REVTECH Focuses on Retail Reinvention

One of my most rewarding experiences in 2017 is Ketner Group’s involvement with REVTECH, a Dallas-based venture accelerator and seed fund that works with early-stage retail and restaurant technology companies. Ketner Group became a REVTECH sponsor in 2016, I signed on as a mentor, and it’s been full-speed ahead ever since. We just completed our first year with REVTECH, and it’s been eventful, to say the least.

REVTECH hosted three Tech Trends events in Dallas, opened a 13,000 sq.ft. co-working space, announced its largest fund to date this year, participated in numerous retail industry events and grew exponentially in industry recognition. Ketner Group helped several REVTECH portfolio companies with PR launches, and we’ve worked to earn recognition for REVTECH as one of retail’s premiere growth accelerators.

David Matthews, REVTECH’s managing partner and a veteran retail tech investor, is an evangelist for retail technology role, and he’s become a good friend to Ketner Group. We share a similar passion for retail technology and a firmly held belief that technology is vital to retail’s continuing transformation. REVTECH’s portfolio companies are doing groundbreaking work in AI, machine learning, robotics, IoT, voice and other technologies that are helping retailers break away from the pack.

Last week REVTECH announced the winner of its first REVTECH Entrepreneur of the Year award. Carly Nance and Rachel Bentley were honored for co-founding The Citizenry, a socially conscious, ethical home décor retailer that sells goods from artisans around the world, donating 10% of their profits back to the artisans’ communities. In addition to its online business and brick-and-mortar showroom, The Citizenry launched a pop-up show in New York last week just in time for holiday shopping. It’s a great example of the kind of fresh retail concept that can thrive in today’s fast-changing retail world and a worthy recipient of REVTECH’s Entrepreneur of the Year award.

As we enter the final count-down for holiday 2017, retail sales are up, along with consumer confidence, and Cyber Monday set a record with $6.6B in sales, the largest online shopping day in history. The industry has reason to be upbeat about 2018, and organizations like REVTECH will play a big role in ensuring a bright future for the retail industry.

Did Amazon Find the Key to Shoppers’ Happiness?

Leave it to Amazon to keep things interesting. Now, in addition to same-day delivery of just about anything, Amazon can walk your dog, clean your house, install and set up your new refrigerator, let selected neighbors in, leave your packages securely inside your home, and who knows what else.

I’m talking, of course, about Amazon Key. Like everything else they do these days, Amazon’s announcement is big news for the retail industry. Available exclusively for Prime members, Amazon Key includes an in-home kit with a cloud-enabled indoor security camera and compatible smart lock for $249.

According to an Amazon press release, “Amazon Key allows customers to have their packages securely delivered inside their home without having to be there…each time a delivery driver requests access to a customer’s home, Amazon verifies that the correct driver is at the right address, at the intended time, through an encrypted authentication process. Once this process is successfully completed, Amazon Cloud Cam starts recording and the door is then unlocked. No access codes or keys are ever provided to delivery drivers. And, for added peace of mind, in-home delivery is backed by Amazon’s Happiness Guarantee.”

Will it Work?

An audacious value proposition? Of course. Will it work? Who knows. My guess is that a thin slice of time-starved, upper-income, tech-savvy, trusting, heavy Prime users will turn to Amazon Key.

I don’t think Amazon will hit a home run with this across all Prime demographics, though. Unprecedented technology and privacy failures have burned consumers too many times, with Equifax being the #1 culprit in recent months. Security issues with unprotected webcams offer a real concern. Making consumers comfortable with the idea of perfect strangers entering their home is another huge barrier, even with the measures that Amazon has in place. And will Amazon’s delivery people need your alarm code? The list goes on and on.

Much of the initial consumer reaction to Amazon Key was skeptical. As Huffington Post observed, “The Amazon key is designed to aid package delivery. What could go wrong?” The answer, according to the article, is summed up in one word: plenty.

What Does Amazon Key Mean for Amazon?

