Harvesting News Without a Release: Your Press Release Isn’t the Right Tool for the Job

GroveLabs_Appliance_RenderVibrant, exciting companies like Grove Labs drive the Boston start up world. Born out of an MIT dorm the Grove Labs team aims to do nothing less than transform the way the world grows and eats food. They’re not creating an app that lets you find the best locally-grown organic vegetables, their goal is help you grow your own organic vegetables in the locality of your kitchen.

Today they have big dreams, an experimental indoor greenhouse at Greentown Labs, and a little more than $2 million in funding.

When the Grove Labs team called us asking for advice on how to announce their funding, they sent along a “press release” they’d written. They figured if they were going to announce funding, they should have a “press release” to go with the big announcement.

So they were a little surprised and relieved when we advised to to bail on the release and just focus on creating a great blog post while making sure the right materials were available online. Our rationale was pretty simple: a formal release that would go out on a “newswire” simply didn’t fit their brand image, would cost money to create and distribute, and wouldn’t offer enough value to justify the work. By focusing their efforts on creating a first-person blog post, they could share the same information, stay true to their brand image and drive traffic to their site instead of a page set up by a wire service.

The real work in getting the information out to reporters wasn’t in putting a release on the wire and having it hit newsrooms around the country, but it was in their phone calls and emails that would reach directly to reporters. Those reporters certainly needed some kind of document to work from and provide some basic information, but that doesn’t mean the document needed to take the form of a release.

The strategy worked swimmingly well the quotes from investors that appeared on the site also appeared in a few news articles and the post itself was quoted by those same reporters. The post, along with a video, acted as the voice of the company. Most importantly, it drove the right traffic and brought in the right results.

GroveLabs_FullLogo

At HB we still have plenty of clients who put out releases, and have even seen some articles come from release pickup, so they’re not completely dead. There’s also been a lot of talk about different forms of releases, like the social media release, but that’s really just retreading the same old format. The question a company needs to ask isn’t “what form should our release take?” but instead “what is our brand and how do we want to communicate our news?”

For many companies releases offer a formal way to track news over time, so when prospects, partners, investors or other stakeholders come to the website, they can look back and see a clear timeline of activity presented in a clear, understandable package. Even reporters, who continue to bash releases often ask for one as part of their reporting, as it offers a clear, comfortable, digestible way to present information.

Understanding what you need depends on a mix of your brand and goals. If you have a corporate image and a tradition of writing releases, then you should continue with that direction and build the library of news. In that case, the release should act as the voice of reason, simply putting out facts in a news-like tone, since that’s what readers will expect.

However, if your goal is to get media attention through your own content, then the release may be one part of a multi-pronged strategy that could include pitching, a blog post, graphics, video or any other relevant information that helps tell the story. Sometimes this means using a release to provide the basic facts and then other content to provide the color and personality. The first step is to understand your audience and then give them material that motivates them to take action.

In the past the release combined with media outreach did the yeoman’s work, but that’s no longer the case.

For a few years SEO played a role in the release decision, but that has also taken a big hit. In the past the release wires and their extensive digital reach helped boost linkbacks. But now Google is downplaying release content and that’s making those linkbacks relatively useless.

However, news stories that get posted on “high quality” websites and still link back mean that much more. Which is why the blog post strategy that Grove Labs used is so effective. Any reporter writing about them has multiple places to link: the main site or the blog post, which is on the same domain.

When it comes to your next piece of news, the question shouldn’t be “who is going to write the release?” it should be “what do we need to tell the story?”

 

Congratulations Greentown Labs on Three Wonderful Years

greentown-labs-logoWe just wanted to take a moment to congratulate Greentown Labs on a great week. We here at HB are sponsors of Greentown Labs, so we’re very invested in their success. So far Greentown Labs has been called the “coolest startup space in Boston,” asked to “save the world,” and praised for helping startups “work around VCs, find niches in cleantech.”

