About Nancy Blair

A veteran journalist, Nancy is VP of Content at Access Emanate.

After the Interview: What’s Ahead for Tech, Media, Storytelling

After the Interview: What’s Ahead for Tech, Media, Storytelling

SAN FRANCISCO – What’s ahead for tech, the news media and storytelling in 2017? Video – short, long, live and lots of it; artificial intelligence; and a landscape re-shaped by the presidential election.

Those are among the topline takeaways from our San Francisco office’s third annual media mixer – After the Interview – which brought together PR professionals from around the Bay Area and Silicon Valley as we tapped into the zeitgeist with top national journalists from Wired, Fast Company, Fortune and Yahoo Finance. I moderated the panel along with my colleague Jared Leavitt from New York.

What they said…

STORYTELLING IS CHANGING

IT’S MOBILE: In our mobile/social age, there are many more places for content to go, but good stories work everywhere and journalists have to be where the audience is, says Wired’s David Pierce.

IT’S VISUAL: Fortune now has a video person in the Bay Area on the hunt for visual angles to tech stories, and Yahoo Finance bakes video into more and more stories for the site – recent Facebook Live experiments included a you-are-there experience at a recent Apple event. Giving people a chance to engage and “be in the room with you,” is really powerful, says Pierce.

IT’S LONG, AND IT’S SHORT. Fast Company is known for long form, deeply reported stories, but has experimented with new sections that have shorter reads that are meant to quickly inform or entertain, says technology editor Harry McCracken.

WAIT, WHAT? THE FUTURE

It’s still early days, but McCracken believes a lot of content soon will be consumed via messaging platforms; every journalist should be thinking about the implications of messaging/chat bots.

Speaking of bots, McCracken foresees them playing a bigger role in determining sites’ lead stories. [An observation as I write this, and as someone who has been there during my 20+ years at Gannett: Is there a desk editor anywhere who will miss the graveyard shift? On the other hand, the graveyard shift will get even lonelier.]

THE ELECTION WILL RE-SHAPE TECH/ECONOMY COVERAGE

The presidential election was a moment of self-reflection for Silicon Valley, says Fortune’s Kia Kokalitcheva, whose beat includes the ‘gig’ economy.

The economy really came front and center, she said, which means that examining the on-demand economy and assessing its impact on the larger economy will be even more important.

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons of the election was that journalists aren’t fortune tellers. There will be fantastic stories to tell in the months and years ahead, says McCracken. But journalists should say what’s happening, and what they think, and be clear about the difference between the two.

WHAT THEY ARE MOST EXCITED ABOUT COVERING FOR 2017

Artificial Intelligence; Silicon Valley culture and how it will course-correct post-Election; Uber, Lyft, AirBNB and the regulatory impacts on these companies; communication and the way technology is impacting the way people talk to one another.

And that’s a wrap. Until next year.

You can find videos from the panel here. Leave comments below if you have any additional insights or learnings from your own experience with media!

Our Access Founder Looks Back at 25 Years

Our Access Founder Looks Back at 25 Years

SAN FRANCISCO – What does 25 years in PR time look like? What are the challenges facing the industry? I recently sat down with Access Emanate’s CEO Susan Butenhoff to get her take on starting an agency, the importance of culture and what she has learned since her founding of Access Communications that long ago.

Q: You started the agency in 1991 after a seven-year stint with Ketchum. Was there ever a really scary moment or critical turning point in terms of the agency’s future?

A: There was a moment during the dotcom bubble that really changed our agency, and our survival.  It was seismic in that we survived at a time when so many other agencies had to shutter.

We were benefitting like everybody else from the froth and enthusiasm. There was so much money in the market. Even as a small agency, you were used to saying, ‘our minimum is $50,000 a month.’ Prospective clients walked in that had only been in business for six months, telling you they needed to go IPO. And they didn’t even have a year of revenue to show.

One day a VC who referred a lot of startups to us walked in and said one of them had just gotten $50 million in funding. I said, ‘great, let me see your business plan.’ He said, ‘I don’t have one’.

I declined the business and told my senior team we needed to diversify into consumer accounts, which was my background and so an easy way to transition. That gave us a protective Teflon that others didn’t have during what turned out to be a point of insanity in the tech market.

Q: What was that spark that led you to start the agency? Can you unpack that a little bit?

A:  Why did I walk out of a seven-year career? I learned a lot at Ketchum, and I always say I never left Ketchum, I went to a new opportunity. And it was an opportunity that I wanted to create.

It comes down to two things. I wanted to start a business where I could create my own culture that was not hierarchical, and fearless. That had a little bit of swagger to it.

