January 3, 2014

Think Before You Tweet: Worst Tweets of 2013

While gaining more followers, producing more interactions or having people click through to your website can be the end goal for businesses (and personalities), sometimes content can do more harm than good. Case in point, recently the communications manager at IAC, Justine Sacco (@justinesacco) made a tweet that she probably wishes she could take back.

 

Sacco

 

While entertaining for others, this tweet instantly proved to be a detriment to Sacco’s employer, IAC, the parent company of everything from match.com to Vimeo. Their brand was suddenly dragged through the mud by association. And what’s even more puzzling is how a seasoned communications manager might think her posting wouldn’t be highly scrutinized.

But before we burn Sacco at the stake, this isn’t an isolated event. It happens every day. Case is point, take a look at a recent post on “The Worst Media Tweets of 2013.”

So before you tweet, step away from the computer, tablet or mobile phone and think.

October 28, 2013

Future PR Pros Ready For Action

I’ve always believed that it’s important to give back to the profession that has provided me with not only a career but also an opportunity to help companies share their stories.  That’s why it was easy to accept an offer from a good friend and colleague to speak at his PR writing class at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle.   If these students are any indication of how our profession will fare in the future, I’m happy to report good news.

What impressed me the most about the class was its members’ levels of sophistication and willingness to connect outside of the classroom for additional insights.  At least three of the students sent me LinkedIn requests and asked for the chance to meet for coffee.

Our class discussion focused on the changing PR landscape and how to create strategy and content in this new world of fewer reporters and publications.  They were most interested to learn about how companies are creating internal newsrooms to write news-based stories that are shared across their social media networks.

The students were also very interested to know the specific skill sets needed to be competitive among their peers for entry-level PR positions.  We joked about this tech-savvy generation being already so far ahead of the rest of us and the advantages of being able to integrate their knowledge of technology devices and tools into marketing and PR campaigns.

I left the lecture grateful for the opportunity to share and excited about the future of PR.  I even thought for a minute how great it would be to attend classes again.  Then I quickly regained my senses.

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July 24, 2013

Is it time to review your company message?

We’re all competing for attention in a world of 24/7 news cycles and information overload. In order to gain brand awareness and market share, it’s critical for your company to have a clear, compelling and impactful message.  The reality is that few companies are able to devote the time and resources needed to tell a story in a simple and attractive manner.  Executives can be indifferent to messaging summits or hiring outside resources, both of which might be needed to achieve the desired results.

So how do you know when it’s time to review the company message?  Even startups can find themselves using outdated messaging in a time when technology is evolving at light speeds.  Some obvious indicators include a rapidly shrinking sales funnel and lack of press coverage.  At the same time, thanks to an easily digestible message,  a competitor is securing high profile media coverage.

If this is the case for your company, it might be a good idea to present a preliminary analysis to executives with the recommendation that it’s time to conduct a message review.  Since this can be a sensitive subject, make sure you’ve done the necessary legwork and are prepared for push back.  But when you get the green light to proceed, consider these tips to help ensure success:images

All-In.  Since the new message will permeate throughout every department, it’s critical to require the participation of all key executives.  This will help ensure that the message is supported across the entire organization.

No Sacred Cows.  The exercise will only work if everyone takes an objective approach to determine the best message based on your target audience.  Anything less will prove fruitless.  There should be no topic that is off-limits.

Nothing Personal.  For executives involved with creating the current message, the idea of change could be a blow to their egos.  Make it clear from the start that the review has nothing to do with personalities but is necessary to achieve strategic business objectives.

Proposing and conducting a company message review can present risks; but, if done correctly, it could also position the company for long-term success.

June 10, 2013

Five steps to a meaningful infographic

Infographics are becoming even more prevalent in today’s fast-paced, short-attention-span marketplace. That’s a good thing, because computers and networks have created more data than even the NSA can analyze. Your marketing program, no matter what you’re selling and no matter to whom, will benefit from an infographic program.

Design can’t rescue content
Infographic (IG) design takes a lot more than a few pastel colors and silhouette icons and trendy fonts. A successful IG design partner will participate in the research, sometimes more than you might expect (or desire) to deliver a valuable “a-ha” insight to the reader. Without strong, valid data content, design is just lipstick.
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Do the diligence
Read everything. Make sure the facts support your story and connect all the dots. Existing data from your files, along with research from new sources, will form the basis for well-presented insight into complex data. Like all useful communication, your infographic needs a strong narrative supporting a single and unique intent, a main message. We’ve all seen enough PowerPoint decks to prove this point.

