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Augur: Desert Island Podcasts

I feel like podcasts can be one of the most convenient ways to stay up to date on what smart people are talking about today.

As a result, a lot of our thinking is informed by this channel, playing to our interest in areas like writing, strategy and modern workflow.

It seemed about time we assembled some of these recommendations for anyone else looking to expand their selection.

Exponent

Ben Thomson and James Allworth host this weekly session discussing the latest news from the tech industry, from what I’d call the “MBA” perspective.

That means considering areas like bundling and unbundling to create value, digging into the real incentives behind decisions made and just generally taking the analysis one step deeper than most other sources I find.

The Talk Show

John Gruber continues his deep look at Apple from Daring Fireball — I think he describes this podcast as a kind of Director’s Commentary to the posts there.

What’s great about Gruber is I can’t think of many other writers who so fully get under the skin and mentality of a business. That can extend a little too far, to the point where he really can’t quite conceive why a company like Google takes a different direction — but that’s fine, because he doesn’t claim to be a journalist, he’s just a guy sharing how he sees the world.

Also a good pick because the podcast has timestamps throughout, letting you jump to the sections you are most interested in.

Startup

Each series has explored slightly different aspects of starting a business. Series 1 was the story of the company that publishes the podcast, it’s attempts to get funding and its eventual success. Series 2 mapped another business in a similar way. Since then, they seem to have moved into shorter series focusing on a wider variety of entrepreneurs.

Recommended for its easy listening tone and its acceptance that the startup world is not at all glamorous.

How I Built This

Like startup but each episode interviews a different founder, and across a broader range of industry.

The Ezra Klein Show

Interviews with thinkers, generally toward media and politics. Ezra seems as interested in process and productivity as we are — and interviews with the writer of Deep Work have provided recent inspiration for improving our workflow.

Longform

If you truly care about how editorial is created and where great writing comes from, this is a masterpiece. It speaks with some of the most influential and prolific writers of modern times, about the challenges of what they do, how they consider and piece together narrative.

Account Executives cranking out press releases, it is not.

Start the Week

A Radio 4 classic, but if you’re not familiar, a kind of magazine show that focuses on a particular topic each week with experts from the area. This is the kind of source that gets us thinking about tribes of “I vs We” in PR.

Page 94: Private Eye

Politics is only ever a small hop from the PR world, and Private Eye continues to balance fearless scrutiny with casual humour as it considers the area. I find it a good reminder that the truth is not as far beneath the surface in society as it can sometimes feel.

Chopper’s Brexit Podcast

I’m desperately trying to get outside my bubble and hear views that conflict with my own. I tried some Breitbart podcasts, but couldn’t bear it after a certain point — by contrast, I feel the Telegraph is just pro-Brexit enough to give me a taste of the other perspective without driving me mad.

It’s a useful reminder of the importance of seeing both sides.

BONUS App recommendation: Overcast.fm

This is my preferred podcast app, created by Marco Arment of Tumblr/ Instapaper fame.

Its SmartSpeed function accelerates a podcast by removing the silence between words, meaning you don’t end up with everyone sounding like chipmunks.

Apparently it has saved me 148 hours, so just excuse me while I decide what to do with all that spare time.

Image credit Gizmodo

Augur talks to Notion Capital about SaaS PR

Notion Capital asked us what makes great PR for B2B Software-as-a-Service businesses.

We tried to break it to them gently that most shouldn’t even think about it until they reach the right stage.

Listen in to learn more.

Notes + Quotes: Fintech Investor Forum 2017

We recently attended the London Stock Exchange’s Fintech Investor Forum 2017, where Ahmed Badr from GoCardless was involved in a panel on Infrastructure.

Sometimes it’s just nice to have a brief selection of notes, quotes and highlights. Read on to see what caught our attention.

Are larger investors switched on to thriving fintech opportunities

Juan Lobato, Ebury

“The reality is that even some very successful fintech cos have been going for 8 years or so and even then, it’s not clear enough that it’s a safe bet.

The company needs to be stable before you get institutional in. For many B2B finetch cos, it’s not there yet.”

