Fall VON and The PR Tsunami

Monday marks the start of Fall VON and really the first conference for which I, as a blogger, have been registered well in advance as “Press”. Over the past few weeks I started receiving emails from public relations representatives (either internal or external to the sponsoring company) and, with a few exceptions — they know who they are because we have lined up meetings –, have been underwhelmed by the quality of the approaches and messages.

In my past lives I have been on the “client” side of the podium, both as an executive of a publicly traded high technology company and as head of an industry trade organization. I have also had some basic PR training; in Canada I worked with one agency whom I have always considered my PR mentor. They continue to be very professional in their approach, their media relationships and their innovation in getting a story out. Although I have never had any journalism training, I have always had a better than average command of composing stories, writing documentation and general English grammar which I credit to some high school teachers who gave me an early appreciation of the English language. I also hold both technology and business degrees. My experience has also brought me into understanding the pressures CxO’s are under with respect to achieving both business and financial goals whether it’s a mature business meeting published shareholder expectations or a startup looking for new financing.

So when I found Andy Abramson’s VoIP Watch post this evening, Jeff on PR and My View, I was relieved to find I was not the only one questioning how we, as “press”, were being deluged with impersonal emails and poorly expressed interview invitations. Since Mark Evans has described Andy as one “who knows the P.R. and VoIP industries like the back of his hand” and Hugh McLeod provides insights through his graphics, I will not comment further; however, in my trip to Boston this week here is what I will be looking for in my interviews:

  1. First, our weblog is called Skype Journal, so, even though we are independent of Skype, I need to know how Skype (and its partners and competitors) fit into your story. I am interested in VoIP end user devices, PBX’s that can integrate Skype into a business’s communications strategy and user applications that embed Skype (or other VoIP-based services). Even though I hold an engineering degree, I have no interest in stories about IMS, session border controllers, test equipment,.SIP vs Skype-proprietary protocols or other such infrastructure paraphenalia. They have a role but, as a Skype enthusiast, I am interested in how this all impacts end users, their ability to easily get onto a service and their motivation to keep on using it..
  2. Secondly I am looking for stories on how the user (consumer or business person) can use Skype-based devices and applications to improve their interpersonal and business communications. This show comes at a time when the Skype ecosystem, and some other VoIP ecosystems, are breaking out of the technoworld and getting sufficiently extensive to allow the non-technical user to start using Skype and other VoIP services with a minimal learning curve. It is about user interfaces that are familiar but gradually draw the user into taking advantage of the inherent VoIP technology; it is about applications that can make our business and personal lives simpler and more manageable.
  3. Thirdly, I am not only interested in your product or service that meets the above criteria; I am also interested in where your product is positioned within the overall VoIP and general IP telecommunications space. Who are your competitors? Who are your partners who will help you succeed? Give me not only your feature set but also your market positioning.
  4. Fourthly, what is your business model? What value add do you bring that justifies a third party becoming your customer? or end user? How will your business become sustainable? What marketing strategy do you have to grow the revenue around your product or service?
  5. Fifthly, while we are called Skype Journal, we are independent of Skype. Started by a few Skype enthusiasts, we can only hope our articles provide background that will influence decisions at Skype as they build their ecosystem but we cannot be responsible for whatever decisions they make.
  6. Finally, why should I pass along your story? Our readers are looking for new ways to take advantage of Skype, to communicate with friends, customers and business partners more effectively, to keep their costs minimized.

Go back and read Alan Weinkrantz’s comments to Jeff Pulver’s post that triggered Andy. It’s an excellent primer. And thanks to Hugh McLeod, a UK-based PR professional who promotes Stormhoek wine and bespoke suits, for providing one of his hand drawn business cards in a timely manner (hat tip to Shel Israel).

I look forward to an exciting and invigorating week. And some great stories that I can pass along about the Skype ecosystem and its role in the IP communications space.

And don’t forget your Hawaiian shirt on Tuesday.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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