Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Everything I Always Wanted My Clients to Know About PR...

but never got around to putting on paper. Geri Denterlein has done it for me.

Geri, the founder of Denterlein Worldwide, a public affairs firm, has written an article for Inc. Magazine in the form of a letter to clients - past, present and future. Here's the opener from the staff at Inc.:

Of all the outside firms that entrepreneurs employ, PR firms probably have the toughest time getting--and staying--in their clients' good graces. Some companies feel they aren't getting as much media play as they deserve, while others think they're garnering the wrong kind of attention.

Geri covers a lot of good points, including a few favorites:
  • When it comes to making news, you have to recognize that one of the key elements of a compelling article is conflict. Businesses that are willing to acknowledge adversity can reap enormous PR rewards.
  • Besides conflict, reporters are always looking for the next big trend or a fresh take on a topic that's dominating the news. If you can identify either of these, you can expect a good clip and a long-lasting relationship with that happy reporter--but you must tell your PR person as soon as possible.
  • What else can you do to improve your working relationship with your PR firm? Make sure you take an active role--but not too active. One of our clients is never available for our weekly call. Another client peppers us with an idea (or 10) du jour. Much like Goldilocks, we constantly seek clients who act just right.
These snippets don't do the article justice. Give it a spin.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

CHEN PR Co-founder named MITEF Volunteer of the Year

It was another successful night for the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge, this time at their annual end of the year thank you dinner and bad business plan competition (See Barb Heffner's post on the latter below). The Forum hosts the event to thank its many volunteers and talk about the year's successes. 2006-2007 proved to be quite a year for the Cambridge group with over 4,300 individuals participating in 80 MITEF programs and services and 1,200 entrepreneurs served.

200-plus volunteers pledged their skills, knowledge and time over the past year to help make each MITEF event a top-notch technological gathering. Of those 200 volunteers, one was honored on Wednesday night for his or her exceptional work as the Forum's Volunteer of the Year.

I was proud to be in attendance to see CHEN PR Co-founder Barb Heffner named that one. It was and is my privilege to work with Barb on the MITEF team and as I listened to MITEF Executive Director Trish Fleming describe the 2006-2007 recipient's qualities before handing out the award, I was quite sure Trish was describing Barb.

Barb's guidance and expertise helped the Forum land a number of great local entrepreneurs as event speakers, spread the word about its monthly case presentations and provide the counsel of a true industry guru. It was obvious that Trish and the rest of the Forum staff couldn't have been happier to bestow the honor on Barb and I don't think anyone was more deserving.


Friday, June 22, 2007

MITEF: Bad Business Plan Competition

I'm not sure what it says about me that one of the professional highlights of springtime for me is the annual MIT Enterprise Forum Bad Business Plan Competition. This year's two entrants were especially bad, which is good.The tagline for the competition: "We bring bad things to light!" (A blatant ripoff of the old GE logo and tagline.) A few of the key judging criteria include:
  • How quickly will the team lose all its money?
  • How impractical is the technology?
  • Did they take the power out of PowerPoint?
  • How clearly did the team articulate that there is no competition?

The winning of bragging rights this year went to the plan for the NanoBioOpto Energy Corp., whose mission is "harnessing the natural power of sunlight via genetically engineered non-encapsulated, self-assembled lattices of silicon hybrid..." (You get the idea.)

As the presenter (who prefers to remain anonymous - I can't imagine why) explained: "Why ride one bubble when you can ride four?" The plan had something to do with energy production by phytoplankton with hydrogen dirigibles to transport it everywhere. It required a modest investment of $135 million to develop a proof of concept. A sure loser - hence it won!

A close runner-up was the plan for "Whack a Yankee." (Apologies to Yankees fans.) The mission of this enterprise is "to provide a constructive solution to Yankee Induced Stress Syndrome (YISS)." The outfit's tagline? "Don't say yes to YISS!" The pricing model involved a fee to buyers for thwacking Yankee players with a golf club, which was brandished throughout the presentation by the animated would-be CEO.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Inspiring Evening

By Veep Randy Wambold...
CHEN PR Founding Partner
Chris Carleton and I recently had the chance to attend the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year dinner. We were invited by our client Boston-Power, whose founder Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, was a finalist. Calling as it did for me to wear a tux for the first time since my wedding ten years ago, I suppose the evening was destined to be memorable from the start – and it did not disappoint.

