Artificial Intelligence Systems: Good Citizens Or A Menace To Society?

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IBM Watson, Google’s driverless cars and “unbeatable” Atari gaming system, and unusual 3D printing jobs drive the visibility of artificial intelligence or “AI” systems right now.

With billions of dollars of ongoing investment in AI, everyone seems to want a piece of the action.

However, asks Dr. Steve Omohudro at a VLAB event in Menlo Park earlier this month, will AI be an asset or menace to society when it becomes more prevalent?

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AI will have a tremendous impact on the future, he says. Also referred to as “deep learning,” it is expected to drive $50 trillion in revenue by 2015.

Furthermore, IBM officials say they invested $1 billion in Watson, which Big Blue defines as a cognitive system enabling a new partnership between people and computers.

Hundreds of start-ups jumped into the AI arena and it’s expected to do no less than “improve the world.” Omohundro cited Google’s self-driving cars as a high profile example of AI. Driverless vehicles are expected to become a $10 trillion industry by 2025; even Apple Computer has invested in them.

Omohundro asked the audience to just imagine the impact that this and other implications of AI will have on society.

“Most cars sit in the parking lot all day not getting used,” says Omohundro. If and when driverless cars replace today’s models, “We’ll only need 1% of the vehicles we use today.”

[Note: Projected revenue figures, with the exception of the Watson figure, cited are from McKinsey and Company reports. The photo of Steve Omohundro came from his LinkedIn page. The photo of the Google car came from the Michigan Auto Law website.]

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This story was written by Michelle McIntyre, president of MMC PR, a member of VLAB’s marketing team, an SV-IABC board member and IBM vet. @FromMichelle

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Two Surprising Facts to Boost Your Media Coverage by Michelle McIntyre

Here are two facts about journalists and public relations (PR) that might surprise you.

Press InterviewThe first might make some experienced PR folks angry.

These facts come from a quarter of a century of media relations experience that included a decade stint at a $100 billion corporation, working with 13 start-ups and 10 awards.

#1 Journalists don’t owe you anything.

The first surprising fact is that reporters don’t owe you anything. Did you set up a one hour interview with your startup’s CEO? Did she rearrange her schedule to be there? Did you buy them a $300 dinner with the best wine at the hottest restaurant in New York? It doesn’t mean a thing. What matters is that the founder actually says something that can be quoted or made into an angle. If your company is hot right now, the reporter may have come armed with an angle already though. It is rare that you would be working for a “hot” company though. Most start-ups are unknowns.
#2 The boss doesn’t always know what a great press release looks like.
Great PR pros are not “yes” men and women. Are you a PR manager supervised by the vice president of marketing or founder of a start-up? Have you ever heard, “We need a press release on software upgrade x” or ,“We need a press conference on new product y.” Have you ever just written the press release because the boss demanded it? And what happened when the journalists ignored it, or did an interview to be nice. . . but didn’t write? There was no coverage and you wished you would have strategically said, “No.”

The key to great PR is to work hard to figure out what is interesting about your company, founder or solution. Then say the right thing at the right time to right reporter.

Doing the first thing the boss requests may not be the best route to PR career success.

And don’t believe that any reporter owes you anything. They don’t.

[The photograph above was purchased from Canva.]
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Michelle McIntyre is the president of MMC PR, an IBM vet, and on the executive team of TEDxSanJoseCa. @FromMichelle on Twitter

PR LESSONS FROM THE CONFEDERATE FLAG

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Despite typically sticking to non-controversial topics on my corporate blog, I decided to do something different today: discuss something sensitive and controversial.

The front page stories about the Confederate flag offer a great lesson for publicists.

Before I list what lessons we PR folks can learn, I will back up a bit and talk about my opinion on the flag situation.

I was moved by the photo of the South Carolina shooter in the Sunday The New York Times. The Times did a smart thing by publishing it.

The Confederate flag is now closely associated with a killer and his hate crime. The idea is simple. If you fly the flag, you support what he did.

