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Public Relations: 5 tactics for getting your message to the media

February 21st, 2012
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Several weeks ago, my B2B newsletter article — Public Relations: Getting corporate data out of subject matter experts heads and into quarterly trend reports increased media coverage 261% — was a case study featuring Commtouch, an Internet security services company based in Israel.

Commtouch’s marketing team was able to leverage its internal subject matter experts — in this case, data analysts — to create valuable content and grab the attention of traditional media and influential bloggers in its field.

Like many MarketingSherpa interviews, I had more good information than could fit into the article. The source for the article, Rebecca Steinberg Herson, Vice President, Marketing, Commtouch, provided five excellent tactics for getting your content marketing material out into the wild.

Without further ado, here are Rebecca’s very actionable tactics:

  Read more…

Public Relations: 5 interview mistakes that drive journalists crazy (and how to avoid them)

January 20th, 2012
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I remember you wrote about press releases from the viewpoint of the publication/writer. I think you could write a similar one, for the subject of an interview. What do journalist look for when they interview someone for an article, case study, how-to etc.?

I recently received the above question, and I think the answer could be helpful to many marketers as they reach out to the traditional press, websites and bloggers to promote their products and services through those extremely valuable “earned mentions.”

Much of this blog post is going to skew a bit acerbic (hey, it’s human nature to complain about those who comically make your job more difficult), so I first wanted to let you know, and I’m sure many journalists feel the same way, that I genuinely love interviewing you.

And not just for work. At a party or on an airplane, I’m naturally curious about what people do for a living and always want to learn more. I’ve learned an invaluable amount of in-depth information about various industries and jobs from the interviews I’ve conducted, and on a personal note, have extremely enjoyed those discussions.

I know there can be a lot of pressure when you interview (especially for your first interview), and I just want you to be rest assured in knowing that we really look forward to talking to you and hearing what you have to learn.

That said, like with any other job, some sources do just drive us up a wall.

At the end of the day, you want an article or blog post that makes you and your company, product or service look good. But we’re the gatekeepers. So let me help you avoid these five things that drive journalists crazy …

  Read more…

Personal Branding: The five elements of being seen as a thought leader through crowdsourcing

December 10th, 2010
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…that is, unless you’re trying to minimize the amount of extra work you need to do before the calendar flips to 2011. Every December, my inbox lights up like Rockefeller Center, filled with email and social media requests from various publications asking me to submit my thoughts about the year that’s ending, and the one yet to come.

These crowdsourcing efforts are a great opportunity for so-called “personal branding” and “thought leadership” for the average marketer. But as much as I’d love to share my ideas with every one of these outlets, like many of you, I simply don’t have the time to do so. So when I do take the time, I want to make sure my ideas get picked. But what stands out?

How to grab attention

Well this year I have a unique perspective on the topic because I’m sitting on the other side of the submission form as well – I’m editing MarketingSherpa’s 2011 Wisdom Report. If you’re not familiar with our Wisdom Report, it’s a little New Year’s gift we distribute free to our audience of 237,000 readers. You can take a look at last year’s Wisdom Report for real-life stories and lessons from 70 of your fellow client- and agency-side marketers to see what I’m talking about.

Based on this experience, I’ve discovered an area that I’ve gained significant wisdom in – crafting a successful crowdsourcing submission. So if you do take the time to share your knowledge, it’s worth your while. (Some of this might apply to you public relations folks as you pitch media outlets as well.) And if you’d like to share your wisdom with our audience, I’m all ears.

1. Sometimes, simpler is better.

As much as we love to hear results, it’s not necessary to provide us your company’s bottom line or a three-part novella in order to have your entry published in the Wisdom Report. Sometimes, the simplest, most concise entry can evoke more inspiration than reams of positive results. Below are two of our favorites from the 2010 Wisdom Report (and based on feedback we received, they were among your favorites, as well):

“Consistently recognize the individual efforts of team members. Be specific. Be appreciative. Especially this year – when budgets are tight, tensions are high, and pay raises but a dream – affirmation and acknowledgement becomes even more meaningful. Making it a point to do this can positively alter the culture of an organization. I’ve seen it happen!”

