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Unlocked and loaded: International roaming adventures with a GSM smart phone and pay-as-you-go SIM

By Francis Moran

Let me tell you about my amazing adventures last week with an unlocked GSM smart phone loaded with a pay-as-you-go SIM.

As anyone who has travelled with a cell phone, Blackberry or smart phone can testify, using a mobile device outside your home market can be a financially harrowing experience. Typical charges I’ve incurred for using my Treo in the U.S. or abroad have been $1/minute for a local call and $3/minute for a call back home. Even if I carefully manage my calls, there’s still data usage that can be charged at as high as $10/megabit.

Or I could do what countless numbers of travellers are now doing — get my phone unlocked and use a country-specific SIM, the subscriber information module that tells the network everything it needs to know to route calls and data to and from the device.

Unlocking your phone means reprogramming it so it can operate on networks other than the one to which you are chained. (Believe me, I am using the term “chained” advisedly here!) In my case, I had the job done by a very professional crew at a kiosk in the Prudential Center in Boston, where I also picked up loads of advice about the best SIMs to use. Your carrier might agree to unlock your phone but will require you to send it to them and pay them hundreds of dollars for the privilege. The guys at Warlox Wireless did it for $50 in less than 20 minutes.

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From consulting service to software product

By Francis Moran

My colleague Danny last week highlighted the worthy achievement of Scotland’s Graham Technology in winning Best Product at Call Centre Expo for its customer interaction platform ciboodle. The award capped a year of focused marketing since ciboodle was first launched.

But the achievement was much more than a year in the making. Like many software product companies, Graham Technology had its genesis in consulting; in its case, first with big systems integration projects starting more than 20 years ago, and then with the development of business process-based contact centre solutions. But at some point, Graham Technology had to begin a conscious process of evolution from consultancy to software product company. When we first started talking with the company, it was still fully conscious that “we can do anything for anyone,” but it was committed to this new path that would see it eschew one-off bespoke application development in favour of seizing a specific market opportunity and seeking to be a global leader in its chosen space.

It’s an evolution we have seen many companies wrestle with, and at which some of them balk. It can’t be easy, after all, to leave the comfort of an assured revenue stream where your big computer brains are fully engaged on new and exciting client challenges every day. As a guy who’s been a consultant for his entire PR career, I completely understand the lure of this challenging dynamic.

But it’s a tough model to scale, and that’s why so many software consulting companies, recognising that they may have something that looks like a product, decide to go for it. Sort of.

Unlike Graham Technology and other software companies whose new products we have successfully launched into global markets, too many only sort of go for it. And I think it has to be one or the other. It’s not that a consulting company constitutes an inherently inferior business model; it’s just that I think you have to decide which you’re going to be — service, or product.

Bottom line: Graham Technology unreservedly made the leap, and is reaping the rewards for having done so.

A business (2.0) titan bows out

By Francis Moran

My favourite magazine arrived this week clad in a plain-paper wrapping.

No, not that kind of magazine, or that kind of plain-paper wrapping.

Rather, it was the October 2007 issue of Business 2.0, which announced on a white, wrap-around cover that this is my last issue.

I knew this was coming – the magazine revealed its decision to stop publishing a couple of weeks ago — but it’s still sad. And it represents a triumph of accounting and business case analysis over passion and excellence.

I am a huge fan of good journalism. I am passionate about writing. And I love new technology and gadgets. And every month, Business 2.0 was required reading for me because it consistently hit the excellence mark on all three points. In fact, aside from the Globe and Mail, which I also consider required reading, Business 2.0 was the only periodical that came into this office that people were under orders not to file away but, rather, to immediately put it on my desk. By the time I finished reading an average issue, several of the pages would be dog-eared so I could do further research on the stuff I had read.

It is a rare thing that a publication can excite the kind of passion in its readers that Business 2.0 engendered; even rarer for a publication that covers boring old business. I don’t care what the accountants’ numbers said, Time Inc. is mad to kill that passion.

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Canada ragging the puck on cleantech

By Francis Moran

While the rest of the world is moving like legendary ice-hockey great Wayne Gretzky by reading the play and positioning itself to be “where the puck is headed,” Canada is in danger of being called for delay of game, according to Ottawa-born clean technology guru Nicholas Parker, who was the keynote speaker earlier today at the Ottawa Venture and Technology Summit.

