Tag Archives: PR strategy

What Type of Marketing Cry-Baby are You?

conflict-resolutionWhen a client complained to me recently about the difficulty of competing against larger companies, I had a flashback to when my kids were in grade school. Often, when they complained a whiny manner (with or without tears), I’d start singing one particular verse of the well-known kids’ song, “The Wheels on the Bus.”

As my kids started to whine, I would sing:

“The babies on the bus go wah, wah, wah

Wah, wah, wah…wah, wah, wah

The babies on the bus go wah, wah, wah

All through the town.”

As my kids whined louder, I would sing louder. And they would eventually storm away, totally frustrated. Over time, my kids got the message that I had zero tolerance for Cry-Babies. Eventually, I would only have to sing an extended warm-up note of the song (“The…..”), before they would stop whining and walk away.

As an abusive but somewhat responsible parent, I usually tried to have an “adult conversation” with the offending Cry-Baby to resolve the underlying problem, but only after the whining had stopped.

Over the course of my business career, I’ve run into several grown-up “Marketing Cry-Babies.” Whenever they start to whine about marketing-related challenges, I’m always tempted to begin singing the “babies on the bus” verse, but career risk and loss of client revenue serves to made me think twice.

Here are the 3 most common types of behavior exhibited by Marketing Cry-Babies. See if you fit into any one (or all) of these categories:

The “I want it NOW!” Cry-Baby: This marketer demands instant gratification. To him, marketing is a casino, complete with slot machines, craps tables and roulette wheels. With money to spend, he jumps from game to game – feeding the slots, placing chips on spaces – hoping to hit the jackpot. He doesn’t remain very long at any game, and believes that if he plays them all, he’s entitled to win something. When he runs out of money or grows tired of not winning big, this Cry-Baby will leave the casino angry or disappointed that his marketing “investment” has failed to pay off.

“I want it NOW!” Cry-Babies don’t understand that long-term strategy and tactical consistency are the most critical aspects of marketing success. My adult conversation with them goes like this: None of the “games” in the marketing toolkit – publicity, advertising, social media, videos, conferences, newsletters, blogging, direct mail, etc. – either individually or collectively will ever deliver an immediate jackpot. To be a consistent winner in the marketing casino, you need to really understand the risks and potential rewards of all the games; only play those games with odds that are in your favor; commit to playing those games long enough to win; and be willing to change how you’re playing the game – rather than walking away – if you are not winning.

The “It’s All About ME.” Cry-Baby: This marketer believes clients and prospects have a genuine interest in her company’s ideas, experience, success, etc. So the firm’s public-facing materials and “thought leadership” are promotional and self-serving. White papers and editorial content are poorly disguised sales pitches, and offer no helpful information or insights. Lots of time is devoted to winning industry recognition; far less time is invested in managing the customer experience or supporting the sales force.  This Cry-Baby can’t understand why all her marketing activity doesn’t improve revenue or client retention.

“It’s All about ME.” Cry-Babies don’t appreciate that clients and prospects aremost interested in how you can help with their particular problem or opportunity. My brief adult conversation with them goes like this: Clients and prospects don’t really give a hoot about your white papers, industry awards or client list. You need to learn what they need, how they think, and why they’re frustrated or optimistic. That effort demands two-way conversations, and direct market engagement. Based on those insights (which can change with great frequency) you’ll need to (re)direct all of your marketing efforts to resonate in their world, and not yours.

The “That’s Just Not Fair!” Cry-Baby: This marketer is convinced that the cards are stacked against him. There’s never enough money in the budget. The competition can’t be beaten.  Management doesn’t understand marketplace dynamics. Sales reps don’t know how to convert their leads. This Cry-Baby always has a reason for marketing’s lack of success, and lots of excuses not to try harder (or at all.)

“That’s Just Not Fair!” Cry-Babies are either afraid to fail, or afraid to succeed. Either way, they are hard-wired to whine, and often not worth having an adult conversation with. But here goes anyway: Having money to throw at marketing does not ensure success. Larger competitors can have greater bureaucracy that slows marketing momentum, and too many chefs in the marketing kitchen that dilute strategies and tactics. Big firms can get complacent, and be afraid to try new solutions. Regardless of budget or existing brand recognition, smaller firms can always gain competitive advantage through creativity, tenacity and a burning desire to steal the lunch from competitors, regardless of their size or reputation. Being the underdog can be a marketing asset; but you need to give people some good reasons to root for you.