Jon Prideaux, Boku

“Big investors aren’t even necessarily desirable from the startup side either. A 5% change in meeting your target can have real consequences. And you may see that if a customer ships just slightly late, which can easily happen.”

Difference between B2C and B2B fintech

Todd Latham, Currency Cloud

“Customer acquisition is substantially higher but when you get it, is more predictable, sticky, margin rich. Businesses will pay for value.”

Ronni Zehavi, Hibob

“It’s B2B2C for us. Had to build the ultimate experience for B2B with the employer. Then also handle large old-fashioned systems of suppliers. And then consumers.”

Ahmed Badr, GoCardless

“You attract different types of individuals at a B2B fintech.”

“Also, scale has a completely different meaning. 20000 customers may be poor for a B2C play, but for us that would work very well.”

Challenges

Todd L, Currency Cloud

“Competitors can become ambiguous. Look at ClearBank. They can compete but also be a partner.”

“I worked at Microsoft when Linux became a thing, and you could position against them. You don’t have that luxury here — it moves to fast and you have to be nimble.”

“It’s also too easy to get wrapped up in any single piece of news. You should drive and execute your plan. That’s where success lies.”

Juan L, Ebury (re. Brexit)

“On a beautiful day like today, people want to be in London. But we have people interested in living in Paris, in Madrid. And these cities are giving you amazing tax breaks.”

“These cities will attract talent and I don’t think it’s a bad thing out have talent spread out. And the reality is, London can only cope with so many people.”

How Augur Works: Pitching vs Planning

We get it. Everyone in our business wants to be Don Draper.

Big pitch day. Stand up, leaf through the cards, standing ovation.

But then reality strikes. You do the kick off meetings and start trying to implement things, only to find that the “big idea” in your strategy isn’t possible for another year (if at all.) Or that the founders’ real passion isn’t “OPPORTUNALISING ENTERPRISE SOLUTION BEST EXCELLENCE”, but something rooted in the reality of their industry and experience.

For a couple of years now, we’ve been trying a different approach to the traditional pitch. And it’s based around a simple question:

How can a company who hasn’t spent any time with you write a realistic plan that reflects your true strength accurately?

So here’s what we do.

Phase 1: Discovery

After gathering a few top line details, we’ll talk on Zoom or Skype. Having written up interviews for places like tech.eu and Wired, we like to think we know how to ask the right questions.

The idea is to really listen carefully, pin down the specifics of the next challenge and determine what we think might conquer it. It often gives you an opportunity to learn more about us and our experience too.

If we don’t think it’s a match, we can help you find someone who is. Remember, Augur is designed for one thing: companies at Series A upwards, in “Unsexy” tech categories, looking for integrated comms against business challenges.

Alternatively, we might suggest we help out with Augur Unbound, our free service to share great stories from younger companies with key media.

Once we have what we need, we’ll start on the Strategic Spec document.

Phase 2: The Strategic Spec

This is a very simple one pager, designed to take the minimum time possible to create a first outline of what we might recommend, based on our previous experience.

It’s a starting point for you to provide feedback, to start the conversation going, instead of disappearing for weeks in Powerpoint with only the occasional question.

It includes:

  • Diagnosis — what is the problem, as we see it?
  • Guiding Strategy — what is our topline mechanism to tackle it?
  • Example Objectives and Key Results — what’s the goal and deliverables?
  • Estimated Timelines & Resourcing — how long will it take, and cost?
  • Next steps

Beat it up, tell us what you love or hate, tell us what you think of our measurement and evaluation suggestions, or how it may need to fit into other plans.

The result is designed to give you an estimate of how the plan might look, at the top level, if we start working together.

It establishes an agreed rough outline, so you know what to expect if you go ahead with the next step: The Planning Project.

Phase 3: The Planning Project

Now this is the big difference.

Augur will come to your office, spend time with you, interview key members of the team and really dig into what makes your company great. It’s about finding what you believe, holding a mirror up to your most talented people, helping identify the insights you may not even quite be aware of.

We try to find the signal in the noise.

Instead of going away and making up ideas by ourselves, we look to your strenths to build our plan. And we work with your team to identify what’s practical and possible for the first phase and further down the line.

We worth together, with just a little of your time, to flesh out the skeleton of assumptions from the Strategic Spec.

