Did Fox Jump the Snark? (Brief History of Fake News Fails)

Posted by on January 28, 2016 with 0 Comments

“Childishly written!”

“A disgrace”

These are the words most junior PR account executives fear hearing from clients about 65779261press releases submitted for review.  But it was Donald Trump that just said them, in tweets and interviews, about a statement that Fox News issued yesterday.

Fox tried to use humor and taunts in a last ditch attempt to goad Donald into joining tonight’s presidential debate. Apparently, an article would not be journalistic – so they chose that good old staple of ginned up news, the press release, to send the message.

(I guess humor is subjective. What do you think, was it funny or not? Here’s an excerpt, as cited here: “We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.”)

Well, It is now the eleventh hour, and it seems that the Fox News mock statement backfired. Trump really is taking his ball and going home. To the network’s credit, they did not yield to his demands that they remove Megyn Kelly as a moderator.

So who won? I guess that remains to be seen. But it is pretty clear that the press release idea helped seal the deal against his participation – likely not Fox’s intended result.
Meanwhile, the episode made me curious about other fake news releases and their consequences.

I asked our team for examples, and they sent these:

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Filed Under: Current Affairs, events, Politics, PR, Public Relations

HBR Covers the Death of a B2B Salesman – and Media Relations

Posted by on January 14, 2016 with 0 Comments

My friend Neal Schaffer shared an interesting Harvard Business Review article, How salesman-232x300More Accessible information is Forcing B2B Sales to Adapt. The story questioned the role and relevancy of the B2B sales team in a digital world.

There were also some great takeaways for marketing (it’s a must read for those who don’t think social media is important). But the most interesting thing for me, a PR professional, was the one thing that was MIA.  HBR virtually ignored media as a channel of info that supports B2B sales. If true, does this mean that media coverage, and by extension media relations, no longer matter in this area?

DIY Buyers tap Self Serve Info

The HBR authors wrote: “Business buyers are more connected and informed than ever… digital channels provide access to information and enable self-sufficiency. When a buyer wants to learn about virtually any product or service, an internet search yields thousands of results, including online articles, videos, white papers, blogs, and social media posts. In addition to supplier websites, there are online sources (ranging from the self-serving to the unbiased) to help buyers learn and compare solution alternatives.”

I alluded to this trend in my recent Entrepreneur piece: “Who even sees or reads [tech news] stories? There are many other ways to vet the latest tech products and services (no one ever got fired for following Gartner’s guidance).”

Fighting Fire with Fire

How should B2Bers ensure that their sales teams don’t become outdated Willy Lomans? And is there still any significant role for PR when it comes to supporting sales?

Regarding the first question, the authors say, essentially, to fight fire with fire. Load up on data about buyers and use technology and digital channels to reach them. Your sales people need new competencies – they can’t just be “talking brochures”.

PR needs a new approach too, as I said in Entrepreneur. We’ve never been just about media relations – or sales. Yet media relations are still the bread and butter for many PR agencies. And most who employ PR hope that it will do its fair share to meet short (read: sales) and long term business goals.

Forward thinking PR teams are expanding their tools and approach. Good PR has always been about validation and building credibility – but there are ways to accomplish this beyond earned media. You can court others – e.g., analysts, and social media influencers – to get buy-in and mentions. You can work to ensure that your news appears where the buyer is most likely to see it (e.g. user forums, mobile news apps, social media news feeds).  You can craft and promote content that hits the hot buttons of buyers and addresses their informational needs.

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Filed Under: PR Tech, Public Relations, Reading Files, Social Media, Tech PR, Technology

Here’s a Pitch: Get Tech Savvy, take a PR Briefing

Posted by on January 5, 2016 with 0 Comments

NY Times reporter Farhad Manjoo wrote a nice story that highlighted the growing technology-is-a-givenproblem of tech illiteracy and its implications.  He wrote:

“People in the tech industry… act as if the products they build sit at the center of everything. But this year, the techies were right… not only did tech dominate the news, it often moved too quickly for politicians, regulators, law enforcement officials and the media to understand its implications.”