There is some recourse, however, for all types of Marketing Cry-Babies who insist on whining. They simply need to spend more time on the golf course, where that behavior is always appropriate, and where you’re encouraged to attach a “crying towel” to your bag. Fore!

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Checklist Marketing: Too Many Shoes in Your Suitcase?

Many companies view marketing simply as a checklist of items they believe to be essential: Website…check. White Paper…check. LinkedIn and Twitter Accounts…check / check. Client Newsletter…check. Trade Show…check. Blog…check. Publicity…check.

But marketing strategy is not akin to packing for a trip. “Shoes” may be on your checklist of items to put into your suitcase, but depending on your destination and itinerary, you may need dress oxfords, high heels, running shoes, slippers, golf shoes, sandals or hiking boots. Or perhaps you only need the shoes on your feet.

Marketers often throw far too many shoes into their suitcase, either because they see competitors wearing them, or they wish to avoid explaining why their company lacks the trendiest footwear.

Unfortunately, it’s this collection of shoes with no real reason to be in the company’s suitcase that causes the greatest problem for the marketing function, in terms of justification of related costs and contribution to enterprise goals.

To wean our B2B clients off their shoe fetish, we apply a “Marketing Diagnostic” planning tool, consisting of 10 simple questions. Here are the first two questions it asks:

1. Does your firm have a written marketing plan?

Although it’s the most essential marketing task, most firms do not have a written plan. A marketing plan need not be lengthy, take months to prepare, or require the services of McKinsey & Co. Effective plans can be developed in a few whiteboard sessions, and be contained in a 2 – 3 page document that address these key questions:

  • What is our value proposition and competitive advantage?
  • What is our target market and who are the decision-makers?
  • What specific business goals / benchmarks are we seeking to accomplish?
  • What tactics will we use to engage with and nurture our target audience(s)?
  • What budgets, timeframes and responsibilities will we assign to those tactics?
  • How and how often will we measure results and make course corrections?

The two most important aspects of a marketing plan are, first, that it ensures organizational consensus regarding the firm’s strategic purpose, where it wants to go, and how it intends to get there.  Secondly, it provides accountability for results. In many cases, it’s that fear of accountability that discourages firms from creating a marketing plan.

2. Do all of your marketing tactics have measurable goals linked to business outcomes?

This diagnostic question involves the most difficult aspect of marketing: demonstrating tangible outcomes that justify the time and expense invested in marketing tactics. The classic complaints against marketing sound like this: “We’ve attended the XYZ conference for 3 years, and it hasn’t generated any new clients.” Or “We were mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, and no one has contacted us based on that exposure.”

However, when you examine those marketing results-related complaints more closely, you’re likely to discover that (in the case of conferences) the firm failed to build an integrated strategy to communicate properly both in advance of and following the event, and did not leverage the conference-related content to reach a broader audience. And in the case of publicity, the firm likely generated the wrong type of media exposure (regardless of where it appeared), or simply hung the coverage on their website like a hunting trophy, instead of using it proactively to engage with their target audiences.

This second diagnostic question, regarding the practical benefit of marketing activity, is actually an integral part of the marketing plan development process. Every tactic that’s included in your marketing plan requires its own response to “How will we measure results?” Some tactics can be measured in terms of direct business outcomes, such as lead generation. But tactics that are unlikely to generate direct results, such as media exposure, will require a plan that combines related tactics. For example, to benefit from your published bylined article in a trade publication, your strategy might include sending a reprint of that piece (along with a non self-serving cover note) to targeted audiences, as a means to generate the awareness and conversations that precede transactions.

Both Do-It-Yourself marketers and professional marketers alike rationalize their activity on a tactical basis (number of white paper downloads, website traffic, “Likes” and “Re-Tweets,” etc.), and fail to either design or connect the marketing dots in a manner that’s likely to drive meaningful business results. This disconnect is the #1 reason why marketing is held in such low regard, compared with other professional disciplines.

