Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Industry Leader of…None

I recently did a search on PRNewswire for certain key terms that I know drive reporters crazy. Companies love to use these terms and PR writers often fall back on them as a descriptor when nothing else is appropriate.  That’s where the problem lies – these words are used as filler when nothing else comes to mind to make a more contextual or interesting descriptor.  So, a company launching a new product becomes an “industry leader” and launching an interesting new product is instead launching a “breakthrough” “innovation” with “advanced” capabilities.

These words might sound good on paper but, in fact, these words have become so ubiquitous that they actually mean nothing.  In my recent research through PR Newswire, I searched for these words in press releases issued on a specific day. The date I choose doesn’t really matter but for records sake, it was October 31, 2011 at 10:54 am. Bear in mind that the search ran was just for releases issued that day before 10:54 AM EDT. These are the results:
  • 1,253 “innovative”
  • 903 “advanced”
  • 202 “global leader”
  • 123 “breakthrough” or “groundbreaking”

We all know that there weren’t 1,253 truly innovative products or services announced on October 31, 2011, by 10:54 AM EDT. There probably weren’t 1,253 truly innovative products announced in all of 2011. So what does that mean for PR writers? It means using the word “innovative” to describe your company’s (or client’s) products isn’t that innovative anymore.

Every industry is packed with vernacular and buzz words that mean something to someone. The problem is when these buzz words go mainstream, they lose the original context that help define the meaning. Writing for PR should be about context, not buzzwords. You need to craft a story that helps readers understand how the announcement fits into their industry, their needs and their lives.

Mark Twain once said, “Don’t say the old lady screamed-bring her on and let her scream.” Translate this into PR writing and you get: “Don’t say the product is innovative, bring it out and tell us how and why it’s innovative.”

This is harder said than done because, let’s face it, not everything that a company announces is as groundbreaking as the company likes to think. That doesn’t mean it’s not news, it just means that you have to work a little harder to make it newsworthy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ears Not Eyeballs

I was recently asked to speak to a group of small business owners about marketing strategies in a down economy. My talk focused on finding the right media, tailoring the right message and creating meaningful metrics to ensure that message gets through and cultivates the desired action. One of my co-presenters put up two slides that I found interesting. The first one made me think, and the second to think “no duh.” Yes, I know, I’m sometimes amazingly profound.

The first slide had the statement that read, “Content is infinite, Attention is finite.” With thousands of websites, hundreds of blogs and an ungodly amount of Twitter feeds, content is everywhere and about any topic you could possibly want to search. Some folks will tell you that the trick is getting all eyeballs everywhere to visit your website or subscribe to your feeds. But there is a significant problem with this objective. You don’t really know who these eyeballs belong to, or if they even belong to someone you are trying to motivate to some kind of action. Given how much information is out there, how can you really tell if the eyeballs you get are actually paying a blinks-worth of attention?

This is where we come to the Ears Not Eyeballs analogy. These are metaphorical ears mind you, not actual “ears,” but should be thought of as the people that visit any of your communications channels and listen to what you have to say with open ears.

Facebook is a good example of Eyeballs and not Ears for most business-to-business companies. Facebook is a fantastic social media site for people. During the small business meeting, I asked how many of the audience went on Facebook to see pictures of their relatives, catch up with friends and let folks know what they are doing. Every hand went up. I then asked how many logged on to find or learn about products or services that were relevant to their business. Not a single hand went up. And yet there are thousands of B2B companies out there spending a fortune of time and money on Facebook pages.

These same companies, while embracing social media, haven’t updated how they fundamentally communicate. They are still saying the same things, just over a new channel. Their websites, press releases, twitter feeds, etc. are the same inward facing, attribute-laded marketing speak that leaves the reader to interpret how it relates to them. In today’s content saturated world, companies need to articulate how what they offer can make a difference to their target market on a personal and professional level.

We counsel our clients that each communication a company makes should provide, at a minimum, the following three things:

1. How the product/services/thingy will impact the market;

2. How the product/services/thingy will impact the target customer; and

3. How the product/services/thingy will impact company itself.

Answering these three simple questions will help put your communications into context and that’s the goal because context is relevant. Relevance is what helps your target audience put aside everything else they have going on in their heads to focus on your communication. They clear out their kids’ soccer practice schedule, the grocery store list for dinner, the spreadsheet that is due by COB and focus on what you’re saying. And, most importantly, relevance can transform eyeballs into ears.