Last week marked the third anniversary of the cleantech incubator and what a celebration! Not only did they have great beer from neighbor Aeronaut Brewing and wonderful pulled pork thanks to a pig roast, they also gave the first-ever Greentown Labs prize to Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. Being the type of place Greentown Labs is, of course it was created on a 3D printer. Senator Benjamin Downing also stopped by, he is co-chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, as did reporters from around town. A full rundown of the day can be found on Storify.

That’s not all, George Takei popped in late last week:

As did Congressman Mike Capuano:

 

In the middle of it all, the Boston Business Journal honored Greentown Labs Executive Director Emily Reichert as one of the MHT 2014 Women to Watch.

All this prompted Greentown Labs founding partner Embue to note how all this coverage is hitting the inbox.

Of course, we marked Greentown Labs’ growth with an infographic (below). It captures the excitement many feel about the incubator and why we at HB are so proud to be part of its growth.

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The Promise of Cleantech

At HB, we’re invested in learning about and supporting the cleantech industry. So when 60 Minutes ran a report on January 5 called, “The Cleantech Crash,” we scrambled to learn more.

60 Minutes Cleantech Crash

60 Minutes Cleantech Crash

According to correspondent Lesley Stahl, the cleantech industry is dead. In her interview with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Stahl examined his personal investments in cleantech and the millions of dollars the federal government has poured into (depicted as: wasted on) the industry. Throughout the piece Stahl was laser-focused on portraying major failures and supporting a clear message: run away from cleantech.

However, not even ten days later, Khosla emerged unedited with his own, differing message in an open letter to CBS. His bottom line? Cleantech is at a crossroads (not a sharp decline) and the 60 minutes piece was a case of poor reporting, biased editing and haphazard fact checking. GigaOm reporter Katie Fehrenbacher provides a great review of what 60 Minutes got right and where they really missed the mark.

Of course some of the information presented during Stahl’s interview with Khosla is true. But do the many failed ventures and cleantech companies amount to an industry in demise?

This question about failure begs us to ask yet another question: how do we define progress and success?

Khosla touches upon this when he states that we need to take big risks in order for the cleantech industry to achieve the huge success we believe it’s capable of. In other words, the big risks inherent in cleantech investment beget both stumbles and strides. And in an industry that is constantly learning from its own evolution, these failures also form the fundamental building blocks of progress.

Not all of the media is down on cleantech either. Two days prior to airing the piece, The New York Times wrote about the solar power craze on Wall Street and its popularity among investors.

Here at HB, we see this buzz about cleantech as a good thing—even if it includes some bad press. Though the conversation is already exploding, we think there are five key drivers to growing and sustaining the industry until it explodes (in a good way, Lesley!) in the near future:

Innovation – This may have been the buzzword of 2013 but the truth is, crazy, out-of-the-box ideas are exactly the innovative projects that will propel cleantech to the next level. What’s the next big thing? What’s the next Tesla? Organizations like The Cleantech Open encourage innovative entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today’s most urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges. These innovations, with the support of various accelerator and incubator programs, are what we need to create a more environmentally friendly society.

Community – Not only are we noticing more and more accelerator and incubator programs for cleantech startups, we’re also watching a community of people and organizations join forces to create a more sustainable planet. Luckily for the cleantech startups based in the Boston area, the nation’s premier community for such groups is right in their own backyard.  Greentown Labs has quickly emerged as the go-to example of what a cleantech community should represent. The 37 member companies are all working to develop the next revolutionary cleantech product. While working in the prototyping space, lab space or office space, the companies are given an opportunity to network with other members and participate in educational events to spread their cleantech innovations on a local and national scale. As organizations continue to follow in Greentown Labs’ footsteps, the cleantech community will continue to grow.

Sentiment According to a recent Navigant Research Study, “the average favorability rating for the 10 Cleantech concepts, which fall under the categories of clean energy, clean transportation, smart grid, and building efficiency, rose to 51 percent, the highest level seen in Navigant Research’s annual survey since 2010.” Favorable views toward cleantech will only help spread awareness and understanding of why and how Cleantech can help improve the world we live in. The more people who adopt a favorable attitude, the more likely the greater population will agree that renewable energy is a key part of our future.