However, success or failure really isn’t the point. Amazon floats more audacious ideas than any other retailer, and as a result they raise the bar for the rest of the industry. Amazon Key is a clear signal that Amazon wants to take the consumer experience directly into its customers’ homes. As a result, other retailers must rethink what it means to truly serve their customers. Once again, Amazon is rapidly reinventing the norm in today’s retail industry.

Even if it’s a modest hit, Amazon Key offers consumers a basic, all-in-one home security cam and smart lock for $249, regardless of whether consumers use the service. And if Amazon wants to drive large-scale adoption, they can take it a step further. Amazon could consider not only delivering shoppers’ same day Whole Foods order, but putting a home-cooked dinner on the table. Now, that would take customer service to another level!

Retail Apocalypse or Retail Reinvention?

What’s the biggest “fake news” story of 2017? Surprise, it has nothing to do with politics!

Instead, it’s the narrative of the “retail apocalypse” that has dominated media coverage of the retail industry this year. The term picked up steam in early 2017 amid reports of large numbers of store closings, and yes, legacy retailers and chronic underperformers including Sears, Radio Shack, Kmart, JCP and many others have announced massive store closings.

It is true that some malls and retailers are experiencing a world of hurt. As Sageberry Consulting’s Steve Dennis says, though, “regional malls — and their department store anchors – have been on the decline for more than two decades.” In many cases, the result of massive overbuilding and speculation – adding that “many dying malls are being killed by other malls” in faster-growing areas.

The real news story is that retail sales are up 4% year over year (and they are) and, simply put, the retail industry isn’t dying!

According to the NRF, retail sales increased 4.1% in the first quarter of 2017 compared to 2016, as our analyst friends Paula Rosenblum and Greg Buzek point out. In Buzek’s words, “we have a $4 trillion industry that is growing at a rate of over 4% year to year – that’s nearly $100 billion in growth in 5 months…And somehow this is bad news?” This latest growth isn’t an outlier, either; retail sales have grown nearly 4% annually for the past seven years!

Retail employment is also up, hardly the thing you’d expect in an apocalypse. In fact, retail jobs have grown by 1.5 million since early 2010, so store closings and layoffs haven’t dented retail’s overall upward trajectory. Store openings are on pace to surpass store closings this year, too. Buzek’s research firm, IHL Group, says the retail industry will see a net gain of 4,000 stores this year – again, not the sign of an industry in decline.

Need more proof? As CNBC reports, “there are more leaders than laggards in retail today, according to Moody Investment Services. Dollar stores, home-improvement chains, convenience stores and auto-parts retailers are among the leaders…off-price retailers, supermarkets and office-supply chains are also reporting more growth lately.”

We’re not in the midst of a retail apocalypse. Instead, we’re seeing retail reinvention with exciting new concepts and brands (TreeHouse, B8ta, TOMS, Warby Parker), new entrants in the U.S. market (Lidl and Aldi have taken the U.S. grocery industry by storm), continued disruption by ecommerce players, and bold moves by the giants of the industry, Walmart and Amazon. Amazon just placed the biggest bet of its life with its acquisition of Whole Foods – does anyone think Amazon is buying into the myth of the retail apocalypse and the death of physical stores?

As always, the real story is much more exciting than the fake news. And it’s good to see so many people setting the record straight about the retail industry.

48 Hours That Changed Retail Forever

The early morning hours of June 16 started like any ordinary Friday. Then came Amazon’s shot heard round the world, its boldest move yet in the retail revolution as the online giant announced its acquisition of Whole Foods Market. Journalists, retail analysts and PR teams shifted into hyper-drive to analyze the news before they’d even had a chance to finish their morning coffee.

The Whole Foods deal, however, was just one of a series of events, all in a 48-hour period, that will change retail forever. Here’s a quick recap:

On June 15, German discount grocer Lidl opened its first U.S. stores, as Lidl’s U.S. CEO told Supermarket News that Lidl intended “to beat the best prices in the market.” U.S. grocers, already under assault from Walmart, Amazon Fresh, Aldi, Kroger and a horde of other competitors, are feeling renewed pressure from Lidl’s appealing store design, innovative merchandising, high product quality and ultra-low prices (12 to 30 percent lower than competitors’ published promotions, according to Supermarket News.)

