Fireside / Archives

SDN Reality Check – and a Solid Webinar

Software-defined networking (SDN) remains a hot topic in the IT and telecom industries. A recent Capacity magazine webinar, sponsored by NTT Communications (Wireside client) offered a useful reality check on this technology and an occasion to think about webinars in general.Content-Rules1As for webinars, the challenge has always been how to deliver a credible message without becoming an infomercial. Excessive focus on lead generation, after all, is one of the main reasons that so many webinars have tended to underperform – or “suck” – as Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman bluntly put it in their 2011 digital marketing book Content Rules.

Of course, anyone doing a webinar – NTT Com included – is looking for leads. But the best way to achieve them is to focus on content. Service providers tend to have advantage an in this respect, being closer than vendors to the end user and motivated to communicate as clearly as possible. That was something I picked up on as a trade journal editor (and moderator of several dozen webinars) and clearly appeared to be the case with Shawn Morris, senior manager of IP development for the NTT Communications Global IP Network, and presenter in this event.

Morris simplified the complex topic, focusing on SDN’s “programmable control.” To explain the ongoing culture shift that SDN is driving, he pointed to 25-plus years of change in the manufacturing industry: “Today you can’t run a manufacturing plant without automation.” Modest about NTT Com’s own portfolio, Morris nonetheless explained how NTT Com is no Johnny-come-lately. “It took us about 10 years to get fully automated.” At the same time, he challenged the attendees: “In five years time, I don’t think you’ll be able to be competitive unless you’re operating in this manner.”

If you’re looking for more insight into SDN, check out the webinar in its entirety. Morris is really good. If you’re in marketing or PR and looking to improve your webinars, here’s my point: It’s easy to become overwhelmed by webinar production – Handley and Chapman list no fewer than 25 keys to success – but above it all, keep in mind the title of their book: Content Rules.


SDN App Store Launches, with Tiers

The opening by computer giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) of a software-defined networking (SDN) app store poses a question for tech observers. Does the ability to buy SDN applications off the (virtual) shelf mean that this technology has arrived, or at least become more real?

HP execs think so. “We are leading the market in terms of taking SDN mainstream,” said Kash Shaikh, senior executive director, HP Networking, in a video touting HP’s SDN developer workshops, software developer kit (SDK) and app store. But whether we have moved into a realm where SDN has become “as simple as downloading Angry Birds,” as HP Global Marketing Leader Jacob Rapp reportedly said, is another question.   APPS

There’s a key difference between the Apple and Google app stores and the enterprise portal that opened on October 1, about a year after HP first announced it at Interop New York 2013. Any consumer wanting to download Angry Birds – or something more popular (not such a great choice, HP) – simply clicks to install. There is no range of application categories based upon “their support and test process,” as noted in the HP SDN app store announcement.

That’s fair, because SDN is not child’s play, after all. At one end of the SDN app-store spectrum are the ones that are “built and tested exclusively by HP.” They reside in the top circle. (See left column at the portal). Then come the apps from HP partners, then those from the community, and then those labeled as conceptual, or in development. There is an implicit, high level of networking knowledge at all levels, whether it’s within HP itself or affiliated partners or channel integrators or fellow developers tapping into beta versions.

In other words, the growing reality of SDN remains closely linked to expert implementation. In that sense, this HP app-store story aligns with the launch of SDN-enabled enterprise cloud services from a service provider, such as NTT Com. Whether you build a network yourself or buy (or rent) it from others comes down to technical competence, available resources, cost structure and projected return on investment. That’s not new with SDN; rather, it’s one of those eternal questions of IT operations.

Applied Innovation – The Cure for Tech Overload

There’s an occupational hazard of following tech trends.  The danger is hearing so much about a new technology or acronym that you grow a little deaf.

What’s important for trend-trackers is to note when innovation begins shifting into application. Back in May, for instance, Wireside’s Founder Joya Subudhi wrote a blog about Google’s acquisition of NEST. Her post helped keep the Internet of Things (IoT) real by drawing attention to a familiar and everyday device, the thermostat.


Another story about Google’s smart contact lens project revived my own interest in another much-discussed category, wearable devices.

Did you see this?

What caught my eye – no pun intended – was news that the Swiss-based pharmaceutical Novartis wants to license Google’s technology in this area.

Maybe you saw it the first time – but one of the ideas is to outfit the contact lens with a sensor that can detect glucose levels via tears, giving diabetics a better way of monitoring their condition.

Time will tell whether this brilliant idea works out, but it got me to thinking about an obvious point: Innovation becomes real when it addresses actual problems, genuine pain points and concrete circumstances.

