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  Even startups can find themselves using outdated messaging in a time when technology is evolving at light speeds.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 12, 2013

Visualize media coverage

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At VOXUS, we work with a great number of technology companies that have compelling stories to tell but often have a difficult time conveying the true nature of the problem they solve or the burden they ease. When this happens, a very effective tool in getting their message out is an infographic. An infographic is a visual representation of information, data or knowledge intended to present complex information clearly and quickly, so says Wikipedia.

Presenting data in an infographic has been utilized for decades. Think about when you read the weather forecast in the newspaper or online. That information is usually presented in an infographic. Why? Because it cuts to the heart of the matter and gives you the information you care most about.

We use infographics for the very same reason. Reporters and editors are bombarded daily with new technologies and don’t always have time for a half-hour briefing explaining why they should pay attention to our clients. With an infographic, journalists get the core information in an easy to read, compelling manner that more immediately gets to the story they will care about. And many times, the infographic is included in the story or will become the story all on its own. This is an excellent way to help reporters and editors convey your message to their readers in a very efficient manner where they don’t have to invest hours of time conducting research and writing.

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.

 

 

June 6, 2013

Blog post as a media relations tool?

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Yes, a company’s blog can be a significant tool in reaching out to media and securing news coverage. Often, if there is an issue receiving a lot of attention within an industry, a blog post is the quickest and most efficient way to put a stake in the ground and offer your company’s point of view.

But just posting your company’s position on an issue is not enough. Sure, your employees and other company stakeholders are alerted, but you need to take it a step further and use that post just as you would a press release.

After you’ve entered your blog post, email a copy of it to all media reps important in your space. They’ll see it’s not a press release and you’re not pitching them for coverage, but merely alerting them to an issue your company believes is important. Once the email is sent, continue working with it like a press release and conduct phone follow-up to the top media you want to be in front of. When you have him or her on the phone, talk about why this issue is important to you and how your company could act as a resource should the reporter provide further coverage. You’ve already given your company’s point of view and demonstrated your commitment by phoning the journalist; you might be pleasantly surprised how far this will go in having your company included in future coverage.

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 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…

May 8, 2013

Media pitching: fear not the phone!

A large part of a PR professional’s job is pitching news to the media and successfully getting coverage in targeted publications. However, editors and writers are very busy and receive a million calls a day, so it can sometimes be nerve-racking to pick up the phone to pitch a story verbally rather than by sending an email. Our best advice is to email the pitch and always follow up with a call. Yes, it takes time out of your day, but phone calls humanize and personalize your stories, so if you have a newsworthy story you believe in, get on the phone and tell the media about it.

ContentImageHandler.ashxNevertheless, editors and writers are people. Some are fun and easy to get along with, others are grumpy and impatient. Many are overworked and have little time for calls and story ideas that don’t really apply to their readers So if the calling process intimidates you, here are a few must-know, must-follow tips to keep you on the right track.

Write a script
Write down either a full script or bullet points of your pitch; do not jump on a call without planning what you’re going to say. No matter how familiar you are with the story, a script will help you stay on track and focused on the newsworthy elements.

Practice
Once you’ve created your script, read it out loud a few times to make sure it flows and feels comfortable. This will help you be more confident.

Call early in the day
Usually reporters are on a deadline in the afternoon or evening, so don’t procrastinate. Call first thing in the morning when writers have time to chat.

Keep it brief
Keep your pitch to 30 seconds or under. Writers have jobs to do, so if you can get the important points of your pitch out quickly it will be appreciated.  If the writer is interested, he/she will ask additional questions. Your pitch should get to the heart of the story quickly.

Be prepared to answer questions
Have detailed examples, statistics and/or stories to back up your pitch, and be prepared to pass along the contact information of people who can be interviewed to tell these stories.

Smile
This is the oldest sales/customer service trick in the book. If you are smiling while you are talking on the phone you sound more pleasant to the person on the other line. If your voice sounds monotone and unenthusiastic, so does your pitch. If the writer can tell that you’re not excited, why should he or she be interested in anything you have to say?

Rejection happens
Writers are going to say the word ‘no’ to you. Get used to it and pick up the phone and dial the next number. Don’t get offended, don’t analyze the reasons why, just move on and try that writer again the next time you’re pitching.