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.

May 6, 2013

Is your website issuing a strong call to action?

Generating leads or sales from your website? The first thing you need is an effective Call To Action (CTA).

Formulating a magic bullet CTA can be a challenge, especially when you have so many valuable features.  The sales challenge, as always, is to turn features into benefits. Thanks to conversion expert Joanna Wiebe, here are some tricks to improve your success.

imagesIf you have a truly unique value proposition, say so. If the average viewer doesn’t know who you are, so say your name in the headline. If you can solve a problem, make the promise to solve it. And if there is a pain that you can eliminate or an objection that you can answer, be specific with proof. There’s nothing better than hearing your customers talk about pains, needs and expectations. They know why they buy, often better than you.

  • Be specific…aim your message at those most likely to buy now
  • Be succinct
  • Focus on the ONE thing prospects want
  • Confirm the expectation of your visitor

Joanna offers five cookbook formulas to cover almost all marketing situations.

1. All gain—When your prospects have a clear pain that you can relieve

Get The(fresh but relevant adjective) Power Of(what your product does) Without(pain)” 

The Astonishing Power of Eye Tracking Technology…Without the High Costs

2. Promise-based SEO—A highly desirable outcome with an SEO boost

(Adjective) & (Adjective) (what you are/SEO keyword phrase) That Will (desirable promise of results)

Clean & Modern iPhone App Design Templates That Will Set You Apart In The App Store

3. Explicit promise— When you customers will believe a promise from you

We Promise: (highly desirable results)

We Promise Just One Thing: Get More Clients from Social Media

4. Comparison — When your customers are using or considering a competitor

(Known competitor) (does this undesirable thing), And (your brand name) (does this highly desirable or impressive thing)

Google Analytics Tells You What Happened, KISSMetrics Tells You Who Did It

5. The value prop — Something that’s both unique and highly desirable

The Only (SEO keyword phrase) Made Exclusively To (highly desirable outcome or benefit) 

The Only Web Copywriting Guides Made Exclusively To Improve Your Sales

Incidentally, like most direct-marketing copywriters, she recommends bold centered headline, capitalizing each word, avoiding periods, and breaking up long headlines with ellipses or em-dashes.

Once you have written a test set of headlines, it’s time to test.

There are a variety of tools out there for conducting and monitoring A/B tests. One of the best tools is Google’s free Content Experiments, a part of  Google Analytics in the Content section.

  • Test Early and Test Often. You should run tests as early as possible when considering a new promotional technique or when launching a new product. You want your site optimized as soon as possible, so you aren’t losing sales. And then keep testing.
  • Test Only A Few Elements. Limit the variables or you won’t know what worked. Start with headlines — they do the most work and create the strongest effects.
  • Run Tests on New Visitors Only. Don’t use your existing customers as guinea pigs for changes to your website. Their preconceptions can skew your results and cause inaccuracies.
  • Listen to the Results. Resist the temptation to listen to your instincts if the empirical data is telling you different. You’re running controlled tests for reason. If in doubt, re-test.
  • Allow the Test to Run for Sufficient Time. Stopping the test early just means there’s more room for error. The same can be said for letting it run too long. Try for a time period of a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on your site traffic (you want a minimum of a few hundred test results before drawing any conclusions, and preferably a few thousand).

Listen to your customers, formulate a short, sweet and resonant set of calls to action and test, test, test.

May 3, 2013

Contributed articles can turn CEOs into thought leaders

As PR and marketing professionals, we hear the term constantly during planning meetings with a client’s executive management.  The CEO wants to be positioned as a thought leader, or someone who is considered to be on the cutting edge of innovation and is helping to guide his or her industry into the future.  A thought leader’s opinion is usually important, sought after and commented on by media, analysts and other industry influencers.

How can you turn a CEO into a thought leader? For those of us in marketing and public relations, it can be a daunting task.  One way to achieve this goal is to utilize contributed article opportunities.

Unknown

Contributed articles are great ways to share trends, best practices and a vision for the future within any industry.  Many publications consider these articles to play a vital role in their success.  Most of the time you can work with the CEO to determine the topic and key points, then draft an article for his or her approval.  Once published, the piece can be posted on a website, used for social media posts and integrated into sales and marketing collateral.

Before you go down this road, consider these tips for success:

No selling. Many will be disappointed to learn that the best articles contain no company or product information.  They are specifically designed to help colleagues and other observers stay on top of the latest trends.  Credibility comes from addressing challenges and opportunities facing the industry, not just a particular company or set of customers.  The article will contain a byline for the author, and that’s enough.

Be specific. Before writing the article, you will be required to submit a well thought-out topic, headline and at least one paragraph to explain the focus of the piece and what readers can expect to learn.  Take the time to create a quality pitch to the magazine’s editors.  It’s the most important part of the process and not to be taken lightly.

