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FROM THE FORTE

Perspective from Double Forte Public Relations and Marketing

Month

January 2014

Fridays With: KJ Dell’Antonia, editor and lead blogger, The Motherlode Blog at The New York Times

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photo credit: Earl Wilson for The New York Times

What is your elevator pitch when someone asks, “What do you do for a living?”

I write and edit the parenting and family blog, Motherlode, for the New York Times. 

Describe the path that led you to this career.

After law school, I tried nearly every kind of law career there is — big firm, small firm, NYC prosecutor, consultant, start-up — and none took. Through it all, I was writing. I started a blog and an email newsletter early, while I was pitching print magazines, and pursued every new opportunity. Slate finally took me on, and the NYT opportunity came from that.

What are the elements of a successful workplace?

I work from home, and have for many years. I need a laptop, solid Internet, a firmly numbered to-do list and a place to put my coffee. 

What is the one piece of technology you cannot live without?

I love my phone and iPad, but the laptop is key. It’s like a folding office. Especially now that I keep most drafts in the cloud and spend so much time on social media, with a laptop I can make anything happen, anywhere. 

What are you reading?

All Joy and No Fun, by Jennifer Senior, The Distraction Addiction, from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, and Michael Palin’s The Truth. Two non fiction, one novel — that’s about right.

If you could, what advice would you give your 20-something self?

Speak up, and knock on doors. You never, ever get anything you don’t ask for.  

If you could do anything and know you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

Hmm. I’ve got my dream job. If I knew I wouldn’t break anything, I’d be a much wilder mountain biker and snowboarder than I am now. 

At Double Forte’s San Francisco office, the conference rooms are named Rock and Roll, Motown, Hip Hop, Mambo, Jazz and Disco. Which name best describes you and why?

Where’s Indie-Alt? Of those, I’d have to say Rock and Roll, largely because I get up every day, start moving, and I don’t stop until I have to. 

What’s in your Netflix queue?

Don’t have one. Wanna know what I’m going read next? That I could tell you. 

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Ten to Follow on Twitter

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Last November, we shared a “Ten to Follow” list of people on Twitter who use 140 characters to communicate in compelling ways. Building on that list, we’ve compiled another ten accounts worth following for news, humor and perspective.

1.      Modern Farmer – @ModFarm

Modern Farmer is a quarterly magazine and daily website for people who care about where their food comes from.

 2.       Rachel Sklar – @RachelSklar

Rachel is a writer and social entrepreneur who founded Change The Ratio, which increases visibility and opportunity for women in tech and new media. She also founded TheLi.st, a network and media platform for awesome women.

 3.       Cole Escola – @ColeEscola

Smart sass from this talented New York City actor and comedian.

 4.       Oliver Strand – @OliverStrand

Oliver is known for dispatches on coffee, buildings and food for The New York Times, Bon Appétit and Vogue.

 5.       Karl the Fog – @KarlTheFog

Yes, San Francisco’s famous fog has a Twitter account.

6.       National Geographic – @NatGeo

Daily reminders that we live on planet Earth.

 7.       Annalee Newitz – @Annaleen

Annalee writes about science, pop culture, and the future. She’s the editor in chief of io9, a publication that covers science and science fiction.

 8.       Bored Elon Musk – @BoredElonMusk

This parody account offers thoughts and inventions from Elon “in his downtime.”

 9.       Samin Nosrat – @CiaoSamin

Samin is a food writer, cook and educator whose work has been shaped by Michael Pollan and Alice Waters.

 10.   KQED Science – @KQEDScience

Award-winning science and environment coverage from KQED, the San Francisco Bay Area’s NPR station.

Fridays With: Brian Cheu, Director of Community Development at San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development

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What is your elevator pitch when someone asks, “What do you do for a living?”

I oversee the City of San Francisco’s community development programs.  That means doing my best to see that San Franciscans who are struggling with all the issues that accompany poverty are provided with services and support that would allow them to move towards economic self-sufficiency in a dignified and empowering way.

Describe the path that led you to this career.

I took a fairly indirect pathway and never really imagined I’d be where I am now. I was an English teacher in China, a corporate attorney, a patient’s rights advocate, a discrimination investigator, a director of a youth center, director of San Francisco’s LGBT Community Center, director of a civil rights group in Chinatown, and finally ended up here.  Each job led to the next job, but not in a way that I could ever have predicted at the beginning.

What are the elements of a successful workplace?

For me the most important element is unquestionably the quality of the people with whom you work. Without a good team around you, your best efforts will never reach fruition. 

What is the one piece of technology you cannot live without?