Having not attended this event before, I was not really sure what to expect heading into it. Of course all of the obvious jokes came to mind about a party planned by accountants. But on this occasion the accountants played stereotype-buster. More than a rote awards ceremony, the evening felt like a sincere celebration of what these entrepreneurs have achieved – and why they have achieved it.

Listening to award winners in the various categories, it became clear that entrepreneurs are by definition passionate and committed, as well of course as driven and ambitious. I was struck by how many of the finalists talked in their acceptance speeches about “changing the world.”

I was also struck and moved by the award winners from outside the U.S. who talked about the opportunities this country had offered them. One gentleman, from Hong Kong I believe, simply stated “America really is the land of opportunity.” I would be remiss if I did not mention Dr. Lampe-Onnerud here as well. A native of Sweden, Dr. Lampe-Onnerud herself frequently comments on the unique opportunities she believes the U.S. offers entrepreneurs.

In a time when it seems like there’s a lot going on in this country that’s cause for grave concern, it was for me a refreshing reminder of what this country does offer. I feel proud to live in a place that attracts entrepreneurs of this caliber, who come here to implement their dreams.

Finally, I would like to offer, on behalf of all of CHEN PR, sincere congratulations to Dr. Lampe-Onnerud and all of our friends at Boston-Power for being named a finalist. Thank you for making us part of such an enjoyable evening.


Friday, June 15, 2007

How to Build a Great Company, from the Experts

Especially with tech companies, you've got to remember the importance of thinking in terms of consumers (using that term broadly) and how they will be using your product. You can't just fall in love with what you're building for its own sake.

That was George Bell's lead lesson at the recent MIT Enterprise Forum session featuring four entrepreneurs sharing their pearls with a packed room of nearly 300 attendees. It was a memorable evening.

When you've got entrepreneurs of the caliber of the presenters at this session, it's hard to know where to start. The stories were wise and sometimes uproariously funny.

After Bell's (General Catalyst, Excite@Home, Upromise) opener, Jeff Taylor ( and now Eons) noted that back in his classified ad agency days, at his first encounter with Bell, "He fired my ass." The two later became friends, and Bell's General Catalyst is an investor in Eons.

Mike Duffy, a first time CEO at OpenPages, shared his story of reinventing the company. When he joined in 2000, the company had raised $50M and was burning cash at $12M a quarter. The market tanked and the company went from 300 to 40 employees in 2001. Ouch.

Duffy noted that one of the first things he focused on was establishing a culture that everyone could believe in, setting the tone for the way they'd work with customers and employees. The company developed award systems to recognize people who did amazing things. "A big part of building a great company is capturing peoples' hearts," Duffy said.

Taylor agreed: "This whole decade is about your people." He advocates a play hard/work hard culture.

Bell told many marvelous stories, but this was a favorite on the subject of culture. When the company reached 4000 employees, he realized he no longer knew most employees' names. So they began to try to capture the culture in training sessions and via policies. (He summarized the early training programs as: "Here's your PC. Good luck.") By the mid-90s, Excite started offering some quirky benefits -- dogs on campus, a breast-feeding policy. There were 20 or so bicycles on campus (honor system) that employees used to get around campus. The requirement was that when using the bikes, you also had to use the front basket to deliver any documents that needed to travel to your destination.

One day, a young engineer's Lamborghini was being repossessed. Bell stumbled open this scene and asked what happened. Short version: The engineer got in over his head when the stock was booming. Bell stepped in and guaranteed his loan. (Bell joked that this was probably a terrible lesson: "If you get in trouble, the CEO will bail you out.") As you might imagine, that story went through the company like wildfire and created a lot of good will.