If you’d like a complete copy of our 10 question “Marketing Diagnostic” planning tool for B2B firms, just shoot me an email through LinkedIn, or to gordon at andrewselikoff dot com. It includes a self-scoring system, allowing you to know exactly how you stack up, marketing-wise.

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Why and How to Market Your Firm’s Brand Integrity

As the limitations of a virtual marketplace continue to reduce most B2B firms to commodities, it’s become increasingly important to communicate not just what your company does, but to generate interest in what your enterprise stands for. This task of expressing your firm’s raison d’être involves far more than sticking a “Mission Statement” on its website.

Prospective clients not only want to know what makes your firm unique; before they put you on their short list for consideration, they also want assurance that your company is a “safe choice.” Decision-makers at every level are unwilling to risk their career on selection of an outside firm that may fail to meet expectations, or even harm their firm.

Regardless of whether your firm is the leader or an upstart in its marketplace, brand integrity matters. And it’s a corporate asset that needs to be marketed.

Unfortunately, telling target audiences and opinion leaders that your company is smart, honest, unique, innovative, creative, cutting-edge, trusted, etc. never succeeds. People require hard and soft evidence to support their own conclusions about your brand attributes, notably its integrity.

So how does a B2B firm market its brand integrity through online and offline channels? Here are 10 tangible and intangible factors that, on an individual and combined basis, can drive marketplace opinion on brand integrity:

  • Transparency: Is information regarding your firm’s philosophy, products / services, processes and people available and easily accessible? (Acid Test: How much digging is required to gain a basic understanding?)
  • Consistency: Is all information kept up-to-date, and relevant to current market conditions? Does bad news get communicated to your clients as quickly and openly as good news? (Acid Test: What’s the frequency of content generation, and the number of direct and indirect “touches” with target audiences?)
  • Enthusiasm: Does your firm appear genuine and enthusiastic about communicating with external audiences? Or does communication appear to be treated as a necessary evil? (Acid Test: How often are innovation and fun baked into those efforts?)
  • Values: Are your company’s core values expressed in a compelling manner? More importantly, are those values demonstrated through its actions? (Acid Test: Are they aspirational and inspirational? Is there tangible evidence that values really drive decision-making?)
  • Clarity: Are explanations clear, devoid of technical jargon or mystery, and easily understood by all outside audiences? (Acid Test: Would an 8th grader get it?)
  • Culture: Is there a visible common culture, beyond shared academic credentials or charitable activities? Are there tangible signs that employees are valued, have a unified vision and enjoy working together? (Acid Test: Other than the annual mud run photo, do employees appear to be engaged as a team?)
  • Associations: Who and what are the people, organizations, ideas and causes associated with your firm? Are those associations respected, credible and trustworthy? (Acid Test: Is the firm actively connected with the outside world?)
  • Validation: How is your firm’s value proposition validated by objective 3rd parties? Do reliable sources express open support or inherent endorsement? (Acid Test: Do credible media sources cover the company? Do clients identify themselves by name and company?)
  • Leadership: Are efforts made to share / promote your firm’s intellectual capital in a helpful manner that’s not directly self-serving? (Acid Test: Do other opinion leaders reference your firm’s ideas or contributions? Are white papers just poorly disguised sales collateral?)
  • Persona: Does your firm appear to be run by interesting human beings, or hide its personality behind an opaque, institutional veneer? (Acid Test: Does the overall impact of public-facing communication project warmth and sincerity, or distance and arrogance?)

Marketing tactics aside, companies looking for a guiding principle on brand integrity are well-served by heeding the advice of the late John Wooden, basketball coaching legend, who said, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

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Research Integrity: The Achilles Heel of Content Marketing

The marketing profession has a reputation for sometimes using less than reliable market research to promote a point of view. And this marketer has been guilty of that sin.

Years ago, our insurance company client was introducing a new Directors & Officers liability insurance policy, and asked us to raise market awareness. With good intentions, but given no budget or time to perform proper market research, we interviewed a total of 6 corporate CEOs and board members to provide some validation to the underlying premise of our press release. The headline read: “Most Corporate Directors & Officers Believe They Are Not Protected Properly from Legal Risk.”

