Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What the iPhone Updates Mean for You, And What Apple Should Do Next

If you’re looking for an in-depth post about pixels and processing chips, look somewhere else. I’m here to tell you about what this stuff actually means for you, and what I think Apple should be doing next. And also, I don’t know much about pixels, so I would have been doing a lot of Googling and citing other experts. Here are the biggest takeaways you should care about from the iPhone 5s, and a bit on the iPhone 5c.

TouchID. Tim Cook may be cursing Steve Jobs for the name iPod Touch that caused every consumer to nickname it the iTouch, because that would’ve been an appropriate name here. This is what everyone was hoping for – consumers, retailers, financial organizations and banking apps – I can’t think of anyone who didn’t want this. TouchID is a biometric finger scanning app to unlock your iPhone and process transactions for iTunes and the App Store. Bye-bye passcode, which only five people I know use (looking at you, Lisa Astor). Hello TouchID, which everyone should use. The best part is that it’s on the all-new Home button. So you don’t have to take an extra step to open your phone’s native screen. Supposedly it’s fast, and it actually gets faster as it recognizes you better.

The potential goes beyond accessing the native screen of your device. Right now, it’s not open to developers to integrate it into their apps. It can be used in iTunes and the App Store. In later versions, however, we’ll see Apple integrate this into Passbook and hopefully, eventually into third-party apps. Integrating it into Passbook would be a savvy business move for Apple. It will convince more developers to join the Passbook community, and as more apps are using advanced biometric scanning, more consumers will want that ease of use and switch to the iPhone – if they haven’t already. As Apple expands the use of TouchID (hopefully), mobile banking apps have the potential to enable a fingerprint scan every time you launch an app instead of typing in a code. It’s much more secure, since no one else has your fingerprint, and it’s a much more seamless experience for consumers.

Are there potential pitfalls? Yes, if Apple hasn’t 100% perfected this feature then there could be a lot of angry consumers locked out of their iPhones because the scan isn’t working properly. For example, what if I’m using my iPhone while running (doubtful because I don’t run), and I have sweat running down my fingertips? Or maybe some nervous guy has clammy hands? Does that moisture affect the scan if I want to change the song on my locked device while running? Or will the clammy hands guy not be able to get that girl’s number because he can’t unlock his device? Ideally, no. But the tech is new; it’s probably not perfect yet.

M7. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, “M7 motion coprocessor gathers data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass to offload work from the A7 for improved power efficiency.” It accesses CoreMotion APIs for better fitness and health apps by capturing motion data. This is a good step forward in contextual awareness. If you don’t’ know what contextual awareness is, think Google Now. It gives you the information you want, before you even ask for it. Right now, M7 will be most prevalent in health and fitness apps, and Nike Plus has already been working with Apple to update their app to incorporate the M7 technology.

This helps improve GPS signals, but the potential of contextual awareness is far greater than that. In the future, we’ll have contextually aware apps and devices that read all kinds of signals from our current environment to proactively alert of us of things we want or need to know. Think of a world where it’s winter and it’s snowing. If it snows, you need more time to get ready, but if you didn’t know it snowed – you didn’t set your alarm any earlier. You phone already has the information you need – it’s snowing (weather app), so you need to get up earlier. A contextually aware alarm clock can incorporate weather and set off your alarm a half hour earlier than usual so you have time to shovel snow and get to work on time. Is M7 there yet? No, it mostly measures motion and integrates with GPS. But Apple’s headed in the right direction. And for this perpetually late gal, I could use a contextually aware device. As one of the CNET live bloggers noted, Apple didn’t announce a smart watch – the iPhone 5s is its version of the smart watch.

Camera. This thing is fast, and it’s clear. It takes 10 pictures per second and saves the best one. But it saves those other nine in an accessible place in case you want to double check for yourself. Apple says that it’s not about just adding more pixels, they’ve added bigger pixels. I don’t know much about cameras, but it sounds like that makes sense to me. It also performs better in low light and they’ve improved the front-facing camera. As someone who enjoys FaceTiming my best childhood friend who’s in another country, I appreciate that improvement greatly. Like I said, I’m not a camera expert, so if you want all the technical details, Andrew Nusca of ZDNet recaps the features nicely, and what they mean for better pictures. Check out his article if you’re interested.

64-Bit Processor. Today, Apple’s Phil Schiller told us, “The PC world made the transition from 32 bit to 64 bit and it took years. Today you're going to see that Apple is going to do it on one day." So, the iPhone 5s will supposedly have desktop-level processing. While this may not mean much to consumers (except gamers), it’s this type of processing that is letting Apple enable TouchID and the advanced camera. In your other apps, you won’t see the transition to 64 bits for a long time, and honestly, you may not notice it at all.

