Thursday, October 28, 2010

Feel the Passion!

Recently I spent a day going around to local newsrooms to introduce a friend to reporters, assignment editors and producers.  Whenever possible, this is a great way to begin to build relationships with local journalists and get a feel for how to pitch your stories to the separate newsrooms.  Some newsrooms are more open to "feature" type stories, while others are really only looking for hard news stories.  By meeting the journalists in their respective newsrooms, you can get a feel for how to pitch your stories. 

But one of the biggest reasons to spend time at your local newsrooms is that you get to actually have conversations with the reporters, producers and editors that will be receiving your pitches.  I always tell clients that when they have a chance to meet journalists, do more listening than talking.

The importance of this bit of advice came to the forefront last week during my little "mini-tour".  We were chatting with the producer of the number one morning talk show in Denver and we began discussing media pitches.  It was a discussion that brought to light one of the biggest mistakes PR professionals make all the time.

Hi, let me tell you about a great story you might be interested in!

First, a bit of insight:

We've covered this in-depth in this space before, but it's worth mentioning again.  Newsrooms are flooded with press releases every day.  They get hundreds upon hundreds of pitches, releases and alerts on a daily basis.  This isn't even counting the number of stories they glean from listening to the local scanners, or the ones pitched individually by journalists who might have been alerted to a story through more "unofficial" channels.  In other words, they are constantly swamped with potential stories.

And it's not just emails coming across their desk.  When I worked in newsrooms, we still received a ton of faxes, and even today, the number of faxed releases might surprise you.  But one of the most time-consuming and annoying pitches they get are the phone calls.  Most of the time, these are first-time pitches; cold calls from a large PR firm halfway across the country where some first year PR account manager is simply calling every newsroom on their list making their pitch.

Here's the problem with this approach:
1.  Generally, these calls are ill-timed, catching journalists when they're at their busiest
2.  Journalists like to look at information rather than have it told to them over the phone
3.  Most of the time, these pitches are scripted out
4.  The PR person is often surprised when they actually talk to a live person and they      aren't prepared to make a live pitch.
Here are some interesting comments from the producer we spoke to, Nathan Lynn, producer of 850 KOA's "Good Morning Colorado" program. 

"They always ask to speak to Nathan, and when I tell them they've reached him, they panic a little.  Then they go right into their script.  I can tell when they're reading directly from a script and it doesn't inspire me to want to book them as a guest."

Take that in for a second.  Imagine you're a business and you've hired a large PR firm to manage your account and get you some quality earned media coverage.  You would expect this large, experienced firm to make quality pitches on your behalf.  You would hope they would craft your message, release and pitch, target appropriate media outlets and individuals in those outlets and bring some passion to the effort.

Instead, what normally happens is the firm sends out a media blast to every conceivable newsroom, puts together a pitch script, hands a list of newsrooms to call to the account manager and hopes for the best.  This is a bit like throwing a bunch of stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks.  It may generate some results, you might even get a couple of hits, but the money spent for the results will likely end in disappointment.

Advantage, small business:

This is where small businesses and non-profits often have an advantage over the larger firms, particularly if you're handling your own PR.  In a word, you bring passion to the table, and that passion can often be the difference between a successful pitch and a failed one.

Granted, you probably don't have as much time to devote to your PR efforts as a large firm who has either an in-house staff or can afford to hire a firm to focus on pitching.  But let's face it, you don't need a large firm.  You're not necessarily looking for national media exposure.  For most small businesses and non-profits, you're going to get much more of a bounce from your local media than an article in USA Today or the CBS Evening News. 

Outside of the fact that national news outlets are losing viewers and readers at an alarming rate, your potential customers are tuning into local newscasts to find out what is happening in their immediate area.  That's not to say that a mention on a national news outlet or magazine wouldn't be nice, but given the time you'll spend to get that mention, you're better served focusing on your local outlets instead.