With very little expectation that a premise based on such shoddy research would qualify for exposure in the financial press, and dreading inquiries from journalists asking about our research methodology, the release went out. To our great surprise, we received no calls from reporters checking the facts, and the story was immediately picked up by two major wire services, and appeared as a news squib on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, followed by coverage in several business insurance trade publications.

Our client was overjoyed with the media exposure, but we felt less than honorable, and resolved that we would never use market research to promote a client’s product or service unless we believed the supporting methodology had sufficient rigor. And over the years we’ve lost work as a result.

Research integrity was an issue long before the internet became the platform for content marketing. Most often, your research-based news items would not be covered by respected media sources unless you ran the credibility gauntlet. Editors demanded your research methods and data, and had to be convinced that your study was objective and legitimate. Our very thin D&O liability research was a rare and risky exception…and perhaps a sign of things to come.

For well understood reasons, the “legitimate press” now has neither the manpower nor the time to dig deeply for validation of market research that supports content generated by organizations. The loss of this important filter, coupled with the explosion of online content, has created a marketing world in which sloppy, incomplete (and sometimes blatantly false) research generates news items that can go viral and become accepted wisdom. Pumping out content in volume has become far more important than creating high quality content that could withstand the scrutiny of a hard-nosed editor.

What this new world of content marketing means for individuals is simple: assume that all “research-based” information requires close scrutiny. Believe nothing at face value. If it’s important to your business strategy, or you intend to adopt the research to support your own point of view (or upcoming PowerPoint presentation), then you’ll need to become the hard-nosed editor who scrutinizes the original source; who looks at the sample size, respondents, questions asked, etc.; and who determines whether the research results legitimately support the conclusions.

What this new world of content integrity means to companies is more complex: assume that the “research-based” content that you produce is a reflection of your brand’s integrity. For the Marketing Department, this involves educating the corner office regarding the rigor, time and costs involved in market studies, surveys, research necessary to yield content worthy of customer-facing applications. For the corner office, this involves calculating whether the intended marketplace outcome is worth the necessary investment, and avoiding shortcuts.

Without the 4th Estate as the content gatekeeper, there is now far greater opportunity for companies to benefit from content marketing. And by not adopting the market research integrity standards that journalists long upheld, there are far more ways for companies to damage their brand through content marketing.

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The Real Price We All Pay for “Brand Journalism”

propaganda babyThe historical roots of journalism, now encompassing all mass media, were nurtured by its role as The Fourth Estate; the independent public watchdog that keeps in check the three major democratic “estates” of power (in Britain the houses of Parliament, in America the three branches of government). So in spite of the great amount of attention it pays to murder trials, royal weddings and the lives of celebrities, the media plays a critical role in a democratic society; and to function properly it must be objective, unbiased, transparent and independent.

One current challenge to journalism’s mandate is that the line between news and entertainment continues to erode. All media sources compete for the same eyeballs, so speed has become more important than accuracy in reporting, and there are no rules regarding how the news is gathered. The journalist’s role has shifted from fact-based reporting to opinion-based commentary. Journalism has morphed into “communitainment.” And Edward R. Murrow is not pleased.

Erosion of journalism’s mandate has accelerated with the growth of “brand journalism,” which is content specifically created to promote commercial interests, very often in a non-transparent manner. Promotional messaging that for decades had been identified and quarantined by the media as ADVERTORIAL content – now safely re-branded as “sponsored” or “native” content – has gained legitimacy as bona fide editorial information worthy of placement in the New York Times or the CBS Evening News.

We live in a world where our knowledge, perceptions and culture are shaped by Google searches, Facebook posts and YouTube videos, and where technology and economic forces have created the perfect Petri dish for commercial agendas to overwhelm the volume and attention given to objective editorial interests. So is there a price to be paid for the loss of a free and independent press?

