Keys to Making a Bang with Your Media Relations Campaign

Your company has worked hard to develop its product, service or mission. Now it’s time to explode the industry with your first attempt at media exposure. But, before you light that fuse, first make sure your brand is ready to be showcased to the world. Whether the media relations campaign is done by your in-house team or through a hired agency, it’s important that your brand is polished and professional before the first detonation.

We’ve put together a few basic tips to help make sure you are prepared and ready to nail your media relations campaign when you make your big bang.

  • Remember that your website, blog, social media, and any offline collateral will serve as a potential source for journalistic research and story development. It is imperative that all of your content has clear and consistent messaging, originality in its presentation, and a professional design and purpose. If you think the website will confuse journalists, prepare a good old fashioned fact sheet that is clearly intended for the media
  • Take the time to stand out from the crowd. To be an industry leader you must know your competition and then further develop your brand with a message that differentiates your company.
  • Know your intended goal for media relations. Make sure to structure your campaign with tactics that caters to your mission. Making more sales and gaining visibility may mean a very different set of tactics.
  • Have a clarified message. Make sure your spokespeople get media training whether or not they want it (LOL). At a minimum, make sure your spokesperson has all of the facts and key messages about the news, and can speak well to the product, service, or mission of the company.

By taking the time to prepare before you make your explosion into the market, your opportunity to hit your target increases and all these efforts will maximize the desired results.

Thought Leadership: How to Put Your Technology Company on the Map

In today’s noisy marketing and PR world, recycling doesn’t work. Markets are evolving, influences shifting, the media changing, and so are the mechanisms for reaching all the cross sections of ideas, influence and buyers spread across various social networks.  And even though we know “Content is King”, just pumping out content won’t put your company in the limelight.  To be seen as a thought leader in your specific technology market, your company needs to paint a vision of the key issues, challenges, needs and requirements that truly concern customers. In doing so, companies become an invaluable resource to the media and potential customers.

Future-focused companies that provide meaningful insight and guidance to support buying decisions (vs. just providing marketing fluff) are often rewarded with more press coverage, better lead generation results, and a shortened sales cycle. We recommend companies stretch beyond the “cookie cutter” approach to marketing and deliver fresh ideas and campaigns that have the potential to really capture the attention of industry influencers.

Here are some proven tactics that can help technology companies emerge from a crowd and be seen as a thought leader in their space.

  • Find a unique but defendable position for your company, gather up a crowd of customers, partners and other third party influencers who are willing to be evangelists around your market (not product) message.  Next, systematically meet with industry anaylysts that can validate your position and become leading advocates in your efforts.  If it’s possible, can you define a uniqiue category of coverage where your company is seen as the originator and leader in this new space?
  • Continually promote your company’s spokespeople as thought leaders among key constituents – customers, partners, media, bloggers, and analysts – so they become trusted sources for stories, blogs and other industry commentary.
    • One great way to get this tactic rolling is “rapid response” PR which puts you on the offense instead of the defense.  Simply begin tracking the topics where you’d like to be seen as a thought leader.  When a story is published, take time to contact the blogger/editor and introduce your company and why its credible – then offer up your stable of experts to provide valuable commentary on future stories.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of your prospects’ business and vertical market issues and suggest timely and relevant solutions to those issues.  You may even offer to include them in an editorial article or feature their company in a leaders roundtable, where super performing, forward-thinking companies are discussing the industry’s hottest topics.
  • Build credibility, trust and interest with key constituents by fostering relationships based on an industry-centric vs. product centric approach.  Never ask for a product endorsement.  Invite them to offer their unique insights utilizing your campaigns as a vehicle for their objectives, not yours.

Finally, the key to being successful in your thought leadership efforts is innovation and consistency.  If you’re willing to push the envelope with unique approaches and commit to these efforts with the required budget over the necessary time frame, it’s possible your company can become a true leader in your market space.

Putting the Relations Back in Public Relations

A few years ago, Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge wrote a landmark book about the shift in public relations to a social media world titled Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.”  This book helped many PR professionals cross the chasm to where mainstream PR exists today, and for that, many are thankful for their work, including me.

Though I would never claim this to be a landmark blog, nor do I intend to write a book on the subject, my assertion is that the wide adoption of technology in media practices has left a void when it comes to basic human relations and the value they bring to the table for successful media relations.  Perhaps this void exists in all areas of life, but I contend it definitely exists in the PR world.