He goes on to list some of the big stories in which tech played a starring role, and our collective failure to connect the dots. Examples include cyber security, the VW scandal, Hillary’s emails, and the central role of social media in political campaigns and grassroots movements (e.g., Trump’s, the Black Lives Matter movement).

The article made an impression on me, as I read it right after seeing the movie the Big Short, from the Michael Lewis book, which illustrated the consequences of financial illiteracy. If more institutions took the time to understand the house of cards being built on the mortgage industry at the time, disaster may have been averted.

I think most would not argue about the central role technology plays in our lives. We can reasonably expect that it will continue to be featured in headlines. It also seems clear that there’s a collective ignorance, just challenge anyone (outside of the real techies) to explain nitty gritty details of Bitcoins, mobile payments, encryption, IoT etc.

I submit that PR, through our work with the media, can play a role in improving tech literacy.

First, I believe that the media should be held to a higher standard when it comes to uncovering and acting on information that can lead to change. The Fourth Estate is unrestrained by the bureaucracy of politics. It is a free press here in the U.S. and many other parts of the world.

The good news is the PR industry, and the tech vendors that we represent, are willing and able to spend the time needed to bring the media up-to-speed. There is a veritable army of PR reps and vendor spokespeople who love nothing more than sitting down and getting geeky with a journalist.

Sure, we have an ulterior motive. But we (most of us, anyway) also are happy to deliver background or informational briefings and understand that they come with no coverage guarantees. The rules of the game say that, in return, the journalist can get a crash course. OK, it is from a vendor’s perspective, but reporters are free to challenge and dig deep. We are happy to provide additional information and point out useful resources.

I don’t mean to imply that all (or even most) of the media are clueless about tech. And I fully understand that the problem is not just literacy. Reporters are under pressures that might discourage good old shoe leather journalism, as news cycles diminish and many are incentivized by quantity and clicks (a trend driven by – you guessed it – tech).

I am just saying that, for those who want to take the time to get smarter, there are many vendors fronted by PR pros to help out and get you the information you need.

Photo credit: Scott McLeod via Foter.com / CC BY

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Filed Under: In the News, PR, Public Relations, Tech PR

Meetup Explores the Art of the PR Pitch

Posted by on December 15, 2015 with 0 Comments

The NYC PR Innovators meetup hosted a session on The Art (and Science) of the PR Pitch CV57Q6OWsAAZ6Gxat District CoWork last week, where I participated as a panelist. Over 50 people attended, and organizer Erin Commarato ran a very lively and interactive session.

I am new to this meetup but will definitely be coming back, as I am extremely interested in PR innovation. Also, any forum dedicated to improving pitching is a great one, in my book.

There was lots of give and take, and just about everyone got a chance to ask questions and share thoughts. Co-panelist Roger Wu of Cooperatize spoke about new opportunities in branded content, and Stacey Miller of Cision’s HARO (Help a Reporter Out) offered data and insight gleaned from her HARO role and media feedback. Not everyone agreed, but the forum gave all a chance to chime in.  With Erin’s guidance and the panel’s input, we  were able to build consensus on most of the topics.

Our own Mike Bush did a great job live tweeting (thanks, Mike!). I share these and other tweets about the event below below (check out the expressions on our faces when the panel is stumped with a tough question).

Thanks Erin, Roger, Stacey and NYC PR Innovators for a great meetup.

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Filed Under: Agency news, NY Tech, PR, Public Relations

CUNY Meetup Showcases Journalism Startups

Posted by on December 10, 2015 with 0 Comments

If you work in PR, it is good to keep an eye on the world of media innovation.  You don’t FergFH-iconwant to be the last to hear about the up and comers – e.g. the next BuzzFeed or Vice.   Some journalism startups aim to breathe fresh life into storytelling, and we might learn a thing or two that has applications for PR and content marketing.

That is why I enjoyed the demo night at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism early this week. There was a good mix of concepts, spanning apps, local news, data-driven journalism and virtual reality.

I saw five demos, and they were all interesting. Most had experienced teams and investors and/or corporate backers. It is hard to know which ones will succeed – but I think they are all worth checking out.

