Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Energy Powering Innovation

The morning session on power during Thursday’s MITEF Innovation Summit kept attendees tuned in as speakers discussed alternative energy topics from wind dams to waste gasification. After a thought-provoking keynote by Dr. John Kao, the conference divided into its three sectors for the remainder of the day.

Stephen Connors, director of the Analysis Group for Regional Energy Alternatives at the MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, kicked off the power sector and didn’t disappoint, discussing some of the most innovative, albeit sometimes far-off, energy technologies out there. Particularly interesting was Connors’ analysis of some of the more far-reaching energy technologies that haven’t yet become, as Connors put it, “the next killer amp.” He pointed out that an overemphasis on technology can lead to serious reliability issues when it comes to saving energy in today’s marketplace. While full of innovation, ideas like Chetwood Associates’ wind dam or the US Department of Energy’s FutureGen clean coal projects raise serious questions about necessity, convenience, reliability and even style – all concerns Connors listed for consumers and investors alike in the world of alternative energy.

Following up on Connors’ talk, the breakout session in the power track featured a panel made up of William Davis, president and CEO of Ze-gen, Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind, and Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, Founder and CEO of Boston-Power. The panel was moderated by Peter Rothstein, entrepreneur-in-residence at Flagship Ventures. All three of the panelists represented energy companies in fairly early stages and all three came from different areas of the energy marketplace, providing for interesting conversation.

Each speaker talked about the different hurdles they overcame as their companies took shape in the always-changing energy market. Davis, CEO of Ze-gen, a developer of waste gasification technology which converts waste into electrical energy, talked about trying not to upset the large waste management companies and also choosing to use only specific forms of waste in order to make permitting as smooth a process as possible.

For Jim Gordon and Cape Wind, the challenge has always been a NIMBY problem. NIMBY is energy jargon for “not in my backyard,” and for Cape Wind, it represents one of the biggest problems with putting offshore wind turbines on Nantucket Sound. Gordon shared some convincing stats, pointing out that the complete project will produce up to 420 megawatts of energy and will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 734,000 tons per year. That seems to me at least as good a reason as any to let Cape Wind do its thing.

Boston-Power Founder and CEO Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud (and CHEN PR client) hasn’t faced the ordinary challenges of a start-up due to the intense demand for the company’s next-generation Lithium-ion batteries. Coming off a $45 million round of venture capital funding - the largest round of funding of any New England company in the last quarter of ’07 - Dr. Lampe-Onnerud talked about market opportunities – in particular the opportunity to develop a safe, effective and environmentally friendly product. Dr. Lampe-Onnerud further relayed that the company chose China for its manufacturing facilities because the Chinese have the capability to produce quickly and efficiently, something that will enable Boston-Power to bring its product to market soon - the company is already in mass production.

More Innovation Summit coverage to come…

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Lessons in Crisis Communications

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Publicity Club of New England’s “Lessons in Crisis Communications.”

The riveting panel included:

  • Nicole Gustin – Senior Associate in Communications, Marketing and Government Relations for the American Red Cross
  • Robert Brogna – Manager of Media Relations for Brockton Hospital
  • Janey Bishoff – CEO of Bishoff Communications
  • Paul Andrew – Senior Vice President of Weber Shandwick Worldwide
  • Pauline Alighieri – Founder and President of the Friends of Mel Foundation

The panelists shared their unique points of view on crisis communications, by presenting mini case studies on challenging events they worked on.

Nicole Gustin stressed that the Red Cross has a different definition of crisis communications, since the very nature of the Red Cross day-to-day activity is what most would consider a crisis: responding immediately to 2-3 events a week, usually fires.

Her case study involved two employees stealing money by creating fake clients and taking money that was assigned to them. The Red Cross was concerned that the two employees being charged separately could lengthen the news cycle on the story and raise questions about the security of donations to the Red Cross. To combat this, Gustin went to the media with the story of the Red Cross discovering the fraud on its own. The story became a one day local paper headline, “Oversight at Red Cross Increases After Arrest” and was never reported on again.

Robert Brogna spoke about putting aside his personal feelings on the day of the October 15th car crash that claimed the lives of Brockton Hospital’s chief of surgery and his secretary. Brogna was the only media relations staff member at the hospital when the crash occurred. He stressed the importance of talking to “everyone possible” to check the consistency of the information he was learning about the accident. Within a half hour, press arrived at the hospital. He told the press where they could set up (a parking lot across from the hospital) and promised a press conference. Due to HIPPA regulations, he was able to withhold information on those hurt in the accident until their families were notified.