This brings us back to why your PR efforts can often be more successful than those of a large firm.  You know the area, you know the audience, you know the trends of the local newsrooms.  Heck, you might even know a few of the local journalists.  You can often do a better job at targeting local newsrooms, editors, reporters and producers than the larger firms.  But the one thing that you offer that the larger firms usually don't is passion. 

You know your product, service or business better than anyone.  It is what you do, it is your lifeblood it is why you get up in the morning.  Who better to make your pitch, then, than you.

Tips for the phone call:

With that said, there are some things you can do to increase success when it comes to making your phone call pitch.  Keep this in mind, it is very rare to make a cold call phone pitch and have a newsroom pick up your story.  In almost every instance, it is always a better idea to send an email release and pitch letter beforehand.  Then you make your follow up phone calls to try and close the deal.  When making that phone call, remember these tips:
1.  Be natural - It's okay to write out a script if you really need it.  But it's usually better to simply list the important points of your pitch.  Reading from a script can drain the passion you naturally have for your story.
2.  Practice - For most, making a pitch is not something that comes easily or naturally.  You have to practice your pitch to make it sound natural.  Record yourself and play it back.  Do it over and over in front of a mirror until you feel comfortable with it.  Then make the pitch to a friend or colleague and get their feedback.
3.  Be prepared - If you're lucky, the journalist will be interested in your pitch.  If this happens, you have to be prepared for them to ask you questions.  You might get through your pitch just fine, but if you falter when they ask you questions, you're going to ruin your chances. 
4.  Be conversational - Anyone who has taken a public speaking course has heard this a million times, but it matters.  You don't want to be stiff or awkward.  Yes, you're going to be nervous, that's okay.  But you still have to be able to talk about your story in a way that interests them.  I still get nervous when I make my phone call pitches, and I've been doing this for years.  I simply remind myself that I'm pitching a good story and that journalists always want to hear a good story.  That puts me at ease.  Instead of thinking that I'm being a pest, I approach it as if I'm providing a service, actually being of help, to a newsroom.
5.  Be confident - Don't apologize for taking up their time and don't apologize for calling them to pitch your story.  Be confident in your pitch.  You've already sent them information, so in most cases, they'll already be familiar with your story.  You simply have to remind them of the email you sent and then explain why your story would be good for their audience to see or hear. 
6.  Get to the point - As we've said before, journalists don't have a lot of time to spend listening to phone pitches.  When you make your phone call, let them know who you are and why you're calling.  In some cases they'll remember your email.  If they do, simply ask them if they're interested in the story and would like to schedule and interview.  If they don't remember the email, they'll ask you to refresh them on the pitch.  If this happens do this:
     a. Tell them what the business is
     b. Tell them immediately about the event or story
     c. Mention the newspeg, let them know why this is a timely/important story
     d. Explain why it's a good story for their newsroom and audience.

You can do all of this within two or three sentences, literally 30-seconds.  If you're lucky, you'll get two minutes to talk to the journalist, you have to make the most of every second.
7.  Don't pester - Let's assume that the journalist has either read your email, or has listened to your pitch and responds with a "not interested".  Now you have to do a little tightrope walking.  You don't want to simply give up, but you also don't want to pester them.  If this happens, reiterate why it fits with a current newspeg or how it will be of interest to their audience.  You might even ask why they're not interested in the story.  Make sure they know that you're asking for future reference so you can make better pitches to them down the road.  Most of the time the journalist will tell you.  Finally, you can ask if there might be another treatment of the story that they'd be interested in.  In other words, you're pitching a package piece or feture story.  They might not be interested in devoting so much time and space to your story, but they might be interested in a shorter VO or a reader or a calendar listing.  You're simply trying to get the outlet to run something on your story, so if you don't get the bigger treatment, then try for something smaller.  After that, thank them for their time and let them go.  Most reporters will sit through two, maybe three follow up questions from you, but not much more.  Again, remember that their time is valuable.
8.  Be passionate - This doesn't mean yelling or jumping up and down as you pitch your story.  What it means is that you feel your story is important and that it is valuable to the newsroom.  Trust me, journalists can hear if you really care about your story.  If you are hesitant or blase about your story, how can you expect them to get excited over it?  
A short story:

Here's an example of how being passionate and persistent can really pay off during a follow-up phone call pitch.