Please see below for my quick thoughts on each.

Lenses 

Lenses, a collaborative effort involving News Corp., NYU, Columbia University and  the NYC Media Lab, is a web-based toolkit for the visualization of public data.

Anyone can point it to a data source (e.g. think NYC BigApps) and generate cool graphs that help users spot trends and glean insight.  Be sure to check out their upcoming hackathon.

Slant News

This ambitious undertaking aims to democratize reporting, through a site that lets anyone submit a story and earn from ad revenue.  Founder Amanda Gutterman set the stage by discussing her experiences as an unpaid intern at Condé Nast, and work at the Huffington Post. Of course, the latter taps an army of unpaid contributors.

Sadly, the content explosion has led to a cheapening of writing and reporting.  With Slant, she wants to give those who are not professionals a way to have their voices heard and make money.

Their editors work their magic on the content, selecting the best stories for inclusion on the front page of the site – and optimizing for SEO and social media.

I loved this one, and any site that pays writers.  They have been open since September and have a couple of thousands of writers.  It is no get rich quick scheme – the best ones get paid $1-2K month.  But hey, it is a start.

I think they have their work cut out.  There is the scalability issue – Slant will need an army of editors to do the job right, i.e. truly give more people a voice, and more content a fair shot.  There is also the old chicken vs. egg problem – how do you interest advertisers until the site has reached critical mass?  Why should writers jump on board for crumbs (if anything) at first, until you have lots of users and good ad revenue?

I hope they figure these things out and succeed.

Walc

This is a new mobile app that gives directions and helps you find your way based on landmarks in the area, i.e. what you see. It’s an idea that makes so much sense, you wonder why it hasn’t been done before.

Founder Allison McGuire started by asking the audience to raise their hand if they have ever left a subway station, directions in hand, and still felt lost.  Most of the crowd responded affirmatively.

That is the need they address – very cool indeed.

Blockfeed

This app offers a breakthrough in local news delivery.  It uses fancy things like machine learning to develop a custom news stream based on the user’s location.

Blockfeed now works in the greater New York metro area, and will soon cover other parts of the country.  Local news outlets win too, as the app does not poach their content – it just shows a snippet, and directs traffic back to the publisher.

This is another one of those ideas that just makes so much sense – and it seems like they have the tech and team to deliver on the promise.

Empathetic Media

This won the prize for me in terms of the cool factor.

In dry terms, the company is a VR / AR (virtual and augmented) production studio.  The website says “We are a collective of journalists and technologists creating media experiences made to be explored across virtual and augmented reality. We design first-person immersive experiences to put you in the shoes of eyewitnesses  – and allow you to explore a story from multiple perspectives.”

Founder Dan Archer positioned their approach against 360 degree video, which offers a more passive experience. He said ‘With Empathetic, the story is the container…  you can move through it” by using their app and donning an Oculus Rift VR headset.

Dan shared examples.  One showed the scene from the Michael Brown shooting episode, which many of us got to know this well through all the news coverage.  With Empathetic’s simulation, you can virtually visit the scene and get multiple perspectives.

There is no question that this kind of technology will continue to grow in importance and be used more in journalism and other kinds of content development and marketing.  I am reminded of NY Times recent virtual reality push (they used Google Cardboard, and I don’t believe worked with Empathetic).

But it does seem time, labor and cost intensive right now – clearly a lot of work goes into each scene and story.  Hopefully some of the barriers will fall, and Empathetic and others in the space will grow and succeed – and will get more VR-enhanced stories.

 

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Filed Under: events, In the News, NY Tech, PR Tech, Social Media

Singles’ Day on Chinese Social Media

Posted by on November 12, 2015 with 0 Comments

This latest in our PR in Asia series was contributed by guest blogger Eiffy Luo, a EiffyLuomultimedia story teller who discovered her passion for business and journalism through work at TheStreet.com, Reuters and the New York Times.

The post is about Singles Day (11/11), which started out as a Chinese holiday but has grown into an international phenomena.

Thanks Eiffy! And thank you for reading, we hope you find the information to be helpful and interesting.

