Grounded in Marketing

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 5.03.31 PMYou wouldn’t hire a tire repairman to make your car run better would you? For the same reason, be careful when hiring someone to help you with your marketing program.

The Internet has changed the face of marketing forever, providing new ways to reach new customers and build brand loyalty. Along with these new marketing tools have come a host of new “experts” ready to help. There are website developers that want to create your company website, SEO experts that want to help you get found on Google, SEM pros that want to manage your pay-per-click strategy, and on and on. Unfortunately, this splintered approach to marketing is not only harmful to your results but can be disastrous to your marketing budget as well.

There are two main problems with this splintered approach to marketing. First, it almost always dilutes the power of your marketing efforts. Secondly, it usually puts marketing neophytes into key marketing positions – not good when you’re looking for a measurable return on your investment.

Successful marketing campaigns are usually fought on several fronts at the same time. Perhaps you’re launching a print advertising campaign along with a pay-per-click strategy along with SEO efforts and a new website. Coordinating the messages, themes and objectives of these individual efforts is paramount to maximizing the campaign’s overall effectiveness. By hiring various niche professionals to implement individual components of your marketing campaign you almost certainly risk jeopardizing the impact that an integrated marketing campaign provides. Less Results; more cost.

More importantly, like a tire repair guy, a niche expert may not have the expertise to see the bigger picture. He may possess technical expertise in his niche area but chances are, he doesn’t have the skills to map to your marketing objectives and he probably doesn’t even have a marketing background at all. I can’t tell you how many times my agency has been brought in to fix an ineffective program implemented by one of these niche experts; a web developer that used his technical expertise to make a great looking website with rotating images and flying logos – but a site that didn’t generate leads or draw in new customers; Or an SEO expert that crossed all the technical “T”s and dotted all the technical “I”s but scored a zero in marketing value. What good is getting on the first page of Google results if the link message isn’t compelling enough to get someone to click it?

Bottom line, marketing results still require marketing expertise. New tools such as websites, blogs, social network sites, SEO and pay-per-click are simply tools. It requires marketing expertise and an integrated approach to their implementation to make them effective. You can hire a tire guy to fix a leaky tire but if you want your car to run better, get a professional mechanic.

 

Fixing Your B2B Website

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 6.08.03 PMAs a PR pro, I am often asked to review and comment on existing websites. In many cases, a company has just plunked down thousands of dollars on a website makeover only to find the results disappointing (at best).

No wonder. Websites are often designed and created by HTML or PHP experts, not marketing pros. The end result is a site with lots of animation, java-run menus and clickable pages. It may also have a smattering of imbedded SEO code or even an associated blog. Unfortunately however, coding experts rarely have the marketing expertise to ensure the site’s success.

With that in mind, here are some things to consider when developing a website for your B2B business.

  1. Home Page: Websites are like a book.

If you were looking for a book to read, would you pull one off the shelf and immediately open it to the middle and start reading? Of course not. You would first look at the cover. Then you’d perhaps glance at the back of the book or the inside jacket to see a picture of the author.

In the same way, a website’s home page must be inviting. Pictures are good – especially of people. Words are ok but white space is better. Most importantly, it must clearly tell the visitor that he has arrived at the right destination.

  1. Messaging: Still the real gold of any marketing effort.

Decide who you (your company) is,what value you provide and how you differ from the competition. You may have only seconds to grab a visitor’s attention so be sure your positioning and key messages are concise and clearly visible on the page. Have someone from OUTSIDE your industry proofread the copy on the page. If they don’t get it right away, chances are, there is too much industry jargon being used.

  1. Clarity: Bullet points and highlights

Messages get lost in long worded paragraphs. Whenever possible, make each web page easy to scan. Use bullet points. Highlight important words or concepts. Repeating keywords is not only an SEO strategy – it also helps underscore messaging.

  1. SEO: It’s not just inserting keywords

Marketers have always relied on PR pros to create effective copy. Now that copy must also provide SEO value. Putting these two requirements together – sharp inviting copy AND SEO rich content – is a real craft, but essential. Nailing this requirement will have a real impact on the effectiveness of the site.

  1. Video: An enormously effective sales tool.

There is a reason why imbedded video has become such a hot item in the world of web marketing. It works. It can add a human element to a cold site. It can also serve as the perfect vehicle for quickly explaining complex concepts. Video testimonials from current customers or product users can be invaluable. Best of all, it doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. In fact, today’s esthetics oftentimes favor sincerity over polish.

