Archive for the ‘literacy’ category

Who are you and who cares?– Media relations in a web 2.0 world

February 27, 2008

Old World: Simple. One story — AcmeTech is doing this. Prepare one press release, blast to newspapers and magazines. Take phone calls and connect with CEO. Bath in the glow of CEO’s praise. Spend the bonus on new shoes.

New World: Complicated. Multiple stories, depending on listener segments. Target proper media, prepare angles and pitches for each, write multiple press releases in traditional and new forms, deliver to specific targets, follow up. Try to find some ROI to please an increasingly grumpy CEO. Examine old shoes (and pocketbook), schedule repair.

That’s the lot in life for a marcom person today. It was once easy. Now it’s not. In the past five years, and especially in the past three, media has changed radically, shattering into hundreds of channels and outlets. This means it’s a lot more work.

Now, everything must be targeted, customized, and specific. It’s no longer a case of media blasting, following up (maybe) and hoping something will stick somewhere. You have to zone in completely on the best influencers.

Here’s the media world today:

Channels have multiplied
Traditional print and television news outlets have been joined by specific magazines; e-zines; blogs; content sites,; citizen journalism sites; social networking (Web 2.0); webinars, podcasts; newsletters; e-books, online forums, video games, etc. – the list grows daily. And each one approaches your story from a different viewpoint and requirement. But you can’t tell hundreds of stories, so determining your REAL story is now paramount. So no jargon, no biz speak, no geekspeak. Now, the most important concept is that it’s CLEAR. (And that it’s search engine optimized.)

Channel preferences have segmented
Generally, the older watch television and read newspapers and magazines, the younger tend more toward online and word-of-mouth (buzz) or peer information sources. Most people now juggle several segments, usually surfing general sources and then moving sequentially to more specific and useful (to them) information channels.

Channels must be graded for value to the campaign
More than ever you have to assess value today. This means you have to sift through and examine multiple options, and then zero in on the ones that will best achieve your objectives. Media today is almost as targeted as direct mail. So pick media targets in channels most appropriate to (and most used by) your target audience. And then understand how that target gathers and processes information.

Match material to outlet
With increasing movement to content niches comes the demand to make material extremely relevant to the niche and the target. One size does not fit all because everyone wants extremely relevant subject matter. This just about spells the death knell for the generic press release (except for isolated instances, such as use to support other campaigns). It also boosts SEO, because it has more likelihood of being used.

Position the story
First of all, What the heck is your story? The most important rule about story telling in a Web 2.0 world? You can’t control it by hiding, prevaricating, sleight of hand, jargonizing, buzzwording and bullshitting. You have to stand naked in front of everybody and take pride in your own body. Sure, you can adjust the lighting to highlight your best features, but you can’t change what you are by buying more clothes. Despite the emphasis on “messaging”, the basis of all communications is still story telling, complete with triumph-or-tragedy drama or problem-solution case studies.

Know Your Business
What space are you in? B2B or B2C? Think hard on this because many marcom people get it wrong by using B2C techniques in a B2B context. Many still use product-marketing techniques, which are different because the two types of marketing operate at different stages of the buying cycle. If you’re in B2B, you have to use B2B marketing techniques such as thought leadership and expertise marketing, case studies, and other problem solving material relevant to the unique nature of the audience. And it has to be delivered to media accessed by the target prospects that have different buying behaviors than product buyers.

Tell your story the right way.
The format must be appropriate to the channel. Each channel outlet has its own style and it’s almost instant death to send the wrong style to a channel. If you’ve targeted a few specific channels ensure that the material sent to them is similar to what they normally use. This means much prep work.

Tell your story in the right language
You have to use language that’s appropriate to the end user. If material is to speak to engineers, who are always seeking facts, there’s no point in presenting a flash video that’s all design wizardry. Make it very scientific and simple. CFO’s are concerned about a business case first, integration second, and technology third, so don’t deliver a list of tech specs. Today, committees often choose products or services (i.e. software), so you may have to speak to several users and find a hybrid style that answers all their individual concerns.

Hand it to them on a plate
Everybody’s busy today, and publishing people more than most. So they have no time. If you can’t tell them your story in one line, you’re dead. And once you do have their attention, you have to do all the work. If a writer has to do much today, he’ll bail, because he has too many other things to do. One way to do this is with a digital press kit, that is encompassed in a digital press release. The kit should include anything ever written about you – good or bad – which saves the writer work, and enables him or her to understand you warts and all (see naked above).

What’s A Word’s Worth?

February 5, 2008

Back, about what seems like a hundred years ago, I ran a newspaper rewrite desk that was charged with helping the paper make the transition from broadsheet to tabloid. Because this was a difficult switch for most reporters, the desk used to go through regular training exercises aimed at constantly finding the right word that would resonate with many meanings.

Our model was what, to my mind, was the best sentence ever written — “Jesus wept”. Two simple words that carried immense meaning.

This wasn’t because we were particularly religious — hey it was a newspaper — but because those nine letters resonated far beyond the actual words used.

Using the word “Jesus” instantly brought dozens of concepts to mind: whether you were a close follower or not, you probably knew the story of Jesus, and so could bring many thoughts to the word. Jesus was a leader, a prophet, God, a wise man, a healer, a thinker, a preacher, a miracle worker, etc.

The word “wept” conveyed almost as much. Why did Jesus weep? For us, because we were frailer than he was; because mankind didn’t understand his mission; because the Romans were taking him away to be crucified; because it succinctly summed up the theory of Christianity; or all of the above?

Two simple words that told a powerful story and so were worth far more than their size. And that’s what every marketer and communicator has to keep in mind today.

Back in the day of the transition from broadsheet to tabloid writing the concept of a short story was considered sacrilegious, but rapidly became the norm. And writing has progressed continually since.