And of course, there’s always the “Golden Rule”:

“Never undermine people who are working for/with you, and who you are working for…”

If that doesn’t qualify as universal wisdom, I’m not sure what does.

2. Be honest. Be yourself. Be real.

A trite platitude? Perhaps. But not all platitudes are without value. Each year, the Wisdom Report provides a forum for marketers to speak candidly about both successes and failures, explaining how their outcomes become lessons – lessons that provide a basis for future planning and a better understanding of their respective situations.

And, with the country still struggling within a tough economy, there are undoubtedly many of you who were forced to find new ways and means to stay afloat – and stay profitable – in 2010. You’re not alone.

As much as necessity is the mother of invention, our recent economic struggles have to be considered the mother of innovation – innovation that drove you to maximize limited marketing budgets, test new ideas and hopefully, create new opportunities to build upon for future success.

In short, the most successful Wisdom Report submissions are the ones that put aside the usual posturing and marketing-speak, and replace them with honest reflection to be shared with your peers.

~~~~~~~

As mentioned earlier, with each year that we publish the Wisdom Report, we also receive an increasing number of entries that deviate from our intended focus. These “rogue” entrants often choose to entertain more than enlighten, and promote more than they inspire. Because of this, they also don’t get in.

Let’s discuss what not to do when composing your 2011 Wisdom Report entry.

3. Laughter isn’t always the best medicine…especially when the medicine isn’t funny in the first place.

I think we all know, whenever you post an online entry form, you run the risk of a few attention-starved individuals (or bots) trying to garner a few seconds in the spotlight.  Sometimes these submissions can be amusing. Sometimes, they even contain a modicum of relevance to the topic at hand. But most of the time, Web-trolling Shecky Greenes provide entries more akin to this 2009 slice of hilarity:

“You can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish.”
— H. Jass, (company and location unknown)

First off, this is a family publication, so I’ll just let you figure out what the “H” in this person’s name actually represents. But more importantly, this one-liner wouldn’t sound right coming out of my crazy uncle’s mouth, much less that of a respected marketer.  This is more an example of failed spam filter than it is a legitimate submission.  But, as you’ll see, humor doesn’t quite get the job done in the following entry, either:

If it ain’t broke, you probably haven’t tested it in Outlook or Internet Explorer yet.”

Yes, this is a more intelligent, amusing entry than the one above. But it’s still not exactly “wisdom,” now is it? Since our website and publications reach a fairly targeted audience, it’s safe to assume that this person isn’t just an Internet wise guy, but more likely a marketer who believed that this humor would somehow fit right alongside submissions from our focused, business-minded reader population.

Had this entry been accompanied by an anecdote explaining how his/her company saved money in a tough economy by eschewing enterprise software for open source offerings, then the quote isn’t only amusing, but also relevant to a broader audience.

4. Proofreading proves wisdom.

One thing that remains great about the Wisdom Report each year is how it allows marketers to represent themselves, and their companies, in their own words, rather than through homogenized “marketing-speak.” This is why it’s so important to spend a few minutes reviewing your submission, rather than quickly hammering out an entry replete with typos, grammatical errors and other mistakes that could possibly present you in a less-than-flattering light.

Note that we only edit submissions for simple errors. If a submission is written in a way that makes it difficult to decipher, we simply don’t use it, even if it contains a wealth of valuable information underneath the typos. It’s not feasible for us to contact you for clarification, nor do we publish inaccurate, error-filled copy.

Bottom line – a few extra minutes with a red pen could garner your words – and possibly, your company – some very valuable exposure with our readership. Don’t let your haste turn into our waste.

One example of this is an excerpt from last year’s Wisdom Report:

“Ranking Ranking..I want our site to be ranked number 1..” Sounds familiar ? From your clients ? Or from your management ? Many site owners fall into this, even till the extend of entering keywords they feel they should be ranked the number 1 spot which they haven’t. And they could rant on and on with ever debates on keyword rankings. Without even realizing does the ranking actually correlate to targeted traffic and eventually successful conversions which relates back to the overall business goals and objectives…”

