Category Archives: Public Relations

Why the Role of Trusted Advisor Has Become So Important

Role of Trusted Advisor in Business Communications is CriticalI am a firm believer that deep down inside, people want to do the right thing. Perhaps it is my Economics training – a key foundation for this field of study is that consumers will typically make a decision that improves their well-being. Of course, if that decision is good for you, but not good for society, then the theories of Economics don’t always explain how decisions are made, or necessarily lead to decisions being made for the greatest common good. In these cases we need a trusted advisor.

Quite often it can be difficult to say the “right” thing with family or friends. Most of us want to see our family and friends achieve success, meet their goals, and feel good about what they are contributing to society. The reality, however, doesn’t always work out as smoothly. The truth can be hurtful or damaging, or at least appear to be at the time.

Adding further complexity to our decision-making capacity, everyone is more busy today than ever before. More activities must be tended to, more distractions exist, and every day we are being bombarded with thousands of product suggestions, outfit options or other shopping needs we are told we simply must have from the advertising and social community.

Given the world of accelerated confusion and complexity, it is no wonder that people are struggling with how to make good decisions, and do so quickly. No longer is it possible to do the level of research and investigation – including personal contact and discussion – before making every decision. We are all looking for shortcuts to get the task at hand done, so we can get on to the next one.

The Need for a Trusted Advisor in Marketing Communications

The aforementioned environment has created an enormous service economy to help us make better decisions, and to do so with greater speed, less effort and with accountability. If you shop at Nordstrom, you  have access to a personal shopper who can accompany you throughout the store, suggesting what clothes look good on you, and would fit well with your style or other purchases.

The same process exists online. I won’t consider an online purchase now unless I can read reviews, such as those on Yelp or other sites. The same can be said for our personal brands. We all track how many followers or friends we have in our social circles, as well as how many mentions we get on our anniversaries or birthdays. The higher the count, the more we feel validated and take more seriously what is said. We want to be validated, we want to know we are doing the right thing, and we want help in making all the decisions now part of our everyday lives.

As a marketer, are you taking advantage of this social, cultural transformation? Have you adapted your marketing campaigns, messaging and public relations strategies to play the role of trusted advisor, or subject matter expert? Are you helping to ease the decision process being made by your customers? Are you helping to overcome the complexity or lack of time / resources / effort your customers might have for your product? If not, what can be done to address this challenge?

The Role of Awareness in Marketing Strategy

The organizations that understand this social transformation have invested considerable time and effort to position themselves as the thought leader that understands their customer’s challenges – and the company that has the best solutions to address it.

This strategy can be easier said than done. The world is not black and white. Considerable areas of ambiguity exist where decisions must be made. Here is where hiring the right team to execute upon your vision is critical. One bad decision can explode into a real Public Relations nightmare. Just look at what happened with United Airlines, and the decision that was made to limit the amount of vouchers offered on overbooked flights. We all know of Dr. David Dao’s situation, and his recent retirement based on receiving a nice big check from United, after he was forcibly removed from his flight. Now we know that the price of being bumped off your flight just went up – it could now be as high as $10,000 on a future United flight.

One area that can be particularly challenging is when a friend asks you for a recommendation or to help with making a decision. You may not be in agreement with their choice. They might have already made up their mind, and are just looking for you to support their decision. This may be the right move with a friend or spouse. But, in the world of business, this type of situation becomes potentially quite risky. Those who have worked at a startup know that it is better to raise an issue early and be upfront with a customer or prospect if what they are asking for doesn’t yet exist. The risk of staying quiet today could come back tomorrow and cost much more, potentially killing the company (in some scenarios). The upside of being honest: earned trust as an advisor.

Properly executed, a marketing awareness strategy that conveys how a company understands its market, can make problems go away and can help customers to simplify their lives goes a long way. This type of strategy can gain a life of its own, becoming an integral part of brand equity – a very valuable asset that can have a lot of staying power, through good times and bad.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing and sales communications professional that specializes in creating and executing marketing communications strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Social Media’s Role in the News Cycle

SocialMediaNewsStats

Social media plays an important role in the news cycle   (CLICK ON IMAGE TO EXPAND)

It should come as no surprise that the way we get news today is quite different than in the last decade. Daily Newspaper circulation, which stood at 62 million in 1990, fell to 43 million in 2010, a decline of 30% (source: The State of the News Media 2011). There are many reasons behind this decline. One is a drop in advertising revenue, which has resulted in staff reductions, less content and reduced deliveries.

