Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Integration Is The Key!

One of the first things small business owners and non-profits learn when they're just starting is this: Have a plan!  It's been said here before and it will continue to be said in the future, knowledge is power.  Part of knowledge is knowing where you want to go and having a path to reach that goal. 

One of the key elements for every business, but especially for small businesses and non-profits, is having a solid communications plan.  You may have done all of your due dilligence, checking out your competition, testing the market and securing your finances.  But all of that means little if you don't have an effective communcations plan in place designed to tell the world about you, your product or your service. 

Of course many of you already know this, as you've likely spent hours crafting the communications plan for your own organization.  But now might be a good time to revisit your plan and here's why: if you don't have social media integrated into your plan, then it's incomplete.  Actually, the same goes for public relations.  Both need to be part of your plan in order for your organization to succeed.  Effective business communications is like playing a game of chess.  You don't make one move without knowing what you want to do with the other pieces involved and what your overall strategy is.  The same holds true for communications.  Posting on Facebook or Twitter without a plan or strategy is like randomly moving your knight without knowing why. 

Social media is too important to operate independently from the rest of your marketing or communications plan.  Unfortunately, too many businesses and non-profits are doing just that.

In fact, a recent study by Digital Brand Expressions and reported on at the Marketingprofs website, shows that the majority of companies using social media do so without any kind of plan or strategy in place.  Here is a snippet of the article.  As always, click on the link to read the entire entry.
Companies Using Social Media Without Game Plan
Published on June 28, 2010

Despite widespread adoption of social media marketing, most companies are still learning how to integrate those efforts into their overall corporate strategies: 78% of surveyed companies say they actively use social media, but just 41% say those efforts are part of a strategic game plan, according to a survey from Digital Brand Expressions (DBE).
Overall, Marketing is in charge of social media: 71% of companies that now work from a strategic plan say the marketing department has primary responsibility for creating and maintaining the firm's social media presence; 29% cite communication departments, and 16% cite the executive team.
Below, other findings Social Media Without a Parachute, a DBE study based on a survey of 100 companies.
Although social media is now being applied throughout the enterprise, 94% of companies who work from a social media plan say they use the channel for marketing; 71% cite public relations, and 55% cite sales-related activities. 
 I think it goes without saying that doing anything without a plan, at least in business, is a big mistake. I also have to note that the companies surveyed above were larger businesses that have separate marketing departments with domain over their social media efforts.  This troubles me a bit, but that's an entry for another time.

For most of you, you ARE the marketing department, as well as the CEO, the janitor, the PR spokesperson and everything else involved with running a business.  This means you are the one making the decisions on how to use social media and PR.  Because communications can be overwhelming enough by itself, let alone on top of everything else you have to do, integrating the elements of social media and PR into your plan can seem downright impossible.  But it's not as hard as it seems, and it might actually help you stay on top of your overall communications efforts.

Putting Together Your Plan:

A quick look at most basic communications plans shows us that it is heavily weighted towards marketing.  This generally includes details involving pamphlets, brochures, direct mail, community outreach and generally some mention of PR.  Today, plans often also include some element of email, usually building an email list and sending out either a newsletter or direct communication like Constant Contact or MailChimp.

What most communciations plans DON'T have, though is an integrated social media plan.  So how do you do that?  Well, you start from the beginning, actually.

Start with your goals - What do you want to achieve, not only with your communications plan, but with your company overall.  Most of you probably have a one year, three year and five year plan in regards to finances.  But how about market placement?  Have you set a goal for where you want to be in terms of the overall market share?  If not, do it.  Figuring out where you want your organization to be will help you craft a communications plan to reach those goals.

For instance, if you want to be the market leader, you're going to have to have an expansive communications strategy that involves constant community outreach, aggressive PR, a relentless social media effort as well as the more traditional marketing tools you might already be using.  However, if your goal is a little more modest, say, reaching specific financial milestones every year, you can tailor your communications plan to help you reach those goals.  Such as a scaled back PR plan, focusing more on social media to hit the specific groups and target demographics that will help you bring in business at a more steady rate and build more slowly.

Identify The Who - No, not the band, we all know who they are.  I'm talking about figuring out who your communications efforts will target.  Again, this goes back to your goals.  Your product or service might already have a built-in audience.  If this is the case, then you're in good shape.  But more often than not, you will have to specify a target audience to talk to.  This doesn't mean you speak to them at the exclusion of others.  It simply means you direct most of your efforts to reaching that particular group of people.  This will help you in your social media and PR efforts down the road.

Identify the What -  It's starting to sound a little like a news story, right?  This element goes back to something I've been hammering over and over in this blog and that is; have a clear and consistent message.  Knowing what you want to say to your audience is almost more important than knowing who to say it to.  You can have an auditorium full of potential customers but if your message fails to connect, you will have missed a great opportunity.  Developing your message is perhaps one of the most important aspects of your communications plan.  

Keep this in mind.  Your message is NOT your mission statement.  Your mission statement goes at the top of your business plan.  Your message goes at the top of your communications plan.  Put another way, your mission statement is an expression of what you do and how you do it.  It's the who, what where and how.  Your message goes beyond just the facts.  

Example:  You own an auto repair service.  Your mission statement may look something like:
"To provide the best quality auto-repair service in the area and becoming a leader in the female-oriented auto-repair industry through innovation, price management, honest and world-class customer service."

You wouldn't say that to someone you met at a party.  Instead, you might say,  "We are a garage where women can go and feel comfortable, will be treated with respect and will be informed every step of the way on what we're doing with their car and why we're doing it."

Your message has now identified a target audience, and a demographic that your business has targeted.  You can tailor your message around that target audience, using language that appeals to that group and addressing the needs and wants of that group.

Identify Your Tools - You already know what your traditional marketing tools are.  Direct mail, pamphlets, brochures, business cards, email.  Now you have to start adding in social media tools as well.  Because there is so much change happening in social media, plus the fact that there are so many options out there to choose from, you can't integrate all of them.  But you CAN identify which social media platforms will work best for you.  Choose, three, maybe four to use right from the start.  You could even start with two if you're feeling overwhelmed.  

The usual suspects include Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  But there are other tools that might work better for you.  Take some time to research the pros and cons of each tool you're considering.  For instance, you might be better off with a blog instead of LinkedIn.  You might consider using a location-based game paired with Twitter instead of Facebook.  Eventually, you will find two, three or four options that appeal to you most.

Establish Your Identity - This is your brand, your personality, your public persona.  It matters.  Are you a fun, exciting change from other options out there?  Or are you a more buttoned up, professional with years of expertise in your field?  In other words, how do you want the public to perceive you?  This is important, because it will influence the words you use in your communications efforts and it will influence where and how you communicate.  

A smaller, renegade company might be more freewheeling and let that sense of adventure and fun come through in its Tweets and Facebook postings.  A more serious company will likely be more conservative in its postings, as well as all of its other collateral.  Either way works, as long as your committed to your message and your plan and you are consistent with your efforts.

Start To Integrate - A social media campaign without an overall plan, as stated earlier is really like a group of people throwing ideas at a wall and seeing what sticks.  It's random, it's ineffective.  However, if you know what group you want to speak to, if you know what goals you want to accomplish, if you know what you want to say when the opportunity arises, then your social media and PR efforts will have a much better chance at success.

Integrating means taking all of the previous efforts and inputting them into your social media efforts.  Your message or messages (remember, you can have more than one outside of your primary message) should appear in every post, every blog entry, every Tweet, every press release, every pamphlet, brochure, email and newsletter.  Your goals and messages need to be in the forefront every time you communicate with the public.  

It doesn't matter if its an interview with a TV station or a conversation with a stranger at a party your communications plan needs to be evident at all times.  By integrating your social media efforts into your overall communications plan, you give your online efforts a direction and a purpose. You should also make sure to integrate your PR efforts into your social media efforts as well as your overall communications strategy.

By knowing your audience and message, you will have a clearer idea of who to pitch your stories to.  Your audience will dictate if you pitch to online blogs, industry or trade publications, specific radio outlets and which TV news slots you want to target for coverage.  More imporatantly, as you grab the attention of the media, you can use social media to double that exposure. 

If your organization is covered by your local TV news, that broadcast is over within 90-seconds, max, and you will have reached a few tens of thousands of people, which is great.  But why not release that broadcast or newspaper article or radio program and make it available to potentially millions more who might not have seen it, read it, or heard it.  You can post those items on every platform you use, and you can do it multiple time, there is no limit to what you can post or how often you post it on social media platforms. 

A few final thoughts:

Public relations is important to your organization, you know that.  By integrating your PR into your social media and communciations efforts, you make all three that much more effective.  You don't have to send out a release every time you do something or make a change.  But you CAN use social media to stay on top of the news of the day and even get an inside track to earning coverage in your local outlets.