In any ordinary week, Lidl’s U.S. arrival would have been the week’s top retail story. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, however, was the biggest jolt to retail and grocery in several years – even more significant that Walmart’s acquisition of last year. At the end of the day, other grocery stocks plummeted as the financial markets grasped the strategic significance of the Amazon-Whole Foods deal.

That acquisition almost drowned out another key event on Retail’s Freaky Friday – Walmart’s $310 million acquisition of trendy menswear retailer Bonobos. Walmart has been on a major spending spree on digital brands as it squares off against Amazon, and its latest purchase follows on the heels of its acquisitions of innovative retail startups, Moosejaw,, Modcloth and Shoebuy.

Taken together, these events mark a watershed moment in retail, particularly in the grocery and apparel segments. And while most of the retail media coverage this year has focused on the so-called “retail apocalypse” marked by thousands of store closings, the real story in retail is far more complex and exciting. The retail industry is undergoing an intense time of transformation and reinvention, and the news from Lidl, Amazon and Walmart underscores the fast-paced disruption of established retail models.

Is retail becoming simply Amazon, Walmart and everyone else? I don’t think so – for one thing, disruptors such as Warby Parker, Pirch, Paul Evans, Outdoor Voices, TOMS, Shinola, Lidl and hundreds more are enjoying solid growth and can quickly build a passionate, loyal fan base. Fashion incubators are springing up from New York to San Francisco and beyond. Yes, some of these companies will get acquired by a Walmart or Amazon – but many more will grow into strong, mature companies that will keep an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit.

It’s no accident that so much technology innovation today is focused on the retail industry. According to IHL Group’s research, Amazon spent more than $15.1 billion on innovation in 2016, more than the top 20 U.S. retailers combined. IHL calls this the TIGIR (Technology Innovation Gap in Retail) and says retailers must dramatically increase their technology spending to compete. The industry is making strides. Zappos, Walmart, Neiman-Marcus, Lowes and many other retailers have their own innovation labs, Kwolia’s Retail Innovation Lounge was a hit at SXSW and, and technology accelerators such as REVTECH are nurturing early stage tech startups in retail, grocery and restaurants (Ketner Group is a proud sponsor of both).

It’s an exciting, disruptive time in retail. Our team at Ketner Group is fortunate to work with many of the technology companies that are enabling retailers to compete against the Amazon-Walmart juggernaut, giving retailers, grocers and other businesses the technologies they need to drive sales, profits and customer engagement. As the events of June 15 and 16 demonstrated, retail is changing forever – but the story is far from over. Stay tuned; it’s going to be a wild ride.

Can Teslas and Pizza Get People Shopping Again?

A recent Washington Post headline read, “Unemployment is down. Gas prices are low. Why isn’t America shopping?”

There are a number of possible answers. Both in the article and at the inaugural ShopTalk conference, there were numerous discussions about the U.S. being “over-retailed” – too many stores and e-commerce sites for too few shoppers. Many like to point to widespread uncertainty about the global economy and the twists and turns of the presidential election. Moreover, shoppers are spending their money differently: they are addicted to promotions and often opt to spend their hard-earned dollars on experiences like vacations or big projects like home improvement. But these don’t explain the whole truth.

In reality, the shopping experience can all too often be downright awful. On a recent weekend I spent five minutes at a big-box office products store waiting for someone, anyone to show up at the empty cash registers at the front of the store. I didn’t really feel like chasing anyone down, and I’d only gotten half of what I came for, as the pens I wanted were out-of-stock. After a few minutes of waiting I started comparing prices on Amazon. No surprises here: I found everything I wanted at a lower price, so I left my purchases at the register, walked out the door, and placed the order before I left the parking lot. It’ll likely be the last time I visit that retailer for basic office supplies.