The smart and networked home

A preview for the Messe Berlin IFA 2014 event (Sept 5 – 10), which encompasses electronics and home appliances, offers another case in point.  One of IFA’s pre-show releases, for instance, discusses trends among manufacturers of large and small domestic appliances.

Why the emphasis on small? Because it reflects a demographic fact: the rise of single-person households.  The engineering challenge is to make appliances that serve that growing market segment just as sustainable and efficient as any others.

Like the smart contact lens project, those manufacturers are addressing real circumstances.And when technology begins working its way into daily lives, for instance when a grandfather is found adopting a smart-phone controllable thermostat to make his family’s vacation more comfortable, you know you’re at an inflection point.  Then IoT becomes more than an abstraction.

Nothing against pure academic research or groundbreaking engineering, but that kind of applied innovation is always an easier story to tell.

PR Help Wanted: Problem Solvers

What do you tell someone who is thinking about going into PR? My initial response to the person who floated the idea – in this case, my 11th grade daughter – was to ask: “Do you like solving problems?”


That wasn’t the answer she was expecting. But the job outlook for PR specialists is slightly above average, according to the US Department of Labor, in part because the challenges they address are not going away any time soon. Here are a few of these “problem” areas:

Market complexity. PR agencies aiming to promote a client’s message still reach out to leading journalists. How to connect with them remains a key challenge. But there are more players to track, including niche bloggers, designated or self-appointed opinion leaders, companies with their own content engines and the public at large, likewise empowered by the Internet and social media. Analyzing this fractured landscape and helping clients navigate it will be a growing part of what PR agencies do going forward.

Increased risk. With more voices and channels comes less control over what is being said and a greater chance that an organization’s message will have trouble reaching its intended audience. Did that latest blog article or Tweet from our competitor undercut our value proposition? Are sock-puppet accounts biasing discussion threads in the user forums? We reached the editor, but what about all those questions in the comments section? How to mitigate these kinds of risks is another big part of the PR business of the future.

More opportunity. In some ways, the PR industry today is tapping into its roots, with greater attention to its “public” mission and the need for ongoing, two-way “relations.” Amidst the noise is opportunity. One model focused on interviews with select journalists who spoke to a large but passive audience. The new model includes reaching out to influencers (sometimes former journalists) with noisy but well-informed tribes of followers. There is a large upside to figuring out how best to engage with these relatively open gatherings of the public or market segment that a client is looking to reach.



Don’t Grant Favors to the Media

The encounter between Representative Michael Grimm (R, NY) and Michael Scotto, a NY1 reporter, after President Obama’s State of the Union address was an ugly scene. Maybe best forgotten. Yet it stands as a lesson in how not to deal with reporters, with deal being an operative word.


Let’s first review the facts. Scotto interviewed Rep. Grimm live in the gallery of the House of Representatives. After capturing his reaction to the speech, he asked about an ongoing investigation into his campaign finances. Grimm declined to answer, stood to the side, and after hearing Scotto report on his unwillingness to talk about that topic, strode over to Scotto, got in his face and threatened to not only “break” the reporter “in half” but also throw him over the balcony.

All of this was caught on camera, creating a PR disaster for the congressman. He eventually apologized. But of interest here is his first response. In this New York Times article, Grimm initially justified himself by describing the interview, twice, as a “favor” he had granted to Scotto and NY1.

That’s a problem. However exalted the title (president, congressman, CEO, mayor, etc.) if you or your client approach media engagements as moments of condescension, as occasions to bestow a blessing upon them and their audience, you plant seeds of destruction. Not simply because pride has that way of going before the fall, but for another reason. If you don’t approach the media as an equal, you are less likely to get fair treatment.

Fairness is more likely to occur when two parties reach an understanding. Deals may vary. One includes irksome caveats. In another, everything is on record. Some may break down, with one side violating the terms. Coming to any terms, however, is all the more difficult when one side assumes a lordly air.

Being tightly wound, prone to outbursts and hypersensitive to certain lines of questioning is another problem. Rep. Grimm would have done himself a favor by simply walking out of the House Gallery – or by avoiding the interview (and potential ambush) in the first place. But there’s a more general lesson here. Don’t pretend to grant favors if you’re really in the business of trading them. And if what you or your client want is due respect, approach the media as an equal, agree on the ground rules and pay due respect yourself to the pen’s famous might.


Figuring Out Journalists: Three Tips for PR Pros

The more you know about your target media, the better chance you have of placing an article. That is a good reason for getting to know journalists individually.

At another level, it helps to be aware of common characteristics and larger trends. What traits or dispositions do journalists share? And how are they coping with the industry’s simultaneous contraction in size and expansion into the digital realm?