Adoption – Every day we notice more specialized industries adopting different varieties of cleantech. From commercial buildings using energy recovery ventilation to decrease their carbon footprint or breweries adopting waste water treatment and reuse systems, implementation is happening all around us. There’s a reason we’re seeing “eco-friendly” and “green-building” everywhere we look and it’s because people are jumping on the cleantech bandwagon. Lesley, you’re welcome to join!

Action – Cleantech is not smoke and mirrors—it’s happening all around us. Whether it’s an energy-efficient light bulb, a new hybrid car or a power management tool that reduces the consumption of energy, cleantech is everywhere and it’s here to stay. Just look at Google’s recent acquisition of Nest Labs, the maker of the Nest Thermostat. This acquisition is Google’s 15th renewable energy investment; clearly the professionals in the renewable energy industry are doing something right.

During Khosla’s interview with Stahl he notes his drive and steadfast commitment to the cleantech industry. “Look, we have to take risks. And risks mean the risk of losing money. So let me ask you a question. We’ve been looking for a cure for cancer for a long time. How much money has the U.S. government spent?  Billions and billions of dollars. Should we stop looking for a cure for cancer because we haven’t found a cure?”

So we haven’t found the cleantech golden goose yet, that innovation that will solve all of our environmental struggles. Maybe we never will. But there are a growing number of success stories that are changing the way we think about our businesses, our homes, and our planet. Not bad for a failing industry, IMHO.

Edible Campus

edible-campus

I found inspiration in an unexpected place this summer: McGill University in Montreal. Its School of Architecture collaborated with local NGOs to create productive garden growth in a concrete, prominent urban corner of the University’s downtown campus. The result – an edible garden that transformed an existing neglected space into a beautiful, strategic food producer.

Here’s how McGill reinvented a 3287 m2 barren concrete space:

  • Vertical growing: Beans sprawl a wall on the side slope of the entrance to an underground academic building. Another wall with few windows became the support system for squash and tomato vines.
  • Containerized garden: A bare concrete plaza turns into a garden path with containers and arches growing vegetables and herbs.
  • Rooftop garden: An underutilized, unattractive terrace became a bountiful fruit and vegetable garden.

In 5 months, the total harvest reached nearly 400 pounds. The food is donated to individuals around Montreal with mobility impairments. The edible campus demonstrates how productive planting can transform underutilized urban spaces.

Start planning during the long, winter months. A small garden can have a big impact.

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Photo Credit: McGill University

Future Energy: Shark Tank for the environment

Last week my colleague and I had the pleasure of attending Future Energy, an event hosted by Ultra Light Startups at Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge.  Ultra Light Startups is a community focused on helping technology entrepreneurs establish and grow their businesses.future_energy_v2 (1)

Future Energy is a series of events in Boston, New York City and Silicon Valley that connect energy and cleantech startups with private investors. It’s similar to watching Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary on Shark Tank except the investors aren’t rude or flaunting their net worth in your face. And even better, the pitches are from companies with products that could have a positive impact on the environment. We’re not talking about baked goods, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches or jewelry lines as we often see on Shark Tank. At Future Energy, you’re privy to seeing future clean energy technologies that will change the world.

Here’s a brief recap of the startups we learned about, including the top three pitches voted on by attendees.

First place: Cerahelix – the helix-NFM is a ceramic nanofilter that reduces the cost of manufacturing by conserving energy and freshwater resources.

Second place: Raja Systems – offers reliable, low-cost isolated power systems that enable a 50-to-80 percent reduction in OPEX for off-grid hybrid power systems with no hardware added.

Third place: Culture Fuels – a technology developer with an advanced cultivation platform that enables large-scale production of algae for use in producing biofuels, aviation fuels, feed, protein and nutraceuticals.

