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6 Essential Public Relations Projects for Corporate Communications and Marketing

17 Nov

Rumor has it that the economic recovery has begun, so it’s time for another edition of “Invest in the Upswing”.  I know, I know –when a marketer tells you to start marketing more, hold onto your wallet.

On the other hand, who in corporate communications and marketing doesn’t want to raise the bar in PR and marketing? Perhaps more urgently, who doesn’t want to have an answer when an executive reads an in-flight magazine article about ‘the next big thing’…and wonders what you’re doing about it?

So here’s my list of 6 essential PR projects for corporate communications and marketing. If you have time, put them on your list; if you don’t, this is what I do, and I’m happy to help.

  1. Make web analytics part of your PR and marketing ROI reporting. I recently spoke to an industry association and asked the group, “who here watches web traffic stats?” Not a single hand went up.  This may be the single biggest missed opportunity for PR and marketing professionals. Track communications activity to web traffic and you’ve started a link in the chain toward sales leads, sales and truly meaningful ROI measures.   (Or, you’ll find out that your programs aren’t working – and change your strategy).
  2. Start a Competitive Intelligence Report. What are people saying about you and the competition in the media? On blogs and comments? On Twitter? On industry forums?  Set up a daily monitoring and a daily or weekly digest – less if there’s not much out there.  Share it online with the people who need to know.  For free, I’d start with Google Reader and news alerts, or set up a custom, shareable homepage with feeds from multiple sources.  Or you can pay folks like Radian6 for all the bells and whistles.
  3. Establish a Social Media Policy. Two reasons.  First, you need to protect company interests.  Second, you’re missing an opportunity to unleash your employees into their own networks to get the word out about what you do.  More thoughts on this here.
  4. Meet the Media. Get on the phone or on a plane and get to know better the folks who buy ink (and pixels) by the barrel. Traditional media relations is far from dead – even if you don’t care if your company sees print, media coverage gets you an online audience, contributes to SEO, and gives you a link to share with personal and sales contacts, on the corporate website and blog, and across social networks – all of which deepens awareness and relationships.
  5. Add Sharing to Your Website. You put the time into writing, formatting and designing web content.  Don’t you want people to share it? Don’t you want RSS users to get your updates in their reader? Or offer email and text alerts? Don’t you want to make it easy for bloggers to bookmark, vote up or share your news releases, video, customer story, new promotion or photo essay?  Here’s a list to get you started…add: RSS, Digg, ShareThis.
  6. Be the Media. Once you’ve added sharing, you need something to share. “Be the media” means building awareness, interest, loyalty and word-of-mouth (or pixel) by creating content online that people want to read, view and share. It means “pulling” people to you via strategies that connect what you put online with the people you want to reach.  And it means thinking every day about what you want your “audience to do” and how you can help get them there.  More thoughts on this here.

As always, we never do these things just to do them  — we do them because they move our organizations toward their goals.

Have more? What’s on your list? As always, I’m here to help


The Recession — Opportunity for Startups? Yes.

11 May

The Silicon Valley Insider published an article worth reading if you’re running a startup.  In a nutshell:  Recessions can be opportunities to position yourself for success, refocus the business, fix what’s wrong, and get yourself on the right track.  

And it’s true…to a point. Standing with another dad at my son’s baseball game, I heard a perfect rundown of how hard it is to keep a startup going these days — cash flow issues, missed payroll, missed opportunities and an unwillingness to adapt the sales strategy.  Success hinges on being clear eyed to the opportunities in front of you, ruthless in managing assets and resources, and willing to go all out after opportunities that are real. 

Focus and passion are key, but more critical is the willingness and ability to outwork the competition.  As the Insider notes, big competitors will probably advertise less — with less overt noise crowding the marketplace, tactics like influencer outreach and addressing potential customers and influencers via social media can be even more powerful.  It’s a lot of work, but you can open channels to the right people, spread your message, and make yourself more easily found by the people and communities you want to reach.

Not to minimize the challenges — you either have the money and the talent and the strategy and the time and the right answer — or you don’t.  But if your startup can invest today — dollars, time, talent or hustle — good things will happen.

Social Media for B2B–3 Ways to Take The First Steps

10 Apr

I picked up on a conversation a couple months ago about the role of social media in B2B companies. I noted that most B2B companies don’t feel like they have the resources to do justice to “the basics”, let alone start experiments in social media.  These companies, I suggested, should be reevaluating what they do today, and rethink the what they are getting for their communications investment…or, as Amber Naslund asked on her Altitude Branding blog, “Should the Basics Evolve?”

This topic seems to be popping up again in my conversations.  The answer clearly is yes, the basic “blocking and tackling” of PR and marketing communications — news releases, sales sheets, brochures, newsletters and the website — are evolving rapidly.  But perhaps not as fast as some would think.