I was pitching a story for Chase Bank in 2006.  They were releasing their "Blink" card nationally and Denver was one of the first markets to get the card.  Chase had already rolled out the card in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Dallas before they ever got to Denver.  Being fifth on the list put us behind the eight ball a bit since the story had already been covered nationally, and had been picked up at least once in both local newspapers.

We initially sent out an email release announcing the release of the card locally.  This made it a local story, instead of a national afterthought.  It was a chance for local journalists to dive deeper into how the card works and personally ask questions of Chase Executives.

Every time I made the follow up phone call, I was asked why they should spend time on a story that had already been covered several times on the national level.  My simple response was this:

"Over 500-thousand Colorado residents will be receiving this card and this is the first time you'll be able to talk personally with Chase executives to localize the story."

In almost every case, this was enough to convince them to schedule an interview.  However, I ran into a major roadblock when I started calling media outlets on the other side of the state.  Editors and reporters of these smaller outlets flatly refused to cover the story.  At first I was taken by surprise at the myriad of denials.  after four refusals, I started to wonder why these smaller outlets weren't interested.  I had tried the new technology aspect and even wondered if it was just a matter of limited time on the broadcasts or space in the newspapers. 

During my sixth call, while talking to the editor of the Idaho Springs paper, I asked him why he wasn't interested.  He answered that Chase had no banks in his area and therefore the story had no impact with his readers.  I immediately kicked myself for not thinking of this earlier and then addressed his concern.

I mentioned that Chase DID have branches on the Western Slope of Colorado, only they weren't called Chase, they had a different names such as Wachovia, National and Western, all of which I knew WERE located on the Western Slope as well as Idaho Springs.  I mentioned that thousands of residents in his area would be receiving the card in the initial statewide rollout.  More than that, several other banks would be rolling out similar cards in the upcoming year, meaning many more of his readers would be impacted by the "Blink" card or cards just like it.

After a short pause, the editor asked if I knew exactly how many Western Slope residents would be getting the card.  I told him I'd get that information within an hour and get right back to him.  After hanging up, I found out that nearly 60-thousand residents would be getting the card and called him right back.  Within minutes I had booked an interview, and started calling back the newsrooms that had refused the story earlier.  Armed with my new information and knowing that it was good story, I managed to book all of those previous denials and went on to book several more outlets on the Western Slope.

Lesson Learned:

This pitch was very successful because I was passionate about the story.  I KNEW it was a good story and that it had a place in newscasts and newspapers across the state.  I also did not just give up when I was given a denial.  I asked a simple question and received a simple answer to which and could respond. We also did not simply blast out our press release.  We targeted key media outlets and key individuals in those outlets.  This saved us time from having to call every single outlet in the state and we didn't waste our time trying to explain the pitch to a journalist who simply wouldn't care about the story.

As a small business owner or non-profit, you have the ability to bring that kind of passion and planning to your pitch.  You don't have to get every media outlet in the state to cover your story.  You can target the top outlets and make your pitch with them.  The fact that you truly care about your pitch is also an advantage.  Again, producers, reporters and editors can hear when you care.

If you practice your pitch, be confident, to the point and prepared, your phone call pitch will always have a better chance to succeed than a larger firm that is, usually, only going through the motions.  This isn't a case of David vs. Goliath, it's really more a matter of passion.  You have it, they don't.  Use that to your advantage and you'll find yourself doing a lot more media interveiws in the near future.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Call To Action!

So you have a social media campaign.  You're online every day, updating your Facebook posts, Tweeting regularly, blogging every other day.  You're doing everything you should be, but for some reason, your network isn't growing, hits to your website or blog remain low, your business isn't picking up like you think it should.