It’s unoriginal, but I’d have to say my iPhone. For someone that didn’t have a cell phone until a few years ago and was still using paper calendars until last year, I’ll admit I finally have turned the corner and rely probably too much on that phone. I worry that smart phones are making their users less smart sometimes…

What are you reading?

Lost Languages: the Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts; Swann’s Way; Aeschylus’ Agamemnon; and (intermittently) the Game of Thrones novels.

If you could, what advice would you give your 20-something self?

Don’t worry so much about planning out your future, because it’s just impossible to predict where life will take you. Just enjoy life as you go through it.

If you could do anything and know you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

I’d be an astronaut and convince NASA to send people to the moon again. 

At Double Forte’s San Francisco office, the conference rooms are named Rock and Roll, Motown, Hip Hop, Mambo, Jazz and Disco. Which name best describes you and why?

I guess I’d have to say Rock and Roll, although my working knowledge of rock really ended in the mid-’80s.  I’m pretty good from the Everly Brothers up through the British new wave, but it ends there.

What’s in your Netflix queue?

BBC’s great version of Sherlock; We Were Here, the documentary about the AIDS crisis as it affected San Francisco in the ’80s; and Troll Hunter, an obscure Norwegian pseudo-documentary about giant trolls really living in Norway.

Hiring a PR Firm: What Really Doesn’t Matter and What You Need to Know

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A Google search for advice on how to choose the right public relations firm turns up more than 2 million results. But a Google search on firing a PR firm turns up 152 million results. Clearly, despite the abundance of advice out there, something’s not working. For every story of the startup turned overnight success following a Mashable mention, there is a horror story about the startup that burned cash on PR and saw no uplift.

If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’ll turn to your peers for PR advice. But guess what? A lot of what you’ll hear from them really doesn’t matter. Here’s the advice to ignore and the advice to heed.

What doesn’t matter as much as you think it does:

Experience in your specific industry. Domain expertise in a specific industry should not be the most important factor in hiring an agency. It is more important your PR partner have experience solving a similar business problem like how to attract second round investors, how to scale your user base or how to overtake a market leader.

Who they know. In today’s hyper-dynamic media environment, reporters and bloggers change beats and jobs – a lot. Having a specific contact at Venture Beat is meaningless if that writer leaves to develop an app. The criterion you should consider is does the firm know how to find the right reporters and build relationships.

What they promise. If you’re choosing an agency because they promise a specific number of media placements per month, you’re on the wrong track. It’s not that PR shouldn’t be accountable to metrics, it’s that the metrics will depend on you too. A startup that was featured on the front page of USA Today was out of business two days later because it’s back end sales process was flawed. The agency kept delivering media placements when it should have gone quiet.

What really does matter:

Timing. It’s everything. When is the right time to engage an outside agency? Hire a firm too soon and you could burn valuable money and time; too late and you could miss your market opportunity. Yes. PR is that important. Just ask the CEO whose PR campaign generated so much traffic his site crashed –for a month.

If the agency can make you better. Bottom-line, the job of the agency is to make you better – give you capacity and capability to drive awareness among the people who really matter to you. If you can do it without them, you don’t need an agency. If you can’t, look for one that can make you better by bringing their experience, enthusiasm, creativity and elbow grease to the table.

Chemistry. Can you imagine spending time with these people? You need to really like the people you choose, because you will go through ups and downs during the life of the agency relationship, and liking someone goes a long way to having a productive working relationship during challenging moments.

Experience with startups. Startups have very different schedules, workflows and pressures than more established companies with positive cash flow, a full staff and more resources to throw at a problem. Make sure your PR partner has real experience working with startups.

You’ll want to know what startups the agency worked with, what results they achieved on behalf of those companies and what business objectives the agency helped its clients address. An agency’s ability to understand the startup environment is more important than its portfolio of flashy media placements.

Pace. Your agency needs to be able to keep pace with you, pivot when necessary, and embrace your passion to do what it takes to succeed. Do they have clients you can talk to in order to make sure this is true?

Ability to grow. Just as some executives are meant to be founders but not operational leaders, some agencies are adept at launches but aren’t suited to manage after-launch, momentum-building and ongoing communications programs. Depending on what your objectives are and what your budget is, you may want to hire a firm to launch your product only, or perhaps you’ll be better suited to engage with a longer-term partner who can become a trusted counselor over the long term.

Your account team. The classic bait and switch some agencies are known for is sometimes the client’s fault. An agency may have the best of intentions when they bring in the senior guns for the presentation and then once the contract is finalized replace them with junior account staff because the budget is so unexpectedly low. And, sometimes it’s the agency’s MO. What’s important is who is the day-to-day contact. You want someone who has experience in running an account, who knows how to get your attention, who can marshal other agency resources to get the job done efficiently and well.