Many newsrooms are using Twitter these days to listen to their audience and figure out what stories they want to see covered.  They're also using Twitter to stay up to date on breaking stories, which they then update on their Twitter feeds.  Some are even using Twitter and Facebook to solicit interviews for upcoming stories. 

This means you should be monitoring your social media feeds regularly to catch any opportunities for you to get coverage for your organization.  Part of your communications plan includes setting aside time as well as finances to make sure your efforts are successful.  Build the time to monitor your social media efforts into your plan.  You're already building time in to monitor your other communications efforts, and if you aren't then you're plan is incomplete.

Finally, make sure to include listening and feedback into your plan.  Too often communications plans are built on a one-way street.  You focus so much on what you want to say and who to say it to, you forget that a big part of communicating is listening.  As you put your plan together, figure out how you want people to contact you. 

It might include a weekly talkback with customers and potential customers on Facebook.  It could be through an email campaign, or soliciting comments on your blog.  The important thing is to integrate feedback tools into your plan.  THEN, once you have figured out a way to receive that feedback, you have to have a plan in place to respond to that feedback.  Again, it depends on your platforms, but your plan needs to include a way to monitor what other people are saying about you.  Before social media, this was difficult to do, not impossible, but difficult. 

However with social media platforms, you can now set up a Twitter feed that notifies you every time someone mentions you.  You can establish Google alerts and search engine notifications that will tell you every time you're mentioned in a blog or a Facebook post or a Twitter or a LinkedIn account. 

If you start from the beginning and integrate your social media and PR efforts into that overall plan, you will find that your communications outreach will be much smoother and will have a higher rate of success.  In the end it's about focus, planning and commitment. 

So go back, take a look at your old communications plan.  If it doesn't have social media and PR integrated into it, take the time to revamp it.  Your organization, and your bottom line, will thank you for it later.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hook It Up!

If I were to ask you the first thing that comes to your mind when I toss out a name like, say, GEICO, what is the first thing you think of?  Or perhaps I might say Frontier Airlines, or Progressive Insurance, or Budweiser, AFLAC, Charmin or Maytag?  Chances are, among the first things you think about when those names are mentioned are, in order,

1. Geko Lizard (or a money stack, or a caveman)
2. The Frontier Animals
3. Flo
4. Spuds McKenzie (or the croaking frogs)
5. The duck
6. Mr. Whipple
7. The lonely repairman

How about if I toss out a few slogans?  Would that make it easier?  For instance, I might say, "The Real Thing," and you would respond...COKE!  I could even hum a tune, sing some words, like, "From the Land of Sky Blue Water..." and you would say "HAMM'S!"  Of course you'd have to be over 30 to recognize the Hamm's theme song, but I used that one to make a point.  It has been over 20 years since a Hamm's commercial has aired, and yet, I can sing that entire theme song as if I'd heard it just yesterday.

Hooks like "Hey Mikey, He Likes It!" or "Tastes Great, Less Filling!" or any of the various soft drink songs (Coke had the famous "I'd like to teach the world to sing" commercial, while Dr. Pepper hit it big with the "I'm a Pepper" campaign).  They all fall into the realm of "culturally iconic" in the same way that "So Easy a Caveman Can Do It" is instantly recognizable to today's audiences.

All of these campaigns have one important common component when it comes to success; a great hook.  In some cases, the "hook" is a jingle.  In other cases it's a great slogan.  And in other instances it's an instantly recognizable character.  Sometimes it's all three combined. 

For most small businesses and non-profits, paying for a massive advertising campaign to establish a jingle or slogan or character is out of bounds.  It's simply cost-prohibitive.  However, with the advent and success of social media, a great hook is within reach of any organization.  All it takes is a little creativity and perseverance.

Finding Your Hook:

We've spent a lot of time in this space talking about finding your "story," finding those elements that make you unique and sets you apart from your competition.  This is obviously important to your PR efforts as well as your social media efforts.  If you haven't found your story, you will struggle in your outreach efforts.  The same goes for your message.  Finding and establishing your message is vital to the success of your social media and PR interaction.  Knowing exactly what you want to say and how to say it can help you build an identity and brand loyalty as well as increase visibility.

In order to create a great hook for your organization, you have to have a firm grasp of both your story and your message.  But keep this in mind as you move forward to find your hook; your character, slogan or jingle (if you go that route) is neither your story nor your message.  Your hook is simply a conduit, a tool, a WAY to get your story and message out to the public in a way that will be interesting, fun and memorable.

So how do you go about finding that perfect "hook" that will help raise your public profile and start driving traffic to your website or sotrefront?  The first thing to do is choose which hook, or hooks you can feasibly achieve with your budget and time constraints.  Unless you're doing a series of videos or audio programs, a jingle probably won't buy you much in social media or PR efforts.  You might consider creating a memorable character, or you could go the slogan route.  Either choice is a good one.  Your particular business might not be a perfect fit for a colorful character so you might go with a slogan.  Ideally, you want to pair the two together for double impact.  If people don't remember your slogan, they'll at least remember your character, and vice-versa.

The Slogan:

When considering a slogan, keep your message in mind, but don't kill yourself trying to mirror that message.  In other words, let's take a look at some of the more successful slogans and see how they fit in with the messages of those organizations; GEICO and Taco Bell.

I don't work for either of those organizations, never have and most likely never will.  So I can't tell you exactly what their marketing or PR messages are.  But I CAN guarantee you that, "So easy a caveman can do it," or "Yo Qiero Taco Bell!" aren't listed at the top of either organizations' message pyramid. 

It's more likely that GEICO's primary message is something along the lines of, "Providing quality insurance coverage at an affordable price with ease of access."  Taco Bell's primary message might look like, "providing quality food for busy individuals, families and all income who want it served in a courteous, clean and fast environment."  Come to think of it, those both sounds more like mission statements than messages, but the point is their slogans are NOT their messages.

However, their message isn't completely dismissed in their slogans.  In the case of GEICO, the ease factor is front and center in their slogan.  In the case of Taco Bell, desire stands at the forefront.  One of the best ways to create a slogan is to look at two different, but important factors:

1.  Your unique qualities
2.  Consumer desires

Let's say, for instance, you own a beauty salon or spa.  You might have spent a lot of time creating an environment that is relaxing, a refuge from the outside world, someplace where people can feel as if they are truly escaping the rigors of the outside world.  You also likely offer world-class customer service, inviting perks and you might even offer some services that can't be found in other spas or salons.  You can point to any one of those aspects of your business to feature as the jumping off point for your slogan.

Maybe you offer a particular style of massage or accupuncture.  Maybe your salon provides a specific brand of styling or simply you pride yourself on the excellent treatment of your customers.  All of these characteristics are great fodder to help you create your slogan.

You could go with a slogan like, "Your Home away from Home" or "Get The Star Treatment!"  Both of these are fine.  They both reflect a particular aspect of your business that you want to promote.  They are both simple and somewhat memorable. 

Now you can begin to tweak that initial slogan to make it even more memorable and enticing.  One of the things a good slogan does is drive action.  You want your slogan to make people want to visit your site.  An effective slogan not only stays in people's memories, it makes them curious.

I always thought one of the best slogans in the Denver-Metro area belongs to a small, local Jazz station, KUVO.  It's slogan is, "Your Oasis In The City."  It's a clear reference to being the only independent jazz station in town.  It's a wonderful slogan because it's short, simple and creates an image that is intriguing to potential listeners.  It creates an expectation of originality and something unique.  It's both a great visual image as well as a way to quickly and creatively express what KUVO is all about.  It's different, it's unlike anything else on the Denver airwaves, it's KUVO.

Maybe your salon has a playful atmosphere to go along with the top-notch treatment.  You can improve on the previous slogan by mixing in that aspect.  Maybe something like, "So much fun, it should be illegal," or "Don't just look like a star, party like one too."  Admittedly the second one mirrors the old slogan, "Be a model, or just look like one," but that's okay.  You're hitting a particular demographic with the second slogan, which is fine if you're looking to attract single, professional women who have extra income to spend and usually spend it by going out on the town.

If you operate a spa, you might go with a more visual slogan that immediately conjurs images of luxury and relaxation; "Your neighborhood island retreat."  This lets them know that you're local, but that creates an image of white beaches, tropical breezes and peace.  If nothing else, folks will likely stop by, just to see if you really can provide them with the kind of retreat they're looking for.

Neither of these slogans will be listed as your primary message, but they both would be effective in terms of raising your profile and driving traffic to your business.

The Character:

We've discussed creating a character that helps brand your organization before.  But how exactly do you come up with one?  It's actually not as hard as it seems.  The hardest part of creating a character is finding one that is unique, memorable and likeable, and then committing to that character.

