Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

Content: The difference between success & failure

Being a startup isn’t easy. No %&$* Sherlock…

But really, taking an idea and shaping it over and over until it becomes something that vaguely resembles a business is an incredibly hard and maybe even masochistic thing to do. And to make things even more challenging, coming up with the service and identifying an audience to sell it to is only the first step on the long and windy road towards success. Once you’ve done all this, you must now distinguish yourself in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, the “If you build it they will come” philosophy couldn’t be further from the truth for the startup community. Unless you are one of the rare – once in a generation industry disruptors – chances are you will be engaged in a constant battle for customers with dozens of competitors who have similar business models to your own. If this sounds like you, fear not, there is a secret weapon that can immediately help you rise above the fray: Content.

content-is-king

It’s true, content is King. It gives your business a voice, perspective and a story. Each piece of content that you generate – from a blog post or a Tweet, to a byline article – tells your customers and prospects why they should be doing business with you. But like anything else, developing content needs to be done thoughtfully and strategically.

Here are three keys to remember when creating content:

Make it Shareable:

Normally this is where people talk about the importance of knowing what sort of content plays better on different channels, i.e. Facebook vs Pinterest. But this is not what I mean. By making it shareable I mean using what I like to call the “worth-a-damn radar”. Don’t spend 3 hours creating a piece of content that may have been topical three years ago but today has the sharability of a toothbrush. Being helpful is the number one way to get shares. Have a solution to a problem that many of your customers are facing? Maybe a unique perspective on a well-read topic? If so, you’ll probably hear the “worth-a-damn” meter start to buzz. But if you’re simply regurgitating old news or ideas, the only sound you’ll here is the tick of the clock as you continue to waste time – something no startup can afford.

Make it Arresting:

We are bombarded by an enormous amount of content and messages each and every day, but remember only a few. Those that do “break through” contain something arresting that allowed them to be deposited in our memory banks instead of sailing into oblivion hoping to latch onto another unsuspecting prospect. Using imagery, video, or any type of multimedia increases the chances that your content will actually be consumed by those you intended it for. Another way to make content arresting is by using catchy headlines (Five Tips to Writing Better Headlines).  This is not earth shattering, but too often I see good content that looks boring, and therefore doesn’t get consumed.

Make it Your Own:

We all have unique voices, and your company should have one too. These are brand basics. And if you don’t build a brand, you run the risk of becoming a commodity. Today’s customer wants to do business with a company that has a personality. It may take time to find your voice, but once you do, you will have a consistent way to tell your mission, values and philosophy. This is what separates you from the guy around the block who has a very similar offering, but no voice. Again, this takes time and practice, but is well worth the effort.

Use content to your advantage wherever you can. Start a blog, build a website, engage on social media. Today’s customer has the advantage of having a never-ending list of companies to do business with. Take back your advantage by using content to distinguish yourself.

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Why Startups Should Reconsider Before Cutting PR from the Budget

As a start-up, maximizing time, value and resources is the only way to ensure proper growth and success. You’ve got to be lean – pun intended. Eric Ries’ Lean Startup philosophy “seeks to eliminate wasteful practices and increase value producing practices during the product development phase so that startups can have a better chance of success without requiring large amounts of outside funding, elaborate business plans, or the perfect product.“ So if it is not a catalyst for growth, then there’s no time to waste on it. Makes perfect sense.

What doesn’t make sense to me is that when looking at areas in the budget to cut back on or completely forgo, PR is often the leading contender for many startups. My perplexity isn’t coming from the fact that my mortgage, bills and frivolous motorcycle expenditures depend on my income from practicing PR, rather, the undeniable truth that PR is the cheapest, most effective way to raise visibility, establish credibility and attract customers.

Robert Wynne, head of Wynne communications, wrote a great article for Forbes recently that took a look at the differences between PR and Advertising. To illustrate the stark differences he used this chart:

su chart

The point of this blog isn’t to compare PR to Advertising, as it is safe to assume that those who shy away from PR due to budget concerns have no plans on footing what is generally a much higher bill for advertising. The first three rows under “Public Relations” are what I want to focus on:

Earned:

You don’t wave a magic PR wand and all of a sudden the editor of Wired Magazine writes a piece on your early stage startup. You don’t spam the web with press releases posted to every wire service available hoping that a reporter will pick it up and write said article. Or expect your customers to be scouring wired services and stumble upon your release. NO! Anyone who offers this sort of service to you is not a PR PRO. Real PR professionals EARN coverage by convincing a reporter, blogger or influencer that their audience should know about your company.

