Monday, September 20, 2010

It’s the Economy, Stupid!

As the political season gets underway in yet another election year, James Carville's words from 1992 could certainly apply to the world we live in today. For most PR professionals, a slight modification of this quote could apply to the world we operate in - it's the message, stupid! Now, there are very few of us who would actually come out and say that to a client, but I'm sure we've all thought it once or twice.

Most media relations scenarios play out like this - PR team pitches a new product or company announcement, secures the briefings and then hosts the briefings with the company spokesperson and the reporter. The onus for media coverage becomes squarely placed on the PR team's shoulders. However, there is an important piece of the puzzle missing here - the message. If the message is not clearly communicated during these face-to-face opportunities with the press, then all these wonderful meetings that have been secured quickly become opportunities lost.

We have counseled clients time and time again that too often technology companies get caught up in the speeds and feeds and faster/better/cheaper aspects of their technology and forget why they created the technology in the first place. More often than not it wasn't with a specific purpose to be faster or cheaper, but to solve a problem that their customers were facing and along the way happened to do it better than the competition. Sure, the press wants to hear about the newest features, and yes, they will ask how it compares to the competition, but the story doesn't end there. What turns this from an OK story to a positive one is when the spokesperson is able to talk to the benefits the product brings to the market - how is this important to the customers, how is this important to the industry and how is this important to the company's business overall. Answering those three questions changes the nature of your conversation with the press.

Don't underestimate the impact that this type of conversation has with the press. They sit in briefings all day long and if all they are hearing is numbers and technical specifications, it's all got to run together at some point in time. If, on the other hand, they can sit on a call with a marketing spokesperson who clearly explains why this announcement is important and how it impacts the market, their job has just gotten a lot easier. And, when their job is easier, you are much more likely to get your story covered.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Don’t Let the Media School you—Get Schooled on the Media!

“[You reporters] should have printed what he meant, not what he said. “
--Earl Bush, press aid to Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley

Talking to live media is a tricky thing. You often don’t get retakes and reporters are known for twisting words and taking comments out of context. However, those in the public eye, who are regularly in front of media, need to make sure they are well-prepared for interviews. There are countless examples of celebrities, bands and government officials who have been ill prepared for their shining moments on TV or radio. And, these bad interviews often make the news or force the person to scramble for an apology-laden statement. But, these gaffs can all be avoided with a little media training and preparation.

Last week on my way to work, I was listening to NPR’s Steve Inskeep interview House Minority leader, John Boehner, and was surprised at the lack of finesse in Congressman Boehner’s responses. It was clear that Congressman Boehner, much like Sarah Palin, could have benefitted from a little media training. Here’s just one example of a question that could have been answered in a much clearer and concise way:

INSKEEP: How important do you think the Latino vote is going to be in 2010?

Rep. BOEHNER: I think it's too early to make that calculation. Matter of fact, pollsters are having a very difficult time modeling what this election this year looks like. People who are - never been involved in the process, who are scared to death, they see all the spending, all the debt. And the result of all of this is that Americans have driven off of their couches and into the streets

Really? Too early to tell? The truth is, all voters and votes are important and that is the message that Congressman Boehner should have been portraying. Whether or not pollsters are having a difficult time modeling the election, it doesn’t matter. It just takes one vote to win. So perhaps I would have put it this way:

“Steve, every vote is important and I think in past elections we’ve seen various ethnic and age groups, including first-time and the Latino voters, make a big difference in the outcomes of races. So, yes, the Latino vote is important. However, pollsters are having a tough time modeling this election so as a party, we are trying to get Americans—no matter their age or race—motivated to stand up for what they believe in and vote on election day.”

So the moral of this story is that if you’re in the public eye, get some media training! We at Connect2 Communications ensure our clients are prepared for all types of interviews, be them print, radio or broadcast. There is a vast difference in how you approach each of these types of interviews and it’s imperative that you learn the difference so you don’t get stuck on camera or live on the radio wishing you just would have put that answer another way.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Look Right, Look Left, Look Right Again

When you were a kid, your Mom always told you to “look right, look left, look right again” before crossing the street.

That’s pretty good advice that can easily be applied to a company’s PR and marketing programs. Too often, companies rush out (across the metaphorical street) and embrace the latest online programs because they don’t want to look like they aren’t “with it.” Social networking is a good example.

Not every company in the world needs a Facebook fan page…..or a Twitter account….or YouTube channel. None of these programs will make you successful on their own and certainly none of them are silver bullets that will enable you to leap frog your competitors. First, you have to look to make sure you’re customers are actively engaged at a professional level, and that they want to connect with you on any given platform.

The truth is, I’ve seen hundreds of companies launch social networking programs only to realize they don’t have the content required to make it meaningful or can’t attract an audience that cares.

The sad part is some corporate execs, in their rush to be relevant, don’t apply the same business diligence to PR and marketing programs as they do to other aspects of their business. So to take it back to the basics (just like Mama taught):

Social networking, Twitter, etc should only be part of your marketing programs if:

  • LOOK RIGHT - A significant part of your target market(s) are willing to engage
  • LOOK LEFT - The format provides a opportunity to demonstrate leadership, shape opinions or participate in debate; and
  • LOOK RIGHT AGAIN - It’s integrated into, and not separate from, other marketing and PR programs.

So before you fall prey to the social networking charlatans or run headfirst into time-consuming and irrelevant programs, take a hard look at your customer base on see if they would prefer a social network that is online or in person.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Going with the Volcanic Flow

This past week saw one of the more unusual fallouts from a natural disaster. Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted and sent ash spewing into the air that drifted east and literally shut down all air traffic across the European continent. Beyond the economic impact and the human interest stories of stranded passengers, which included one of our co-workers having an unplanned extended vacation in Ireland, here at Connect2 we were paying special attention for another reason.

One of our clients is utilizing the natural geo-thermal resources of Iceland to build a green wholesale data center in the country. While the rest of the world learned of the difficulty in pronouncing Eyjafjallajokull just last week, we had been tracking the volcanic activity for a several weeks after the first rumblings in the crater started at the end of March. We knew it would be important to help the client message to their customers about the impact of the volcano as well as prepare for any broader stories in the press that may begin to emerge.

Our first step was to sit down with the client and create a messaging strategy that would help put the current situation into context. This was critical as it would help the client put the volcanic activity into perspective for their current and potential customers. It was also important because it showed that the client was not surprised by the volcanic activity, but rather had taken that into consideration when building out their plans for locating a data center in Iceland.

The next step was to identify the trigger that would launch our media relations efforts. Initially all the stories about the volcano were about the impact to the airline industry and its passengers. Shortly after, the technology trade press began looking at the story through its lens and started to tie the volcano and Iceland’s data center industry together. At that point, we began reaching out to key press to offer our client as a resource and began setting up interviews that resulted in solid, positive press coverage.

As we move into the next phase of this story, Connect2 will need to continue to be proactive with the press and manage the storyline for our client. As we all know, stories like these take many twists and turns along the way. The key to managing these types of stories is to be prepared and be proactive. Use the current event or industry announcement or regulatory ruling as a means to think about the impact to your company, create messaging that puts the event into the appropriate context for your customers and know when to begin talking to the press. Missing one of these steps could take an opportunity and turn it into a disaster of your own.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Didn’t I get that Speaking Slot?

You all know the drill. You write what you think is a great abstract, get rejected and wonder why. In another life, I worked to plan many a conference, and fielded thousands of phone calls asking: “Why didn’t I get a speaking slot?”
The answers are many, but 90 percent of the time it is because the abstract is BORING. Think about it. If conference organizers ask for submissions on certain topics, you can guarantee that yours is only one of possibly hundreds of other abstracts covering THE EXACT SAME THING. So how do you set yourself apart? Here are 5 tips to help you write a winning abstract.
1) Develop a catchy title. Many people forget the title, just typing something up as they are submitting. But, remember, when the reviewers look at it the title is the first thing they see! Come up with a clever pun--make it fun!
2) Bring a customer co-presenter. Conference organizers love it when you bring customers to speak. It’s one less thing for them to have to do on their own. So, whenever possible, offer up a joint presentation with your customer. Better yet--propose a panel with an analyst, customer and partner.
3) Don’t mention your products! Blatant or veiled sales pitches don’t fly. Your submission will be thrown out immediately if there is any type of reference to products or services. Don’t do it. Instead, present an industry problem and talk about possible solutions, or present your views on the future.
4) Offer up a high-level, non-marketing person. We all know your VP of Marketing is technical, but the truth is conference organizers would much rather hear from your CTO/CIO or VP of Engineering, than any sort of marketing person. And remember, any person’s title with “Product” in it is considered a marketing person from a conference organizer’s perspective.
5) Don’t bait and switch. Don’t overpromise. If you can’t bring the CEO, don’t submit the CEO. If you can’t bring a customer, don’t say you are going to bring one. You’ll just wind up on the organizer’s black list.
The key to landing a speaking slot is offering the organizer’s audience real, forward thinking content that will set your abstract apart.. Remember--the organizers want a successful event and that means providing attendees with interesting and relevant content. Follow the advice above and sit back while those acceptance letters start to roll in!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What is Black, White and Read All Over? The Internet.

Remember when the answer to that question used to be “the newspaper?” Well, now we start this new decade with fewer newspapers according to research from Vocus in its State of the Media Report released late last week. Vocus found that just last year alone 293 newspapers folded with nearly 100 closing its doors in the first quarter.

293 newspapers folded last year.

In this age where anyone and everyone with an opinion can become a global online star in minutes, newspapers were just too slow to adapt to the realities of the living, breathing, organism that is the Internet. The Internet is to the newspapers as Napster was to CDs. Remember when sharing music threatened to kill CD sales? Now, copyright laws make it illegal to share music online. While I don’t think anyone is going to jail for sharing links to news on Twitter, the Internet essentially ravaged newsrooms last year. Early retirements and buy-outs have forced many long-time favorites from The Washington Post, New York Times and USA Today to move into blogging.

As an agency PR professional, I still read the paper and have it delivered to my home on the weekend. But 85 percent of the news and trend-spotting information I gather comes from Twitter, TV, breaking news text messages and online news sites. Unfortunately for the traditional newspaper, the instant access afforded by the Internet is the best way to get information these days. In fact, some newspapers have transitioned to print, online and mobile to share news; the State of the Media Report found that nine online newspapers launched last year.

In many ways, the newspaper is still relevant. You can’t get in-depth reporting on the real players in the Wall Street bailouts, the plans to move an incinerator to your neighborhood or the strategy behind the next generation iPhone unless you read the paper. As a professional communicator that needs to understand the business issues that impact clients, I can’t claim to fully understand the nuances of Net Neutrality or changes at the FCC without reading the newspaper. At my first agency gig, my boss told me that I had to read everything to be successful in this business. With newspapers disappearing, the game of media relations has changed dramatically. But clients still expect us to understand the industry and policy issues that impact their business, so if you are serious about business communications, I encourage you to maintain a subscription to your local paper.

Magazines are not exempt from the fate that took many newspapers out of circulation last year. Now more than ever, PR pros need to be creative in pitching and maintaining relationships. In my next post, I will share my top tips on how to be versatile and capitalize on new opportunities presented by the changes at magazines.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010 – Get Your Head in the Game

2009 was tough. Your company got beat down, you got more “noes” than “yeses,” and the best bet might be just to hunker down and wait until all market indicators are point up, right?


Now I’m not saying it’s time to break the bank, but it is time to start planning what you do, and just as importantly, how you measure if you have been successful or not. To be successful you have to plan, and careful planning includes understanding your core assets, what the market wants to hear (and what they have already heard), and how each program element can contribute to achieve your goals. It all starts, though, with having goals, of knowing where you want your company to be, being realistic in what you can achieve in a given time frame and then making adjustments along the way as the market and your company evolves.

As stated, the first step in planning your marketing, communications and public relations programs is to understand what your marketing goal is for the year. Ask yourself, “How do I want public perception of my company to change by the end of the year?” or “In what ways do I want to change the way my company interacts with its target audiences?” When you have that answer, you can start to build, and measure, programs to help make that goal a reality. Before you jump into any program, list what you are currently doing and then consider why the industry isn’t already making this connection between your company’s contributions and the business issue you are solving.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll look at the different types of goals companies can set for themselves and then discuss some recommendations as to how you set and measure programs throughout the year. We’ll look at the following categories: thought leadership, market leadership, lead generation, competitive threat offsets and category creation.

Let’s say your objective for 2010 is that you want the industry to recognize the contributions your company has made to solve a critical business issue for your customers. I would put this into the “thought leadership” category and your next step would be to create a campaign to help you achieve this goal.

Step 1: Before doing anything, you’ll need to inventory what you can credibly say publically about your company’s products, how it solves a specific business issue and what your customer base is willing to let you showcase about how you are helping them solve it. Next, you’ll need to take a critical eye to what your product does compared to your closest competitors to make sure that you’re not leading with a feature or functionality that will be considered a “me too” in the marketplace. It’s always good to look to define a market need by your product’s strengths and your competitor’s weaknesses!

Step 2: Now look at who within the industry is writing about the business or technology issue you’re addressing with your company’s products. Are there two or three analysts that regularly report on this market or that are frequently quoted in the trade media about this topic? Are there editors that write about the topic either in their regular columns, features or as part of their blogs? Is there someone that leverages Twitter to talk about this topic and usually generates a lot of “retweets” about what they post? If the market doesn’t currently give your company credit for solving this issue, a good place to start is with the industry analysts that are covering your market.

Step 3: Evaluate what the people in Step 2 are writing about and develop an understanding of the stories they are trying to tell and what stories they have already told.

Step 4: This is the tricky part. You’re going to need to leverage information from all three steps above to create a compelling story that articulates how your company is helping its customers solve this business issue. Your story will have to be informative, relevant and new.

Step 5: You might think you are done once the article(s), report(s), etc. come out , but you still need to see how this story is changing the way people think about you. Once the campaign is launched, are you getting more inbound leads or getting requests for additional interviews? Is your sales team telling you they are spending less time in meetings explaining what you bring to market and instead focusing on selling? Essentially, having a story published, did you achieve the goal of changing the perception of your company? The metrics you create will be specific to what you are trying to accomplish and it’s always a plus to understand what these are before you begin.

My next blog will focus on lead generation goals and make some recommendations about ways to help create pull from the marketplace.