In the case of Progressive, the character of "Flo" isn't particularly unique.  But she is so very likeable and quirky, she became an instant hit.  More importantly, Progressive built her up into a character that is immediately recognizable because they committed to a series of spots featuring her in different situations.  She has become spokesperson, mascot and icon all rolled into one.  Two commercial spots, even three would not have achieved this goal.  It happened through a series of spots as well as a massive multi-media campaign. 

While you probably can't afford a massive radio, TV and print campaign, you CAN create a character through constant use in your social media and PR efforts that people in your area will come to know and associate with your organization.

Like a slogan, your character doesn't necessarily have to have a direct correlation to your organization's services.  What does a caveman or lizard have to do with insurance?  For that matter, what does a duck have to do with insurance.  How about the Carl's Junior Star?  Or the WallMart smiley face?  Do either of those automatically scream, "burgers" or "retail giant"? 

Your character can be something that is an obvious connection, or it could be something completely random, it doesn't really matter as long as the character is memorable and likeable.  Let's take a quick look at two local organizations that benefit, or could benefit from a marketing character.

There is a local improv theater in Denver called the Bovine Metropolis Theater.  It has been established for ten years and has enjoyed some success over the years.  The name of the theater is, itself, a play on words, harkening back to the days when Denver was called a "Cow Town" (hence, Bovine Metropolis).  It's a term still used by one particular sportswriter in Denver (Woody Paige) who constantly refers to Denver as a "Dusty ol' Cowtown." 

Once inside the theater there is a cow motif that is portrayed throughout the lobby, the backrooms, the upstairs rehearsal spaces and classrooms.  They even have a cow outfit that is used from time to time to go out on the nearby 16th Street Mall and hand out postcards or pamphlets.  It would seem that the theater has a built in character, right?  It would be easy to say that the theater should simply create a cow character and run with it.  Maybe call her Bessie the Bovine and start mixing this character into all of its marketing and promotional efforts.  And that's a fine idea.

But the theater could just as easily find a different character, perhaps a cowboy, or even a classic rendition of a computer nerd who comes out of his or her shell through the Bovine.  Any of these would be good choices.  The point is, a character would be a great addition to the theater's marketing efforts.  They already have a great slogan, "Laugh Out Loud" and pairing that slogan with a character would raise the theater's profile even more. 

But characters aren't the exclusive property of small businesses.  Non-profits can get in on the act as well.  I'm currently involved in a project pushing spaying and neutering of cats and dogs.  We are in the midst of creating a social media campaign to get the message out to a specific demographic.  When we sat down to figure out how to make this campaign a success, one of the first things we considered was creating a character we could use to spread the message about spaying and neutering. 

We kicked around a number of options.  Obviously we considered a cat or a dog as a character, but we eventually ended up with a character that is both memorable and fits in perfectly with the message we want to convey.  We created "Nurse Nancy" a kind of 1950's high school health teacher and nurse character.  We envision Nurse Nancy as a likeable, visually memorable and fun character that people will immediately relate to and want to listen to.  More importantly, through our campaign efforts, we hope that people will come to look forward to Nurse Nancy's appearances.

Capitalizing On Your Hook:

Once you've created your slogan or your character (or jingle if you went that route) now you have to, as Sinatra so elegantly said, start spreading the word.  Fortunately, you have a built-in platform to start doing just that.

Spreading your slogan is as simple as simply attaching it to every single piece of marketing collateral you have; your postcards, direct-mail, pamphlets, brochures, banners, etc.  You also should start inputting it in every Facebook Post, on your Facebook profile, in every Tweet, on your blog and every other social media platform and profile you have online.  Make it front and center on your website and even attach it to your signature in your emails. 

Just like political messages and radio ads, quantity matters.  The more people hear and see your slogan, the more they will remember it.  If you're using seven different online platforms, your slogan should be visible on all seven.  And not only should you put it on your business platforms, but connect it to your personal platforms and profiles as well.  Encourage your frends and associates to help spread your slogan as well.  You can have the best slogan in the world, but if people don't see it, it's ineffective.

When it comes to building up your character, the options are nearly unlimited.  For the spay and neutering project, we are creating a series of short videos featuring Nurse Nancy as well as a series of still photo sets with attached messages.  These videos are fun and hopefully funny, while still being interesting and getting the message out clearly. 

This enables us to constantly release videos and photos of Nurse Nancy, complete with messages, on a regular schedule.  Every week will feature a new photo set, every other week will feature a new video with re-releases of the videos and photo sets until the new release.  We're approaching it just like a radio ad campaign.  You don't just run an ad once and then leave it alone until the next radio ad is produced.  You air that ad over and over until you replace it with the new ad.  We're taking a similar strategic approach with the Nurse Nancy videos and photo sets.

We are also creating separate LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts for Nurse Nancy, as well as a separate blog and website page for her.  This is on top of the separate accounts for the campaign itself.  In other words, we're treating Nurse Nancy not just as a mascot, but almost as a real person who has something to say.  She will Tweet, she will blog, she will join groups and post on Facebook, just like you would.  The difference is, every post, blog entry or tweet will have a message that pertains to the campaign and will drive people to either her website or the campaign website.  Of course, Nurse Nancy will also make public appearances to support all of this online activity. 

The best part about creating a character or slogan or jingle "hook" for your small business is that the cost involved is strictly limited to what you want to pay.  You can do your own videos, they don't have to be fancy, and you can use all of the free social media platforms available to you to get your hook out in front of customers, potential customers, donors, volunteers, anyone you want. 

What's important to remember is that once you create your slogan or your character, you have to commit to using it.  Use it well and use it often.  Don't be afraid of putting it out there whenever you have a chance.  Don't just post it once a week, post it a few times a day or mulitiple times a week.

Hopefully this entry has given you some ideas of your own and you go out and create a character that will raise your profile or a slogan that will drive traffic to your website or organization.  As you do, though, here are a few important things to keep in mind:
1.  KISS - In other words, Keep It Short and Simple.  A slogan is a phrase, not a paragraph or even a full sentence sometimes.  The same goes for a jingle.

2.  Be Relatable - Make your characters likeable.  If not totall likeable, then at least memorable.  We like the GEICO caveman for the same reason we liked the Maytag Repairman; because we can relate to, and feel for, the character. 

3.  Be Diverse - Create something that will work on various platforms.  A slogan can be used anywhere, anytime.  A character should be able to be used on a blog, a website, videos, photo sets, everywhere you might use your slogan or post about your organization.  You can, and should also attach your slogan or character to your PR efforts.  Put it in your releases and in your interviews.  If you're really good, you might even be able to get your character interviewed as a story unto itself.

4.  Be Emotional - Happy sells.  Sad Sells.  If your slogan or character makes people smile, laugh or cry, people will remember you.  You want your slogan or character to have some kind of emotional impact.

5.  Commit - Regardless of what you create, once you are ready to unveil it to the world, be prepared to fully commit to using your slogan or character all the time.  Not just every now and then, but in every post, in every email, in every piece of collateral you hand out.  In order to be remembered you have to be seen; the same holds true for your character and slogan.
Now get out there and create some memorable characters, impactful slogans and jingles that we hum in the shower.  These aren't just the realm of big businesses any longer.  Small businesses and non-profits CAN use these techniques to their advantage today in a way they never could before thanks, in large part, to social media.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why social media matters to small businesses

Lately I've bee working with a number of various organizations and individuals, most of whom are just starting to jump onto the social media bandwagon.  Many have simply been too busy to put much time into their social media efforts.  Others have taken a more patient wait-and-see approach, wondering if this new phenomenon is just a fad or a legitimate business tool.  Others still have simply refused to join in, steadfastly refusing to be sucked in by the latest online gimmick, as they see it.

I understand all of these opinions.  Small business owners and non-profit staffers are busy.  They often don't have time to spend researching how to use things like social media effectively.  Some were bruned by the internet business bubble of the late 90's/early 2000's. 

But lately one of the questions I've been dealing with more and more is this: "Is social media really worth it for my business?"  What is frustrating is that this is coming from successful business people, folks who know what they're doing and yet they still struggle to see the benefits of social media.  Imagine my surprise when I read recently on Facebook that "Twitter is dead" and not worth using.  The person to whom that post was targeted later asked me if Twitter was really useful.  This is the kind of thing to guard against.  Just because one person or a few folks don't understand how to use social media or have had a bad experience with it, doesn't mean that it's not useful or, indeed, a powerful way to connect with potential customers.