Builds Trust:

According to Michael Levine, author of Guerilla P.R., “Depending on how you measure and monitor, an article it is between 10 times and 100 times more valuable than an advertisement.” This is very logical – people, your customers included, are much more likely to be convinced by a credible reporter/influencer who they respect rather than an advertisement – with nothing more than dollar amount it took to fill the space in which it appears – backing it. An effective PR professional has, or can establish, relationships with the folks who will be the most influential to your prospective customers. They know enough about your company to impart their knowledge onto the reporter, who if convinced, will spread that knowledge to the people who will ultimately buy your product or service and determine the success of your business.

Third Party Validation:

This is everything. Advertisements come directly from the company. Same as marketing. Yes, there may by a conduit, perhaps an agency or consultant helping you craft these communications, but at the end of the day, this is nothing more than you telling someone “I’m awesome, by my product.” You may be awesome, but today’s savvy consumer needs a bit more conniving before shelling out some cash. The media, an industry that society holds to the highest of standards, and one who holds themselves to even higher standards, is the best way to convince someone they should do business with you. Unlike advertisers or other communications businesses, the media is not incentivized to tout your product or service. So when they say you are awesome, chances are you really are.

So now you agree that PR may be worth considering after all. Maybe you should give it a try yourself, right? Wrong! A hastily thought out and executed PR push can have the opposite result of an effective one. Remember, you don’t only appear in a newspaper or on a blog when it is a favorable story… and once it’s up there, it’s there forever. Leave it to the pros.

Interested in the above? Many PR shops have free trial campaigns for startups to get you started on the path to success.

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Back to the Basics, Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

PR Must Evolve or Die… Start with the Obvious

I recently retweeted a story from Deborah L. Jacobs (@djworking) of Forbes and thought I’d take some time to highlight why it caught my attention. One of my last posts was about the lessons they don’t teach in PR 101 – Deborah’s piece highlights more valuable lessons that at least weren’t taught in the classes I took in college. Mind you, that was all the way back in the early 2000’s, before Twitter existed! There should be, and hopefully are classes today exclusively geared toward Twitter and PR. Hmm… more blog post fodder?

Deborah’s piece raises what hopefully is old news to most of us: the days of Edward Bernays and the press officer/manipulator extraordinaire, kicked the bucket long ago. If we want to survive and thrive as PR pros we have to get with the times. Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow PR pro and told him, rather frankly, that he had to stop treating social media like it was this new ‘thing’ he was trying to harness to keep up with a trend. Instead, he should treat it the same as email or the press release: another tool to get our jobs done. It is something that should fold into our daily activities, not something we force in clumsily to look like we are keeping up with the cool kids.

No too long ago, I covered the importance of building relationships with reporters. In her piece, Deborah points out that there are approximately six press agents for every journalist; imagine how many emails reporters are getting on a daily basis from folks just like you vying for a spot in their publications. In order to break through the clutter and build relationships you need to present yourself as a valuable source, not just an opportunist. Grant your journalist contacts unfettered access to the folks who would be most helpful to them – executives, clients, customers, etc. Let them speak to these people on their terms and decide for themselves if they have something to contribute that would make their  jobs easier, their stories better and their audience more engaged. You can’t just go spamming willy-nilly and hope to get coverage! I’m not saying that I don’t send the occasional one-off pitch to reporters that I don’t know, but even those are sent with as much intelligence and research behind them as possible. And when you do send those types of pitches, heed Deborah’s sage advice: “understand that no reply to a pitch means “No,” that follow-up by phone or email is ineffective…”

When I first started in PR, I would be disheartened by the terse, unfriendly and often times, rude responses I’d get from journalists when I‘d call them with a pitch. Years later, I realize where those responses came from. I’d be pretty annoyed myself if I got 20 misdirected phone calls throughout the day when I’m trying to do my job. I’d look at those people as pests, not sources.

