Next Tuesday PR News is hosting a webinar on a topic some public relations pros know a bit about, but nearly all of us would like to learn more: SEO for PR.
The topic couldn't be timelier as organizations across industries are pouring substantial energy and money into creating sophisticated content strategies because if target audiences can't find that content online, it has limited value. As luck would have it, PR people--who create a lot of the documents, videos, social media posts and graphics that companies intend for widespread consumption--are in a great position to support SEO.
David Cockburn, SEO and online marketing analyst at Texas Instruments, will provide tips on tools and talk about how to make time for SEO and Jolina Pettice, executive director of operations at TopRank Online Marketing, will offer pointers on things like how to identify keywords and optimize social content. I'll chat about how to optimize press releases, make PR support link building strategies and generally keep up with Google when it's not your full-time job.
I hope to see a few Schwartz MSL friends and family members there.
On Friday, the Boston Business Journal released its annual list of Boston PR firms and Schwartz MSL landed at #1 based on number of PR employees. We're pleased for the recognition and congratulate the other agencies that appear on the list.
The industry is growing, without a doubt. A little more than a year ago, the venerable U.S. News & World Report projected the number of PR jobs would increase by 24 percent between 2008 and 2018. Seems like we're seeing a nice amount of that growth here in Boston.
Just about everyone in marketing knows that many B2B companies are having a tough time integrating social media into their marketing mix. They understand they should do it, but oftentimes can't figure out how to do so. Plus, they're generally budget constrained, so can't hire experienced staff or consultants to create a solid strategy and then execute. The result is that many underfund initiatives centered on one or two social platforms and often skip right past the strategy step.
Certainly, there are examples of companies Getting It Right, but they feel like outliers at the moment.
One group of B2B marketers who I think are a part of that majority--those who are trying to figure it out, but not quite there yet--are manufacturers. A few weeks back, Derek Singleton blogged about this issue on Software Advice. Sourcing a Forrester Research report, he states that "only 30 percent of global manufacturers planned to increase social media spending in 2012."
Mr. Singleton is mostly interested in opportunities presented by social media for smaller manufacturers to do things like get feedback from customers and share their own thoughts. He's got several recommendations for those businesses. As I read his post, I wondered whether one additional use of social media for manufacturers, which often rely on networks of distributors to get their products into the hands of customers, might be supporting those partners by producing great social content that they can use.
It seems to me that a manufacturer looking to explore how social media might work for them could consider the recommendations from both of these posts if they know they want to do more work online to support sales, but often work through distributors or other partners.
For a reasonably recent (October 2011) look at how B2B marketers are faring with social media, download "Truth from the Trenches" from Penton Marketing Services. A few findings:
"81 percent of respondents told us they find online marketing moderately to extremely challenging."
"58 percent want [their] site to generate sales leads." [I'm shocked that the number is so low.]
"77 percent say their site is not that effective at generating sales leads."
Of those B2Bs using social media, 90% are on Facebook. Just 53% are on Twitter. Surprisingly, only one in three blog.
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project, along with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, has released the results of a phone survey of more than 2,000 American adults who were asked about local news sources. The report, "How People Learn About Their Local Community," is a must-read if you run local programs or otherwise target local or regional media.
The report is the first of its kind because it parses out types of local information consumed through different types of media. The authors explain that "[c]onventional research has tended to ask people about local news and information generically with some variation of a simple question: Where do people turn most often for their news? Asked that way, the majority of people answer local TV .... And this new survey, too, finds that local TV is the most frequently used medium for news and information ...."
However, and I'm highlighting, "[t]his survey also took a new approach as well, asking people about the information sources they rely on to get material about 16 different specific local information areas. The result is a more complex portrait of how people learn and exchange information about community. The new data explodes the notion, for instance, that people have a primary or single source for most of their local news and information."
So, more people use TV to get local news and information than any other single source, but if you pull apart types of information, other sources rise to the top of the list of preferred media.
Pew offers an interactive tool that lets you examine responses based on age of the respondents and type of information. They say that age is the most important factor in determining preferred media type. "Simply put," the authors say, "one generation into the web, older consumers still rely more heavily on traditional platforms while younger consumers rely more on the internet. Among adults under age 40, the web ranks first or ties for first for 12 of the 16 local topics asked about." They move on to explain that newspapers and TV outpace the web in terms of sources for local info sources for people over the age of 40.
To me, this means that local healthcare programs that prioritize coverage with local TV affiliates and newspapers are still critical for reaching older audiences, but that communicators should be sure to look for every opportunity to secure coverage with local bloggers and other online outlets to reach younger people.
The report also points out that almost half of all adults get information on their smartphones or other mobile devices. This is terrific reminder for all marketers that their web presence should be designed with mobile users in mind.
Yesterday I participated, along with Tom Lynch of interactive web marketing firm Astek Consulting, in a PR News webinar on SEO best practices. I'm not an SEO expert, but have developed a strong interest in search over the past several years. To me, it goes hand in hand with PR.
We all know that PR is about telling great stories. But to tell those stories, communicators have to create more content, and content of different types, than we did even a few years ago. At Schwartz MSL, our target audiences are generally online, so it makes sense to optimize that content for search to increase the likelihood that people who are looking for information on problems that our clients can solve find them online. I can't imagine running communications programs that don't take SEO into account.
If you're looking ahead to 2012 and planning your content and PR strategies, will you factor in SEO? Or do you feel that great content will be found and shared independent of optimization efforts?