Another reason is a change in behavior. According to the Pew Research Center in Washington DC, news has a place in social media, on some sites more than others (source). See the chart at right.

We are still in transition as new online venues are experimented with. Today, it seems like everyone gets their news in a different way – from a Facebook post to an AP news alert (on a smart phone) to browsing an online news site such as Google News. Of course, some still watch TV, listen to the radio, and, some still read a newspaper.

Don’t confuse this transition with diminishing importance. This change is quite different from the fate of the buggy whip manufacturer … news is still actively sought. It is the delivery mechanism that is changing.

The Impact on Public Relations

Public Relations professionals are experiencing this transformation first hand, which has significantly impacted how they do their job. Targeting a single media channel is not a viable strategy anymore to effectively get the word out. Of course, budget dictates how far and wide your “net” can swing. Not everyone can afford to run TV ads. Regardless, communications strategies must now be multi-channel.

Not only has the medium changed, so too has the timeframe. News stories now can occur at nearly any time of the day or night, and seem to break instantly on a global scale. While this speed of access may be great for the general public, it can be a challenge for reporters, editors and PR professionals.

Given this new timeframe expectation, there often isn’t enough time for reporters to adequately research a breaking story – especially when the world is watching and wanting more info. We saw this occur in 2013 surrounding the breaking story of a bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. As a story from the Hollywood Reporter explained, “Questionable information from sources and a rush to be first contributed to a flurry of erroneous media reports.”

Lessons Learned

Since that event, the news industry has learned. Initial announcements, be it from a Twitter feed, blog post or other “real-time” source must first be researched before assuming true. Or, any conclusions based on these real-time media sources should be identified as such. In this way, every source can occupy a place in the hierarchy of how news distribution. As a PR professional, we need to be aware of each of these “roles” that social media plays as news breaks.

The Social Media Role of News – First Responder

Given the widespread adoption of smart phones, it is highly likely access to a live smart phone “feed” will occur as news stories break. It makes sense that the role of social media has become one of “first responder,” giving us the fastest access to a breaking news story. But, accuracy may not be 100%, given its speed. But, as long as PR professionals, news agencies and the public understand what role each communications venue plays, the system works quite well.

As a PR professional, it is important your organization has representation across each of these media, so you can contribute to the “conversation” as news develops and is reported on. In this way, social media plays a role as a communication venue – not one for lead generation. Most organizations now understand this, having invested in building a social presence online as well as continuing to maintain traditional PR network of reporters and editors. The consequence of not maintaining these connections is that over time you will lose credibility by not being part of the commentary as major news stories break, or new thought-leadership stories go mainstream.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in creating and executing marketing communications strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Is there a Link between Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty?

customer_loyaltyFew would argue the importance of customer satisfaction. Every business owner strives for happy customers. In practice, however, what does it mean to achieve customer satisfaction? What makes a happy customer? Are they more profitable? More loyal?

Fortunately, considerable research has been performed on this subject, which will be quite helpful to address these questions. The first challenge is to understand what is actually going on versus what business owners think is going on. According to Lee Resources, 80% of companies say they deliver “superior” customer service, but only 8% of people think these same companies actually deliver this type of service. That is quite a perception gap. A big part of the reason why such a gap exists is that most unhappy customers don’t tell you – only about 4% – according to “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner.

Conclusion: for every customer complaint you receive, realize there might be another 25 you’ll never hear.

Why Care About Happy Customers?

Beyond the ethical and philosophical perspectives on why it is important to spread good will to others – happy customers are simply more valuable, so can add more profit to your business. Selling to an existing, happy customer is far easier than selling to a brand new one. The probability of a successful sale to a new prospect ranges from 5-20% … that success rate nearly quadruples to 60-70% if a relationship already exists (source: Marketing Metrics). Not only does the probability of closing a sale increase dramatically with existing customers, but the cost to sell to new customers is significantly higher – about 6-7 times greater. Lastly, about 91% of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again, which ultimately will shrink the pool of prospects you can sell to (source: Lee Resources).

