12 PR Tactics That Can Save You From Indescribable Horror

Scary PR TacticsWith Halloween 2013 behind us, there are still things out there haunting the PR halls.
Before you get tricked into thinking your PR tactics don’t need improvement, here are twelve simple things that can save you and the rest of us from the horrors of bad technique.

 

  1. Pick Up the Phone – As much as reporters are going to tell you to only connect with them via email, you still need to pick up the phone. It’s worth warning you that if you do decide to call, you better have a good reason. Note: Following up on an email you sent yesterday is not a good reason.
  2. Go Beyond Traditional Media Relations – With all of the social media tools out there, now’s your chance to get creative and have some fun with pitching.
  3. Review Your Entire Press Release Copy – It surprises me how many PR people do final read-throughs of their client’s press release and don’t read the entire thing. Yes, you need to read every single character on that page, from the contact information to the boilerplate. You never know what mistakes you will find.
  4. Check Your Links – If you are going to link to anything, whether it be in a press release, a pitch or a blog post, check your links. The last thing you want is to send an email to a client in the early afternoon and they get a glimpse into your lunch reading material.
  5. Use a Signature – You know what’s scary? When a client or reporter, or even your boss, has to dig through their inbox because you barely ever include your signature in emails. Use your signature. Every time.
  6. Don’t Wait Until the Witching Hour – Nowadays, the lead time for editorial calendar opportunities can be up to four or even five months in advance. If you wait until the month before you can kiss that opportunity goodbye.
  7. It’s Not All About You – PR professionals need to be their own PR people. If you call a reporter, stop by your colleague’s desk, or even just try a quick IM to a client, remember that they are busy too. Before you start into your one-sided conversation (at least for that first minute anyway), remember that they may be in the middle of something. Simply asking, “Do you have a quick minute to chat?” goes a long way.
  8. Take Your Expert Pitch All The Way – If you’re taking the time to put your client out there to media as an expert, do yourself a favor and tweet about it. I’ve landed numerous inbound media inquiries just by doing this one simple thing.
  9. Remember That Not Every Awesome Article Is Awesome – It took weeks to land that feature article on your client and it finally hits the web. When you send it over to your client the worst thing you can do is to rave about it. You just never know whether there is a line in there that they might absolutely cringe over, or perhaps there’s a factual error that you didn’t notice. Send over articles in a neutral tone and let the client praise you. Then you can share in their excitement. If you don’t, you risk looking like you have no idea what your own client wants.
  10. Use the Right Medium to Communicate – When you send out an IM, email, telephone call, Facebook message, smoke signal; whatever it is I want you to think: What is the purpose of this message? What is the outcome I am looking for? When do I need a response? You just might realize you’re using the wrong medium and not achieving your goals.
  11. Search Is Your Best Friend – Before asking a client about the details of the new product release, their CTO’s bio, or whatever other information you need, for the love of all that is holy, search for it first. Search your emails, your shared files, the internet – doing a quick search keeps you from asking repetitiously and looking like you don’t have your PR act together.
  12. The Most Important Desktop File You Will Ever Use – I can’t stress this enough. You need to have a client contact sheet on your desktop. This is a document of all of your clients’ contact information; this includes cell phone numbers, emails, proper titles and office addresses. I usually have the C-level management and other day-to-day contacts on this sheet. Most of the time when I need to use that sheet, it’s for an urgent matter.

Give these a try and let me know how they work out for you. If you would like to add something to the list, drop a note in the comments. Together we can save ourselves from the horrors of bad PR tactics. For that I will be truly thankful. Happy November.

There is No Pitch in PR

5959544809_518c9047b5_nIt’s playoff season, and the Red Sox are headed to the World Series to play the Cardinals. Baseball is a pitcher’s game, and as any batter can tell you, pitching is not a win-win scenario. The pitcher is up on that mound with one goal in mind: to strike the batter out.

PR professionals are all about the pitch. Our goal — to mix metaphors (or at least to mix professions) — is to be pitch perfect.

Maybe this is the wrong way to think about things.

Jim Ayraud, CEO and founder of Next Level, Inc., teaches sales, and I had the pleasure last week of attending one of his two-day intensive sales training programs based on the Sandler System.

While he was focused on training us on business development techniques, I couldn’t help but apply what I was learning to media relations as well.