Mitt Romney, presidential candidate and former governor of my home state of Massachusetts, was mocked a few weeks ago when he said that "corporations are people." It doesn't matter that it's not literally true, of course. It was his way of expressing the thought that every business, no matter how large, is comprised of individuals.
That's precisely the reason that B2B marketers struggle with use of social platforms such as Facebook. It's not devoted to supporting people's business personas, as LinkedIn is, and there's scant indication that anyone goes onto Facebook looking for information on B2B products. However, it's impossible to set aside the knowledge that Facebook is more frequently visited in the U.S. than Google and all those B2B buyers with their complex decision-making processes are, after all, individuals who more likely than not use it. Fortunately for those companies looking to interact with customers and potential customers on this platform, there are Facebook Pages.
Other B2B marketers are on the fence about use of Facebook. Conveniently, they haven't yet had to worry about another major social platform, Google+. Google made the decision about participation for them--it deletes profiles set up by brands--and today's announcement of nine new Google+ features doesn't include support for business profiles.
Such support is expected to be added, though, and I'd argue that business marketers shouldn't delay getting to know Google+'s features. Why? Three main reasons come to mind:
1. Most B2Bs care about search and Google+ profiles seem to top search results. My profile does, at any rate, and so do those of all of my colleagues. Check out the following chart from a 2011 Optify report (The Changing Face of SERPs: Organic Click-Through Rate). It shows how many more clicks the top search result receives than even positions two and three.
I don't think the need to understand Google+ and to potentially benefit from its favorable placement in search results can get much clearer, unless Google will force companies' Google+ profiles down in search results in a way that it's not currently doing with those of individuals. (For more on how Google+ is bringing search and social media together, check out this Brafton post.)
2. Google+ seems to be pushing other social platforms to adjust their own feature sets. I'd suggest that knowing what's up with Google+ may help marketers better understand how they can use Facebook, for example. Or, more importantly, understand how their "fans" may expect them to use Facebook.
3. Google+ circles, which allow users to present content to friends that's different from what they share with relatives, for instance, may eventually be of use to B2B marketers looking to create a different experience for customers using different product mixes, or individuals at different stages of the buying process.
Do you think Google+ is worth keeping an eye on? Or is it not worth the time if marketers are already reaching people on other social platforms?
Base One surveyed more than 1,000 people in the UK, Germany, France, Belgium and Italy in spring 2011. If your assignment includes European communications, the report is worth a look. It examines buyers' sources of information and, importantly, which of these have the most influence.
Here's a look at information sources used by UK decision-makers and changes between 2010 and 2011. In each year, the most relied upon sources are corporate websites, searches and industry media.
The report goes on to tease out opinions on social media and whether it's trustworthy or worth the time. It doesn't end with recommendations, but leaves it to the reader to determine what to take and apply to their own marketing strategy.
I read the report because a post on Forbes.com caught my eye, "Social is Intriguing, but Search is Proven." It displays a similar bar chart to the one above and concludes, "Don't let social media detract from the focus of optimizing your corporate website and search, both organic (SEO) and paid (PPC). Social media might pay off in the future, but search is a sure bet today."
Here's what I wish the report or the Forbes.com write-up had done: point out that if search matters to your business, so does social media. The number and quality of links to a website seem to be of great importance to search engines, as do pages on a site devoted to topics that people are searching on (as opposed to just promoting a brand). Blogs are a terrific way to add those pages and keep the content fresh over time and when it comes to links, about nine months ago, Google and Bing both said that they now look at links from social sites and consider the social authority of people who do the linking.
For more info on how social media may be increasing in importance to companies that care about search results, take a look at the SEOmoz report on Search Engine Ranking Factors. SEO experts polled by SEOmoz view "social signals at page level" and "social signals at domain level" as likely growing in importance.
If social media is becoming more important to search engines and search engines and corporate websites matter more to European B2B buyers, then I'd suggest that the role of social media may be obscured or underappreciated to some degree by the report on buyer behavior. B2B decision-makers may not be turning to Facebook and blogs for information as frequently as they do webinars, for example, but all those fresh blog posts and links from social sites and consequent improvements in search rankings may be an important reason that buyers are finding companies' sites in the first place.
A couple of days ago, I spent some time with colleagues learning about a tool to help identify online "influencers" -- the people many of our clients would like to reach, naturally. Those influencers are mostly not reporters, although it's interesting to see as we start using the tool that reporters are at the top of many of the search results.
It used to be that PR was largely about media relations, but now we of course know we need to look far beyond reporters. Journalists matter, but so do people who blog or tweet or otherwise share info about the topics they're passionate and knowledgeable about.
Anyway, so there we sit, talking about the new tool, which seems mercifully easy to use. Everything is rolling along until the person conducting the training comes to keywords -- you need to lose the SEO mindset, she says. To find the conversations you care about, don't use your SEO keywords.
Sacrilege! How about if you tell me next that down is up and the world is flat. I had to think it through for more than a couple of seconds (which I probably shouldn't admit) and now that I've started using the software, I'm still not sure that "leave SEO aside" is the most accurate description of what's required. I'm now thinking of it as keep what you know about SEO, but add phrases that people use when writing. For example, "buy for your SMB" might accompany "database security software."
I'm glad I worked through that potentially emotional issue. I really didn't want to think that the terms people use to find information that they care about should ever be anywhere other than the very front of my brain when I'm creating any sort of content.
By now you've probably seen The Content Grid v2 from Eloqua and JESS3. If you have not, it's lovely, so cast your gaze upon it:
It seems to me that to get to the content in the middle of that grid -- white papers, demos, case studies, press releases, analyst reports -- you'll often use a search engine. If the content lives on your website, on Twitter, on YouTube, it should be optimized, right? But, you say, that will naturally happen if you're creating content that speaks to problems and interests that people really have. Are fancy techniques necessary when you have fabulous content that speaks to your audience's issues?