For example, based on one inquiry, I did set up Twitter, blog and general web searches to see where conversations were happening around their issues.  The return was minimal.  The online, social media-type conversations just weren’t happening.  In other words, some industries just aren’t there yet. 

Now this is certainly an opportunity — fertile ground to be a leader that gets people talking — because the B2B audience is certainly online (they’re just not always talking about work).  But in a world of limited resources, it doesn’t have to be.  And as any responsible consultant will tell you, social media is different — you don’t dive in headfirst without testing the waters. This isn’t one-to-many mass communications — this is community and conversation.  Communities take on a life of their own and conversations can take surprising turns … truths that can take some time to absorb.  

But, the basics are evolving … as they have to accommodate the web and as they will again to accommodate the way people consume social media.  If I were inside a B2B company today re-assessing the basics today, I wouldn’t dive in headfirst. I’d start by looking at the following; tarting here will get your organization headed in the right direction, and gets your building blocks in place so that you can make smart choices — will I lead my market into social media or follow them? Or, will I be there when they get there?

1. Is my website a brochure, or a destination? Our web presence should be more than our products artfully presented. It should include a place where customers find insight on the kind of work they do with you.  For example, you can feature articles about the the company or industry trends on the home page.  You can create a regular space for featured news that goes beyond news releases toward and toward opinions, tech or how-t0 insights and audio or video features. 

This approach offers multiple benefits.  First, new and relevant content will improve search engine rankings, so more of the right people find you.  Additonally, it positions your company as a part of conversations going on across the web — engaging potential customers and keeping you top of mind with current ones. 

2. Am I meeting my market where they are?  For example, are our customers reading the email newsletter?  Are we tracking this?  Many business buyers and influencers are finding — and appreciating — new ways to follow companies and brands — from RSS feeds to mobile phones to Facebook.  When you start regularly adding new feature content to the site, get it to the customers in ways they want, and in ways they they can react by contacting you or sharing what they like.

At minimum, give visitors the chance to a) subscribe to updates via RSS or email; and b) share what they like with others.  This allows you to interact with a larger audience in ways you haven’t before. And it gives potential customers the control they want over their relationship with the company–there’s no cost to you, and they can enter the sale cycle when they’re ready.  These features are extremely simple to implement.  

4.  How are people using the website? Where does the traffic go on the website?  What’s most popular? What should be popular but isn’t? Are visitors being tracked and channeled appropriately and effectively to sales lead capture? If this information isn’t easy to obtain today, it should be.  

3.  Do I know what people are saying ‘out there’?  Every B2B marketer needs to find out what conversations are going on about their company and industry issues online.  This can be involve setting up Google News alerts, or aggregating news sources and searches in an RSS reader like Google Reader or My Yahoo, or investing in free/pay tools from a simple  Filtrbox to a comprehensive Radian6 dashboard.  You can track Twitter on or enter searches on the free TweetDeck.  

You don’t have to participate right away, and if there’s not much happening, it won’t take much of your time. But you’ll know. And as GI Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”

The State of My Economy (or, “How It’s Going, 2009”)

19 Mar

We’re three months into 2009 and it feels like I’m working at the kitchen table sipping a cup of coffee and gazing out at the backyard and there’s a koala up in the elm tree, staring back at me.   

“That’s odd,” I say to myself.  

It’s been an odd start to 2009, and this is a good thing.   Since the beginning of the year, I have (in no particular order),  

* reconnected with my big clients from last year, and, beyond new projects, had discussions about PR, marketing and corporate communications we’d not had in some time.  

* been found on Facebook by a high school friend living in South Africa who I haven’t seen in 20 years, a unexpected surprise that may also turn into business.

* created and conducted my first new media training session in many years, and developed a “PR 101” session for a client.

* begun to work with an former client at a new company. This isn’t unusual except that we reconnected at a networking event, and I usually say that I don’t like networking events…but there I went and look what happened.

* reconnected with the marketing entrepreneur I advised last year whose startup didn’t quite make it, but whose new start up is already off the ground and making money.   And this one may well stick.   

And I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about the economy, and come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about the economy.  It feels better to think about family. And friends. And clients. And business.

Because nothing has changed.  For us to succeed, we need sharp messages. We need clear brands. We need smart strategy.  We don’t just need be in front of customers — we need to be there with them, delivering what they want and what they need in ways no one else can. 

It’s shaping up to be an odd and memorable year.  I think I’m going to enjoy this.

B2B and Social Media: It’s a Matter of Time

23 Jan

Social Media marketer (and Twitter rockstar) Chris Brogan posted a query on Twitter and an opinion on his own website on the differences between how social media is used in B2B and B2C marketing.  It’s a question I’ve thought about a great deal, after many client conversations with smart B2B marketers who are very interested in social media, but simply don’t see it as a priority. And they’re not totally wrong — in the short term, for many of them, their cusotmers just aren’t there yet.  But in the long term, they will be.  