Truth wins out
What if some of the data points diverge from your sales message? What if the topic turns out to be boring or lacking relevant data support? It’s important to find truth in the information before the design process begins. Work with your designer to find the true story, even if it’s in a hidden connection, known as a confounding variable. For example, aggressive personality types prefer the color red. Therefore, their behavior, not the color of paint, is the reason accident rates are affected.

Spotlight on the hero
There’s one piece of data that’s a jaw-dropper for almost every topic. Your hero will grab and focus your reader’s attention as it leads the hierarchy of supporting elements in the story. Organize your outline into a framework for a motivating narrative and the opportunity for your reader to “see to learn,” as graphics guru Edward Tufte puts it.

Spend seven minutes with the masters in The Art of Data Visualization.

June 7, 2013

Reporter’s PR tip at trade shows: stop listening to marketing folks

imagesA recent blog post by Health Data Management reporter Joseph Goedert is a good reminder of how PR folks can be operating on auto pilot when it comes to announcements issued at trade shows.  According to Joe, it happens every year:

“Can’t wait for your big news to break at the show when you announce it Monday morning? And hoping you won’t be disappointed by the coverage like you were last year, the year before, the year before…?”

His advice:

“Stop listening to your marketing folks. Listen to a reporter and your outside PR pro who is begging you to release the news early, and release it the week before the conference.”

Joe points out that if your news isn’t major, release it early.  We agree with him in that it often makes more sense, especially if you provide copies in the trade show press room, at publication booths on the show floor and during scheduled meetings with reporters.

His last piece of advice: the week before a trade show is often slow on news and reporters still have daily newsletters to get out.  Routine vendor announcements that might be ignored get picked up.

Good insight the next time your marketing folks demand you release news during the first day of a major event.  It might be wise to consider the input from a reporter.

 

 

May 28, 2013

Eleven ways to increase online sales

In just 11 steps, you can boost results for any online sales initiative. Anything. It’s really not an art; web selling is a science, and the test results are conclusive. Follow these rules to greater success:increase-online-business-resized-600

1. Buyer personas.  If you aren’t optimizing everything for the needs, wants and requirements of your buyers, start over. Once you know who you are talking to, their situations, wants, needs and the answers to their problems, selling to them is easy.

2. Relevancy and motivation. It’s impossible to sell what people don’t want. Driving the right people to your site is the foundation of effective marketing, along with crafting the right offer at the right price.

3. Design for sales. The quality and craftsmanship of your site/store tells more than the words you write. Ugly and clumsy are not attributes, they are sales blockers. And visual hierarchy that encourages easy reading and even easier understanding — that’s salesmanship.

4. Value propositions.  If you don’t have  a unique value proposition, you don’t have what it takes to compete. And if your value proposition isn’t woven into every entry point on your site, you are losing sales.

5. Triage customers. Customers fall into three groups: those who have an unrecognized need, researchers, and those who have come to a decision. You can’t do much for the first group except to educate them, at your expense. Researchers, on the other hand, love to compare before deciding. If you are not the cheapest, this group needs to know your advantages (see item four). The last group is the one that’s ready to buy, so get out of the way and let them sign up or fill their carts.

6. Reduce friction.  There’s plenty of science to prove that friction can only be reduced, and it’s as much a part of sales transactions as it is for Soapbox Derby axles. For sales, it’s the doubts, hesitations and second thoughts. For online sales, here are guaranteed friction factors:

  • Long and complicated forms
  • Hidden contact information
  • Anonymity, no physical address or phone
  • Ugly web design
  • Claims without sufficient evidence of proof
  • Insufficient information
  • FUDs: fears, uncertainties, doubts

7. Obfuscation.  Or lack of clarity. Be sure the customer is able to understand the concept without jargon or big wordy words.

8. Noise and distraction. There’s a proven rule for creating good billboards:  it’s ready when there’s nothing left to remove.  Too many choices with too much information leads to choosing nothing. Too hard. Reduce clutter the closer you get to closing, including crosslinks, sidebars and navigation.