Personally, I agree that some marketers are so in touch with their target audiences and so able to deal with both volume and quality that they can't help but create content that appeals to search engines. That's a fantastic thing. I'm guessing that many marketers, however, could use a few pointers. The ebooks, customer profiles, demos and graphics aren't flowing so freely that all the search stuff is going to work itself out.
In a month, I'll participate in a PR News discussion of "day-to-day SEO tactics" that should give people who don't have technical backgrounds some guidelines on creating content that can readily be found online. I'm looking forward to it because I know it'll make me even more focused on the subject. I don't want to "lose the SEO mindset."
How do you work info about search into your day? If the answer is "I don't," here are a few things you might check. They'll inform you without overwhelming you:
CareerGuide recently published a list of the "10 Most Stressful Jobs of 2010" and stuck PR officer at number two, behind commercial airline pilot. Obviously, this is hilarious. PR can be stressful, but normally no one dies or is maimed. ("Bruised ego" and "thick skin" don't count as injuries.)
No matter--we're told it's rough to be in PR today. At least we can take consolation in the fact that our industry is growing far faster than most, according to The New York Times.
What's the problem with PR, you ask? Professional communicators love to talk, but maybe we don't want to reveal much about the stress inherent in our profession because we can't stop worrying about image. Never let them see you sweat, right? Or perhaps we know that much of the worry comes from the people who we need the most. Clients, reporters, analysts, physicians, bloggers, etc. are generally a pleasure, but isn't there always one that's a handful?
I for one think we're in control of much of our own angst. To that end, I wanted to offer 10 suggestions to my fellow PR pros.
Media relations: Tell a great story
1. Unless we're representing Pfizer, IBM or the like, reporters are not obligated to cover our clients. Giving them a reason to want to is our job, but we need to set aside our indignation at being left out of stories if we didn't contact reporters in the first place. We ought not to accept it when we hear grumbles like, "they have to pay attention to us or they're bad journalists." Feel your blood pressure return to normal when you accept responsibility and refuse to be angry.
2. The opposite is also true: the fact that a reporter covered a topic doesn't mean she will do so again. Nothing is more thankless than going to a reporter essentially to ask her to rewrite the story she just filed. When we're asked to contact a journalist with a loser of a message like "we do that, too," we should work to develop a more thoughtful response that will make us feel confident in our contribution and present clients in a more favorable light.
3. Take guidelines on how to work with reporters with a grain of salt. When journalists describe how they want to be approached, the real message is often "accept the status quo" because many would like to be left to cover the same big companies repeatedly. They say they track the whole industry and they'll call us if they want to talk with our ankle-biter. Sorry, but no--we need to package our client's story and take it to reporters. So no delusional statements like "he'll keep the information on file."
4. Kissing up to reporters is bad for our self-esteem and with a few exceptions, unproductive. Most of them have shown time and again that they want insight into trends, information that's not obvious or intuitive, news that's really news, and so on. They don't need vacuous comments like "great post" from us on their blogs.
Client relations: Be honest
5. Is anything more stressful than overpromising and, as a result, underdelivering? We owe it to clients to tell them in clear terms what we think is achievable for their budget or situation. When they're excited to talk with us about a big media tour that their VP of sales suggested and we know those haven't worked for at least five years, let's not tell them we're going to fill the day and then go back to our desks and stress.
6. Remember that companies hire agencies to gain outside perspective. It's tough not to buy into groupthink, but clients are working with us and not just internal staff because they want to benefit from the agency's collective experience. They'll be disappointed, not pleased, if all we do is validate ideas they've already considered.
7. If you're trying something new, say so. Much of PR today is an experiment, so even if you've been working in this industry for years, you're probably giving new ideas a go. If you don't know whether something will work, that's okay. But don't relay a false sense of confidence.
8. Help clients gauge how media, analysts and others really respond to what they're hearing. We hurt ourselves when we imply excitement that isn't there because we're setting our clients up to be let down. A reporter hearing us out doesn't translate into "they're interested." They took a briefing doesn't mean "they're excited about the news." We should have the confidence to not manufacture emotion.
Don't doubt your own knowledge
9. We shouldn't let the fact that we've done this 500 times keep us from trying new things. It's not so much that we'll become obsolete, because we're all aware of that threat. It's more, I'd suggest, that we'll render ourselves irrelevant if we fail to appreciate that sometimes just jumping on an idea and quickly executing is what it takes to show results. It might even be fun.
10. We can do math. PR people undercut ourselves all the time by saying we don't get numbers. Is that supposed to be impressive? We all know that metrics are critical in PR. If we haven't figured out a way to quantify results, we need to take the time to learn about the topic. If we can't read earnings statements, we need to take a class on investor relations basics for PR people.
What do you think--can we aim to make PR number three on that list next year?
Schwartz friends and family might recall our December 2010 content marketing event with MarketingProfs Chief Content Officer Ann Handley and HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan. We received great feedback on the talk and were happy to see the room packed, but guess it's to be expected--content is very much on marketers' minds, particularly as they consider social media and lead generation.
Yesterday my colleagues John Moran, Matt Duffy, Ross Levanto and I got to meet up with Ann again to chat about topics ranging from the importance of setting content marketing goals (and why "we want a Twitter strategy" is absolutely not an appropriate goal), to how content marketing and PR can work together, to the relative importance of optimizing all that content.
