FIR B2B Podcast: More on fake news and gaslighting

In our last podcast, we spoke about the rise of fake news. Turns out we have more to say on the topic, which has ballooned across mainstream media in the past couple of weeks. Paul talks about building brand loyalty and trust from his research. I mention this article in Teen Vogue of all places, where the reporter brings up the movie/play Gaslight and how our future president is using similar tactics to setup problems and then offer “solutions.” And we cite a column by Christina Farr who talks about how PR reps need to stop inserting themselves in the conversation when not requested or needed. You can listen to the podcast here:


The future of St. Louis can be found here

ranken-titleI am almost embarrassed to admit that I have lived in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis and never even known about one of the most vibrant college campuses around. I refer to Ranken Technical College, a school that sits just a mile or so from my home and has been operating for more than a century.

We used to refer to these sorts of places as vocational schools, as if they were less than a “real” college. But the tide of perception has turned. As I found out with my tour around campus from the schools’ president Stan Shoun, this is the real future of our city.

The private, non-profit school has more than a dozen different degree programs, spanning things like auto repair, architecture, carpentry, HVAC technology, IT, plumbing, and control systems. Each graduate gets on average five different job offers, and that is where you start to see the difference. Almost everyone is gainfully employed within six months, most getting paid more than $30k a year. The last job fair Ranken held had close to 400 companies recruiting their students, the largest such job fair in the state. That is the kind of college that I would want to go to!

While the school has sat in the same place for more than a century, it is no ivory tower. It is strictly a hands-on place, with the latest equipment for the students to get trained on. Students spent three hours in labs or in the various machine shops for every hour in the classroom.

auto-shopCar companies routinely drop off their latest models for the students to tear apart and put back together. Shoun makes a point of having his own personal car from whatever they have finished working on: his last car took 18 months to get street-legal again, after being totaled in an accident. The auto shop programs are the school’s largest: consider this was “new technology” back 100 years ago. One class works on tuning high-performance engines, as you can see in this photo.

img_2349The IT class that I visited was a set of students that had taken their Cisco CCNA exams, which all but one had passed. There were other computer labs scattered around the 23-acre campus, some being used for classes teaching computer-controlled equipment such as you see here for this metalworking rig.

They also learn on these custom workbenches that are built fcustom-workbenchor them: I have no idea what their purpose is, but it sure is impressive.  To top it all off, over the years students have built more than 60 single-family homes that ring the campus. That is probably more new construction than anyplace else nearby of that type. The campus is also growing: Shoun intends to increase the student body over time, as demand for these kinds of skills continues to rise. And he is opening new campuses too: Ranken has expanded to the western St. Louis suburbs to be a nearby GM plant, and another campus is opening about two hours south of the city near another auto parts facility.

And to help keep tuition reasonable, Shoun also is acting CEO on more than a dozen different “microventures,” run by the students. These are real operating businesses that dovetail with the school’s programs: the students get real-world experience so when they graduate they already have some solid skills and abilities. That is really smart, not to mention effective.

Given that many of these kinds of technical jobs are unfilled, Ranken clearly serves a need. I am glad that I stumbled across the place and got to see it first hand. If you would like a tour, I can set you up. You will see the future of St. Louis quite clearly as you walk around their campus.

FIR B2B podcast: do’s and don’ts of marketing research

Grant Gross’ excellent story in goes into more detail about why you can’t pin the exit polling failures of last week’s general election on big data. Paul and I use these failures as a starting point to discuss the lack of quality in survey research, particularly in the B2B tech marketing space. Both of us have been the recipients of lousy survey “results,” or more accurately, wishful thinking on the part of marketing and PR people. So save everyone’s energies: don’t produce these 200-person SurveyMonkey polls that have no real meaning. Better yet, when a reporter wants to see the survey instrument and the underlying methodology, send it. You’ll gain plenty of street cred and may even get some ink too.

Our recommendations are to pay careful attention to survey size, understand the sampling methodology, make use of a professional pollster or research analyst or statistician and learn from the experts.

Listen to our podcast here:

FIR B2B Podcast: PR tips and my 21-year newsletter streak

In this week’s podcast with Paul Gillin on B2B marketing, I talk about my 21 years of writing a weekly Web Informant email newsletter. Last year I summarized my efforts in this piece with lots of links back to the early days.