On the other side of the coin, you've been pitching stories to your local media outlets, you haven't been getting much attention from the newsrooms, and when you do, the response hasn't been nearly as big as you'd hoped it would be.

And now you're asking yourself, "What am I doing wrong?"  There might be a few culprits, but chances are, your biggest mistake could be something so simple, you'll kick yourself when you find out what the answer is.

Different Kinds of Campaigns:

Before we go forward, let's take a moment to go over a couple of things.  First, take a look at your message.  Is it clear?  Is it concise?  Is it memorable?  Second, and this is important, ask yourself what kind of goals are you communicating to your readers, viewers, friends and followers?

There are really two kinds of  social media and PR campaigns:

1.  An Awareness Campaign
2.  A Call To Action Campaign

If you own a small business or non-profit, one of the most important decision you'll make as you create and plan your efforts is to decide what kind of campaign you want to run.  Do you want to simply raise awareness of your organization or of a your cause?  Or do you want to motivate potential customers or donors to frequent your business or donate to your charity?

Depending on what your goals are, you'll end up running completely different types of campaigns.  If you want to motivate people, then running an awareness campaign is going to net you very disappointing results.  Let's take a look at how the two efforts differ.

Raising Awareness:

If you're simply running an awareness campaign, then your work is relatively simple.  Like a call to action effort, one of the first things you want to do with an awareness campaign is to get your platforms up and begin linking to as many groups, friends and followers as possible.  By doing this, you immediately have the ability to expose your organization to hundreds, thousands, potentially tens of thousands of new sets of eyes.

Once you've done this, your biggest goal is to continually grow your network as much as possible.  In order to do this, you have to provide content that is both interesting and shareable.  Your links, your posts, your photos and videos must be appealing to the audience you're trying to reach.  If they are, your links will be shared and, hopefully, your efforts will begin to draw attention from others that have received a shared link from one of your followers.

If you're trying to raise awareness, much of your content will contain information that is crucial to your efforts.  We'll get into some of the best ways to run an awareness campaign in our next post, but if all you want to do is raise awareness of your organization or cause, then most of your work will deal with constantly posting information that is both entertaining and informative.  Kind of like news.  You want sets of eyes to see your material and log into your platforms.  In order to do this you have to focus on the content.  Do this, and your awareness effort will have a great chance to succeed.

This is why non-profits do so well in the social media realm.  If your major goal is to simply get folks to see you, to become aware of a cause, then all you really need to do is put something online and then work to distribute your content to as many sets of eyes as possible.  You're trying to educate.  Your biggest hurdle is getting it in front of folks and then making the content as interesting as possible so they take the time to read what you posted.  If you can get others involved in your cause you can build your network, and your non-profit awareness campaign will take off.  But what if you need to actually get others to DO something other than just read your material?  Then what you need is something a little extra.  

Motivate, Motivate, Motivate:

But let's assume for a moment that you don't just want to let people know that you exist, or tell folks about a particular cause you're interested, but you really, truly want or NEED to motivate the public to begin buying your wares, using your service or donating to your cause.  What kind of campaign do you need to run then?  Simply put, you need a "Call To Action" campaign.  And while there are some similarities to an awareness campaign, there is one primary difference; and that difference is right in the name.

A "call to action" campaign implies exactly what it say, you give people a REASON for actually getting out of their house and down to your doorstep.  But in order to do this, you have to offer more than cute phrases, interesting information, funny videos or catchy slogans.

Whether you're involved in a social media campaign or a PR effort, you have to make people want to participate in your venture, whether it's a small business or a non-profit.  One of the most common questions I get is "how do I motivate people online?"  Surprisingly, there's a pretty common answer.

If you own a small business, think about how you normally motivate customers and potential customers to frequent your business.  You run specials, you offer sales, you organize contests.  No matter how much technology changes how we do business, the fact is, people want to feel like they're getting a bargain.  This has been true since folks began trading beads for food millennia ago, and it holds true today.