Brogna learned that if ever he was involved in a similar scenario, he would remove the license plate from the car involved in the accident. A local TV news crew pulled the license number of the car and a reporter informed the husband of the driver that his wife was in an accident, all while cameras were filming.

Janey Bishoff spoke of a hoax at a local McDonald’s a few years ago. A young couple claimed they had found a mouse in a hamburger. The couple then called a TV news station, which filmed footage of the hamburger in question, and told the station, “the manager offered them a refund for the sandwich.” Bishoff joked, “Crises never happen at an opportune time.” The owner of the restaurant was on vacation in a cell phone dead zone, and she was in Florida. McDonald’s could prove the couple was staging a hoax because there was video of the burger being cooked at 1:30 p.m. but the couple did not cause a scene in the restaurant until 2 p.m.

Bishoff called the TV news station and explained McDonald’s side of the story, but the network still aired the footage. The next day, the morning show was stopping people in Downtown Crossing to show them the footage, and ask if they would still eat at McDonald’s. Bishoff got a statement from McDonald’s included in reports of the incident, and as the facts were revealed, the story went away. Says Bishoff, “Clients need to understand the impact of the written word.”

This hoax occurred before YouTube had become popular, and Bishoff wonders what would have happened if the video had been posted there.

Paul Andrew also spoke of dealing with a crisis surrounding a hoax. He represented Modern Continental when former engineer on the Big Dig John J. Keaveney sent the Boston Globe a memo purported to be written by a safety supervisor warning that parts of the roof could collapse. A Boston newspaper ran a story on the memo, without comment from Modern Continental in order to be the paper to break the story.

Andrew went to the paper that broke the story with information proving the memo was fabricated, despite receiving advice to bring the news to the rival paper. He felt the rival paper would have a field day with the news without him helping to fan the flames.

Pauline Alighieri was the only panelist who is not a media professional. She founded the Friends of Mel Foundation to raise money to fight cancer, in memory of her friend Mel Simmons. Her original goal was to sell bracelets to raise $5,000. Since then, thousands of the bracelets have been sold and millions have been raised.

In September 2007 an e-mail began been circulating claiming that an infant had gotten sick from lead exposure through the bracelets. Staff at Mass General Hospital received the e-mail and contacted the foundation. Alighieri hired contractors to test the bracelets and found out the rings of the bracelets contained lead. Worried that the public would turn against a project that has done so much good, Alighieri said, “I felt like a goldfish in a tank surrounded by piranha.”

Teak Media helped the foundation issue a press release, which was thankfully not picked up by many news outlets due to news that broke that day about toys being contaminated with lead. Alighieri then went to reporters to both inform them of the recall of bracelets and tell them of the work still planned by the Friends of Mel Foundation. Instead of turning against Friends of Mel, the public rallied to support them. Reflecting on the situation Alighieri offered this advice, “If you are genuine, people respect that.”


Friday, February 08, 2008

It’s the most viral time of the year…

Fresh off of back-to-back business trips and in the midst of a good ol New England flu season…I couldn’t be having more fun! What’s that you say as you sniffle and cough, have viruses eaten (what’s left of) his brain? Sure, my wife, kids and I have all fought the viral beast in the past few weeks, and travel (as well as a nevermore to be mentioned Sunday night debacle) aren’t helping measures. But that’s not the viral I’m having fun with. It’s the viral nature of new media that has been a particular blast lately. Blogging and the immediacy of online, while presenting new challenges, IMHO has made PR so much more fun for those who go into it with eyes wide open. Cases in point:

My second trip to CA in two weeks was to the prestigious DEMO conference to help our client TimeTrade Systems launch an innovative new web-based personal appointment setting product called TimeDriver. While the product isn’t necessarily as flashy or a poster child for the latest trends in online video or social networking which were well represented at the show, before the week was out, we had amassed an impressive 25+ pieces of coverage across traditional media, blogs and even a few twitters. And to my eyes wide open comment, sometimes the best coverage is the most brutally honest. In fact, I think some of the computer biz’s media icons Rafe Needleman, Harry McCracken and Dean Takahasi said it best in covering TimeDriver. Rafe in his Liveblog from the show…said ”You know, I want to be snarky about this demo but it's pretty solid.” and “This looks really good. I will probably try it for real after Demo.” Harry dubbed it the “Most Unglamorously Useful Service” and Dean Takahashi blogged “OK, I know I need this.”