In my own practice, I’ve seen where genuine relationships I’ve forged through years of common courtesies and best practices have yielded tremendous results for my clients. In a highly competitive and results driven field, it’s absolutely critical to remember that human relations are still the most valuable commodity in the business.  As a PR professional, it’s our job to care about the press, analyst and bloggers we work with, not because we want something from them, but it’s our job to help them be successful in their quest for good news stories and compelling technology updates.  This shift in attitude alone will kick start better results immediately.  You’ll find you’ll do a better job at bringing innovation and compelling stories to the table because your motivation is right.

If you’re sensing the need for better relationship building in your PR efforts, here are some tips that may help:

  • Show genuine concern.  Every person can sense whether or not someone really cares about them or not.  You may say, how does this apply to public relations, but I say if you care about the people at the end of the telephone line, skype session or video camera, they know it, and it makes a difference.  Take time to learn and remember important facts or personal interests of the media folks you are working with.  Consider their requests, constraints or personal challenges as important as your own.  You may want that interview, but if you ignore common courtesies in lieu of results, you may jeopardize a valuable long term relationship that could eventually will bear great fruit.
  • Do your homework.  We all know that nothing can be more irritating to a journalist than a PR person who fails to do their homework and sends an irrelevant pitch because they don’t know what the journalist’s beat is, or where their true interests lie.  I know we’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another in the throes of a mass PR campaign, but targeted, thoughtful pitches based on genuine research will put you on good footing every time.  You know what they say about first impressions, you get one chance.
  • Use more sugar than vinegar. It’s true that it’s easier to attract bees with sugar than vinegar; and in PR it’s no different: genuine friendliness and kindness can double your results.  A word of caution here: be yourself and don’t add too much sugar; like sweet tea in the south, it can be sickening. The media is being hounded by PR people who want their attention all day and every day so they are well aware of non-genuine attempts at friendliness.  Keep your personal tone and attitude of concern in line with what’s appropriate for the relationship: if you’re being genuine, this will be natural and appreciated.
  • Take time to say “Thank you.”  Again, this probably can be applied to all of life, but nothing can be more irritating than someone who never says thank you. A close tie to this principle is follow-up.  Once you get the interview or article, take time to read what’s been written and get back to the writer who took the time to cover your company.  You’d be absolutely floored at how many articles go without a word of thanks and if you take the time to follow through with the editor, how much they appreciate your thoughtfulness and will remember next time your pitch comes across the desk.
  • Go the extra mile.  This one can’t be overstated; if you get away from the “it’s all about me”, your relationship building efforts with the media will take on a new level of depth and long term success.  For example, take the extra time to track a story that you know is interesting to an editor even if it has no guarantee of producing results for your company. Spend the extra time to find a spokesperson for the media, even if it means you have to re-educate your entire executive and sales team about what it takes to build a customer testimonial program. Leave no stone unturned for providing innovative ideas for your media contacts.

These are a few examples of how to put the relations back into public relations but the list can be endless.  And while social media tools are great and a perfect way to send a quick note or tip, remember that the human voice and communication skills are still irreplaceable, even in a technology driven world.  The greatest relationships in life are built with genuine care, concern and investment of self and time.  This is certainly true in public relations and thoughtful consideration of these principles can organically grow your media relations efforts  and build long term successful results for your PR program.

Give Your PR Program a Boost with Media Alerts

If your press relations efforts are failing to achieve the results you desire, media alerts could be just the thing you need to breathe life back into a flat lining PR program. When used in tandem with press releases, media alerts can help to further nurture media relationships and ultimately earn your company more news coverage.

Press Releases vs. Media Alerts: What’s the Difference?

Press releases (a.k.a. news releases or media releases) have long been the mainstay of media relations. Written like news articles, with quotes and facts, their purpose is to initiate pick-up by online news channels and generate broadcast, print and online feature stories through larger outlets. Well-written press releases create an image and story that journalists can use alone or as background when writing a story.

Conversely, media alerts (a.k.a. media advisories or press advisories) are used to notify the media of something (like an upcoming press conference, product unveiling, tradeshow appearance or speaking engagement). Media alerts are written to answer the important questions of Who, What, When, Where and Why.

Defining Success

While the press release’s main goal is facilitate news coverage, the media alert’s main goal is to get the media to take a specific action (attend an event, download a report, review survey results, etc.). Think of the media alert as an invitation, while the press release is the actual dissemination of newsworthy information.