Other Pitches:

Senergy – a crowd-funded investing platform that finances solar energy projects that instantly achieve stable, real-time grid parity for municipal customers.

Spilvenger – offers low-cost, highly efficient robots that have a self-sustained, accurate automated feedback system that feed on collected spilled oil overseas.

StannTron –developing a novel chemical conversion technology of selective removal of CO2 to make bio-products that will enable widespread adoption of renewable biomass to fulfill much of our chemical, transportation and energy needs.

WattJoule – offers a next-generation flow battery product platform that provides cost effective energy storage to a vast global market.

Zephyr Energy – offers a non-rotating wind energy generator with a low wind speed requirement, compact form factor, safe operation and simple, low-cost design.

Curious about the insightful advice the panel of investors shared with these awesome startups? We captured a few major takeaways from the event.

  1. Does your product/service meet your customers’ needs and address their pain points? You might have the coolest technology on the block, but that doesn’t mean consumers will buy it.
  2. Of course you need to know how to sell your product/service, but you must know who will sell it with you. Anticipating your future channel partners is essential for success.
  3. Hit the bar with your co-founders, have two drinks apiece and discuss what success looks like to each of you. This vision may differ and it is incredibly important to be on the same page with your fellow founders. Also important to note: have two drinks so you speak your mind but no more than two because you may not remember what success looks like the next day.

Have you heard any great advice for cleantech startups? Share your tips with us at @hb_agency.

Massachusetts: Crushing it in Clean Tech

Blog the 13th: Massachusetts and clean-tech

As a leader in education, innovation, science (and sports), it’s no surprise that Massachusetts is ahead in clean energy advancements. President Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan notes over 2,700 renewable energy projects in Massachusetts since 2009, generating enough energy to power more than 150,000 homes throughout the state. In other words, Massachusetts will accomplish its goal of generating 15 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

HB understands the importance of clean energy innovation and we’re proud to call Massachusetts our home. We believe our home state deserves a virtual round of applause for the strides it’s making as a leader in solar, wind and geothermal energy. In honor of our “Blog the 13th Series,” here are 13 ways Massachusetts leads the clean energy wave.

Big things happening in the Bay State

1. Massachusetts was recently ranked No. 2 in the nation as a leader in clean technology industries. That’s behind a state with nearly six times the Massachusetts population. Look out California, we’re coming for you!

2. According to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) 2012 Clean Energy Report, the Commonwealth now has approximately 71,523 clean energy employees: researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and thought-leaders. Hats off to all of these folks bringing Massachusetts into the future of energy!

3. Greenovate Boston, a city-wide movement led by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, encourages all Bostonians to collectively reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The organization shows how simple it is to reduce an individual carbon footprint. For example, if every person in Boston made a small lifestyle change like using cold water when doing laundry, the city would collectively reduce carbon pollution in the air by up to 240 million pounds over the next ten years.

Get Your Shine On, Massachusetts  

4. We’re knocking solar power innovation out of the park…literally. Did you know that America’s most beloved baseball stadium, the one we’re lucky enough to have in our own back yard, not only produces some of the (sometimes) best baseball we’ve seen in years but solar energy, too? It’s true; Fenway Park is the only stadium in the United States heating its water with solar energy. We love that dirty water…just not in our stadiums!

5. According to MassCEC, as of July 2013 Massachusetts reached a statewide total of 281 megawatts of solar electricity — enough to power 42,106 houses. That’s like taking 29,116 cars off the road. Imagine how much easier it would be to drive through Boston with less congestion!

6. Just last month, Boston was fortunate to be one of only three locations in the United States to host the world’s largest solar-powered boat at Fan Pier. PlanetSolar, the only boat to circumnavigate the globe on solar power, spent its time in the city as an ambassador of solar energy. Through various events with swissnex Boston, the PlanetSolar team presented the boat’s practical application and the enormous potential of solar power.