Additionally, the San Jose Mercury News just today published a story that says the Confederate flag symbolizes slavery. I don’t see these words too often. Usually reporters tip toe around the topic saying, “Old South” and Southern pride and so on.

I have not been to the South in a few years but I do have relatives and roots there. The South is beautiful. The hospitality there is awesome. I don’t hate the South.

I live in the Silicon Valley but was born in Cleveland, Ohio. I also have detailed lineage records showing that I’m related to Robert E. Lee who was head of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Despite this fact, I still don’t support the Confederate flag.

There are a few reasons why the Confederate flag will likely be removed from all government offices and school campuses in coming months: being associated with a highly publicized hate crime (bad PR); economic boycotts; more diversity in government offices; and lastly people who previously remained quiet are now speaking out.

What can we PR people learn from the flag stories? Two things.

IS IT TIMELY RIGHT NOW?

When you think about what stories to pitch reporters – and by the way, some reporters don’t like or need story ideas – think about two elements: timeliness and surprise.

Is your story pitch surprising in any way?

Is it linked to a topic that is trending, one that people actually care about right now? And by right now, I mean today and this minute? Does your news have people saying, “So what?” or do they raise their eyebrows and say, “Interesting. Tell me more.”

A Bloomberg News TV journalist recently said that the best topics to pitch him should be chosen that day. He said check what is hot in the morning and offer him an expert on that topic. By the way if you are pitching broadcast media, pitch something visual.

THE SURPRISE FACTOR

Regarding the surprise factor, a friend in Ohio commented on Facebook that he was surprised anyone was flying the Confederate flag in the South. How can government folks be glorifying its symbolism in this day and age? The other surprise was how a “clean-cut” young man can walk into a Bible study and just kill nine people.

Wow, and they were awesome people. They were Society’s heroes.

Additionally, killing a pastor after Bible study is surprise. So journalists are all over it.

So the lesson is this. When you think about launching your start-up company or issuing a press release on your new software, what part of your story is timely and a surprise? If you think of your publicity in this way, you will get a lot more attention with a lot less work and expense.

Sometimes the surprise is not that the new software can do x or y but rather an interesting tidbit about the founder that would make an enticing story headline.

As the saying goes, work smarter not harder.

[The cotton plant photo was purchased from Canva.]

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Michelle McIntyre is the president of MMC PR, a Communications and Citizenship in the Community merit badge counselor for Boy Scouts of America, IBM vet, former parliamentarian and vice president communications of the local district PTA, SV-IABC director of marketing communications and on the executive team for TEDxSanJoseCA. She has served 14 mostly software start-ups since launching her business two years ago. Her views are her own and not those of her clients or the non-profits she serves. @FromMichelle on Twitter

MASTER SOCIAL BUSINESS WITH THESE 5 TIPS

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By Michelle McIntyre

Here are five facts from the new book “How to Succeed in Social Business,” a collection of case studies and tips from social experts from 20 companies compiled by Shawn Santos.

1. “The exponential growth of social media channels and the popularity of graphics and visuals on those channels have spawned a new visual format on steroids with a new name: infographics.” Ninety percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. Visuals are the rocks stars of social media.

Holly Nielsen, IBM, @HollyNielsen

LESSON LEARNED: Never post a blog without an image and make more infographics.

2. “Social media has enabled a momentous shift in the balance of power, and this type of democratization will continue.” A girl in the U.K. started a blog about school lunches that caught on with millions of school children globally. As you can expect, some of the food reviews were less than favorable. For example some posts said the food seemed unhealthy. This angered school district management. Her teacher told passed along the message that she was not allowed to take photos of her lunches anymore. She stopped. This backfired. Because of the groundswell of support for the girl from communities globally, the school district reversed its decision to let her take photos.

Shawn Santos, ServiceSource, @ShawnSantos

LESSON LEARNED: Use negative feedback from social media to improve.