Again, I understand their caution, even if I don't agree with it.  As I sat down to craft a response to this question, I tried to look at the biggest obstacles and concerns regarding small business and social media.  There are a few big reasons why social media still seems as undiscovered territory to most small businesses:
1.  Lack of deliverables:  When a company invests in a product, they expect to get something for their money and time.  Social media doesn't come in a box.  It's not something you can hold, touch, feel or see.  The major deliverables come in the form of effort.  In other words, the product you pay for usually comes in the form of somebody making posts, doing research, linking stories, etc.  Even with public relations, you have a deliverable product in the form of interviews, newspaper stories, TV coverage, face to face meetings with members of a target audience.  Social media remains ethereal and elusive to most businesses, more of a concept than an actual item.

2.  Fuzzy Results:  This is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to making businesses nervous about social media.  In business-speak, it's hard to pin down the Return On Investment (ROI) for social media.  It's easy to determine a ROI for public relations or marketing.  If you invest in 1,000 direct mail pamphlets, you can guess that one-percent of those will result in sales; at least that's the traditional thinking.  You can identify the value of a newspaper interview or a tv segment.  Right now, determining the value, the actual ROI of a social media campaign is difficult for most small businesses.  However that's changing.

3.  The New-ness:  Let's face it, while it might seem like social media has been around forever, it's really only been a viable business tool for less than ten years.  Compare this to longstanding and proven methods such as direct-mail marketing, advertising and PR, and social media looks like a newcomer trying to barge into a party where it wasn't invited.  For marketers, social media is an annoying sibling that is best to be ignored.  For PR folks, social media is that confusing cousin that intrigues you, but you just don't know how to talk to.  For businesses and non-profits, social media is a baby that could grow up into a Senator or be the kid who you have to bail out of jail every other weekend.  It's just too unknown and therefore, scary.
And Now, Reality:

The truth about social media is this:  Small businesses and non-profits have been engaging in social media since the very instant they began to exist.  Talking to potential customers, telling individuals in your neighborhood about your organization, targeting specific groups that you feel would benefit from your product or service, attempting to generate positive word-of-mouth.  This is all social media.  Actually, it's called social networking, social media is actually the tools you use to engage in social networking.

For instance, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Myspace, Catbook, Dogbook, Digg, Reddit, Google reader, Google Buzz, etc., are all social media platforms.  They are tools available to you to reach out to the public.  What you DO with those tools is social networking.  Every time you post, make a blot entry, connect with a friend, follow a page or Tweet a thought, you're engaging in networking.

If you think about it more along the lines of basic networking, with social media being high-tech tools to make your networking more effective and far-reaching, perhpas it will seem less mysterious.

Nothing is Guaranteed:

Every time you spend money as an organization, there is risk.  It doesn't matter if you're spending it on food for your deli, fliers for your promotions or PR for an upcoming event.  There's no gaurantee that your food will be fresh, your fliers will be read or your PR will be effective.

Social media is no different.  One of the major misconceptions I constantly run into is the idea that creating a Facebook page and Twitter account and then posting a few times will automatically result in an immediate increase in foot-traffic to your door.  It doesn't work this way.  In order for your social media efforts to work, you have to have an overall communications strategy in place.  This includes having a solid and consistent message, knowing who you want to get your message to and understanding how all the different moving parts work together to achieve your goal.  Social media is simply one part of a larger overall communications plan.

This leads us to the ROI portion of the program.  

Before you embark on any kind of social media/networking campaign, you have to ask yourself what your goals are.  Just like with any marketing or PR effort, you have to know what you're trying to achieve.  It doesn't make sense to start off on a journey if you don't know where you're going.  That's called wandering and it doesn't make much business sense.

Do you want to drive more traffic to your website?  Do you want to drive more customers to your business?  Do you want to simply raise awareness of your organization?  These are important questions to ask and answer.  Erase the thought that social media/networking will instantly result in more money in your pocket.  As I've said many times and will continue to say, it takes time; three months at a minimum before you start to see any real impact from your efforts.  Patience is truly a virtue when it comes to social media.

More Than Just Marketing:

Most businesses and non-profits simply see social media/networking as a way to boost sales or donations, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Remember, you're not just talking to yourself out there, you're not a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear you fall.  You make a noise, you have an impact every time you post something.  There are people out there reading what you write, even if they don't respond. 

And that might be the most frustrating part for businesses and non-profits.  They want immediate response, and when they don't get it, they assume the effort was a waste of time.  Again, not true.  When I worked in radio, I worked with a host that insisted that she had to have full lines in order for her to have a good show.  I countered that even though people weren't calling in, it didn't mean people weren't listening.  Most people who listen to talk radio never ever call in.  Only a small percentage of folks ever do.  But as we all know there is a HUGE talk radio listening audience out there.  Just because someone doesn't respond to your posts doesn't mean people aren't reading or paying attention.

But social media isn't just about posting and responding, it's about listening, watching, being interactive.  Social media gives you an opportunity to read what others are saying about your and your organization.  It allows you to respond to potentially troubling issues.  It allows you to ask questions of your current and potential customers and respond to their inquiries.  Social media is about conversations, only it's online and it's public.

When you go to networking events, do you try to put a ROI on your activities?  Do you assign a dollar value to every conversation you have at a party?  Of course you don't.  You try to make connections that you hope will result in future sales or at the very least a relationship that will help your organization in some way.  You don't know how that conversation will end up helping you, but you hope you do and you take the time and effort to make that connection.

Social media/networking is no different.  That's why it's so hard to put a ROI value on it.  You can look at the numbers of visitors to your website, you can see who is responding, you can even sift through analytics to see if you're efforts are working.  But in the end, it comes down to simply making connections.  You could have ten-thousand people viewing your website, but still not have it result in sales or value.  On the other hand you could have 100 viewers and see your sales skyrocket. 

In other words, don't think of social media ROI, simply look at it as another way to connect, just like you would at a party or other kind of networking event. 

Why It Matters:

You own a small business, you run a non-profit and your budget is limited, as is your time.  You understand that you have to network, that you have to raise your profile, that you have to brand yourself and your organization with a recognizable identity. 

But you don't have the money to pay for an advertising campaign.  You don't have the cash to hire a big PR firm and marketing is risky and expensive.  You could go to several networking events, have a glass of wine, rub elbows and spend a few hours mingling. But do you really have time to do that one, two, three times a week?  Probably not.

This is where social media/networking comes in.  It allows you to reach out to literally millions of people at once without spending a dime.  It gives you a chance to spread your message, talk about your product or service, raise your profile awareness and brand your organizational identity all for free.  Your biggest investment is time.

In this case, you can do your networking from your computer, allowing you to remain at your office and connected to the daily activities of your organization.  You can make connections without having to buy a glass of wine and spend time talking to people you might not want to talk to.

Social media/networking allows you to target the specific individuals or groups that you want to talk to.  You can establish connections, build relationships online before you ever meet face to face.  Plus, social media/networking allows you to use other people's networks to spread your message.  Sharing and retweeting and forwarding is just another word-of-mouth campaign that can be highly successful.

One Final Thing:

Unlike traditional marketing, PR or advertising, social media/networking allows you to respond to your customers or potential customers quickly and effectively.  Here's an example, which is also posted on the Growing Communications website.

LOFT, a subsidiary of Ann Taylor Fashions recently posted pictures of their new silk cargo pants. As you would expect, the pants were shown on stick-thin models.  Apparently, this didn't go over so well with many of their customers who posted and tweeted their displeasure with the use of the thin models to show the pants.  Many encouraged LOFT to show the pants on women of "regular size" in an effort to see what the pants looked like on an average woman.

The outcry was so large, that the very next day, LOFT reposted pictures of the new pants, only this time they were shown being worn by office staffers of all shapes and sizes.  The response was enormous.  Thousands of emails, Tweets and Facebook posts commented on the pants and the use of regular women to model them.  LOFT hasn't mentioned if the new pics resulted in increased sales, but here's what the new pics DID end up doing: they helped LOFT connect with their customers, attract new potential customers, build brand loyalty and raise their profile.  Before I read this story, I'd never heard of LOFT, ever.

This is the kind of interaction that is possible only through social media/networking.  You can hear what your customers are saying and react to meet their needs.  Not in a week, or a month, but immediately.

Three Reasons Why:

So you've seen how social media can make a difference, you can see how it can save you time and money and still have a positive impact on your bottom line.  Hopefully, you can also see the futility of trying to attach a ROI to your social media efforts.  If all of that hasn't convinced you, here are three basic reasons why small businesses/non-profits and social media is a match made in heaven. (as seen in Mashable)
There is a wealth of information out there about your customers, potential customers and even about you.  Ignoring this information is bad business practice.  Knowing what people are saying about you matters, from the person who loves your service, to the one who spends their time blasting you, knowledge is power and the more you know, the better prepared you are and the better you can react to any problems that may arise. 