  1. Conversion: Finally, a way to measure success.

Measuring marketing success has never been easy…until now. By building in to your site smart conversion strategies you not only measure how many people visited your site, but how many of these visitors turned into actual customers. A conversion page on an e-commerce site is easy – it’s the page where they order product. But on a B2B site with no shopping cart, you will have to be a bit more clever. Perhaps you track those that went from a product page to a contact page or maybe you offer a downloadable document that provides sales lead information.

The bottom line is that a successful website must have more than information. It must be inviting and provide convincing messages in an easy to scan format. It must be enjoyable to visit and easy to measure. And that takes more than proper coding.

Top 3 Letterman Lessons

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 6.03.44 PMWe all know that David Letterman can be a funny guy. We are now learning that he can be quite a savvy PR professional as well.

The talk show host’s handling of his recent “sex scandal” is truly one for the lesson books. We know that this kind of “news” can wreck careers. We are seeing that it doesn’t have to.

It’s now been about a week since the news first hit the press and the story already seems to have shriveled up and all but blown away. How is this possible? A celebrity, a sex scandal and blackmail! This is the kind of story that the press usually feeds upon for weeks if not months. It’s the kind of story that has ended the careers of some of the most powerful (presidents, senators, CEOs,) and well-loved (actors, musicians) public figures of our times. For Letterman however, it seems to have become little more than a fleeting comedic subject hardly worth a mention. How can this be?

BRENNER’S TOP THREE LIST OF LETTERMAN LESSONS

1,  Be the first to tell the news. Letterman didn’t wait for information about his trysts to come out in the press. He was the first to break the news. In fact, he told his story on the same day that a warrant was issued for the alleged blackmailer. This not only allowed Letterman to take control of the message, but it kept him from appearing defensive (and hence, guilty).

How do so many politicians miss this? They certainly have the same high-quality PR council that I’m sure Letterman had. Do they simply – despite all the evidence to the contrary – think they will be the first to squelch this kind of news? Time and time again, we see the negative results of sitting on a story and letting others control the message. When will they learn? The same goes for companies that have bad news to tell. Be it a sex scandal, a product recall, an impending financial concern or other bad news – it’s vitally important to act fast and ensure that you (and not the press) are the ones breaking the story.

2.  Be honest. Letterman doesn’t deny the accusations. He doesn’t even try to minimize the wrong-doing (can you say, “It wasn’t really sex” ?). He is very clear that he had sex with employees.

3.  Take control of the message. If you watch the replay of his “confession,” you can’t help but be impressed with the way he took control of the message. Consider the following:

  • He chose the setting for telling his story. He could have called a press conference. He chose instead to reveal his story on his show, in front of his biggest supporters – his fans.
  • He shifted the story from one about sex with employees to one about blackmail. In fact, it wasn’t until almost 8 minutes into his ten minute explanation that he even mentioned the fact that it was all about sex.
  • He did say early on that the blackmailer was going to write about all the “terrible stuff” that he (Letterman) had done throughout his career. In fact, he mentioned “terrible stuff” several times. By the time he got down to specifics regarding sex with employees, it didn’t seem as terrible as it could have been.
  • Most importantly, he did a great job of positioning himself as the victim, not the guilty. In his telling of the story, he was able to keep the focus on the blackmailer and the trauma he (David Letterman) had to endure in dealing with this evil-doer. He’s “terrified” that someone may be hiding under his car, he’s riddled with “Lutheran Midwestern guilt,” he has to do things he hates doing (conferencing with his lawyer), he says that this whole thing was “quite scary” and that he was afraid for himself and his family. He even ends by saying he is simply telling this story because he needs to protect his friends and family.

So now the story seems to be all but dead. I have yet to see Dave’s picture on any of the grocery store tabloids or on my computer screen when I pull up Yahoo news. Is this the end? That may depend upon additional revelations revealed as the incident plays out. If the sex wasn’t consensual or if any of the women felt harassed, the story may have additional play – but for now, thanks to a smart communications strategy, Letterman has certainly scored a knock out in the first round.

 

Let’s Break the Rules

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 5.53.09 PMI like breaking the rules. If done right, it can get you valuable attention, make you stand out and even give you a huge competitive edge. It can, of course, also get you into trouble.

With that in mind, I’ve always been drawn to that age-old edict “You must know the rules before you can break them.” I first heard this pearl of wisdom as it relates to music theory. The rule says you must play “X” but you can break the rule and play “Y” instead… if you understand how and why it works.