Why change what works?  The biggest difference in social media and PR isn't what you're offering, it's the method of communication that has changed.  Before mass media, you would depend on word of mouth.  As times changed, businesses began using newspapers and billboards and eventually moved to radio and TV ads.

As you know, advertising can be expensive, and often small businesses and non-profits can't afford to buy quality advertising to raise awareness or motivate the public.  This is why social media and PR has been such a boon for small businesses and non-profits.  It allows you to spread the word, raise awareness and motivate without having to spend thousands of dollars on advertising.

But even though the venue might have changed, the basic tactics of motivating the public remains, essentially, the same.

Give 'Em A Reason:

It doesn't matter if it's a Faceook post or a TV interview, if you're running a call to action campaign, one of your primary messages needs to be that by going to your store, they're getting something special.  Here are a few tips to appeal to potential customers or donors:
1.  Offer a bargain - This could be a sale, a two-for-one deal, a discount offer.  Something that will make them feel like they are getting a deal they can't find anywhere else.

2.  Make them feel special - One of the most effective techniques to motivating others is to make them feel like they are getting something totally unique to your business, something they can't find at other stores.

3.  Make it time sensitive - Let's face it, if you know you can go to Wall-Mart at any time to buy that cheap video game, then you're less likely to get up off your couch to run down and get that game.  But if that game is only for sale for three days, then you know you HAVE to run down and buy it while it's on sale.  Consumers need to know that if they wait too long, they'll miss out on a great deal.  Only then will they be motivated enough to actually beat down your door.

4.  Be transparent - This is primarily for non-profits.  When folks donate to a cause, they want to know exactly what their money is going for.  Is most of it being eaten up by adminstrative costs?  By telling folks what their money goes to, the public will feel better about donating.

5.  Tell a story - Again, this is primarily for non-profits.  Tell a story that pertains to the cause the pulls on the heartstrings and really clarifies the need of those involved with the cause.  Those late night commercials featuring suffering African children is a great example.  There is a sense of urgency that kids are dying while you wait, and it lets you know exactly what your money is going to do to help.
Not A Commercial:

Oddly, one of the things that really irritates a lot of folks is being sold online.  In other words, you don't want your Facebook, Twitter or Blog postings to be simple advertisements.  You still want to post interesting and informative content.  But at the same time, you want to let them know that you're having a sale and that the sale is for a limited time only.

How to do this without turning people off?  It can be tricky, for sure. But without a call to action, your posts will simply become informative and, essentially, an extension of an awareness campaign. 

Here are some examples of some great call to action posts as part of a social media campaign:
"Wouldn't your wife love a night of passion?  Why wait until Valentines Day to give her flowers.  Say 'I love you' just because.  Gerry's Flowers is offering half off on all rose bouquets and arrangements this weekend only!"

"Protect your family this winter.  Make sure your car is ready for that first snowfall.  All month long Frank's Auto is offering $30 winterizing for you car..."
Do you see a pattern?  You're giving people a reason to get down to your business.  And it's not just because of the sale or special, you're appealing to something more personal, something that impacts their daily lives.  Simply posting something on Facebook that says, "Half off all bouquets" won't be as effective as letting them know WHY they need to buy that half-off bouquet.

Just like an awareness campaign, you still need to grow your network and raise awareness of your organization.  But in order to motivate your friends or followers, you'll need that extra call to action aspect that will actually get feet in the door.

The PR side of a call to action campaign is a little trickier, primarily because newsrooms don't want to be seen as advertisers for a particular business.  Non-profits have more success in this arena since generally your call to action is getting folks to donate, attend an event or become involved in a cause.  You're not selling anything, so your call to action during an interview can be much more effective, yet you still need to create urgency, tell a story and let folks know that their money is going to be impactful for a good cause.

In the end, if your efforts aren't as successful as you'd hoped they'd be, chances are you're not running the right kind of campaign for the goals you have set.  Go back and take a look at the kinds of posts your putting up on Facebook or Twitter or in your blog.