Press Release Goal = News Story Written by Media Targets

Media Alert Goal = Action Taken by Media Targets

Filling the News Gaps with Media Alerts

For many start up companies, media alerts are a rarity. Some public relations practitioners never issue them. But the press release’s lesser-known counterpart, the media alert, is growing in popularity within the B2B tech sector and here’s part of the reason why… (the rest of the reason has to do with Internet marketing, which you can read about in my colleagues post, “How to Use PR to Improve SEO Results”)

Many young tech companies set out with good intentions to support a robust calendar of media communications and relationship building activities, but find that they struggle to deliver newsworthy press releases month after month.  Soon after comes the realization that it can be difficult, if not impossible, for their company to maintain productive media relations without consistent outreach (remember the old adage, “out of sight, out of mind”).

With a little ingenuity media alerts can help fill the news gaps and provide a continuous stream of communications that will help to keep your company top of mind. Which will in turn translate to more news coverage in the long run.

How to Get Started

Remember that the purpose of the media alert is to notify the media of something that they might find interesting – with the goal being that they take a specific action. To come up with media alert ideas, review both your existing and in plan content assets (case studies, white papers, survey findings, etc.) and calendar of events (webinars, speaking engagements, tradeshow appearances, press conferences, product unveilings, etc.). Then compare the content against the topics covered by your media targets to determine what might be “media alert worthy”.

Before you write the media alert, put yourself in the shoes of the editors and journalists that you are targeting. Give careful consideration to how they might use this information as background when writing a story or how it might help inform them of an important trend. While it is not necessary for you to develop a news story in the media alert, the media will not take the desired action unless you clearly communicate to them the “what’s in it for me?” (view media alert example)

Share Your Ideas and Success Stories

If you are using media alerts in a unique way or getting good results from your media alert communications, please feel free to weigh in and share your insights or success tactics with our readers…

How to Use PR to Improve SEO Results

If you want to improve your search engine optimization (SEO) results (or squeeze out a competitor in page ranking), a properly leveraged PR program could be just the boost you need.

Relevant keywords. Link building. Delivering fresh, quality content. These tactics top the list of requirements for a successful SEO strategy – and a well-executed PR program can deliver on all three with just a little extra effort and planning.

Use these tips to make get the best SEO results from your PR program:

  1. Choose Keywords Carefully. Keywords should not be approached as an after thought once a release is written. If you have a list of keywords already in use for SEO campaigns, deliver the list to your PR writer, if not, do your homework and come up with a laundry list of relevant keywords that can be leveraged across all communications. When brainstorming keywords, consider which terms your target audience is likely to use when searching for your type of products or services. Free tools like Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool or WordTracker, will provide useful search volume data that can help you refine your list. Eliminate words or phrases that cannot deliver significant website traffic due to insufficient search volume and consider cutting any popular terms that put you in competition with 1M+ search results. Try to create a list of 10 – 15 targeted keywords that can be leveraged repeatedly in your press campaigns over time. (Note: your actual list may be shorter or longer depending on the size of your company, scope of offering and SEO budget).
  2. Be Aware of Keyword Placement and Frequency.  Each press release should be optimized for 1-2 keyword phrases. Include keywords in the title, subtitle and first paragraphs, but don’t over stuff your press release with keywords. This practice will dilute the effectiveness of your media communications – remember ultimately, humans, not bots, read press releases. Ideally in a 500-word press release, your chosen keywords should appear 2-4 times.
  3. Include a Call to Action with Hyperlink.  Search engines favor sites that have a high number of inbound links from other popular sites. Press releases can be a very effective way to earn those inbound links. News distribution sites that copy content from newswire feeds often convert full URLs into hyperlinks. Use this to your advantage by making sure that every press release distributed across the wire includes a call-to-action with a full URL link to your site (not an embedded hyperlink). Also, be sure your PR person asks journalists to include inbound links in any feature news stories (To be successful, you may need to get creative and provide a reason to include the link, i.e. come up with a special or exclusive offer for the publication’s readers). This strategy won’t always yield results, but it’s definitely worth a try – just a few links from top tier publications can do wonders for your SEO program.
  4. Add Images and Video.  Multi-media can give your company added visibility in search engines and make your press releases more shareable. To get the best SEO results, add descriptive titles that include your chosen keywords to all embedded images and videos. News distribution services charge extra for the inclusion of multi-media, so you may want to strategically plan which press releases are worthy of the added cost or stagger your distribution of multi-media releases throughout the year.
  5. Create an Online Newsroom and RSS for News Distribution.  Search engines, especially Google, love blogs for the fresh content and highly structured data. If you don’t already have an online newsroom, consider adding a blog style newsroom to your website. By posting releases to your site and distributing through RSS, you can get even more mileage from your PR program. Be sure to choose a SEO friendly blog platform and include tags for your keywords with each post. Bookmark and share each post and provide sharing tools so that others can easily do the same.
  6. Make Headlines Tweet Friendly. Keep your press release headlines short (less than 70 characters, if possible) to improve tweetability or consider adding suggested Tweet text at the end of your release to make sharing of your news easy for readers (and be sure to include a shortened URL that links back to the full-text release on your site).
  7. Automate Distribution of News Across Relevant Channels. By using a news distribution service like BusinessWire or PR Newswire, you will be able to extend the reach of your news and get pickup of full-text press releases (complete with keywords and hyperlinks to your site) on thousands of downstream sites, including Internet portals, search engines, websites, financial services and database systems. Choose the level of distribution service based the relevancy and newsworthiness of the communication you are distributing. For instance, you may want to consider lower cost “online only” distribution options when the primary goal of the release is to aide SEO efforts (as may be the case with a media alert announcing the availability of a company sponsored informational report), while a larger distribution would be more appropriate for a press release that is likely to earn your company feature news stories.
  8. Keep a Steady Pace.  Ideally companies should aim to distribute a minimum of 2-3 releases per month to help boost SEO results. Understandably, it can be difficult for smaller companies and start-ups to keep this pace. Having a back up strategy in place can help fill news gaps when they occur. Momentum releases (that package multiple smaller news items into one communication) or media alerts (that publicize events/information vs. news) can keep your SEO-friendly PR program afloat despite a slump in media-worthy news.
  9. Measure Your Results.  Web analytics are essential – if you don’t already have a web traffic-monitoring tool, get one. Google’s free web analytics offers a wealth of information on the origin of website visitors and keywords. Use this information to track the progress of your efforts and identify areas for improvement.
  10. Be Patient.  Neither PR nor SEO are about instant gratification. Often it takes months to see results and this is especially true for smaller or new companies. Set realistic expectations from the beginning and give the program a minimum of 6 months to deliver measurable results.
  11. Make Adjustments.  SEO isn’t a one-time event. Search engine algorithms change regularly, so the tactics that worked last year may not work this year.  Keep up with SEO best practices and make adjustments as algorithms change to ensure the best results. SEO requires dedication and a long-term commitment but the pay-off will be worthwhile for those that keep with it over time.

