Archive for the ‘media’ 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).

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B-to-B Content: Provide, don’t pitch

February 13, 2008

Looks like some B-to-B marketers may have lost touch with their customers regarding what kind of content works best for lead generation.

A survey of marketers and content users distributed by MarketingSherpa shows that many marketers picked case studies as the most attractive content.

But nearly as many content users also cited  as most interesting industry research, how-to guides and top-10 lists for improving their business.

“Some B-to-B marketers focused on generating leads don’t fully realize the impact of content when it comes to engaging their audience and reinforcing their marketing message,” says Matt Lohman, Director, Business Development, KnowledgeStorm Inc., which conducted the study.

“The quality of the leads has everything to do with how the message, positioning and format of the content resonates with their target audience, in addition to when and where marketers engage them.”

Obviously, the most attractive content provides lessons and information that can be used. Case studies present a useful problem-solution format to customers, and are extremely attractive if presented in story form. People like a good story that they can learn from — it’s been a dominant format since Aesop began educating people through his fables.

But the operative word for case studies and all other content is form. While everyone loves a story, most people don’t like sales pitches. And too many case studies are simply bad sales pitches hidden in data or technical jargon. Mostly, they extol the features of some particular product or service but impart few lessons that receivers can apply to their own situations.

So, let’s say it one more time: Content should not be data or simple information. It should provide knowledge that can be used in learning.

Maybe that’s why end-users (a technical term, by the way, as if content was just another piece of software) are out of sinc with the marketers.

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”.

Meet the Media Types

January 17, 2008

Despite all the hoopla about user-generated content, citizen news and other new media, traditional media is still the main target for most marketers and communicators looking for a little promotion. Plus, they’ve now been joined by hundreds of other content publishers who are for all intents and purposes mini-news operations. Technology has changed formats –most traditional media operations are also new media now — but the underlying journalistic principles remain the same.

That’s probably why media training is still an essential part of marketing and communications, even though it has changed slightly. For example, as was highlighted in my previous post about Hacks and Flacks, the days of shotgunning messages — the blast and pray technique –to the media are over.

It’s even truer today that if you’re going to work with the media — in whatever form — you have to understand who you’re working with. That means you have to do a little more research on the particular media person you’re hoping to contact.

Following is a handy guide to some common media personality types. Not everyone fits each exactly, and often each denizen of every newsroom has touches of all of them. But one personality type usually dominates.

Also, with many newspeople, different types can dominate at different times in their careers. So, when dealing with a news person, it’s up to you to figure out which personality is dominant at the moment.

1. The Careerist. The careerist is climbing the journalism ladder and so is much more concerned with his or her career or business than your story. At their best, careerists unearth the nuggets that are hidden within your story; at their worst, they are pompous connivers who treat you as mere fodder for their career arc. The upside: They’re usually consummate professionals. The downside: Too often, they look for the most sensational elements that will get them — not you — noticed.

2. The Journo. Been there, done that, and all the t-shirts have faded. The journo has been kicking around for some time and long ago stopped worrying about his or her career. As sharp observers of societal trends (and of their superiors’ or advertisers’ quirky wants) journos tend to concentrate only on the story, finding, fixing, and filing it professionally and quickly before heading off to the next one. The upside: Journos’ loyalty is only to the tenets of journalism, so you’ll probably get a fair hearing. The downside: A lifetime of isolation from anyone but their media brethren means they can be very cynical and distant.

3. The Squirrel. All data is good data to squirrels, who are really closeted engineers or researchers, most commonly found in technology journalism. These information gatherers take great pride in knowing more details than anyone else and occasionally snowing you under with their knowledge. The squirrel will unearth obscure reports, 100-page studies, and interview 25 industry experts, all for a 300 word story. The upside: Boy, are they thorough. The downside: They often get lost in their own information; your story will too.

4. The Explorer: It’s the journey not the destination that is important to the explorer. Explorers are hunter-gatherers who want to understand what underlies everything. But since it’s the process of understanding that gives them the thrill, once they get there, they rapidly lose interest. Upside: They’re very collaborative if you can keep them stimulated. Downside: If you or your story aren’t interesting, they’re not interested.

5. The Rebel. Because journalism provides one of the few jobs in which they can continually give the finger to everyone, and at the same time subvert the system from within, rebels tend to move into the media when they’re young. Also, journalism creates a channel that allows them to cross social and class distinctions and connect with (and sometimes frighten) people with whom they wouldn’t normally mix. Upside: Rebels love the “afflict the comfortable” part of the old journalistic rule and so make great advocates. Downside: Too often, everything is fitted to a very narrow range of thinking, usually along the lines of Us vs Them. They don’t see a lot of gray.