My wife didn’t fare much better at a women’s apparel store that weekend. She stood in line at the register for what seemed an interminable amount of time waiting to pick up an order, which turned out to be a different size from what she ordered. When she headed back to the counter to order it in the right size, the sales associate promptly announced she was headed to lunch, leaving my wife stranded at the cash wrap. She placed her order online later that afternoon; however, her 40% off coupon code didn’t apply online, even though the coupon said nothing about online exclusions. It took a call to the e-commerce help desk to straighten it out – although the help desk operator couldn’t answer my wife’s questions right away, as the retailer’s systems hadn’t updated yet.

These problems fall into two broad categories: too few sales associates for many retailers (and a failure to properly train the ones they have), as well as outdated systems and disconnected technology. Is it any wonder that Amazon accounts for 1 in 3 shopping transactions, according to Internet Retailer?

Fortunately, the best retailers are making the right moves to re-energize retail and attract shoppers. Nordstrom, which consistently has some of the best sales associates in retail, is opening a small Tesla gallery at a high-end mall location. Target is spending $1 billion this year remodeling its stores and has launched 25 “stores of the future” in Los Angeles. Urban Outfitters, which recently set a Q1 sales record, firmly believes that “bricks and clicks are synergistic.” Urban bought the popular Vetri Family pizza chain last year and recently opened two flagship Anthropologie stores with “a petite shop, expanded jewelry and accessories, an intimates boutique, an 800 square foot beauty shop, a full-service shoe salon as well as over 6,000 square feet of home products,” according to RIS News.

These retailers, and many others, are clearly doing everything they can to get America shopping again. Retailers shouldn’t forget the fundamentals, though: Train your associates. And get those legacy systems to talk to one another, in real-time. Focus on these things – and continue to make stores fun, creative and innovative – and consumers will start shopping again. After all, you can’t buy a Tesla, get a makeover or get a slice of pizza while shopping at Amazon – at least not yet.

PR Spring Cleaning: Four Key Steps to Raising Your Company’s Media Profile

Spring is the season of new beginnings—and one of the busiest times of year for Ketner Group and our clients. We recently wrapped up our annual voyage to New York for the National Retail Federation conference, and are now getting ready to go full swing into SXSW 2015! KG clients are making exciting new product and customer announcements in the coming months, and we’re busily working with them on fresh ideas and opportunities for PR and marketing campaigns.

With Daylight Savings Time upon us in a little over a week, now is the time to do a bit of “spring cleaning” for your PR program. Believe it or not, retailers will soon be thinking about their new technology investments in preparation for the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons, so it’s essential for technology vendors to keep up a high profile with PR and marketing campaigns.

What can companies do to kick start spring fever? Here are four simple suggestions:

Pick up the pace with press releases. Press releases are an essential way of gaining earned media coverage and creating buzz for your company. We love to see our clients generate one to two newsworthy announcements each month, as it’s a way to let key editors, analysts, influencers and prospects know your company is on the move.

Pitch, pitch, pitch. In today’s always-on news cycle, the media are hungry for content, and fall is ripe with opportunities. Holiday shopping will be one of the top business stories this fall and winter, for example, and many of our clients have story angles that feed directly into potential coverage in the coming months.

The key is to be relevant and creative. Do you or your customers have particular expertise that might be valuable to media? Then pitch your ideas; after all, the media is continually looking for interesting stories.

Focus on analysts. Industry analysts play a critical role in the technology ecosystem. How long has it been since you’ve briefed the key analysts covering your space? If it’s been 6-12 months or longer, it’s time for an update, regardless of whether or not your company is a client. After all, analysts need to understand your products, strategy and customer base in order to do their job; and since they often advise end-user companies on vendor selections, it’s essential that the analysts are up to date on your company.

Refresh your content. It’s no secret that content is king. Now is the time to refresh your website with fresh content, short videos, case studies, infographics, e-books, case studies and vehicles for telling your company’s story. Most of our clients’ software solutions have hefty price tags and solve critical business problems, so prospects will be on your site often to look for relevant, up to date content.

Friendly reminder from the Ketner Group – Don’t forget to set your clocks forward on March 8! Happy Daylight Savings Time day!