Ms. Jacobs also makes the point that “a blizzard of press releases about studies that are statistically flawed or restate the obvious…” and forced, biased angles aren’t what journalists are looking for. They want news. This is something that is surprisingly overlooked these days. Think of the journalist as providing a service for their readers. In Deborah’s case, she provides her readers with information on the personal finance issues that are “keeping them up at night.” Before you reach out to a reporter, put yourself in their reader’s shoes. Is there value in this for them, or just for your client?  If it’s just for your client then it probably isn’t news and not something you should bother the reporter with.

Deborah suggests that it is time for PR to change its “long-entrenched industry practices.” I agree, with some qualification: the traditional tools of the PR professional will never go out of style as long as they are used correctly and not abused. News releases, pitches, media tours and even cold calls have their place in this field. But a shift does need to take place for those who haven’t already adapted. The first step is to stop spending so much time and energy on ourselves and focus on our audience. Only then can we take the necessary strides to ensure our services will not be rendered obsolete.

What else can we do to be more effective PR pros as the landscape continues to evolve? How can we become more valuable to journalists and influencers?

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One of the Most Important Lessons They Forgot to Teach You in PR 101

As a PR pro, we are often tasked with the impossible. We’ll come across clients who have little understanding of how PR and media relations actually works, and their first request of us will be an above the fold piece in the NYT. Anything less and we are not valuable in their eyes. After all, we are paid to deliver. The moment we stop delivering, our pockets will become empty and our bellies will start to growl; our livelihood is directly tied to our client’s expectations.

Most professions have the luxury of being grounded in pretty well defined and shared expectations. You expect an airplane pilot to do nothing more than deliver you to your destination. Even if the flight is delayed, and you arrive hours after you were supposed to, the pilot collects the same check. A trauma surgeon has the daunting task of saving lives, but if their patient dies on the operating table, they still get paid. Even the emotionally destroyed family of the deceased understands that the surgeon did all they could and should not bare the weight of the loss, personally or professionally. I understand that these comparisons are a bit silly, but there is some truth here. You see, unlike these fields, PR is all about perception, and our fate is determined by that perception. There has to be some of level of irony there.

A recent piece in Forbes listed the PR Executive as the 6th most stressful jobs, and it’s no surprise. No matter how hard we work, or how talented we are, we are only as good as our clients perceive us. So what can we do to combat this? The answer is simple, and something that should be taught in every PR class around the world – SET EXPECTATIONS.

Setting expectations gives you the edge by aligning your client’s expectations with reality. It can also be a great hedge mechanism that will end up magnifying positive results and minimizing less than favorable or lackluster results. So here’s how you do it:

Set Them Early – Let’s say a client brings you in to work on an announcement regarding a new product. From the get-go, explain the challenges of getting press and what you think the best approach is. Don’t be afraid to bring them down to reality. They may think they are the best thing since sliced bread, but that doesn’t make them newsworthy.

Don’t Overshoot – If you aren’t sure what kind of results you can get your client, don’t tell them what you are going to get them, tell them how you are going to go about it. Your strategy and tactics. If those are impressive and show your expertise and the lengths you are willing to go for them, then you are positioning yourself well, no matter the outcome.

Over Deliver – By not promising specifics, any positive result (article, interview, new relationship) will be icing on the cake. You’ve already told your client just how challenging it will be to get any coverage, yet you got some, and on the way you’ve built relationships with key reporters! That’s what a PR pro does. That’s what you get paid for.

PR is hard enough. We don’t deliver tangible goods, we don’t make anyone money (directly) – we work in the abstract, communicating and storytelling. The impact that a good PR pro can have is immense but often times hard to quantify. In today’s world of ROIs and KPIs, this only makes our jobs more challenging. By learning how to set expectations and doing so often, you will do wonders for how your clients perceive and value you.

What other things should be taught in PR our Comms classes that aren’t?

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3 Keys to a Successful Media Tour

I’m headed home from California for the second time in two weeks – back to the frigid weather and the lingering question that mockingly echoes in the minds of many New Englanders this time of year – “Why the hell do I live here?”

Anyway, I just spent two days in San Francisco taking a client around the city to meet with some pretty influential reporters from the WSJ, NYT, WIRED and others.  In my last post, I discussed the importance of relationships in PR and how in-person interaction is vital to your success as a PR pro. For this post, I’ll highlight three keys to building and executing a successful media tour.