As you can see, this person clearly had a number of thoughts about SEO and search marketing. But, while the “stream of consciousness” tone gives this entry a sense of enthusiasm, it was simply too grammatically poor to enter as-is.

Because of the inherent value in this person’s complete submission, we chose to edit and use it in the book. But, once we begin rewriting a submission for grammar and punctuation, it can no longer truly be considered “in your own words” – which simply isn’t in line with the spirit of this publication.

5. Show, don’t tell. And no matter what, please don’t sell.

I can already hear the uproar – “How are we supposed to discuss our successes without promoting our [companies/products/brands/taglines/other]???”

Simple.  Tell us a story that has universal value – value that can be applied across tactics, industries, borders and cultures. Tell us what worked and what didn’t. Tell us about creative new risks or your back-to-basics approach.  Don’t just tell us that you’re even more amazing than you already were – tell us why and how you’ve improved.

Once more with feeling, from the 2010 Wisdom Report:

“My embroidery and logowear business, [company name], is one of only a few in our industry to find success using a Web-based model, and I’m convinced it’s because we’ve been able to take our key differentiators — including exceptional customer service — and effectively communicate them to an online audience…”

The above is the (submitted) opening line from one of last year’s contributors. At its core, this is a very strong sentence that serves to introduce a solid anecdote about simplicity in Web design and online forms. The problem is that in order to get to that solid anecdote, you had to endure a) the company name and target market, b) a self-serving statement about the company’s superiority in its space, and c) a thinly-veiled pat on the back.

It’s not that the company doesn’t deserve accolades. It’s that only after the reader gets past this boilerplate copy does the submission demonstrate its true value. And, following some extensive details, we read:

“Conversions increased 49 percent with the new form, cementing for us the idea that people want to do business with people, not with Web sites.”

This simple statement offers us a concrete metric, and more importantly, a statement about how this new tactic led to a valuable lesson that is applicable beyond this specific business.

I think you get the point.

We’re sure you’ve got a great story to tell that will help make us all better marketers in 2011. And we look forward to reading them.

Related resources

Submit your 2011 Wisdom Report entry

2010 MarketingSherpa Wisdom Report

Public Relations: The best press release is no press release

Public Relations: The best press release is no press release

November 5th, 2010
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Here’s a recent question I received via email that I’d like to address right here on the blog. This is a common question, and I think there is a lot of value in the answer for anyone seeking to gain earned impressions in the media for their brand…or even their personal brand.

QUESTION:

Congratulations on your new post handling editorial concerns for MarketingSherpa.com. Would you be so kind as to give a short primer on the best way PR folks, who represent marketing companies, can work with you moving forward? Do you like to be kept abreast with news releases and whatnot? We’ve done some work with MarketingSherpa in the past but it appears things have changed on your end and we certainly don’t want to waste your time. Thanks in advance for your help.

Best regards,

Kevin Johnson
Manger of Media Relations
TechImage

ANSWER:

Thanks for the question, Kevin. My short answer is – the best press release is no press release. Just tell me why your proposed case study or article will have value for MarketingSherpa’s 225,000 marketers specifically. You can do this by reading and understanding what we publish on MarketingSherpa, you can not do this by randomly inserting the term “MarketingSherpa” into a canned pitch. Let’s dive into this a little…

Man bites dog

At MarketingSherpa, we receive no shortage of canned pitches and press releases every day. And not to be too harsh, but much like spam, they are sorted appropriately.

Now, I’m sure working in PR is a tough job. And to be fair, I have limited experience in my career on the press-release-writing side of things, but the few times I have been involved, usually the client’s perception on the purpose of a press release was way out of whack with reality (one client didn’t even know what a press release was, just that they wanted one…no joke).