9. Engagement. When 100 people come to your site, how many buy? Increase sales by increasing engagement. The more expensive or complicated your offer, the more time it takes to make a decision. So get their email first, then work to add value, prove your expertise, get them to like you — before you ask for the sale.

10. Urgency. Hurry, because this list is about to end.  Creating urgency, when it makes sense, makes sales.  Limited quantities (only three left) limited time (before midnight tonight) or limited context (Mother’s Day is coming soon) all work.

11. Usability. If your site doesn’t provide a seamless, pleasant and valuable experience, start over. Everything should seem as though it’s made to meet the needs of the viewer, the potential customer. Poorly designed websites create sales failures.

Adapted from How to Build Websites That Sell, The Scientific Approach to Websites, by Peep Laja.

May 22, 2013

We’re eating lunch at our desks…sometimes

sandwichA recent survey conducted by PR Daily shows that 69 percent of PR professioals eat lunch at their desks.  That statistic holds true across experience level and salary.

The survey doesn’t ask respondents why they chose to eat at their desks, but if it did, the answers would include too much to do and deadlines as reasons.  And that’s really a shame, given the fact that there is a plethora of data showing that a mid-day break makes employees healthier and happier.

We work hard at VOXUS, but team members also frequently take lunch breaks to enjoy a walk, go to the gym, watch a video or hang out with coworkers.  It helps keep us balanced and more focused.  And that’s a good thing.

May 20, 2013

Industry analysts key to converting prospects to customers

Think of the last time you made a decision to purchase a significant item such as a home, new car, furniture or appliance.  It’s likely you spent a lot of time doing research to determine the best products and prices. Customer prospects often engage in the same process; they’ll talk with colleagues, read reviews on the web and even consult with an analyst firm that covers a particular market category.

Is it impossible to introduce analysts to your company without spending a significant amount of money?  Not always. We introduce our clients to major analyst firms including Gartner, Forrester Research and IDC on a regular basis regardless of whether or not our client is a paying customer.  The key is to understand the role of the analyst and to keep in mind how to help him or her be more informed of the latest business and product developments in his or her industry niche.

imagesNot every company that wants to schedule an analyst meeting is successful.  Understandably, the bulk of each analyst’s time is allocated to paying clients.  Without the proper strategy it will be very difficult to gain their attention.  So consider these tips the next time you plan to propose a product or service briefing:

1-    No Advertising/Endorsement. Analysts are only interested in how your company is providing a new solution to a pressing business challenge or opportunity in the market.  Remove any marketing hyperbole from your presentation and refrain from asking for an endorsement during the first briefing.

2-    Earn Trust. This is an excellent opportunity to preview beta or prototypes to gain expert feedback and help position your company as an industry leader now and in the future.  In these cases, the analysts are fine with non-disclosure agreements.

3-    Trust Your Instincts. Don’t hesitate to engage in friendly debate regarding a particular topic or data point.  The analysts will respect your opinion and be more amenable to follow up briefings.

Building a successful analyst relations program takes time and patience.  The results can make a huge difference as to whether or not your company is perceived as a leader and the best choice for prospects seeking to make a purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 17, 2013

Trend alert: blog posts replacing press releases

imagesA growing number of companies are announcing major news via their blogs. Google, Dell, Southwest Airlines and others have all chosen this format to break their stories to the world. But can a smaller business get away with this digital strategy? I think so. But they must not skip over key ways to promote the new post and drive traffic to their blog page. Here are some tips to do that:

- Individually email a summary of the news to your target press. Link to the blog page.
- Promote the post in all your social channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), in multiple ways, multiple times. Again, link to the blog page.
- Promote it on your company home page, so readers are only one click away from seeing the full story.

If you don’t have a blog, then this strategy is not for you. But if you do, seriously consider breaking some (or all) your news there. When you have press, analysts, customers and other stakeholders in the habit of reading news on your blog, you create the opportunity for them to click multiple times and view more of your website’s content.

Be sure to break from the stiff, formal look of a traditional press release, too. Be human, conversational and approachable (for example, invite comments). Take a look at Zillow’s blog to see an example of how you can turn your blog into a warm and welcoming place to engage with readers.

