Thursday, April 29, 2010

Be Patient and Persevere

And now, a bit of a change up for you all.  Just a few days ago, I posted an entry called BE Aggressive.  Now, you look at the title of today's entry titled "Be patient..." and you might be wondering, "what in the world is going on?"

Never fear, I'm here to explain.  You see aggressiveness and patience in public relations aren't mutually exclusive.  You can be aggressive in your outreach to media outlets and on various social media platforms, but at the same time, you have to temper your aggressiveness with patience and realistic expectations in order to be truly successful.

Too often I have dealt with clients who simply roll out a singular public relations push or try a social media plan and then get immediately frustrated when their efforts don't show immediate results.  Like advertising, there has to be a long-term plan involved and you have to either stick with the plan or make tweaks along the way in order for you plan to have a real impact to your bottom line.

I bring this up for a couple of reasons.

1.  My local football team is driving me nuts (explanation to soon follow)
2.  An interesting story a colleague of mine related to me recently

Let's tackle the first reason.  I know, it may not sound like it fits, but bear with me.  We all follow different sports teams, even if you don't like football, you might be a fan of baseball or basketball or even, gasp, soccer.  Let's look at the teams that are generally successful.  They are the teams that have an established identity, they have a plan, they stick with that plan, sometimes to the bitter end.  Even teams with bad plans generally are more successful than teams with no plan at all.

Public Relations is a Team Sport:

Take the Pittsburgh Steelers, for example.  They're not my team, but I respect them very much as an organization that has proven to be very stable and one that understands its identity.  They play mean, tough, hard-nosed football.  They run on offense and hit you in the mouth on defense.  They've played that way for as long as I can remember.  On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the 49-ers who played swift, finesse, high scoring offense while having a defense that was generally good but not great.  Nevertheless, they were great teams.

Two teams with completely different plans, two teams that have experienced a great deal of success over the years.

Here's something that good teams, in any sport DON'T do:  They don't scrap a plan after a year or two.  They see it through.  They give the plan a real chance to succeed or fail.  Good teams don't change head coaches and general managers every two years because the "plan" isn't working.

Good teams have a vision, they have a plan and they have patience.  For instance, ask the 1979 49-ers if it was a good idea to keep head coach Bill Walsh after a dismal season.  Or how about the 1989 Dallas Cowboys after new head coach Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 with a new QB.  Or maybe last years Saints, who won the SuperBowl after a subpar 2008.  The fact is, all of these teams had a vision and a plan that they believed in and they were patient enough to see that plan to its fruition.

Let's face it, running a small business or non-profit is a bit like a team sport.  You need talent, you need hard workers, stars and role players.  You need a smart general manager and a quality coach.  But you also have to have a vision and a plan.  This is where your communications plan comes into play.

Certainly there will be slow times and bad times, there always are.  But your vision and your belief in your plan will see you through these dark times.  Having a communications plan, both PR and social media will play a major part of that vision and plan, or at least it should.  Knowing how you are going to market yourself and get the word out to potential customers should be at or near the top of your priority list.

A Plan, An Identity, A Vision:

But if you change your plan completely at the first sign of trouble, you can do more damage than you might imagine.  Staying with a communications plan can help you build an identity, it can help you stay focused on a direction instead of trying a million different things and getting nowhere.  Constant change confuses and frightens potential customers.  They won't know who you are or what you're about.  Yes it takes time to build an identity, you don't just roll out a logo and catchprase and suddenly you have an identity, but that identity built over time will help you in tough times.

I say all this because my team, the Denver Broncos have been very frustrating to me.  For the longest time, Denver had an identity, a potent offense that won more than it lost.  Now, under a new head coach, that plan, that vision, that identity is changing.  I haven't bought into it, not at all.  But the new regime clearly has a plan and a vision, even if I don't seem to see it or agree with it.  So even as frustrated or upset as I can be about the changes to my favorite team, as much as I dislike the head coach, I have to give these guys at least three years, if not four, to let the plan and vision play out.

This also speaks to another important element; listening and responding.  One of my biggest frustrations with the new Bronco regime is that they don't seem to listen to anyone outside of the room and they don't seem to have any intention of letting the fans in on their plan.  This leads to anger, resentment and confusion among fans.  Think of sports fans as current customers and employees.  Both are vital to your success.

This leads us to an important fact:  In order to be successful, you should let your "team" in on your vision and your plan if you want them to buy in.  Now, I don't work for the Broncos, but I do support them.  So I feel as if I, and all other fans, are a part of the team.  It's hard to buy into a plan when it's so secret, and it looks like a carbon copy of similar plans that have failed so miserably in other places.  That's a second important factor to take into consideration.  It's okay, it's a good idea in fact, to look at other successful plans and incorporate them into your own plan.  But don't just try to copy the other plan.  Be your own person, make it your own.  Adapt it to fit into your philosphy and your company's culture.  Otherwise, you're just copying and not really doing anything innovative with your plan.  Also remember that what worked for one organization may not exactly work for yours.

Here are some tips you should keep in mind when creating your PR and social media plan:

1.  Be patient - I can't stress this enough.  It takes time for things to come to fruition.  You probably won't see the fruits of your efforts for a few months, but that doesn't mean it's not working.  Don't give up on a plan simply because you didn't see a spike in sales overnight.

2.  Assemble a team - Take advantage of the talent you have around you.  Find the volunteers or employees that you feel confident enough in to help out with your plan.  You can't do it all by yourself, it takes a village, you know.

3.  Don't just be a copycat - Go ahead and create a plan that resembles successful PR and social media plans from other organizations.  But then tweak it to fit your organization's culture, needs and goals.  Also take into consideration the people you have to work with.  Don't try to make a square peg fit a round hole.

4.  Communicate - Funny that we should have to mention this in an entry about a communications plan, but even some of the best PR people I know have trouble communicating sometimes.  Let your employees and customers know what your plan is.  This will allow them to feel as if they are part of the plan and they will buy in, or at the very least they will give you a chance to see if it will work.

5.  Adjust, don't overhaul - Three months into your plan, you might start to see where you're plan isn't as successful as it should be.  Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Instead of scrapping the plan entirely, take a look at it and see if there are some simple adjustments that can be made to strengthen the overall plan.  You don't have to completely change direction when it's likely only a few tweaks will get the job done instead.

I leave you with this final story:

A friend of mine works for a PR agency in Los Angeles.  He's frustrated because he's dealing with clients and a boss who simply don't seem to understand PR.  Just yesterday he received an email wondering why he hadn't been able to contact a specific reporter.  My friend replied that he'd emailed several times and placed several phone calls, leaving several messages.

All in vain so far.  But the client wants to know if he's working hard enough, which nearly exploded the head of my buddy.  Listen, you can only do so much.  As I've said before, PR is a risky venture.  There are no guarantees.  It takes time to reach out to a reporter, to build a rapport with them and get on their list of immediate "call backs". 

You'll run into the same problems when you start handling your own PR efforts.  You'll make phone call after phone call and sometimes, they'll never call you back.  There are just some reporters who never do.  At some point, you cut your losses and move on.  This isn't a reflection of failure on you or even an indictment about the quality of your story.  Some reporters simply are impossible to reach. 

You have to be patient, whether you're doing your own PR or if you've hired someone to do it for you, you have to understand that there will be times when some reporters won't respond, period.  It's easy to get frustrated when a reporter doesn't respond or doesn't pick up a story you think is quality.  But don't get angry, and be patient.  Chalk it up to a singular failed effort and move on to other reporters that will respond or pick up the story.  Focusing too long on one reporter or a couple of specific reporters will hinder your overall PR efforts.

Again, it's a bit like sports.  I have always thought of PR kind of like baseball.  in baseball, if you fail 60-percent of the time, you're in the hall of fame.  If you fail 70-percent of the time, you're an all-star. 

In PR, it's about the same.  You're going to fail more than you succeed.  For every yes you get, you'll hear 5, 6, 7 no's.  Those are the averages.  If you know that going in, you'll have a much easier time simply moving on to the next reporter pitch instead of dwelling on the rejections.