Famous broken rules (and I will tie this to marketing, I promise):

  • That long intro scene in the 1953 Brando movie, The Wild One.” The rule said that a movie director shouldn’t hold a camera in one static position for more than 6 seconds. But in the now famous opening scene, Laslo Benedek focuses the camera on a long stretch of open road for more than a minute. Great tension building.
  • Beat It. The rule said that pop/soul music and heavy metal don’t mix. But when Michael Jackson teamed up with Eddie Van Halen on Beat It, the results were incredible.
  • The rule was that a second is a second is a second. Albert Einstein declared that a second to someone traveling in a rocket at the speed of light could be a lifetime to someone stationary on the ground. His theory of special relativity changed everything.

Public relations and advertising is steeped in rules. The shelves at Barnes and Nobel are lined with such books as “The Fifty Golden Rules For Guerrilla Marketing,” “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding” and now, The New Rules of Marketing & PR.” And to be sure, these best sellers are chocked full of great information.

But let’s not forget about the value of breaking the rules as well. I cut my teeth working for a couple of the largest PR agencies in the world and learned the rules from some of the most successful pros in the business. Unfortunately, however, I’ve found that many of these old pros are teaching and abiding by the same rules that governed their strategies twenty years ago. But if you understand the rules, you will know when and how to break them.

In the 1960’s Avis broke the rule that you never position yourself as anything but the marketing leader. The company’s “We’re #2 – We Try Harder” campaign was responsible for tripling their market share from 11% to 33%.

More recently Google broke the branding rule that says company logos iare sacred and something to be left alone. By continuing to create new versions of their logo, Google has helped create a fun, friendly persona for a company that others (say…Microsoft or Yahoo perhaps?) would kill for.

Carl’s Jr. just launched a new advertising campaign that breaks the rule governing the use of competitive product comparisons. They make no bones about their “Big Carl” burger is a direct rip off of the Big Mac…and it works.

So it’s disconcerting when experts tell me that I shouldn’t break the rules and that a news release is simply a tool for reporters – sorry, but those are old rules (see previous post), or that marketing video production must be slick and expensive (welcome to the age of YouTube fellas) or that you must keep customer-oriented promotional material out of press documents.

Earlier this year, Brenner Associates created a viral video for a client looking to reach 20-30 year old men. They had previously paid another marketing firm over $20K to create a product video for use on their web site and across the Internet but gut zip in return.

A quick look at the results told me why. Their $20K was well spent on sharp graphics, high quality camera shots and beautiful spokespersons – and they wound up with an advertisement that might have worked twenty years ago but was of no interest to their target audience today.

I promised them I could deliver a more effective video for less than $900. We came up with a creative video that was fun to watch AND reinforced their brand image. We used a hand held camcorder and real people and unscripted dialogue. Posted on their website and on select social network sites, the video has been seen by more than 390,000 potential customers and has been responsible for increasing the company’s web sales by close to 20 percent.

There is another old edict, “Rules were meant to be broken.” And when it comes to public relations and marketing – especially in today’s evolving digital age – strategic rule breaking can be the key to unimaginable success.

 

Medical Recruiting In The Digital Age

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 5.48.21 PMIn my last post, I wrote about the premature sounding of the death knell for public relations. I’ll go a step further and say that, the need for adept public relations skills is actually growing and is more critical today than ever before. In fact, the use of strategic PR has begun to dominate areas that were once the sole responsibility of completely separate corporate functions. A clear case in point is employee recruiting.

Once the exclusive domain of the Human Resources department, recruiting has quickly evolved into a PR/marketing function. Recruitment expert, Jim Durbin recently wrote that successful recruiting today “includes a wide range of disciplines including creative, copy writing, social media, SEO and blogging.” These are precisely the skills one seeks a public relations professional to perform.

Case in point: the medical industry.

While a large percentage of companies today are cutting back their workforce, segments of the medical industry are desperate to find qualified staff – particularly nurses, doctors, counselors and support staff. According to Career Trends, healthcare and medical jobs continue to account for 1 out of every 4 openings represented by search firms and postings.

So you can imagine that, given the enormous demand for qualified candidates, competition for the few professionals out in the job market is fierce.

I was talking to the head of a healthcare facility about the problems he was facing regarding recruitment and he told me that he was doing everything he and his HR department could think of to find new recruits: posting jobs on all the Internet job boards, going to career fairs, interviewing at local colleges and universities.