A few years ago, veteran journalist Bill Moyers explained what’s happened to journalism this way: “Our dominant media are ultimately accountable only to corporate boards whose mission is not life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the whole body of our republic, but the aggrandizement of corporate executives and shareholders…These organizations’ self-styled mandate is not to hold public and private power accountable, but to aggregate their interlocking interests. Their reward is not to help fulfill the social compact embodied in the notion of “We, the people,” but to manufacture news and information as profitable consumer commodities.” [Read Bill Moyers “Is the Fourth Estate a Fifth Column?: Corporate media colludes with democracy’s demise” in its entirety.]

As we continue to feast on mind-numbing, easily digested communitainment, and as we readily accept well-disguised commercialized propaganda as objective news and information…let’s keep in mind what we’re really giving up.

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Re-Thinking the “Best B2B Advertisement of the 20th Century”

the-man-in-the-chair-mcgraw-hill-885x1024In 1958, Gilbert Morris – an account executive at the Fuller Smith & Ross ad agency – created the, “I don’t know who you are,” business-to-business advertisement for McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. that 41 years later, in 1999, was named the “Best Business-to-Business Ad of the 20th Century” by Advertising Age’s Business Marketing magazine. Quite an achievement.

The iconic print display ad featured an executive in a bow tie hunched forward in a swivel chair, scowling into the camera. (In fact, Gilbert Morris himself was depicted as the executive in the ad.) To promote the practical value of corporate advertising, the ad’s body copy read:

“I don’t know you.

I don’t know your company.

I don’t know your company’s product.

I don’t know what your company stands for.

I don’t know your company’s customers.

I don’t know your company’s record.

I don’t know your company’s reputation.

Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?”

The 56 year-old McGraw-Hill ad concluded with this:

“Moral: Sales start before your salesman calls – with business publication advertising.”

What may have been a revolutionary B2B marketing concept in 1958 is now well understood by B2B marketers. Market awareness, brand impressions and 3rd party endorsements all matter. Sales and marketing must be integrated. We’ve got all that.

But if Gilbert Morris were writing ad copy in 2014, his advertisement would likely reflect very different marketing obstacles for B2B companies. Perhaps something like this:

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PR Playbook: Earning Your Seat at the Senior Management Table

While waiting for the PR profession-at-large to earn a place at the senior management table, current practitioners should develop their own company-specific strategies that will enable them to rub shoulders on an equal basis with their counterparts in finance, legal, marketing, operations or technology. The timeworn adage, “Think globally, act locally,” applies very well here.

Here are a few tactics to consider for your personal campaign to gain a seat:

  • Clarify PR’s Role – The most pragmatic answer to “What is PR?” may be: “Whatever your employer (or client) needs it to be.” Exploration of how the PR profession can be applied to achieve tangible benefits for your organization begins with frank and perhaps eye-opening conversations with senior managers to gain a first-hand understanding of their current perceptions and expectations of PR. You may be surprised at the depth of misunderstanding that exists within your organization regarding your activity and its value. This is an opportunity to clarify what PR does or can do for them, to identify their needs and establish expectations.
  • Get Quantitative – The nature of PR tactics can make it difficult to demonstrate a direct correlation between that activity and tangible business outcomes. Most senior executives accept that reality, and do not expect PR to be a profit center. However, PR practitioners who understand the bottom-line orientation of the business world make it a priority to connect the dots internally, by explaining and highlighting what role PR has played in helping to produce results – whether those outcomes are measured in lead generation, search engine page rankings, revenue growth, employee satisfaction or customer experience.
  • Speak Their Language – It’s not necessary to understand all the technicalities, issues or nuances related to various corporate functions, but you need to know what’s important. For example, your CFO does not expect you to be up-to-date on Dodd-Frank compliance, but does expect you to be well-versed regarding the company’s business model (how it makes and spends money), its competitive landscape, key legislation and enterprise priorities such as market share, acquisition or going public. Speaking your company’s language has less to do with knowing balance sheet terminology, and more to do with being tuned into what’s on the priority list of its senior team and your ability to adapt PR strategies to support those goals.
  • Get Strategic – As a staff function, PR is often viewed as corporate overhead, and expendable when times get tough. Making PR an essential element in line function strategies can build internal support as well as career longevity. To make PR indispensible within your organization, focus on activities that are valued by senior management. These are typically tactics that make the phones ring, or move the revenue needle. For example, drive a successful effort to get your company’s whiz-bang technology included in a respected industry benchmark such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant (ideally, without paying Gartner’s hefty subscription fee), and watch the PR department’s stature rise internally.
  • Act Like an Agency – Outside PR firms live or die by the level of service and results they deliver to clients. An agency’s motivation and enthusiasm are driven by an appreciation that if they fail to meet expectations or add value, they will likely be replaced. Corporate PR practitioners who adopt an agency mindset – treating each operational function as an outside PR agency might manage a client – can build internal support across the organization. From a practical standpoint, this means understanding what your internal clients need, developing tailored plans of action, being accountable for agreed-upon deliverables and maintaining a sense of urgency.
  • Be Fearless – You must serve as the PR function’s ambassador within your company. Keep the pom-poms in the file cabinet, but don’t be shy about discussing what’s working, as well as what’s not and why. If you don’t point out PR’s contribution to the top or bottom lines, no one else will. Conversely, if you don’t put shortcomings out on the table, someone else is likely to do that for you. And if you’re in an environment where honest conversations regarding success and failure are not fostered, then it may not be a management table where you want to be seated.
  • Get a Life – A PR practitioner’s internal reputation and stature are also shaped by professional involvement outside of the company. Your public relations skills can be of great value to civic, charitable and cause-related organizations, and regardless of the motivation for contributing your time, these affiliations represent 3rd party validation of your expertise. This experience also broadens your career horizons, sharpens your professional capabilities and can be personally rewarding and fun.