7. In 2007, Massachusetts implemented a state mandate to install 250 megawatts of solar energy by 2017. Under Governor Deval Patrick’s leadership, the state has achieved this goal four years early. Since 2007, the state has steadily increased its solar power capacity including a large jump from 2011 to 2012 with an increase from 42.5 megawatts to 135.8 megawatts of power.

Take that, Windy City

8. Cape Cod, one of Massachusetts’ many treasures, has become known for more than its beautiful beaches and ground-breaking research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Cape Wind, America’s largest offshore wind farm, is a project in development by Energy Management Inc., a Massachusetts-based energy company. The project will be located in the center of Nantucket Sound with 130 wind turbines. Cape Wind is expected to produce an average of 174 megawatts of wind power — almost 75% of the electricity needed to power Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Construction is expected to begin by the end of 2013.

9. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) has developed a number of wind energy projects throughout the Greater Boston area. It recently installed a 1.5 megawatt turbine at its Charlestown facility and two 600 kilowatt turbines at Deer Island. The energy generated by these wind turbines will save MWRA rate payers $600,000 a year in energy costs.

10. Boston is home to the nation’s first wind blade testing center. MassCEC’s Wind Technology Testing Center (WTTC) offers the latest blade testing and prototype development to propel Massachusetts as the leader in developing next-generation offshore wind turbine technologies.

Solar heat beneath your feet

11. Geothermal power, a process which generates electricity from solar energy stored within the earth, is utilized throughout Boston. According to Greenovate Boston, Boston University and Boston Architectural College use geothermal power for its buildings and say the investment will pay off in energy savings within 7-10 years.

Funding for the Future

12. According to the President’s Climate Action Plan, “the 2014 Fiscal Year Budget continues the President’s commitment to keeping the United States at the forefront of clean energy research, development, and deployment by increasing funding for clean energy technology across all agencies by 30 percent, to approximately $7.9 billion.” Massachusetts has set an aggressive goal for 80 percent of its electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2050. Based on our performance to date, it will be much earlier. We may even see another Red Sox World Series win before that!

The Opportunities are Endless

13. Not only is Massachusetts paving the way with clean energy generation, we also have several companies with products that recover and save energy. Take for instance Airxchange, an industry leader in energy recovery ventilation with its patented wheel technology that reduces energy requirements for conditioning outdoor air by 70 percent. Or, when thinking of installing your next large-scale lighting system, consider Digital Lumens. With its patented technologies, Digital Lumens Intelligent Lighting Systems save between 75-90 percent of lighting energy that traditional light sources require.

Are you in Massachusetts? What innovations have you noticed in the clean tech world? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below or via Twitter @hb_agency.

Streamlined Design

I enjoy walking through Ikea and viewing their space-conscious design. They make living in 251 square feet look organized and desirable.

I had the opportunity to board the PlanetSolar boat – another great example of space-conscious design – while it was docked in Boston. Running solely on the energy found in light, the technology is nothing short of impressive. While on the boat, I took particular note of how the boat’s interior was deliberately planned.

Both the boat’s technology and living quarters utilize a streamlined design. Lifeboat and supply containers become sofas or resting places with mattresses. Storage crates turn upside down for table tops and items in the kitchen are well-secured. Cables are secured, running along the ceiling.

The efficiency of space management is truly a remarkable art form.

Why Boston Matters In The Solar Conversation

Solar boatSolar innovation is vital in Boston and New England.

As part of its mission to build stronger relationships between scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators in Massachusetts and Switzerland, swissnex Boston will welcome PlanetSolar to Boston’s Fan Pier for her inaugural visit, June 22-26.

swissnex Boston is hosting a variety of business, media, and educational events to celebrate PlanetSolar’s visit to Boston In partnership with University of Geneva and Presence Switzerland. Read its Boston-area activities here:

The schedule includes:

  • “Build your own solar boat” children’s workshops at Boston Children’s Museum;
  • DeepWater expedition presentation at the Museum of Science, Boston;
  • A Swiss-Boston Clean Tech Night of Networking with leaders from clean tech, government, innovation and academia;
  • “From the Alps to the Atlantic: Water in a changing climate,” a scientific conference with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