Jim taught us that pitch is a bad word in sales, because it implies that a win for the salesperson is a loss for the buyer, and that’s neither correct nor healthy for us. “There is no pitch in sales,” he says. Jim suggests that sales is more about catching the ball than pitching it. Only the ball is pain.

Maybe PR is too.

Jim taught us ways to catch our prospects’ pain. I think this applies nicely to media relations. What pain are your reporters and editors facing? Get to know those pain points. And you accomplish that through rapport. You can’t build a relationship with a reporter or editor in 2-3 minutes. But you can build rapport. You do this by setting a clear, upfront contract with the contact right off the bat, and then through active listening.

When we focus on the pitch, we’re forgetting the pain. Maybe our pitch can help solve that pain, but maybe not. How will we know, if we don’t ask?

PR people talk too much, and don’t listen enough. You know it’s true. I like to talk. So do you. It’s probably why we’re both in PR. But the best PR people listen more than they talk. They ask about their reporters’ needs, and then find ways to help even more than the latest press release from their client can.

The Red Sox’ pitching has been inconsistent in the post-season. But throughout the World Series, and into 2014, I’m going to remind myself what the guy on the mound is trying to accomplish, and how it’s different from what I do. I hope you do too.

Photo Credit: Keith Allison

News from Shanghai – Why HB Chooses IPREX and Is Glad IPREX Chooses HB

David Croasdale, Managing Director of Newell PR, Hong Kong, describes the “layered approach” to doing business in China

David Croasdale, Managing Director of Newell PR, Hong Kong, describes the “layered approach” to doing business in China

During one May 2013 week in Shanghai for the IPREX annual meeting, I worked with fellow leaders of marketing firms from around the world. As we collaborated on partner engagement methodology and best marketing practices, I kept asking myself, “Why do we all believe that the IPREX network is more effective for clients than a single global marketing firm?”

So I asked my colleagues, who came to Shanghai from firms in the UK, India, Mainland China, Australia, Hong Kong, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Canada, Spain, Ireland, Finland, Norway, Singapore, Peru, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Malaysia, Canada and the US.

Here are the top five reasons I heard regarding why they believe IPREX is more effective than traditional global marketing firms.

  1. Global agencies with in-depth local market knowledge are better than global branch offices. Many agencies establish offices around the world, but those offices are branches from a single tree. While that might give clients some assurance of centrally located control and command, it often works against true local knowledge and strategic counsel. Our clients’ goal shouldn’t be great translation. It should be uncompromising localization.
  2. Partnership and membership are at stake all the time. IPREX isn’t the kind of organization where you write a check and they let you in. Competency examinations, financial stability requirements, organizational reviews, interviews and agency visits are part of a stringent vetting process. Poor performance in a multi-agency engagement can mean the loss of reputation or membership. IPREX polices the partner agencies’ professional standards. Many offices of global firms are not under that kind of pressure, and it can translate to lower performance.
  3. We work with the partner we choose, not the one we must use. An IPREX partner in India might have the right competency to advance an international campaign. But if it doesn’t, we can choose a different partner that is better suited to the work. We are not obligated to go through any particular channel or office, which means we can choose the right agency for the right job.
  4. Best practices, globally sourced. The world is changing fast, and the best ideas and practices for PR and integrated marketing can come from any country. Unlike global agencies whose capabilities stem from a powerful headquarters, IPREX best practices come from around the world and evolve every year as the global agencies collaborate and discover new ways to remain relevant and effective.
  5. This is the age of speed. With no institutionalized chains of command, IPREX agencies can often do in a few days what takes global agencies a few weeks or months. We have the case studies to prove it.
Mayte Gonzalez-Gil, CEO of poweraxle, Madrid, presents the international “St. Patrick’s Day Campaign” created with several agencies and the government of Ireland

Mayte Gonzalez-Gil, CEO of poweraxle, Madrid, presents the international “St. Patrick’s Day Campaign” created with several agencies and the government of Ireland

The firms I queried in Shanghai represent only a fraction of IPREX’s 70 global partners (with 100 worldwide offices and 1,500 staff), which brings up my top reason: IPREX offers high-quality operations in every major market worldwide.

The resources IPREX partners put into traveling and meeting with each other also dwarf what many international agencies do. This creates collegial peer-group relationships that lead to high-quality work and a lot of fun doing the work. As one IPREX member put it, “If we didn’t believe this allows us to do better work for our clients, why would we be meeting here in Shanghai? And by the way, will I see you in Prague this fall?” Yes, he will.