That’s what I’ve got for the iPhone 5S folks. I say go get it, if you’re due for an upgrade. For those looking into the less expensive version – the iPhone 5c – my two cents is that this is the child’s version of the iPhone 5. In terms of capabilities, there aren’t many upgrades from the 5. The big thing is that these versions are available in colors. They are coated in hard, durable plastic – probably break less easy when you drop it. But Apple is also marketing colorful cases with it and this makes the iPhone look exactly like a child’s toy. Don’t do this, people – do not buy their cases to go with it. It looks like anyone carrying this should also have a Hello Kitty backpack with them. If you do get the 5c, buy a different case than the ones Apple is selling.

As for iOS 7 – that’s a game changer for Apple’s software. It’s very significant and I will certainly be upgrading to it on my iPhone 5. Trust me – there is a new sleek design, better user interfaces, and more intuitive feature and functions. As soon as iOS 7 is available, don’t waste any more time on iOS 6. That reminds me, don’t forget to download iWork, iPhoto and iMovie for free – Apple’s no longer charging for those apps.

Recommendation: If you have an upgrade, get the iPhone 5s. If you want a cheaper version, don’t waste money on the iPhone 5c – just get the iPhone 5. They are not that different in terms of features and functions, and you will feel like an adult while you’re carrying it. If you have the iPhone 5 - upgrade to iOS 7 when it's available. You'll notice the difference. My last recommendation regarding the iPhone 5s is simple - someone please buy me one. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Press Tour Tips

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a major in-person media tour with one of my clients. I learned a lot, and I was beyond stoked to see the super-modern New York offices of places like Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. Here are my tips, based on that two-day experience. So, obviously I’m the expert here…

Have the necessities, and then some:
Anything that can go wrong probably will, so be prepared. Here’s my recommended list:

Logistical PR Items
  • Copies of the press release and anything related (such as FAQs)
  • Business cards
  • Extra pens
  • Notebook
  • Smartphone to look up last-minute details
  • Back-up tablet or laptop for demos

“Life Happens” Items:
  • Mints/gum
  • Tide-To-Go
  • Hand/face wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Ibuprofen
  • Tums
  • Hair/make-up accessories if your executive is female
  • Sewing kit
  • Phone charger
  • Cash
  • Band-aids

For the record, the only things I actually used off this “Life Happens” list were the mints and phone charger. But I guarantee that if I forgot one of them, I would’ve needed it. Murphy’s Law, right?

Call the Publication’s Offices Ahead of Time

The wise Lisa Astor reminded me to not only get the addresses, but call each place first and ask the receptionist about cross streets, parking, building security, etc. Your client is looking for you to lead the way – tell the cab driver where to go, and know the little nuances of various offices like you’ve been there a hundred times. Be the expert, not just in PR, but in travel time and locations. I guarantee I never would’ve found the IDG office that was above a spy store if I didn’t heed that advice from Lisa. Seriously, it was above a spy store. Yes, we checked out the spy store on our way, obviously.

Never Give Up On That Last Meeting

I really wanted to land a meeting with Bloomberg. I really, really did. We had great meetings booked in New York, including All Things D. But, I wanted Bloomberg, too. Call it a personal challenge. I called reporters, I followed-up, I talked to various editors. I boarded the train in Boston with an “I don’t have time,” from the reporter. A last-ditch phone call at Penn Station turned that into, “I can make time this afternoon.” Just because the briefing materials are printed and you’re already traveling doesn’t mean you’re out of time. 

Prep, Prep and don’t forget to prep.

So, you had a prep call and drafted briefing materials? Great, but that doesn’t mean that breakfast before your meeting with the Wall Street Journal should be spent chatting about the weather and Patriots. Okay, maybe a little about the Patriots. But take that extra time to go over the briefing materials, remind your client about the focus for each reporter and the best way to approach the demo. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll know that you did all you could to prepare them for the meeting. 

With enough preparation, press tours can lead to valuable introductions, long-lasting relationships with journalists and incredible coverage for product launches. 

Let me know in the comments what other tips you have for press tours. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Facebook Phone? No thanks.

A colleague and I chatted this morning about the rumors that Facebook will announce its own Android-powered smartphone this week - "HTC First." My question is, why? This is not what Facebook should be focused on – I don’t know how many reporters, analysts or bloggers need to tell them before they understand. Facebook needs to fix or figure out mobile advertising. Then Facebook can work on other (unnecessary) projects. 