If you don't have a call to action, you're not motivating.  If you're not motivating, you're not going to grow your business or network.  And that is always going to be frustrating and disappointing to any small business or non-profit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Give 'Em A Break...

It's that time of year again.  The leaves are falling, the weather takes on a slight chill, footballs are flying and every pitch in baseball takes on major importance.  In Colorado, snow-making machines are working overtime in the rush to get skiers on the slopes as soon as possible.  Yep, it's election time again and that means only one thing...stressed-out journalists.

I spent fifteen years working as a journalist and I can tell you, this is never a fun time of year.  Reporters, producers and editors have been spending months, literally, preparing for one night in early November.  By preparing, I'm talking about hours upon hours of reading bills and proposals and municipal codes, not to mention candidate resumes, speeches, background checks and press releases from a multitude of political groups across the spectrum.

I haven't even touched on the hours spent designing graphics, setting up logistics for coverage, such as who will be at the different headquarters, arranging live shoots, creating a schedule, building rundowns and...well, you get the idea.  A LOT of work goes into election night coverage...a lot.

Never mind the pressure to get all the facts right on election night as the results being flowing in, and pressure from management to get the big scoop, nail down the big interviews and do it all in such a way that doesn't go overbudget, over-time and in an entertaining fashion that will attract the most viewers.

As you can guess, all that work and no play makes journalists cranky.  The last thing they need is someone constantly bugging them with a story that, while interesting, simply has no place in their already crowded rundowns.

Practice Patience:

We've discussed timing in this space before, and this is one of those times where the more you are aware of what is going on around you, the better off you will be when pitching your story.  Perhaps the most important thing I've pitched with clients during election season is to practice patience when dealing with newsrooms and reign in their coverage expectations.

The fact is, if your story doesn't have some kind of political slant, it's unlikely you're going to get much, if any, coverage on your local newscast or in your daily papers.  This doesn't mean you should take a month off and simply throw up your hands in frustration during October and early November.  There ARE some things you can do to increase your chances of garnering earned news coverage, but remember, you have to plan it right, time it right, write it right, and have a little luck as well.
1.  Be Relevant - If you're pitching a story, try and find an angle that is political in nature, especially if there is a bill or proposal or particularly heated race.  Your best bet is to find a story involving your organization that relates in some way to the big political races.  This will offer journalists a different angle to a story they're probably already bored covering.

2.  Pitch Early - As election day grows closer, rundowns begin to fill up with fewer and fewer feature stories due to election coverage.  If you have a story you'd like to wedge in during October, make your pitch in late September or early October.  If you wait until the last week of October, you're chances decrease significantly.

3.  Be Personal - This is the time of year when personal relationship can be a real help.  It won't guarantee that you'll get coverage, but at least you'll have someone carrying the flag for your story during the daily newsmeetings.  Even in newsrooms where you don't really have strong personal relationships, you can improve your chances by personally addressing your release to individuals reporters, producers and editors.  One final note: instead of emailing your release, personally hand-deliver your release to each newsroom if possible.  Again, this won't guarantee coverage, but trust me, these journalists are being indundated, overwhelmed in some cases, by emails pitching stories, both political and non-political.  If they have something solid, in their hands, that they can peruse on their desk, it's harder to simply overlook.  Your release may sit on their desk for a bit, but it will be there, reminding them of a story that might be news-worthy later on.  
Other Tips:

Another thing to keep in mind is scheduling.  One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is scheduling events in the middle of October and early November.  Every other year, this is generally fine.  However during election years, it means you'll be fighting an uphill battle for coverage. 

This leads me to time-sensitive stories.  Your best bet when pitching a story so close to an election is to try and make it as least time-sensitive as possible.  If you pitch a story that absolutely has to be covered within a small window of time, you are severely limiting your chances.  If a newsroom can't find time or resources to cover your story in that time-span, your story will simply be tossed away with no chance to get coverage after the fact.  However, if your story has some relevance before the elections, and will still be relevant or interesting AFTER the elections, you set yourself up for being part of an election follow-up story, or be part of the first wave of post-election stories.