Ebola Relief in Liberia: Introducing #RetailFightsEbola

The Ketner Group team is fortunate to work with clients doing groundbreaking work in diverse technologies including mobile, cloud, supply chain, machine learning, advanced analytics and other innovative areas. We work with really smart people who are helping shape the future of how retailers interact with consumers, which is pretty heady stuff.

Every once in a while, though, we get to work on a PR campaign that is something special. And that’s certainly the case with #RetailFightsEbola, a campaign from the Retail Orphan Initiative (RetailROI) that’s rallying the retail industry to fight Ebola in Liberia. Ketner Group has been privileged to handle PR for the Retail Orphan Initiative since it began six years, but this latest campaign raises the bar even higher.

A quick word of explanation: RetailROI is a charitable foundation that brings together retailers, technology vendors and editors and analysts to make a difference in the lives of orphaned and vulnerable kids around the world. Rather than duplicate the work of existing charities, RetailROI provides grants to charities that are already on the front lines of providing care in some of the poorest countries in the world – including Liberia.

Working with its partner charities operating in Liberia, the #RetailFightsEbola campaign is rallying retailers, manufacturers and individuals to provide much needed medical and hygienic supplies to Liberia. The goals are two-fold:

  • Raise $1,000,000+ in donated goods from retailers and manufacturers. RetailROI is working to provide specific items requested by its partners and the Liberian Ministry of Health, including first aid supplies, as well as food, clothing and linens to help with practical aid and care for survivors and the more than 3,400 children that are newly orphaned from the disease.
  • Raise $250,000 in financial contributions from companies and individuals for immediate relief. The financial contributions will help RetailROI partners provide additional relief until the goods arrive. 100 percent of the funds go directly to Ebola relief – ensuring the funds go where they’re most needed.

Why Liberia? For starters, it’s one of the countries hardest hit by Ebola as well as one of the world’s poorest countries, with an average national income of only $412 USD per capita annually. Moreover, RetailROI has reliable partner charities on the ground, including a remarkable organization called More Than Me, whose original mission was to provide education and opportunity to the most vulnerable girls in Liberia’s West Point slum, but has recently expanded to combat Ebola.

“Liberia’s government is primarily focused on mobilizing hospitals, treatment centers and coordinating with others to help with the treatment and keeping order,” says Katie Meyler, founder of More Than Me. (Check out her recent photo journal from the Ebola crisis in Vogue.)  “When it comes to practical aid for those most at risk, the vast majority of the work and distribution is being done through community groups and non-government organizations with boots on the ground like us. Survivors of this disease lose everything; their entire household and belongings are burned to stop the spread of the disease, and several thousand survivors are now orphaned children.”

More Than Me and other RetailROI partners have reduced the number of new cases by up to 90% in some of the areas hardest hit by the disease, through education, community outreach and delivery of basic medical and hygiene supplies. These efforts have been so successful that the Liberian Ministry of Health reached out to them to expand their work to additional Ebola hotspots within the country – and that’s the impetus behind #RetailFightsEbola.

As Greg Buzek, co-founder and donor trustee of RetailROI, explains, “The goods that Liberia has requested are readily available from nearly any supercenter, drug, clothing or grocery store in the U.S. We are asking retailers and manufacturers to donate products at their cost from overstocks or out-of-season goods. This is retail’s chance to make a difference in the lives of people that desperately need our help at the source of the outbreak and will be key to helping contain this epidemic.”

Retailers or individuals who would like to get involved or donate to #RetailFightsEbola, please visit for more information. Please help us spread the word!

Retailers Give Back Through RetailROI

Photo courtesy of RetailROI

RetailROI, the Retail Orphan Initiative, is a shining example of technology vendors, retailers and analysts working together to raise awareness of the plight of orphans worldwide. More than that, though, RetailROI, provides not only funds but volunteers who are willing to put in “sweat equity” to build schools, computer labs, children’s homes, clean water projects around the world.

Since its founding 5 ½ years ago, RetailROI has helped more than 139,000 orphaned and at-risk children through education, computers, food and medical care. The charity has funded more than 70 projects around the world, with 94% of the funds going directly to charity.