It would make a lot more sense for Facebook to partner with Apple, Android, Samsung, etc. to work for better Facebook integration on those devices, instead of creating their own phone that's going to have tough competition in the market from people who are already loyal to their devices - and not because of its social networking capabilities. Honestly, do you need more Facebook integration on your smartphone? The only thing I could think of is that when you upload iOS pics to Facebook, you can’t tag people. Other than that, I don’t really need more integration - and that's coming from someone who dedicates a significant amount of time to social media. 

As my colleague Jess Payne pointed out, this smartphone leak "could simply be a red herring for what they really plan to roll out on Thursday. Could it be their advertising platform? Personally, I can’t think of a reason to switch from my current phone, and I certainly wouldn’t do it solely for social networking."

Maybe this is something that makes sense for Facebook to focus on down the line, but they have bigger fish to fry for right now. That's my PR thought for the day.Would you switch to a Facebook phone? 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lessons to Learn from Boston Cab – Do You Have a Crisis Plan In Place?

This is a collaborative post written by Marki Conway and Jason Ouellette, VP of Technology at PAN Communications. This post originally appeared on prSPEAK. 
Sunday’s edition of the Boston Globe began a three-part series of eye-opening investigative journalism into Boston taxis, particularly, into the Boston Cab company. First of all, this is the type of quality journalism that keeps readers coming back, trusting sources and grateful that the media is digging deep to tell the public the stories that need to be heard.
It’s also refreshing to see this type of in-depth reporting in a world of 140-characters and here-and-gone news cycle. It has made such an impact that Boston’s Mayor Menino has ordered a sweeping review into the Boston taxi system – despite the fact that the homepage for Boston Cab’s website proudly displays a photo of Mayor Menino getting into a Boston Cab. This may even be one of those news stories so important, that it actually motivates changes in legislature.
Boston Cab was spotlighted as a company with questionable business practices, mistreating drivers and severely underpaying victims of accidents involving Boston Cabs. And what is Boston Cab doing now that all three stories have been published? Crickets.  Silence. We’ve heard nothing from the company’s lawyers, PR team or the company’s owner - Edward J. Tutunjian. Yes, Tutunjian wrote a letter to Globe reporters prior to the story being published, but he has not yet responded or reacted to the series, which portrays him and the company as soulless and corrupt.
If Boston Cab didn’t have a crisis communications plan yet, they’re kicking themselves now. We’ve been talking about having a crisis communications plan in place from day one since you never know what tomorrow will bring and it should be set up and managed by your external agency or internal communications team. Well, here is some unsolicited advice in how should they be responding.
  1. Come clean. First and foremost, they need to tell the truth. There is obvious confusion about the way Boston Cab is operating, with independent contractors and taxi medallions in separate corporations. Time for Tutunjian and his team to come clean and explain the business processes.
  2. Apologize. When the company does come clean, it will likely be revealed that some lawsuits or processes were handled improperly, and fessing up doesn’t mean the job is done. Tutunjian owes the public an apology, perhaps as an open letter to the Boston Globe. With that apology, a kind gesture to some of the victims and their families would go a long way.
  3. Advocacy: The series spotlights two groups of Boston Cab constituents who have been allegedly mistreated, due to unjust legislation and insurance requirements. Tutunjian himself has noted that the $20,000 insurance payout requirement for Boston Cab accident victims isn’t adequate, but that by law, it all that he is required to pay. Now is the time for the company and Tutunjian himself to take a stand and fight for more appropriate legislature, laying our plans for what is fair and using cities such at New York  as an example. Tutunjian’s own taxi drivers have also been victims of violent crimes and accidents, for which they have been poorly compensated. A good move now would be to advocate for safer taxi driving regulations that protect both drivers and passengers. This could be a better communications system to the main Boston Cab office, or camera requirements in cars. Whatever it is, Boston Cab has the opportunity to develop this “Safe Driver” plan, advocate for its adoptions and implement it.
  4. Rebuild the brand. Next comes major damage control. Boston Cab has a responsibility to the public, its passengers and its drivers. This calls for a major marketing blitz and community engagement. A couple of ideas could include:
    • “Get to know Boston Cab” campaign, which uses the advertising slots on top of cabs to profile friendly cab drivers.
    • Major donations to a rehab facility where motor vehicle accident victims go once they’re in recovery.
    • Sponsoring a tent at the Boston Marathon,  portraying a positive image of Boston Cab in the community
    • Engage in their active (and yet to launch) social communities. We live and work in a City that is all about transparency and engagement. Boston Cab should leverage our connected community.
    • Posting “Did you know” facts on the interior of Boston Cabs, with fun, positive facts about the company, and safe riding tips
However Boston Cab decides to respond, the silent approach that it is choosing now is not the answer. And if they come out swinging with accusations to drivers, victims and reporters – that won’t work for them either. How would you react if you were part of the Boston Cab communications team?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