Media tours are one of the best ways to impart your story in a way that has real impact and helps establish or foster meaningful relationships, but they are a lot of work. In order to guarantee success on your next media tour, make sure to do the following:

Target Intelligently

Anytime you are pitching the media, you should be doing so in a purposeful, thoughtful way. As I’ve said before, you are only as strong as your media list. It seems like a no brainer, but extra thought should be put into the list of reporters you target for a media tour. There are only so many hours in the day – make sure you’re using them wisely by setting up meetings with the right folks. I try to target reporters similar to how I applied to college years ago. Pick a few “safetys”  – reporters who are the most likely to be interested in what you have to say, and then go after a couple ”reaches” – the folks whom you hold in extra high regard for their stature as a reporter, your desire to build a relationship with them, and how their coverage of your client would be received. These guys are less likely to write a story about your client right away, but if you are able to secure an introductory meeting with them and start sewing some seeds, then good on you.

Prep Effectively

You should have a Marshall Mathers mentality going into a media tour – one shot, one opportunity. Will you capture it? You will if you prep effectively. Create messaging that you’d like to convey during the tour. What do you want the reporter to walk away from the meeting knowing that they didn’t before? Write it down and spend adequate time prepping your client. If they haven’t been media trained, start there! Make sure they know how to deliver and stay on message in a genuine, compelling way. It’s also a good idea to prep them for any questions you anticipate the reporters asking during your appointments – and not just softballs either. Think of some sticky or sensitive questions that could arise during the meetings. Even if they are super tangential or unlikely to be asked, prep for them. You should expect that whatever you or your client say may end up in print – better to be safe than sorry.

Plan Religiously

When you take a client out of the office you better be sure that you are not wasting their time. They will undoubtedly have other things on their mind come tour day relating to their work back at the office. Their stress might also be heightened by the anxiety that comes with back-to-back meetings with the press. Any hitch in logistics, however small it might seem, could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Your tour needs to operate like a well oiled machine. And that starts with logistics.

  • Plan the meetings smartly, giving you enough space between them, but not too much so you’re caught twitting your thumbs.
  • Know where you are going. Map it out and route the times between meeting places to make sure you know exactly how much time you’ll need to get to the next meeting..
  • Know how you are going to get from meeting to meeting. I used Uber for the last couple of days in San Francisco s and it worked swimmingly. With the click of a button, a black car rolled up and ushered us to our location in a luxurious and precise manner.
  • If you have downtime, make sure you plan for it and find a location where you and your client can  plug in and get some work done.

In PR, perception is everything. If your client thinks the media tour you took them on had little value, then they will start to question yours as well. When it comes to planning and executing a successful media tour, it’s all in the details – don’t overlook them!

What other keys or tips do you have?

 

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Relationships are EVERYTHING in PR!

I just came back from the Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose. For those of you who don’t know, Open Compute is a project that was started by Facebook in 2011 to democratize the development of computer hardware and enable businesses  to create enormous efficiencies in their processes and, in turn, better serve their customers – essentially, all of us who use the internet. It’s a very cool, altruistic project.

I was there as the lead PR contact for a client  who is heavily involved in the project. My purpose was to basically be the point person for any media activities that took place. As you might imagine, this is an initiative that has a heavy following amongst the tech and business media. Before leaving for the trip, I pinged a few of the reporters who were on the invitee list to see if they’d be interested in meeting with myself and a couple executives I was with. The goal was twofold: one, to talk about some of the neat stuff we are doing with the project, and secondly, to build relationships with these very influential reporters who are mostly based on the other side of the country. I’d dealt with a couple of them over the phone and via email, but had never met them in person.

We were fortunate enough to meet with most of the folks I had reached out to, and a few others who we ran into. We spent a few minutes with each reporter, first telling them about our contributions to OCP,  but then using our time to learn more about the reporters, personally AND professionally, and see how we could be helpful to them going forward.

While it’s likely that no stories will come as a result of our meetings, these efforts will undoubtedly pay dividends going forward. The meetings not only put faces to names and gave us a chance to promote our work, but they also forged relationships. Relationships with members of the media are not created through email pitches or phone calls. They are created the same way our everyday relationships are – through human interaction. And remember, as a PR pro, you are only as strong as the relationships you have.

