H2H PR – Haven’t We Always Been Doing It?

shutterstock_142034836Recently, B2B and B2C public relations have had some human company. Human-to-human (H2H), lately one of the industry’s favorite phrases, is now everywhere and it’s gotten there fast. But how people are using it and what it really means don’t seem to be in line.

The two main public relations categories, B2B and B2C, serve to create specificity and clarity when PR professionals describe their tasks and responsibilities. Each segment has its own audience, goals and messaging; differentiating between them allows for more efficient communication between professionals, their potential clients, and their client’s potential clients. In other words, B2B and B2C have their own distinct significations, and this is where H2H differs.

H2H is intended to help focus communicators on the people behind the companies, not on the companies themselves. The idea holds that all interactions are personal, even when executed in a business setting. In this context, for instance, a PR professional for a software security company needs to think about the IT manager as a person in its B2B communications plans, not the general role of the IT manager.

I’ve read and heard many communicators claim that they partake in authentic, feeling, H2H communications. A B2B agency can say they deal in human-to-human communications, just as a B2C agency can – the phrase itself does not speak to the kind of PR or branding being done, but rather to how it’s done. It’s a philosophy behind a practice, rather than the practice itself.

As a philosophy, H2H has become a diluted buzz-phrase, and, on some level, this is understandable. H2H has no alternative. There is nothing to distinguish it by. What would the opposite of H2H communication be? Has there ever been a situation in which we’re not trying to market to other people? The answer is most likely no. In the end, communicators have always been focused on people.

So if PR and creative communications are innately a human exchange, then why is this aspect such a popular topic right now?

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Well, public relations used to be a very linear process, but today it’s not linear at all. PR is merging different outlets and means of accessing information into a single, tailored and aligned communications plan. It reaches beyond creating content or pushing out press releases to creating your own content outlets and nurturing lasting engagement.

Additionally, audiences are more nuanced than ever before. People have more options and outlets to find and express their opinions. While it has always been important for businesses to engage in these conversations, the explosion of communication platforms and communicators has made audience engagement a more challenging task that can’t be ignored.

But we all know this already. It’s this very challenge that invigorates us to strive for success every day. Each era before ours has faced their version of the almighty communications hurdle, and each one after our own will do the same. What we may not be so aware of are the secondary ways in which the hurdles we face influence our communications strategies. Terms like human-to-human and integrated marketing communications are phrases we drew up and then popularized as a way to try to define and somehow harness the hurdles we’re facing. In other words, they’re direct products of our challenges and not necessarily terms for our solutions.

Human-to-human is to business practices as integrated marketing communications is to just plain communications – it’s a method, it’s intuitive, and nobody knows precisely what it means. When you say you’re communicating to humans, what you’re really saying is that you’re doing what you should be doing. When you say you’re deploying an “integrated marketing communications campaign,” what you’re really saying is that you’re doing what you should be doing. These terms aren’t special anymore – they simply identify part of the very fabric of how we exchange news and information for action and reaction.

So, let’s let B2B and B2C delineate the spaces in which communications professionals play and let’s give H2H a break.

 

This post originally appeared on the PRSA Boston blog on July 10, 2014: https://prsaboston.org/blog.php?id=58&reset=1

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

5 Tips for Before You Put Out "News"

How social media is taking over the news industry

If this is how you think the media will react to your release, time to rethink.

Despite repeated attempts to kill it, or change it, the “Press Release” remains alive and well. In a way it remains shorthand for “we have news.” For many companies it’s almost like a security blanket. Quite often the first thing I hear from a client with news is “what should be our timing for the release.”

In that context, the release becomes the core document for a larger news initiative. Meaning, we may put out a release to support media outreach around a product or service launch, but the release itself isn’t the goal, nor is it the driver. It’s a piece of a larger news plan.

Despite their complaints about releases, many reporters continue to ask for them, since well-written ones provide the basic information in a handy, comfortable and easy-to-use package. Most will also want interviews, graphics, supporting materials and additional data, but the release gives them the basics.

But if you’re looking at your corporate information flow and only looking at releases then you’re missing the biggest opportunity of the changing media landscape. Sure, people talk all the time about “content marketing” and treat it like an abstract concept, but for companies looking to create a content marketing program beyond a simple blog, modifying how you think about corporate “news” can bring you halfway to a better content marketing program.