Simplicity is Effective:
Finding the right way to use social media can be daunting, especially when there are so many examples of big brands pushing the limits of creativity and possibility when it comes to their Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare initiatives. Often times the big guys forget that it’s the simplest of gestures that can have the greatest impact. But simple works.
On the simple side things, just take the time to acknowledge customers that mention you. Did someone tweet about dining at your restaurant? Did they checkin at your venue? Did they share a story about your small business on Facebook? These actions that take place in the public domain are all opportunities to connect with a current or potential customer and make them feel special.
Responding is easy — a simple “thanks for stopping by,” or “how can we make your next visit better?” tweet can go a long way and even make someone’s day. Yet, it’s something most companies take for granted. People like to be recognized, but often times they’re never presented with an opportunity to associate restaurants, stores and other venues with the people behind him. You can create that opportunity by recognizing their patronage, which in turn should help ensure that they return for a future visit.
Another simple thing you can do is post signage — on your website and in your store — to indicate that you’re social media-friendly. The Express retail chain has their chief marketing officer’s Twitter handle printed on all their bags, which works to reinforce that the company cares about person-to-person connections. Take that idea and apply it to your own business. For that extra touch, make stickers, punch cards or window decals that showcase your small business’s online personality and reinforce that you’re interested in conversations with your customers.

Your Size Helps: 
Starbucks is the perfect example of an early adopter brand that gets social media right, and yet their size prohibits them from engaging with every customer that walks in the door.As a small business, your size is your friend in social media channels. Use your small size as an advantage and respond to each and every person that mentions you. Since you’re working with a smaller customer base, you can also build customer Twitter Lists to separate different categories of customers into groups, which should help you offer more personalized customer service — something the big businesses don’t have the time or resources to support.
Here’s an easy example: Who are your most frequent customers? Make a Twitter List called “Regulars,” and add your regulars on Twitter to it.
In doing so, you’re associating patronage with prestige. Your efforts could even inspire semi-regular customers to frequent your business more often just so they too can get added to the list. This tactic might also serve as a catalyst for one regular to connect with another, though you could also facilitate customer-to-customer connections with introductory tweets. So if a customer tweets for a recommendation, you could respond with something simple as, “@customer1 good question, I like the cheesecake but @customer2 really loves the custard.”
These types of personal exchanges highlight the advantages afforded to small businesses using social media.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nuts and Bolts

So you want to manage your own PR camapaign?  Great.  Good for you.  You can do it.  I mean, that's why Real Public Relations and Growing Communications exist.  We are here solely for the purpose of helping small businesses and non-profits do just that.

In this space, we've spent a lot of time talking about social media, platforms, strategy, direction, message, story, releases; basically everything that is involved with PR and social media.  We've also spent some time covering releationships and networking.  These are all very important things.  But there is one area we haven't really covered; the language of PR.

In actuality, we're talking about the language of news.  There is a way news organizations write, there is a kind of special language that they use, shorthand that is used to help them do their job.  These aren't words that you'll be using in everyday conversation.  But like being in France, knowing the language goes a long way to earning respect and building relationships.

More importantly, knowing the language will help you sell a story.  When you pitch a story to a news outlet, you're facing stiff competition from other stories vying for the same time.  Producers and reporters are swamped and overworked and looking for anything that will make their jobs easier.  If you approach them with a basic knowledge of how their industry works they will appreciate you and you will have a leg up on your competition.

One of the biggest laments I heard while working as a journalist is that PR professionals have no idea how a newsroom operates.  We constantly said that PR folk should be required to work in a newsroom before being let loose in the world to pitch stories.

The devil is in the details, really.  Using the right words, recommending the correct kind of handling for your story will not only impress a journalist, but will put you on their radar.  Even if they don't take your story, they will remember you. 

Let's start with TV, since most small businesses and non-profits target TV media outlets as their primary media target. 

First, there are some basic acronyms that you should know:

VO - Voice Over
VOSOT - Voice Over Sound On Tape
VOSOTVO -  Voice Over Sound On Tape, back to a Voice Over
NATSOUND - Natural Sound
READER - A story that is read
BOX - An over the shoulder box graphic
CG - Cover Graphic
CGFULL - Full Screen Cover Graphic
SPLIT - A split screen shot
LIVE - A live report, generally from the street
LOOKLIVE - A report that looks live but has been pre-taped
STANDUP - A reporter or anchor standing up or walking as they report, either live or in a pkg.
PACKAGE - A 60-90-second pre-taped story
ONE-SHOT - A single camera shot focusing on one anchor, reporter or guest
TWO SHOT - A single camera shot focusing on both anchors or reporter and guest
DESK - A wide camera shot focusing on the personalities at the newsdesk
WIPE - A graphic or video transition that moves from one element to another

There are a number of other acronyms that are used in a TV newsroom, but these are the ones that you most likely would mention during conversation or a pitch.  I'll get to the practical use of this knowledge in a minute.  But before we do that, let's also take a look at the format for most TV news outlets. 

The Moving Parts:

One of the things about TV news, whether it's on the local level or at a national network, there are a ton of people involved in making the "magic" happen.  With so many hands involved, things have to be organized and run almost like an assembly line.  To give you an idea of the number of people involved in getting a single broadcast on air, let's review the cast of characters:

1.  The Producer - This person decides what stories will air and in what order.  They do the majority of the writing for the broadcast and have ultimate responsibility for meeting time requirements, content requirements and knowing everything that is happening before and during a broadcast.  Consider them the Quarterback.

2.  Writers - Most broadcasts have one, maybe two writers helping the producer with copy.  These writers often double as weekend producers. 

3.  Assignment Editor - This is perhaps the toughest job in the newsroom.  The assignment editor is constantly listening to police and fire scanners from around their coverage area trying to make sure they don't miss any breaking news.  They are also working with the producers to fact-check, research, track down interviews and arrange satellite feeds.  The AE is also responsible for keeping track of news crews, photographers, reporters, fielding calls and requests from outside the newsroom, assigning stories, acting as a map, a tour guide and catch-all for any information filtering into the newsroom.  Oh, and they keep track of all future stories that might pop up for potential coverage.

4.  Reporters - Reporters are on air and report the news, generally from outside the newsroom during a broadcast.  They often write their own copy, intro and outro.

5.  Anchors - Anchors read the news during the broadcast, generally from the desk.  The good anchors read all the copy before airtime, help write and work with the producers closely.

6.  Executive Producer - This is the boss in the newsroom generally.  They work with producers to help write, make news decisions and act as a buffer between the newsroom and the News Director, who is usually involved in non-news related business.  These folks are usually very experienced and do not suffer fools kindly.

7.  Editors - These individuals take the video and edit them together based on the directions of the producer, reporter or videographer.  Photographers also edit.

8.  Videographer - These are the ones that go out and shoot all the video that you see.  They often work with reporters in the field, but also work by themselves to go capture VO's and VOSOT's to fill out the newscast.

9.  Directors - These individuals work with the producers to build graphics and help with the behind the scenes elements.  Once the program is on the air, the director is in charge.  The producer and director are often talking during a show.  The director is the one that calls camera shots, sets up the next element and keeps the show moving during a broadcast.

10.  Sound - To the left of the director is usually the sound person.  They make sure the sound is good.

11.  Operator - The operator or switcher pushes the buttons that makes the show look good.  They listen to the director, they make changes as necessary and moves the show along.

12.  Artist/Graphic Designer - This individual generally hides in a little room and is inundated with requests for artwork, graphics and other things that make the show look good, interesting, pretty.  The producer will often have several elements that the designer needs to build for their upcoming show.

13.  Studio Camera Op. - It's rare today for newsrooms to actually have manned cameras in the newsroom, but some still do.  In these cases, they listen to the director and follow his or her orders regarding camera shots, pans and movement.  More likely, though, the cameras are computerized and move on their own.  In this case, you have an individual who programs the cameras based on the newscript and the director's notes.  This person pushes the buttons that makes the cameras move or adjusts when the script changes.

14.  Tape Room Op - This is a bit of a misnomer today as most newsrooms are digital.  But this person is still very important as they stack the video for the show, based on the newsscript and the director's notes.  They also monitor incoming feeds and the technical operations.  If the newsroom were a boat, they'd be the guys in the engine room.  

15.  Engineers - These are the ones often found in the Tape Room, or, more likely, the ones who drive and operate the remote trucks in the field.  These individuals set up the remote shots and make sure they run smoothly in the field.  With shrinking budgets, many videographers are doubling as engineers, but most newsrooms still have specific individuals who are responsible for running the remote trucks.

As you can see there are a lot of moving parts to a regular newscast.  And with budgets getting smaller, these people are working harder and longer, doing more with less.  Everyone has to be on the same page in order for a broadcast to be successful.

Each person has a specific job, but sometimes those jobs overlap and if the communication in a newsroom isn't effective, problems will arise.