Best practices established by individual PR professionals – not PRSA lobbying, or PR courses in MBA curricula – represent the profession’s most valuable resource in its effort to move public relations from the management farm team to the big leagues. Over time, as more practitioners gain seats, including PR in the corporate decision-making process is likely to become standard practice, rather than the exception.

Bill Gates learned the “by invitation only” lesson the hard way when he was denied admission to the prestigious August National Golf Club, because he publicly expressed an interest in becoming a member. Similarly, if you want a seat at your company’s senior management table, you won’t get there by asking for it; so take the steps necessary to earn yourself an invitation.

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Stop the Insanity. Fire Your PR Firm in 2014.

The attribution is unsupported, but Albert Einstein is often credited with the quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Its source notwithstanding, the axiom applies perfectly to the great number of companies that retain PR firms, year after year, to generate publicity that will have little or no impact on tangible business outcomes.

Over the past 5 decades, to rationalize hefty monthly fees, the PR profession has successfully promoted three underlying assumptions:

  • Any publicity is good publicity.
  • The more publicity, the better.
  • Publicity generates revenue.

Here are just a few reasons why it’s insane for most businesses to base their marketing strategy on any of those assumptions:

  1. Lots of Media Exposure is Worthless. The “worthless media” category can include one-off quotes or mentions in round-up stories that also reference your competitors…if you’ve gained no unique mindshare.  It can include appearances on network and cable TV…if the topics have a short shelf-life, or are unlikely to be of interest to target audiences.  And it always includes exposure in advertorials (regardless of the sponsoring publication’s stature) and feature articles in pay-to-play vanity publications…because you gain no credible 3rd party validation.
  2. Counting Media Clips is a Zero Sum Game. PR firms often justify their value by the sheer volume of media exposure they generate…regardless of whether it stakes out intellectual territory, supports a client’s value proposition, or differentiates them in the marketplace. The goal should be to create an arsenal of effective credibility tools; not simply to generate clippings to hang like hunting trophies in the “Media” section of a website.  This zero sum game is also played in social media, where scorecards of “likes” and “followers” are used as hollow substitutes for meaningful business metrics.
  3. It’s All About Merchandising. Business leaders must address two key questions in advance of seeking any publicity: “1. What type of media exposure will benefit us most?” and “2. If we gain that exposure, what will we DO with it?” Responses to Question #2 must provide clear direction regarding how it will support the firm’s sales and marketing strategy; how it will be used to drive leads; how it will initiate meaningful conversations with clients and prospects; and how it can be leveraged to gain other opportunities for targeted exposure.