The real question, however, was whether it's acceptable to order and eat two entrees at a business lunch. (Answer: It's absolutely fine, and is best accompanied by your story about the time you vacuumed up 14 Krispy Kremes without getting sick.)
Fortunately, we left time to talk about Ann's new book with co-author C.C. Chapman, Content Rules. The book has become required reading for Schwartzers, not only because we offer content marketing alongside our public relations, social media and public affairs programs, but because its suggestions are valuable across industry segments, I'd argue, and for companies of all sizes.
Most authors and speakers assume that all marketers and communicators find value in hearing about big-budget case studies from major brands, but honestly, I check email when someone starts talking about what car and candy companies accomplished with high six-figure budgets. Content Rules shows you how to work with the story, money and time that you've got.
Check it out if you haven't already to see how content and content marketing might work for your business. I know we'll be pulling the book's recommendations into many of our own programs.
I've been considering a post I read last week from Joshua Benton on the Nieman Journalism Lab blog. I wouldn't say that I missed the point that Mr. Benton is making in "Decline, plateau, decline: New data on The Daily suggests a social media decline and a tough road ahead." He's talking about the early success, or maybe lack thereof, of The Daily, a news brand launched two months ago for the iPad. As I read his post, however, I thought about some general implications for how companies measure the effectiveness of PR programs.
In the post, Mr. Benton describes how he's extrapolating information about the size of the paid readership of The Daily. He has to resort to an educated guess because "[n]o one outside of News Corp. and Apple has a reliable way of knowing how often people read The Daily." Contrast this to data available about most websites and web-based publications, which can sort of be measured using tools like Alexa.com and Compete.com.
As a surrogate for those tools, Mr. Benton looks at stats about the volume of Daily articles that paid subscribers share via Twitter. Basically, more tweets probably indicate more readers. He knows that this is an imperfect measure, but it's what he's got. Using it, he's suggesting that the "general direction" for the publication is down.
That's probably interesting to the many people who are trying to figure out whether the iPad and other readers will help news publishers make more money. But for me, as a PR person, the take-away message is that as more content is consumed on iPads or other readers, it may become even tougher to measure the number of people a publication reaches. This makes the accuracy of one of the easiest PR metrics to gather--impressions--even more suspect.
But if publishers choose not to report their iPad or other reader figures, where does that leave PR people who tally results based on number of impressions? Making bigger and bigger guesses over time, it seems. To me, this argues for marketers making more of an effort to keep our collective eye on what really matters, which is action taken by people who read those articles. More website traffic? Shortened sales cycles? Improved reputation? These sorts of things can be tough or expensive to measure, so many companies pass them up in favor of what they can put their finger on.
Maybe Apple will become the new Cision and start selling data about how many people actually buy magazine and newspaper apps. In the meantime, I took Mr. Benton's post as a reminder to pay attention to evaluating what matters--action undertaken because of PR--and not to simply collect figures that are readily available.
Google has launched a magazine, Think Quarterly, and mailed the limited number of copies (they printed only 1,500) to advertising partners in the UK. The magazine, Google's first, was created and published in the UK and is also available online.
Since we, as lovers of technology PR, of course pay attention to Google and pitch editors of magazines (although it's not at all clear to me that Think Quarterly is pitchable), I thought the debut was worth noting. You may have caught the news yesterday on Mashable.
This issue is almost 70 pages long and is all about data, how people are trying to wade through it and find value ("data obesity and how to treat it"), how basing business on facts can be beneficial, etc. There are also several topics of interest to advertisers (e.g., "how to maximize return on search advertising").
Click on the image above if you like to check out the full issue.
CNN released the results of an "inaugural global research study into the power of news and recommendation." They conducted it by surveying 2,300 people around the world between June and August of this year to help advertisers understand the value of news stories that are shared via social media.
A CNN executive, Didier Mormesse, said in a statement that "the commerciality of the social media space is fast becoming apparent and this study means that for the first time, we are able to substantiate the value of shared news from an advertising perspective."
The results indicate, CNN says, that people who receive news from those they know through social networks are "19% more likely to recommend the brand that advertised around that story to others and 27% more likely to favor that brand themselves."
I bear in mind that CNN was looking at ads that accompany stories, not brands or companies mentioned in the stories themselves. As a PR person, I'd care more about the latter. But the study was still informative because it gives some insight into the most popular shared content (not to mention that it shows how CNN's been able to quantify the value of social media to their business). "Ongoing stories" about international or national news make up 65% of shared material, breaking news is 19% and 16% is stuff people are sharing to kill time or to provide a distraction. "Visually spectacular" stories are most likely to be shared via social media, as are pieces on science or technology.
CNN also notes that "the 80/20 rule applies to the findings. 27% of all sharers account for 87% of all news stories shared."
Adapting these survey results for PR, I think that if I can offer a compelling video or interesting photo to a journalist, it may make the resulting story more likely to be shared. In fact, you could back up a step and make what I think is the reasonable assumption that if you have images or video to offer, you may up your chances of being included in a story in the first place.
Another thing I think PR people can learn from CNN's survey results is that once the story appears, I'd want to make sure to get it to the 20% of people who push out 80% of news that travels via social media. Naturally I'd already need to know who in my industry is a prolific sharer or news and have worked to get them following me. If I can find the news just as soon as it appears and share it with them while it's still fresh and not hours old, I'd think it would up the appeal of my news to the 20%.
The Boston Globe is taking a different tack. On September 30, the Globe announced that they'll create a paid version of the site next year and make much of their content available only to subscribers. The paid approach has worked for WSJ.com, certainly. I'll be curious to see how things pan out for the Globe, although I suspect they won't if they don't offer some pretty differentiated content. (Paul Gillin takes a deeper look at what's up with the Globe with "Milking the Circulation Cow.")