Now, about that newsscript.  To many outside of a newsroom, a traditional script can look like heiroglyphics.  There's copy that make sense, but it's surrounded by all of those acronyms you saw above.  These directions tell everyone what is going to happen on a particular news item. 

For instance, if you see this in a script.
B3 - ONE SHOT/BOX (anchor)
        Bells were out today in Lakewood as the town 
        celebrated it's annual "Lakewood Days"

        The Mayor of Lakewood presented the town 
        with a symbol of its history; a Golden cowbell
        which historians say represent the culture of farming
        that helped establish the town.

        TAKE SOT: CG - Fred Durnston, Lakewood resident
        (tape 2, TC: 1:04:44) "This is so much fun, I love

        TAKE 1-SHOT (center, anchor)
        The festivities are expected to continue through Sunday
        and is open to the public.

       TAKE 2-SHOT
       Coming up, we have more on the big fire in Aurora as well as
       the latest from Broncos minicamp
       WIPE TO VO
       It looks like the quarterback controversy is heating up, John Barry
       reports from Dove Valley

Of course that's not a real story, but play along with me.  Breaking down the script, it tells you, and the crew, everything they need to know about what is happening in that story.  You start on a one shot with a box over the shoulder of one of the anchors.  Of course, the anchor would be specified in the script.  You then wipe to video featuring natural sound of people ringing cowbells, no one is talking over this sound.  After that, the anchor begins reading the copy as the viewers sees (hopefully) video of the mayor with a golden cowbell.  This is followed by a soundbite.  The CG signifies a lower third graphic with his identifying information.  From this we go right back to the anchor on a single shot, centered, to finish off the story.  You could also wipe to a FULL CG which might have all of the pertinent information for "Lakewood Days" and THEN take the single shot, or just come out to the two-shot. 

The director, the reporters, the anchor and sound guy, engineers, board ops, tape ops, editors...everyone will look at this script and know what they have to do to make this element work.  Now, imagine you have 15 or more stories that you are covering in your entire newscast (a 30-minute cast) and you can see how complicated it can potentially be.

The Constants:

Every newsroom will have their own personal tweaks and formatting (the above is NOT the format the script would appear in btw), but the basics are all the same.

Because a script can be so potentially confusing, newsrooms segment their scripts into "blocks".  These are separated by the commercials you see and they help the crew keep track of the stories better.

Blocks are lettered, not numbered.  So in the above example, you see B-3 to the far left of the first directions.  This lets everyone know this is the third story in the "B" block.  And each block usually has a specific purpose.

For a 30-minute broadcast, you will generally have four or five blocks to fill.  The content may vary from station to station, but the one constant is that the "A" block is usually reserved for your breaking news, latest news or biggest stories.  This is your headines area.  Sometimes, stations will insert national news in this segment, or they may hold it over to their "B" block.  The big news packages go into the "A" block with lighter fare often being held over to the "B" block. Regardless, the "A and B" blocks are usually reserved for the news of the day, from the hard hitting to the more local, more profile news.  "C" block is usually weather.  The "D" block can either be sports, or, more likely it's a feature segment or a catch all segment where producers can put news in that didn't fit in the "A" or "B" blocks.  Sports is usually the final block.

In hour-long broadcasts the other segments are often set aside for business news, national news, features, interviews and recaps of the top news of the day.

What Does This Mean To You?

First, a basic knowledge of the newsroom operations can only help you when you pitch or try to build newsroom relationships.  But more importantly, you can include coverage suggestions in your pitch to help sell it.

For instance, when you pitch a story, you send out a news release and a pitch paragraph.  In this pitch paragraph, it can be helpful to outline the kind of coverage you would like.  If you think your story is package-worthy, then you can say so.  This means your story may have a harder time being covered.  But if you are simply looking for a reader or a BOX ONE SHOT or just a VO, say so.  A producer might be more willing to put your story in if you're content with just a reader or a reader with a CG.  Of course the story still has to be newsworthy.

I often will suggest options for stories I pitch, starting with an ideal situation, such as an in-studio interview with cover video, to a package to a simple VO.  This lets the producer know a couple of things.  It tells them that I know their business, and it tells them that I'm flexible.  Believe me, producers love to work with individuals who are knowledgable and flexible.

As you watch a news broadcast next time, play a little game.  Try to figure out the directions as you watch the show.  See where the wipes are, see which ones are readers and which ones have a box.  Take note of how the station uses their lower third CG's and FULL CG's.  Identify the VO's and the VOSOT's and the NATSOUND elements.  It will help you understand how a broadcast is put together and will help you when you pitch your story.

In the end, it comes down to being more of a help than a hindrance to the outlet you're pitching your story to.  It may all seem like Greek to you now, but trust me, the more you know about the operations and language of a newsroom, the more successful your pitches will be.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Can BP Recover?

It's been a week since our last posting and while we've missed a few PR and social media stories along the way, the one big PR story hasn't changed a bit.  A trip to L.A. a weekend catching up on sleep and there's still an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico and BP still hasn't figured out how to clean up the mess, or its image.

The problem for BP is, it might be easier to clean up the oil spill than it is to remake their image in the wake of this disaster.  Can it be done?  I don't think so.  But that doesn't mean I don't think BP can rise again, but I'll get to that in a minute.

 First, we have to take a good hard look at what BP is facing once they finally get the oil leak plugged and the cleanup underway.  Let's face it, this is a PR task unlike any other in the history of PR.  You could point to the Exxon Valdez incident decades ago.  How did Exxon make out with that?

The point is, this isn't like Coca Cola scrambling to get themselves out from under the "New Coke" fiasco.  This is more like trying to turn Osama Bin Laden into a loveable figure in the West.  It's nearly undoable, if not downright impossible.

And yet, where there is hope...

We've posted here before about how to recover from a PR nightmare.  There are the traditional crisis communications techniques that have been proven to work.  In case you missed them, here they are:

1.  Acknowledge (the problem)
2.  Accept (the responsibility)
3.  Apologize
4.  Fix (both short term and long term)

There's a fifth element that, depending on the scope of the problem may or may not be necessary.  This one entails giving back and actively recruiting former adversaries as partners.  As a small business owner or non-profit, you, hopefully, won't ever be involved in a PR disaster that will require you to employ this technique.  Although we're hoping you already give back to the community, you aren't required to do business with your mortal enemies unless you really want to.

This fifth element can be costly both in dollars and in company culture.  It can reflect a potential sea-change in values and direction for the company that is embroiled in a scandal as large as the one BP finds itself in today.  Sometimes, this is a good thing.

A few Good Ideas:

Yes, the task ahead for BP is daunting, but it can be done, albeit very, VERY carefully.  Let's first take a look at some of the ways BP can begin to clean up its public image.  This list comes from a recent article in USA Today and reflects many of the ideas I had when trying to figure out how BP can recover from this mess.  You can click here to see the entire article.
•Go ultra-green. BP should become the oil industry's pro-environment leader with a number of substantive, concrete actions, say Lynne Doll, president of The Rogers Group, a crisis communications specialist.
•Offer free gasoline. The free gas should go to churches, schools and charities in affected areas, and steep discounts should go to area residents for a specific time period, says Gene Grabowski, senior vice president at Levick Strategic Communications, a crisis management specialist.
•Assemble a panel. It should be an independent panel of experts to take the long view of the crisis, Grabowski says.
•Listen to residents. The best way to build credibility is by listening instead of talking, says Blake Lewis, a crisis communications specialist and board member of the Public Relations Society of America. BP should host regular town meetings with community members.
•Personalize BP. Make public heroes of community members and BP workers who took extraordinary actions, Doll says.
•Fire the culprit. The person judged ultimately responsible for the leak should get the ax, whether it's the head of deepwater drilling or the CEO, Doll says.
•Poll the public. Regular, in-depth public polling should take place now and for months to come to find out what actions the public supports and what actions it doesn't, Doll says.
•Share the data. All that BP learns should be shared with government officials, academics and rivals, Lewis says. "BP has an awesome responsibility to be a good steward of information."
•Be humble. After the oil leak stops, don't brag, Lewis warns. "There should be no first-person declarations of victory."
•Change its name. Some negative name baggage can't be fixed. It's why ValuJet, scarred by a 1996 crash, is now AirTran and it's why Philip Morris tobacco became Altria in 2003, Doll says. "It's a huge undertaking that will be problematic and expensive, but it has to be done."
You'll notice that nearly all of these solutions will cost money, lots and lots of money.  Again, fortunately, for most small businesses and non-profits, you won't have to go to these extremes, but there are lessons to be learned from these actions.
A Major Change:
First and foremost, the top two suggestions indicate a change of values, or at least a perception of a change of values.  After working with Shell Oil in Colorado, I believe that most energy companies have at least some green values.  Call my cynical, but they have to.  In today's world, companies that ignore the green issue do so at their own peril.  The U.S. government as well as a majority of the population cares about preserving the environment in some way.  In other words, oil and gas companies simply can't storm into a pristine environment, strip it of its natural resources and leave it to fend for itself when they're done.  