Most PR firms fail to deliver on the potential of their craft because performing it correctly requires really hard work, takes time, and demands accountability for business results. Your role as a responsible client requires that you hold your PR agency’s feet to the fire by expecting results that have a measurable impact on your company’s balance sheet. It also means that you must provide your agency with the time and guidance necessary for them to deliver something more than a pile of useless press clippings.

If you’re unwilling to make that commitment, or if they’re incapable of delivering on your expectations, then it’s time to stop the insanity. Fire your PR firm in 2014.

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Should PRSA Sanction Public Relations Practitioners?

In his bi-weekly column on customer service, “The Haggler,” New York Times writer David Segal addressed a long-standing and well-founded gripe that many journalists have against public relations practitioners who send out press releases and other solicitations in wholesale fashion; regardless of the content’s relevance or likely interest to the journalists they’re pitching. According to Segal, hundreds of thousands of these unsolicited pitches – or “P.R. Spam,” as he calls it – “belly flop into the email systems of journalists every day.”

The relationship between journalists and PR professionals has always been contentious. Reporters claim PR people block their access to sources, and sometimes to the truth. PR counters that journalists often don’t care about facts, or twist them to suit their editorial agenda. But because the press can deliver exposure and credibility that PR craves, journalists have always been in a more powerful position. As a result, effective public relations involves pushing a company’s or client’s agenda (or products and services) without being a pest, and ideally, by being helpful to reporters who are in a position to reciprocate with media coverage. It’s a dance that both sides understand.

Over the past decade, three developments have upset the already rocky relationship between PR and the press:

  • Email, and “blast email” in particular, has become PR’s most frequently used communication device. Standard PR procedure at most firms and agencies is based on “shotgun” tactics designed to reach as many media sources as possible, relevance or interest notwithstanding.
  • Database companies, notably Cision and Vocus, empower PR people to create enormous lists of journalists in a matter of minutes. What was once a painstaking research process now involves a few keystrokes.
  • The internet and a fundamental shift in how news is reported have greatly reduced the number of journalists. Conversely, more schools are pumping out graduates with PR degrees. So there are now significantly more PR people chasing a much smaller number of journalists. And many newly minted PR people have not been taught the unwritten rules of effective media relations.

Why should serious PR practitioners care about the behavior of the growing number of people within their profession who display no regard for fundamental media relations protocol?

In his column, New York Times’ David Segal reports that he has removed his contact information from the 5 leading media database companies. Calling on other reporters who also seek fewer unsolicited intrusions in their mailboxes, Segal provides detailed instructions on how they can delete their listings from those databases.

But it matters very little whether Segal is the canary in the coal mine for this issue, foreshadowing mass defections of journalists from online databases; thereby making those tools useless. In fact, PR may also be better served without them.

What does matter is that this sloppy, lazy, abusive practice of media harassment by so many PR people increasingly harms the stature of the profession, and makes it even more difficult for serious practitioners to work effectively with the press.

Public relations has fought for decades to be recognized as a bona fide profession, similar to medicine, law or accounting. But until the profession is in a position to self-regulate – to reprimand or sanction, in transparent fashion, individual practitioners or organizations that harm the reputation and effectiveness of the discipline – PR can never be considered a legitimate profession. It will remain a business function, nothing more.

If the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), in its role as the industry’s trade association, has serious interest in protecting the reputation and collective interests of the nation’s public relations franchise, the issue highlighted by David Segal provides an opportunity to demonstrate true leadership by reversing a troubling trend. An online “complaint box” for journalists to identify abuse, combined with a “Wall of Shame” to call out repeat offenders – both featured on the PRSA website – might be an effective first step in changing industry behavior.

Any other ideas?

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Make Your Corporate Anniversary Worth Celebrating

candle_cupcake_thumbnail1-233x300

B2B firms that have flourished for 20, 30 or 50 years are understandably proud of their longevity, particularly after having endured the most recent decade’s harsh economic conditions. But many of those companies do not leverage their achievement, by failing to capture the attention, interest and engagement of the internal and external audiences that will determine their continued success.

Too often important corporate milestones are treated in a manner similar to a wedding anniversary: companies will send out an announcement (press release, advertisement or email blast), host a modest reception, and provide a memento to a select number of longstanding clients.