So, I made myself a PR Pro

Maybe you saw the Dodge commercial on Sunday about God making farmers? Then, if you work in PR, maybe you saw Arik Hanson’s blog post adopting this to how God made PR pros? This is definitely interesting, and it makes us look like hard working, driven, intelligent and extremely busy individuals. And that is definitely true – I’m not arguing that –so thanks for the post, Arik.

What I’m arguing against, however, is that God made PR pros. God didn’t make me a PR professional, I did. I worked hard in undergrad to get into a top PR graduate school. I worked multiple jobs and was an integral part of a University social media research project at a time when the industry was trying to figure it out. I spent all-nighters working in the computer labs on research papers, campaigns, graphic design projects, studying for tests, etc. God didn’t make me do this. I did, because I wanted to succeed. This isn’t about religion, it’s about the fact that in PR, most of us have a work hard/play hard attitude. We’re multi-taskers, doers, thinkers, innovators, writers, early-risers, night owls, social butterflies and so forth. So, Arik – here’s my respectful rebut.

So, I made myself a PR pro, by never quitting, working hard and knowing when it’s time to rest.  

I said, “I really don’t want to wake up at 4 a.m., how about I snooze until 5 a.m.? Great, and then I’ll go for a run, and sign on to my computer from home. I’ll check my Google Alerts, send over the morning’s coverage to my clients, head to the suburbs for a client meeting to present updated messaging to their executive team, head in to the office by 11:30, scan additional news, Tweet out client coverage, spend my lunch drafting this blog post, call my beat reporters, set up pre-briefs for news on a client’s big customer win, write the briefing materials, make sure my managers/VPs have the monthly metrics, draft a press release, check my LinkedIn groups for comment opportunities, draft a byline, moderate a media interview with Forbes, fill in my daily time sheets, check out with managers, head over to the Mobile Monday start-up event, mingle with investors and new business prospects, get home by 10 p.m., respond to any pending emails, go to bed and do it all over again the next day.” I did this because I wanted to, not because of some calling from a higher power. 

So, I made myself a PR pro by pushing limits and exceeding expectations.

I said, “I need to sit in this meeting with Vice Presidents and the entire client team, listen to their recommendations, offer creative ideas for new campaigns, talk about metrics, and then, when my VP asks me to pull off the near-impossible in just two quarters, tell her that I’ll do it in one.”

So, I made myself a PR pro by being confident enough to challenge the norm and offer advice to leadership, but humble enough to learn from anyone who has lessons to offer.

I said, “ I need to analyze these Cision metrics and Google Analytics and explain to clients why what they’re doing isn’t working and what can work. I need to step up when that client asks for a release turned around in 15 minutes, or when there is breaking industry news and my client wants to be the first to respond about it. I need to mentor interns and younger staff, while learning and taking advice from my more veteran colleagues. I need to respect my clients while offering realistic guidance. Sometimes, I need to vent about things, but I can’t complain.”

So, I made myself a PR pro because I learned how to weed out the important from the trivial, and that true success means a work/life balance.

I said, “I need to be level-headed enough to handle a crisis–executing carefully strategized crisis plans with a calm voice and steady hand. I also need to be fun, and learn how to laugh even when work is stressful, because the people and the passion are what make working in PR the best job in the world, and no one likes the fuddy duddy who’s all work and no play." God didn't tell me to keep calm, and he certainly didn't tell me to go get drinks with colleagues after a hard day's work. 

So, I made myself a PR pro because I’m passionate about communication and continued learning.

I had to learn how to write and edit, and that means writing and reading often, whether for school or pleasure. I need to offer advice and take it. Learn to do things on my own, and work well with others. I need to know what industry trends are changing PR and excel in them. Be an expert in social media even while I’m learning about it. Become the office guru in mobile because I never want to stop learning. Each day, I read more about stats, trends and new technologies that impress me and make me wonder what’s next. This is due to my insatiable curiosity and as a result, I am able to keep up or stay ahead of the curve. 

So, I made myself a PR pro because I am my own moral compass.