Flexibility. Too often agencies have “a way” that doesn’t quite fit with yours: they only give reports on Fridays, they use Google Docs and nothing else, they’re not reachable on the weekends. How does the agency map to a client’s procedures, milestones, schedule etc?

You Get What You Pay For

Deciding how much capital to dedicate to an outside resource is a key part in the process. Declare a budget as early in the process as possible. This helps the agency put together plans that are appropriate to the budget available — not present awesome ideas that will put your company at the top of the valuation cycle but cost way beyond your means.

Agencies generally have minimums – from $5K – $40K or more per month plus expenses (expect to pay 10-20% of fee for general expenses) for at least six months to engage. Do the agencies you’re talking to have a good plan for the money? Can they scale up and down with you? Or are they going to just throw the most junior person in the room on the business by themselves so that they don’t eat up senior people’s time on a small budget. Penny foolish leads to disappointment almost every time.

The thing you need to know is that YOU’RE going to MATTER to your agency — regardless of the size of the budget. (Expect to pay some up front; also plan to negotiate equity stakes if you have little cash to spend.)

Finding an Agency

If you’re not going to just hire someone you know, choose four, no more than five, agencies to talk with that can actually work with you, have capacity, don’t have a conflict, and have an appropriate minimum billing requirement for your budget. (You may have to talk with ten to net four to evaluate).

To compare and contrast:

Tell them as much as you can about what you’re trying to accomplish and have them spend some time thinking about the best approach for you.

Meet the team that would work on your business, or at least the day-to-day contact and their boss.

Put their answers and your meeting through the filter we’ve outlined here. Most likely the answer will be a clear choice (or two). If no one floats to the top, don’t hire and re-think your approach.

Fridays With: Nancy Cremins, Startup Attorney, Gesmer Updegrove LLP

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What is your elevator pitch when someone asks, “What do you do for a living?”

I am a startup attorney who advises and assists entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses, with a particular passion for working with female-founded companies.  I handle dispute resolution, employment matters, and a range of other issues encountered by entrepreneurs and early stage companies.

Describe the path that led you to this career.

My typical response when people ask me why I became a lawyer, is a joke: “lack of creativity.”  The truthful answer is that from the time I was little, I was a negotiator, an advocate, and was happiest speaking to a crowd.  I went to law school because it seemed like the right fit for my talents and provided me with a clear professional pathway and skills to help people navigate their legal rights.

I came to the startup community several years into my practice when I joined my current firm, Gesmer Updegrove, which works exclusively with early stage companies.  I love working with entrepreneurs.  They are typically energetic, optimistic, and focused on figuring out creative ways to solve problems – both big and small. 

What are the elements of a successful workplace?

People who take their jobs seriously, but not themselves seriously.  A culture that embraces and encourages diversity.  A place that is flexible and encourages creative problem solving.

What is the one piece of technology you cannot live without?

My iPhone, no question.

What are you reading?

The Shift by Tory Johnson and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

If you could, what advice would you give your 20-something self?

Take more risks, have more adventures, don’t fear failure, and enjoy sleeping in while you still can.

If you could do anything and know you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

I would launch my own business.  Who knows, it could happen…

At Double Forte’s San Francisco office, the conference rooms are named Rock and Roll, Motown, Hip Hop, Mambo, Jazz and Disco. Which name best describes you and why?

Hip Hop for two reasons: 1) it’s my favorite music to dance to and 2) it is outspoken, irreverent, and challenges the status quo – like me.

What’s in your Netflix queue?

Power Rangers. Seriously, that is what is in my queue, I just checked on my iPhone.  I have kids, don’t judge.

How to Pair Foods and Wines for Luck in the New Year

For us at The Barn Group, extra luck is always welcome. And with that said, there are a number of foods believed to bring good fortune for the New Year. Kick off 2014 by savoring these lucky foods with perfectly paired wines.

Greens Bring the Green

Image source: Happy Boy Farms

Sautee a handful of hearty greens, or add raw to a soup and allow them to wilt. By eating greens at the beginning of the year, it is said more green paper will enter your wallet. In addition, those greens may advance one of your New Year’s resolutions, like eating more healthfully.

Wine Pairing: A bitter green can benefit from a sweeter wine, so try a Moscato or Riesling.

Pork for Positive Direction

Image source: Bon Appetit

Pigs root forward and eating pork for the New Year is believed to move your life in a positive direction. Another philosophy suggests eating a fat pig ensures a year rich with happiness.  

Wine Pairing: A light Pinot Noir is a great pairing for leaner meats like pork.

Gobble Grapes for Good Luck

Image source: LangeTwins

In Spain and Latin American countries, it’s tradition to eat twelve grapes in the New Year, representing each month of the year. Each sweet grape indicates a good month of the coming year and sour ones suggest difficult months.  