Ketner Group is proud to provide pro bono PR support to RetailROI, and in this week’s blog we’re spotlighting a recent trip to South Africa, where RetailROI provided funding and manpower to set up a computer lab for impoverished kids. A big shout-out to our client 360pi, who along with Intel helped provide the funding for a computer lab that includes 30 tablet computers and a server.

RetailROI volunteer John Orr, SVP of Retail for Ceridian, led the RetailROI trip to South Africa with charity partner LUO, which provides education and after-school care for young impoverished children in South Africa.  Below is his first-person account (provided courtesy of RetailROI):

How was your trip to South Africa?  

Amazing, joyful, and tearful all in one. Ria, who runs the school, lost her sister years ago when they were car jacked and her sister Korna was shot and killed.  She spent years trying to understand it and find her purpose in life and at the same time wishing she was the one who was killed and not her sister.  She came upon these orphans and kids in need and found it.  My niece Lindsay got involved 8 years ago and has raised monies to build a safe house on the school property and fund other improvements.  That’s how I got involved.

Who also helped and did heavy lifting?

Intel sent a team made up of individuals from all around the world (who had never met) and brought them in to work on this project. It’s fabulous that they overcame many obstacles to set-up the lab and train the teachers; within a week they had the students using the tablets for research, spelling, art and so much more.

What surprised you? 

Photo courtesy of RetailROI

I was floored that these kids, who have so little, had respect for the devices and simply used them as if they have been using them for months.  While they trained the teachers, my son, nephew and I kept over 60 children busy playing (they wore us out every day!)  We then helped support the children in their classes as they needed help with the tablets, and we were certain to praise their successful efforts.

What was the best part of your trip?

When any of those kids smiled they looked so beautiful and had so much to not smile about — they had a special glow about them that touched your heart, brought joy, then made you cry out of love. That was my best part.  I brought my son with me, and Lindsay brought her brother with her.  We not only enjoyed spending that time together, but shared in a very special moment – one we will never forget.  It was very humbling, and I want to go back as soon as I can to experience the true joy of it all and those beautiful children.

Anything else you would like to add? 

What great work RetailROI has done and will continue to do!  When people get involved in any way they can, they’ll experience some amazing things in their life.  Thank you, thank RetailROI, thank these retailers and solution providers, and thank those who take the initial step and don’t ask whether they can do it or not. Sometimes you just buckle up and go, and then when that roller coaster stops, you cannot wait to do it again.  If I can do it, clearly anyone can…we all can!

PR as Storytelling: What Flash Boys Teaches Us About the Art of Technology Storytelling

By Justin Hoch at (_MG_2932)

I’m a huge Michael Lewis fan. And like countless other readers, I’m eagerly devouring his latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which rocketed to the top of the New York Times best-seller list immediately after its publication.

Lewis is a gifted storyteller who excels in bringing previously obscure topics to life, as he did with the arcane world of baseball statistics (Moneyball), Michael Oher’s journey from the streets of Memphis to NFL offensive lineman (The Blind Side), and how subprime mortgages and Wall Street greed fueled the Great Recession (The Big Short).

Lewis has a particular genius for explaining and making us care about topics that were previously unknown to typical readers: think on-base averages in baseball, or real-estate derivatives. But he’s outdone himself this time: Flash Boys shines a much-needed light on the dark side of Wall Street and how insiders have gamed the system through high-frequency trading systems, creating an unfair advantage that’s measured in microseconds – about 1/200th of the amount of time it takes to blink your eyes.

It’s storytelling at its best, complete with heroes, villains and mind-boggling technology. And like the most important stories of our time, it’s touched off a national debate (complete with lawsuits and a U.S. Department of Justice probe).

At its heart, Flash Boys is a technology story. And for all of us who make our living in high technology PR and marketing, it offers important lessons in the art of telling compelling, believable stories. What can we learn from Michael Lewis’ latest best-seller? Here are a couple of principles to keep in mind.