But above all, I needed to keep a strong moral compass, and this had nothing to do with God. Free will,  learning from my mistakes, sticking up for the underdogs, overcoming hardships, and gratitude for opportunities I’ve had have made me an ethical PR professional.  Being spellcheck-obsessed in my personal life, my love for NPR, my incessant FourSquare check-ins – these are all attributes, but they don’t make me a PR person. Determination. Humility. Passion. Confidence. Insatiable desire to learn. These all make me a good PR professional. And these are all traits I am proud to say I cultivated through a lifetime of hard work, not because God made me a PR professional. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Facebook’s Graph Search – The good, the bad and the ads

Mark Zuckerberg took a page from Steve Jobs‘ playbook today, with a cryptic announcement that it would hold a press conference today at 10 a.m. PT. With Apple, however, we usually have an idea of what to expect – the next iPhone and/or iPad – though we may not know all the features.
Well, Facebook isn’t a hardware company, and no one really knew what to expect until Zuckerberg took the stage to talk about the three pillars of Facebook – Newsfeed, Timeline and… Graph Search. This is essentially an improved search function – which they needed. Before launching it, Facebook had to do a lot of legwork to ensure privacy and that users only receive results from people in their networks, whose information was already shared with them. This is differentf from web search in that it is insanely personal and relevant to you. Here are a few of the features:
  • You can search anything within your Facebook network that was already public to you. This includes photos, places updates, what your friends like, etc. For photos, this is ranked by the most “Likes” they received.
  • If you search for something specific, such as “soccer,” all of you friends who “Like” soccer are listed, ranked by who’s most important to you.
  • You can search Places to see who of your friends have been to, for example, a new restaurant you’d like to try.
  • Graph search auto-completes (like Google), so it will start to finish your query for you based on what it knows about you.
  • You can search for “friends who live in Boston,” and it will show you a list of those friends, in case you want to visit (and why wouldn’t you?)
  • Dating on Facebook? Okay, this part is creepy. As Emily Price of Mashable noted, you can search for something like “People named Chris who are friends with X” to find someone you met at a party. Oh, and you can search for things like “single women in Boston.” There is certainly a potential creep factor here, but we do have to remember that our networks are choosing to share all of this information.
  • If Facebook can’t find the results, they show results from Bing, just adding more fuel to the fire between Google and Facebook.
What does this mean for users, brands and advertisers?
Ad monetization has been top of mind for Facebook for a long time, specifically mobile ad monetization. This may dramatically impact that –  just look at Google’s success with search advertisements for proof. Especially if they hone in on this for mobile searches and incorporate location and behavior targeting, this could turn things around for Facebook. Could, is the key word there – this isn’t a guarantee. If Facebook launches this thing well and can show positive search results, accuracy and that users are actually engaging in Graph Search, then Facebook could offer advertisers the opportunity to buy “ad words,” much like they buy Google ad words. Better yet, they could be locally relevant on mobile devices.
Privacy is top of everyone’s mind, as it should be. I guarantee people are flocking to their privacy settings to see what people will be able to search. They are concerned that people will see their information, and are guaranteed to freak out even though they are the ones who made this public in the first place. The big issue I see here is that you can search for something such as “friends of friends who are single.” I realize we decide if our friends’ friends can see our information, but that one is often overlooked because no one thought a query like this was possible. So my recommendation is that you should probably update that one, if you haven’t already.  Realistically though, all Facebook did was make it easier for you to find information that you already had access to, even if you didn’t know it.
Accuracy is also a concern, because people are not always telling the truth on their pages. For example, I put that I speak Gaelic on my Facebook page as a joke a while ago – I do not speak it other than a few choice words. Yes, slainte is one of them. That’s a small example though, of how I could inaccurately show up in someone’s search results.
Community managers are all in a Twitter tizzy about how excited they are about Graph Search so they can better connect with people on their pages, and to see who “Liked” what posts, etc. Also, anytime you search for something, such as a new hair salon, you can see what salons your friends liked. This is huge for brand pages, especially those that have a lot of Likes.
Personally, I welcome this update. Am I going to replace Google with Facebook? Of course not, and that’s not what it’s meant for. But Facebook’s search feature needed a major face list – pun intended. It has been a pain for some time now to search even your own timeline. Major events in my life and my friends lives have all been recorded in one way or another on this social networks since 2005, and I welcome a way to access that. Also, who’s opinion am I more likely to trust about a restaurant I want to check out – a stranger on Yelp, or a couple of my friends from high school?
What are your thoughts about Graph Search? Are you excited about it, or are you on you way to block all your information so it won’t appear in search results? Will this solve, or at least help, Facebook’s advertising problem?