Here are three keys to helping create real relationships with your media targets:

Research Your Targets:

Nowadays, with the internet, social media and PR software, PR pros have the ability to find out everything they need to know about the journalists they are trying to reach. We have access to the stories they write, the beats they cover, and even personal information through their social profiles. Use this stuff to your advantage! You can carpet bomb a dozens of reporters and luck out with a handful of stories, but that does nothing to guarantee you future success. Every squirrel finds a nut. Target your reporters intelligently. They know when you are spamming them, trust me.

Make a Connection:

When you reach out to a reporter for the first time, don’t just give them a sales pitch. Tell them why you are reaching out to them. Maybe you saw a story that they wrote that made you think they’d be interested in what you have to tell them. Maybe you came across a post on one of their social profiles. A year or so back, I had an Aha! moment when I finally broke through with a reporter from the New York Times. I’d pitched said reporter several times, with fingers crossed, but to no avail. I  never heard so much as a “No, thanks.” back from them. One day, I saw a clever tweet this reporter had just posted about a movie. I happened to be pitching something that day and was planning to reach out to this reporter again, with high hopes, but little expectations. I decided to open my pitch with a reference to their tweet, and you know what – they responded! Minutes later! It resulted in a conversation on the subject I’d pitched and subsequently, an interview with an executive from the company I was working for. I had made a human connection that resulted in a professional win.

Meet in Person!:

We live our lives behind computers or on mobile devices and we’re able to get by. I work with a ton of folks remotely and will never meet a good percentage of them in person. But, there is no replacement for in-person interaction. It breaks down all barriers and really is the key to forming a strong relationship. Whenever possible, make an effort to meet you’re A-List reporters in person. It doesn’t have to be related to a particular campaign or media tour either. I find informal meetings over a cup of coffee or a quick bite to eat some of the most effective. When you make an effort to connect with these people on a personal level and not just when you want something it shows that you care, and also that you know what you are doing.

Less than half of the time I spent with reporters over the last couple of days was talking about company business or things that we’ll hopefully get coverage on in the future. But you can rest assure that these meetings helped forge and strengthen relationships that will result in tangible results in the future. When I call these guys, they will pick up. When I email them, they will respond.

What are your thoughts on and tips to building relationships with the media and influencers?

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The News Release Gets an “Extreme Makeover”!

In a release from the Government of Canada, their press office announces that they are retiring the traditional news release format in favour of a more digital-friendly product that makes the key messages of announcements clearer, quick facts more accessible and integrates more effectively with social media channels.” The Canadian flacks promise that the new format will provide Two or three paragraphs of short, crisp text will allow [media & stakeholders] to scan quickly for the key messages of the announcement.”

An example of this new format can be seen here.

First off, I don’t think that this is earth-shattering by any means. Communicators should have learned to craft easily digestible, digitally optimized and shareable NRs long ago. I do think, however, that this is a particularly good example to follow for those who haven’t. Maybe even a benchmark.

I really like what the Canadian Gov.’s press office has done here. They’ve made the news release more reader friendly and maybe more importantly, they’ve made it easier for members of the media to do their jobs. By boiling down the release and eliminating all the unnecessary language and superfluous inserts, they’ve created something that the reader can digest in a under a couple of minutes. The headline, news, key facts, quotes and related links are called out separately and bulleted, giving us everything we need in as clear and concise a way as possible.

This format is also more effective for internal use. As noted in the article, the way it’s drafted makes it easier for those manning the social profiles to create Tweets and posts from the NR. No longer do your comms. folks need to comb through a dense few pages of prose to determine what should end up going out on your social channels. Half of the work has already been done!

I get annoyed, selfishly maybe, when folks argue that the written word is dying, citing things like trends in visualization and character constraints on social profiles. Seeing something like what the Canadian Government’s office has done gives me hope. The written word is far from dead – it simply needs to be adapted to a more concise, direct format. To the ignorant, this may seem as a sign that the wordsmith will go the way of the Dodo. I say that’s far from the truth! It’s easy to string a bunch of long-winded words together and trick the reader into believing you are an authority on something. The challenge, and where the skill really lies, is writing effectively in a condensed format.

What do you think? How does this change the PR game?

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