If you take the approach that being patient, while persevering with your overall plan, you'll find success WILL come your way.  Hey, it's what all the best teams are doing these days.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A journalist's plea for better PR

Pitching a media outlet certainly has it's pitfalls.  It's like a machine.  You have a lot of moving parts and if just one of those little gears or pulleys gets out of whack, it can ruin the entire effort.  Timing, character, story, newsworthines, concise and interesting pitch letter, correctly targeted individuals in correctly targeted outlets. 

Done correctly, the best you can do is give your story a chance, there's never a guarantee your story will be picked up.  There are other factors that you simply can't control that could undermine your efforts.  That's why doing it right is so important.  There's already enough stacked against you making a misstep along the way can ruin any chances you might have.

 Inside the modern newsroom
The News Gatekeeper:

With that said, I offer you this: an article written on a blog run by a professional journalist.  Misty Montano is an assignment editor at KCNC in Denver.  I've worked as an assignment editor (at KUSA) and believe me when I tell you it's the hardest job in the newsroom.  It also might be the most underappreciated.  You're swamped with requests from producers, listening to multiple scanners, keeping track of truck crews, reporters, photographers, scheduling satellite link-ups, reading faxes (seriously, some people still fax).  You get the idea, the assignment editor is busy, very busy.

Add to this their responsibility to constantly update the news files, fact check stories, contact potential interviews and stay on top of potential breaking news stories, you can understand why they might not have the time they'd like to spend reading each and every one of the hundreds of emails they receive every day. 

That's right, hundreds.  Hundreds upon hundreds.  These are emails from local authorities, charities, businesses, everyone who has a story to pitch, or a complaint to be made.  And the assignment editors have to go through each one. 

Why does this matter to you, the small business owner or non-profit?  Here's why:  The assignment editor is the gatekeeper of news for local media outlets.  You have to get through them most of the time just to get your story considered.  This is why I often pitch individual reporters and producers, not that they're easier marks, it's really a numbers game.  Get more than one set of eyes on your pitch and your chances increase.

The trick is getting those eyes to actually read your email.  This is where Misty's blog entry comes into play.  Here is an excerpt from the entry.  Click on this link to ragan.com to read the entire entry, it will definitely be worth your time:

Essential information

When the newsroom is buzzing and there’s no down time, I scan the e-mails when I can. I look at:

  • Who is sending the e-mail
  • E-mail subject
  • Content in body of e-mail
In seconds I make a decision to file the e-mail or delete it. If you make me search for the important information, Who, What, Where, Why, How, I will delete it. If that information is easily accessible I will immediately copy/paste the information into the appropriate planning file. If I don’t have time to file it, I will leave it in my inbox until I have the time.
I do NOT have the time to search through an e-mail to find out whether it’s of interest.  I may not even have the time to open an attachment, as happened this morning. If all your information is in an attachment and I’m slammed on the desk, I will delete it without opening the attachment.

So I beg of you, if you are e-mailing story pitches, make sure you put the pertinent information in the body of your e-mail. You may have the most gorgeous, cunning, clever press release ever attached to the e-mail, but I won’t see if it I don’t open it. I can’t stress enough that most likely I won’t have the time to take the extra step of opening it.

Subject, blank:

Misty brings up a very important point, actually TWO very important issues: subject line and attachments.  In order for journalists to even open your email, you have to add a subject line.  This matters because without it, they'll likely never even look at what your sending, they just don't have the time.

More importantly, you have to make sure that subject line is interesting enough to get them to open your email.  I tend to make sure the journalist knows that it's a story pitch.  Something like this:

STORY PITCH: local charity plans to save city millions.

This works because, 1) the journalist knows it's a story pitch and 2) the subject is at least interesting enough that they'll likely read the pitch letter.  Of course you have to make sure your actual pitch agrees with the subject line, otherwise you'll simply anger the journalist who will feel tricked.  Don't do that.  Make sure you subject and your pitch match up.

Put it in the body:

The second issue is just as important.  You've already heard how little time journalists have.  If you're lucky, and I've said this before, the journalist will read the first sentence or two of your pitch, maybe the entire pitch letter, provided it's interesting enough and short enough and gets to the point quick enough.

What they DON'T have time to do is open attachments.  If you're sending a press release, put it in the body of your email.  If you're sending a video, put it in the body of the email.  Whatever you want the reporter or producer or editor to read or see, make sure you put it in the video.

This is often one of the biggest mistakes I see clients make when handling their own public relations.  They assume that journalists, like most other folks, will take the time to open their attachments.  This is a false assumption.  This is a pretty simple rule to follow and one that will increase your chances of getting the story covered:

Don't make the journalist open an attachment, put all pertinent information in the body of the email.

It's that simple.  So there you have it.  You can put all of your time and effort into crafting your story, writing your release and pitch letter, timing it right and targeting the right people in the right outlets, but if you don't put in a good subject line or put your information in the form of an attachment, you will cripple your chances.

Alone, either one is enough to ruin your pitch, combined, it's a death knell.  Don't make these mistakes.  You put too much time into your PR efforts to let these issues foul up an otherwise good pitch.  They may seem like little things to you, but to a journalist under the pressures of the newsroom, they matter, and they should matter to you as well.

Monday, April 26, 2010

BE Aggressive, B-E-aggressive!

Welcome to this glorious Monday edition of Real Public Relations!  Hope you all had a productive and prosperous weekend.  But, as is always the case, the sun sets, the sun rises, we party on Saturday and, inevitably, Monday morning rolls back around and we all have to get back to the grindstone.

For most, that means dealing with customers, clients, planning for events, creating presentations, attending meetings.  But there's one thing that everyone involved in social media campaigns ought to be doing, regardless of the day of the week; agressively using your various platforms to raise your profile and increase your online footprint.

A lot of you might think you're already being aggressive in your social media efforts.  But, chances are, you could be doing more.  Luckily, doing more doesn't necessarily have to mean setting aside more time than you have already alotted. 

Reach out and touch someone...but, you know...in a good way.

Grow, Grow, Grow!

Let's take a look at three primary platforms; Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  For some, being aggressive on Facebook means posting a status every day, and commenting on other posts regularly.  This is fine, and it keeps your profile in front of your friends already linked to you. 

But if your goal is to expose your organization to as many individuals as possible, this strategy won't cut it.  You have to actively search out groups, fellow organization and people, either in your vicinity or simply interested in your kind of service or product, in order to widen your circle of friends.  Take a look at the folks in your circle who have 1,000 or more friends.  Chances are these friend-grabbing folks are people with a business or service and they are trying to get out a specific message to the masses.  An example of this would be my friend Andrew Hudson, who has already surpassed the 5,000 limit imposed by Facebook and has now opened a correlating fanpage. 

The question is, how do these people amass such large numbers of friends and in this case, is quantity better than quality?  Let's address those two questions separately.  First, quantity is NOT better than quality.  If you feel more comfortable with 1,000 friends who you are fairly certain provide value to your efforts, then go with that.  But there IS a value in quantity and here's why. 

When you make a post to your Facebook page, every single one of your friends gets that post.  Imagine being able to post an ad, or a message or an update and immediately you are guaranteed to reach at a minimum of five-thousand sets of eyes and ears.  Now, imagine that it is almost guaranteed that at least a percentage, even if it's a small percentage, of those people will forward your contect to others within their own circle of friends, thus you are exposed to another group of individuals.  That 5,000 could easily triple or double within a matter of hours or even minutes.  And you've now reached 10, 15, 30 thousand people without spending a dime of money. 

Quantity or Quality?

So how do you gather that kind of quantity without giving up on your standard of quality?  The answer is be aggressive in your outreach.  You have to actively go out and find other people who you believe fit into your audience.  Go find a group that caters to your target audience and join it.  Then start friending people from that group.  It's like sales.  Not everyone will accept you as a friend, but if you send out 100 friend requests and only ten percent accepts, that's ten new people you have reached. 