Wine Pairing: Since wine is fermented grape juice, you can’t go wrong here.

Coins Come After the Peas

Image source: Blog con Queso

The tradition of eating black eyed peas for luck dates back to the Civil War. Since black eyed peas were originally planted for livestock feed, the crops were spared by troops from the North, thus providing sustenance for surviving Confederate soldiers. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that these beans are said to look like coins, thus inviting wealth.

Wine Pairing: Try Chardonnay to soften the minerality of the beans.

Circle Cakes Ring in the New Year

Image source: Sunset

Circular foods bring luck for the New Year with their symbolism of coming full circle. So, grab a doughnut and look forward to a great year.

Wine Pairing: A demi-sec sparkling wine has just the right amount of sweetness for cakes and doughnuts.

Cheers to 2014 from The Barn Group!

Get To No Through Yes

Get to “no” through “yes” is a guiding principle at Double Forte. If the first words out of your mouth when someone – the client, a colleague, me – asks for something is no, that person will shut down. If people shut down, you’ve lost your value. If you lose your value, well the slippery slope to some sort of oblivion has begun.

No is often the correct answer, but people don’t want to hear that. They want to hear that you can do what they ask. So instead of just saying “no,” answer with “tell me more” or “yes, if” or “yes, and.”

“What is the reason behind the request?” will help you answer the question in a positive way that most likely helps the askee without shutting them down. And the less you shut them down, the more you are valuable… and the more you’re valuable… you get the idea.

A version of this post originally appeared on Rocks are Hard.

Fridays With: Leah Garchik, Features Columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle

What is your elevator pitch when someone asks, “What do you do for a living?”

I write a column in the San Francisco Chronicle.  It’s sort of a newspaper within the newspaper, a gossip column that tries to steer away from Lady Gaga.

Describe the path that led you to this career.

I came to the Chronicle in 1972, with a B.A. in creative writing,  as a part-time temporary steno-clerk. I started writing by doing book reviews, then became an editor, then writer/reporter, then columnist.

What are the elements of a successful workplace?

To me, it’s the ability to talk with my co-workers, to have enough oxygen in the day that I can pick my head up and look around me (in the office and in the city) and take note of what’s happening.

What is the one piece of technology you cannot live without?

Never mind smart phone, iPad, laptop. I like my fancy electric toothbrush. If I didn’t have it, my teeth could fall out, and then I would be a pariah on the social scene.

What are you reading?

I am reading a fairly obscure book by a British writer about the (probably mythical) place, Thule.  It’s an exploration of the North — Iceland, Greenland, Norway — and just fascinating. Found it on the “free table,”  where people leave books they don’t want any more, at work.

If you could, what advice would you give your 20-something self?

I was in my early 30s when I made the leap from clerical worker to a writing job. I would have pushed for that earlier. I would have told myself at 20 to do what I eventually did at 33 or so:  Use one’s envy to motivate oneself.

If you could do anything and know you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

Figure skater; I love those little short skirts.

At Double Forte’s San Francisco office, the conference rooms are named Rock and Roll, Motown, Hip Hop, Mambo, Jazz and Disco. Which name best describes you and why?

Motown. Can’t escape the demographic. I’m a Boomer.

What’s in your Netflix queue?

Don’t do Netflix.

Numbers Count, But Quantity Doesn’t Trump Quality

Metrics matter. As Peter Drucker said, “What’s measured improves.”  But when we’re measuring, we need to remember that value has multiple definitions. Per Merriam-Webster, value can be both the amount and the usefulness of something: quantity and quality. This is certainly true in the world of social media. Yet two stories we read today infer many digital citizens seem to have forgotten the second half of the value equation.

Mediabistro posted an article about the practice of faking a large Twitter following. It includes an infographic from Who Is Hosting This that outlines who is likely to purchase followers (celebrities, startups, bloggers and job seekers), how much it costs to buy followers (.01 cent per follower), and the risk of getting caught (breached trust, banishment from social platforms).

Alex Beam has a column in The Boston Globe about the practice of buying Facebook friends – even the State Department has been accused. Of course, some fake followers aren’t bought, they’re made. Beam references a statistic from web consulting firm Incapsula that 61 percent of web traffic is generated by non-human entities known as bots.

Likes and clicks and followers and friends are only half of the equation. If the people behind those numbers aren’t engaging with you and your content, your social media efforts will add up to nothing. So take a deep breath, calm down about your RTs and likes, focus on compelling content and then share this post with all of your followers. Just kidding! As Beam writes in the Globe,It’s unlikely that the digital dead have much interest in what I’m up to.”

 

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