Interview with Charlie O’Rourke on The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing

Interview with Charlie O’Rourke, Financial Services Leader, former SVP of First Data and currently Chief Technology Strategist with the Fotec Group: “The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing”

Recent industry surveys reveal that more businesses are using outsourced services as a means of cost-cutting and potentially a strategic business productivity tool.  In these studies, executives said they believe outsourcing can provide many benefits, including access to a valuable talent pool where a company may lack expertise.

We asked Charlie O’Rourke, one of the financial industry’s most respected and successful veterans, to give his insights around the growing outsourcing trend and provide some tips on how a company can be successful leveraging outsourced services while avoiding potential pitfalls.

Attain Marketing: We’ve seen more companies looking to outsourced services as a way of achieving their business objectives.   In your opinion, is this a good trend for businesses and what benefits can they gain by outsourcing?

O’Rourke: Yes, I believe those companies that prepare themselves for outsourcing can benefit immensely as part of an overall business strategy.

First, let me clarify what I mean for our purposes here today.  To me “outsourcing” is a practice used by companies of contracting out some of their business functions to an external provider.  For the purpose of this discussion, I am referring to outsourcing as the utilization of hired resources inside U.S. borders.

While I agree there are benefits that a business can gain from outsourcing, there are also potentially huge downside risks of incorporating outsourcing without proper evaluation of its practice within a company.

Outsourcing is not something a company should embark upon simply for cost savings, recommendations from others, or without a critical eye toward the potential outcomes and whether outsourcing fits within their overall business strategy.

I realize expense reduction is often a very significant factor.  However, other considerations are just as or even more important.  A proper corporate outsourcing readiness evaluation would include, among other things, assessment of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, core competencies, culture, traditions, and vision for the future.  When a company’s strategies are well defined and aligned with a vision toward the future, they will include how to utilize outside resources to augment and complement business objectives.

If there is no strategy and strict oversight, outsourcing may end up costing your business more in the end.  Additionally, it could possibly destroy effectiveness in other areas such as agility, flexibility, customer service quality and competitive advantage.

However, if consistent with its strategic objectives, incorporating outsourcing of appropriate business functions can provide a company with the ability to better focus on its core business and gain competitive advantage at the same time.

Attain Marketing: Should businesses have concerns about outsourcing certain business functions?  In other words, are there “best practices” around outsourcing?