3. A weblog is a great way to deal with the flood of requests from journalists for timely commentary on popular and constantly changing topics. For example, security threats infiltrate the digital landscape daily. Symantec ‘s Security Response Blog allows them to post commentary that reporters can efficiently access.

Charlie Treadwell, Symantec, @CTreadwell

LESSON LEARNED: It emphasizes what I already know, that a blog is a seriously effective and efficient business communications tool. Post to the blog when news is not big enough for a press release.

4. “Relevant conversations happen everywhere. Cast a wide net.” Cisco found that customer sentiment was found in non-obvious places, like competitor pages and blogs.

Sara Del Grande, Cisco, @SaraDelGrande

LESSON LEARNED: Use a social media measurement tool to get a big and deep glimpse of what your customers are saying.

5. “Effectively enable willing managers to experience the direct benefits of social media” because this is the fastest path to influencing the entire team.

David Shimberg, BMC Software, @DavidShimberg

LESSON LEARNED: Management needs to blaze the brand’s trail on social media. In the past I often recommended that start-ups hire an intern for this but now my attitude has changed.

“How to Succeed in Social Business” is available from Amazon.com in both a Kindle and print edition

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Premium Business Advice from the Founder of Buzzfeed

By Michelle McIntyre

Earlier this week I heard a talk by Jonah Peretti, CEO and founder of entertainment and news website Buzzfeed, which has 200 million unique visitors monthly.

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To put this in perspective, Business Insider, which is no slouch, has 15.9 million and Time.com has 8.9 million.

A graduate of MIT Media Lab, Peretti lives in Brooklyn, NY, and was interviewed on stage by investor Chris Dixon at a Commonwealth Club INFORUM meeting in San Francisco, Calif.

As if he didn’t already have enough cool things to put on his LinkedIn profile, Peretti also co-founded Huffington Post.

Buzzfeed is known for its list format stories like The 40 Greatest Dog GIFs of All Time and quizzes like “Which 90s Toy Are You?” Its staff of 800 includes serious journalists who cover a variety of news from global terrorist threats to politics.

Because its stories are regularly shared millions of times, founder Jonah Peretti is fast becoming known as the master of virality.

Although Buzzfeed is sometimes criticized by more traditional people for its “fluffy” journalism (no pun intended), the business model works.

Here are some of Jonah Peretti’s more interesting comments and pieces of advice from the event in the areas of content marketing and entrepreneurship.

1. We optimize for content shares at Buzzfeed. You won’t click on a story to find out it is a trick. Another site might imply in the headline that two celebrities are dating, but when you click through to the story, you find out it’s not true.

2. We don’t look down on the business and advertising side of things. While the groups here are independent, they also respect one another.

3. When it comes to creating ads, we embrace innovation.

4. Regarding the popularity of video, he joked, “We are headed back to a preliterate society where soon no one will use words.”

5. Sometimes you have to be indifferent to business to serve the consumer.

6. When determining what content to run, we ask, will it change lives? Will it change laws? On a human level, we ask, does this have meaning?

7. One of the hardest and most important things is to build a great team. Startups need people with shared values and who also want to go after something big.

8. How do I attract talent? I let people do their best work and be more productive than they would be somewhere else.

9. Set up small groups of people each with a lot of autonomy. Let them build things inside of a company.

Jonah Peretti was asked what he thought of the Buzzfeed parodies, for example on Click-hole. “If it’s a parody and funny, I love it. At Buzzfeed we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

[The photo of Jonah Peretti on stage in San Francisco, Calif., was taken by Michelle McIntyre.]

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15 Premium Tips to get Media Coverage in 2015

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By Michelle McIntyre

The reason it’s hard for your start-up to get media coverage is because of noise.

Take the app market. As of June 2014, there were 1.2 million apps in iTunes.

Imagine if just a quarter of them contacted a reporter on the same day as you. That’s several hundred thousand companies!