Even Arik Hesseldahl of BusinessWeek, after interviewing TimeTrade’s founder on the show floor, said, “It looks great, it’s a problem we all have.” We at CHEN PR are also eager to “eat the dog food” as they say, when TimeDriver is ready for prime time.

The second case is something still brewing today. The embedded video was created in short order by one of our clients, next-gen firewall vendor, Palo Alto Networks. They’re a bunch who love to poke fun at themselves and others. To kick off a recent sales meeting, they whipped together this American Idol spoof aimed at rallying the troops with shots at competitors CheckPoint and Juniper – seen here as “Chuck Point” and “June Iper.”

We/they didn’t know what the external reaction would be when we called attention to it, but the inside jokes have proved pleasing to some of the security blogosphere and press, including:


Rational Security

Dark Reading

Risk Bloggers

In the interest of full disclosure I'll update as the reviews continue to roll in -- good or bad ;o)

Happy weekend all

Friday, February 01, 2008

Next week: Power, Drugs and Money

On Thursday, the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge will host its annual Innovation Summit at the Seaport Hotel in Boston. This year’s event, titled “Power, Drugs and Money – Local innovation, global impact” will focus on three interconnected sectors: clean energy and the environment, life sciences and financial services. The conference blog has been adding a “Speaker Spotlight” series this week posting question and answer sessions with some of the event’s speakers. Martin Young, VP of corporate development for Phase Forward and Mark Bonchek, CEO of SoundBoard Media have been added so far. More to come soon.

Last week, Jim Matheson, general partner at Flagship Ventures and chair of the event, wrote about the global effects of New England innovation in his monthly Mass High Tech column. Yesterday, Bob Buderi, founder, CEO and editor in chief of Xconomy, as well as a speaker at the event, touched on the future of New England innovation from a journalist’s point of view in his Xconomy article. He, along with Doug Banks, editor of Mass High Tech; Scott Kirsner from the Boston Globe; and Bob Krim, executive director of the Boston History and Innovation Collaborative, will delve into the topic with greater detail during their panel discussion on Thursday.

If you’re interested in registering for the event, you can do so here.

The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media

Today’s Top Blogger Is Tomorrow’s Yesterday

Blogging, podcasting and Web 2.0 capabilities have become the riptide of social media, profoundly disrupting the mainstream media and marketing industries. Should the media industry and more specifically, your own company, swim with the current trends or resist this ever-widening technology and risk drowning? Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers and driving force behind PC Week, Computerworld and TechTarget, explored these new trends during the Mass Technology Leadership Council’s event, The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media, Thursday, January 24.

According to Gillin, social media has made everyone a publisher, creating a big opportunity for us PR professionals to take the message directly to the market. There’s no need for the middle man anymore – individuals can bypass the press completely and go directly to the Internet, a world-wide audience that is ready to listen and not afraid to talk back. The “New Influencers” as Gillin so deems them, are passionate, persistent in their beliefs and eager to be heard, but can they be trusted?

The good news is that word travels fast. Gillin noted that bloggers are six times more likely to post positive comments than negatives ones. And one link to a story from a well-read blogger can now impact website traffic as much as 35,000 emails containing that same story, giving small groups of people and individuals as much influence over the media as big corporations and news outlets.

The bad news is that word travels fast. As Gillin eagerly pointed out, “today’s top blogger is tomorrow’s yesterday, this medium resists the control of any individual [and with that notion alone] will fundamentally change the way businesses market and sell. Companies who continue to treat blogs and the Internet unlike the press are going to suffer.”

Surely Gillin did not mean that every blogger should be treated equally; after all there are 35 million active bloggers on the Internet. Companies need to sift through the clutter, determine the thought leaders in each industry, and listen to and leverage the conversation. Gillin encourages engaging the blogosphere by documenting corporate successes, and inviting customer feedback and input. Bottom line, take control – start the conversation and expand your organization’s community before someone beats you to the punch.