We deliver on questions like:

  • What is your pitch and key campaign ideas you will keep coming back to?
  • Who should you be introducing the company to?
  • Do we have a customer pipeline for case studies and other stories?

Once we’re done, the planning document usually looks about a dozen pages long, full of everything you need to hit the ground running.

It literally gets everyone on the same page with what to expect in the first episode of activity.

And it’s yours. In the past, we have actually recommended to one company that they take the Planning document and run with it themselves. Because it is a paid project, we are not incentivised to try and close you on a long programme, just to justify our costs on the pitch.

The resourcing costs for this project tend to be about half the anticipated monthly total we expect to end up at.

We think it makes sense, and our clients agree.

Don has earned a rest.

GoCardless and Pleo choose Augur for Fintech PR

  • Joining BookingBug and card-linked offers platform Birdback
  • Augur mentoring at Level 39, Barclays Techstars Fintech Accelerator, Notion Capital and more

Money makes the world go round. But often too slowly, inconveniently and on the bank’s terms.

Fintech promises to present a glass of icewater in this hellish landscape. What’s more, London’s history as a financial capital means it is literally made to nurture the greatest fintech companies in the world.

In the consumer world, yes, there are wiser ways to transfer money across borders now. But in the B2B world, that’s where fintech is really rewriting what’s possible.

We know, because in 2016, we made leaps in helping them tell that fintech story.

Win-Tech

With GoCardless, we have been working together since its latest funding round, revealing its unique position to build the first global payments network on debit.

Soon after the initial work, Co-founder and CEO Hiroki Takeuchi said:

“Our first project with Augur was intended to be a one off around an important piece of news. However, the speed and effectiveness with which they advanced key relationships and delivered against our KPIs convinced us to add ongoing PR to the marketing mix.

“We are now working together on a smart, integrated PR strategy that will support the next stage of GoCardless’s growth.”

With Pleo, we helped introduce the product to the UK community, amplifying its launch and its victory at Pioneers.

Co-founder and CEO Jeppe Rindom said:

“Even a great story will flounder without great implementation. Augur helped us refine our pitch for the UK, identify key audiences and kickstart the relationships that will serve us as we grow.”

“Their understanding of what’s important in B2B and Fintech is outstanding in their industry.”

For Augur

2017 is about really showing the world what a PR agency can do when you re-engineer it to better fit for fast-growing technology companies.

Coming next, we will reveal what Augur has been doing to create a PR service that isn’t just different in rhetoric — but demonstrably different in its design. Rethinking the old PR incentives, we are aiming to do what older established agencies can’t (or won’t.)

More to be revealed very soon.

A review from my seat on the PRCA Digital Report launch panel

I was very pleased to recently be asked to sit on a panel at the launch of the PRCA Digital Report. But it quickly became clear that many of the problems keeping big agencies awake at night are simply not things we have to worry about.

I also couldn’t help but agree with a few familiar faces in the audience that there really is no “analogue” and “digital” PR. Often, Digital is just a word used to replace “new”.

It’s a bit like when people use the word “millennial” instead of just saying “young people”.

So, looking at the findings, what’s not new?

Online media. Once new, now ordinary (special mention to “online press release distribution.”)

Blogger outreach. Once new, now ordinary.

Is it really that hard to see things like making videos and continuing to integrate social into strategy seamlessly becoming normal?

All technology is really just a matter of evolution. It’s about enhancement and adaptation — all words that describe starting with something and gradually growing or changing that thing.

The thing about this is, we can expand into these new areas most successfully by using what we have been great at historically.

Look at two of the fastest-growing budget areas: Video and sponsored social.

Who is better suited than PRs to find stories, interviews, customers, great material that can be used for video?

Who is better suited than PRs to help produce short, focused stories and pitch-like snippets to amplify on social — especially then we have often been the genesis of the great owned or earner material being megaphoned?

If you already do case studies, think about how you can record and flip the output of those interviews in a constellation of different ways.

If you already pitch stories to journalists and influencers online, why not interview them back about the wider context for your own blog?

I’m a firm believer that what made us great at “old” PR will continue to make us great at the new.

Stop asking if you can do something digital. Start thinking about how you can do something new.