O’Rourke: Someone once told me that if everyone is adopting a “best practice” you can bet that it is no longer the best.  Now that the “best practice” is well understood, it is a perfect opportunity for consultants to provide textbook solutions and cookbook remedies while extracting nice fees for their services.

Mindlessly following “best practices” because they have been used at a Fortune 500 company, are the newest fad, everyone is adopting them or they are the rage for consultants nowadays, may not be in a company’s best interest.  Each strategic and tactical practice needs an evaluation with a critical eye on your company objectives.  Specifically, the practice should fit strategically, operationally, and culturally in your company.

It is unwise to “copy” or “clone” another organization’s recipes in terms of strategy, business theory, management tools or technologies.  Only when you understand your culture, values, purpose, strengths, and direction should you consider which business functions are eligible for outsourcing.

Each company has unique requirements and needs to evaluate which practices are “best” for its business, culture, and customers.

If I were to give general guidelines for outsourcing, I would say companies should retain their core functions in house and then look to outsourcing those business functions that are noncore.  That is the simplest guideline I can give.  Although often difficult and time consuming, proceeding without a diligent assessment will guarantee less than optimum results and possibly failure.

Attain Marketing: What are some of the business functions that are best suited for outsourcing?

O’Rourke: Given some of the caveats above, some logical places (unless of course a core competency) to look may include functions in human resources, administration, accounting, marketing, public relations, communications and legal.

There will be many others depending on the company and each business will have to decide on the criticality and impact of outsourcing in a particular area.

Attain Marketing: Being marketers, of course Attain is interested in your thoughts about outsourced marketing and PR services.  Are there advantages?

O’Rourke: I believe companies like Attain can definitely enhance a company’s marketing, media relations, and communications capability.

Small companies are obviously going to benefit quite a bit by using companies like Attain because they typically do not have sufficient, or in many cases, any expertise, talent and skills to effectively perform many of the required functions in these areas.

In the case of larger companies, the ability to utilize outside marketing expertise often times yields tremendous advantages.

I believe a company can achieve optimum outsourcing success when it embeds the resourced personnel with their internal employees.  They assimilate into the culture and have the same objectives as others in the corporation.  They understand the company values, culture, strategies as well as the industry, the business, and the company’s products and services.  They serve as an expert member of teams, departments, or divisions of the company.

Attain Marketing: Well said Charlie, and many thanks for the unsolicited plug ;-).

I’d like to add, potential advantages gained through an outsourced marketing team include access to an expanded list of analyst and media contacts, specialized public relations and marketing tools – as well as expanded services that may be limited or not be available at all within a company.

In addition, an outsourced team of marketing/PR specialists can provide an expanded scope of services in the categories of lead generation, sales support, social marketing, communications and media relations – possibly at the same cost as one or two internal employees who are providing a more limited scope of services defined by their specific role.

Any last thoughts?

O’Rourke: Companies that are too quick to outsource business functions as solely an expense reduction often suffer negative consequences.  Lower cost is always alluring but results may be much different than expected.  Companies should adopt an outsourcing plan that fits within their overall strategies.  This will yield results that are consistent with their direction and that do not negatively affect the company.

Again, I want to emphasize that company culture is very important.  Culture is often overlooked in the total equation.  The ability of a company to accept outsiders and embed them into the business is crucial.  Outsourcing will fit in some cultures but not in others.

I believe outsourced marketing is an area that makes sense, especially when outsourced personnel become an extension of the client’s in-house marketing, public relations, and public relations teams.

Attain Marketing: Many thanks, Charlie, we appreciate your input.

Today we’re seeing many companies turning to outsourcing as a way to deal with budget restraints while staying competitive in a sluggish economy.   Smart companies know that they can’t stop their marketing activities – especially if they plan on establishing healthy longevity in their business, so they see outsourced services as a great way to leverage talent and stay proactive.

Keeping it Real: Social Media Success Tips for 2011 and Beyond

I recently dusted off my copy of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey and was refreshed again by the book’s tried and true principles.  In the new world of social networking with 24/7 Internet and mobile feeds screaming “look at me,”  “hear me,” “pay attention to me” − scattered with fake testimonials and other dubious schemes meant to manipulate Internet rankings, it can be difficult to believe that doing anything “old school” can reap results.  Forgive me for what may come off as preaching, but I, like Covey believe there are timeless truths that when properly applied to all facets of life will yield lasting results that don’t fade with the latest and greatest fad.