The first boat to travel around the world exclusively powered by solar energy, the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar features 29,160 solar panels and produces zero gasoline or CO2 emissions. When she arrives in Boston on Saturday, June 22, she will be docking for the seventh time on her 2013 world tour after visiting Rabat, Morocco; Las Palmas, Spain; St. Martin; Miami, FL; and New York, NY. Boston is one of only three stops PlanetSolar is making in the United States – especially relevant due to swissnex’s mission and Boston’s engaged solar community. She will make nine more stops before returning to her departure site of La Ciotat, France.

Boston, recently ranked second behind California in the United States for leadership in clean technology industries, is a perfect location for PlanetSolar. The innovative, clean technology research that PlanetSolar and the University of Geneva are conducting align well with swissnex Boston’s missions and values. As the global leader for world-class science, education and innovation, swissnex believes in creating and facilitating opportunities for collaboration within these industries. This is one of many collaborations swissnex Boston has coordinated, in addition to its well-known Venture Leaders program which provides 20 high-tech entrepreneurs an opportunity to boost their commercial presence.

HB Agency is proud to play a  part in this extraordinary event in the local clean-tech community.

For more information about events and PlanetSolar, visit http://www.swissnexboston.org/planetsolar-deepwater-expedition-in-boston

 

Building Social Community Around Clean-Tech Initiatives – The Social Tactic Acid Test

Note: this was first published by AgencyPost and can be found here.

If you’re in business, you understand the concept of adding value. You evaluate every action in terms of whether it adds value to your business’ goals or bottom line. So how do you evaluate community-building initiatives?

The Conundrum of Social Community

In our business, we regularly hear from companies that built strong Facebook followings only to realize that they can’t figure out how the “community” adds to their bottom line. Yet they are deeply aware of how communities could take away from the bottom line and how a single bad experience could lead to a brand-destroying social media explosion.

Yet social communities cannot be avoided. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, your customers and prospects want to know more about you and want to connect with others in your circles. And while the challenge used to be around which tools to use, now it’s about how you make the community valuable. We believe the question should be turned around: Ask not how your community adds value to your business, but how your business can add value to your community.

This is where clean-tech companies have a great advantage. Unlike many businesses that leverage subjective values for differentiation, clean-tech companies can leverage in-house expertise and experience to make a material difference to their communities. For example, apparel companies such as Lululemon and Life Is Good create communities around corporate social responsibility initiatives. Yet what they do best is make clothes and selling those clothes is how they make money. In essence, they run two businesses to make the apparel business successful: a clothing business and a social business. For a clean-tech company, the relationship between what makes money and what adds value to the customer is naturally much closer. [Read more…]

Why HB Bets on Clean-Tech – and why the revolution is hard to see when you’re in it

Swimming in beer at Fenway Park

The Boston Red Sox play at a cathedral of a field… Fenway Park. If you’re from the Northeast, you’ve probably visited the park for a game or a tour. And if you’ve been there on a summer day, baking in the sun, sweat on your brow and shirt sticking to you and your bleacher seat, you appreciate an ice-cold beer.

Now imagine you’ve been handed an empty cup and your ice-cold beer is merely dripping into it, one drop at a time. Pretend that the content of the cup doubles every minute.

At first, watching it becomes unbearable as your thirst grows, and it looks like the cup will take forever to fill. After six minutes, there is barely a gulp of beer sloshing around the bottom of the cup. But at 10 minutes the cup overflows. After 20 minutes a thin layer of beer covers the bottom of the park, as if a quick rain shower just swept through. Forty-five minutes into this experience, the players on the field are knee-deep in beer. You might think the game will end long before any noticeable difference, but four minutes later, the park is completely full and you’re swimming in ice-cold beer. Forty-nine minutes to fill Fenway Park to the top of the Green Monster. This is the power of exponential growth. [Read more…]