In fact, your email to Alyson Shontell of Business Insider about your new app feature is probably sitting unopened next to 299 others just like it in her inbox that she received that day.

So in order to get some attention, you need to intelligently contact the media.

Here are 15 timely tips to help your start-up get journalists’ attention in 2015. They come from my experiences with Bloomberg, Business Insider, Buzzfeed, KQED, Mashable, TechCrunch, San Francisco Chronicle, Thomson-Reuters, Wired, Wall Street Journal and others.

1. MAKE YOUR KEY POINT FIRST.

In a note to a reporter, don’t bury the lead. When you land a media interview, say your main point first. Don’t plan to show a 45-page presentation.

2. KEEP IT SHORT.

A reporter receives 100 to 300 e-mailed pitches a day. Their voice mail boxes fill up fast. A short email might get read fully. To add detail, include a link. My Stanford media relations instructor and former San Francisco Chronicle Writer Marshall Wilson said a sentence should be no longer than 27 words. Key messages should take no longer than nine seconds to say.

3. READ THEIR STORIES FIRST.

Before Pam Edstrom attended her first media event with Bill Gates back when both their companies were just getting started, she read all of the industry magazines first. She then had intelligent talks with the journalists there. She is co-founder of public relations firm Waggener Edstrom.

4. PITCH THE COMPETITION.

KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler spoke in my Stanford post-graduate media relations class. He said he’s not likely to cover a story twice. Don’t call him and say, “I see you covered topic x. My company is a fit for that.” Instead pitch someone who hasn’t done the story yet, like a reporter at a competitive outlet.

5. OFFER SOMETHING SPECIAL BUT NOT TO EVERYONE.

TechCrunch takes contributed stories but they won’t run something unless it offers a unique viewpoint.

6. BOUNCE BACK AFTER FAILURE.

Great media relations folks don’t let rejection get them down. The timing could be off. It might take a year of relationship-building to land a shopping app in Good Housekeeping, for example, as was the case with one of my clients.

7. CONTACT THE RIGHT REPORTER.

If your story relates to new B2B social marketing software, contact the Huffington Post social business writer not the Elite Daily political blogger. Check Twitter profiles for updated job details. Some change jobs a lot.

8. PRETEND YOU’RE TALKING TO YOUR GRANDMA.

Skip the jargon like “mission critical” and just say what it is or does. If it’s a storage device that stores 500 movies just say that. Pretend you’re talking to your grandmother.

9. GO PLACES.

To increase your chances of meeting journalists, go out and get noticed. Give a talk at an industry conference or at a Meetup. Travel to a city where reporters are based. I set up a meeting with Issie Lapowsky of Wired and a Silicon-Valley based client recently and a cool story resulted.

10. TELL A COMPLETE STORY.

Compelling stories have a beginning, middle, end and hero. Include one when you are talking to a reporter. Overcome the fact that company founders do not like to highlight client problems. The story surrounding Sony’s movie “The Interview” features a big problem.

11. TELL A STORY THAT TUGS AT THE HEART STRINGS.

An app client tested a new nearby deals app feature before issuing an announcement. The story highlighted in communications was about a mom struggling to makes ends meet who was able to afford Christmas presents for her kids. It got attention. Another client’s story was about how he had three open heart surgeries by age 19. Staying healthy was the inspiration for co-founding his fitness app company while still in school.

12. ANNOUNCE NEWS BUT MAKE IT TIMELY.

Your campaign needs to fit in with what’s happening in the world. Right now it seems to be Sony movie “The Interview,” holiday shopping or New Year’s resolutions. A week ago it was Bill Cosby. Soon it will be losing weight, fitness, Super Bowl 2015 and Valentine’s Day. In August it will be back to school.

13. USE THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE.

Snapchat, the “disappearing message” app got a life time worth of publicity by rejecting Facebook’s acquisition offer of $3 billion+. This was a surprise just due to the sheer amount. After that, everyone knew who they were. Reporters love to be surprised.