But let's assume you either HAVE to pitch a story, or simply feel like you have a great story and don't want to wait a few weeks.  In this case, follow the above tips to get your release into the hands of key newsroom players.  Then, be tactful and smart when it comes to the follow-up.  What you do AFTER you get the release to the newsroom will be the difference between getting your story on the air or in print and being completely ignored.
1.  Let's assume you walked your release into the newsroom.  Your next step is to wait a day or two and follow with an email.  Make it short and to the point.  Remind them who you are, what your story is and make your request for coverage.  Let them know that you are flexible and available.

2.  If you still haven't heard back from them, wait another day or two and give them a phone call.  Chances are, you won't reach the individual and will instead get their voice mail.  If you DO get their voicemail, again, keep it short, and follow the same instructions as above.  If you happen to get a live person, do the same thing as above with a couple of important changes:  A) If they politely decline covering your story, don't argue with them. You can point out how your story applies to the current political coverage (if it's relevant) and if they still aren't interested, thank them for their time, remind them that your story will still be relevant AFTER elections and that you'd love to talk about the story after the election dust has settled.

3.  Follow up with an email a few days later.  After you've left a message on their voicemail or chatted with them directly, send an email, thanking them for taking time to consider your story.  Again, keep it short and remind them that your story will still be relevant and interesting after the elections.  Thank them for the work they are doing as part of their election coverage and let them know that you understand the pressures they are under.  Keep it professional and flattering.  They will like the fact that you aren't pestering them too much and respect the fact that you understand the situation.  You STILL may not get any coverage, even after the elections are done, but they will remember you the next time you pitch and this, my friends, is how you begin to build relationships with journalists.
Patience, Grasshopper:

In the end, while you don't have to lower your expectations, you may have to adjust them, at least temporarily, while newsrooms focus on the elections.  It's perfectly okay to pitch your stories, it's NOT okay to make demands on journalists, despite how good your story may be.  Journalists are like elephants...they remember everything.  If you pester and cajole and argue, you will become persona-non-grata.  Yes, we know that journalists are supposed to be subjective, but they are human, and if you make their lives miserable when they're already overworked, they will make you pay for it later.

Find Opportunity:

This time of year is also a great way to go the other direction and try to make their lives easier.  If you are a massage therapist, or dry-cleaning service, restaurant, bar, whatever you do, if you can provide a service to your local newsroom, by all means, offer it.  Some journalists will take you up on a round of free drinks for local journalists, some won't. 

If you don't want to deal with that hassle, simply order pizzas and have them delivered to the newsroom in your name.  You can do the same thing with breakfast burritos, beer, donuts, anything that will make their lives a little easier while they are slaving away preparing for and covering the elections.

Like always, there's no guarantee this will garner you coverage, but at the very least, they will remember you.  Even though you might not get much, if any, response to your pitch this time of year, you can still use the elections as an opportunity to build relationships with local journalists.  And that is the kind of campaigning that can really pay off for you in the future.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Five Reasons Why Your Social Media Campaign Didn't Work

Not long ago I posted an entry that received a great deal of interest.  If you missed it, it was, "Five Reasons Why Your PR Campaign Didn't Work."

Well, keeping in the spirit of that entry, I've decided to post a follow-up, only this time, focused on Social Media.  I know a lot of you are in the process of creating your own social media campaigns, or perhaps you've already done so and are maintaining it daily in hopes that it will drive customers to your door.

But you might not be seeing the bounce you were hoping for.  Maybe you're not seeing any results at all.  There are a number of reasons for this, some of it requires a simple tweak on your part.  However, some issues will require you to completely overhaul either your approach or your expectations.