And the only rules I wanted were that we needed to be good people who relish taking creative risks. And stay true to ourselves.

Ultimately, when you’re in the service industry, you are exposed to a lot of other people’s emotional, political, social dynamics. But my belief was that as long as we were strong at the core by being good people, we could navigate all of that.

So that was one thing, I wanted to create that world. The other thing is, I saw how technology was beginning to transform things like video games. And I could see how we were starting to use language in consumer environments like ‘rendering’ and ‘software.’ Those were not things that you would typically associate with something that was a consumer product.

I realized that there was really something interesting in bringing an intense understanding of consumer marketing to what was then a niche market that had typically been focused on speeds and feeds.

It was the whole idea that technology could be more than a product, it could be a lifestyle, that really drove me to start the agency.

I was probably the least qualified person to start a tech agency ever in the entire universe. My tech background was limited to talking dolls and video games. But I just knew there was something there. The other thing I knew was really important was that women were going to be an important part of this adoption cycle. And that women typically had been left out of the technology conversations.

I had grown up on brands that really sought to target women. So I do feel like I had a secret weapon, which was that laser-like understanding of how to communicate with women and understand how to position things so they were meaningful for them, and personally relevant. And it wasn’t just another thing to buy, or another thing to be patronized about.

Q: What advice would you have for PR startups today?

A: I think in many ways, it’s easier to start an agency now. It’s more of an approved professional career track – to get experience and chops at an agency and then go out on your own for a variety of reasons. Either because you want to be an entrepreneur, or because you want to set up a certain work-life balance, which is not a dirty concept anymore.

When I started Access, the reality is that boutique agencies were really considered sort of second tier, especially ones headed by women. They were really unusual. And there were concerns by brass about whether you could scale the way they needed.

But now in the age of the lean enterprise, and the cloud, and a more extensive understanding beyond Silicon Valley about how the entrepreneurial ecosystem can operate, I think there are great opportunities for startup agencies.

And a piece of advice for any agency is to be creative, be passionate, but understand the fundamentals of a business.

I think extreme optimism is a common – not just trait, but requirement of an entrepreneur. But it can be the downfall of a business.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about the culture? What has stayed the same here over the last 25 years?

A: I think you can’t have an agency stay the same if you don’t have people who are staying in for the long haul. Although it sounds really trite to say, the reality is that when you’re in a people business, you have to put your people first. That’s so predictable, right? But there are many people on our senior team who have been with Access for 20 years.

These are people who have had plenty of opportunities through lots of economic cycles to either start their own agencies or go in-house, and they stayed because what they found is a common philosophy. We really do feel that however tough the world is out there, whether it be economics, or whether it just be an individual struggle on a personal or a professional front, that we always have each other’s back.

And I think that’s rare to find in life generally, and in work, specifically.

Now with the new combined Access Emanate agency, I see people coming together and I see that it’s getting re-infused with that sense of doing the best for ourselves and each other.

As long as that’s our common compass, then we can navigate through all the other corporate America challenges that we’re all facing at an increasing rate.

Q:  That’s a perfect lead-in to my next question. What is the biggest change you’ve observed in PR and communications over the last 25 years?

A: That is such an easy one for me. This is an industry that I think is struggling to keep it about relationships and not become just transactional.

When I started, it was really a time when reporters picked up their phone. If they answered, they listened to the pitch. They gave you feedback. You know, there was a little bit of an understanding that you had your job to do, they had their job to do, and there was a mutual respect.

Many reporters didn’t even have answering machines. They had to answer the phones. And you knew when to ring them.

Technology has shifted the realities of that. Now you are relying on making a connection with a reporter based on following their Twitter handle, or sending them an email that can go in to a big, black void.

I feel like there’s a distance that’s being created between the editorial world, and the communications agency world.  And I think this is exacerbated, frankly, by two things. One is the reality of the intense business challenges of the media environment. You have fewer people having to do more. And when people are under those constraints, they don’t have the time for relationships. It does become transactional on their end, as well.

And I think the second component is in the world of social media. Everyone’s been destabilized in the process. There used to be a period where it was PR by the pound that was focused on press releases by the pound, and to a certain extent, I sadly see a correlative with social media where it’s shifting to social chatter by the pound.

You’re losing a little sense of what it was supposed to be about, which was true engagement and activation. And it’s really become very much about how many social channels you can cover with so many posts under so many dollars. And that worries me.

Q: What do you think it will take to get it back to a more authentic place?

A: I think it will take people understanding what the social environment, what the social channels are really about. I think we’re in early stages where we’ve gone from enthusiasm to evangelism, to confusion.

