, News Corps’ latest figures show:

  1. their paper revenues fell by 15% (or $350mn) last year
  2. write down of paper assets of $1.4bn
  3. News’ falls are even worse than Fairfax’s, who fell $120mn (-5%)
  4. Fairfax are cutting more jobs – mainly in the business sections

This is just a shift, albeit a major one. Like all great shifts (the ageing process, climate change…) it happens fairly slowly, and yet inexorably. You can get away with ignoring it for a few years but the more you wait, the higher the cost of fixing it becomes. I’ve been inside one of these shifts before and ridden it out the other side.

I am excited to be in the middle of it because no one has got this nailed yet. I do believe the company I am in has a well thought out strategy, is executing on it patiently, and it’s working. I also think print and traditional sales will continue for a while yet. As Supertramp once said, “Crisis? What Crisis?”

1/3 rd of US papers are now behind paywalls. Traffic initially fell, but most have made it all back again, and have a new connection with their paying subscribers, who are happy to pay for quality content.  A year ago a survey showed 3% of people would pay for paywall content, today that has jumped to 9%. Slow, inexorable shifts. The trend is your friend. Time will tell.