Posted tagged ‘communications’

Take advantage of media change

August 3, 2008

I shared a lunch recently with some old newspaper cronies who were bemoaning the state of the media industry. Change was sweeping the business, and they were completely confused as to how to deal with it.

The fate of traditional media in the digital age is well-known. Circulations are dropping; their business models are under attack by dozens of information sources and advertising vehicles, and young people find them completely irrelevant, preferring information from peers to the kind of top-down authoritative information they have always provided.

As an example, recent numbers for publicly traded newspaper companies are extremely revelatory. The Washington Post, for example, recently posted horrible numbers: print ad revenue declined 22% in the second quarter, following an 11% decline in the first. Like most newspapers today, the Post has gone online in an attempt to stem the tide, but online growth increased only 4% in the same period. The stock prices of several newspaper chains are down over 80%.

Television stations are often suffering the same fate, although their entertainment quotient probably keeps them better afloat.

In both cases, however, these media outlets are typically trying to respond to these forces with the same old methods — in essence putting the newspaper or television news online, complete with intrusive ads that slow down the systems and drive users mad.

The result is as probably expected: Both locally, nationally, and internationally, readers go to the news web sites when something exciting happens, but generally ignore them. They can get a quick rundown of events from online news services.

Now, newspapers and most media aren’t exactly beehives of innovative thinking: In fact, I’d suggest that they’re among the most conservative of institutions, firmly believing in the old adage that what worked yesterday is good enough for today.

So, in terms of operations, most are falling back to old industrial methods. Staffers are being shed in droves; production is being cut back, outsourcing is on the upswing; everybody is being forced to do more with less. As a result journalists are fleeing the business.

All this was conveyed to me in various forms by my buddies, who were also mostly trying to find a way through the morass. But what tweaked my interest was what it’s done to typical newsroom operations and what that means for marketers.

Basically, those who are left have been turned into production line workers. They’re even busier than before, and have very little time to do their jobs in the traditional way.

So here are some tips for marketers in this new world of media:

  • 1. More relevant info needed, please. “We only have time to rewrite press releases,” one friend lamented. So, this means the more relevant information a marketer or communicator can supply, the better the chances of being picked up.
  • 2. They may be busier, but they still recognize bullshit. Marketers or communicators should be helpful, in that they supply all information — both favourable and critical — the journalist needs. If journalists perceive that you’re baring your soul, they’ll trust you more.
  • 3. Info at the speed of light. The old client-or-boss pleasing format best described as “Acme Industries CEO Elmer Bloggs is pleased to announce…” that then drones on about some useless event, is dead, dead, dead. Before, no one cared about CEO Bloggs, but might have waded through this kind of self-serving verbiage to look for nuggets. Not any more. Say it in the first line or don’t say it at all.
  • 4. You need to have a good story, well told. It was tough enough to get trash in before, but now it’s nearly impossible. So there better be more to your story than a bunch of chest-thumping homilies and barely hidden agendas to get “free publicity”. And it better be written in plain language. Lose the jargon.
  • 5. The digital/interactive press release is going to rule. An interactive press release or digital media kit that puts all required information, including interviews, dissenting opinions, analysis, and other relevant material, at a journo’s fingertips — literally, via the internet — is going to be used. Something that forces the journo to call up or sit down with CEO Bloggs for an interview to please his ego won’t.
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PR 2.0: Bringing the press release back from the dead

March 11, 2008

It’s pretty common today for people to believe the press release, newsletter, or press kit is dead. But my friend Phoebe Yong and I don’t think so. Instead we think they’re calcified and mostly ignored because they’ve become so templated, boring and useless.

So recently, Phoebe, of Magnolia Marketing Communications, and I launched Digital Pressroom PR 2.0, a new service that uses social media tools to update the press release, press kit and newsletter formats so that they actually accomplish what they’re supposed to — point out a good story, offer useful information, gain attention, and, we hope, generate some business for our clients.

Basically, we’ve jazzed up the formats to make them more interactive, useful, and even entertaining. The heart of the release or newsletter, is still the story, but underlying it is the thinking that this is a collaborative effort at creating knowledge instead of a one-way system of delivering information.