We have too many people who feel like they’re pressured to get just junk out of the pipe. I think when everyone becomes more educated, and I mean everywhere – on the brand side, on the agency side – that people may become more selective in terms of how they actually target their social dialogue with their target audiences.

I don’t think we’re there yet.

Q: In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently in starting the agency?

In giving this some thought, what I realize is that what I would have done then – which I encourage all startup agencies to do now – is make an effort to get to know the larger agencies and make an effort to get them to get to know me.

Getting larger firms to refer business because they know they are not right for a particular prospect would have been a really helpful business development pipeline that I never took advantage of.

Someone once said to me that the hardest thing to do is ask for help, and yet the hardest thing to refuse is someone’s request for help. So the advice I would have given to myself 25 years ago is don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Particularly for women entrepreneurs, we may think that asking for help is a sign of weakness but I think it plays to our strengths. We tend to be masterful social networkers, and what we need to do is just step beyond that crisis of confidence and recognize that ultimately, we all want to see that startup succeed.

‘Alexa, What Are the Top Tech Trends So Far This Year?’

‘Alexa, What Are the Top Tech Trends So Far This Year?’

For the consumer tech-obsessed, late summer and the passing of vacation season can only mean one thing: Time to check in on the year’s top trends and perhaps take a peek ahead.

In a recent blog post, the Consumer Technology Association identified 4K UHD TVs, wearables, smart home tech, VR and voice-based virtual assistants as among the emerging tech stars helping drive the industry as traditional sector-leading categories like smartphones and LCD TVs remain flat.

The CTA’s projections for emerging categories were impressive. For 4K UHD TVs, sales are expected to reach 5 million units in 2016, for a 105 percent increase, with revenue topping $12.9 billion (a 69 percent increase). In wearables, while smartwatches aren’t exactly catching fire, fitness trackers are driving a 39 percent projected increase in overall unit sales, to 48 million.

The raft of smart home gadgets, including thermostats, IP/Wi-Fi cameras, smart locks, dimmers and outlets and the like are expected to grow 29 percent to 9.5 million units sold, with revenue growing 24 percent to $1.3 billion.

And making its debut in the semi-annual report, sales of voice-activated digital assistant gadgets like Amazon’s Echo are expected to reach 2.2 million, up 32 percent, with revenue also up 32 percent to $392 million.

Since this was a CTA report, it’s safe to assume that we will be seeing a lot of all of the above at January’s Consumer Electronics Show. At CES 2016, some of the most interesting tech I saw was in the broader range of IoT: connected fitness beyond wearables – encompassing performance tracking and coaching across any athletic endeavor you might imagine – and in the connected health category both in the startup alley area of the show and among established companies (disclosure: Philips is a client), but the CTA didn’t break those out.

So what does all this mean? The generation of hardware that we know and love – phones, tablets and PCs – has reached an inflection point. All of those things are so good that we are sticking with them a lot longer and not replacing them as often. They’re not going away, but a new generation of hardware is being ushered in by new definitions of mobility and the Internet of Things.

Amazon, after whiffing on phones, caught a lot of folks off guard with its Alexa voice-powered digital assistant devices. In my own family, the Amazon Tap was the hit of summer vacation. I had thrown it into my suitcase at the last minute, and it provided hour upon hour of joy as the most convenient speaker ever in a pairing with Spotify. Too late, we also discovered that Alexa could have helped my mother with her crossword puzzles. (‘Alexa, who was Gustav Mahler’s wife?’)

In her Internet trends report this spring, Mary Meeker identified voice input as perhaps the most natural computing interface, calling it a “new paradigm” as accuracy and speed meets ease of use and convenience. Google has long believed so, and with Google Home expected to launch this fall, this category will be one to watch.

And the breakaway hit of summer, Pokémon Go, not only ushered in augmented reality for a mass audience, it said something about the staying power of the smartphone and its ability to exploit new technologies.

Indeed, fall is always packed with new phone launches and other hotly anticipated new hardware. Paired with major OS updates from Apple and Google, we’re looking forward to even more new ways that tech will impact our lives.

Meet Our Staff: Elton Wong

Meet Our Staff: Elton Wong

We’re proud to have a ton of talented employees at Access Emanate and we’d love for you to get to know them. Here’s a quick Q&A with Assistant Account Exec Elton Wong in our New York office.

Where are you from and what brought you to Access Emanate?
I’m from NYC, truly born and raised in Manhattan. I joined Access Emanate to jumpstart my career in PR.