These traditional corporate anniversary tactics may yield a few congratulatory notes, but will not deliver what might have been achieved – in terms of confirming core values, building corporate culture, and reinforcing brand presence – if the company had approached the opportunity in a strategic manner.

As a starting point, effective corporate anniversaries require the same high level of planning discipline that’s applied to other aspects of business development at the firm, which should include:

  • Articulation of measurable business objectives the program will seek to achieve;
  • Identification and prioritization of the target audiences the program will reach and influence, including employees, current and prospective clients, suppliers, referral sources, the media, etc.;
  • Framing the core messages that will be expressed through the program, and
  • How success of the anniversary program will be evaluated.

Based on that strategic groundwork, a company is prepared to identify appropriate tactics, make well-informed decisions regarding budgetary allocations, assign responsibilities for tactical implementation, and to build a program calendar.

Ideally, a corporate anniversary strategy is based on a limited number of high-quality tactics, rather than a long list of activities with limited impact or strategic value. A few examples of high value tactics might include:

  • Logo Modification – This need not be elaborate or permanent, and might also include a forward-looking tag line or theme. A simple “Celebrating 25 Years” or “Since 1988” can easily be integrated into an existing logo design. The reference can also be integrated into email signatures of all employees.
  • Website Visibility – This can be as simple as an anniversary banner at the bottom corner of the home page, or as elaborate as a corporate timeline or new “history” section that explains significant events since the company’s founding.
  • Client / Employee Gifts – If it’s deemed appropriate to give an anniversary gift to long-time clients, employees or suppliers, these gifts should be personalized and delivered in a very personal manner; either presented individually and in person, or accompanied by a customized letter from the CEO, managing partner or owners.
  • History Wall – This multi-media display, consisting of photographs and historical artifacts, displayed in the firm’s lobby or a conference room, can serve as a permanent and updatable validation of the company’s milestones and achievements.
  • Custom Publication – A commemorative book or brochure, well-written and nicely produced, can tell your company’s story and feature the people who have been responsible for its success. For the same reason people hold onto their high school and college yearbooks, this keepsake item has a useful shelf-life that extends far beyond your firm’s anniversary year.
  • Client-Focused Ad Campaign – Rather than touting your company’s anniversary, select 4 or 5 blue chip clients who are willing to be profiled in an advertising campaign that promotes their longevity and success. Passing (rather than direct) reference to the length of your firm’s relationships with those clients suggests that your company puts client interests ahead of its own.
  • Video Profiles – To humanize the firm, and pay tribute to long-time employees, video interviews can showcase the personal stories, values and dedication that have served as the cornerstone of the company’s success. These 2 – 3 minute videos can be posted on the corporate website, and on the company’s social media sites.
  • Earned Media – Press releases announcing corporate anniversaries are of little interest to most journalists. But if your company has an interesting or inspirational story to tell – involving hardship, unique challenges, failure or creativity – it’s well worth soliciting interest from appropriate media sources. Positive coverage in respected business or trade publications provides valuable 3rd party endorsement of your company’s long-term achievement.
  • Philanthropy – Rather than hosting an expensive celebration or social event, a charitable tactic may generate greater client goodwill and provide opportunities to promote the firm’s anniversary (and underlying values.) These tactics might include scholarships, research grants, sponsorships, named donations, fundraisers, etc. that are related to the firm’s business or mission.
  • Recurring Content  – To sustain top-of-mind awareness related to the firm’s anniversary and reinforce thought leadership, firms can publish and distribute theme-based content that’s likely to be of interest to target audiences. For example, an accounting firm celebrating its 25th anniversary might publish an interview series featuring CEOs of 25 long-term clients, who share the best business advice they’ve ever received. If published monthly, this tactic represents 12 separate opportunities to promote the firm’s anniversary.

The depth and range of anniversary-related tactics that can be leveraged by B2B firms is limited only by creativity and budget. But activity is not the benchmark for success. The real challenge involves alignment of strategy and tactics to achieve tangible business outcomes.

[If you’re looking for some guidance to create your company’s anniversary plan, we’d love to be of help. Reach out to us here.] 

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