So around the elemental story we put links to pictures, videos, funny or entertaining content that touches on the subject, and links to everything ever written about the organizations — good or bad.

It’s the latter point that really encompasses social media thinking, which is all about openness and sharing. So we’re encouraging that. It’s a good bet that any reporter or reader is probably going to perform research on a company anyway, so you might as well offer it up to him or her ahead of time.

This creates the perception that you’re a transparent company or organization because you have nothing to hide. It also creates the perception of integrity and authority: That you’re willing to to be honest with customers, investors, the press and everybody else because they’re your partners in this, not your enemies or prey.

This point is also where we’ve found some resistance to the concept. Many marketers and communicators still believe that you have to control all information about your organization, that you must deliver contrived “messages” that sell, only put you in a good light, and suppress any semblance of reality. It’s top down advertising thinking and delivery.

And it’s dead. No one believes it any more. That kind of thinking is what has created the belief that marketing and communications is all just spin doctoring and bullshit. By being transparent, honest, and a little entertaining, you’re engaging in a conversation with someone, not at them.

Another bonus is that the PR 2.0 concept works equally well for both traditional press and new online publishers such as bloggers (although the two are rapidly converging today).

For the traditional press, beset by shrinking staffs and increasing demands on their time, you’re performing much of their research and background work for them. Ergo, you have a better chance of being noticed.

For social media, you’re offering up what they need — a compelling story, with pictures and video — to increase traffic to their sites. Nothing like a catchy video to market the blog or website (and your product or service) virally.

BTW: if you think the latter are just a bunch of kids writing about their hot date last night, look at some of these stats from WordPress.com for just the month of February:

  • 245,329 blogs were created.
  • 432,478 new users joined.
  • 1,920,593 file uploads.
  • 2,814,893 posts and 996,000 new pages.
  • 4,961,330 comments.
  • 3,813,432 logins.
  • 540,799,534 pageviews on WordPress.com, and another 304,499,648 on self-hosted blogs.
  • 726,789 active blogs in February, where “active” means they got a human visitor.

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).

MarCom 2.O: The Story Remains The Same

October 28, 2007

Let’s wade into the great debate going on about traditional marketing and communications vs new techniques, which we’ll call MarCom 2.0.

Traditionalists dismiss all that new stuff as just a fad, particularly if their clients or corporate chiefs operate in more traditional areas of business. Advocates of social networking techniques are evangelists: they’ve discovered something new and believe it’s the only thing worthwhile.

Both are right. And both are wrong.

This is arguing over tactics and methodology, not over what you’re really doing — communicating, delivering a message and especially telling a story.

From the time when people first developed language beyond a series of grunts and descriptive words, storytelling has been the basis of all communication. Certainly the style of storytelling has changed — sometimes, such as in Elizabethan times, it was flowery and imagistic, other times, such as the age of scientific discovery in the late 1800s, it was functional and direct — but the underlying purpose has always remained. You tell a story to convince someone else, or influence their thinking.

All stories have basic dramatic elements: There’s an introduction to the “characters”, the presentation of a challenge, the ways in which that challenge is met, and the triumph or tragedy that results from these endeavors. It doesn’t matter whether the story is Tristan and Isolde, caveman Kruk relating how he killed a mastodon to feed the tribe, or about how your product or service was tweaked to meet a buyer’s need.

To paraphrase Led Zeppelin, the story remains the same.

But the greatest problem today with most marketing and communications is that we’ve abandoned the storytelling format. Too often we think basic information is all that’s needed — look at many software sites — or that the more technobabble we throw at people the smarter they’ll think we are. Or sometimes we go the other way, thinking that we have to somehow “trick” targets with fancy graphics, video, or breathless, multiple-exclamation-mark descriptions..

Forget all that. The hard work comes before you even begin the tactical stuff. You have to determine your client’s particular story for this product or service. This means clearly understanding such things as purpose, problems, and positioning.

After that, it’s a matter of putting things together in the right format to best tell the story. This could be a plan or project charter, a presentation, a press release, an advertisement, an article or white paper, or any of the other marketing and lead generation techniques out there.