Competition Heats Up

E-commerce giants are competing for “Singles’ Day,” an online shopping festival similar to “Black Friday” in the U.S. In the first 90 minutes, Alibaba Group said it pulled $5 billion in total sales. Last year, the firm recorded $9.3 billion at the end of November 11.

The Singles’ Day has intensified the rivalry between the two e-commerce retailers in China, Alibaba Group and JD.com. It was launched by Alibaba in 2009 to promote their Tmall online shopping mall and encourage single people to shop for themselves and celebrate their lives.

In August, Alibaba Group partnered with consumer electronics retailer Suning Commerce Group in an effort to match or exceed JD’s capabilities. The partnership gives Alibaba access to Suning’s logistics network, which reaches across most of China, to boost same-day delivery of consumer electronics and appliances.

However, JD.com has been gaining in areas like clothing, and has called apparel the “most important growth engine” for JD Mall. Last year, JD.com developed a partnership with Tencent Group, China’s largest social media company, to attract consumers through Tencent’s popular social media platforms WeChat and QQ.

Social Media in China:

E-commerce operators are working on providing deep interactive experiences for customers via social media.

The major social media platforms in China include:

  • Weibo, or “microblog” in Chinese, a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, and
  • WeChat, a messenger tool similar to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Line. WeChat is even more popular than text messenger and email in business settings in China.

How do e-commerce sellers use social media for “Singles’ Day”?

Sellers are using social media to win over the consumer. The first step is to create deep interactive experiences between consumers and products. For example, an UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) company designed a WeChat animation: as users touched the screen, they could follow the UAV and open an invitation letter. The letter invited users to attend offline events featuring the real UAV.

Next, marketers should deliver a “key message” of their products, catch consumers’ interests, and propose appropriate marketing strategies on social media platforms.

Common Strategies on Weibo:

  • Repost and Rewards: one way to reach out to consumers and “touch” them on social platforms is by offering incentives and encouraging them to post. Weibo users are encouraged to repost a promotion by tagging (“@” in Weibo) their friends (usually the post requires 3), and will get the chance to win the rewards (including sample products, discount, or other gifts) from sellers.
  • KOLs: another important way is to use KOLs, or Key Opinion Leaders, to promote products. KOLs are celebrities on Weibo, which called “Big V” in Chinese, as they have a “Verified” symbol on Weibo ID. Since all of them have over 1 million fans, their post and repost will greatly affect market performance.
  • #Hashtag: Sellers use hashtags to post hot topics, usually related to trending events or celebrities. Sometimes marketers will reach out to Weibo PR and promote their story to “hot topic rankings.” As more people see the topic, they will comment and repost about it with hash tags.

How about WeChat?

WeChat users have profile pages similar to Facebook’s timeline. They post “Moments” like text, photo, and video. Users can also subscribe to official accounts to read and repost news, articles and content they are interested in. Online sellers use HTML5 to add text, pictures, and animations with one link. It could be an interactive game, an article with funny screen shots from a hot TV series, or simply a creative video with an eye-catching title.

At the Tmall Global Shopping Festival party, Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba Group, even played a short video of President Frank J. Underwood (played by actor Kevin Spacey at House of Cards). In WeChat moments, this is said to be “probably the most expensive ads.”

Singles’ Day is no longer just a special day for singles, but a global shopping festival with everyone in it. One of the keys to winning the game is to get most out of Chinese social media.

 

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Filed Under: events, Social Media, Tech PR, Uncategorized, Web/Tech

The Martians Have Landed, Your Pitch Stinks, We’re All Going to Die!!!

Posted by on October 29, 2015 with 0 Comments

I was glued to third Republican presidential debate last night, watching for signs of intelligent life bal-runaway-blimp-under-investigation-20151029, when the show cut to an important announcement. It said:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, central time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars.”

Soon afterwards, there were news reports that a mysterious blimp-like vehicle had crash landed in rural Pennsylvania. They said it was a U.S. military surveillance vehicle, from NORAD (Yea, right, we’ve heard that story like 1000 times!).