Your role at Access Emanate includes:
I’m an Assistant Account Executive and manage CPG and banking clients.

What inspires you throughout the day?
Besides Beyoncé and the thought of trying to achieve as much as she does in one day… my Spotify account because it’s full of bops that range from 90’s hip hop to Carly Rae Jepsen.

What brand do you think gets copywriting right and why?
Momofuku … mostly because I love their desserts and treats!

If you could grab a drink with anyone from any point in history, who would it be and what would you talk about?
Picasso. He was my focus in college for my Art History minor (I’m still not sure what that minor got me) but he inspired me enough to get a minimal tattoo of his peace dove. A drink on Picasso is well deserved.

What’s one thing about you that might surprise people?
I enjoy sports (besides baseball) – I follow soccer (football) enough to have a conversation to shock people.

What are you passionate about pursuing outside of work?
Traveling. I have a life goal to travel to two new countries per year until I run out! Hitting my 20 mark soon!

Reflections on a Year in PR

Reflections on a Year in PR

SAN FRANCISCO – This time a year ago, I had just finished up my first couple of months in PR after a long career in journalism – a somewhat head-spinning move into writing, editing and strategizing for corporate clients.

This after years of bashing away at a keyboard seven days a week figuring out how to make sense of what’s going on in the world for a very middle American audience at USA TODAY.

I was sure enough about the move to make it: Kelly Boynton here at Access had become a friend, and through my trust and respect for her I got to know others at the agency – all of whom seemed smart, kind, and dedicated.

One of the things that drew me in was how long so many of the senior team had been with the company. I was about to leave my family – Gannett (25+ years) and USA TODAY (14+ years). For all of the turmoil in mainstream media, my colleagues were my brothers and sisters – people I would run into a fire with (or cover a major tech meltdown with). I wasn’t certain that my first move out of journalism would have me finding my new “forever” home, but I sure hoped so. Family is important.

Now I am a year in – with, frankly, too many thoughts about the transition to sort it all out on my own. So I decided to crowdsource a few questions from my terrific young colleagues here at the agency and from my journo and PR friends on Facebook.

Herewith, for the PR-curious in the journalism community, and for anyone interested in the shifting media landscape, is a q-and-a with myself, courtesy of a few folks I know and love:

Do you regret it? Nope! I still do so much of what I love. I am writing and editing and analyzing trends. In a weird way, I am even closer to the source material about how our world is taking shape. I talk to executives every week who are making big bets on where things are headed. What I would have given for this kind of access as a journalist.

Would you go back? Yes! Who’s hiring? Kidding.

Journalism is and ever will be my first love. I left because I, personally, could no longer tolerate the uncertainty of buyouts, layoffs and the overall burn process happening at big outlets that is absolutely essential as news organizations grapple with the huge question of how to make money. I’m in charge of my own future now in a way that no one in news really is these days.

But I believe very deeply in the future of journalism – it is timeless and vital. Anyone remember that pay TV series Rome, with the fellow standing up in the middle of the town square shouting out the news? Journo.

So, what exactly do you do? Umm….lots of stuff.  I work with executives to help them turn their expertise and insights into cool stories that other people want to read. My favorite clients understand that it is a collaboration and a partnership. I’ve also done work on internal company messaging materials and help with media training for various executives (I play the journalist!). I’m also involved in a lot of new business presentations – primarily offering a lense into how a company is perceived currently in the media and what its aim could or should be.

Do you see PR people differently now? In the 10 years I’d been in San Francisco editing USA TODAY’s tech coverage I came to know many folks in the tech PR community. I don’t know if it’s different from the PR-journo relationship in other industries/sectors but in my experience there was a lot of respect on both sides.

Do your reporter acquaintances treat you differently now? Sometimes I feel like Carrie Mathison: No longer in the CIA but always in the CIA. I’m sure some people do but not the folks who know me well.

What if there were no ‘dark side’? I loved the comment from a Facebook friend who asked that rather than create a perception of opposition, what if we were all on the same side of authentic and truthful editorial. I couldn’t agree more.

Is your schedule more defined and more definable, so that, start to finish in given workday, it’s more A to B than A to Who Knows? Definitely. There are still plenty of very long days and sometime weekend work, but I no longer leap out of bed in the morning as if the world is on fire every single day. And I can, mostly, go to sleep without worrying about what I am missing.

What habits have been hardest to break? This is silly, but I still want to put a SAN FRANCISCO dateline on everything I write. For some reason it helps clear the cobwebs. And of course it’s impossible not to immediately shift into “interview” mode when I’m at any tech-ish gathering whatsoever.