Keep it simple. As technology PR pros and storytellers, our job is often to write about topics that are difficult to understand. We have to resist giving in to buzzwords and techno-speak, instead focusing on explaining features and benefits in everyday words that any business editor or reader can understand. Many years ago an Austin American-Statesman humor columnist poked fun at a press release I wrote in one of his columns, taking me to task for using one tech buzzword after another. True, he wasn’t the target audience (he grabbed the release from a business writer), but the lesson has stuck with me ever since: keep it simple.

Simplifying complex topics is part of Michael Lewis’ genius and one of the reasons he’s such a popular storyteller. As one reviewer notes, “When it’s Michael Lewis doing the writing, previously incomprehensible topics become clear as day. That’s dangerous stuff for financial types who fare best when their activities are dense and misunderstood, and perhaps a tad threatening to the rest of us in the writing trade who wish we could be in Lewis’ league. Even Grandma can read Flash Boys, understand it and be entertained by it.”

Keep it credible. Keeping it simple is only part of the equation; as PR pros, we also need to remember to keep it credible. That means stripping out the excess adjectives and adverbs; for a press release, is company XYZ really the “leading provider of (fill in your favorite tech phrase here)?” The best writing strips out unnecessary language and gets straight to the point, without the fluffy language or over-the-top adjectives that create a barrier to credibility.

Focus on your heroes. Flash Boys turns an obscure band of Wall Street brokers and technologists into heroes. Brad Katsuyama, the highly principled, mild-mannered trader who is the central figure in Flash Boys, comes alive as an ordinary person who asks tough questions when his computer systems start behaving differently during routine trades. And now, he’s seemingly everywhere: from the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine to 60 Minutes. He’s the hero at the center of the debate over high-speed trading, proof that every good story deserves a great cast of characters.

It’s a reminder to all of us that if your CEO or client has a unique or particularly inspiring storyline, put him or her at the center of the story. But what if you’re dealing primarily with a technology rather than a person – which is so often the case in technology PR? Then look for ways that the technology touches people in everyday ways they can easily relate to. Do everything possible to personalize it. Does the technology make people’s work routines easier, or allow them to work better, faster or more accurately? Then say it, as simply and cleanly as possible, using examples to drive home your point.

Even better, if your company or client has customers that are willing to talk, make them the focus of your press releases and PR outreach. After all, nothing is more believable than seeing how companies and individuals put technology to work in the real world. We may not be writing about the next Flash Boys, but as PR professionals, we’re charged with telling great stories. And writers like Michael Lewis can inspire us to do our very best.


NRF 2014: The REALLY Big Show

If you could sum up the NRF 2014 show in one word, it would have to be “big.” And this time, as attendees know, it was “REALLY big!”

Our Ketner Group team descended upon New York recently along with 30,000+ other NRF attendees, and the show was big in every way: More attendees than ever. More exhibitors on three different levels of the Javits Center. More social buzz (check out the #NRF14 social  infographic from the National Retail Federation). And for Ketner Group, a full schedule of editor and analyst meetings for our retail technology clients. It was an exhilarating, information-packed, exhausting event that underscored why NRF is THE “can’t miss event” for retail.

What were some of the big impressions we walked away with? Here are some thoughts based on the meetings I participated in, as well as a few other nuggets.

Omnichannel and Big Data were key topics. Despite all the buzz about omnichannel, there was widespread discussion about siloed channels, inconsistent pricing, and an inability to forecast and plan across channels. I came away convinced that true omnichannel retailing is still several years away, at least, for many retailers; one analyst said flat-out that “no one” is doing a good job in planning and forecasting omnichannel demand.

And while nearly every vendor claimed to be leveraging Big Data in some way, one analyst says that only 15% of Fortune 1000 companies will be prepared to use Big Data correctly by 2020. For all of us who make our living in retail technology, it’s a sobering reminder that there’s still a big gulf between hype and reality in some cases.

The really hot topic of discussion at NRF was data security; the Target and Neiman-Marcus security breaches were top of mind, and since the show, the news about security has only gotten worse. Clearly PCI compliance isn’t enough, especially when someone with inside knowledge can access information, as appears to be the case with Target. Suddenly, chip and pin is on its way to becoming a household word – and from my perspective, it can’t happen soon enough.