I explained that unfortunately, these traditional strategies are simply not enough – particularly when the demand is a lot higher than the supply (of good candidates). As Code Works CEO, Sara Moss pointed out in a recent article, recruiting techniques have change dramatically over the past few years. Job seekers that once looked for opportunities through job postings now expect the opportunities to find them – wherever they may be on the web or elsewhere.

BrenMed Communications developed a plan for this medical facility that was strikingly similar to the type of PR plan an agency would use for a consumer product push or even some B2B campaigns. It consists of three components: (1) Make sure they find you, (2) Make sure they like what they find, and (3) Go where they go.

Making sure candidates find you – SEO and beyond. Public relations has come to own the variety of tactics designed to ensure those who are looking for a company and/or its products, find them. Basic coding strategies (meta tags etc.) is a given, but this is just a start. Website copywriting has reached an entirely new level of sophistication. The words must now be carefully constructed to attract both search engine spiders (a.k.a. web crawlers) and target readers. SEO may also include an ongoing program of creating and disseminating press releases and articles, linking to blogs and commenting on the blogs and forums already being written about your topics.

It’s these type of activities that not only help ensure you show up prominently during a Google search, but that the pages that do appear attract customers with credible information that spurs them to action. Having a link appear that goes to your website is nice. Having a link appear that goes to an article about your product or service is much better. Just as with traditional marketing, PR provides the credibility that advertising (i.e. your own website) simply can’t.

Make sure they like what they find. Here is where positioning and messaging comes in. This is solid PR, pure and simple.

When it comes to recruiting – particularly in a competitive environment – the employer must differentiate itself from the competition. Why should I (a potential candidate) work for you rather than someone else?

The particular medical company I was talking to was a non-profit organization and therefore wasn’t able to pay nearly as well as competitive employers. They were also small and unknown. They couldn’t offer the best benefit package or career path within the organization. What could they possibly say about themselves that would attract high-caliber candidates?

Using some of the same messaging workshop techniques it uses for all of its clients, BrenMed was able to identify some messages that would attract prime candidates. For one, the organization provided an incredible amount of opportunities to gain important skills. The existing staff included some highly regarded industry pundits with connections throughout the industry. In other words, this facility offered enormous opportunities as a stepping-stone to a highly successful career.

Once positioning and key messages are identified, they should be used at every opportunity throughout all recruitment activities. A jobs-related website could be developed that relies heavily on the messaging. It can also provide information about individual staff members – both their professional and personal lives – and it allows potential candidates to engage in a conversation with these employees. The idea is to create professional relationships early on. Something a simple job posting could never do.

Go where they go.

As Kip Havel, Spherion Recruitment Consulting wrote, recruiters must now go where the candidates are – when they Google, when they socialize online and when they visit their niche destination sites. The plan also called for the creation and maintenance of a Facebook page that engaged candidates with staff members. BrenMed also suggested that similar presence be created on a few industry-related social network sites identified as important to the company’s target group. These sites are designed to allow parties to become familiar with each other – to engage in dialogues and create professional relationships. The value they provide to a recruiter is immeasurable. Would you prefer to take a job from someone you’ve only seen during interviews, or from someone that you feel you already know? Social network sites provide a platform that, if used strategically, can allow candidates to become familiar with the staff, the facilities, the neighborhood, the customers and all other aspects of the job before even having that first face-to-face interview.

The bottom line – recruitment is now a marketing function. It requires the full myriad of skills associated with public relations –from adept writing to message development and relationship building. With the increased acceptance of social networks and other Web 2.0 tools in the professional environment, we will see public relations grow as an integral part of a company’s business strategy.

 

 

PR is Dead….Long Live PR

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 5.43.50 PM“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” – a quote attributed to Mark Twain but apropos for today’s PR industry.

I’ve seen several pieces of late, written by journalists and bloggers who appear rushed to sound the death knell over public relations. “New media and Web 2.0 have changed the game,” they say, “and make public relations obsolete.”

Fact is – public relations expertise is more relevant, more important today than ever before. Search engine marketing, social network marketing, Web 2.0 applications and the like have all served to increase – not decrease – the value and demand for high-quality public relations.

Doomsayers don’t get it. They think PR is all about writing a press release or getting a story in a magazine. They never understood that these are just means to an end. The core of PR has always been about communication skills and strategies – the ability to evaluate the competitive landscape, identify the right messages and succinctly and effectively communicate those messages to the right audience –wherever they may be.