So what is a press release? Wikipedia’s description ends with the clause, “…for the purpose of announcing something claimed as having news value.” That’s right, even if you’re just making a “claim,” find the “news value.” In case you didn’t take Journalism 101, news value is “Man Bites Dog” and not “My client has an ad campaign.”

Talk to me like I’m your older brother, not your mother

Here’s the analogy I like to use. When you talk to your mother, she’s likely excited and proud about almost anything you have done. “Oh, Jimmy, you have a new ad campaign, how exciting!”

However, try the same pitch with your older brother and see how well that turns out. “Loser. You’re only in advertising because you couldn’t hack it in medicine.” To grab the attention of your older brother, you need something really newsworthy, “The ad campaign we launched six months ago increased revenue by 372% because I did these three innovative things. So I booked a charter flight to the Super Bowl. Want to come, big bro?”

Well, media people are your older brother. I could care less about your new ad campaign. But if you got real results from a client that you’re willing to share that could benefit my audience…well, that’s as valuable to me as a 50-yard-line seat to watch the Jaguars play the Giants in the next Super Bowl.

So don’t even bother with the darn press release. Just send me a personal note and tell me why your specific story should be published on MarketingSherpa. I know, I know, it’s so much easier to do a big PR blast and get picked up somewhere and get some impressions and some SEO. But if you’re looking for quality earned impressions, just send me a note…the canned pitch goes straight in the trash anyway.

In writing this blog post, I’m a little worried I’m being a too harsh on PR people. And, really, I’m trying to help. So I sent my colleague, Andrea Johnson, the above paragraph and asked her opinion. She has more than two decades or public relations experience under her career belt, so her response surprised me. She was even more emphatic than I was. To quote directly from our Skype conversation, “YES!!! Absolutely.” Here’s what else Andrea had to say about news releases…

Publicity is nothing but sales

Your target market is the editor, blogger or reporter, your product is your news. Your goal is to make it very easy for them to say “yes” to whatever you’re selling; editors simply don’t have the time to figure out why they should care, especially in a marketplace that’s absolutely flooded with thousands of news releases every day.

If you want meaningful coverage, pay attention to what they’re writing about, what they care about, and the trends they’re tracking. With that in mind, start a personal conversation about what’s in it for them if they cover your news – that could be, for instance, a fresh, juicy angle on a topic they write about a lot.

News releases make reporters work way too hard to figure out what’s in it for them, but releases can support the conversation. Instead, begin with a simple, thoughtful email referencing what they care about most and how your news perfectly addresses it. You’ll be surprised by your success, especially with B2B trade publications; editors there are absolutely starving for relevant material.

– Andrea Johnson, Editorial Manager, MECLABS Applied Research

You can write it in a letter, babe

To summarize, press releases are not helpful. What is most helpful is a personal letter letting us know why the story you’re seeking to pitch has value for the MarketingSherpa audience. One thing we are always looking for is real case studies with real numbers that we can publish.

Also, here is some boilerplate from our site that might be helpful. But, again, a personal letter as to why this specifically would be a good article for MarketingSherpa is key. Most press releases just end up in the (virtual) trash…

However, be aware that we are *not* a news organization but rather a publisher of Case Studies, benchmark data and how-to instructions.

Our researchers would love your help in identifying client-side (aka brand-side) marketing executives who would make good subjects for our Case Studies. We’ll ask them specific questions about marketing tactics they have personally used, and we’ll expect them to be able to speak to results in some meaningful way.

Yes, agencies and vendors are invited to talk about campaigns they have completed for clients, as long as some sort of results information is included, and the client can be contacted for a quote.

You don’t have to write any case studies for us – we do all our own research and writing. Just suggest folks for us to interview.

Related resources

Landing Page Optimization: Takeaways from Entrepreneurship, PR, and Social Media

How to Get 350 Positive Media Mentions for a Business Services Firm in Six Months (Members’ Library)