I’m not downgrading the technical aspects of marketing and communications. Some people are brilliant at putting things together; others not so much. But I do know that without an underlying story, technical virtuosity is meaningless.

Experience It Yourself: The Best Kind of Marketing

October 16, 2007

As marketers and communicators we’re often forced to work with … shall we say …. less than grabby material. It can be a real job sometimes to get anyone to notice your product or service.

But sometimes the material is so damn good, the only thing we can do is harness it, get out of the way, and let people experience it themselves.

I was thinking about this after viewing a post from Matt Mcall on his VC Confidential blog. I’m not really a big Youtube fan, and I think I’ve watched American Idol maybe once in my life, but this video of a schlump in Britain auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent, the original British version of American Idol, blew me away.

Paul Potts, a dumpy, not very good looking and extraordinarily ordinary cell phone salesman from Wales appears in front of the panel, which includes the fearsome Simon Cowell, and quietly introduces himself. Everybody’s eyes are rolling as he describes his incredibly boring life. The rolling eyes turn to “oh noooo!” looks when he tells them he wants to sing opera.

But about three bars into Potts’ version of Nessun Dorma, panel members are agog. By the end, one panel member is crying. (Heck, I was crying). The audience was stunned, and then roars its approval. That voice! That delivery! Phenomenal!

It went beyond good, it was simply inspirational.  Potts went on to win the semi finals, and then the finals. Now he sings for the Queen. The video has been downloaded 9.5 million times.

Mcall sees the Potts story as the apex of entrepreneurship — someone with a dream conquers odds to be a success — which is natural for a venture capitalist.

But I see it as the essence of great marketing. A fantastic product or service that nobody knows about, cares about even less, and is even hostile to. Until they actually experience it.

If you’re trying to market an idea, a service, or a product that’s exceptional but doesn’t have the big marketing budget of competitors, maybe some form of experience marketing is your best bet.

Like cell phone salesman Paul Potts, just getting a chance might be all you need.

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.

Crank Up The Idea Machine

September 29, 2007

As a marketing or communications professional, you’re supposed to be an idea person. Your job is not only to execute tactics, but to continually generate ideas for campaigns, material, or discussion.

Problem is it’s a brute to do and think at the same time. Performing requires focus and concentration on one thing: Idea generation involves an opposite skill, letting the mind roam free.

So, like most of us, you probably opt for the doing part of the equation: it’s measurable, and certainly pleases the bosses and other supervisory types who tend to reward performance more than thinking.

But if you don’t generate a constant stream of ideas, you’ll never be more than a performer — an illustrator of other people’s ideas. Just another industrial worker.

Organizations tend toward this kind of industrial situation, which is a leftover from the old days of factories and machinery. Problem is that most organizations today aren’t factory and production businesses. More often, they’re knowledge businesses that operate on ideas, not supply chains of raw materials.

So despite the natural push to turn you into an assembly line worker, your real job is to generate ideas. So how do you do it?

By borrowing an industrial technique and adapting it to the creation of knowledge. Here’s some steps:

  • Study some creativity techniques. There are many, so pick the three or four that work best for you.
  • Build “dreamtime” into your workday. Pick a time, such as a lunchtime walk, where you do nothing but create ideas.
  • Set a daily idea quota. Use your favorite idea creation techniques during your dreamtimes. Start small, say five, then work up from there. They don’t all have to be brilliant or work related. You’re exercising, not taking part in a competition.
  • Keep an idea log. During your idea time, write down (in a special notebook set aside just for that purpose) the ideas you generate. Also immediately write down ideas that just pop into your head as information flows past you through the day.
  • Assess and sort regularly. Ideas aren’t worth much if they’re never looked at again. So every couple of day, revisit them, and sort out the best of the bunch for further study or action.

You’ll be amazed at the results. In fact at first you’ll overdo it and jot down far too many ideas. Or you’ll revert to To Do Notes. That’s okay. Enjoy the creative binges, and ignore the tendency to just go through the motions with To Do. Eventually you’ll hit your stride and will be producing ideas like some kind of machine.