Pictures are Pretty & Other New Paths for PR

Pretty pictures

Massachusetts is putting real muscle behind supporting its creative economy. We even have a Creative Economy Industry Director, a statewide position and industry resource to amplify the industry’s voice. Our creative economy stretches from firms like HB to colleges, technology companies and associations. As FutureM, the annual fall event focused on the future of marketing, often showcases (and rightfully boasts), the greater Boston area especially is a hub of marketing innovation.

This week, Boston.com has been running a series called “We are the Creative Industries” series, providing a glimpse into the perspectives, people and organizations driving creativity. Why? It’s simple. The creative industry is a vital part of Massachusetts’ economy, with $1 billion statewide impact and more than 100,000 employees in the field.

I had an opportunity to contribute to this series. My piece, “PR: A Clean Slate,” showcases the public relations industry’s ability to learn from past oversights and finally deliver a communications experience that incorporates the many tools at our disposal today: media relations, SEO, content marketing and more. As an agency, HB is living on the cutting edge of what’s possible for its B2B PR clients. And the message to agencies in general is grow or fade away.

Please read the article here, and share, comment or disagree.

Print Lives and Other Content Marketing Trends

Companies are realizing the power of creating and sharing “unedited” messages through channels that more directly reach their consumers, the need to infuse a strategy to support these branded content opportunities. We’re in a content marketing renaissance; HB suggests paying attention to the following trends:

  • Integrated marketing is back with a vengeance (and PR is part of it): Companies are choosing to work with firms that embrace and incorporate video, design, content marketing, search (SEO and SEM) and other creative tactics, coupling those efforts with public relations programs.
  • Video spreads like… a virus? Video is compelling, and websites and social networks now show and share video seamlessly. Companies are creating video at record levels, but not all video is good or accomplishes its intended goals. Successful videos tell good stories and move audiences to specific thoughts or behaviors.
  • Curation is not just for museums: Content curation is old school for the social media vanguard, but it is a new focal point for companies looking to develop independent “content centers” on their websites. These news and information centers can drive search, serve as educational portals and fill in the gaps between earned media (media coverage) and paid media (advertising).
  • Corporate journalists are in demand: Even the best executive blog posts can’t match the stories that trained journalists create. Larger companies have already started hiring journalists to frame their marketplace, share their information and define their industries through regular, in-depth reporting. This trend will continue as companies see the value in the independent and/or marketing content that staff journalists deliver.
  • TV is, well, TV: Broadcast outlets, television and radio, still aren’t capturing meaningful audience share to their websites. Master content creators for TV and radio continue to share redundant information through their websites, social media and branded content, ignoring the web’s major differences and opportunities.
  • Content marketing is seeing resurgence in college curricula: There is more hand-on classroom learning and internship opportunity for the next generation of content marketers. We hear about through our great interns and see it reflected in the online presence and savvy of new grads.
  • Content marketing budgets are increasing: According to a survey by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute, 60 percent of companies are increasing content marketing budgets this year.
  • White papers are evolving: Moving beyond static, lengthy and dry pages, white papers feature more digestible content, parsed out in smaller nuggets, supplemented and shared using social media. Video is emerging as a slicker, content-rich way to disseminate white paper findings and knowledge.
  • Print lives: Despite the troubles within the U.S. Postal Service and the dominance of digital, print marketing has reemerged as a tactile, creative and multidimensional way of sharing stories.
  • Trutho-Meters are getting better: Socially networked audiences waste no time in sharing both good and bad content. Fact-checking, sentiment-creation, good and bad experiences race across mobile channels at unprecedented speeds. This keeps content creators up at night, and rightly so. With audiences so networked and willing to communicate, successful organizations must maintain uncompromising standards of truth and integrity in their communication, all the while keeping their audience interaction rapid and genuine – sometimes a difficult balance.

Interested in reading more about these trends? Please visit the Global Business Hub blog on Boston.com for Mark O’Toole’s extended post.

Control vs. continuation: a shift in marketing strategy

Last week, I overheard a conversation between our PR team and a representative from a prominent wire service.

“When I started, we concentrated solely on media. We differentiated ourselves from our competitors through speed – as soon as you faxed something to us, we had two people proof it as soon as possible.”

That was only 10 or so years ago.

Then, media strategy stressed control. An agency suggested key messages – and that would be the only thing you heard from a business.