Taylor chimed in with another often-told but still charming story. As got larger, they had to look at employee productivity. He learned that folks needed time to run errands and pick up the dry cleaning. The company contracted with a local dry cleaner and instituted the Magic Closet, where employees could drop off their dry cleaning for pick up and return. The first week, only 14 people used it. The second week, 50 people used it -- and Taylor picked up the tab. He said he eventually learned that he didn't need to pick up the tab every week, but if he did it now and then, people were amused and word spread. Eventually, they had to have a Magic Room and hundreds of people were using the dry cleaning service.

And then there's the towel story. wanted to encourage employees to exercise, so the buildings had showers, so folks could get outside at lunch. But Taylor just didn't feel folks were inspired. This begat the towel service. He had really fluffy Monster-logo'ed towels made up and parked 15 in the ladies' showers, 15 in the men's. They disappeared. A new batch was deposited in a few days. In the first year, they went through 1400 towels, and eventually, employees started giving them away to friends and neighbors. During that period, you'd see a scattering of towels on nearly every beach trip.

to be continued...

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

CHEN PR Veep to Moderate PRSA Viral Video Panel

CHEN PR Vice President Kevin Kosh -- renowned around the company for his quick wit and pitching wizardry -- will team up with four leading journalists and video experts to present a panel on viral (and other) video at PRSA's T3 PR Conference, "Theory, Tactics and Technology for High-Tech Public Relations." The conference will be held in New York City next week (at Reuters Conference Center, Three Times Square) on Tuesday, June 19th. Kevin and cohorts are up at 2:45 p.m.

We're honored to have the following fun and knowledgeable speakers join Kevin:

Steve Bryant, columnist, Hollywood Reporter, and eWeek Blogger (GoogleWatch)
Andy Plesser, founder and CEO, Beet.TV
Steve Rosenbaum, founder and CEO,
Stephanie Stahl, executive editor, InformationWeek

The conference agenda looks action packed and includes a keynote by Primal Branding author Patrick Hanlon; a "Meet the Media" panel with journos from Forbes, Network Computing, CNET, Fast Company and Laptop Magazine; a panel on virtual worlds and several other interesting sessions.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Lessons from Luminaries: Been There, Done That

The MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge case study presentations have been particularly sizzling these last several months. This next session, on the evening of June 13th, promises to keep the pace.

According to the website squib, the panelists have built worldwide brands, created vibrant companies from the ashes and navigated every kind of wealth-creating transaction out there.

They'll cover:
  • What happens when you love your company too much?
  • How do you create a core culture?
  • How do you reinvent yourself and the company when the old stuff isn’t selling?
  • Which compromises will burn you later?
  • How do you deal with great talent that won’t play nicely with the other children?
  • When should you take no for an answer?
The panel is made up of George Bell, a special venture partner with General Catalyst Partners; Charles Kane, CFO of One Laptop per Child; Michael Duffy, president and CEO of OpenPages and Jeff Taylor, founder and CEO of Eons. Doug Zingale of law firm Greenberg Traurig will moderate.

Networking starts at 5:30 p.m.; the panel gets underway at 6:15 at the Stata Center in Cambridge.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007 - American Idol for Books recently announced two winners in its charming "First Chapters Writing Competition" -- a.k.a. American Idol for Books. (Why didn't they dub it American Idol for Authors?) The competition received an impressive 2,676 manuscript submissions since its inception in January, and the community went through three rounds of judging.

In a surprise move, and Simon and Schuster's Touchstone imprint announced two winners; both will get publishing contracts. Terry Shaw, pictured here, won the Grand Prize with The Way Life Should Be, the story of a modern-day newspaper editor who investigates his best friends death in a coastal Maine town. Geoffrey Edwards, the runner-up, submitted Fire Bell in the Night, a character-driven historical thriller set in the antebellum south.

Steve Rubel recently wrote a piece on The Flat Future of the Publicity Stunt, with some tips on Web-based stunts in a 2.0 world. Surely, has given us a classy example of the best of stunt marketing. Bonus points for being so well aligned its sophisticated social media community.

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