Brogan writes:

“Think of this principle: “Be there before the sale.” Sales cycles for B2B products are often very long. When I spoke at IBM Research’s headquarters in NY, I heard about a supercomputer of theirs that has a 3 year sales lead cycle. How much marketing can one do in 3 years to move that box? Instead, how HUMAN can you be for 3 years, while going through the process. I think that’s where B2B gets a big boost from exploring these social tools.” 

And I agree.  As I noted in a comment on Brogan’s post, the B2B company’s role is not to control the conversation ‘out there’ but listen, participate in human ways, as you put it, and, at the right times, engage in ways that invite participation in efforts to help the industry that happens to be your market.

But I note that it’s important to respect the B2B marketer’s point of view.  And from their point of view, this can be a soft argument.   Again, as posted on Chris’ blog:  

When the typical channel-focused B2B marketer looks at his marketing investment, he looks first to direct-to-channel communications via literature and other sales tools, and next to PR — which, at least, gets you on the web — and advertising — of far more limited value, and their own website. Being seen online as human would be something to get to when there is time… and there isn’t time.

The challenge for organizations is that the marketing communications teams feel like they have no time to get what they see as “the basics” done, let alone do “technology stuff” in social media. What they need to do is step back and reassess how their organizations view the basics of communications. That reassessment has to happen across marketing, sales, product management and at the executive level.

The question they need to ask themselves is whether they want to be there as social media begins to grow in importance as part of the B2B sales process, or spend massive amounts of human capital catching up once it gets there.

Re-Thinking the News – Part 2

16 Dec

The StarTribune in Minneapolis is one of those newspapers in deep trouble.  Actually, it’s a business in deep trouble. Reading David Brauer’s reports on MinnPost about StarTribune layoffs … well, as a guy likes to think the best of people I hope that there’s a lot we don’t know about how things are being managed at our premier local news organization.

Because from the outside, I get this familiar twinge I used to feel when a client, or my own agency, would respond to business challenges by cutting staff, restricting options and depressing employee spirits, rather than investing in the change and innovation needed to turn things around.  Now, while our local news organization is investing in shiny new mobile technology, it otherwise may well  be out of financial options.  Even so, cost cutting your way to growth has never seemed like a winning strategy.  

Meanwhile, my wife and I were talking about the news business the other day (an admirable thing for her to do with me, since I think about this stuff all the time and am thus I suspect am pretty insufferable when talking to those who don’t).  Her take was that while it’s great to be able to get the news you want on the topics you choose, you lose the opportunity to be surprised by what’s in the paper.  

Now one can argue the point … and many do (although the fellow at this link admits to being deliberately provocative). For myself, I’d point out that if the web had only given me Google and  Boing Boing,  my access to interesting and informative stuff would have been expanded dramatically and happily.  As it is, the social web is far more than that.  

But there’s a difference between selecting headlines on a screen — a tiny screen, at times — and scanning full stories in print, chosen by professional journalists and editors, and in that difference, she says, there is something lost that isn’t entirely made up for by random tweets, blog links, emails and the wisdom of crowds.

On the face of it, I agree. Newspapers are built around the idea of setting community agenda, of being “The News.”  Journalism is a profession, and for some, a calling.  It’s at least as much public service than a business.  

And the great news organizations supported for so long by the newspaper business will never thrive again until they get around the problem of this premise. 

Next…Some ideas…

‘Good a time as any’ for startups

24 Oct

James Fallows is offering ongoing takes on how venture capital firms are reacting to the financial crisis — a writer always worth following.  He’s previously posted a much-talked-about slide show by Sequoia Capital, essentially advising a batten down the hatches approach to running a startup.  This generated a response from by one of his readers, Alan Patricof, the managing director of the New York VC firm Greycroft Partners, quoted in full at Fallows’ blog, and excerpted below:

This is surely a time for companies to pay meticulous attention to detail, particularly their cost structure. It is a time to be realistic in their near term assumptions for revenue growth and take nothing for granted.

Raising additional capital to support operations is of course critical, as it is at any time, but this is particularly a time for young companies to be extra cautious in developing pragmatic assumptions of their needs and in focusing on the amount and not necessarily the cost of that capital.

This is not a time to panic, cut off all investment in the future, and burrow into a dark hole. Take a page from the packaged goods industry that the time to gain market share is during tough times when your competitors are weaker in responding. And while this may feel more directly related to portfolio companies, we as a venture industry should not retreat either. It is our strong belief that we can and will continue to make sound investments in excellent opportunities. It is as good a time as ever to start a company with sound fundamentals.

An approach that makes sense. As a communications and marketing consultant, I’ve long enjoyed working with enthusiastic, optimistic entrepreneurs with loads of big-picture ideas who nonetheless took a measured approach.  They invest in defining and positioning their brand, have clear objectives, and focus their communications on advancing strategies toward those objectives.

More, I think there’s something to this idea of money moving from exotic financial instruments toward ideas that make things — good ol’ fashioned ‘progress’.

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