Be patient. If submitted for a print publication, articles could be held for up to three months.  Conversely, web articles are typically posted within a week or two.

Contributed articles can often open doors to build or develop relationships with key media, analysts and industry influencers.  Other benefits can include speaking opportunities at major trade shows and events.

 

 

 

May 1, 2013

The Online Troll: To Engage or Not to Engage

It’s a scenario that I’d bet virtually EVERY SINGLE company has endured: an unwarranted online attack against its reputation. Much of the time, at the heart of these attacks is what people refer to as an online troll.

Wikipedia defines a troll as “Someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

To paint a clearer picture, most trolls hide behind a fake name, a pseudonym or post anonymously. Trolls often act alone, but they may occasionally band together.

Troll

The troll can’t just be labeled by one generalization. He or she comes in all shapes and sizes. Andrea Weckerle, author of Civility in the Digital Age outlined five types of trolls in her book:

Spamming trolls: These people make the same post to many platforms.

Kook: These regular members of platforms consistently post irrelevant comments.

Flamer: These users make inflammatory comments.

Hit-and-runner: These trolls stop on a platform, make one or two comments and then disappear.

Psycho: These people have the psychological need to hurt others in order to feel good.

Now that we’ve got the types of trolls clarified, let’s get back to the heart of this post: What to do when (notice I didn’t say if) your company comes under attack from an online troll. My answer isn’t a blanket statement. You’ve got to take the type of troll into account, what his or her accusations are, etc.

As a general practice, my stance is, don’t give the trolls the satisfaction of a response. No matter how articulate your response is, nothing is going to be enough for them.  In the end, your comments could get manipulated and used as more ammunition against you. Plus, a response generally (not all of the time) makes a company appear weak or desperate. If a troll’s comment is unfounded, why stoop down to that level?

Another way to combat trolls without a public response is to reach out to a website’s moderator to report unfounded or just plain malicious posts. More often than not, those moderators will recognize the issue and strike out the troll’s posts that cross the line with slander.

The Internet is a powerful tool, and unfortunately, some people have decided to use that power to smudge businesses, either out of maliciousness or for fun. To come out smelling like roses when you combat these cyber trolls, think before you click.

 

April 26, 2013

Social Fundraising Tips for Nonprofits

imagesFundraising can be a challenge for any nonprofit. Convincing people to part with hard-earned cash is always tricky, even if the organization’s cause is a good one. Despite the challenges, 2012 proved to be a big year for social giving, with nonprofits seeing higher engagement and more donations directly related to their social media efforts.

2012 Social Fundraising Success

An infographic released by MDG Advertising shares the success that nonprofits saw using social media, comparing 2012’s results with years prior. Below are some interesting highlights detailed in the the infographic:

Twitter generated almost ten times more money raised. Average total online donations using Twitter were $225.90. Without Twitter, the average total of online donations was $22.97.

• Using social media on #GivingTuesday resulted in impressive numbers. Normal online donations average $62. In comparison, #GivingTuesday resulted in higher average donations at $101.60.

• Donors posting about contributions resulted in even more engagement. Friends who see these posts are likely to learn more about the charity, ask for more information, repost the donation request, and even donate themselves.

• Three trends to watch out for: (1) Nonprofits will use Facebook more to pursue donations, (2) using Google+ will help social giving by allowing charities to integrate their pages with other Google features, and (3) Twitter hashtags will increasingly help nonprofits spread the word about causes.

What Nonprofits can do on Social Media

How can you get some of the same success for your nonprofit? Here are five tips to help push your audience into becoming donors:

1. Encourage donors to post about contributions on their profiles. As stated above, this results in donors’ friends learning more about charities and may even lead to more donations. After receiving a donation, ask a donor on your website’s “Thank You” page to Tweet or post about the contribution.

2. Jump on the #GivingTuesday bandwagon. In addition to the impressive results above, The NonProfit Times reported that the charitable sector’s Black Friday was already trending on Twitter well before businesses closed on Monday. Be sure to leverage the giving spirit that comes with this day.

3. Provide links to your profiles. Add either links or widgets that lead to your social media profile to your “Thank You” page and emails. Encourage donors to follow and like your pages and profiles to stay up to day on the latest news.

4. Create and share behind-the-scenes content. Use videos and images that gives your audience a sneak peek at what the donors are helping to build. This creates a sense of ownership for the donors. Engaging content like photos and video are also more likely to be shared.

5. Only occasionally ask supporters to donate via posts and tweets. It is important to first build your community, then raise funds second. Nonprofits Tech 2.0 suggests the guideline of asking for donations only twice a month. We also suggest asking leading up to a big applicable event or holiday.

With these tips, any nonprofit should be able to bolster its social presence and motivate supporters into becoming donors.