I'd think the Globe will still make that content attractive to people who want to pass it around by allowing shared links to work for a short time.
To my eye, CNN's approach of showing the people who really pay the bills--advertisers--the value of sharing content via social networks, putting some specificity behind the kinds of stories that get shared and the resulting impressions that readers have of those advertisers seems more promising than sequestering content on a paid site.
That's just me, though. Which approach do you think is likely to succeed? Or are both strategies to making money smart given the companies' individual situations?
The middle of this week, I zoomed off to attend the Digital PR Next Practices Summit put on by PR News. New York is an easy trip, so maybe I shouldn't have packed my "tell me something I don't already know" attitude, but that's how I approach all conferences. If I have to so much as budge from my desk, it needs to be worth it.
PR News didn't disappoint. As I sat and waited in vain for a wireless signal adequate to let me use my computer (let's not talk about why one would hold a tech conference in a building that has an anemic wireless network ... or maybe it's my computer), I scanned the attendee list. About 275 communicators from a range of big companies, including many huge consumer, manufacturing, pharmaceutical and tech brands. Plus universities, non-profits, government agencies and even religious organizations.
I had to resort to tweeting from my BlackBerry, but at that point didn't care because I was excited to be around so many other PR people. They were friendly and you can imagine just how loud a room of nearly 300 professional communicators can get.
The conference turned out to be excellent and well worth the time and money. I won't recap every session, but here are a few of my top observations.
The first panel, "Creating the Digital PR Dream Team," dug into the topic of getting the people and resources together to engage in and measure social media. The three panelists, who were from GM, the Archer Group and Kaiser Permanente, shared very specific info about who's on their social media teams and how they interact with corporate comm's, marcom, legal and so on. They talked about what they collaborate with agencies to achieve and what they prefer to handle internally.
The director of social media and digital communications from GM, Mary Henige, said they create one or two videos a week to share. This reminded me of a fantastic InsideView infographic on social media stats that I'd seen the night before. It says that Fortune 100 companies create an average of 10 videos each month to share online. I don't always think big companies lead the way in PR, but clearly they've got the budgets required to clean up in video.
Lee Mikles, CEO of the Archer Group, urged attendees to "say no to the Twitern," or cheap labor brought on to handle a company's social media interactions.
This resonated with me because I personally can't stand it when companies assume that social is free. I know they want it to be free in the same way that I'd like someone to trim my hair for free. Because darn if it's not expensive and it seems like it should be cheap. But I don't want someone who doesn't listen to me and know what they're doing to take on the job and the same holds true for companies and digital media. Just because someone "grew up online" and uses Foursquare to let the world know every time they enter a Starbucks does not mean they understand your business, your industry or your customers' preferences and problems.
Holly Potter, VP of PR for Kaiser Permanente, answered a question about hiring social media specialists by saying that she didn't find much value in "siloed expertise." Those who claim to be social media gurus almost invariably are not.
I agree that we're all learning and learning quickly and think good sense dictates that one not pretend to be thoroughly knowledgeable about something that's changing as quickly as social media. For a few years now, I've been a very interested observer as individuals or small agencies have pushed a focus on social and claimed that companies can ignore branded media. It's human to have a strong interest in the new thing, but it's shortsighted and shows a basic lack of understanding, however, when companies opt to focus on social alone.
I think the fascination with the new is giving way now and has shifted over the past year to a more balanced perspective. For some companies, it reflects a newfound understanding that digital isn't free and that social and branded media are so thoroughly intertwined that they can't be pulled apart and managed in isolation.
After panels on new social media tools and measuring ROI, I had to take a break to charge my BlackBerry. So I skipped the talk on how VW successfully launched a mobile gaming application. I kind of regret it in that I want to know as much as possible about this stuff, but I think I was also voting with my feet. I'm informed but not always impressed by successful PR campaigns that were accompanied by big budgets.
A thoughtful keynote at lunch by Sarah Evans of Sevans Strategy preceded a panel on identifying and engaging "the right" influencers. Then, on to the discussion that contained the most new info I absorbed all day--digital tactics and crisis communications.
Dallas Lawrence, managing director at Burson-Marsteller, made numerous good points, but one that really rose to the top of the pile was that it's too late for companies to get into social media when a crisis arises. (He said that crises can be brought about online by groups attacking your company or brand, by individuals who just don't like you or by external events.)
I suppose this is a bit like one of the basics of reputation management--if you work over time to develop a good reputation, you're better able to recover from crises. You may draw down your reservoir of good will, but at least you had something to draw upon and you're likely going to recover faster if people had a perception of you and it was positive. Perhaps they see the bad thing that happened as an aberration.
Mr. Lawrence noted that you can't adequately respond online if you aren't already part of online communities. Those communities may not be linked (e.g., people "following" you on Facebook aren't necessarily with you on Twitter), so it's not as if you can communicate through just one channel when things go wrong. You can't, for example, expect that if your company gets dragged through the mud in a video, you're going to be able to address the problem by communicating via a press release or corporate blog. You need to already be using the channels that your audiences choose to use in order to get through to them.
In all, I'm glad I stood up from my desk and attended the conference. What social media events have you found most informative lately?
The survey includes feedback from 132 marketing executives across several industries. Not a huge number of respondents, but okay, so let's see what they say.
Looking at expected marketing budget allocations over the next two or three years, 67% of respondents expect to spend more on social media. Digital comes in second at 64% and PR at 61%.
