Posted tagged ‘messaging’

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.
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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”.

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.

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).