The doomsayer would like you to think, for instance, that search engine optimization is all about trickery. Add a meta tag descriptor here, pepper a page with keywords there and WAHLAH!, customers will come flocking to your site to buy your stuff.

As exciting as this might sound, of course, this is hogwash. Any substantive book on SEO will briefly mention meta tags but will hammer home the biggest point over and over again – effective SEO is really all about content – and content is public relations: who is your audience, what do you want to say and what is the best way to say it on your website.

To be sure, SEO requires PR experts to understand this newer medium. They must not only know how to identify messages and write great copy, but now they must also add the elements essential in attracting the attention of the search engine spiders. A SEO technician can write all the backend code he/she wants but it will take expert writing skills to create copy that will not only get you listed high in a Google search but will then convert visitors into customers. This is hardcore PR, pure and simple.

The same is true when working within social network sites or blogging. A simple technician can set up links to blogs and FaceBook pages but it takes a highly skilled communicator to effectively manage the relationships that these sites create between the company and its customers. And that’s what it’s really all about.

There will always be those that are looking for the cheap and easy route to success. In the past, you could identify this type by looking through the wastebasket or the e-mail trashcan belonging to your favorite reporters. Today, you find them on page 6 of your Google search or on company websites that took you :30 seconds to realize you weren’t where you wanted to be.

Those who thought that PR was nothing but sending out press releases are those that are telling you all you need is an SEO technician to maximize your site.

The fact is, marketing today is more complicated and more multi-faceted than ever before. Creating, managing and maximizing the success of a marketing program in the digital age requires a real pro – and today, more than ever, that professional is a public relations expert.

Those who believe PR is at an end are those that think it is nothering more than writing press releases.

Public Relations didn’t go away with the advent of radio or later with the advent of television or with …… it didn’t go away, it only evolved and became more critical than ever before.

Video Marketing

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 5.36.32 PMWAS READING a new post on one of my favorite blogs and I had to laugh at the synergy between the subject matter and some of my own recent thinking. It all has to do with the rising use of video as a marketing tool.

The author, Dean Rodgers over at KoiFish Communications, points out that videos can make people feel happy. An innocuous enough statement but don’t discount the implications. Thanks in large part to the growing importance of social media as a communications tool, marketing and public relations can be as much about entertainment and making customers “feel happy” as it does anything else.

Social network sites such as YouTube and MySpace represent a goldmine of potential new customers…if your PR pro knows how to reach them. You can’t expect to reach much of an audience on FaceBook, for instance, if you offer little more than dry product information. A YouTube video that is little more than a rebroadcast of your television commercial is also destined to fail. But if you put product information into a context of entertainment and fun the results can be spectacular.

And if you think you need an interesting product to create compelling entertainment content, consider Blendtec®.

What can be more boring than a kitchen blender? That’s what the folks at Blendtec pondered. Then one of the Blendtec employees decided to post a video of a Blendtec blender going to work on a piece of two-by-four. Then a bag of marbles, a bottled beverage, a new iPhone…etc. etc.

Overnight, the YouTube videos became a huge hit. A couple of years later, the “Will It Blend?” videos continue to garner thousands of hits each month.

The brilliance of this social media campaign is that the videos offer fun AND valuable branding influence. Putting wood and marbles into a blender is not only fun to watch, but it demonstrates the unparalleled strength and durability of the blender – dead-on market positioning for Blendtec.

In the Blendtec example, an entertainment element was added to an existing product. In some cases, the product itself is created with a social media element in mind.

My latest favorite example of this can be found on www.playingforchange.com. In this case, the founders of Playing For Change had a message they wanted people to ponder: music has the power to unite people regardless of their culture, experiences, geographic location, or political views. With social media in mind, Playing For Change created an experience that not only communicated this message, but provided examples that allows viewers to actually experience the reality of this premise for themselves.

Stay tuned for more examples of great social media campaigns – some created by Brenner Associates Public Relations; some by others. We would also love to hear from you if you have favorites that you’d like to share.

4 Tips for Successful PR On A Shoestring

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 5.28.55 PMYou’ve heard it over and over again– economic downturns are THE BEST time to invest in marketing. Vendors are charging less for services, publications and broadcast media are slashing advertising rates and most importantly, public relations is more effective than ever.