From a public relations or brand awareness perspective, happy customers tell better stories to their friends, co-workers, and others. Anyone who has tried to get an unhappy customer approve a case study knows what I am talking about here … it just doesn’t happen.

Author Pete Blackshaw suggests that happy customers tell their stories to three friends and that angry customers tell 3,000 – at least in today’s world of social media connectivity. As it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience (source: “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner), one negative experience can ruin a good relationship. The only one who will be happy when you deliver poor customer satisfaction is your competition. About 3 in 5 Americans (59%) would try a new brand or company for a better service experience (source: American Express Survey, 2011).

So What Makes a Happy Customer?

It turns out, a lot of happiness can be gained (or lost) each time an interaction occurs between your company and its customers. According to Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in their book “The Challenger Sale” (see page 47), they explain that customer satisfaction (i.e. happiness) is not the primary driver of customer loyalty:

  • 53% of customer loyalty is related to the purchase experience
  • 19% of customer loyalty is attributed to brand and impact
  • 19% of customer loyalty is based on product and service delivery

In other words, customer loyalty comprises many factors, some of which is tied to satisfaction with your product or service, some is tied to your brand – but most is tied to the purchase experience. Based on these figures, it appears that a loyal customer may or may not be happy; they may simply be content enough to remain a customer, but not necessarily “happy” enough to purchase additional products or services. Alternatively, a happy customer is likely a loyal one, so will be more likely to purchase future items, and, will stick with you during the process. The key is the experience they feel each time an interaction occurs – be it good or bad. It is all about how you conduct yourself during each communication.

Based on these findings, the surprise might be the importance of the purchase experience. How easy do you make it to do business with? What is the initial experience for new prospects when they either come into your store, visit your website, or come in contact with one of your partners? The answer to these questions will be an important factor on what customer loyalty you will experience in the future – and that experience will have significant impact on your bottom line.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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When the Price of Free is Too Much – The U2 Album Giveaway

Bono, lead singer of U2The band U2 and Apple partnered this month to do a remarkable promotion and awareness activity. Every iTunes user received a copy of U2’s latest album, Songs of Innocence. When I heard about this offer, I couldn’t believe it. I saw a television advertisement showing the band playing a song from the album. Then, at the end of the ad, it was explained that the album would be available for free to iTunes subscribers.

I am a big U2 fan, so was thrilled at this act of generosity. And, as a marketer, I couldn’t help but think about what the terms of the agreement might have been. Clearly, both Apple and U2 stood to gain from this promotion – Apple from getting new subscribers, and U2 from having Apple pay millions to promote their album.

A New Promotional Trend for Music?

Of course, this is not the first time music has been given away for free. Many artists offer promotional songs or live recordings as a way to generate interest and awareness.

But, U2 is hardly in need of any new promotional campaigns. They have sold more than 150 million records worldwide, won 22 Grammy Awards, and have been designated by Rolling Stone magazine as perhaps the “Biggest Band in the World”. No, this is not a band seeking awareness. Something more is going on.

An Act of Generosity

An interesting story has unfolded as part of this give away. It turns out Harriet Madeline Jobson issued a complaint to Bono (the lead singer of the band) stating, “Can you please never release an album on iTunes that automatically downloads to people’s playlists ever again? It’s really rude.” The comment came to light in a Facebook Q&A the band released on their fan page.

To Bono’s credit, he apologized, stating: “Oops, I’m sorry about that. I had this beautiful idea and we got carried away with ourselves. Artists are prone to that kind of thing: [a] drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard. There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”

There was no need for an apology. It was a gift. If you don’t like a gift, don’t use it. Contrary to Harriet’s claim, you had to download the songs to make them active on your iTunes library. If she didn’t want the songs, she simply could have chosen to not download or listen. What is remarkable is the level of conversations that are now going online right now.

