Three skunkworks products PR pros should try

I’ve always thought skunkworks projects were pretty sweet.

As a kid, I earned the nskunk-picture-300x216ame Fingers Armon because my friend Jimmy Fiddler and I disassembled lamps, radios, and other gear – rarely managing to put them back together properly.  My respect for electricity came early, too, as I occasionally touched the wrong two wires and sustained some nasty shocks.

Fortunately, a career in media and PR has allowed me to avoid 110-volt jolts in favor of the intellectual and commercial buzz emanating from skunkworks inside the larger service providers and smaller shops alike.

Here are three innovations that PR practitioners should consider trying:

  • Meltwater Press is a radical new take on building a media list.  The tried and true method of pitching a story involves a PR pro targeting journalists and bloggers based on their geography, the type of media outlet for whom they work, and their assigned beat.   The approach Meltwater is advocating doesn’t involve searching a media database.  Instead, PR pros are asked to upload the content they plan to pitch — a press release, backgrounder, speech or other similar text document – for analysis by a natural language software program.  Meltwater then spits out the bylines of reporters who have written about similar topics.  The concept is not new.  When I was still with PR Newswire, we cobbled together a test that used content from eWatch and Dialog, and journalist contacts from MEDIAtlas to see if we could generate relevant media lists using natural language processing technology.  The results were underwhelming and the product was shelved.  A few years later, PR agency veteran Peter Himler teamed up with a firm then called ENR to introduce MatchPoint, but I haven’t heard boo about the product since then.  While I have not seen a demo of Meltwater Press, I’m guessing that artificial intelligence software is getting better and better.  In an era when IBM’s Watson can win against Jeopardy’s top champions, it’s only a matter of time before a media list can be churned out by a machine.
  • Times Square sign placement of PR content evokes a kind of visceral reaction from clients.  No one can make the argument that posting a photo on an electronic billboard for a few seconds can drive sales, build a brand or repair a reputation.  But clients love this service. Since Times Square photos were suggested by former PRNer Jonathan Evans, who now works for the press release aggregation company Noodls, tens of thousands of bright, digital photos and captions have appeared on a sign that’s 20 stories tall in the “Crossroads of the World.”  The cost is negligible – just a few hundred bucks.  PR Newswire client images appear on the Thomson Reuters Building for a few seconds at a time, and clients receive an email showing their image as it is being displayed (with passers-by, buses and the occasional Naked Cowboys appearance adding a bit of extra sizzle).  PR images may also be projected on sign at the impressive NASDAQ Market Site in Times Square.  That service is available through NASDAQ’s GlobeNewswire.
  • dotSUB eliminates language as a barrier for web video.  Any organization, product or brand whose consumers speak multiple languages should consider posting their video to the dotSUB site.  This New York-based company offers a free tool that allows users to upload a script or type in the words spoken on the video, and to match the video to the precise time each word is spoken.  The result is instant subtitles, just like the closed-caption feed on TV.  After one language is subtitled, users can select additional languages and Google Translate will go to work.  Not happy with the accuracy of machine translation?  dotSUB offers really inexpensive professional translation services for clients from Sony to Nokia to the famous California TED conference. The founder of dotSUB, Michael Smolens, is PR-savvy and has been known to offer ingenious ideas for the best use of this world-flattening technology to communications pros who take the time to ask.

There you have it:  Three off-the-beaten-path tools from smart folks who have produced skunkworks projects that merit attention.

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