Also, understand that it takes time.  Set a goal for yourself as you start, say, ten new friends a week.  If you can meet that goal, you'll exceed the five thousand mark in less than a year.  And that's assuming you only stay at ten friends a week.  Your content will go a long way to helping you build your circle.  If you post something that is particularly thought-provoking, or interesting or useful, there's a good chance others in your circle will repost or share it and some new folks will see your content and request to be friends with you. 

There is a point where the number of friends takes on a life of its own.  In other words, once you reach a place where you have enough friends sharing and reposting your content, it will be exposed to so many new people that the numbers will seemingly begin to grow by themselves.  You will still need to post quality content, but you won't have to be as aggressive on a regular basis.

The same concept works for your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts as well.  Set goals and go out and find people to befriend.  Send a message, let others know you are out there.  It's so much easier online than in person, because you simply have to send a short message and hit send.  Twitter is perhaps the easiest platform to build friends simply because, most of the work is being done by you.  Spend 30 minutes ploughing through the groups and friends lists of others already on your list.  Start following them and then sit back and wait to see what happens.

You can follow up to 50 new people a day if you wanted to, and, like Facebook, if even just ten percent of those folks return the favor and follow you, that's five new followers a day.  Extrapolate that across even the course of a month and you've suddenly found yourself with a boatload of followers and friends across three different platforms.  You'll be reaching different audiences, different groups of people, but in the end, you easily could reach up to 100,000 sets of eyes on any given day depending on your content. 

To put that in perspective, that's larger than the even the highest rated prime time local newscast in most cities.  Suddenly you're your own network.  The effort is worth it and once you start reaching those kinds of numbers, again, the growth will become exponential. 

We're not even talking viral here, because this will be a network built on content, not a one time funny video.  By the way, this type of strategy can also be implemented on other platforms such as YouTube, Flickr and with your blog.  This is really one instance of do unto others in action.  If you take the time to follow other blogs, subscribe to others YouTube channel, follow on Twitter or friend request on Facebook and LinkedIn, you'll start to see others do the same to you.

The Time Factor:

Now, I can hear you saying, "Sure, this makes sense, but I just don't have the time!"  I hear you and I get it.  But you should already be putting aside some time on a daily basis to tend to your social media efforts.  Most of that time should be spent focusing on your content, but maybe add ten minutes a day if you can to spend aggressively reaching out to others on your platforms and joining groups that fit with your message.

This is also where interns can really help out.  You can allow them to log into your account and spend a half hour a day going online to grow your circle of friends.  There's very little danger here to giving up this kind of control to a volunteer or employee or intern.  Even if they whiff on a couple of their friends selections, you can always come in later and make those few adjustments.  Give them a clear guideline of what kind of audience you're looking for, make sure they understand what you're strategy is and let them go forth and conquer.

In the end, we're talking about growing your network and circle.  The larger your network is, the more people your content and message is going to reach.  That's why, in this case, quantity isn't a bad word.  It will never trump quality, but when dealing with social media, quantity does play a major role in your growth and in raising your profile. 

So get out there and be aggressive, spend a little extra time and reach out to as many people as possible.  You won't be disappointed. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Charity and Public Relations

There was some excellent response to yesterday's entry, thank you to everyone who responded.  If I can just revisit it for a second, I want to make one final point about shopping for a public relations/communications firm for your small business or non-profit.

I read an interesting article today about not throwing your money away on a PR firm when starting a new business.  It was on the Bnet website, a site specifically for businesses.  Click on the link to read the entire article.

I was all prepared to go to battle on this article.  I figured it was a slash and burn story on the idea of PR in general.  Then I read the story.  In essence, it's more along the lines of what I wrote yesterday.  To be fair, the story was written from the point of view of a business owner who had been fleeced and disappointed by PR firms in the past.  But as I got to the bottom, the author had advice for small businesses who need good PR. 

Here is a sample of her tips:
  1. Pay for results, not time. One company I know pays for column inches, another by the number of mentions in online and traditional media. This keeps everyone highly focused.
  2. Use a virtual agency. A newer model for PR and advertising is the virtual agency that coordinates a network of gifted freelancers. With no expensive real estate to cover and no deadbeats, they have to keep busy. They can assign specialists to your needs at a lower project cost or retainer.
  3. Build awareness through social networks. That way, you’re building an asset — the network — that you own and whose intelligence you can leverage indefinitely. If you don’t know how to do this, send your marketers to some courses.
  4. Integrate PR into your overall strategy. Don’t treat it as an add-on late in the day. If your products or services aren’t distinctive, no PR company will save you.
I actually agree with three of the four tips.  Numbers 2-4 make sense.  I continue to disagree with #1.  When you pay for placements, your business will be passed over on the priority list for other companies that pay cash up front.

More to the point, though, I agree with the theme of the article in general.  In order to find success when partnering with a PR firm, you have to find an agency that meets your needs.  Again, it's like a relationship.  You have to love them and they have to love you.  Yes, there might be spats along the way, but often times those spats will lead to bigger and better things.

Using a virtual agency is also a good idea, as is using social media and integrating your communications strategy into your overall strategy.  Good ideas all.  But in the end, even if you have a great strategy, if the agency you work with doesn't meet your needs, however large or small, you both will fail.  Don't get an agency that will charge your for things you don't need.  Find an agency that can work with you to fill the holes left open because you are either too busy or simply don't have experience to do certain things.  Today, you don't have to find an agency to do it all for you.  You can if that's what you want or feel you need.  But as a small business or non-profit, you can do a lot of the heavy lifting yourself.  That means finding an agency that can come in and do the work you can't or don't want to do. 

Now onto our regularly entry:

I want to talk a little bit about corporate social responsibility.  I know, you might be asking yourself, "what does that have to do with public relations and communications?"  I'll tell you.  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become one of those catch phrases that has industry people all abuzz.

But what exactly is CSR?  Simply put, it's a strategy adopted by a corporation or business designed to reach out into communities to become involved in social issues of the day.  Of course, most corporations shy away from really polarizing issues such as abortion, politics, racism; and for good reason. 

Most CSR programs focus on the environment currently, but a few more recent campaign have targeted small businesses.  Of course there's also helping the homeless, feeding the needy and improving education.  All of these are viable and legitimate social issues, and companies across the country are taking advantage of the excellent press that comes with diving into the fray and doing what they can to help charities that focus on those issues.

The current Coca-Cola campaign, where they give away millions of dollars to everyday joe's with good ideas is, in my opinion, a brilliant campaign.  It combines social consciousness with a call to action and interactivity.  By letting the world vote on which ideas gets the grants, Coke has funnelled literally millions of people to their site and exposure to their product.  Plus, by opening the door to any and all ideas, they don't tie themselves to any single social issue.  Finally, they will reap the benefits of this campaign for years as some of these ideas will likely grow into very successfull businesses or non-profits, resulting in even more media coverage down the road.

Of course, you don't have millions of dollars to hand out willy-nilly to every good idea that crosses your doorstep.  Very few organizations do.  But that doesn't mean you can't still capitalize on good works and charity efforts by you organization.

It's Not Easy Being Green:

But beware, there are pitfalls to jumping blindly into a social responsibility campaign.  First, it has to be something you truly believe in.  You will likely alienate some people no matter what charity or issue you choose to support, you can't help that.  The best you can do is to not politicize it.  Take a look at my good friend's blog, PR By DeVol, it's in the sidebar of blogs I follow.  It has a great lesson about keeping politics out of your communications efforts and your business in general.  Simply by choosing an issue, you will be making a statement, so be aware some customers may not be on board with your choice.

You can either invest time or money to your outreach efforts.  You have to do one or the other.  For most small businesses I recommend investing time.  You can certainly throw money at a problem, but that won't buy you much good PR.  But by actually volunteering at a soup kitchen, or actually creating a fundraiser you will get much better press, plus you'll be out in public, meeting people face to face.  You can't beat that kind of outreach.

You can build a great image through social responsibility efforts within your community if done correctly.  You will also be able to garner some media coverage and, of course, you can publicize your efforts on your social media platforms forever.  Online, you can make it a true cause and make your CSR efforts part of your overall image.  This will help you create an identity and reach a larger potential audience than you otherwise might have.