I don't know BP's green reputation.  I would bet that the majority of Americans don't either.  And that's the problem.  Before this disaster, I would guess that BP wasn't a blip on the radar for most Americans.  They couldn't tell you if they invested in wind power or hydrogen research or oil shale or if they took the time to recover the environments they worked in.

Now, the perception is that BP is an environmental hazard.  All the good works BP has done up to this point is lost.  Right or wrong, that is the perception that I believe most will have as we move forward from this situation.

So going ultra-green might be the only way to begin any kind of recovery.  The suggestion to give away free gas is also a start, but it's a tricky one.  The last thing BP needs is to be percieved as a company that is trying to bribe its way out of this mess.  Throwing money at the problem won't work.  They have to institute a policy that offers free gas to organizations that really need it, and it has to be a long-term policy, not just a one-year deal.

Don't Spin Me!

PR isn't rocket science.  Most people can see it in action and they know when they're being spun.  That's the problem with BP's recovery; every step they take to recover will be seen by many as simpy a PR ploy.  People will appreciate the free gas, and they'll be happy that BP is going ultra-green, but there will always be a skeptical eye cast upon the company as people say, "That's nice, but has there been any substantive change to make sure something like this never happens again?"

This is where being humble and transparent comes into play.  Normally, oil and gas companies are as tightly locked down as Fort Knox.  BP can't afford to be anymore.  They have to open their company up, pull back the curtain and let the citizenry see the wizard, see the mechanations at work, they have to let the public see just about every aspect of its operations before the public will begin to trust that change has indeed been made.

Firing the culprit is a good place to start, but I have a better idea; fire the CEO.  Yes, he wasn't the one who forgot to close a valve or maintain the pipes or train the workers.  But, like a famous President once said, "The Buck Stops Here."  Fair or not, this happened on his watch.  Leaving current CEO Tony Hayward in place won't engender a ton of trust in BP moving forward.  In order for the public to believe that BP has indeed made significant changes, those changes will have to begin at the top.

If BP won't flat out fire Hayward, then at the very least, replace him as the face of the organization.  So far he has been nothing short of a PR disaster as he tries to explain away the "accident".  He has insulted Americans, tried to diminish the impact of the disaster and basically been a bit of a lout in interviews and public appearances.  He hasn't been contrite or overly apologetic to this point.  Even if he doesn't personaly feel bad about the spill, at least try to appear apologetic.  I believe a change in the face of BP would be a great help as the company tries to distance itself from this mess.

Lessons Learned:

Obviously, we all hope that BP has learned some valuable, if not extremely painful, lessons from this whole experience.  But are there any lessons to be gleaned from this for the small business community and non-profits out there?

Of course there are.  First, take a look at those suggestions from the USA Today article.  Then take a look at my comments regarding BP's green reputation.  One of the most important commodities any business can trade on is its name and its reputation.  If you wait until there's a problem to begin outreach or devise a PR plan, you're already way too late.

Why not be active in your community and in your outreach efforts now, when things aren't crumbling all around you?  Be active and more importantly, be vocal about it.  Use your social media platforms and PR efforts to make sure that your efforts are at the very least recorded. 

You don't need to, or want to for that matter, beat the drum constantly telling everyone how wonderful you are for running a soup kitchen or giving away clothes to the homeless or donating time and money to local arts and schools.  You simply need to promote the particulary charity and attach your name to it.  Be visible, but don't be at the forefront all the time. 

Another important aspect is to create a message that reveals your involvement in, and commitment to, local charities.  Mention it during interviews, put it in your social media messages, make sure it's visible in your PR efforts.  Letting people know that you care about the community and that you're involved without bragging about it is one of the best uses of social media and PR strategies.

If you do this, then if and when something disasterous happens to your organization, you can ramp up your outreach efforts and point to your history of charity so it doesn't look like a one-time effort or a bribe.

What's In A Name?

And then we come to the name change.  Unlike most small businesses and non-profits where the brand name can mean the difference between success and failure, BP can afford to make this move.  Small businesses and non-profits spend years establishing their name in their neighborhoods and towns so that people immediately recognize them and know what they do.  A name change would mean the loss of all the repuation, hard work and brand recognition and loyalty that had been built over the years.  In short, it's practically a death knell for small biz and non-profits.

For larger companies, though, it's essentially like restarting the company from scratch.  In most instances, the companies have deep enough pockets to make this change.  They can create an entirely new marketing strategy and rebrand the new company in a way that removes it from its sordid past.  It's questionable, though, in this instance if this move will work.  

With social media and the influx of information that bombards us every day, is there any way that BP can change its name without that name forever being linked to BP and this disaster?  It's likely that regardless of what new name BP comes up with, it will still be BP to millions of people across the world.

For this to work, BP needs to restructure, change the name and emerge from this disaster as an entirely new oil and gas company, complete with new values, new goals and a new kind of transparency.

In other words, BP has to die in order for it to survive.  Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, BP has to be completely burned to the ground before it can re-emerge, rebuild and revive. 

This is where social media as well as PR will help BP, or whatever it will be called, as it moves forward.  If BP is smart, they will utilize social media in an effort to reach out to organizations that can help it rebuild its image or create a new one for whatever new name they come up with.

Using social media will also allow it to interact with the millions of people who are outraged over the spill and begin to mend bridges on a more personal, one-on-one level.  Press conferences and talking heads and news articles with conciliatory quotes only goes so far.  To really begin to repair the damage, BP leadership will have to do it one person at a time and social media can help that process immensely. 

If BP is smart, they will take a page from Coke and let the people have a say in some of the decisions BP makes as it moves forward.  I'm not talking about where to drill, but certainly they could open up their social media platforms for feedback on what kind of research to fund, or on long-term clean up solutions and even what non-profits to help with free gas or environmental conservation.  Simply by letting the public in the door, allowing them to let their voice be heard, people will begin to rebuild the trust that has been lost during this situation.

So, no, BP can't recover from this disaster.  But it can survive and rise again, even if it's in a different form.  It's likely that within a few years, BP won't exist and the company that today is strugging to clean up the oil spill will look completely different, with a new name and new direction under new leadership.  

Recover?  Not likely.  Rebuild?  Absolutely.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Value of Partnerships

So much to catch up on and so little time.  I'm flying out to Los Angeles on Tuesday to meet with a client and hopefully drum up a few others while I'm out there.  I was in New Mexico last week, a quick note, if you've never been to Albuquerque or Santa Fe, take a few days and check them out.  Wonderful, friendly, open and packed with history and art.  You won't be disappointed.

What We've Missed:

There's the BP disaster that continues to unfold and their continuous PR gaffes.  But I think I'll save that one for when I get back.  I was asked recently what I would do if I were in charge of BP's public relations efforts in the face of this fiasco.  I had to think about it for a second.  Mostly because the moves that BP have made have been mostly textbook.  TRY to get out in front of the story (although this is difficult with this situation).  Write Op-Eds, make TV and radio appearances, reach out to the community through social media and public appearances.  It's hard to argue with that strategy, unless, of course, the story simply won't go away and every effort you have made to end the disaster has failed so far. 

I think the biggest thing I would do different is to find a different spokesperson.  BP's Exec. Tony Hayward has been nothing short of a second natural disaster, in my opinion, in his handling of the spill.  I'll have more on this in future posts, but truly, he has been totally ineffective.  And I understand why BP would put him out there.  He is the Boss, and people want to hear from the boss in times like these.  It would be like a U.S. President trotting out his Undersecretary of Interior Affairs in the middle of a national crisis.  You just don't do that.  The boss has to be seen and heard.  But what do you do when the appearance of "The Boss" actually makes things worse?  I have a few thoughts, but they'll have to wait until I get back from Los Angeles.

There's the ever-present iPad explosion and how it could change the future of media.  Hyperbole?  Maybe, but Advertising Age doesn't think so.  I'll post a link to a fascinating article about that early next week.

What's Coming Up:

I'll also be delving into some politics upon my return.  I have an interview lined up with Adam Schrager, a political reporter and author who wrote the book, "The Bluepring" about how the Democrats used an effective PR and message strategy to change the political landscape and how they're adapting to the upcoming elections.  By the way, you can find the book at most bookstores.  If you like politics and love learning about the inside world of politicos, you'll love this book.  You can read a review of the book from the Wall Street Journal here.

I'm also working on getting an interview with Andrew Hudson, PR Guru, and currently the head of one of the largest free online jobs services.  He'll give his take on the upcoming elections, particularly the Governor's race, since he was the spokesperson for one of Denver's most colorful and arguabley most successful mayor's, Wellington Webb.  It will be fascinating to hear his opinion on the impact social media will have in the upcoming races.