“Personality Ethic” is Covey’s description of the recent paradigm where success has become more of a function of personality, of public image, of the use of more shallow tactics to drive human reaction vs. applying genuine principles, what Covey calls “Character Ethic” to achieve results. Covey states, “the glitter of the Personality Ethic, the massive appeal, is that there is some quick and easy way to achieve quality of life − personal effectiveness and rich, deep relationships with other people− without going through the natural process of work and growth that makes it possible. It’s symbol without substance. It’s the ‘get rich quick’ scheme promising ‘wealth without work’.  And it might appear to succeed – but the schemer remains.”

I believe building fruitful relationships with media, bloggers, partners and customers is a process that inevitably takes an investment of time and effort to produce real and effective results. Ultimately it is Covey’s principle of “Character Ethic” rather than “Personality Ethic” that will help companies achieve superior long-term results in their marketing efforts.

If you decide to follow Covey’s higher path of “Character Ethic,” here are a few ideas on how to get started…

  • Build a Genuine List of Social Networking Followers/Fans: As much we’d all like to automate social networking – and there are great tools that help this process – beware of programs that build your follower/fan base on autopilot.  It’s really not about the number of followers, but rather their relevancy to your business and  loyalty that counts.  Taking shortcuts may seem to increase popularity more quickly, but thoughtful and personal communications build genuine relationships over time.

TIP:  When someone becomes a fan or follower, don’t send a self-serving automated message − take the time to send a personalized “thank you” note.  This is the opportunity to make a first impression that is meaningful and demonstrates your genuine interest in the person/company that is following you.

  • Toot Someone Else’s Horn: If possible, it seems the self-importance of individuals and companies has become even more inflated with the advent of social networking.  If you want to take a fresh approach, drop the “it’s all about me” approach and become the advocate of your industry peers and customers.  Use air time to promote their achievements and accomplishments in addition to your own.  In Charlotte’s Web, it was the “humble” pig that amazed everyone, won the blue ribbon, and saved his own life in the end.  Take the time to be genuinely concerned about your contacts and their specific interests and they will become faithful followers in the end.
  • Adopt a “Win-Win” Approach to Customer/Partner Relations: In my previous blog “Tried and True Strategies for a Prosperous 2010”, I noted that many companies fail to engage their customers and partners because they do not present a compelling value proposition. Self-centered requests often fail while successful programs are based on answering the customer’s question of “What’s in it for me?” Recently Google changed their search engine ranking criteria and added customer feedback as a key component of how companies are ranked.  As you can imagine, this has spawned a variety of schemes that help companies improve their online reputation with fake customer ratings and phony feedback.  Despite the allure of such shortcuts, the best strategies require you to build customer loyalty with good products and excellent customer service throughout the sales cycle.
  • Honest Communications, always:  Many companies have learned the hard way, but it’s always better to be honest about mistakes than to cover or lie.  And with online communities, chat boards, Twitter, citizen journalists, and the likes, it’s only a matter of time before truth gets out.  People and customers are much more forgiving of companies that are willing to air any dirty laundry before they find out themselves – everyone makes mistakes, so own up to them quickly.  A reputation of integrity and honesty will stand the test of time and companies that build their brand around such principles will be rewarded in the long run.

So may we all find the time during the holiday hustle and bustle to reflect on what “Character Ethic” principles we can apply that will help shape our businesses and lives to make 2011 the best year yet.

Tips for Successful Holiday PR Campaigns

A lot of companies tend to see the holidays as dead air time, some even shut down their PR efforts altogether. The truth is the time period between Thanksgiving and the New Year presents an opportunity to leverage the perceived news lull with a year-end or year-beginning storyline.  Often editors and media outlets are looking for interesting ideas to fill their “pages” during this holiday down time.  Also, with the general slow-down in corporate productivity around the holidays, more people are reading news sites, blogs and following social media channels than during busier times of the year.  So smart holiday PR campaigning can be a powerful way to get your company noticed.

The most important key to effective holiday campaigning is to leverage popular trends and storylines.  Even if your product is a nerdy, seemingly non-interesting component in the technology stack (hey, not everyone is marketing a mobile phone), look for the larger story lines you can connect to or comment on.  This may require thinking outside of the box but it always can be done.

Perhaps you can leverage a partner or customer to jointly address an interesting angle or co-sponsor a year-end study.  The holidays are great times to announce results of surveys or make predictions about New Year trends.  This is also the time to consider something a little more catchy or gimmicky as these types of news stunts often seem to fit in better with the sense of sensationalism surrounding the holiday season.