Here are tips for small businesses when considering starting a CSR campaign:

1.  Find something you believe in - I can't stress this enough.  Whatever issue or charity you decide to support, it HAS to be something that you feel strongly about.  I can't stress this enough.  You will receive questions from customers and potential customers about your choice.  You have to be able to answer these questions honestly and passionately.  Even those who don't like your choice, will at least respect you for your passion.  Plus, if your efforts don't result in the kind of PR you hoped for, at least you'll be supporting something you care about.

2.  Think bigger than money - Most people will just write a check to support their favorite charities.  Some will simply plunk a dollar into a Santa bucket at Christmastime.  But you have a real chance to make a difference.  Listen, part of this effort is to raise your profile and get good PR.  If that's part of your strategy, then really go for it.  Host a benefit concert, throw a party to raise funds, open your own soup kitchen at the holidays.  Be proactive and come up with fun and unique ideas to raise interest not only in your business, but the charity as well.  By hosting community events, you'll get your name out to potential customers, plus you'll get to meet them face to face.  There is no better way to engender goodwill and build brand loyalty than to have them see you actively working out in the community.

3.  Don't make it about you - Let's be honest.  It IS about you and your business.  But you don't want your efforts to look that way.  People will be turned off if you're constantly beating your own drum saying "hey, look at us!  Look at what we're doing!"  When you pitch your story, make it about the event, the fundraiser, the issue, the charity not about your business.  You want your organization to be part of the story, not THE story.  This holds true when doing a community fundraiser.  Talk about the issue or the charity, don't spend all of your time trying to sell your company.  People will see you, they will appreciate your efforts and they will remember. 

4.  Use your social media -  You will get some coverage from your local media, particularly if you're supporting an issue that is high profile.  But you can only get so much newspaper and TV coverage.  After a while they'll look at your efforts as an old story, UNLESS you keep coming up with new and unique methods of raising funds, which is always a possiblity.  But CSR is a GREAT tool for social media.  You can support the charity, even various charities that focus on the same issue.  You can post entries that discuss the issue and give a call to action on a regular basis.  You may not generate a lot of funds this way, but you WILL get your name out there in front of a lot of potential customers in a way that generates interest. 

5.  Don't just do it at the holidays - EVERYBODY supports a charity at the holidays.  Small businesses everywhere jump on board to raise money and help the needy.  But there's only so much local media outlets can do to cover these stories.  With limited resources, they just can't get everyone covered.  But if you support a charity or cause, do it all year long.  That will open the door to coverage all year, you can host fundraisers at any time and garner media interest at a time when not everyone is pushing a CSR effort.  Plus, you will have much more legitimacy with the public when they see you are a full time supporter, not just a once a year johhny come lately.

Non-Profits Win, Too:

For the non-profits out there wondering how this can benefit them, here's how.  Partnerships.  As non-profits, you are probably used to going it alone.  You'll go out and round up grants as you can, but often times I see my non-profit clients missing a key element of a successful strategy.  There are thousands of small businesses out there who are looking for non-profits to partner with. 

It can be a very symbiotic relationship if done correctly.  You get the support of a small business, and they get to help a cause they believe in while raising their profile within the community.  I often go looking for good business/non-profit partnerships when dealing with a client.  You will be able to reach new audiences and potential new cusotmers for the business, and potentially new donors and volunteers for the non-profit.

Like media partnerships, charity and small business partnerships can be very, very successfull.  So get out there and find a cause to support.  Just be aware of the pitfalls and the investment you'll have to make in time, if not money.  It can be a huge boon to your bottom line, just make sure it's something you believe in.  That way you win regardless of what happens.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

You Have Chosen...Wisely

We're taking a little bit of a different approach for this entry.  Generally we love to tell you things you should do to improve your public relations or social media campaign.  RPR enjoys offering tips and building lists designed to make your efforts more successful.

Today, however, we're going in the other direction.  This isn't to say that you won't learn something.  Many times you can learn from failure.  Unfortunately, any kind of failure for a small business or non-profit can be devastating.

This is why we're here to show you the failures of others, so you don't have to, you know, actually experience the failure yourself.  Kind of like the way Germany should have looked back at Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia.  Learn from the mistakes of others, my mother always would say.

Don't Do This:

Anyway, today we're looking at some of the common mistakes organizations make when hiring a public relations firm, or making a PR push.  A lot of these mistakes and misconceptions are understandable.  But, as always, we here at RPR are willing to walk you through the land mines of PR and social media so you come out the other side, smarter, wiser and unscathed.

The idea for this entry came from an article I read at Entrepreneur.com.  I'm going to give you the overview, but as always, you can click on the link for the full article.  Here is the opening paragraph from the article, as I think it sets up the list quite nicely:

"Brand awareness, thought leadership, increased executive visibility, crisis communications preparedness . . . the laundry list of reasons companies should hire PR representation goes on and on, and a capable agency should provide all this and more. The decision to hire an agency should not be taken lightly and there are some common are pitfalls that should be avoided to ensure success. From unscrupulous agencies to recognizing your own misguided preconceptions; here are seven reasons you should not hire a PR agency."

In essence, the article isn't saying to NOT hire a pr agency.  It's simply pointing out that sometimes the reasoning behind hiring a specific agency can be misguided.  In other words, the author says these are stupid reasons to hire an agency, I call them mistakes and misconceptions:

1.  You want to be on Oprah
2.  You want to spend less time on PR
3.  The agency is willing to take equity in lieu of cash
4.   It's the cheapest agency you could find
5.  The agency gets paid on a per placement basis
6.  The agency is guaranteeing a minimum number of placements
7.  You want media placement within 30 days.

Now on the surface, these might not seem like bad reasons to hire a specific agency.  But each and every one of those reasons can be a pit of despair for the small business or non-profit that uses these guidelines to determine which agency they are going to hire for their PR and social media needs.

Expectations, Patience, Cash:

Okay, it doesn't have the same ring as "Money, Guns and Lawyers," but expectations, patience and cash almost always will play a major role in determining which agency a small business or non-profit decides to sign with.

Usually, it's a matter of too little patience, too little cash and too high of expectations.  These three things combined can lead a small business and non-profit to make mistakes when choosing an agency to handle their communications.  Certainly your budget and timeline should play into the decision, and you should have expectations, but don't let these things be the entire deciding factor in your decisions.

Let's take a look at each of these things briefly and figure out ways to overcome these common mistakes.

1.  The Oprah factor -  Listen, we understand you have expectations, dreams and goals.  It's okay to want to be on Oprah someday.  Just like I'd like to be as rich as Gates someday, or live in the Playboy mansion.  I'm not saying it will never happen, but let's rethink our goals for a second.  You don't just show up at a PR firm and say, "I'd like to be on Oprah" and assume you'll be chatting with the Queen of daytime TV within a month.  A good PR firm will be honest with you.  They won't tell you to scrap your dream, but they'll temper your excitement with honesty and present you with some more realistic goals.  A very good agency will sit down and try to come up with a roadmap to someday, maybe, get on Oprah's show.  At the same time, they'll be realistic and let you know that the odds against that are astronomical.

Advice:  Look for the agency that won't ridicule your dream, but at the same time is realistic and honest and will help you set a series of goals that MIGHT, if the stars align, get you on the show, but in the meantime provides you with a solid PR and social media effort.

2.  Spending less time on PR - The Entrepreneur article accurately points out that a good agency will actually make you spend more time on your PR and social media eforts.  If they do their job right, you'll be spending time doing interviews and interacting online through your social media efforts, blogs and such.  Here's what you DON'T want in an agency.  You don't want them to be constantly nagging you with every little aspect of your campaign.  It's not about you spending less time on your efforts, it's about spending more quality time. A quality agency will look at your schedule, and, once a plan is in place, will establish a schedule to meet with you and have some autonomy to make decisions. This way you're  not being bothered by every little detail, but making final decisions once the agency has done most of the gruntwork.

Advice:  Look for an agency that won't promise you less time on your PR and social media efforts.  Instead, look for an agency that will promise you the time spent on your efforts will be quality, not wasted time.  You want your agency to help you maximize your efforts.  Set up a schedule of regular meetings and make the meetings and conversations as efficient as possible.  In other words, efficiency is better than less time spent.