In a speech that emphasised that the shift has undeniably been made from the “save the world” social passion of environmental technology to the multi-trillion-dollar business opportunity of clean technology, Parker told the assembled entrepreneurs and venture capitalists that Canada is ragging the puck in this exciting, fast-moving and potentially immensely profitable game.

In particular, Parker, who co-founded and chairs the Cleantech Group, LLC, faulted Canada for its delay in implementing an effective carbon-trading regime. “At the Cleantech Group, we don’t really care about carbon trading,” he said, referring to a stock market-like system where companies can trade in tonnes of the carbon emissions that are the main cause of global warming and climate change. “What’s important about (carbon) trading is that it sets a price.”

That price, and the expectation that it will rapidly rise, is beginning to unlock the trillions of dollars in global investments in the development of clean technology, with Parker and his peers estimating that 2,500 jobs are created for every $100-million in new investment.

“Are those jobs going to be (created) in Shanghai or Stockholm or Silicon Valley or closer to home,” Parker asked. His answer was painful to hear. “Canada is still trying to decide if we’re going to do this,” he said, referring to the stalled efforts to launch a carbon-trading system in Canada. “Canada is lagging,” he said, and the dollars being directed into clean technology in this country “are drying up.”

The bottom line, according to Parker? “If we don’t develop the technology, we become a branch-plant economy.”

Fiction: Bloggers are different from other journalists

By Francis Moran

When I started this little tech PR agency, the world of online media outlets was still very much in its infancy. And an early fiction we had to deal with was a widely held belief that online media were some kind of a different beast from their print or broadcast brethren, and that only a PR agency that specialised in online media could reach these brave new e-journalists.

Our conviction was that these outlets might well be new but that there was nothing at all novel about a time-tested best-practices approach to pitching them, one based on pegging the natural news value of a client’s story and then pitching it only to those who would see that value. And we were right; from Day 1, our clients enjoyed the same widespread coverage online as they did in other media formats.

Our conviction that online journalists responded to same imperatives as their offline brethren actually cost us a client or two early on because our proposals didn’t specifically stipulate we were addressing them. We’d write that we’d target “all appropriate media outlets,” and assumed our clients were as canny as we were. We quickly learned to expand it to read, “all appropriate media outlets, including online outlets,” and to include key online titles in our list of examples.

Time passed and the requirement to single out these new media types passed with it as everyone learned that the same fundamental principles applied to pitching online media outlets and journalists, and that our phrase, “all appropriate media outlets” included online titles as a matter of course.

Then came blogs.

And the latest entry in a growing collection of what I call, “Francis’s favourite fictions.” Or, “Everything I know that’s wrong about public relations I learned from technology company executives.”

Here’s the latest one, tossed at me a few months back by a seasoned technology marketer who really should have known better. “Bloggers are different,” she insisted. “And only a PR agency that specialises in Web 2.0 social media can pitch them properly.”

Well, that was red-meat bait, and I rose to it. “Give me an example,” I challenged her. And she gave me two names, both of them critically influential bloggers in her company’s WiFi space with whom we couldn’t possibly develop a relationship, she said, because we weren’t a Web 2.0 agency.

I recognised one of the names immediately, and a check of our media contact database confirmed that we knew this guy very well. In fact, we first started successfully pitching to him when he was a columnist at a print trade magazine, then as a columnist for the online version of the same magazine, then as publisher of his own online newsletter, and now as a blogger. And guess what? He is just as pitchable, and he responds to the same things, now that he’s breathing the rarified air of the blogosphere as he had as an ink-stained wretch.

The second name was also in our database, and also had been for years, but we generally didn’t pitch him any more because his blog was the equivalent of what we used to call a rip-and-read outfit. That is, like small radio stations that just read wire copy for their newscasts, he didn’t do any original reporting; he just wrote about things he had read about elsewhere. A useful conduit, perhaps, but not one we’d bother pitching directly; better we get a hit in one of the media he watches and let him write about that. Which he does regularly.

Point is, in my world, the bloggers who count are either bona fide, and often dyed-in-the-wool, journalists making use of this latest communications channel, or they’re newcomers to the game who think, act, and respond to newsworthy pitches, in exactly the same way as journalists.

Problem is, too many people think like my favourite-fiction spinner. So we’re careful to once again add a phrase to our proposals, which these days read, “all appropriate media outlets, including bloggers.” This, too, shall pass.

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