Here are some more important tips for great holiday campaigns:

Be believable – You can claim that any pitch is related to the holidays, but that doesn’t mean an editor will believe it. In order to achieve the best success, there must be a valid, relevant holiday tie to your story idea.  Are you working with an expert source who can predict trends that relate to the Christmas season? Do you have a customer or partner that offers a great product perfect for holiday shoppers? These are the sorts of things that make for successful holiday pitches.

Start early – The most important thing to remember when pitching based on a certain holiday is to do it well in advance. Many pubs have their Christmas content picked out early, so don’t delay.  If you start early enough you can also leverage editorial calendar opportunities to add momentum and additional stories to your PR campaign.

Finish late – While you should do your initial holiday pitching in advance, it can also be effective to do some additional outreach directly before the holiday. Many reporters will be out of the office or already done with their holiday stories, but the ones who are not may be more likely to read your e-mail or take your phone call because they won’t be receiving as many as usual.  At a minimum, this is the perfect time to do some true relationship building and spreading of genuine holiday cheer.

Stand out from the crowd! – Bad holiday pitches can be like hearing “Jingle Bells” one too many times – painful.  Best case scenario is you’ll be forgiven but worst case is you’ll leave a bad impression on your editorial targets.  Personalize your pitch. Include a clear and attention-getting subject line. Don’t include an overabundance of unimportant information. Clearly communicate why your story idea is truly relevant and better than the rest – which of course includes name dropping and credibility points to substantiate your pitch.

If thoughtfully crafted and executed properly, holiday campaigns can be a very effective way to keep PR momentum going through the holiday lull while possibly netting some great attention you might not otherwise have received.

The Art of Crisis Communications: Have a Plan but Keep it Simple

For this week’s blog, I asked longtime PR pro, Staci Busby, to share her insights on crisis communications, a very important topic that inevitably must be faced by all companies and their communicators.  With more than 20 years working in corporate, non-profit and agency environments, Staci Busby is an accredited Public Relations Counselor who has led crisis communications teams through a variety of issues and crises, ranging from employee murders, picketing and triple swipes on debit cards to E. coli poisoning, natural disasters and significant layoffs.

Oil spills, toxic sludge slides and mine disasters… now what? We’re confronted with major disasters regularly. How we handle these crises for our employers can make or break their reputations.

It’s always interesting to read the opinion pieces after a catastrophe occurs. “I would have done this.” “They should have done that.” The truth is we all would do better in hindsight. So the best we can do is learn from our experiences and mistakes, (ours and others), and be as prepared as possible when a crisis does hit.

Although in a crisis situation we’re usually forced into a reactionary mode, it is possible to plan ahead by creating a basic process to follow so that you are not blindsided when a tragedy occurs. I’m not an advocate for filling your bookshelves with plans for anything and everything that might happen, but I do believe it’s important to brainstorm possible threats and develop a simple guide that will help you and your company endure potential crises.

You may find volumes of valuable information to help you predict, plan, practice and prepare for the unthinkable; but it’s rare to find a simple, practical guide to use once a crisis hits, so here are a few simple tips to keep in mind.

  1. First, when a crisis hits, take a deep breath and clear your mind so you can focus on the specific issue you are facing and determine its magnitude.  It’s hard to think during a crisis, particularly if people are injured or killed. Use the simple guide you’ve already developed to help you focus on steps that need to be taken.
  2. Next, gather the facts and develop key messages. Uncover the who, what, why, when and where of the crisis – without speculation, rumor or innuendo. Then, flesh out the basic messages regarding the situation.
  3. Third, identify key audiences (investors, employees, customers, any government officials, media, etc.) that need to be informed. You can tailor your messages to the relevant audiences based on what is most important to them. For example, if a crisis occurs that is not publicized by the media, you may still send a letter to employees explaining the situation. However, it’s always important to be prepared to respond if the press becomes aware of the situation, or you may choose to work with key members of the media to disseminate your message to a particular audience.
  4. Next, identify a limited number of spokespeople, ensure they are familiar with the issue and prepare them to deliver the key messages. Consistent messages are critical because they can minimize confusion and help an organization maintain credibility during an emergency or crisis situation. It’s essential that the spokesperson represent a unified voice for the company.
  5. Determine the most effective method of communicating to each audience. A letter or e-mail to employees may be the best way to handle an internal issue. However, if it is an issue with public consequences, you may decide to respond with a written or verbal statement delivered by an authorized spokesperson. When contemplating the method of communication, always consider the extent of the situation, the audience and the impact it may have on the company.
  6. Now, communicate. How, what and when you communicate to whom can affect the impact of the situation, positively and negatively. The quicker you communicate clearly to your selected audiences, the fewer rumors you have to dispel. Quickly communicate how the crisis will be resolved and what steps you will take to prevent it from happening again. If the resolution is a long process, offer some checkpoints as to when you’ll be   updating your target audiences about your company’s progress.
  7. After the initial response, remember to monitor the results of public statements. What is being reported? How are employees/customers/investors feeling about the crisis? Are your messages being delivered? Are questions being answered? If your messages are not clear, or are misinterpreted, you may need to adjust the statements accordingly. Stay on top of how the media reports the crisis. Be sure to correct factual errors quickly, so that they are not repeated. In the age of social media, it’s important to have a way of monitoring online chat and responding via selected channels if deemed appropriate.
  8. Assess initial reaction to the crisis and review new information. Once the heat of the moment subsides, the tendency is to move on to other business matters. While the end goal is to resume normal business operations, it is important to stay with a crisis situation until it has been resolved completely and there is no new information to report. Crises often evolve, so you should continue to review communications until the threat and discussion subside completely.
  9. Next, determine whether additional communication is needed. Think about employees, customers, investors and other audiences who may take comfort in receiving an official communication informing them that the situation is resolved.
  10. Finally, remember to evaluate the effectiveness of your crisis communications process by asking these questions:
    • How can we prevent this from happening again?
    • How can we improve the crisis/issues management process?
    • What went right? What went wrong?
    • How should we revise our guide based on what we’ve learned?
    • What did we need at our fingertips that wasn’t available?