How to Optimize Press Releases & Get Higher Search Ranking and 75% Clickthrough Rate (Members’ Library)

Writing Better Releases and Copy

May 12th, 2010
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Anyone familiar with press releases sees it all the time: a bunch of words that don’t say anything. I’ve personally read releases with three or four sentences of real information. The rest was just superlatives and hype.

Marketing strategist David Meerman Scott has targeted this type of writing since at least 2007, starting with his Gobbledygook Manifesto. In 2009, he pooled resources and queried journalists to pull together 325 common phrases. He then worked with Dow Jones to analyze their occurrences in over 700,000 North American press releases sent in 2008.

The top three most-used “gobbledygook” phrases they found:
1. “Innovate” (and all its derivatives)
2. “Pleased to”
3. “Unique”

“You see that stupid word [innovate] everywhere,” Scott says. “Every company is claiming how innovative they are, how innovative their products are…It’s so over used to have literally become meaningless.”

At best, potential customers ignore such words, Scott says, and at worst they’re insulted by them. Furthermore, the words do nothing to differentiate a brand, and they’re unlikely to be used by someone in a search engine. They’re truly empty phrases.

I recently interviewed Scott to ask him how social media can help cure a company’s addiction to these phrases (keep an eye on our Great Minds newsletter for the article). Scott shared a wealth of information — and not all of it made it into the final piece.

Here are some steps he suggests for checking whether your company uses too much “gobbledygook”:

First, check content on your website, press releases and other marketing content. Look for clichés listed here and in the Dow Jones analysis linked above. Examples include:
o “Mission critical”
o “Ground breaking”
o “Market leading”

Also, check if your content describes how your products solve your customers’ problems, and if it’s written in your customers’ language. Too many companies, Scott says, speak in a language that is only understood internally.

“People are dreaming up this language in a vacuum.”

For a good test, Scott suggests taking a block of questionable text, finding all references to your brands and products and replacing them with your competitors’ brands and product names.

“If the language still sounds accurate, then you’re in deep trouble,” he says. You’re not differentiating yourself at all.

Blogger Video Sharing Data

November 6th, 2009
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Knowing which bloggers are most likely to embed or link to a video can help focus your pitching strategy. Take a look at a new report from social media business intelligence provider Sysomos to find out which bloggers are sharing videos.

Sysomos analyzed over 100 million blog posts from July to September 2009 to measure bloggers’ video sharing. The report breaks down the bloggers’s demographics and the services they use.

Below is some U.S. data from the report. Check out the full report if you want more detail and international data.

– U.S. Market Share
o YouTube – 81.6% of bloggers use YouTube to embed or link to video
o Vimeo – 10.6%
o Dailymotion – 1.8%

– Top U.S. Cities for Video Sharing Via Blogs
o New York, NY – number one worldwide
o Los Angeles, CA – number six worldwide
o Chicago, IL – number 10 worldwide

– Top U.S. States for Video Sharing Via Blogs
o CA – 19.0%
o NY – 10.9%
o TX – 5.4%
o PA – 5.0%
o FL – 4.8%

– Age of North American Bloggers who Embed Video
o 20 to 35 – 62.7%
o 35 to 60 – 25.9%
o 13 to 19 – 9.5%
o Over 60 – 1.9%
o Under 13 – 0.0%

Worldwide, males (60.33%) are more actively sharing video through blogs than females (39.67%). The most active days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Monday, respectively. The most active hours are 11 a.m. to noon, followed by noon to 1 p.m.

If you’re making viral videos, this data helps show who is most likely to share them on a blog. You can use it to help guide your pitching strategy, and possibly help decide if viral video is the right strategy for your audience.

Start a Company Blog?

June 3rd, 2009
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A company blog can be a great way to build brand, credibility and site traffic–but blogging is often more work than first expected. And positive results rarely come quickly. The benefits gradually build as you toil through post after post.

Also, there are blogs on topics from fruit to adhesives, and there are likely a couple that relate to your business. That means a new blog would have to compete. However, you don’t have to compete with blogs to enter the blogosphere, says Jay Krall, Internet Media Research Manager, Cision.

