The Innovate!Europe mentors

On Sunday 14th May, just prior to the Innovate!Europe conference/showcase, a group of start-ups met a group of mentors, me included, at a “Pitch Camp”. None of us had worked together before, yet under the skilled guidance of Robert Norum, we immediately started working as a team.

Each mentor had been chosen by Chris Shipley and the Innovate!Europe team, so I guess they had a pretty good idea that the chemistry would work, but I was astonished at exactly how well it worked. We even sought each others’ company outside of the official Innovate!Europe sessions.

Between us, we shepherded six companies through a rigorous self-examination and preparation for their pitches  to a mix of entrepreneurs, influencers, early adopters, venture capitalists and fellow start-ups. One of ‘my’ startups wanted publicity and ended up in TechCrunch. Another wanted an angel investor and was approached by one at the final rehearsal. I’m certain the other mentors can report similar successes.

It’s been a while since the event (I have been madly busy teaching media skills, writing and even helping another startup) but I really want to introduce you to my fellow mentors just in case you are looking for a source of decent advice. Broadly, we split into PR/Media, Business and Investment advisors. A lot of overlap, clearly. The tasks at hand were elevator and company pitches. The aim of each was to secure the interest of the target audience and get them to drill deeper.

We each have a wealth of international experience which we apply to helping organisations of all sizes make their way in the world. Here we are:

Paul Doran is a media and marketing communications specialist
who helps companies understand who they are and how they should go to
market. Company: Switch

Marc Goldberg is managing partner of an investment firm which supports the local European innovation community. Company: Occam Capital

Susan Lucas-Conwell specialises in international business
development, market assessments and strategic partnerships in the
TransAtlantic arena. Company: Clear Day   (Update: From July 1, she will be executive director of SDforum – “the oldest and largest organization of professionals in emerging technologies related to software in the valley.” With international ambitions…)

Robert Norum offers independent marketing optimisation to hi-tech companies, helping them position themselves and their brands. Company: Opportunitas

Lucie-Anne Radimsky represents a PR firm that provides International public relations for technology companies. Company: Ballou PR

David Tebbutt specialises in message development and communication skills. Company: Press Here

Susan A. Thomas specialises in positioning and messaging and developing thought leadership programs. Company: Ajasat

With the exception of me, of course, I can personally vouch for each person on this list.

bloggers vs press

Dennis Howlett blogged about the spirit of sharing among bloggers at events. As compared with the competitiveness of conventional journalists. He linked to Jeff Nolan‘s report on SAP’s SAPPHIRE conference. More about that in a moment.

One reason that the behaviour is different is that conventional papers want their ‘scoops’ and just hate publishing stuff that others have got first. Of course print journalists are secretive. They have to be.

Bloggers are different because they serve their own micro- (and, sometimes, not-so-micro-) audiences. They are also willing to give credit to other bloggers who cover the same territory.

Now for Jeff Nolan’s post on the impact of allowing bloggers into SAPPHIRE. Here’s a longish extract:

1) The bloggers earned respect quickly with our executives coming
out of the one-on-one meetings we had scheduled saying “damn, these
guys really know what they are talking about”. I sat in on a couple of
the meetings and was surprised to see our executives quickly dropping
their media training and engaging in real conversations with give and
take. One in particular I would point out is the talk that Vinnie Mirchandani had with Pascal Brosset about pricing and licensing, I’m sure that Vinnie will post that shortly.

2) The bloggers collaborate rather than compete.
I would have never thought about this had I not seen it in action but
the bloggers on their own initiatives rescheduled their one-on-one
meetings to double up rather than have exclusive time. This contrasts
with traditional press people who demand exclusive access and jealously
guard their Q&A, the bloggers conspire together about questions and
have a rich dialog among themselves about what they are hearing.

3) The respect that the bloggers earned on the first day
reverberated throughout the company, with some of our most senior
executives saying that bringing bloggers to sapphire was the most
innovative thing we have done at this event in years.

As a media skills trainer/advisor, I was alarmed to read “[I] was surprised to see our executives quickly dropping
their media training and engaging in real conversations with give and
take.” But then, that’s what I’d advocate anyway. The important thing is to know where your boundaries are and what is of interest to the reader. No need to drop your guard, but nothing wrong with making it look as if you have.

Hone your media skills

Although I provide media skills workshops and online tips myself, I’m never averse to pointing to other sources of help.

Here are some good media handling ground rules from the University of British Columbia.

I stumbled across them today, courtesy of Peter Himler of The Flack.

If you’re interested, I stumbled across The Flack courtesy of George Hopkin’s AgencyWire, a PR/Communications blog aggregation service.

The service is still a bit embryonic – the sidebar is looking a bit sad today – but it is promising.

Discover, Develop, Deliver Media Messages

I just spent a fair amount of time working on a new Press Here media skills website. Apart from the technical challenges – mainly incompatibility between Internet Explorer and the rest of the browser world – I also faced the challenge of communicating the maximum information with the minimum number of words.

I got a five page website down to 1135 words. Which made me pretty happy. The punchlines were all there on the first page – key messages and supporting texts all in 65 words.

So far so good. Then I found myself heading off to an industry cocktail party and I realised that even 65 words was too many. Into my head popped three words. Discover, Develop, Deliver. To which I had to add ‘core messages’.

I tried it and it worked. The first person said, “Hey, you’re the three D’s man”. I should have been quick witted enough to say “No, four. My name’s David.” Oh well.

Time to go back and rewrite the website, I guess.

Old/New Media Skills

Well, it’s been quiet again. This time, it’s because I’ve been:

a) doing media skills work with a client in the wilds of Wiltshire

b) creating a new website for Press Here, the David Tebbutt/Martin Banks media skills brand

Here’s a sneak preview:

I tried to set out our stall simply and elegantly. Although it wasn’t always that easy. I’d get everything working beautifully in FireFox then discover that Microsoft marches to a different drummer. It was like wrestling a pig into submission.

Still, a few kludges later, I’m reasonably happy. It is almost entirely CSS driven, so design changes are relatively trivial.

I’ll add a few more bits and bobs before we go live with it.

If ‘growing spokespeople and messages’ is your bag, you may be interested in telling me what you need to know that I haven’t included.

I have left out loads of stuff that was in the old website I hope it’s not a case of babies and bathwater.

It’s been 40 tremendous years

It’s been a lot of fun and I’m still enjoying the business. This is my career to date. And I don’t plan to stop…

Jan 3 1966: Employed as a programmer by NCR in London


The NCR 500 – the leftmost box is the CPU and memory

1971-1974 : Data processing manager

1974-1977 : Trainer (mainly management skills, some technical stuff)

1977-1979 : Project manager

1979-1981 : Editor, Personal Computer World

1981-1985 : Software publisher (Caxton Software)

1981-1982 : Software author (BrainStorm)

1981-     : Columnist and journalist

1988-     : Media skills trainer (Press Here)

1996-     : Shareware publisher (Brainstorm Software)

2002-     : Retained by major public body to prepare strategic briefing documents

2004-     : Blogger (and user of all manner of social software)