May 13, 2013

When it comes to start-ups, there is no one size fits all answer about if or when to hire a PR agency

You can’t work in the PR business without developing a thick skin. Some folks in the media take an almost perverse pleasure in bashing the annoying habits or supposed incompetence of PR people and agencies. To be fair, as an industry, we suffer from more than our share of self-inflicted wounds. But that doesn’t mean every criticism is valid. Or even intelligent.

In a recent VentureBeat post, former journalist*, PR rep and now founder of a somewhat creepy site that helps guys stalk single women (sorry, it doesn’t deserve a link), Kevin Leu questions whether start-ups should ever work with a PR firm. Spoiler: he says “no.” Leu’s “5 Reasons You’ll Regret Hiring a PR Agency for Your Start-up – and What You Should Do Instead,” starts with a questionable premise and backs it up with sweeping generalizations unsupported by facts. Good thing he’s no longer a “journalist.” Here are just a few of the things he got wrong.

Choosing-a-PR-Agency-photoFirst, the basic premise: should start-ups hire a PR agency? The real answer, as with most things, is: “it depends.” Some start-ups do just fine getting the word out about themselves without any outside help. Some are really savvy about story-telling, building relationships with media and influencers, leveraging social media and creating content that’s both interesting and marketable. And some start-ups have the internal resources (meaning, mostly time) to put into PR. But many don’t. And if you’re one of the latter, you might need a PR firm.

But is it worth it? According to Leu, the “average” cost of retaining a PR firm is $12,000 per month with a minimum 6-month commitment. That’s a lot of cash for a series A-type start-up. Of course, he has no data to back this number up. And, of course, it’s a completely absurd figure. Do some firms charge that much? Sure, but it’s not “average.” Here at VOXUS, we successfully work with a lot of start-ups whose budgets are far more modest than that. I suspect we’re not unique. Also, in nearly two decades doing PR in Silicon Valley and the Northwest, I’ve never heard of a minimum half-year commitment. Not once.

With his bogus starting number, Leu does some questionable math to arrive at the conclusion that hiring a junior or mid-level PR person internally at somewhere between $70- $90,000 per year is a better use of money than an agency at $144,000. Wrong again. Ask anybody who’s run a business and they’ll tell you that the true cost of an employee is about 2X salary. So that one junior PR person is actually costing you $140-$180,000 year. Even if you accept Leu’s $144,000/year agency number, that doesn’t pencil out. Also, his suggestion that it’s somehow a detriment that agencies have more than one client makes little sense. First, respectable agencies don’t represent multiple, competing clients, so they won’t be pitching another client instead of you. And if they represent complementary clients, it actually helps to make them more knowledgeable about the markets their clients are in.

In any event, Leu’s beef seems to be that you’re paying an agency for the part-time work of two junior people when you can hire one full-time, junior person for the same cost. Once again, his basic assumption is wrong. The VOXUS model ensures that every one of our clients gets consistent, in-depth senior-level attention. And by “senior,” we mean people with at least a decade or more of PR experience and know-how. That in-house junior account person Leu recommends may eventually understand your business, but won’t be providing much in the way of strategy. Nor will he or she have much bandwidth overhead for major launches or when crises erupt. That’s why agencies use teams.

As for Leu’s assertion that agencies don’t know how to tell stories, I’m not sure he’s qualified to say. (Reporting on traffic and writing about where to find girls are hardly complicated beats). But for the record, storytelling is at the center of all we do. That said, no agency (or any start-up working on their own) is going to be successful getting attention if the only thing they have to sell is an idea. Facts, data, compelling user stories, ROI numbers, etc., are all essential to getting quality coverage in top-tier media. Lots of tech start-ups are founded by people with fantastic technical skills and great vision, but lack the communications skills to make their ideas obvious to a wider audience. Again, that’s what we do at VOXUS.

Leu does make one decent point: ensure that any agency you’re considering working with has a track record of recent success representing companies that are like yours, whether it’s in the same market or a similar business challenge.

I guess one out of five isn’t bad…

*Leu’s “journalism” background consists of a few months as a traffic reporter, about a year writing puff pieces for a third-tier bi-monthly lad magazine in Florida and the last several years writing his own blog called “SiliconValleyBachelor.com.” Most recent post: a girl in a bikini holding a drink. The New York Times, it’s not…