“Too many times, I think, people fall into the trap of thinking that they need to start a blog, when in fact they would do much better to take six months to engage heavily with the blogs in their space,” Krall says. “I don’t want to discourage people from writing a blog, but you have to listen first. You have to take some time to make sure that you understand what’s already being said in that space.”

If you’re thinking of starting a blog for business reasons, consider the opportunity costs of the time you’ll have to invest. Would that time be better invested elsewhere? You might get better, faster results (in the shorter term) by doing blogger outreach.

Capitalize on media attention to build relationships: Two approaches

May 29th, 2009
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This week brought us dueling product announcements from Google and Microsoft that, naturally, got a lot of attention from media and bloggers. But as I was reading about Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing, and Google’s upcoming Wave communication tool, I noticed something interesting about how the companies are trying to capitalize on crush of media attention and Web traffic.

– Google’s Wave homepage features a prominent blue button that says, “Let me know when it’s ready,” which takes users to a quick survey and email sign-up form to be sent future updates about the product.

It’s a smart tactic: Product-launch alert campaigns are a great way to capture opt-ins, and those messages tend to generate strong open and clickthrough rates.

– Microsoft’s Bing homepage, on the other hand, doesn’t feature an email sign-up form (as far as I could see). Instead, it appears the Microsoft team is using social media to make connections with interested visitors.

The Bing site features a link to a Bing Facebook group, and invites visitors to follow Bing on Twitter.

I haven’t seen data or done a case study yet on using social media to keep potential customers in the loop about product announcements. I’d be very interested to see how it compares to email in generating interest and activity after launch.

But in both cases, Google and Microsoft are being smart about weaving an engagement strategy into a big publicity push. Whether you’re using email, Twitter or another channel, you can make a direct connection with your audience that turns a sudden, transitory wave of interest in your company or products into the first step of a long-term relationship.

Send Out Some Kindness: Hot PR Tactic in ’09

January 23rd, 2009
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I’m working on MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Wisdom Report, and I’m surprised by how many PR entries there are. Last year, we didn’t get near as many. (For those of you who don’t know, our Wisdom Report is an annual compilation of bits of wisdom marketers share with us from the past year.)

In addition, our end of year survey shows that PR best practices are a priority for marketers in 2009. I can’t help but think this must be a reflection of the economy and, subsequently, of marketers’ tightening budgets. PR, after all, is inexpensive and can be very effective. Read more…

Introducing MicroPR: A Twitter Resource For PR Professionals

December 2nd, 2008
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Finally, finally, finally. I’ve been waiting for someone to enlighten me about the ways journalists and PR professionals are using Twitter to interact with each other. Thanks to the launch of a new Twitter resource called MicroPR, I can  really see the value.

MicroPR was developed by Brian Solis, Stowe Boyd, and Christopher Peri. Here is a quick guide provided by Brian’s blog post:

  • Journalists, bloggers, and analysts, send a tweet to @micropr (www.twitter.com/micropr) with what you need help with. The PR subscribers will read it and only those who can help will respond. Always start your message with @micropr.
  • PR, follow @micropr to monitor the inbound requests from the media and to determine how you can help. This is a listening and response service for you, not a broadcast channel. Do not send a message to @micropr unless you need the assistance of the PR community.
  • If you want to refer to micropr on Twitter, please use the hashtag, #micropr.

It didn’t surprise me to find out that Brian was a key player behind this wonderful tool. He is the person who inspired me to write, Essential Guide to PR 2.0: Social Media Dos, Don’ts. Thanks to him for allowing me to interview him for that article.

I should also mention, this tool reminds me of Help A Reporter Out (HARO) created by Peter Shankman. The idea is similar though Peter uses a different medium, namely email, to get requests from journalists to a list of experts and PR professionals.

For more information on HARO, check out the Fame article I wrote in March. Check out MicroPR as well. Both wonderfully useful tools from innovative thinkers. Thanks guys!