That’s because during downturns, your competition (who isn’t as smart as you) is most likely laying low — and that means it’s a rare opportunity to really stand out. Anything you have to say is more likely heard. New customers are more likely to buy from you because you are visible when your competition is hiding out.

Time and time again, economic downturns (and how companies engage in marketing during these times) have proven to be the catalyst for making and breaking future market leaders.

This not to ignore the obvious fact that economic downturns also mean that, in all likelihood, revenues are down and there is less marketing dollars in the budget. The good news is that highly effective public relations does not have to be expensive. Here are a few basic ways to keep costs low while raising your visibility…and increasing your market share.

Narrow Your Focus – One of the biggest marketing mistakes that businesses often make is trying to position itself and its products as the be-all solution for everyone and everything. In doing so, they spend large sums of money… and wind up being nothing special to anyone at all.

If your current PR campaign targets several audiences, narrow it down to one. If your messages tout five things that your product does better than the competition, cut it down to the single most important differentiator. This is a good practice no matter what your budget may be.

Brenner Associates brought on a client that created e-learning courses. They could put together a course on almost any subject. The courses could be offered directly to students via the Internet, sold to traditional brick-and-mortar colleges or used as a corporate training tool. When we began working with this client, they tried to do it all. This was not only expensive but it made it impossible to position the company in any way that really made them stand out.

After a bit of research, we determined that the best opportunities were in providing electronic engineering courses to companies looking to improve staff expertise. While the client continued to offer other services, it focused all of its marketing attention on positioning itself as the number one education company for engineers looking to advance their careers. It worked. They soon became the leading provider of course work for some of the largest technology companies in the world. Once they clearly dominated this market, they leveraged their success in engineering to expand into other business-related subjects.

Stay On Objectives: A great way to measure a marketing professional’s strategic capabilities is to note the number of times he or she reverts strategy conversations back to objectives. The more the better. An experienced marketer knows it is so easy to get off track. Before you realize it, you can become mired down in a lot of tactics that keep you very busy, but in the final analysis, have little influence over helping you reach your goals.

No matter how creative the tactic or how sexy the message, if it doesn’t help you meet your objectives it’s most likely a budget suck and one worth cutting. Review your current activities. Measure them against your original objectives and then cut out the fat.

Co-op Marketing: Why not share the cost? Chances are, your company partners with others also dealing with a shrinking marketing budget. By working together, you can implement significant campaigns for a fraction of the cost.

Instead of leaving chocolate mints on their guest’s beds, we suggested that a hotel looking to promote the advantages of their downtown location begin leaving movie tickets on pillows. By partnering with a local movie theatre the hotel got free tickets for their guests and the movie theatre sold a lot more popcorn. Everyone came out a winner.

Use The Web: The Internet now makes it possible to reach thousands of customers – in ways that can potentially get much more bang for the buck than traditional PR tactics. I find this to be particularly true for campaigns that focus on regional markets where traditional print media is limited to a single paper and perhaps the local business journal.

In the long run, digital marketing tactics such as blogging, monitoring, posting, linking, and engaging with parties of mutual interest can have an enormous effect on driving customers to your website and securing a strong leadership position within your industry.

Sample components of a budget-minded online public relations program may include:

A Grade-A web site – the objective of most Internet tactics is to drive people to your website (and satisfy the first two phases of the buying cycle). You want to make sure that once a potential customer arrives at your site, he or she does more than just look and go away.

SEO fundamentals– You can engage in all sorts of (expensive) search engine optimization routines designed to analyze and track visitors to your website. At a minimum, however, you want to make sure you are doing the fundamentals right and taking advantage of every opportunity you have to increase your Google search engine rankings. Engaging in these fundamentals can be a fairly quick and inexpensive process.

Using news releases – As discussed in an earlier blog, news release aren’t simply for reporters any more. Used strategically, a press release can drive people to your site and make the phones ring.

Monitor and engage – Chances are, your next customer is already engaged in Internet activities – either participating in an industry forum, writing his or her own blog or simply reading what others are posting. Monitoring and participating in relevant conversations can be a goldmine of new sales opportunities. Implementing a relatively inexpensive PR tactic involved with monitoring and responding to online chatter can turn a single comment into a conversation that spreads across the Internet – with you and your company positioned as the industry experts – and communicating with those who are most interested in your products and services.