Lack of control

And then the internet happened. Through the birth – and rapid explosion – of social networks, companies soon learned a then-awful truth: they no longer controlled their messages and stories.

The customers had a new playground to express their opinions. Gasp!

Embrace uncontrollability

As companies learned to harness their networks over the last few years, the power of the customer grew exponentially. Companies now interacted directly with customers… and often, the customers drove business decisions. What a novel concept!

The shift to continuation

More recently, companies’ social strategies matured into something Gary Varynerchuk called “continuing the story.” Instead of fearing the uncontrollable, businesses began crafting their own story… and extending it online with a microsite, hashtag, or Facebook URL.

Customers are now characters, taking the beginning of an idea and crafting it into a story of their own, providing ample opportunities for brands to re-engage.

Now that’s continuing the story.

Getting inside the problem

Knee MRI

Sometimes you need to go deeper.

This week I had knee surgery. Originally I was diagnosed as needing ACL reconstruction. However, an MRI revealed that the ACL was intact. My surgeon wasn’t sure how things would turn out. He advised that he should wait to make a judgment call once he was inside the knee and could really see what was happening. I agreed.

It’s ironic how closely this matches the work we do on a regular basis. Prospective clients come to us with a problem or a challenge and ask for our help. Too often they ask us to diagnose the problem and prescribe a fix in the form of a proposal… before we truly understand the real problem.

Our point of view is that we must get inside the problem and deeply understand the challenge prior to prescribing a solution. We propose a strategy/planning session, one where we can peel away the layers of business goals, audience, messaging and competition in a well-defined process that reveals the gaps and overlaps and informs recommendations. Getting inside the problem results in better knowledge, deeper understanding and more positive results.

A Little Optimizing Goes a Long Way

What’s the point of having a great idea or product if it doesn’t reach the right people?  Recently, I had the opportunity to sit in on a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Your Press Release Webinar. In this webinar, the SEO experts at Business Wire shared insights on how (and why) to apply SEO to a press release using proven techniques, tips, and tools.

Starting with free industry tools such as Google AdWords and Compete.com, Business Wire walked me through optimizing a press release’s content for search engines.  Consider the following takeaways when you draft your next release:

  • Keep headlines between 2 and 27 words.  If you include less or more, Google News may reject it.
  • Avoid using special characters in headlines such as ™ (trademark) and © (copyright) symbols as they can affect how your press release is indexed. If a search engine does not recognize a particular symbol, it will not recognize the headline.
  • The first paragraph should be at least two sentences in length – three is better.
  • Include bullets and bolding as they highlight key points.
  • Multimedia should be incorporated when possible as images stay with your release and are attention grabbing (ex: in a release about a new company CEO, include a picture of him or her).

These SEO tips and tools help our clients (and HB) stay ahead of competitors on a targeted search list and ensure great ideas and great products do reach the right people.

Boston GreenFest – a pleasure and an honor

A few words with Boston Greenfest organizer Karen Weber of the Foundation for a Green Future, and Hart-Boillot was on board. What better way to help advance some of our clients’ and our civilization’s causes than to contribute to such an event?

Boston GreenFest, which takes place on September 26 and 27 at City Hall plaza, needed assistance from all Hart-Boillot practices – media relations, to get the press and broadcast media interested and participating, creative services to design and produce numerous ads for all the media that have offered pro-bono insertions, and strategic communications to ensure that the look/feel and messaging are appropriate to the grass-roots mission.

While Boston GreenFest is a grass-roots initiative, it boasts an impressive list of sponsors and exhibitors. Get it in your calendar now, and get ready to learn about new technologies and ideas that can change our lives and help our planet at the same time. And, be prepared for great food, live music, and an expected 18,000 attendees.

How much should I spend on marketing communication?

A client of ours – let’s call him M – is wrestling with how to significantly increase lead generation within a tight budget. He told me that in 2007, his company cut its advertising budget significantly, yet leads actually increased. His question to me: how low can we take the advertising budget?

Finding the low line:
Having built market share and a leadership reputation over 25 years, M’s company is able to reduce its advertising spend while maintaining, or actually increasing, lead generation. Obviously, the question “how low can we go?” is bound to come up.

There isn’t a formula to figure out exactly how much you can limit your advertising frequency and reach before target audiences sense that you’re no longer around or start forgetting to look at your products when specifying new designs.

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