Augur writes about the future of journalism on TechCrunch

One thing we think is really important at Augur is to be properly connected to the world of the companies we work with. So we often end up writing for places like Quartz, Wired, The Guardian about technology and culture trends that are changing behaviour.

Most recently, the editors at TechCrunch published Max’s piece about how payment for journalism must work online. Check out the full piece here or read on below for a taster. (Impressively, it also marks our first crossing of the Great Firewall with a Mandarin version on TechCrunch China here!)

I write. I work with writers. Many of my friends are journalists. The future of being able to charge for quality material online is really important to me.

However, to make progress in this area, I think the industry needs to stop pinning its hopes on the same dead ends that come up again and again. To me, one of these is microtransactions for material.

Leading this field, Blendle has recently been on a PR push around its U.S. launch. Twenty U.S. publications will share with an audience of 10,000 test users articles for between $0.09 and $0.49 (9-49 cents).

Basically, none of this matters. It’s a wasteful diversion. Because to make real impact on this challenge, you need three key things — and Blendle has none of them.

Observations from Level 39 office hours

One of the pleasures of what we do is being invited into accelerators like Level 39, Barclays Fintech and TravelTech to give time to the next generation of young startups.

Every time we wrap up one of these sessions, it strikes me how the themes progress between the different conversations and how I think it says something about the current state of the startup ecosystem.

I’m sharing some simple notes here, in the hope that they may be of interest and use to some of you.

Messaging is a new plateau, not winner takes all

Messaging is the new big trend. As a result many founders are turning their design principles toward this, just as the move to apps became very common in the last few years.

One reaction to this is to think: “won’t your messaging platform just get stomped by Apple, FB, Google and co?” But the interesting thing about messaging is that you don’t have to own the platform to design something valuable that speaks the language of that format.

Quartz new app shows how a messaging dynamic and design language can inform a useful new way of presenting things, whether you are literally running on a messaging platform or not. You get a head start working to this trend, you are immediately compatible with anyone that may think to acquire you and the language of successful messaging apps like Line and WeChat is to integrate a whole variety of third party services into the platform.

Messaging is an opportunity to join the new normal, not just a looming ecosystem war in the hands of a few giants.

Persuading institutions

Often, innovations must play into and function within the realm of more traditional markets or communities. As a result, it can be hard to get the buy in of established key figures and influencers.

One way to tackle this challenge is to think about how you create prestige and opportunity for a core few, that incentivises them to be part of the trend. How do you make disruption aspirational in the eyes of those wed to the old way of doing things?

You may start small — but gathering these first few advocates is like bringing together the first flakes of a snowball, a snowman, then an avalanche.

The entrepreneur is changing

If nothing else, the “Tech City” initiative has made one thing clear: if you want to found a business, London is ready for you.

The variety of founders I have me in the last year is far broader and more diverse than those present five or six years ago. For example, it feels like people who may have been more conservative in the past, who already have existing and growing businesses, are more eager to take the path less trod and disrupt themselves.

This previous experience can be an enormous asset. But, especially if disrupting an existing established biz, you don’t have to have watched every episode of Dragon’s Den to know that investors will quickly push for the old business to die and the focus to shift entirely to where their interests are.

I love indirect network builders

Some businesses produce a product, sell it to an audience and reap the rewards. Others provide a service, often nearly for free, that fulfils a need and disrupts an industry — but crucially, builds a valuable network of connections at the same time.

Tradeshift was such a business. Facebook did this with photos to establish social connections. Whenever I hear a similar mission, my eyes light up. It’s hard. But it’s valuable.

 

Augur kicks off 2016 with AVG Innovation Labs win. So what?

(For the full story, find today’s news at The Holmes Report and PR Week)

“Who cares when agencies win clients?” I hear you say. And you’re quite right.

Yes, of course we’re all glad to hear that Augur, a communications agency for unsexy tech companies, is working with AVG’s Innovation Labs to share projects like their now infamous “privacy glasses”.

But it’s also about what we are trying to build. Every project matters to Augur as much as its clients. The standard we set will drive this agency’s future, and great work cultivates more great work.