MediaJigsawStuartMilesHypersensitive, overworked, influenced

I touched upon one of common traits in a post last month, quoting former New York Times technology writer David Pogue, who said buzzwords were a “universal pet peeve,” at least among fellow tech journalists. Maybe that applies even more broadly. By definition, journalists are word experts. Even as they often grow jaded and distrustful of their sources and authority, journalists remain sensitive – at times hypersensitive – to the use and abuse of language. For that reason it is best to approach them accordingly, with direct, plain and truthful words.

Every profession has its “enterprising” and “lazy” practitioners. Most fall in between. Yet journalism has acquired a reputation for inefficiency. In a recent Bloomberg opinion piece Megan McArdle attacked that line of thought – “Lazy Journalists Aren’t to Blame for the Death of Print.” What’s to blame, she said, was the loss of ad revenue, not the output of journalists, who are as efficient as ever. There are fewer of them, to be sure. And over the past decade, many have had to scramble to maintain print products even as they shifted into digital-first mode. Journalists can be hypersensitive; they also are often overworked.

What else do we know about journalists? They can be biased. Which reminds me… In a previous life, as a third-tier subject matter expert in Washington DC, I once agreed to sit for a recorded interview with ABC’s Nightline. Duly made up and under the glare of camera lights, I began answering questions – and re-answering them. After the third or fourth try, I realized that what this producer was after: A cleaned-up version of something I’d said in passing at the outset. Not all journalists “pre-write” their stories and go searching for quotes. But most have inclinations, if not biases, and are already under the influence of a story line.

What to do?

Your job is to become another influence. The templates that journalists carry around with them are often as much timesaving reference points as ideological crutches. Figure out what that prevailing narrative is, then position your news or story pitch within that framework, using simple and direct language. Whenever possible, include a range of evidence – sources, quotes, trend lines and other data. Let your target journalist connect the dots.



What Works – and Doesn’t Work – When Pitching Tech Journalists

In more than a decade of technology journalism, I read – or scanned – hundreds of emails from PR agencies. Why was one pitch any more successful than another?

A PR rep always had a better chance of connecting if the pitch aligned with my current tasks. So being aware of what was on my plate helped. In that sense, I agree with former New York Times technology writer David Pogue, who recently blogged: “Rule #1 for PR folks: Know your target.”

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles_FreeDigitalPhotosThree Things to Avoid

There’s another angle to Pogue’s know-your-target rule. He thinks that if PR reps did their homework, they would be aware of his pet peeves, which include buzzwords. But Pogue also contends that buzzwords are a “universal pet peeve” among tech writers, which points to a broader rule.

Professional writers dislike bad writing. Most PR pros get that, and so they work hard to clarify their pitches and related press releases. But it never hurts to remind. What follows is a quick look at three elements of bad PR style: overused marketing lingo, unsupported superlatives and gratuitous adverbs

  • Buzzwords. Which words bug which writers will vary. A mass-market journalist may put a word like WiFi on the black list, as Pogue did in 2008. A trade journalist will be OK with the jargon – but will want to know which version of the IEEE 802.11 (WiFi) spec a vendor is promoting. The problem is imprecision. Take the classic “end-to-end solution.” Which ends? Where are they? And who owns them – vendor or service provider? As for solution, that word is ambiguous. Does the solution involve software, IP routers, optical transport – what is it precisely?
  • Superlatives. Whether by nature, training or learned experience, writers tend to be a skeptical crowd. Calling your end-to-end solution the “best” is the equivalent of a dare. You’re the first? Fastest? Most reliable? OK, prove it. Journalists may have little time to follow up, but if you want to win their trust, avoid goading them into second-guessing you. If you are breaking new ground, let the facts speak for themselves. 
  • Adverbs. So your end-to-end solution “seamlessly” or “successfully” integrates with something else. That’s not surprising. Could it have integrated in any other way, say “defectively”? Adverbs such as “extremely” or “significantly” beg the same question as superlatives: can you back that up or prove it, please? The list of empty and superfluous adverbs goes on. In a random sample of recent pitches and press releases, I stumbled upon the following: positively, highly, especially, readily, clearly and cleanly. Were any necessary? Don’t think so.

Pitches and content marketing

Journalists are a special case. An editor may be vexed by words that could win over a prospective customer. After all, getting a prospect’s attention traditionally has called for copy that builds enthusiasm and excitement – even hype. But that tradition is changing.

Content marketing – a topic for another day – calls for the kind of precise, factual and clear language that passes high editorial standards. In that model, a compelling pitch to a business prospect resembles a persuasive pitch to a journalist.