14. MAKE IT VISUAL.

Always have a photo of the founder, app screen shots and other graphics handy. Infographics and videos are popular. For social media posts, use a free graphics tool like Canva. Hire a news-smart photographer like Silicon Valley’s Mark Hundley or Paul Sakuma for your PR photography.

15. WRITE IT YOURSELF.

Some outlets like Buzzfeed, TechCrunch, and Wired accept contributed material. My blog is syndicated on a popular website. If your article is good, it will be promoted to home page. Venture Capital Firm General Catalyst Partners is known to be awesome at getting its own material published. It’s because the vice president of marketing communicates like a journalist.

In any case, if you try these tips and are still having a hard time, hire someone with media experience to help. [Photo credit: Newspapers and glasses photo was purchased through Canva.]

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10 Premium Tips to Kick-start Your New Business

By Michelle McIntyre

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October marks the two year anniversary of my public relations consulting business. Since I left my corporate job and started working for myself, I have produced results for 10 clients. They have included consumer and B2B software app start-ups, engineering services and clean tech firms and the third largest technology company in the world.

If you are thinking of starting your own consulting business, here are tips. These are things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Set a goal and make it realistic! You’ll need a few months to set up a website, figure out your finances, and develop your brand. Don’t plan on getting a customer during that time. I achieved my goal of acquiring my first customer less than a month after I launched my website. In fact I got two customers during that time.

2. Legally define it early. For example, is it going to be an LLC, single member LLC, or S-Corp? An LLC allows you to own your company name and generally protects your private property from being taken should someone sue your business and you lose. Read up on the definitions and consult a lawyer before finalizing the plan.
Be aware that in California, LLC’s have an annual $800 fee-tax on top of regular taxes.

3. Figure out your formal business name. If it’s an LLC, you can choose to add “,LLC” or just “LLC.” If you choose to freelance consult without forming an LLC or S-Corp, etc., be ready to put your social security number on W-9s that you need to fill out for some clients. I have an LLC and just put my EIN number on forms, instead of my social security number.

Unfortunately different lawyers and tax experts may give you conflicting advice on this topic.

The best thing to do is call the IRS or your state tax board directly for information.

4. Order business cards and have a nice head shot taken early on. People ask for cards as soon as you tell them you’re starting a business. Your professional head shot is for social media sites like LinkedIn. You must be on LinkedIn. Wear business attire in the picture or people may not take you seriously. Make sure the same professional photo is used across all social networks for consistency.

5. Set up a website and get social! People will not take you seriously without a website and social media presence. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ are all the main places to be. Pinterest and Instagram are important in some markets, for example, if you are selling clothes, Pinterest is important.

Pick a couple of social networks to focus on at first but put a profile on all of them.

6. Network a lot. Meet-ups work well and are usually cost-effective. Join for free through Meetup.com. When you are not helping clients, you are networking. Meeting new people face to face to get business works! A popular one is Idea-to-IPO in the Silicon Valley.

7. Have a positive attitude always. Meet regularly with people who support what you are doing. Note some people may never support your plans. That’s okay.

8. Define exactly what you will do in your business and stick to it. If you keep adding services or changing the definition of your value-add, you may confuse prospective clients. When they are confused, they will not hire you.

9. Be a LinkedIn stud. Speak at an event and list it on your profile. Get several quality references and make sure they are on your profile. You are not on LinkedIn? You better get on it today then. Everyone in business is on that social network. Also make sure you have references in your line of business.

People will research you online before hiring you for a service so strategic references are gold.

10. Consult with mentors as much as possible. In addition to pointing out mistakes and boosting your morale, mentors can bring new business by referring you to others.

Good luck!
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Michelle McIntyre is the president of MMC PR, director of marketing communications for SV-IABC, and on the executive team for TEDxSanJoseCA. Follow her on Twitter at @FromMichelle. [Photo credit: iStockphoto.com]