I'm not sure how marketers separate those three things in their minds--social media, PR and digital are very much intertwined these days. For example, I don't think most companies view social media as totally distinct from PR anymore. But you get the idea--these are three areas of anticipated growth.
TV and radio will continue to take a hit, it seems, with 74% of marketers cutting budgets. It makes sense if you consider that social and digital can be more carefully targeted toward desired audiences and that PR is increasingly measurable and more of a precision instrument than it was even just a few years ago.
Looking at the question of digital marketing, Booz finds that 87% of those surveyed want to build deeper insights into their client bases. (I'm not exactly sure what the other 13% would like to do--presumably distancing themselves from their clients isn't part of the overall game plan.) Developing custom content is important to 82% of those surveyed and to fully 90% of those classified as "marketing leaders."
It seems that content has quietly but quickly asserted itself as core to the marketing mix. Companies have obviously figured out that they have to be self-sufficient when it comes to telling their stories--they can't really count on anyone else doing it for them and it's necessary fuel for many a social media program.
We all like to think of ourselves as "marketing leaders," right? So how do these numbers compare to what you've got planned?
The image above is copyrighted by Kev Griffin and covered by a Creative Commons Licence.
Recently in the "You're the Boss" blog on NYTimes.com, Jennifer Walzer, CEO of entrepreneurial tech company Backup My Info!, documented her change of heart when it comes to hiring outside public relations help.
To me, a PR person, this post was fascinating and I give Ms. Walzer a lot of credit for sharing her thought process on a topic that many people make a show of dismissing outright. ("You don't need PR! Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Those people invariably work for companies that I've absolutely never heard of, but that's okay, right? I'm sure they're big in their own worlds.)
Ms. Walzer writes: "You may remember one of my posts from last year in which I talked about not needing a public relations firm because we were getting plenty of media coverage organically. Well, as I looked back on that coverage recently, I realized that it was more focused on me as a business owner than on the company and the team. And right now, I'm so busy building the company, training new employees, and managing my pregnancy that I haven't had time to seek speaking and interview opportunities."
This situation, in which an entrepreneur has had some PR success but needs to devote more time to running the business and to life in general, is a common one for many Schwartz clients. Or maybe something's happened--a competitor is starting to become more visible in the marketplace, the firm is about to achieve a substantial milestone and is ready to talk to a broader audience or industry analysts are telling the company that they're referring it to their own clients, who respond that they've "never heard of them"--and it becomes clear that they need to step it up on the PR front.
Social networking has obviously greased the skids for many smaller companies because it can allow them to attain a decent level of visibility by working through friends, and friends of friends. I've had CEOs tell me that they know it's time to hire a professional because they've tapped out their personal networks.
Have you seen the movie "Finding Nemo"? If so, you'll remember the last scene, in which a group of tropical fish have greatly exerted themselves to get out of their aquarium and make it to the ocean. Each has rolled its way across a busy street protected by a water-filled plastic bag and plopped into the ocean. Nice escape! Yet they're still in their bags, bobbing around. "Now what?" one asks.
The company that's worked hard to handle PR on its own, doing what it can when it can, seeing what's possible and being tantalized by it, but really not knowing what to do next, is a good candidate for hiring an external PR firm.
Ms. Walzer came to the decision that now's the time, but was worried about "shelling out money without any guarantee of performance." If I were her, I'd wonder about results, too--any executive would. In her case, she chose to evaluate the number of speaking engagements or media interviews her agency secured over a relatively short period of time. Some of the people who commented on the Times' blog entry noted that a PR person with a decent amount of experience in the client's industry can simply call in favors or work through established contacts to nail those numbers.
Of course they can. The real value of that project is helping the client get a feel for whether they work well with the PR team. Many companies can achieve a certain set of initial results from any number of firms, but stick around because they feel confident in their team over time--they become "sold" on the people and their ability to answer the "now what?" question, not just schedule a few interviews.
Once the PR team is past that "getting to know you" period and has established some confidence in their skills in generating an initial volley of whatever flavor of results the company is looking for, the question becomes "how extensive is your repertoire?" Just as the entrepreneur worked through her network and then hit a wall, will the PR team stop producing once past those first few months?
PR success over the long term rides on a number of factors and the effort that the PR team puts forth on your company's behalf to hit those initial metrics is only one of them. Here are just a few that come to mind for me:
1. PR team's ability to tell a great story--Running a solid PR program requires that you understand where your company fits against the much broader backdrop of your industry, as well as knowing what stories journalists want to tell. The New York Times did not give a small company an opportunity to talk about data backup; they gave a CEO the chance to explain how she changed her mind about an important business decision. Understanding that those are two totally different stories, but that both lead Times readers to http://www.backupmyinfo.com, is the PR person's job.
2. Willingness of your customers to validate your company's claims--The VP of marketing for a tech company is not, unfortunately, a highly credible media source. But his customers are, so the challenge is to get those customers to tell your company's story for you.
3. Nature of your technology--The tech industry goes through phases, as we're all well aware, and when a technology is hot, the PR team is going to have more tools at its disposal. Without a doubt, it's their job to help mundane technologies seem interesting, but that's a tall order when you're selling something like OEM components. PR success for that OEM is simply going to look different than PR success for other firms. Setting expectations properly is critical.
4. Client's ability to deliver--Even companies with a hot technology and enthusiastic customers can flub PR if they don't respond to their PR team in a timely manner. Any delay--whether it's getting a journalist information they've asked for, delivering products on time, producing a knowledgeable spokesperson for commentary or rising above internal politics and making a decision--causes the program to lose momentum. Many companies fail to appreciate how integral their active participation is to PR success.