Astute readers will recognize the above quote from the infamous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, the monumental “JK” that stoked fear in the hearts of listeners back in 1938 (see the transcript). Narrated by Orson Welles, the show was based on the science fiction novel of the same name. But it led to outrage and panic, as many listeners thought the events described were actually happening.

Now, as we approach Halloween, it is natural to ask: what things do PR people fear?
Some fears are valid, and should be respected. Others should be confronted and vanquished. Here is my list:

Fear of rejection: PR people seem increasingly reluctant to actually call reporters, as I pointed out in my post Don’t Slam the Phone on Proven Media Relations Tactics. They say that the media don’t like to get calls; some admit to being afraid of getting a cranky response, or having their pitches rejected.

Tips: While you need to respect the wishes of the media, it is also true that squeaky wheel gets the grease. The best remedy is to be sure that the information you are presenting is truly of value to the journalist. Of course, it helps to have the kind of media relationships where there is mutual trust – and they welcome your calls.

Fear of measurement: PR has traditionally been hard to measure. Also, we may have a natural fear of having our work evaluated and quantified. What if we don’t hit the mark – or if the ROI is just not there?

Tips: Yes, it is true that not everything can be boiled down to a number (see my post One thing You Can’t Measure in PR). But I think this fear needs to be met head on and conquered. The excuses for not measuring are getting harder to defend. Let’s face it, in an online world, there is readier access to data of all kinds. The tools are growing in number and power, and data driven marketing is the new mantra. PR should not get left behind – when we measure, we can prove ROI.

Fear of being uninteresting/irrelevant: This is one fear that should be taken very seriously. If more in our profession held this concern, pitch spam would not persist to the extent that it does.

Tips: It’s generally safe to assume that your pitch sucks. The remedy? Make it not suck! Know your space, know the reporters, and make sure the pitch is on target. There are no short cuts. Hone that pitch, test market it among colleagues, and polish it some more. I am not saying you should take forever and make a career out of it. Just don’t drink your own Kool Aid.

What do you think? Which fears hold you back?

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Filed Under: Fun Stuff, In the News, PR, Public Relations

Ted Underwood on Topic Modeling and PR

Posted by on September 24, 2015 with 0 Comments

I like to follow developments in unstructured data and text mining.  Advances in these text-miningareas can mean big things for PR and social media marketing.  The din is only growing in social media chatter and online content. Those with the best tools will be better equipped to glean insight and turn it into action.

One area in the field that I feel has much potential is topic modeling.  It came to my attention during a series of conversations with Stanford University researcher Jure Leskovec (I had been speaking with him about how info spreads online; see this post, which describes the findings of Jure and his team).

I had wanted to learn about technologies and research that can help understand online content, and answer questions like “what topics are being shared, discussed and trending?”

On the surface, this might sound simple.  There are many monitoring tools, trending reports and social media dashboards that claim to do just that.  But they might not do such a good job when different words are used to describe the same topic, or in slotting content into very granular “buckets”, or spotting totally new trends / keyword / topics.

Topic modeling is an example of unsupervised machine learning.  This means that its algorithms can identify the topics in content without being told what to look for. One of the most promising methods is Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA).

It can get very complicated, which is why I was thrilled to run across the Stone and the Shell blog, which is run by Ted Underwood of the University of Illinois.  His post Topic Modeling Just Simple Enough offered a great overview of the subject.

It whetted my appetite, and I wanted to learn more – so I reached out to Ted, and he graciously consented to an email interview, summarized below.

I will follow this up as I learn more; meanwhile, I wish to thank Ted Underwood for helping to shed light on topic modeling and its implications for PR.

I hope my blog visitors find the information helpful and interesting, thanks for reading.

Can you use LDA to:

(A) categorize short form content such as tweets to topics?

TU: Yes, LDA does work on short-form content, but tweets are short enough that you may lose some conceptual connections that would be visible in longer forms. (LDA will only see the connection if ‘both parts’ of it are contained in a single document, so very short documents become a limitation). Some researchers have recommended aggregating all the tweets of one author, in order to make those connections more visible.

(B) Discover rising topics on Twitter?