3.  The pricing issue -  This actually covers two areas on the list: 1) the agency will take equity in lieu of cash, and 2) The agency is the cheapest you can find.  We understand that you need to work within a budget.  You understand that sometimes PR and social media services aren't cheap.  But trying to get things done at the lowest price possible generally ends up poorly for small businesses and non-profits.  You pay for quality.  But that doesn't mean you have to break your budget for quality PR and social media campaigns.  In equity cases, the article correctly notes that agencies will always place cash paying customers at the top of their priority list.  You take a risk in going this route.  At the same time, the more money a customer pays, the higher they go on the list as well.

Advice:  Don't just look for the cheapest option when looking for an agency.  Most agencies charge you for services you don't need.  Take a look at what you want to accomplish with your PR and social media efforts.  Then figure out what you can do yourself and do well.  Maybe there are 20 items that are necessary to execute for your efforts to be successful.  But maybe you can only do 8 of those things well and within your time constraints.  Look for an agency that won't need to handle the entire campaign, but fill in the holes that you really need help with.  That keeps your costs lower and assures you of quality work in those areas you might be weak in.  Plus, if you ever get in a bind, you'll have an agency there to help back you up.

4.  Media placement guarantees - Again, we tackle two issues here.  1) The agency is paid on a per placement basis, 2) The agency guarantees a specific number of placements.  The articl points out that any agency making gaurantees is probably not the agency you want to be with.  Sure, they may end up placing you in 5 outlets, but are those outlets really the ones that will help grow your business?  Maybe, but not likely.  This is another instance of quality over quantity.  If an agency is being paid on a per-placement basis, once again you'll probaby be shuttled down the priority list as they focus on clients who are paying cash up front fro their work.

Advice:  If an agency guarantees you media placements, run away, fast.  Here are the facts:

•  Public relations and social media are inexact sciences.  There are techniques, but sometimes you just get unlucky.  No matter how good a story may be, extenuating circumstances may preclude your story from getting picked up.  No one can change that fact.

•  getting five hits in outlets that have nothing to do with your product or service, or doesn't reach your audience does nothing for your organization.  Your'e throwing away good money and time in this case.

•  There simply are no guarantees in PR and social media.  Even the best campaigns sometimes fall flat.  That's no reason to get frustrated.  Look at the quality of the work the agency did and make a decision based on that.  If they did a great job, but you didn't get hits, they'll feel as crappy about it as you do, honest.  But those efforts can be built upon as you move forward.

Look for an agency that does good work and let's you know up front that regardless of how good a campaign is put together and executed, your results may not be what you hoped.  This is an agency that is honest from the start and an agency you want to do business with.

5.  Fast Media Placement - Again, this is a matter of quality over quantity.  Like the above example, an agency might be able to place you within 30 days, but it likely won't be in the outlets that will really help you.  It takes time to create a PR and social media strategy.  Then, once the strategy is set, it takes time to get up and running.  Give them time to set up your various social media platforms, do the research on your organization, look for stories, create video elements, establish your message and conversations strategies and the collateral that goes with them.  There are things like press kits, bio's, photos, timing issues and targeting that needs to be done before a campaign can begin to really take effect.  This is why I've always tried to work with a three month minimum.  It can take a month to get the campaign organized and coherent enough to make a serious pitch.  The first month of the campaign will help establish some facts that will help in tweaking messages and content and confirm the direction the campaign is going.  The third month will tell you if the campaign is working.  By that time, you should have hits and start to see an uptick in responses and, hopefully, business.

Advice:  Look for an agency that has a long term plan.  If they tell you they can get your campaign hits within 30 days, be wary.  Maybe they can, but make sure that the hits are in the outlets that YOU have targeted, not just some random media placements.  You want an agency that takes its time to do things right, but doesn't drag their feet.  Testimonials and references will help in this arena.  Talk to some previous clients and get a sense of how the agency works.  This will tell you whether or not they can really get you viable placements within 30 days.  The biggest word of advice, though, is to have patience and work smart.

Personality Matters:

Ultimately you also have to find an agency you're comfortable with.  Some agencies have a culture that is vastly different from the culture within your organization.  If your organization runs a little looser and is a little more happy-go-lucky, then an agency that is tight laced might not mesh with you.

When you hire an agency, you're establishing a close relationship.  It's like dating.  You don't marry the first girl, or guy, that comes along, you play the field until you find the right one.  In the same vein, don't sign up with the first agency you come across.  Make sure your personalities mesh.  Make sure you both have the same ideas when it comes to important things like strategy, timing, placements, content and cooperation.

You have to feel comfortable with them, and they with you.  So look for an agency that understands your issues and who you really want to work with.  If you do that, you'll both find success.  And isn't that the whole point to this in the first place?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On The Cover of the Rolling Stone!

A rose is a rose by any other name.  This poetic ditty may hold true for flowers, but sadly, it doesn't necessarily hold true when it comes to public relations.  In other words, pitching isn't pitching isn't pitching. 

Another way to state that is this:  The way you pitch your story to one media outlet isn't necessarily the way you should pitch another media outlet.  If you have a story you're pitching to a local television news station, that particular pitch should appeal to the particular audience that the news station caters to. 

You'll also have to keep in mind the timing of the pitch, the visuals involved and, ultimately, the personal preferences of the individual producer, reporter or editor you're pitching to.  Heck, a pitch could vary form person to person within a single news organization, let alone different organizations.

As an example, I offer this situation.  

I recently pitched a client to several New York media outlets, including the NY Times, WNBC, WBCS, The NY Post, the NY Observer, as well as several network outlets.  For the NY Times alone I sent seven different pitches, appealing to the specific beats those reporters covered.  I didn't rewrite the entire release, I simply had to tweak each pitch letter to make sure the opening sentence caught their attention.  Each pitch letter had to address the particular nuances of their beat and areas of interest. 

The point is, you can't simply write a release and mass email it and expect journalists to beat down your door in an effort to cover your organization. 

This holds true if you're pitching a TV outlet or a print outlet.  It will matter if that print outlet is online, is published only once a week, or once a month or what kind of audience it services.  And, as I pointed out above, you won't only have to keep in mind the audience, publishing schedule or delivery method, but you'll also have to keep in mind timing, which is so very important and can vary greatly from outlet to outlet.

But this is all stuff that we've covered in one form or another in older posts.  I just wanted to rehash this information as a bit of a refresher, because today, we take on the beast we in public relations call, "Magazine Pitching". 

Unlike pitching a daily newspaper or tv news outlet, pitching a magazine is way more involved in terms of research, preparation and lead time.  This is where experience, networking, relationships and knowledge of your audience becomes vital to your pitching success.

I have been published in various magazines and let me tell you, it wasn't easy to get those articles into print.  In every single case, writing the actual story was ten times easier than actually getting an editor to agree to publish.  Here's why:

1.  Magazines rarely employ full time writers.  They generally have a small staff of editors and some writers, but for most magazines, their content comes from freelancers. 

2.  Magazines tend to be very niche oriented.  In other words, you story may be very good, but it may not fit in exactly with the kinds of story they believe their audience wants to read. 

3.  Most magazines have lead times of up to six months.  This means you have to have a story idea ready to go and be able to pitch it up to six months in advance.

4.  Most magazines tend to work with individuals they have experience with and trust.  While this may sound like a lot of media outlets, daily newspapers and tv newscasts simply have to push out way too much content to rely solely on a handful of trusted sources.  Because of this, they are always on the lookout for new, reliable sources, giving you a greater opportunity to break into one of these organizations.  Magazines, on the other hand, come out once a month, maybe twice a month, sometimes weekly.  In the first two cases, they can afford to be way more picky about who they work with.

5.  Most magazines are geographically out of reach.  In other words, unless you live in New York, Chicago or L.A., the chances of you being able to walk into their offices with donuts, pizza or a case of beer as a way to establish relationships is very slim.  It might work for your local outlets, but it's not really possible for magazines.  Plus, the fact that these outlets are based in those large cities, their focus tends to be on these cities and surrounding areas.  If you're in podunk Iowa or Kansas, you're just not on their radar.

