Interview: Paula Gould

Director of PR, TagWorld

Director of PR, TagWorld

Whereas many of Web 2.0’s startups focus on doing one thing very well, which makes for a glut of bookmarks, TagWorld is trying to do many things well. It is part social network, part web publishing platform, part video sharing site, and part place to discover new music. It is many things to many people, and Paul Gould, director of PR, is the person who has to communicate that to the press and public alike. She talked with PRWeek.com about how she segments her communications outreach, why New Line Cinema is brilliant, and just how to get the next generation to vote in national elections.

Q: How would you describe your PR strategy, given that TagWorld is many things to many people?
A:
When I came on board in February, we had a lot less features than we do now. When I started pitching the press, I gave a site overview and highlighted the features that would differentiate us from other social networks. As we’ve added more features over the past couple of months, I’ve shifted my focus from the social networking aspects of the site to the web publishing platform, which is more [representative] of what we are. For example, in March, we had quite a few different roll-outs. We were doing a billboard promotion [where bands vied for placement on a billboard in their neighborhoods], we were launching our Snakes on a Plane contest [where bands competed to contribute a song to the upcoming movie’s original soundtrack] and had just launched our music discovery engine. We broke those down into areas and started targeting specific press for each one. The Snakes on a Plane promotion went more towards the consumer press. The music discovery announcement went more to the music and entertainment press. For the billboard contest, I really targeted specific areas. For the winners, I would go to the local press in that area. We did one in North Carolina and one in Pennsylvania. We had five or six billboards in LA.

Q: Have you found yourself being contacted for overview stories about whether applications are becoming segmented?
A:
That became a positive thing for us. Whenever we released a new feature, like when we released the music discovery engine, people said, “Oh, so you’re basically like a Pandora.” Previous to that, when I introduced people to the site, they were like, “Oh, so you’re kind of like a MySpace.” With our video stuff, they said, “You’re like YouTube;” with photo, they said, “You’re like Flickr.” It worked to our advantage because we weren’t just one thing. The reason for building the site was that you could do many different things [on the Internet] at many different sites, but there wasn’t a one-stop shopping place to do all that. When I got on the phone with people for a particular story, it was cool saying, “Yeah, you can do this there and that there, but if you really want to manage all of your content from one place, this is the site to go to.”… In a couple of weeks, we have some other products coming out. So June, like March, will be a pretty significant month for us.

Q: Working with serial entrepreneurs [on a Web 2.0] company, it doesn’t seem like you have to worry too much about embargoes being broken. It seems like a less top-down communications company.
A:
We’ve been blogged about prior to a release coming out. I tend to want to avoid that for the most part. But if there was something that would be far more significant and gratifying if released to the blogging community immediately, then there are times where we’ll contact one of the bloggers we talk to on a regular basis or let one of our power users play around with the tools before anyone else does. Feedback from a blogger will likely be more immediate than from someone who is writing an article. You can find out in a short matter of time if there is something needs to be tweaked before you go to press. Most of the stuff that reaches bloggers before I want it to is near completion anyways. It’s only if I have exclusives with a particular journalist or publications, that it would be of concern to me.

Q: I’m certain there are a lot of influential Web sites out there like TechCrunch that you target.
A:
Yes, Michael Arrington [editor, TechCrunch] has written about us on numerous occasions and we really welcome his feedback.

Q: So what are the some of the more traditional publications that are important?
A:
Whenever I have a release that goes out, the first people I go to are USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The LA Times, PC Magazine, Wired, Rolling Stone, Filter, and Spin. You just go to the traditional places. In the meantime, if we have minor notes or updates that I don’t feel require a press release, then I’ll drop a note out.

Q: Was Snakes on a Plane specifically targeted because of its online [following]?
A:
Sure. New Line was brilliant for capturing that online community. The entire film buzz happened online. It had a life of its own. You had people make their own products, movie posters, designing their own animation around it, and blogging about it extensively. When they embraced that and perpetuated it, it only made sense to try the social networking realm. Given the music community we’ve developed – I think we have 7,000 bands on the site already. It was great on two levels. It was great for our site to get involved with a major studio to see if it was something we should do again and again. And it was great for New Line, to experiment with the social communities to see that this stuff really does spread virally.

Q: Going forward, how important is it going to lock up these brand or entertainment tie-ins?
A:
It’s very important. It’s even taken a life of its own on our Web site. Bands have started their own contests, such as, “Get eight people to add me as a friend and you win a T-shirt or concert tickets.” There’s a misconception that if it’s mainstream, people don’t want [to participate in it]. Snakes on a Plane is a good example of that not being true. How many opportunities do you have to participate in the music supervision of a major-motion picture? One of the biggest things about social networks is changing the ways that [companies] are communicating with their consumers. Before, it was always telling you what you wanted – “This is what we feel you want.” With the invention of the Internet, it’s become a place where you can engage rather than view. It’s allowed people to turn the tables and say, “Actually, this is what we’re looking for.” Going forward, we’ll be doing more contests like it because our community was really receptive to it. It’s the whole idea of being able to vote on something.

Q: Voting is now second-nature to people online.
A:
Well, that could have great implications down the line when the elections are coming up. People are used to voting for things online.

Q: Well, the government just has to strike deals with all of the social-networking sites.
A:
Right! Even on our site, everything can be voted on. If we can have elections go that way without hiccups, I’d be for it…. It’s only a matter of time before you see secondary marketplaces getting online. … The political circles will begin to embrace the communities once they begin to understand them. A lot of [politicians] have volunteers on the site encouraging them to participate, like a musician, in order to garner a fan base… With sites like ours where you don’t need to know about HTML to have a dynamic Web site, you’re going to find people less and less afraid to utilize the space.

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