5. PR agency's understanding of industry changes--PR, like every profession, evolves. I'd say that we're in the midst of what might, at some point in the future, appear to be a lurch forward brought about by changes in the media world and by the use of social technologies. If you remember your geology or evolutionary biology classes, you know about punctuated equilibrium--the theory that change happens slowly, but then the rate speeds up for a period of time. It's pretty clear that PR is changing quickly right now and your agency's ability to keep up with or lead it can play a part in your success.
What items have you found to be important over the long term when handling PR internally or working with an agency?
By Martin Gleissner and Anna Vaverka, Stockholm, Sweden
It is no longer a question of if but rather of how companies will extend their products, their brands and their messages to the digital universe.
One prime example of this is the National Hockey League (NHL), which continually develops digital products and services with which to shorten the distance between the League and its fans.
One of the major trends right now is that of iPhone Apps. What the NHL had already successfully accomplished on the web – delivering the best content, particularly video, to consumers online − it extended to one of the world’s most highly used mobile devices through NHL Ice Time 2010, the League’s official iPhone app. The app makes content from the web readily available on iPhones and is the latest product in NHL’s rapidly expanding digital portfolio, designed to meet the content demands of the most tech-savvy fans in pro sports fans.
NHL Ice Time 2010 gives time-shifted trans-Atlantic fans (NHL games are typically played in North America while Europeans are sleeping) the ability to see live scores and statistics, video clips and highlights.
For the launch of NHL Ice Time 2010, the NHL had a highly specific business goal: to drive downloads of the app among those countries already proven to be the top consumers of NHL hockey (based on NHL.com Web traffic), including Finland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
In order to launch NHL Ice Time 2010 in Europe, the NHL turned to Schwartz Communications. From our Stockholm office we rolled out an extensive media outreach in these European hockey hotbeds. Besides traditional media, we paid much attention to bloggers, especially covering sport and mobile technology.
Turning strategy into the message
Beyond the cool features of the app itself, Schwartz immediately identified and amplified the launch as indicative of how organizations can and must adjust to consumer demand for digital access. And the interest that we generated from media was strong in terms of volume and tone. To reach media outside of the sport and tech area, Schwartz uniquely tailored and told the story of the NHL’s efforts in leveraging digital media as a means of serving the evolving demands of fans, alongside the evolution of digital and mobile media.
The launch was highly successful and already in the first week, the app sailed into the top five most downloaded sports apps on iTunes in Europe. Additionally, the NHL experienced hundreds of thousands of downloads in just eight weeks and the end results included more than 70 media stories in more than 10 countries.
The NHL iPhone campaign is an excellent example of how companies and organizations should integrate emerging technology trends into their product development strategy marketing and communication strategy. Schwartz encourages others to embrace the diverse possibilities of digital media as the ways that we consume information are continually evolving.
We are not saying that each and every new media trend is worth investment. But to ensure that your company is at the forefront of communicating with consumers, one should evaluate which of the tools out there could be the right ones for you.
Last Friday The New York Times ran an illuminating feature on women in the technology world. "Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley" describes a tech and VC community that's perhaps not been overly welcoming to women. An excerpt:
"Tech communities in Silicon Valley and in other hubs -- like New York, Austin, Tex., and Boston ... -- pride themselves on operating as raw meritocracies ready to embrace anyone with a good idea, regardless of education, age or station in life.
"For women, though, that narrative often unfolds differently."
I'll pause right there and note that I almost didn't read this article because I figured I already knew what it would say. It's not that I think the issue must be avoided or that there is, in fact, no issue at all. It's just that I already know that men are well represented in the tech world and I don't need the Times to confirm it for me. I've long felt that I'm here to do a particular job and if I'm doing it for companies comprised mostly of men, marketing to people who are mostly men, so be it.
For example, I've never been one to attend women's networking events or to seek out interaction with people just because they're women. There's always a group of junior coworkers who I'm paying extra attention to at any given time and trying to help in some way, but I know I've not tried to "mentor" more women than men. Call me naive, but I'd rather not get too caught up in whether the person I'm working with is male or female--there's a finite number of hours in the day and I'd prefer to put my focus on the collaboration at hand.
So I don't think I'm particularly obtuse, but I just didn't feel like reading the Times article on women in high tech. I relented only because I felt I should read it simply to be informed, the same way I should be informed about the Google security breach or IBM's earnings. Here's what struck me:
- 35 percent of database administrators ARE women.
- 22 percent of network administrators ARE women.
- 20 percent of programmers and software engineers ARE women.
Those numbers are dismal, you're thinking. And in the grand scheme of things, they are. But to me they were eye-opening because I've had companies that market products to these people--to DBAs, to network or system administrators, to developers--tell me, literally, that these people are essentially all men. (Of course I know they're not all men. But I'd have believed that the numbers would've been similar to the figure below for women in hardware engineering, for example, at about eight percent.)
Acknowledging that a small but still significant percentage of potential customers are women--discontinuing the practice of assuming the prospects are just about all men--seems like a smart move for marketers of business technology.
So what does this mean in practical terms? My most basic observation is that as they move money from traditional advertising toward more personal interactions via social media and social networks, tech marketers have got to be in a better position to reach potential customers, partners and employees who are women. (Advertising from IT companies, when it exists, features images of guys in suits jumping over stuff, guys in suits shaking hands or stoic-looking guys keeping watch over servers, or it makes something of an attempt to be gender-neutral by showing the product or an abstract image.)