It's Not Impossible:

Any one of these five reasons can be a formidable wall to try to overcome.  Put them together and pitching a magazine starts to seem like Ahab's White Whale; always there, taunting, menacing, but never quite within reach.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  There ARE ways to pitch magazines that will result in coverage and help boost your brand recognition and bottom line.

Before you do anything regarding magazine pitching you have to do a few things first, before all else:

•  Make a list of your dream magazines - This is your goal and your benchmark
•  Decide what audience you are trying to reach
•  Look ahead to any stories you might have coming up within the next six months

Now you get to fun part (sarcasm); the research.  This can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it.  The way I normally worked was to find a story first.  Based on that story, I would then start researching what magazines are out there that would be in the market for the story.  The next steps involved narrowing the list down to a manageable number, maybe ten, identifying specific reporters and editors to pitch and then I would go out and actually read those magazines to determine style and focus.  I would then try to determine what kind of lead time is involved in pitching the various magazines.

This process generally would take up to a week or two.  It CAN be a long process, so make sure you set aside some time when deciding to pitch a magazine.

You can approach a magazine pitch from two different angles.  First, you can pitch it as you would a regular story idea, or you could pitch it as a freelance writer.  In both situations you'll face different obstacles.

If you pitch it as a regular story, from a PR perspective, you'll be facing the daunting task of pitching to an organization that doesn't know you and will be leery of your story at first.  In this case, your story had better be fantastic, otherwise, you'll likely get a rejection letter.

If you pitch as a freelancer, you'll be asked to submit writing samples from previous published articles.  If you don't have any, you chances of having the story accepted is close to zero.  Again, this may seem daunting, but there are ways to work around all of these obstacles.

Let's start from the beginning and go step by step:

1.  Find your story.  You can't pitch anything until you have a good story in place.  Since magazines publish feature stories, you'll have to have all the elements of a good story such as a strong character, conflict, movement, relevance, impact and timeliness.

2.  Think globally, act locally.  Let me say this right from the start, while you may want to be in Forbes or Vogue or Time, you should put those ideas out of your mind at the beginning.  You can pitch them, you SHOULD pitch them if you think your story is good enough.  But your primary focus should be on smaller and local magazines in the beginning.

3.  Do your research.  Once you have your story fleshed out, start thinking about the magazines out there right now that might be interested in your story.  Go to the library, your local bookstore, go online and start making a list of all the magazines that fit your story idea.  Next to each title on your list, make a note of how this magazine reflects the audience you are going after.  Will your potential audience be reading this magazine?  If so, put a start next to it.

4.  Narrow down your list.  You'll likely end up with 30-50 magazines on your list.  That's too many.  Start narrowing it down using a set of criteria:
          •  Audience
          •  Lead Time
          •  size

5.  Prioritize.  Once you have the list narrowed down, start to assemble the magazines into an order that you choose.  You may choose to list them order of circulation size, or by chances of being accepted or by location.  This list will be used to determine how important each magazine is to you. The magazine at the top of this list should reflect the one you want to be in the most (of your narrowed list)

6.  Research the magazines.  Again, go to a bookstore or library or online and start reading these ten magazines.  Take a look at the style of the articles.  Are there sidebars or smaller articles in the mag?  Do they have specific themes for specific times of the year?  Do they focus on particular kinds of stories?  Are there any writers that you particularly like or dislike?  Make a note of all of these things.

7.  Find out the lead time.  Some magazines have this information in the pages of the mag itself.  Others have that information online, for others still, you have to request this information.  This is as simple as e-mailing a magazine and asking for a copy of their yearly calendar or submitting guidelines.  I would recommend sending an email to the editor asking for this information regardless, since you're only dealing with ten magazines and it's a good way to get your name in front of an editor before you even make a pitch.

8.  Figure out if you have time to pitch your story.  If not, move on to another magazine that will allow you to pitch your story within your established timeline.  This might narrow your list down even further.

9.  Identify specific individuals to pitch to.  Just like you would do with a newspaper or tv outlet, you should note the names and contact information for writers and editors to send your pitch to.

10.  Write your pitch letter and then follow up.  Because magazines work so far ahead in time, simply sending an email pitch doesn't get the job done.  Even if they like a story, you may get lost in the shuffle.  Once the email pitch is out, wait a couple of days and then follow up with an email to make sure they received your pitch.  If you don't get a response, then make your phone call.

Because these are magazines, you'll have to offer thoughts and ideas for visuals, you may even offer to provide photos yourself, depending on the magazine.  Make sure the editor knows if you are a freelance writer wanting to write the story yourself, or if you're pitching from a PR perspective.

It's Not About You:

In any pitch you make to a magazine, your story has to have a big picture feel about it.  In other words, it can't JUST be about your organization.  It has to be about an idea, a concept or new type of service or product.  Your organization, service or product will only be a part of a bigger story most of the time.  While you CAN get feature stories written solely on your organization, service or product, this is rare and you'll have a better chance if you pitch a larger picture story.

You can also break into magazines by offering information that would be useful for smaller articles, or sidebars.  A lot of times new freelancers break into magazines this way, by writing the smaller articles and sidebars.  The same thing can work for you pitching your small business or non-profit.

My personal hints are these:  

Start with smaller and local magazines when you start pitching magazines.  
Do your research diligently, know as much about the magazine you pitch as possible before actually pitching.
Keep your pitch letter short and to the point.  Use facts but don't overload with them.
Really focus on why your story is a good fit for their magazine.
Provide contact information and offer to provide them with whatever they need to make the story successful.  
Be flexible, be patient.  You might not hear from a magazine for weeks after you pitch, but that doesn't mean they don't like your story, they might come back a month later and tell you they want to publish.
Take a long term approach to your magazine pitching.  You can start small with local and smaller magazines, but keep your bigger dream magazines in sight.  Eventually, you will get there, it just takes a little time.

So that's it.  Yes, magazine pitching is one of the most difficult aspects of pitching and PR.  But there are so many magazines, both in print and online that you should be able to garner at least a few magazine hits if you follow the steps listed above, put together a good story and pitch and are methodical about your approach.

Magazines are a great way to reach large masses in one fell swoop, so there is real benefit to putting in the time and effort to get published in a magazine.  So get out there and pitch a magazine.  It's worth your time, especially if you end up on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Be Small, Act Big

One of the hardest things about owning a small business is constantly hustling to find new business.  For instance, I'm good at public relations and social media.  As a salesman, I'm like Jack Lemon in GlenGarry GlenRoss, I sweat a lot and I stutter and I lament that I'll be eating dog food if I can't make the next sale.

Okay, I exaggerate.  But I could certainly use some salesmanship courses.  The point is, part of going out and pitching new customers means always staying on top of new developments, new industry trends, facts, figures, etc.  As it happens, in the course of sending out a pitch to a potential client today, I was doing some research and stumbled on some fascinating and, honestly, mind-boggling statistics I thought I'd pass along to you all.

Some Stunning Numbers:

For all of you small businesses and non-profits out there, here are some numbers that hold some very real relevance to your bottom line: (NOTE - All of these figures come from the sites themselves, courtesy of the website, Econsultancy.  Click the link to see the entire post)

•  Facebook has over 300 million registered users.  Over half of those users log in at least once every 
   24 hours.

•  Twitter has 75 million registered users

•  LinkedIn has over 50 million registered members worldwide.  That's a 40% increase in less than 
   half a year

• Wikipedia has over 14 million articles published

•  Flickr has more than four BILLION images

• Facebook claims that more than 65 million users access the site through mobile devices.  That's over 
   a 100-percent increase in six months.

• As of January, 2010, Twitter says the average number of tweets per day was over 27 million

• More than 700,000 local businesses have active pages on Facebook

Take a look at that last number.  almost three-quarters of a million businesses have a Facebook page and are actively using it.  Are you among that number?  If not, you should be.