Also in our podcast, we pay tribute to Bill Machrone, editor of PC Magazine and an all-around fine human being, for his recent passing after battling brain cancer for two years. And we address a listener’s questions about the importance of images and about C-suite demands that PR pros support the brand’s lead generation efforts.

Listen to the 15-minute podcast here:

This campaign isn’t like high school

This week I had a chance to talk to some high school kids in the area. They are part of a business class that is designed to teach kids how to start their own businesses called Spark. The class is taught in a storefront in a local shopping mall, deliberately to give the students a more non-school milleu. I came to talk about using Twitter and other social media tools. I had given this presentation before to previous classes for the past several years, so I wasn’t really focused on the events of the presidential campaign and how current they would be in this context. And I found our discussions quite interesting, but not in the way you might think.

I was actually surprised to the mature responses from the kids. Many of the students thought that some of things being said on social media and on TV about the campaigns were certainly entertaining, but they thought the candidates weren’t acting appropriately. I made the comment that many of the students seemed more mature in their reactions compared to what the candidates Tweeted and posted, and there were nods all around the room.

dick2Xanthe Meyer, the Spark teacher, was also surprised by their responses. “Maybe the kids are more interested in the presidential election this year, because it is racier. But I am also shocked that both candidates’ PR teams allow these kinds and levels of responses. I think this election will be in many studies as an example of what NOT to do,” said Meyer. “I wonder what would have happened if we had social media during the Watergate scandal?”

The class is pretty tech savvy: the kids use Twitter, Slack, Instagram and LinkedIn to communicate with each other and with their teachers, and are encouraged to do so. “It is expected that we use social media more,” said their teacher. I was surprised that many of the kids weren’t really facile with Twitter, and I guess that was one of the reasons why I was there, to help them understand how to use it more effectively.

Meyer has been teaching for decades, and recalls what happened during class when 9/11 happened. “We watched the event live during class on TV. Later, our principal was getting phone calls from parents complaining about my decision. And this was from parents of 17 and 18 year olds. That was crazy. These kids could be drafted!”

I mentioned that during the last couple of debates, parents were posting thoughts about not letting younger kids watch the debates. “In our community, parents do shelter their kids from the news. We are definitely living in a different world politically, and I think this campaign amounts to one big negative political ad that is running continuously. It is like a long version of a TMZ episode that is embarrassing to our nation. Not sure if I know what the true issues are anymore.”

One issue for this and other teachers: using social media is a tricky situation. Last year, a local special ed teacher was suspended for several days after her profanity-laced tweets got her into trouble with the school district. And there are numerous other examples of other teachers who have gotten in trouble over their tweets, which seem tame now compared to what the candidates say about each other lately. Teaching is a tough enough job already – my mother was a special ed teacher for decades – but having to navigate these waters now has to be done with care.

Still, I thought it instructive with all the “locker room talk” and “boys being boys” – at least when it came to this high school class – the kids took the higher road. Maybe there is something we can learn from this to improve our supposedly “adult” discourse.

FIR B2B Podcast with Andy Hoar

We talk today with Andy Hoar, the Vice President and Principal Analyst for Forrester Research for many years. Andy wrote a seminar work 18 months ago called The Death Of A (B2B) Salesman. In that piece, he stated that a million US B2B salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service eCommerce websites by the year 2020.

“If I know what I want, I should be able to buy it immediately,” Hoar says. “When it comes to cross selling and qualifying buyers, all of this can be done better in a digital environment. There are a lot of impatientB2B buyers these days.”

Listen to our 22 min. podcast with Hoar below:

FIR B2B #57: Shelley Harrison on marketing for startups

In this episode, Paul and I talk to Shelley Harrison, owner of LaunchPad. She has helped start more than 200 tech companies over the years, including cc:Mail (acquired by Lotus), Socialtext (acquired by PeopleFluent), Postini (acquired by Google), Vermeer (acquired by Microsoft) and others. She often follows a serial entrepreneur from startup and startup, and spoke to us about what makes for great partnership between founder and director of marketing. She offers plenty of advice, including what attributes the serial entrepreneurs she has worked for over the year have in common that make for compelling marketing of their businesses: she presents a very long list, which happens only a fifth of the companies that she has worked for. And she talks about what happens when a marketer’s advice conflicts with the founder’s vision, and the people whom she has been able to persuade, or at least listen to her point of view. you can listen to the 20-minute podcast here: