Three Mistakes You’re Making with Holiday Gift Guide Pitching

Summer is here and most are packing bathing suits for summer getaways. But for consumer PR pros, July means one thing: time to start pitching gift guides. That’s right — it’s Christmas in July. However, when it comes to gift guide pitching, there are three common mistakes that result in coal under the tree (and unhappy clients):

Mistake 1: Starting Late (And Quitting Too Soon)

Though we’re still wearing sandals, long lead pitching for holiday gift guides starts in the July/August timeframe. Continue pitching long lead throughout the fall and pick up short lead outreach in September. Most importantly, keep pitching throughout the rest of the year. There are plenty of last-minute gift guides in December, plus your product can be featured in New Year, New You roundups in January.

Mistake 2: Forgetting the Basics

Try multiple angles for each product. This is a great opportunity to create relationships with reporters outside your friendly list. For example, if your product is inexpensive, try pitching deals and steals editors for 50 under $50 roundups. When you reach out to media, make sure to give them everything and the kitchen sink upfront. Include links to product, images and sample offers in your initial outreach. Reporters don’t want to have to ask for follow up; it’s our job to make their lives as easy as possible so we can land ink.

Mistake 3: Not Measuring the Results

All your work is for naught if you don’t measure the results. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to directly tie PR efforts to sales results by using UTM codes or Google Analytics. Don’t just use the data to measure this year’s result; use it to strategize for next year, too. Did any of your placements drive an especially high amount of traffic? Consider paid options in that publication for next year. Any hits that didn’t move the needle? Move that publication down on your hit list for 2019.

Trying to avoid these mistakes? Start pitching early, try multiple angles, and have trackings in place to measure the results. Looking for more ideas on how you can uplevel your gift guide pitching? Get in touch with Highwire consumer team at hi@highwirepr.com.

How Bots, Voice Recognition & AI Are Changing the Consumer Tech Landscape

Last week’s CB Insights Innovation Summit focused on how chatbots, voice recognition and the future of AI are changing the tech landscape for consumers today.

Last week’s CB Insights Innovation Summit focused on how chatbots, voice recognition and the future of AI are changing the tech landscape for consumers today.

Last week’s CB Insights Innovation Summit focused on how chatbots, voice recognition and the future of AI are changing the tech landscape for consumers today. CNBC’s Ari Levy interviewed Arthur Johnson (VP Corporate Development and Global Partnerships at Twilio) and Jeremy Liew (Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners)  about how interfaces of the future are changing the ways both consumers and companies interact. Check out some of our key takeaways from the livestream.

You’ve Got to Bring Bots More to Life

At a high level, there are two main types of bots: bots that operate independently with completely automated responses and bots that operate through a messaging platform such as Facebook Messenger. And they aren’t exactly new. Bots have been used for over 10 years in customer service operations. But both Johnson and Liew agreed that in order for companies to build the next generation of successful bots, they must use personalization and a limited domain to compete in the crowded U.S. app landscape.

“There are some interactions that are better suited for bot technology today than others,” said Twilio’s Johnson. “When you have limited domain, controlled environments and customer service interactions, these are better suited for bots. The more complicated interactions may not be suited for bot technology yet, but there is still a lot of promise in this area.”

Bigger companies like IBM, Facebook and Google will have a leg up on AI innovations, but smaller companies can tap into this technology and benefit as well. Multiple industries such as retail, food and healthcare will benefit from the major potential that exists in chatbots technology. For example, if customers can access bots from their favorite stores through social media sites, it will make customer service easier for both customers and retailers.

“In China, we saw WeChat was so successful because the web and apps were kinda crappy as alternative,” said Liew from Lightspeed Venture Partners. “Here in the West, the web and apps are pretty good for most use cases. The way a user is interacting with a customer service rep was better than it was there before. To drive chat, you have to get better.”

Keep an Eye on Voice Recognition

Recently, a lot of companies have tried to make money building AI communication products. Since AI models are difficult to build and train, this task has proven challenging. The panelists noted that Amazon’s Alexa [used to reference Alexa-driven products such as the Amazon Echo] and Google Home are currently leaders in the space. These devices, however, aren’t pocket-friendly. To compensate, developers are making cellphone apps that work with these products.

“These are new modalities that are open to you and these can generate new use cases,” said Liew. “For instance, being able to call an Uber from my Alexa app isn’t a new use case, it’s a new channel of behavior for existing companies.”

Liew mentioned that voice recognition could be the next best platform because you don’t have to use your hands to interact with Alexa or Google Home. Even individuals who have difficulty using apps and web browsers or those that are unable to read and write could benefit. The possibilities are endless.

“It’s eerily scary how natural [communicating with Alexa] is,” said Johnson. “I can talk fast, I can talk slow or even with an accent, but it’s accurate. That’s the secret sauce. I wanted it to remember my preferences and being able to tie all these preferences and different interfaces together will be a special experience.”

Future Concerns Around Security & Usability

Neither Liew nor Johnson mentioned how these devices will be protected from hacking. If an Alexa is connected to multiple devices and gets hacked, what will happen? Will you still be able to use your Nest thermostat and operate your IoT connected garage door opener? Even with the capabilities of connected devices, an attack could cause private information to be leaked.

Usability will also be a major factor for consumers. Neither the Alexa or the Google Home has a screen, which may turn-off some buyers. IoT connected devices also are not cheap. Consumers will also have to decide whether or not there they see value from paying more for a connected device even if it does make their lives easier.

These platforms are the foundation of the future. Voice recognition will influence the way all types of people use artificial intelligence to make everyday tasks easier. As bots become more mainstream, more companies will try to capitalize on the quickly crowding market.

Companies will need to develop unique bots that provide value for customers and avenues for smaller companies to tap into the technology. We’re excited to see how consumers will benefit from these advancements in upcoming years. 

From Internet Porn to Online Shopping: What Top Journalists are Saying About VR

The future of virtual reality looks bright, but it’s still unclear

Imagine being front row at New York  Fashion Week as Tom Ford  debuts its latest spring line without worrying about the hassles associated with travel, cost or crowds. In fact, you’re sitting front row to the catwalk with the runway spanning the length of your living room.

But how?

Virtual reality is slowly entering the world, connecting people  in ways that we thought were only possible in movies — and it’s much more than gaming. Interestingly, it has been leveraged to tackle (and sometimes spur) dialogue on issues like racial and sexual discrimination. 

For example, Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab is using virtual reality for diversity training scenarios. The research has caught the attention of companies including the NFL, who is looking to the technology as way to train the league on understanding bias through custom-built diversity sessions.

But Stanford is just one example of how VR is slowing becoming adopted outside of gaming. The technology is  trickling into our everyday lives as the future of music videos, sporting events and even “vacations.”

In order to uncover what the future really holds for this seemingly fledgling technology, Highwire spoke with reporters Daniel Terdiman at Fast Company, Kurt Wagner at Recode and Marco della Cava at USA Today. What follows are insights from these insiders on where virtual reality is headed and the potential hotbed verticals emerging VR companies should avoid.

Q: What VR companies are on your radar?

Wagner: Beyond the obvious big players, like Oculus, HTC Vive and Google VR — Felix & Paul Studios, Penrose Studios, Lucid Sight, Inc., Vivid Vision.

della Cava: I’ve done a few stories about content companies like Penrose Studios, Jaunt — just keeping tabs on where the content’s going because the tech is sophisticated and will continue to get more sophisticated, more streamlined and less expensive.

Q: Are there any trends in virtual reality you expect to be big by 2017? In the next five years?

Wagner: I think shopping in VR could be relevant in the next five years—taking a tour of a home or a car from your living room. Also, I imagine VR porn will be big.

della Cava: I would say mobile is the thing to keep an eye on. Who can figure out just how good VR and AR can be on the smartphone? That’s something we all own right now, and if someone can find a way to give even a halfway-decent VR experience through the smartphone, that’s going to be powerful because we already own it. It really promises the short burst of a VR experience.

Q: What problems lie ahead for virtual reality companies?

Terdiman: The biggest problem is consumer adoption. Consumers must understand that not only is VR cool, but that there is a lot for them to do with it. Right now, there’s a big wow factor, but then people often wonder, “What’s next?” Until people get past that hang-up, there will not be mass adoption of hardware that is necessary for mass consumption of software.

Wagner: VR is a pretty individual activity. You put on the headset and really have to keep to yourself. I imagine it will be tough to get people on board with the idea when it truly requires total separation from the real world in order to enjoy VR. At least when you use your phone, you can still pay attention (kind of) to the people and things going on around you.

della Cava: It’s going to be a timing thing. There’s tremendous potential but I’m just not sure where it’s going to go now. There may an experimental period for the next five years, but it’s exciting especially in the enterprise space where you can see a lot more practical applications, especially with AR. Imagine getting instructions remotely on fixing an engine. That’s more real right now.

Q: In what sectors do you see virtual reality serving the most purpose?

Terdiman: I think it will be great for social experiences and for entertainment. People will be able to use VR to preview travel they might want to do. They’ll be able to learn things they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Ultimately, though, I see it as a major entertainment medium, both for games and for music, sports and scripted stories.

Wagner: I think it’ll be important for mental health reasons—folks who have depression or anxiety or a fear. I could see it really making an impact there.

della Cava: It’s got strong potential—if it’s rolled out the right way—for sports and entertainment. That’s the way VR could trump AR, because you really want to commit fully to that experience.

Want to keep up with the latest trends in virtual reality? Follow us on Twitter @HighwirePR.

Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at Fast Company covering emerging technology. Follow him on Twitter @GreeterDan.

Kurt Wagner is a social media reporter at Recode. Follow him on Twitter @KurtWagner8.

Marco della Cava is a technology and culture reporter at USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @MarcodellaCava.