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.