E-mail – A permission-based e-mail marketing campaign can quickly engage hundreds, or even thousands of existing customers. Case in point: a local organization was sponsoring a lecture by a well-known media tycoon. Original PR efforts garnered coverage in the local business journal and a listing in the business calendar of the city’s newspaper. Two weeks prior to the event, however, only 5 RSVPs had been returned. We then began a permission-based e-mail campaign for the company – one that was directed at an audience they knew would be interested – their current customers. Those passing the e-mail on to others were rewarded with a $1 discount on their admission. The event took place to a standing room only crowd.

 

Advertising vs Public Relations

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 5.22.12 PMPast posts on this blog have addressed some of the dramatic changes that are currently turning traditional marketing strategies on their head. The press release is no longer solely for the press (see below); published articles are oftentimes LESS valuable than those posted online (see below below); targeting lots of small audiences (bloggers) may ultimately yield BIGGER results than targeting one big entity (Wall Street Journal).

Another area of marketing strategy that has completely gone topsy-turvy is the use of advertising and public relations. As businesses shore up their marketing plans for 2009, questions regarding advertising vs public relations are once again taking center stage and deserve some attention. Here are my top thoughts on the subject…

Once upon a time, advertising was used to create initial awareness and interest in a product. Public relations was used to support the advertising campaign. Today, the opposite is true. PR is most effective at creating awareness for a product and establishing a new brand. Advertising has taken the supporting role. It is now best used to remind people about a product they are familiar with and have already come to enjoy.

There are two main reasons for this dramatic shift. The first is credibility – or in the case of advertising – the lack there of. Consumers are more marketing-savvy today than ever before. In fact, studies have shown that an average person is more likely to REJECT a premise once it is put forth in an advertisement.

In their book The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR, Al and Laura Ries (http://www.ries.com/books.php) give a great example of how Firestone tried to use advertising to squelch fears that their tires were unsafe. In 2004, national headlines told the story of Firestone’s massive recall due to tread failure. In response, Firestone ran its “Making It Right” campaign that featured the company’s CEO, John Lampe telling consumers that Firestone had reviewed and corrected manufacturing problems and now their tires were safer than ever before. The result? A pre and post survey of consumer opinion found that people who saw the ad campaign were more likely to think Firestone tires were UNsafe. Apparently, the credibility of the advertisement was so low that viewers thought to themselves that if a company had their CEO make claims regarding the safety of the product, the opposite must be true!

Public relations, on the other hand, is all about credibility. It is not the company itself that is making claims. It’s an “objective” reporter telling the story, or a blogger or a critic. Deserved or not, the mere fact that a story is printed in a publication or on an online forum gives it credibility that advertising lacks.

The second big reason that public relations now trumps advertising is simply “focus of attention.” Today’s consumer has been inundated with advertisements from the moment they are aware of their surroundings till the day they expire. Advertisements are as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. As I sit here in my office, I can look around and see dozens of advertisements; It’s on the back of a magazine, on my computer screen, on the container of chewing gum sitting on my desk and on the electric bill sitting on top of my inbox.

To survive this constant barrage of marketing noise, consumers have learned to automatically tune out advertisements. Businesses spend millions of dollars each year placing print ads in newspapers and magazines only to have readers ignore them in favor of the featured articles. Take note of your own behavior. When you read a newspaper, do you even see the advertisements or have you learned to tune them out? And if you notice one, do you read its message thoroughly or do you simply turn the page?

Public relations, on the other hand, is the content that consumers look for when they read a magazine or watch the news. It is the subject matter that makes up an editorial or a by-line article. While readers are bypassing the advertisements, they are focusing on the public relations content.

Given these two significant factors – credibility and focus of attention, it’s easy to see why public relations now serves the critical role of introducing a product or service, of gaining consumer interest and building brand loyalty. And it’s why advertising has been relegated to the supporting role of reminding people that the product/service/ exists. Advertisements are now used to reinforce the messages that have already been created through PR.

Clients often ask me if they should advertise. The first thing that I tell them is that successful advertising is an uphill battle and that it should be used in conjunction with other marketing activities. I also tell them that it is a long-term commitment. If they are thinking of running a single ad in a trade publication or a couple of ads in the local business journal, they should save their money. The only hope of obtaining reasonable advertising ROI will come through an ongoing campaign that is both high volume and constant.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

I am particularly interested in hearing from those that can share first-hand accounts regarding the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of past advertising campaigns. If you can, include the type of advertising, where it was placed (newspaper, online etc.), how often it ran and other pertinent data.

I look forward to your thoughts.