We’re now in an era where social networking style of writing is the most common style used. Acronyms, short forms, mobile messaging, flaming, punchy and to the point writing rule. Try using newspaper style in a PR 2.0 press release or a blog post today and you’ll quickly spill out all over the place. Worse, your message will probably disappear into the morass.

Today, when you write (and think), you have to get to the essence all the time. There’s no room for vague and fuzzy; no time or space for bringing in vaguely interesting, albeit extraneous, concepts.

You have to know the worth of every word.

There are so many messages, so much information transferred visually or aurally, so many demands on attention, that there is no room for the big, sweeping style of communication that was once so common. Neither is there room for the kind of fuzziness so favored by corporate communicators whose objective was to obscure more than inform.

In a sense, today, you have to think in headlines and taglines all the time. Or at least in bullet points. Whatever has multiple meanings and psychological triggers.

So, whenever you sit down at the keyboard, slow down and think “Jesus Wept”.

Thicker Than A Hundred Head O’ Sheep

December 6, 2007

It’s a colloquial metaphor to describe someone who’s not too bright. Pretty evocative image isn’t it?

Makes for a great headline and stops you in your tracks. Tells the story instantly in a very visual way and puts a smile on your face at the same time.

I’ve used it here because of that power. I’m convinced that in a modern technological world, we’re in danger of losing the power of language. Instead we throw out opinions or bury people in facts and information.

Even marketers and communicators, who are supposed to know language well, are often more concerned with facts than language these days. Creative use of language rarely goes beyond the standard “describe the benefits, not the features” admonition.

We work so hard to follow the rules of copywriting, webwriting, and other forms of marketing writing, that we often end up spouting cliches in the mistaken belief that buzzwords will somehow connect people in a common understanding.

Like most people, I can be guilty of it. I recently wrote a technology paper that, because of its intended audience, I believed had to be very straight. Boy, was it boring. As the first person I showed it to said, where’s the magic.

And so, I’ll say the same thing. Where’s the magic?

Saying that the great prairies of North America are flat is accurate, but it’s pretty dull and won’t arrest anyone for a second. So how about one I heard from a prairie farmer: “This land is flatter than piss on a plate”.

Or the wonderful UK expression, Thick as a Brick, or the American one, Thick as a Post (interesting how many expressions describe stupid people).

Or “Dumb as a bag of hammers” to describe a plan or action that went horribly wrong. Or “face like a plate of worms” to describe someone mean and ugly. Or even “brutal” to describe something bad or intense.

Every region has its colloquialisms, and they can often lend some magic to marketing copy. The poets know it. Metaphors create images that stop you and make you take a second look.

And in an over-marketed world, isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

I’m not saying every piece of marketing material should overreach by trying to be folksy.

But come on, loosen up a little. Try to put a little magic back into words.

Marketers: There are seven separate intelligences

October 9, 2007

The Education Coalition, a non-profit agency that delivers web-based learning, contains a treatise on cognitive research from Howard Gardner of Harvard that postulates there are seven distinct intelligences.

People, he says, know the world through language, logical-mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking, the use of the body to solve problems or make things, an understanding of other individuals and an understanding of ourselves.

But individuals differ in the strength of these intelligences and in the ways in which they are used for learning.

This isn’t just some cognitive theory of interests to academics or educators. Anyone attempting to deliver information to influence opinion, behaviour, or thinking in general — that means marketers and communicators — should take note as well.

It means that your messages have to be framed in many ways if they are to hit their mark.

Most of us are used to linguistic learning — the effective use of words, whether spoken or in print. It’s the basis of most advertising and public relations. But not everyone is comfortable with that system.

Others, like architects and sailors, think in terms of physical space; dancers and surgeons think in terms of bodily-kinesthetic; many today are sensitive to rhythm and sound; several today understand by interacting with others; some initiate understanding by relating to their own interests and goals; many, such as scientists, lawyers, and engineers, think conceptually or abstractly.

This means that every marketer and communicator today has to intimately understand the targets for their messages. If your target market is technology people, you may want to consider using visual-spatial, or logical-mathematical styles; if it’s athletes or other people who are in tune with their bodies, you’ll want to use the kinesthetic approach.

Those of us who don’t have such extreme targets might want to mix several kinds of styles in order to capture the majority of people. For example, combine words with visuals with sound with interpersonal interaction (i.e. social networking).

Visual Literacy

October 3, 2007

An interview with Tony Buzan, the creator of the mind map, brings to mind an important point about literacy that should be remembered by all marketers and communicators today.

Simply, the way the world communicates is becoming increasingly visual, and less text oriented. Mind maps are one way to turn logical thinking into a picture, or visual image that is easily understandable.

Recently I put a large communications plan that would have taken 10 pages to write into a one-page mind map that logically outlined all the steps, large and small, that had to be undertaken to implement the plan. Although the people I designed it for were very smart and well educated, they likely wouldn’t have read the entire plan.

Like many people, they would have wanted a summary, a few paragraphs that they could grasp quickly. Financiers, executives, clients and customers want everything summarized these days. They don’t have the time or inclination to wade through a lot of verbiage.

But written summaries tend to be narrow. They focus on one point, that is seized upon by the reader, usually to the detriment of everything else. All the strategic subtlety and integration is removed: and a plan ends up being a mere collection of tactics or action steps.

So riding to the rescue in this world of increasing hurry-up literacy are visual tools like the mind map. There are many others of course, many of them following the teachings of Edward Tufte. I developed one myself called the pictogram.

Some of the new methods of transferring information visually are a bit silly and overdesigned. But their very existence points to a need.

All marketers and communicators today should recognize that this visual style of information transfer is going to increase. It’s simpler, faster, and conveys a large amount of information in a very assimulable form.