TU: Yes, potentially, although I think in reality you might be better off just looking for words or short phrases on the rise. The “topics” produced by LDA are diffuse enough that they can often be a little tricky to interpret. This makes them interesting, but it’s not necessarily what users would want for a “trending topic.” If you wanted to do this you would probably also want to select a topic-modeling algorithm that’s designed to identify topics with a particular temporal profile: something like “Topics over Time” could be tuned to reveal especially topics that are on the rise.  Otherwise every topic model could reveal a lot of topics that are just, e.g. “youthful slang” or “scientific jargon” (kinds of language linked by demographic patterns rather than trends).

(C) Identify favored topics of influencers by analyzing article content and social media updates?

TU: This is an example of a place where I think predictive analytics (supervised learning algorithms) would likely perform better than an unsupervised method like LDA. Unsupervised models can be startling because they’re able to find patterns without being told what to find. But if you actually already know what you want to find (e.g., if you want to know how a particular tweeter, or a particular influential group of them, differs from others) there are usually simpler and more direct ways to model that boundary.

Do all this in near real time (assuming you have access to article text and the Twitter “fire hose”)?

TU: Here you’d really need to talk to someone with more CS or business background than I have, because this becomes a question about optimizing the performance of really large systems. My historical data mining sometimes gets big (a million volumes), but I’m never required to do that on the fly in real time as text is produced.  In principle, I’m sure it’s doable; I know people have worked on ways to make topic models “updatable” so you don’t have to re-run the whole thing every time you get more data. For instance Hoffman and Blei have this article. But there are going to be challenges, and I wouldn’t know exactly how severe they are in practice.

Also, does topic modeling take a semantic approach, i.e. identify the words and content that belong to a topic, when the words used to describe the topic may vary?

Yes, this is its great strength, and it’s the exception to what I said above about mere word-charting probably being better for “trending topics.” If a topic could be described in lots of different ways, LDA might actually be better at revealing it. (On the other hand, this flexibility also means that LDA may reveal things we don’t think of as “topics” — e.g., patterns that are really just the typical diction of particular demographic groups, etc.).

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Filed Under: Interviews, PR Tech, Public Relations, Uncategorized, Web/Tech

Naughty or Nice? State of Tech Brand and PR Implications

Posted by on August 10, 2015 with 0 Comments

Is the tech industry a land of opportunity, a growth engine of our economy; a place where GoodEvilcoders garner huge salaries and entrepreneurs achieve the American Dream?

Or is it is a hyper-aggressive frat party, where arrogant Masters of the Universe throw mad money around and Kool Aid drinkers build stupid things?

Perhaps it is a little of both. Sadly, the second narrative is the one that seems to have taken hold in media coverage these days, especially regarding Silicon Valley.

Those who actually work in the field know that it isn’t so simple. Sure, you have the offenders – we have all heard the stories about bad behavior. But some say that businesses, including tech companies, are doing their best to step up and make a real difference when politicians can’t or won’t (see Frank Bruni’s excellent NY Times op ed The Sunny Side of Greed).

Reputation and brand can be funny things, and very resilient. E.g. Amazon is often portrayed as the enemy of publishers, but this has not seemed to hurt it too badly. Similarly, institutions ranging from the NFL to the American auto industry have had their reputation issues, but still hold a special place in our hearts.

For all the dings to tech, it continues to have an allure; and it is hard to argue against its importance to our economy and the careers of many. Moreover it is growing, as how we define the industry changes.

The Times wrote that As Tech Booms, Workers Turn to Coding for Career Change. I said on this blog that there is Gold in them Thar Apps, and App Developers. David Kirkpatrick of Forbes famously wrote Now, Every Company is a Software Company.

More and more companies are rushing to adopt the tech label, according to another recent NY Times piece. Apparently, businesses and investors see an upside to the being associated with the field.

One thing is for certain. When it comes to image problems, the PR industry is here to help. And if every company is a software and tech company – well, the future looks pretty good for tech PR, I’d say.

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Filed Under: PR, Public Relations, Tech PR, Technology

Posted by on July 30, 2015 with 0 Comments
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