Soooo, there's a lot on the plate and I'm excited, I hope you are as well.  But for today, I want to talk about partnerships.  I've written about this before briefly, but there still seems to be a lot of confusion among small businesses and non-profits when it comes to developing partnerships, media or otherwise.

Your Media Friend:

Regardless of whether you're a small business or non-profit, a media partnership should be part of your overall PR plan, period.  Yes, I hear you, "But Chris, you make it sound so easy, it's not."  You're right, it's not easy.  You don't just walk into a media outlet and demand to be partners.  It takes some time, some research, timing, a little luck and perseverance.  But it can be done.

The biggest part of cementing a media partnership is knowing your value.  I'm not talking monetary value here.  The value I'm focusing on is of a different kind, it's audience value. 

You know your organization has value.  You have a customer base, you have loyal followers and customers.  You hopefully have established a name for yourself, or are at least working on it.  These people, these friends and followers and customers are your cache, so to speak, when attempting to partner with a media organization.

One of the first things a media outlet is going to do is look at compatibility and what you bring to the table in terms of value, i.e. potential audience, to their station or publication.  If you are a VERY small business, then your potential audience might be limited, but even then, you can offer a media outlet a link to an audience that they might be weak in. 

Before you can even consider approaching a media outlet, you have to do some research.  

1.  Take an honest look at your customer demographics and size.  Where do they come from, how much do they make, what do they do with their free time, where do they get their information or entertainment from?  It's a good idea to take a poll of your customers.  Get as much information on them as possible, you'll want this information later when you approach an outlet.

2.  Look for the unique elements in your customer base.  What sets them apart from your competition?

3.  Look at your own organization and pinpoint the characteristics that set you apart from your competition.  This should be easier since you have probably established yourself as something unique in your field.

4.  Study the local media.  Find which outlets cater to your specific customer base the best and begin focusing on them as potential partners.

5.  Decide what kind of events you would like to participate in.  

6.  Look at the kind of events the media outlets you targeted participate in.  Is there any crossover?  Is there focus something that would appeal to your customer base?

7.  Attempt to get the "numbers" of these particular outlets.  This can be tricky, but it can be done.  Local entertainment beat writers get the most recent ratings and demographic information for the local media outlets.  You can contact the station itself or try one of the beat writers.  You can also pay for this information, but it can be expensive.

8.  Once you get the numbers (ratings, household viewers, demographic breakdown) see if there is a weakness to exploit.  Is one station suffering from a lack of younger viewers or readers?  Older viewers or readers?  Is there an outlet that is weak in the area that pertains to your customer base?

Once you've gathered and processed all of this information, start looking at compatibility.  For instance, if you run a Western clothing store, it makes no sense for you to try and partner with a hip-hop station.  But perhaps a Spanish-speaking station might work, or, obviously, a country station, but perhaps also an oldie's station. 

Find a publication that fits best with your type of service, customer base or product.  You'll have much more success in brokering a partnership.  When it comes to your local TV stations or major newspaper, the compatibility issue isn't as big of a deal.  They cater to a wide audience, so your chances are better when it comes to compatibility, but worse overall because the competition is steeper.

The next thing you have to do is put together a plan.  You can't just ask to be partners without knowing what you want to get out of the deal and knowing what you can offer the potential partner.  Let's say, for instance, you have a small boutique that caters to pregnant women.  You could come to them and offer to partner with the outlet by providing advice, tips and information about pregnancies, maternity clothes and health subjects.  You could push for a weekly segment, either live or pre-packaged (although types of partnerships are generally pay for play) or you could ask to be linked to their website. 

You could also look for particular events they participate in and ask to be partnered with them for that single event.  However, again, these types of deals are often pay for play and involve sponsorships.  A better way to go about it is to create an event yourself and then ask them to be a media partner in the event. 

This often works better for a number of reasons. 
1.  The outlet doesn't have to spend any money on the event.
2.  The outlet gets exposure at the event.
3.  The outlet doesn't have to conider long term partnership agreements; it's usually a one and done.
Obviously, the station gets value because they can plaster their logo and name all over your event and even have representatives at the event to promote their outlet.  They get this exposure with a minimum of effort and time and money invested. 

You, on the other hand, get the exposure that comes with being mentioned and maybe even featured on a local TV news broadcast, radio station or newspaper.  It's a win-win situation.  It's a no-brainer, right?  Well, it seems that way, but it doesn't always work that way. 

Two examples:

When I was with the PRAS Group, we had two clients that we attempted to set up with media partnerships, one worked, the other one, fell by the wayside.  In retrospect, the one that fell by the wayside, was actually the one that would have been a better media partner.

We were working with a client who ran a website for premature births.  NICU101 was, and is, an excellent website.  Owned and operated by a doctor who had given birth to two preemies, the site offered a ton of great information for families with preemies and offered a great networking experience. 

We attempted to partner her with the big local news station, KUSA.  The station was intrigued, but they had questions.  Legitimate questions.  The big thing, however, was that they had already partnered with a website that catered to mothers.  Not specifically mothers of preemies, but mothers and families in general. 

They also questioned the newness of the site.  Stations have to be wary of businesses that are too brand new.  They like to see some stability and proof that they won't just close up shop one day, leaving them hanging and having to fill space and looking embarrassed. 

The other problem was that the site wasn't ready, at the time, to go into a media partnership.  It needed to grow a little, build its audience, establish a name and evolve into a multi-media site.  It was about six months away from really being a quality partner that would have added value to the stations' product.

We might have been able to pursue a partnership with another TV or radio station, or even the local papers, but even then, it just wasn't ready to give the outlets full value.  Remember, you get one shot at this and if you agree to a partnership and don't deliver, you will hurt your chances in the future of getting another partnership.

You can overcome these obstacles, but it's not easy.  When I was working on the Colorado Colfax Marathon we were lucky that the organizers had spent a year preparing and had partnered with KUSA, The POST, KOA and The Rocky Mountain News.  They hit all the major outlets in town.  They were able to do this because, first, they were a non-profit with some heavy hitters on their board, and second, they spent time getting ready. 

Even with these partnerships in place, we couldn't demand that they run stories on the brand new marathon.  We had to wait until they were ready to talk about us.  We were kind of on their schedule.  All of the outlets were busy covering the Olympics in Utah, and we didn't get the kind of exposure we wantd until about three weeks before the event.  Frustrating, yes.  But the increased exposure allowed the marathon to far surpass their first year participation goals and the entire event was a screaming success.  The point is, even though it was a brand new event, the marathon took time to prepare so they were ready to add real value to the outlets.

Example #2:

The second client was Big Box.  They really wanted to be part of the Denver Bronco broadcasts on KOA.  We talked to KOA about partnerships, but, as expected, they were already full of partners.  Plus, most of the agreements they had involved the client paying money to be involved, something the client couldn't afford to do.

So we changed our strategy and went with another local radio station that was very popular, had some connection to the Broncos, and could use a potential partner.  We went to KOOL, the oldie's station and proposed a plan that involved the client and the station in a joint venture.  It was essentially a giant tailgating party with games using the boxes provided by the client, meat and barbecuing provided by a local butcher shop and the station would broadcast from outside the games. 

It was a three-way deal that worked out great for the meat shop, and for KOOL.  However, the client got lost in the deal, and while it did attract some attention, it wasn't as successful as it could have been.

This was for two reasons.  
1.  The client gave up too much control to the station and the other partner, the meat shop.  
2.  Because of this, the client was stuffed into a small location which was too crowded to really allow for any meaningful interaction.
3.  The station wasn't able to do any live broadcasts during the pre-game, meaning fewer mentions on air for the client.
As big of a disappointment the Bronco partnership was, KOOL and the client DID manage to hit a home run during the holidays as part of the station's annual toy drive.  Big Box supplied the boxes to collect the toys in and in turn they recieved numerous mentions on air both before and during the drive.  The on-air mentions ended up equalling over $100,000 in free advertising for the client, which is nothing to sneeze at.  This was an example of a partnership that added value to the media outlet and to the business at the same time. 

I still believe the tailgating idea would have worked had the cilent not given up so much control in the intial phases. 

Keep in mind that, while you want a media partnership, you still have to get something out of it.  If you're not getting everything out of it that you think you should, then don't hesitate to make adjustments or talk to the outlet to make sure you're getting value as well.

Media partnerships can help you grow quickly by establishing your name and growing your brand.  But in order for them to work, you have to bring value to the table and you have to make sure you get value out of it as well.  If it's done right, you will recieve free advertising and the outlet will receive value through your product, service or exposure to new audiences.

Yes, it takes work, but the payoff could be enormous!