Let's take a look at the five most obvious reasons your social media campaign simply doesn't seem to be working.
1.  You're talking AT your audience, not TO them: 
First and foremost, social media works best when it's a conversation.  Sure, platforms like Twitter work well when simply trying to exchange links and let people know what you're up to, but for real results, conversations work best.  There are a number of ways to initiate a conversation, such as asking questions, or starting a thread about a particular subject of interest.  You can also use social media to monitor what others are saying about your organization and respond.  If youre just using your platforms to give information and not using to listen as well, you're likely not going to get as much interest from your friends or followers.

2.  You aren't expanding your network:  
This is a toughie for most folks since it's hard to grow a network online without actually knowing anyone.  But the online communities and social media platforms allow for all kinds of connection with folks you've never met before.  For instance, when you initially signed up for Twitter, you were prompted about your interests or type of business you are.  Most folks skip right past this part of the sign in process, but you should go back and check it out again.  It will connect you to individuals and organizations that are interested in the same things you are.  Facebook has groups you can join that target your specific audience, as does LinkedIn.  Blogs require a little more effort, but you can start linking to other blogs of interest and expand your blog network very easily.  Sending a quick note to other blogs letting them know you're linking to them and asking them to link to you takes little time and can help you reach thousands upon thousands of new sets of eyes.

3.  You don't have a call to action: 
Putting information out on your Facebook and Twitter and blog pages is great.  But what do you want readers to do with this information?  This is key, because if all you want to do is raise awareness, then you can get away with this.  But more likely you want to get people to do something specific like, go to your store, or buy a product or give money for a cause.  This means you have to tell them to do it.  Simply telling them that you exist isn't enough.  You have to tell them to get out or get online and check out a website or drive to your store.  People need to be prompted. Sometimes this means offering a special promotion, but at the very least you HAVE to tell them to do something specific in order to start seeing results.

4.  You're being impatient:  
Again, this is typical of most social media campaigns that don't succeed.  While there are some viral campaigns that become internet superstars overnight, they are rare.  A more likely scenario is that you'll establish your identity on your platforms and watch as your friends and followers grow at a steady pace.  Think of it as a plant that needs to be watered and cared for in order to grow.  It takes a minimum of three months online to even begin to reap visible results from a solid social media campaign.  If you put up your platforms and expect customers to suddenly be beating down your door, you have to adjust your expectations.  It's okay to make adjustments as you go along, but you have to be patient and give it time to really work for you.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your social media success.

5.  You're operating in a vacuum: 
This is important, so listen up; Social media works best when used in combination with other marketing and public relations tools.  You can build a small network by only staying on your platforms.  But in order to really get the bounce you want, you have to add your pages to all of your marketing materials, you have to do some public relations to get your name out in front of the public at large and drive them to your blog or your website or your Facebook and Twitter.  Every time you do a community outreach appearance, you have to let people know where to find you online.  I know this sounds like simple stuff, but you might be shocked at how many organizations simply believe that by putting up a Facebook page, they'll suddenly get hoards of new customers.  It just doesn't work that way.  You have to combine it with an organized and targeted PR effort as well as making sure your information is viewable on every bit of marketing collateral and every time you're out in public.
One final note:  There are two things that you should attempt to implement into every social media campaign you do if you want to see steady growth and long term results.
1.  A call to action - I mentioned this above, but this is so very important.  You have to tell people what you want them to do, otherwise, it's just interesting facts that they'll read and move on from.

2.  A promotion - Folks like deals.  They like bargains.  They LOVE it when they feel as if they know something not everyone else knows.  You can offer promotions for your social media followers and believe me, those followers will tell their followers and your network will grow.  Plus, a promotion is a great way to institute a call to action, i.e., "Get your FREE appetizer, only good till Friday, so come on by!"
If you've been diligent in your efforts with your social media campaign, but you just aren't seeing the results you expected, take a look at the list above and ask yourself if you're guilty of committing one of those mistakes.  Also realize that none of those mistakes is fatal if acted upon quickly enough.  The beauty of social media is that it's ever-changing and you have the ability to make fast changes on the fly to try a new idea or correct a miscue that may be costing you potential customers. 

The good news is that you're already online and interacting with others in the social media environment.  And that, my friends is half the battle.