This is where “I should have; I could have” comes in handy. Learn from each issue or crisis and apply those lessons to your ongoing planning process.

Remember, it takes years for a company to build a solid reputation and seconds to destroy it. When a crisis hits, the people involved in handling the fallout have very little time to think and often have difficulty thinking clearly, depending on the magnitude of what has happened.  Having a simple plan and following basic steps to communicate will help insure your company keeps its reputation intact no matter what type of crisis it is facing.

How to Engage Industry Influencers

Quality not quantity.  We’re all familiar with the principle and know it’s a proven discipline in so many aspects of life.  So why should this be any different in the new world of social marketing and PR 2.0.  Well it’s not.  Let’s face it, as good as it may feel having a lot of people “follow” or “like” you and/or your company, what’s the point of having 1,000 followers if only a handful are meaningful contacts?  Numbers for the sake of numbers won’t really yield the results you’re looking for long term.  It’s much more important to focus your time and attention on those who are seen as opinion leaders and influencers based on their knowledge, expertise, experience or notoriety.

A good recipe for “influencing the influencers” is to identify the most relevant people and develop an ongoing dialogue based on quality relations, innovative content and company credibility.

Here are few key tips to help you succeed at reaching your key influencers:

  • Target, target, target – Target a group of people who can offer the most bang for the buck rather than using a shot-gun approach of going after everyone that could be interested in your product or service. Do your homework to see which influencers are most relevant to your company and then build a strategy for maintaining consistent, meaningful dialogue with them.
  • Relationship building – media, blogger and analyst relations is just that.  Relations.  And we all know in human relations, people care when you care about them. When you’re targeting key influencers, it’s crucial to know as much as possible about your targets – their personal and professional backgrounds, online activities (Web site, social media), interests, likes, dislikes, etc. Then engage in meaningful and genuine dialogue through appropriate channels (including social media) – as well as be sure to craft your communications in light of their interests.  You’ll be amazed at the response.
  • Tell your story through the mouth of customers – as much as your relationship with influencers is important, they’d still rather hear your story through the mouth of a customer.   Without doubt customer testimonials can greatly enhance the credibility of your company and result in increased sales and media coverage. When customers talk favorably of your product or service, they send a free, believable and targeted marketing message. Customer endorsements can be used in a variety of marketing mediums: media/analyst outreach, collateral, thought leadership events, social media and/or inclusion on the website. For more tips on leveraging customer testimonials, see reference Tried and True PR Strategies for a Prosperous 2010.
  • Innovative programs: With the amount of online chatter and competition for the attention of key influencers, you can’t afford to be boring or depend on “me too” programs.  Thinking outside the box is absolutely essential and key to getting these influencers on board with your company.  Look for resources that can execute marketing/PR campaigns that go beyond the “cookie cutter” approach to deliver fresh ideas and tactics that will get people to listen and make conversations happen.

It may be 2010, but the simple fact is not much has really changed in terms getting the attention of influential media/bloggers. You need to know who you are targeting and build the relationship based on genuine interest and by providing these influencers with a good story/content that will help them succeed at their job.