Related Posts:

April 24, 2013

Trade Up!

magazinesWhen some companies engage a PR firm, they have visions of reading about themselves in Time or the Wall Street Journal. And while top-tier media coverage is always thrilling, it’s not the only way to reach your current and potential customers. You may find the best use of your agency’s time and your budget is to focus on smaller trade publications that speak directly to your customers.

At VOXUS, we have a plethora of trade publications we work with on a regular basis. From Network World and Computerworld to Mashable and TechCrunch, there are media outlets that concentrate solely on technology. So while a story in the New York Times will reach a larger audience, a story in Computerworld might actually be better for driving company sales.

Drilling down further, there are sub-sets of trade media that are even more targeted. One of our clients is a technology company that specializes in hosted accounting solutions. So again, while a story in Computerworld would be nice for it, a story in Accounting Technology is even better because it speaks directly to its customers – accountants. And at the end of the day, although you want your PR program to enhance your image and provide credibility,  you ultimately want it to impact your bottom line with increased sales.

The moral of this story is that, just because you may not receive major coverage in the national media, it doesn’t mean you are missing out. If you can have a clear focus on being a resource for your core trade media, you’re already on the path to a more impressive bottom line.

April 22, 2013

LinkedIn Recommendations for CEOs

When a CEO becomes interested in building a larger presence on LinkedIn, here are some of the suggestions we’ve provided in the past to get him or her started, organized by the amount of time and effort needed:

imagesLevel 1 (Low Participation) – Approx. 30 minutes – 1 hour a week
• Join five LinkedIn groups.  Pick five groups that are related to your company or industry, and ones you feel comfortable participating in. The second step is to make comments when the right topic is posted within those groups. We recommend checking in with the groups once a week to see if there’s a new topic of conversation you’d like to join.
• Post one link to profile wall once a week.  These links can be to anything related to the company. Whether it’s specific company news or industry news, the more you post on your profile, the more attention will be received.

Level 2 (Medium Participation) – Approx. 1 – 2 hours a week
• Create posts in two of the five groups.  Instead of making brief comments to other users’ posts, create your own posts within those groups to generate more conversations revolving around topics that relate to the company’s products, services, and industry. The company name should not be mentioned in the post so that group members do not assume it is a sales pitch.  This allows you to control the conversations, generate discussions and glean potential customer and industry leader feedback.
• Post revised version of group post to your wall.  Anything that is posted within a group should also be posted to your profile wall.

Level 3 (High Participation) – Approx. 3 – 5 hours a week
• Start new group.  Creating a new group allows you to invite customers and other contacts to join and participate. Create one company specific post a week and recruit internal marketing personnel to post industry news and other information. We would advise that the company should create a minimum of eight posts a month. Customers could also create posts sharing their experiences and feedback. The idea is to make it inviting for users that are not current customers to join. This allows you to learn more information about current customers and potential customers and could also lead to great case study material.
• Post revised version your group posts to wall.  This is the same principle as Level 2 except there will be multiple group posts.
• Thought leadership responses to five groups.  Pick three main conversations from the original five groups and write thought leadership-inspired responses. Rather than short comments to certain posts, these responses would be drafted ahead of time and could even be edited and repurposed to fit different groups or shortened to be posted on the wall. These type of thought leadership responses, along with many of the other listed recommendations, will drive more users to not only connect and follow you but also the company brand.

April 19, 2013

Kill The Press Release Obituary

If you work in the PR, marketing or the media world, you’ve most likely read or heard about the death of the press release (see Simon Dumenco’s article in AdvertisingAge, “RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010) — and Long Live the Tweet” or Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher’s post, “Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!”).

diepressreleaseFunny thing is, with the 24×7 media climate we find ourselves in today, predictions of the death of the press release couldn’t be more premature.

Fact #1

Journalists, much like the entire workforce, have less time than ever. They need a tool that gives them the facts, all of the facts, in one centralized place for their stories. The press release accomplishes this in a succinct, easy to read document. Unlike blog posts in general, the press release is a semi formulaic document.

Fact #2

Content is king. The press release actually gives companies a formatted piece of content that editors can use to link to tweets, Facebook posts, newsletters, etc.

Fact #3

SEO rules the (digital) world. If you want your companies’ digital footprint to be positive, press releases are a great tool. They are built, if utilized properly, to leverage the most current SEO algorithms.

Fact #4

Even though we live in a digital world, there are times and places where reporters don’t have Internet access. For example, a TV reporter may be working on a report for the evening news in the field. Before they leave the office, they (gasp!) often print out a press release before they set up interviews. That way, they don’t have to rely on an Internet connection to refer to the facts of a story. Granted, their story might not be about a particular press release, but chances are some facts might be contained in an old press release that will be leveraged.

These facts are not a comprehensive, be-all-end-all list. But they are a good guidepost for explaining why the press release is here to stay. Long LIVE the press release!