Perception IS Reality:

One of the biggest concerns I hear from clients is that there are so many businesses online that they feel they get lost in the shuffle.  This is a valid concern.  At least it would be if you didn't have exactly the same opportunities that everyone else does in terms of being active and generating buzz for your organization.  This is because the internet, social media, is a great equalizer.

In fact, you have the exact same opportunities that large companies like Coca Cola, Budweiser and Chase Bank have when it comes to utilizing your social media and raising your profile.  Yes, you probably don't have the kind of money they do to put together a major national advertising campaign, but very few organizations do. 

I can speak from experience when I say that you probably have an advantage over these organizations in terms of mobility, flexibility and opportunity.  Your size, as small as it may be, can work in your favor when it comes to social media, and here's how:

When I was working with Shell Oil, Kroeger's/King Soopers and Chase, one of the biggest obstacles to creating and implementing our public relations and crisis communications plans was their size and their red tape.  For instance, whenever we would want to implement a specific element of our PR push, we would have to submit our idea and plan, in writing to a local representative who then sent it to a regional representative for approval.  After that it would go to the national offices where it would be reviewed, edited and then would work its way down the ladder back to us in Denver. 

This was particularly annoying when dealing with Chase since the headquarters were overseas. Trying to implement a plan, or even make changes to plan was like moving an iceberg; slow and frustrating. 

You, on the other hand can make decisions quickly, implement plans almost immediately, make changes on the fly that will benefit your bottom line without having to spend weeks to get approval from every member of your organization. 

Online, Image Is Everything:

Now let's take a look at your online image:  When it comes to the large corporations, everyone is well aware of the size of those behemoths.  But when it comes to you, the average viewer isn't familiar with you or your organization.  And yet, people online have the potential of seeing your organization on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Digg and Reddit and in any number of various groups they may belong to.

Suddenly it doesn't matter that you might only employ five staffers.  What they see is  your presence all over the internet.  They'll be running into your fingerprints on the sites they use regularly.  Now your organization looks bigger than it really is.

You're not lying to anyone, you're not telling the world that you have a staff of hundreds.  What you ARE telling potential customers is that your organization is active and smart and aggressive.  This creates not only a big social media footprint for your organization, but also creates a big image.

Let's take a look at one final example of this in action.  The individual I wrote about yesterday, Andrew Hudson and his Jobs List is actually a fairly small organization.  But Andrew has a massive network and is active on various platforms, giving him and his list a very large footprint.

If one were to only look at Andrews social media activities, they might think that he's a large organization given the fact that his list has jobs from around the country, friends and followers located all over the U.S. and is active on many different platforms and groups. 

And yet, when it comes to implementing a plan, posting content and making decisions, Andrew is able to do all of these things quickly and with a single plan in mind.

Lean and Mean:

You are the face and the voice of your organization.  You know your business or non-profit better than anyone else.  This is your advantage over the "big boys".  Use your size to your advantage.  Be the single voice in the room that makes your social media and PR choices.  This isn't to say that you shouldn't solicit advice and insight from "experts" or friends.  But in the end, the final decision is yours, as it should be.

So be small.  Revel in it.  Rejoice in your small stature.  Because ulitmately, you DO have an advantage over the major corporations and your success, or failure will fall only on your shoulders, not the shoulders of a board or series of middle managers.  You're already thinking big by running your own business, why not act big as well.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Gettin' Things Done!

A funny thing happened on the way to this post.  I had a chance to see the power of social media in action, and man, was it impressive. 

I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with "Andrew Hudson's Job List."  It's a weekly email posting that goes out to thousands upon thousands of job seekers nationwide.  I've known Andrew Hudson for many years, having first met while I was working news for KOA radio and he was the hard-nosed, do-everything spokesperson for Wellington Webb, Denver's Mayor at the time.

Andrew went on to work public relations for large companies, and, in time, his tiny service of sending out a jobs list turned into a full time job.  Andrew is an accomplished Jazz musician and he does a lot of work for companies and non-profits around town. 

I'm not sure of the details behind this particular story, but here is what I know.  Last week, Andrew, through his Facebook page (Andrew's Job List) posted a plea for help.  It seems he had done some work for, or on behalf of, Elitch's, a local amusement park that until recently was part of the Six Flags empire. 

Elitch's owed Andrew money.  Here's where it gets interesting.  Andrew had apparently tried for nearly a year to collect the debt from Elitch's.  Here is the original posting from Facebook:

Andrew Hudson About Elitch Gardens - In the last year, I've contacted them 12 times & talked to at least 7 people who have all told me different stories. I've never had this problem with any other company. I suggested taking what they owe in trade so I can do giveaways with AH Jobs List. If they pay me, it's going to charity. I...'ve kind of written it off...but not without a last attempt to force them to be honest & ethical.

Now,  Andrew made it clear that the money wasn't the issue here, Elitch's obligation was what mattered.  Within minutes of this initial posting, Andrew's fans and friends began posting, emailing and contacting Elitch's.  

This was posted on April 15, at 3:49pm.  Here is the final update Andrew posted at 5:20, later that day:

Andrew Hudson Thanks everyone! Elitches' GM called....check from 4/09 invoice was cut and in the mail.

Within two hours,  Andrew had motivated enough response from the community to get Elitch's to not only respond, but pay the bill.  How's that for the power of social media?  A note has to be made here:  I have not spoken to Andrew about this situation.  I am simply using this as an exampleof the power and reach of good social media practices. 

Creating Similar Results:

There's a lesson to be learned here and not just the one about getting organizations to pay their bills.  The power to motivate is particularly effective through social media.  I believe there were a few things in place here that made this such an effective plea for help; things that can be used by any small business or non-profit to achieve similar results.

First, Andrew made it clear that the object wasn't about the money itself.  He stated early on that he would take the debt in trade, or, if money were paid, it would go to charity.  Zing!  That's a key element here.  Had Andrew simply asked for help in collecting a debt, I doubt seriously the response would have been as large. 

The fact that the money was going to go to a charity helped motivate the masses in a way that just trying to collect money never would have.  When trying to get a response from the public, the best way to motivate is to appeal to their better nature.  If you ask for something for yourself, people are less likely to participate.  But ask their help in raising money to help others, and the response can sometimes be overwhelming.

The next factor at work here is the David vs. Goliath dynamic.  Andrew is just a guy, trying to collect a debt and help a charity in the process.  Elitch's is a large corporation with a long and colorful history in Denver.  They're the Goliath to Andrew's David.  If there's one thing we know, it's that Americans like to pull for the underdog.  

As a small business or non-profit, you have an opportunity to cast yourself in the underdog role to your benefit.  But if you do, you have to draw very clear lines between yourself and whoever you're taking on.  Maybe you're a small restaurant and you're taking on the large chain restaurant down the street from you.  People will get on board to help the David's of the world.

There's also another aspect to the Goliath angle that cannot be overlooked.  As I mentioned, Elitch's is a well known amusement park in Denver.  It's been a local icon for over a century.  One of the last things an organization like Elitch's wants is the bad publicity of a simple unpaid bill.  Certainly the local newspapers and tv stations aren't necessarily going to run with the story.  But once the story is out in the social media circles it has a way of generating buzz, and not the kind of buzz that companies like Elitch's likes.

In nearly a year, Elitch's had given Andrew the run around, for whatever reason.  But once the story started circulating online, Elitch's had resolved the problem within hours.  And this makes sense.  From a PR standpoint, this is the kind of story that people remember.  It's the kind of story that sticks with an organization and can taint them forever.

Now, in fairness to Elitch's, they did quickly resolve the issue and claimed that the bill had been paid previously, but due to a mix up, the check had gotten lost in the mail.  We have no reason to doubt Elitch's and it's a credit to them that the GM immediately resolved the problem.  But one has to wonder if Andrew hadn't motivated his large group of social media followers, would the situation be resolved today?