 

Rethinking The Press Release

What I’m about to say is heresy – at least to some. I’ve already been admonished by several PR practitioners who refuse to consider the possibility of change. It appears that press release portland marketingnothing is as sacred to these “old schoolers” as the rules governing press releases.

There was a time when a press release functioned as the foundation of the public relations campaign. For PR pros like myself, they served as our calling card; our declaration to the gatekeepers of the news that we had something worthy of attention. And if we crafted them properly – gave due attention to every word and punctuation mark – and if we were able to get the release past legal and didn’t upset the reporter with a poorly executed dateline, and if we were able to catch someone’s attention via the headline enough that they might actually read the first paragraph, we might (hope against all hope) actually get a phone call from a reporter that deemed the information on the page worthy of follow up.

As such, we were taught that each release had to adhere to very strict guidelines – rules that governed everything from how it is formatted on the page to how it is sent to reporters. Among the sacred cows:

  • Use press releases sparingly.
  • All releases must be “newsworthy” (as determined by a reporter).
  • Releases must be void of anything that smacks of marketing.

But that was then.

As hard as it might be for some to grasp, Internet realities have changed the rules. Here are some of the ways that Brenner Associates have broken the rules to get game-changing results for our clients.

First, we write and send them out often – for some clients, two or more a month. With the aide of tools provided by several on-line press release distribution services, the posting of a release will certainly get picked up by Google and other top search engines (no gatekeeper here). By adding a bit of SEO (search engine optimization) strategy in the writing and dissemination of the release, we up the chances that the information also gets picked up by a variety on-line news services and bloggers who share it with other services and bloggers who are followed by customers who talk about it on Facebook, where it is seen by their friends and mentioned on twitter, where reporters see it and check out the client’s blog and then write about it on their own blog which is then picked up by others who…etc. etc. etc.

2009 press release rule # 1: use them liberally.

In the past, releases were only seen by the press. Reporters look for “news” to report. So if it wasn’t an announcement you were sending, they weren’t interested.

Today, a release posted on the Internet can be seen as easily by a customer or an investor as by a reporter.   And these audiences may find non-newsy information of value.

Earlier this month, we posted a release for a medical device company that was about a presentation the CEO gave to a gathering of colleagues. While the information was certainly not newsworthy from a reporter’s standpoint and would never have reached the pages of a publication, it gave us an opportunity to reiterate the benefits of our client’s technology. Through SEO tactics that ensured the release popped up on news aggregators and keyword searches, it was seen by hundreds (if not thousands) of people following the industry – that included some from the company’s board of directors (who were excited to see it) and the CIO of one of the biggest players in the industry. As a result, this client has a meeting scheduled with that CIO for the first of the year.

2009 press release rule #2: don’t wait for news to write a release.

Reporters are looking for facts. A big part of their job is to separate the reality from the spin. For this reason, they are usually suspicious of anything that sounds like marketing hype and are particularly sensitive to reporting anything that might make them sound like a spokesperson for a product or company.

But with direct-to-customer distribution, press releases can now be effectively used to announce sales and even provide special offers.

Brenner Associates recently sent out a press release about a client’s “two for one” offer on a new product. The release even invited readers to click on a link that sent them to a website for a coupon good for additional discounts. It was blatant marketing – pure and simple.

If I had sent this directly to reporters, not only would I have received no coverage for my efforts, but I would have certainly jeopardized the reputation of both my client and the agency itself. As it turned out, the release was read and shared by an online community of customers. As a result, our client saw a sharp spike in traffic to the site (not to mention sales).

As I write this blog, I noticed an incoming e-mail newsletter from a large wire service. It contained on article on press release writing for the holidays that included the suggestion…When deciding on a theme for your press release, think like the media. Is the information useful? Newsworthy? Or is it merely an advertisement for your product?” I say, that’s old-school thinking. It’s more than “media” that will be reading the release. While hard-nosed news still has its place in press release writing, there are times when it is totally appropriate to contain elements of advertisement as well. See for yourself. A growing number of companies – from WebEx to Cisco are finding marketing success by expanding the role of the press release.

2009 press release #3: releases can be used for direct sales.

This is not to say that PR pros can declare release anarchy. I still believe that there must be a thought-out strategy behind each one. At Brenner Associates, we separate releases into several categories – from those with significant (mainstream) news value to those that are pure marketing. The type of release we write will dictate the information it includes, who it is sent to, how it is distributed and the type of follow up conducted.

Your comments appreciated