As you might expect, folks are taking both sides. What is interesting, though, from a marketing and pricing perspective, the adage on pleasing people holds true: “You can’t please all the people, all the time.” Even at a price of free, not everyone is a “taker.” This is an important point to consider when pricing your product. And, to those economists out there, the laws of a downward sloping demand curve can only be projected so far … there comes a point when that curve flattens out. 🙂

A Final Word on Publicity

The famous PR quote is that there is no such thing as “bad” publicity. Here is another example where that saying is still true. The amount of coverage of U2s short Q&A video on their Facebook page is nothing short of phenomenal – it has gone viral. In two days the video was seen by 1.4M fans. Most marketers would be very happy that type of coverage. And, let’s not forget the comments – the 5 minute video has been shared 12k times, a hash tag of #U2NoFilter was created that is now trending, and there are nearly 4k comments on the page already.

Demonstrating his wisdom, Bono responded brilliantly, reinforcing his “cool” status and spokesperson expertise. As marketers, we can all learn how U2 played out this interesting experiment. They were bold and brave enough to try something new, realizing that some would take offense or not understand their actions. Time will tell if other bands will follow … I’ll keep my fingers crossed, as I really like musical gift!

 

Here are two other pricing articles  you might find interesting:

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

 

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While Content May Be King, Conversation is Queen of Market Awareness

king_and_queen_marketing_awareness2Numerous articles have been written on the importance of what we marketers refer to as “content” in order to drive market awareness, lead generation and other sales support activities. Simply stated, you need something to say to gain the attention of your prospects and customers. Google, Bing and the other search engines reinforce this concept – you simply can’t achieve good search engine placements without quality, relevant content that is frequently updated on a regular basis.

As has been mentioned in this blog and other publications, a blog is a great place to showcase your content. Blogs offer a great “home” for you to build a collection of articles and stories that share a common theme, which in aggregate support your brand and help future customers to find your business. Any business plan writer you meet with should have a strong understanding of this topic too – if not, it might be time to find another writer!

Is Good Content Enough?

Here is where you have to ask yourself “what’s next?” Now that you have invested the time and resources to write a collection of articles, how do you now build relationships with your readers, current customers and potential clients? The reward for getting engaged in these conversations is substantial, and includes:

  • Enhanced likelihood these people will read and follow future announcements
  • Improved response rates to future offers
  • Increased chance of that person will ultimately become a customer

Learning by Example

One area where marketers can learn how to drive increased conversations is from the world of e-commerce. Some of the online retailers are quite good at creating a series of interactions that create a group of engaged prospects that likely will become future customers. For example, we all know that if we order a product from a website, we will get an email soon thereafter confirming our order. This is a good thing – we like to have a record of what we just bought. Further, if we receive an email the next day indicating our product has shipped, this is also a nice message to receive – my order is on its way. Then, sometimes you even get an email indicating that the order has shipped, with complete tracking information. Follow up emails might even include customer satisfaction surveys, another great opportunity to suggest or induce conversation.

The conversation, however, doesn’t stop once the order has been shipped and received. Instead, it is highly likely we will get a follow up email from these retailers in a few weeks or months from now, suggesting a similar product for us to order. For some of us, this is an annoyance, and we will opt out. But, for others, this is seen as a nice thing, as a way to make future orders easier to manage and accommodate.

Here is where public relations and social media professionals might take note. What can we learn from the retail establishment as a way to increase our conversation “quotient”? One challenge is we don’t have the same access to contact information that e-tailers do, such as an email address. And, with privacy laws and concerns, it is unlikely this will change. One approach is to add a call to action or value proposition that can then facilitate better access to this data. A newsletter sign up, for example, might be an angle that promises notification of new stories of interest, or of when a new blog post goes live.

If you can accomplish the right mix of content and conversation, then you are worthy of “royal” lineage. You will then have addressed both the king and queen of marketing awareness, through a marketing-based approach to public relations and brand awareness!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Promoting your Blog with Social Media

social_media_promotion_blogI recently wrote a blog post on the importance of building a blog as part of your public relations program (see article here). As I explained, in today’s digital world, a blog is a critical part of your online profile – as a source of new insights, thought leadership and brand positioning necessary to keep your opinions and perspectives top-of-mind.