Bigger, And Better Is Better:

The final aspect to this story is the aforementioned large group of Andrew's followers.  Andrew has 5,000 fans and friends on his page, the max allowed by Facebook.  His call for action reached five thousand voices all at once.  This isn't even mentioning the number of folks who follow Andrew on Twitter or LinkedIn or receive his weekly email newsletter.  But even if we're only talking about his Facebook crew, that's still potentially five thousand people who could have called, emailed or contacted Elitch's in a two hour period.  Assuming only ten percent of those people contacted Elitch's, that's 500 people.  Even at one percent, that's 50 emails or phone calls to Elitch's in a very short period of time; more than enough to get Elitch's attention.

This says something about the importance of gathering followers and friends in your social media efforts.  This brings us to the old argument between quantity and quality.  Just by rounding up thousands of friends and followers on your social media platforms you won't be guaranteed success.  Quantity is important, but quality matters as well.  

Andrew's list of friends and followers belong to his facebook page because they have a reason to follow his updates.  Maybe they're looking for a new job, maybe they're looking for ways to improve their work situation.  Whatever the reason, they follow because they value his updates and the product that he publishes regularly.

You can do the same thing with your organization.  Continue to publish useful and informative updates, continue to grow a vast army of quality friends and followers, and your calls to action will become much more than a plea into the wilderness.  Your requests will be met, instead by a motivated group of individuals working in concert with you to meet your goals.

And any way you look at it, that's a recipe for success.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why PR campaigns Fail

We here at Real Public Relations are all about tips and lists.  Tips for making your outreach efforts better, lists of popular apps, platforms, why things work, why things fail.  So today, I'm giving you the best of both worlds.  A list AND a tip.  Who says you don't get anything good for free these days?

Why PR campaigns Fail:

This is a topic I've been thinking about for a while now and, lo and behold, opportunity arose to post this. A day after praising a company for making a great PR decision, I come to you with a reason why some, many, in fact, PR decisions lead to failure.

This post comes from the Public Relations Blogger.  It's another great resource for small businesses and non-profits when it comes to public relations.  Here is a sample of the post.  For the complete article, click on the link.

Public Relations Campaigns/5 Reasons Your Might Fail
Creating a successful and effective PR campaign is hard work; there are many variables to take into consideration, and there are even more ways that it can go wrong. Getting it right doesn't involve a secret potion or formula; instead, it involves knowing your company, your industry, and your target audience in each situation, as it pertains to your circumstances.

To help you get started, here are some things to avoid doing when planning your campaign:

Go in head-first. If you hope to have a PR campaign, you had better have a plan. Conducting PR activities, implementing social media, and trying to get people to recognize you with no clear rhyme or reason won't do you much good. Make sure that you have a plan to implement if you hope to have any success.

Here are the other reasons, in order.  The article has more detail regarding why these are poor decisions and I couldn't agree more:

2. E-Mail spamming
3. Using old PR plans
4. Simple implementation
5. Too large of a target audience

All five reasons are perfect examples of why a lot of public relations plans fail.  But I'd like to add a few more reasons.  These are my own and not covered in the article, but I believe they are just as relevant.  So, think of this as a bonus list.  Instead of five reasons, you're getting ten.  The benefits just keep rolling along, don't they?

1.  Misunderstanding your audience:  This is one of my pet peeves when it comes to both public relations and social media.  Too often organizations don't really understand how to talk to their audience.  This is generally the result of a couple of strategic mistakes.  First, the organization understimates their audience.  In other words, they believe the audience is gullible or stupid.  Look around and see how many PR campaigns talk down to the audience.  Treat the audience with respect, and they'll reciprocate in kind.  Second, the organization uses demographic information to lump all members of an audience into a monolithic entity.  I posted about this recently.  Not all 30-something professional women are the same.  even if they might fit into a specific demographic, it doesn't mean they all think alike, talk alike or spend alike. 

2.  Poor timing:  As you've seen, timing is very, VERY important to a successful PR campaign.  If your organization would be a great addition to a current story about the high price of gas, you have to jump on it when the story is hot.  Not a week later, not two days later.  News today runs in extremely short cycles.  You're one Tweet away from a dead story.  Too often, organizations aren't prepared to capitalize on a story when it happens.  Yet, they still make a pitch and hope to revive a story that has already passed its expiration date.  Timing your pitch correctly is crucial to the success of your PR effort.

3.  Inflexibility:  Just like any strategy, there has to be room for changing on the fly.  It's kind of like that old Mike Tyson quote, "everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth."  I have worked with clients that were dead set against changing tactics or making adjustments in mid-stream.  Those efforts always failed...always.  Sometimes this took the form of not using a sub-message instead of the main message.  Sometimes it was as simple as not changing schedules to accommodate newsroom interview reqeusts.  Have a plan, but be prepared to make changes and adjustments as needed, otherwise, your efforts are doomed.

4.  Impatience:  Public realations campaigns, along with social media campaigns take time to work.  When we worked with clients as The PRAS Group, we tried to tell them that an effective campaign takes at least two months to start showing real results.  Now, I'm not talking about a single pitch project.  I'm talkinga bout a full PR push, including releases, collateral, pitching follow up, media training, message development, etc.  Yes, you can write up a press release and send it out to all your media contacts, and you might even get some hits, that's great.  But a single story, not even in the Wall Street Journal, will suddenly make your organization a household name.  You need several stories to hit over a period of time before people will start to take notice.  Too often, organizations try PR once, and leave it at that.  In PR, patience really is a virtue and a key to success.

5  Unrealistic Expectations:  I recently pitched a story where the client wanted to pitch the NY Times, The Today Show and other network news programs.  I did it because I thought the story was excellent and the expectations weren't out of line with the impact of the story.  Because of the nature of the story, I was confident that the expectations, while high, weren't out of line with the possibilities.  However, I have worked with clients who expected an appearance on Oprah, or Good Morning America when the story would have been lucky to be picked up by local affiliates.  For small businesses and non-profits, there's nothing wrong with focusing on your local media.  It's where most of your customers are going to come from.  It's good to dream big, we all do.  But to expect that GMA is going to cover your story is unrealistic unless the story is very VERY good and has relevance to the entire country. 

Keep this list nearby the next time you decide to pursue a public relations campaign.  Making one of these mistkes alone won't kill your efforts, usually.  But combine a couple of these mistakes and your campaign will be behind the 8-ball before you even get started.  And that's no way to build success.

Now, For the Tips:

Our tip today comes from that wonderful site, Mashable.com.  I'm including this list because it's so fascinating to me.  I never really thought about how social media can become a distraction, even as it's being used as an effective tool. 

Social media can be overwhelming, particularly for small busienss owners and non-profit staffers who are already up to their eyeballs in work and putting out fires.  So how can you cut down on the distractions and make your social media campaigns less overwhelming? 

I'm glad you asked.  Here are five tips from Mashable that every small business and non-profit should pay attention to:

5 Ways to Reduce Social Media Distractions and Be More Productive

Those of us who are social media-savvy suffer from a burgeoning problem that constantly threatens our ingenuity. If we fail to acknowledge and solve this problem, our brilliant ideas may may never see the light of day.
Every single minute, more “stuff” is being sent your way. E-mails, text messages, voice mails, instant messages, Twitter messages, Facebook posts… and the list goes on. The proliferation of mobile devices only increases the flow.
What do you do with this deluge? You simply try to stay afloat. You peck away at the latest communications at the top of your many inboxes. And since the flow of information never ends, you risk slipping into a life of what I have come to call “reactionary workflow.”

As always, click on the link for the entire article.

I find this article very interesting.  One of the biggest challenges I face with most of my clients is organization and time management.  Trying to convince a client that they have to carve out an hour a day to maintain and monitor their social media efforts is harder than you might think.

Most simply say they don't have an hour a day.  And yet they're often sitting at their computer or laptop for hours at a time.  Plus, they almost always have their smart phones with them.  Instead of saying, "from 3 to 4 I will do my social media work" they need to realize that it's a minute here, five minutes there. 

The organization factor isn't as daunting.  Most small business owners tend to be pretty organized.  By creating priorities, delegating certain responsibilities and establishing goals, social media can be easily maintained and monitored by even the busiest owner or non-profit. 

So, there you have it.  A list, a bonus list and tips.  Real Public Relations, where the learning never stops.