6. The Project Manager. If there’s only one way to do things, project managers always know what it is, because they’re most comfortable in well grooved paths. If your story breaks one of the rules, i.e. government bad, little guy good, look out. They’ll also dismiss your press release or messaging in a second if it contains some obvious error, muddled thinking, over-the-top or obscure language, or mispellings. Upside: They make great editors and story assessors because journalism is essentially a rule-based business, and they know all the rules. Bow to their wisdom and you’re in. Downside. Make a mistake, lack logic, fail to back up your claims, or sell too hard, and they’ll brutalize you.

B2B Marketing: Venturing Beyond the Trade Press

January 7, 2008

Most marketers for technology vendors and other B2B operations are quite familiar with the trade press that covers their industry. Most are also quite successful at placing their messages in these specific media outlets.

But almost all are also under pressure from senior management CEOs to get their product or service written up in the broader business press.

It’s the get me in USA Today/New York Times/Entrepreneur magazine/local business magazine/television syndrome.

So off goes our marketer, trying to apply consumer marketing to the business to business sphere. And usually failing miserably.

This doesn’t work because these kind of demands are just as often aimed at boosting egos, or impressing colleagues as they are at accomplishing marketing objectives.

There may be some peripheral marketing kick in including a story in the straight press in your press kit. But it’s often not worth the time and effort.

So here’s some ammo for the next time your client/CEO/Marketing VP muses about getting some straight press coverage.

1. Our product or service is too boring. You may have a great service or product that’s registering with your target business market, but that doesn’t mean the straight business press will be interested. Because it sells advertising, the straight press is usually consumer oriented. So it tends to cover business from a consumer point of view, which means excitement (and yes, that often is shallow). Don’t forget, there’s a lot of competition for space so a reporter has to sell the story up the line, usually to people who don’t know anything about business. And B2B is rarely exciting.

2. We don’t have what they want. The straight press invariably looks for articles containing one or more of the standard news values — novelty, celebrity, harm or threat, trendiness, tragedy or triumph. You probably don’t want to be involved in a story that’s tragic, probably aren’t very trendy, aren’t that unique, and don’t have an army of paparazzi chronicling your every move. So what do you have that they want?

3. We’re too complicated. This can be a problem with your own customers, who are supposed to know what you’re talking about. What do you think is going to happen if you drone on for 10 minutes to a straight press reporter about how your product or service works. Eyes Glaze Over time. If they can’t understand it instantly, they don’t want to know.

4. We’re making them work too hard. Business reporters, like most straight press writers, are very, very busy trying to juggle multiple demands. They have quotas (mental, if not actual), and if you want to be noticed, you better hand them the story on a plate — meaning you’ve lined up everything for them. If you make them work too hard, they’ll give it a pass and find something easier. Web 2.0 press releases, which include links to all articles about you, your web site, clients who will speak for you, independent analysts/consultants, and any other information about you, can help considerably with this.

5. We’re no different than the last 10 companies that talked to them. Every CEO thinks his or her business is unique. It may be, but it’s unlikely. The truth is, almost all of them are some variation on a common theme. Since most reporters have heard all these stories before, they tend to dismiss them unless it’s immediately obvious that there is something different.

6. We can’t explain ourselves very well. What works for B2B customers or clients probably won’t for the straight press. If your description of yourself is full of jargon, cliches, and insider language (“paradigm shift”, “outcome-based processes”, “software architecture”, etc. etc. ) you’re going to 1. make them feel very stupid and 2. really piss them off. Result: dismissal.

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.

Beyond Branding

November 29, 2007

An article on Marketingprofs.com on the New Rules of Internet Marketing got me thinking about the widespread reverence for branding in marketing today.

All you hear today is brand, brand, brand. Every company has one, or thinks it does.

Marketers and communicators are all about branding. It’s their language and if they can get through an hour without using the word it’s a miracle.

But most of this branding is simply image creation. It’s the manipulation of visual and textual information to create a mental picture of what you want somebody to believe about your company. It’s a one-way conversation, the delivery of a carefully crafted, impersonal story to a wide audience.

And, as the article suggests, the day of branding dominance may be coming to an end. Why? Because on the Internet, branding as we know it doesn’t work as well.

It used to, because until recently the Internet was just another broadcasting vehicle for most companies — put up ads, write copy to deliver the messages, insert forms to capture leads, etc. But the rise of Web 2.0, often also called the participative web, has changed all that.

No longer can you simply deliver a story to customers or clients. Now it’s all about creating and being part of communities. And all communities live through conversations, exchange of opinions, shared knowledge, and sometimes criticism. This means that personality — not a sanitized brand — is more important.

Unlike with the brand, which can easily be faked, your real personality will show through.

Today, because of the Internet many companies are going to have to rethink their concept of branding. It can’t be the picture you want it to be, it will be a picture of what you are.

If you’re distant and unresponsive, you’ll be perceived as arrogant; if your style of communicating is top down, you’ll be perceived as pompous; if you’re open and willing to listen, you’ll be perceived as worth knowing.