Once you have come to the conclusion to invest the time and resources to have a blog, the next step is that of promotion. If you build it, no one will find it unless you provide digital “bread crumbs” to lead the way. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will play an important role, but isn’t enough. Here is where social media comes in. In fact, from a Public Relations professional’s perspective, this might just be the most important use for social media, and the single most important factor in justifying your entire investment in social media marketing.

What Should I Tweet About?

With Twitter being one of the most predominant social media platforms, it is nearly mandatory that you, your company or even your product line has a Twitter account. It is easy to set up the account … what next?

One strategy is to share interesting news that the audience you seek to build might be interested in reading. This is generally a good idea. Providing value to an audience will, over time, generate more followers, which helps in getting a higher profile. But, wouldn’t it be better to instead drive your audience towards an article that you wrote and hosted instead? Or, better yet, what about directing traffic to a promotional partner that is perhaps hosting a future event you are sponsoring? It doesn’t take much to see that driving traffic to a page you control is better than one you don’t.

Here is where the blog strategy can pay a handsome dividend. Once a new post has been written, such as this one, the next step is to promote it through your social media channels. Further, this points to a tangible benefit that can be achieved by building an audience … each time you have a new blog post, you will theoretically attract more potential readers with a larger audience.

Some authors have mastered this technique very well. Seth Godin, author of my favorite book the Purple Cow, has attracted an audience in the millions that religiously follow his words and wisdom every day. And, as he announces to books that he has written, he has an instant “base” of avid fans that will become new buyers.

What Social Media Venues should I Pursue?

Having made the decision to invest in a blog and promote it with social media, the next question to ask is what social media properties should you focus on?

Great question, and one that will be answered in my next post.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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What is Your Business Plan to Deal with a Disruptive Event?

black_swan_eventHaving worked in the technology industry for the past 20+ years, I have seen a few significant changes and technological breakthroughs. Most of the time they are unexpected – there is a reason why these are called “disruptive.” Few can truly see it before it happens.

According to Wikipedia, Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term “Black Swan” as a theory to explain:

  1. The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology
  2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities)
  3. The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs

The bottom line is you won’t see it coming, and the announcement that brings it to light will be shocking, to say the least.

A Microscope for the Masses

One of these events just occurred last month. I read about it on Yahoo! News on March 24, 2014, where it was announced that Manu Prakash, a professor at Stanford University and his students have developed a new microscope that is literally “built” out of a flat sheet of paper, a watch battery, LED, and optical units that when folded together, much like origami, creates a functional instrument with the resolution of 800 nanometers – basically magnifying an object up to 2,000 X.

Adding further impact to this breakthrough, apparently it is unbreakable, can be transported to literally anywhere in the world, and, could retail for $.50 each.

What do you do if you work for Carl Zeiss, Leica, Nikon or Olympus, some of the leading microscope manufacturers in the world? I suspect these companies are right now doing their very own business plan evaluation to try to answer this question.

How Would you Respond?

I suspect that the day the news announcement was made, there were a few “oh sh%@” comments that made it through the halls of these manufacturers! No one likes to be surprised, and everyone usually, at least initially, thinks the worse.

To start, this is an interesting case study that will unfold before our eyes. The reason is that from a humanity perspective, this really is a good thing. Now under developed countries might have a way to scan for blood diseases, in locations that were never before deemed possible. New medical breakthroughs might even result. Lives might indeed be saved from this invention.

So, from a public relations perspective, the last thing a company should do is to attempt to discredit the competition, or in any way try to make the product sound inferior or to be avoided. In fact, words of congratulations might even be in order, almost from a peer-to-peer perspective. Here is where crisis PR avoidance tactics should be studied and adhered to.

Simply stated, what these microscope manufacturers might now have to do is to redefine the marketplace such that their product line is differentiated enough from this new competitor that there is still a need for purchasing their product. This is one of those “easier said than done” statements. The classic case is the buggy whip manufacturer story. The disruptive event of inventing the “horseless carriage” or automobile basically wiped out their industry – leaving the only defendable segment being that to provide Hollywood props for movies such as the Indiana Jones series.

