Posted tagged ‘public relations’

Promoting the Service Business in the Media

March 19, 2008

I have been working in professional services and association marketing lately, and so have been asked often about how to promote service operations. Invariably, these organizations are at some growth stage and so want to gain attention on a wider scale in order to increase membership or gain business.

When it comes to promotion, which is a very important part of integrated marketing for service businesses, you’re kind of stuck. Generally, the promotion outlets available aren’t terribly interested in what you do. So you have to be creative and often find and access alternative channels.

We’ll get into those in a later post. In this post we’ll concentrate on what everybody thinks of first: The media.

First, let’s put forward some elementary concepts.

Promotion is not “free advertising” for your business or service. All media are in the advertising business, so they’re not going to give it away free just because you ask them to or attempt to browbeat them into it by your size, connections, or marketing budget. Do you give away your legal or consulting services? Of course not, and neither will they.

But most media do carry neutral content to attract readers so that advertisers can (they hope) reach them. This is usually in the form of news, but can also be more in depth feature articles, or columns aimed at analyzing some trend or providing advice.

And this is where you have your best shot. You can gain some peripheral promotion through expertise marketing, which is simply showing your expertise (the core of your business) through commentary or advice.

Before you go about it, consider some basic realities:

  • If you’re a service business organization, the traditional press probably doesn’t care about you. Because they’re in the mass advertising business, they look for articles that fit the mass. And this usually means consumer thinking. News values for information in this area are generally some form or combination of novel or quirky, celebrity, threat or harm, or triumph over adversity.
  • Since most service businesses are B2B, you’re probably too complicated and too focused on one specialty for them to write about directly. In a word, you’ll come across as kind of boring to the mass.
    • Because the media generally thinks in consumer or social terms, anything to do with service businesses or groups is almost always handed to the business section, which cuts down your range considerably.
    • Business sections, business media, and trade magazines have their own kind of consumer thinking. In this case it’s expressed primarily as coverage of business winners and losers, and the measurement of this in the form of money made or lost. So the coverage is usually about very big companies that move a lot of money around. Most service businesses don’t involve enough to be noticed. If they are of any interest at all, it’s generally for a media subset called “small business” which usually showcases plucky or quirky local business startups or successes.

    Once you’ve assimilated these basics, it’s time to consider how you’re going to use expertise marketing to get your name in the media so it’s in front of potential clients or members. Some rules for expertise marketing:

    • Forget about yourself. First rule is that it’s about your expertise, not about you. This means that the standard advertising-style messaging or value propositions aren’t going to work. The media doesn’t care about you or what you do, they care about what you know.
    • Codify your expertise. What exactly do you specialize in that might be useful to readers? If you’re a lawyer, it’s not about that. But if you’re a tax lawyer, you have some special expertise that can be used either as commentary on another situation, or in the form of advice regarding taxes.
    • Be honest. I’m going to thank BNet blogger John Greer, who in Catching Flack, summarized some pretty good advice regarding media relations. He was talking about public figures, but it holds true for expertise marketing as well. Greer points out that media people “tend to judge individuals by who returns their calls and gives them honest answers and good quotes.”
    • Be on call. Media needs you when they need you, not when you need them. So the best way to get a top spot on a media outlet’s list — the golden rolodex — of experts is to always be available. In fact, say many press people, it’s 80 per cent of the equation.
    • Be concise. If you’re in a professional service business, you’re probably a complex thinker. But don’t bring that to a media interview. Learn how to summarize your thinking in a pithy quote. There’s no room to bring in all the subtleties. You’re being asked for a quotable comment, not a position paper.

    Lessons From The Hacks and Flacks War

    November 5, 2007

    A media argument that should have remained internal has become very public lately because of the vehemence displayed by both sides. And it holds lessons for all marketers and communicators about some very elementary parts of their craft.

    The argument over story flow between media outlets (the Hacks) and PR companies (the Flacks) broke open last week when Chris Anderson, the executive editor of Wired magazine, chided “lazy flacks” who deluge him with news releases that should be more targeted to relevant staff members.

    Worse, he posted the email addresses of the offending flacks on the internet which meant that the spambots found them and started deluging them with those lovely offers of penis enlargers, etc. that we’ve all grown so weary of.

    I was a journalist for a long time, and I can testify that most are prickly at the best of times. Journalists are like musk oxen — at the hint of outside pressure, they form a protective circle that keeps everybody else out. Hoist a few drinks with some media people at any time and you’ll see this kind of dynamic at work — it’s all about themselves, their employers, and how everybody is always after them. Work in the business for a while and you’ll understand why they become cynical. Everybody’s always trying to pitch you.

    But there’s another aspect of this that they don’t talk about much, although they all practise it. Hacks and Flacks have a symbiotic relationship — they desperately need each other.

    For the journo, who these days is extremely underesourced and overworked, PR people and marketers are an essential part of the story supply chain. They provide the information that leads to stories. Sure, they put a spin on the information, but they do the initial legwork and therefore save the journo time.

    For the marketer or PR person, the journo is a possible outlet for valuable promotion for a product or service. Trusted public relations people are a journo’s best friend because they arrange everything, including interviews, pictures, background, even (when they’re good) the theme.