Here are five ways you can rethink news:

1) Examine your Online Newsroom

Nearly every company has a “news” section of their website where they show select coverage as well as a list of press releases. As you’re developing a communications program you need to think about the story you want visitors to understand when they scan headlines on the press release page. Do you want them to see a bunch of minor customer announcements, personnel changes and me-too features? Or do you want them to see milestones like funding, key partnerships and major product upgrades? Save your releases, and your budget, for those that you want people to look back on and say “I can see where this company came from and where they were headed.”

2) Don’t Start with a “Release”

The first mistake most companies make is starting with the idea of a release. Look at the news in front of you as information, then figure out what form that information should take. As an example, rather than saying “we need a customer release” think about the story you want to tell about the relationship with the customer. It could make great fodder for your blog, it could be an amazing video, it could even be something to put into another paid channel. Maybe your media relations team can use it to support another part of their outreach, but is the release necessary?

3) Think Visually

Even if you decide to put out a release and back that up with solid media relations outreach, any reporter who writes a story based on the information you provide will need a graphic. Sally Falkow will tell you that releases with graphics get 9.7 times more views than those without graphics, but also many reporters tell us that their CMS won’t even take a story without some kind of visual. You can make due with the basics such as a logo or a screenshot but you could be giving up a great opportunity for messaging and branding.

4) Set Realistic Goals

Not every piece of news you produce is going to set the world on fire, but not every news item you put out needs to lead to coverage either. There has been plenty of discussion about whether press releases put out on a traditional “wire” actually work for SEO. Some of our clients say it’s a valuable method of distribution; others say it hasn’t brought them enough to justify the expense. Some tests prove that the right release with the right SEO focus does work, but Google is constantly tweaking how it handles search, so what works today could be gone tomorrow. Much of it depends on the content, market, goals and, frankly, how much you want to spend. That 800 word release fully optimized for SEO with a solid infographic is free to put on your own website and in your digital newsroom, but if you put it out on a wire service it’s going to cost an arm and a leg (yes, paid works better than free). But if your goal is building backlinks, hitting Google News and activating people’s news alerts, then it’s worth doing.

5) Build the News Around Other Content Initiatives

Your news doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s there to build to your overall marketing goals, whether that’s driving traffic, building awareness, courting channel partners or just stroking your investors’ ego (don’t discount the last one). Your “news” may be a few me-too features that your CEO wants to get out, but chances are you have a white paper somewhere on your site that talks about an overall industry need. Tie the two together. Think about what support your news needs to be successful beyond just a standard 500 word press release.

Bottom line: Be creative!

You don’t need to just put out one thing, you have the world open to you. Think big, but don’t think just about the “media.” Sure, you may be putting out a new product, but what is it really about? It’s the core of your business, it’s the heart of something major. If you have a little money do a study, collect some additional information, put together a microsite the lays it all out. Maybe you can even create a fictional video series designed to build excitement. Even if you have few multimedia capabilities you can still be creative. Sure, put out the basic release, but then use the blog to put personality behind the information.

Asking the Right Questions about PR

Mark Rose is asking all the right questions. In his post on the recently launched Google Sidewiki, he asks:

  1. What’s your social media PR strategy?
  2. What’s your Wiki strategy (Wikipedia, Wikimedia, Google Sidewiki)?
  3. What is your social media news creation and delivery mechanism?

He goes on to point out how PR is no longer about getting coverage and is, instead, about “How do we impact our audience through our own media?”

Exactly!

That point came up, albeit obliquely, during the PR panel at the recent Web Innovation Night in Boston. I’m not going rehash it all here (you can read several good posts on the topic) but anyone trying to market their organization or product, especially those in the entrepreneurial realm, needs to look beyond coverage and take a hard look at their assets.

  • Do we have a passionate spokesperson who can produce content?
  • What channel is best for reaching our audience?
  • How do we access those channels and become involved in conversations?

This isn’t to dismiss the importance of media relations. It is certainly an important part of any outreach program, though here at Fresh Ground we include media relations under the heading of “influencer relations,” as the tactical implementation of reaching out and setting up briefings is the same whether it’s a journalist, blogger, analyst or any other individual who has broad influence.

But for most companies, the days of paying a big retainer just to try to get in the press on a regular basis is over. The ecosystem of media that existed to support this idea has changed drastically, leaving companies with a need to shift how they approach their PR.