According to Mindspring.com in their review of the Microscope industry, Carl Zeiss and the E. Leitz component of Leica are mostly German made. They tend to be more expensive than the Japanese made Nikon and Olympus. Their segment is the very high end, likely for researchers. Sometimes they are worth the extra money and sometimes not. In the bio-med market, Nikon and Olympus are the real powers, likely due to either features offered or a reputation they have developed within this industry.

In my next post I’ll offer some strategic tips on how one might tackle such an event, and how that strategy might be part of the foundation of what your business plan story should tell.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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What Story Does your Business Plan Tell?

what_is_story_of_your_business_planMost people have a pretty good idea of what a business plan is, and what should be included in it. If asked, I would suspect that many people could also tell you that a business plan should include an overview of the business, what the product or service is, the markets being pursued, the competition, as well as some sort of financial model.

In the same way, if someone asked me how an airplane worked, I could tell you that lift was involved, and that the shape of the wings creates a vacuum, which that then helps the plane to get airborne. But, I don’t think you would want me actually building an airplane …

In some ways, this analogy applies to business plans. There are subtleties involved as well as a good deal of work, which might preclude your ever getting the plan completed. In the end, if your being funded is dependent upon having a plan, it might be worth reaching out to someone who has actually written one before.

As a business plan writer who has written over 25 different plans, I understand that each one serves many needs and provides content for different audiences. For example, one of the sometimes overlooked attributes of a business plan is that it must tell a story – about you, your idea and your vision – and how new funding will make your story come true. If your reader can’t quickly get the story, it is unlikely they will agree to fund your plan.

The Vision

Business plans sell a “vision” or a “dream” of what you see that a new business could be, could operate as and could deliver value to your target audience. Your initial audience are investors, potential partners and initial employees you will need to launch your vision.

In this way, a business plan is really a marketing document that is written to pitch your idea to this group and get them excited about the prospect of “getting in” on the ground floor. This sense of urgency of what a fantastic opportunity that awaits must be communicated. You need to tell a story of how your business can provide a greater good, or how it can help address a common challenge. And, if it is done right, your business could then earn everyone a nice profit at the same time.

If this sounds like what is driving you to prepare a business plan, then you should recognize you have a story to tell. Just like a great Public Relations campaign, you have a story to get into your prospects (i.e. investor’s) head. So, it is time to think like a PR professional, at least with regards to the structure and content you decide to put into your business plan.

In my next post, I’ll offer five ways to turn your business plan into a great story.

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Leveraging a Blog in Public Relations

blog_lynchpin_public_relationsIt is no secret that social media has a bigger role in the world of marketing communications and public relations. This transformation occurred due to a couple of trends. Notably, the emergence of a “Web 2.0” world where feedback can be provided (and is expected) directly to an author. There is now an expectation that feedback can be provided easily and immediately. Secondly, in today’s digital world, it is increasingly popular and economically feasible to begin targeting ever-shrinking audiences on a wider scope of topics. The economics of yesterday’s printed media world no longer applies. This has had a profound impact on public relations.

Let me explain.

Magazines and other printed publications are really just businesses that must make money to survive. The traditional business model was to drive a large audience, representing a group of potential customers that advertisers were interested in speaking to – becoming a source of revenue for these publications. The path to growth for this business plan was simple – expand your audience. As a result, the natural evolution was a world dominated by a few, large publications with big audiences.

Then along came the explosion of the Internet and Web 2.0.

Now online “communications hubs” sprang up in all areas, on just about any topic. The online “story telling” world became highly fragmented and dispersed. Getting a story out now requires a bit more work … more publications must be sought and more placements must be achieved in order to reach the same sized audience.

At the same time, the cost structure of media publications changed. Gone is the expense of publishing a magazine on expensive paper with capital intensive printing presses. And, no need to pay for delivery or distribution costs … the digital distribution model is basically free. In this new world costs have dropped significantly. So, it can still be profitable for smaller audience publications to survive with a smaller advertiser, provided they can find one. If a value proposition can be derived that makes sense to both parties, then a business model can still exist. The digitization of our newspapers, magazines and other publications made this evolution necessary and, I would propose, also possible.