So for every project we kicked off in 2015, we passed on many more. Some too early in their story, some not techie enough, some too consumer.

We are building an agency that helps a very specific kind of “unsexy tech” company reach the customers they were made for. Because actually, we think those businesses have stories with serious and satisfying substance.

For example

Take Pusher, whose Data Delivery Network now serves over 100 BILLION realtime updates a month and has been able to fund its own growth since 2011. Or Notion Capital, a team of ex-entrepreneurs launching the biggest SaaS fund in Europe. Or BookingBug announcing 10x growth, as the biggest retailers in the world use it to bring life back to high street stores.

We don’t work with everyone. In fact, it should be clear that we think very carefully before we start working with anyone.

But we believe that this approach is what will develop a valuable specialism for our clients over the years to come. It’s more important to us to build something right on the foundations for the next decade than rush something to a ‘liquidation event’ as the doors close on an old operating model.

The Team

2015 also saw Sam Golden join the team as Augur’s first Strategist. Shipped from journalist training to London for a role with the BBC, he quickly moved on to a career at the UK’s leading PR agencies while building an award-winning music community on the side.

Meanwhile, I joined PR Week’s 30 to 30 list, managed the PRCA Technology group, hosted office hours at Level 39 and Barclays Fintech Accelerator and helped launch the #PRstack initiative.

We’re looking for the next person to join Augur and, if you’re reading this, maybe it’s you.

The best way I can describe the way we try to work is unstifled. If you think you could do a better job, could handle being more in control of your time and your destiny, then get in touch for a chat.

We’ll be glad to help however we can.

What If The Press Release Exists For A Reason?

The process of releasing your story to relevant audiences will always be a part of building positive understanding around what you’re doing. But, in this respect, the press release is a verb frozen in noun’s clothing. It has become a clumsy part of antique furniture in the life of a modern PR professional.

For this reason, I’ve been pretty hard on it recently. But today, it struck me that below the seemingly benign, stagnant surface of this old template, there lies a potentially more interesting conceit.

The press release format wraps a story in a natural game, designed to tempt a journalist to free it for their readers.

Thinking social

When trying to foster a community, it’s common to create social objects that get them involved. These can be all sorts of material from writing to pictures to posts to questions or competitions.

The best ones take advantage of something called the Zeigarnik Effect. This is the theory that “people remember uncompleted tasks better than completed tasks” — and will experience a natural desire to ‘close the loop’.

In the case of social objects, this means a piece of material that leaves a clear and simple action unperformed will invite the passive observer to become an active participant.

The aspiration

For a while, I’ve advocated replacing the traditional press release with more specific and modern pieces of material: for (a slightly stuffy) example, an announcement bylined to your leadership and supporting key facts as bullet points.

But the issue here is, by creating a more efficient and immediately interesting way to read the story, you have added a full stop. And the better a job you do at making that an interesting read, the more potent the effect of closing the circle becomes.

On some deeper level, you have made the journalist gently redundant and passive, instead of potentially provoking them to add value and feel empowered.

My point here is not that PRs are some kind of Machiavellian masterminds, swirling potions of datelines and quotes about excited CEOs. It’s that perhaps a fit has organically emerged between the mindset and goals of professional media and this common format.

I discussed an early draft of this piece with Chris Lake, who spent many years on the other side of the fence at Econsultancy, and now runs Empirical Proof. From his perspective, some of the beauty of the game is in this familiarity:

“Digestibility is a big deal. Games that have difficult to comprehend instructions are often abandoned before they are played, no matter how good they may be.”

When you see a press release, you know what you’re getting and you know what game you’re playing.

This is one of the challenges with innovation in the PR business. If the output is too unfamiliar to other stakeholders, you may have shot yourself in the foot.

I’ll be honest, I still hate it.

You’ll notice that I’m not saying the press release is a desirable thing or the best way to share a story. I still don’t believe it is, especially for anything beyond building media relations. And, of course it still relies on a story worth saving under the surface.

But I’ll give you this: if there’s one thing the press release does well, it’s creating that feeling of “how on earth did they do such a bad job of telling the real story here?”

For me at least, I can make peace with the release in that sentence by worrying less about the how and more about the why.

I originally published this piece over at The Holmes Report.