    This is where the problem has emerged, I think. This trust relationship has been broken too often. Many public relations operations don’t bother establishing relationships with journos any more. The Internet has given them much wider reach, and so they have industrialized public relations.

    Big agencies put young pr people into cattle pens, give them a list of journalist emails, and tell them to bombard away. It’s very machine like, and frankly uses the same concept as spam — if you say it often enough, maybe it will get through.

    At the same time, the journalism world has also become industrialized. Journalists are on the production line these days and don’t appreciate wasting valuable time wading through dozens and dozens of irrelevant emails that make them do even more work becuase their pitches are so generic as to be useless.

    So instead of a supplier-customer relationship, it has become a selling free-for-all, a kind of medieval bazaar where everybody is shouting to be heard.

    But there are rules to this symbiotic relationship, and I think breaking them as just outlined has caused this latest friction. Here’s my take on how marketers and communicators can ease it.

    1. As with any supplier situation, the supplier (PR people) should stop looking for the lowest cost way, and take some time to target. Mass marketing is dead, folks. Do a little research and start focussing.

    2. Customize. Journos are your customers. And every business today should be trying to customize pitches to attract customers, not repel them. Would you tell your customers “here, take it or leave it”?

    3. Illustrate a benefit. If you realize media outlets are your customers, treat them that way. Explain the benefits that will acrue to them. Stop with the details and get to the point. Exactly what does this thing do and why should they care.

    4. Try some CRM. The operative word in customer relationship management is relationship. Try getting to know these journos, even a little bit. You might find they’re actually human.

    5. Cull the crap. Part of the problem is that pr companies are under pressure from clients to push garbage information. Most want the money and so just become execution monkeys. There’s more financial return in actually getting a media mention than just pushing oceans of crap into the pipeline.

    Captain or Corporal?

    October 16, 2007

    Marketers and communicators routinely lament the pressure for them to become implementers of tactics when they would really rather think in terms of strategy. They want to be Captains instead of Corporals.

    But many can’t because they haven’t figured out an elemental trait of all strategists. This is a clear understanding of purpose.

    Every marketer, communicator, business planner, or consultant who thinks as a strategist instead of a mere tactician begins a project with a purpose in mind. Often called the objective, it’s the end point for the entire exercise, the place you envision being at some point in future.

    But, for many reasons, some people can’t think in those visionary terms. Instead of “what do we want to achieve and how will we know it when we see it” they think, “here’s what we do, and here’s our plan for doing it”. Then they proceed to assemble several tactics in a form of project management process that’s big on tasks and timelines, but little on reasons for doing them.

    I remember once auditing a beautiful PR proposal for a social networking site from a marketing firm that laid out exactly how it was going to get the site lots of ink in all the top publications. It had connections to everybody who was anybody in the media it seems, and it was going to use every one of them to generate reams of publicity for the client.

    The proposal was so persuasive I almost didn’t notice the outrageous fee they were going to charge for all this connecting. But amidst all the pretty graphics and persuasive language was a major flaw: There wasn’t any purpose for the publicity, other than stroking the client’s ego by putting him into august company.

    Was the client’s business goal defined? Not really. Would it have helped the client achieve that goal? Not really.

    Granted, the client might not have understood his own goal that well. But that should have been part of the PR firm’s job, I think. If it was thinking as a strategist, it would have established this business objective before doing anything else. Instead, it believed the goal was to generate publicity: After all that’s what it did.

    It was being a good corporal — designing an implementation plan and planning its execution flawlessly .

    But there was no captain there asking the elemental question: “Why are we doing this? What do we hope to achieve?”

    The Widget Campaign: Information Relevancy

    September 27, 2007

    In my journalism days, I used to tell a story to outsiders to explain how news is generated. It still has great relevance to how information flows within and without an organization.

    In the story, the publisher arrives one Monday morning and announces to the managing editor that at a cocktail party the previous Saturday evening, all the chatter was about Widgets. Maybe it should be looked into.

    Managing editor calls in his assistants and indicates that the Big Guy wants something done on Widgets. Assistants go to the city desk and demand a serious campaign on Widgets.

    City desk puts together a team and for the next week the paper features endless, award-aimed, stories about Widgets.

    After about ten days and pages upon pages of Widget articles, the publisher informs the managing editor that his contacts are wondering why all this noise about Widgets.

    Instantly, the cry goes out: No More Widget stories!

    In many organizations with hierachical structures, information flow is similar to the Widget campaign. Information that flows from the top down the chain, or from the bottom up the chain, gets extremely distorted along the way.

    Noise is accumulated and time is lost as the information stops at each level. Information flow is usually seriously impaired and the information that makes it is often very distorted.

    Similarly, information flow for marketing and communications is often impaired inside and outside an organization.

    Those in charge of information usually employ traditional information channels, i.e. public relations. But various corporate managers ride herd on and “add” to the information process.

    The result is often a press release or information campaign written by committee that covers everybody’s butts, says absolutely nothing, and is numbingly dull. It invariably finds its way right into everybody’s trash can and the campaign falls flat.

    But just as organizational information flow can often be speeded up and cleansed by using a network structure, use of social media networks can sometimes eliminate the clog and crud that is often a feature of corporate information campaigns.

    Dissemination through different channels demands that the information be relevant to the user. This in turn often forces the deliverer to speak plainly, have a point, and tell a logical and interesting story.