The Blog as a Lynchpin of your Social Media Strategy

Given this communications transformation, it has now become critical to have a blog as part of your public relations program. A blog provides you with a platform to support Web 2.0 activities – the ability for your audience to directly converse with you – while at the same time offers a highly focused venue for you to speak on niche or highly focused topics. Given the leveling of the media “playing field” and the need to reach out to a higher number of media venues, each with smaller audiences, it can be a real benefit if you have your own platform to manage these communications. With control, you have direct insight as to what topics are more popular, and what pain points are most “top-of-mind” for your audience, which can then be an excellent source for new articles to pitch to other publications.

From a company’s perspective, today’s digital communications world offers a unique opportunity to build an online presence through a self-managed media platform. Of course, transparency is needed, however, wouldn’t you rather find out immediately if a customer or prospect was upset, had questions or was experiencing some other issue that could be addressed? This type of interaction is much better dealt with through a forum that is actively visible to and managed by a company.

Certainly it is an investment to create and build a blog, especially if you are just starting out. But, this investment will pay off once you begin earning a share of voice in your marketplace. After all, a blog is really the only social media venue where any content can be realistically added. It is pretty tough to explain a company’s philosophy or value statement in 140 characters or less. And, even if you could, how long will that message be visible? Blog posts, on the other hand, last for years, provided each post has its own dedicated page that is searchable on the Internet. Over time, you can gain a considerable collection of published articles that are all in support of your value proposition and reason d’être.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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8 Ways to Leverage Search in Press Releases

search_engine_publis_relationsIt should come as no surprise that with the transition towards a digital distribution model for news delivery, the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has only grown. It simply must play a role in any digital public relations campaign. This is hardly a revolutionary thought. What makes this task a challenge, however, is the fact that the factors behind how search engines work keep changing, and the fact that you just have to think a little differently when writing a press release. It is no longer reasonable to simply try and write the best announcement – you must think about SEO as part of the process.

Take Google’s latest Hummingbird algorithm update. Many public relations leverage keyword linking as part of their SEO strategy. Now, keyword relevance has declined in importance, at least according to searches performed in Google. What is more important now are search “phrases” as said in conversation. Google is now placing more relevance on conversation queries, and how they can be best addressed from within a search engine window (ideally from a mobile device). Here are a couple of good articles: FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm and How Google’s Hummingbird Update Impacts a PR Agency.

The take away is that you need to either invest the time to educate yourself on the latest trends impacting search engine optimization, or need to hire someone to do so.

Here are 8 other suggestions on how to best optimize your search engine placement, resulting in better awareness and exposure for your press releases that are issued as part of a public relations campaign:

  1. Be sure to pay the fee and publish your press releases through a news distribution service, such as Business Wire or Marketwire. The ones that offer a “linked” online presence is best. Your story will simply be viewed more times and seen as more relevant via Google, Yahoo and other news search engines.
  2. Use good content in your Press Releases, and publish a copy of the release on your website
  3. Offer a .pdf of your press release, optimized for SEO, on the same page to help maximize your online footprint; .pdf files are indexed just like an .html page
  4. Integrate this release page with other content that someone might want to read after finishing reading the press release, to further engage them on your topic
  5. Offer a registration page at some point during the process to then follow up with these visitors
  6. Write a complementary blog post on a similar topic, to then offer further content and support for those seeking to learn more about the news event you published
  7. Leverage any free PR distribution sites, especially if they offer HTML linked keyword submissions
  8. Broadcast the issuing of your press releases by the social media channels best for your audience so your followers get first notification, which will then also help your search engine rankings

 

As is typically the case with disruptive innovations, the scope of change is often wider than originally conceived at the point of inception. In a paper-based news world, the only distribution options were paid subscriptions and walk-up sales at newsstands. In a digital world, news is found in many different locations in different ways, which includes the searching of relevant topics by keywords. In this world, SEO plays an important, continuing role to ensure messages are heard in a timely manner, by the right audience. In fact, I would argue through a better distribution model that is more efficient than the world has ever seen.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing and public relations professional, and a business plan adviser, that specializes in preparing and executing business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+ or at gbenzie@yahoo.com

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