When it comes to PR, I think about tactics like arranging for clients speak to local groups of Java developers, for example, or Oracle database administrators. Those meetings have been successful vehicles for clients to make connections with potential customers. But knowing that people who have children are less likely to attend networking events in the evening than people who don't, and understanding that most women with children who work outside the home don't have stay-at-home husbands, one might assume that evening networking events may not draw as many women as, say, mid-day events.
I wonder whether this shift away from one-to-many toward one-to-one allows tech marketers to start targeting a small but still meaningful percentage of their potential customers in a more thoughtful, and successful, manner.
Oracle announced today that it's going to acquire Waltham, Mass.-based Phase Forward. The company makes software that helps pharmaceutical firms manage information associated with clinical trials, and they're Schwartz Communications' immediate neighbor.
Across Route 128 we've got the lovely new Adobe building and Symantec. Up the way, we pass Novell and IBM to get to Autodesk's spiffy outpost. Keep going and smile when we arrive at Oracle, which I swear moved up 128 a few years ago so it could be directly next door to SAP.
Of course the only one of these companies that grew up locally is Phase Forward and now it's being vacuumed up by a Silicon Valley company. Xconomy's Wade Roush notes that this "fits a now-familiar pattern in which Massachusetts high-tech companies grow to the sub-billion-dollar stage, and are then scooped up by West Coast giants with deeper pockets."
When I saw the news, my first reaction wasn't so much "there goes the neighborhood" as "I hope Oracle won't cut jobs at Phase Forward." Job preservation and creation is of course on everyone's mind.
Recently some coworkers and I attended the Mass Technology Leadership Council's annual meeting, where the overriding theme was jobs and, specifically, the organization's goal of supporting the creation of 100,000 IT jobs in Massachusetts over the next 10 years. They note, in a useful presentation that's available here, that IT is the second largest employer in the state with 178,000 workers. What's more, there's a ripple effect and each IT job creates 1.63 "incremental jobs."
At that event, Michael Mandel, editor in chief of Visible Economy and former chief economist for BusinessWeek, talked, in what I found to be a fascinating presentation called "The Road to Optimism," about his belief that communications technologies will lead the next economic boom.
Internet publishing, broadcasting and search; computer systems; and wireless technologies are the areas he sees helping lead the economic recovery. He says it "would be nice to have a boost from the life sciences." (A helpful summary of Mr. Mandel's presentation and his optimism about communications and perhaps biotech is on the Foley Hoag "Emerging Enterprise Center Blog.")
Then there was The Wall Street Journal's piece yesterday, "Tech Sector in Hiring Drive." It doesn't talk about geographic hot spots, but instead highlights things like growth of social media when it comes to IT job creation.
Consulting the job growth barometer nearest to me--the Schwartz HR department--I know the agency is hiring. Perhaps Massachusetts tech companies really are, after a year and a half of a tough economy, gearing up for growth.
The Pulitzer Prizes were announced this afternoon and, the New York Times reports, "... ProPublica became the first of the new breed of online, non-profit news organizations ..." to win one of the awards. One of ProPublica's reporters won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting for a story on what happened in a New Orleans hospital shortly after Hurricane Katrina. The piece ran in the New York Times Magazine and on ProPublica's website.
As communications people, Schwartzers have had a close look over the last several years at some dramatic changes in the world of "traditional" journalism. Even the most established media outlets have been under tremendous financial pressure due to the plunge in ad revenues. From the trades to the biggest of the big business and national outlets, it seems they've all been affected.
Blogs get most of the attention for supplanting traditional media. For some types of stories, blogs do a good or even great job. I've wondered for some time, though, about the type of story for which ProPublica was just recognized--investigative journalism. Specifically, I've worried that it'll no longer be funded by publishers who consider it too expensive. And if they don't do it, who will?
Taking a look at ProPublica, it's clear that it's not someone's hobby--it's run by some very experienced editors who come from "mainstream media" outlets. Still, their business model is different than those of the big publications and the organization has been in existence for just two years.
I'm heartened to see that a group of journalists who stepped out of the world of traditional media have had the same impact you'd expect from a big, prestigious publication, but in a small non-profit. Congratulations to them on their achievement.
Over the past couple of years, I've watched and wondered as many self-appointed social media gurus have worked to convince technology industry executives that they can market on the cheap, if not for free, using social media.
The idea is so appealing. Entrepreneurial companies are working with limited budgets, their marketing people are being asked to quantify ROI pretty quickly, and if the "I" is supposedly nothing and the "R" is greater than zero, they're in good shape, right? And let's be honest--social media is the newest thing and just sounds like more fun than the options.
What's becoming apparent is that using social media effectively requires a fair amount of knowledge about the industry at hand and more than a few minutes a day of time. In other words, the "I" can be substantial. The fact that many of the tools are free is great, but this doesn't obviate the fact that execs' time is, in fact, money and the people they might hire to use the tools charge for their time and expertise. And then there's the critical question of tangible returns and how they stack up versus returns from other marketing or customer support activities.
Late last week blogger Tony Faustino suggested, in "Successful Social Media Marketing Is Neither Free Nor Easy," that small business owners need to understand that there's not likely to be fast pay-off for using social media. Think several years, not a few months, he says. (I'd personally suggest that there's benefit to be had after several months of consistent use, but understand Mr. Faustino's point.)
"Last year, social-media adoption by businesses with fewer than 100 employees doubled to 24% from 12%, says a survey released in January of 2,000 U.S. entrepreneurs from the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business and Network Solutions LLC, a Web-services provider in Herndon, Va.
"Meanwhile, a separate survey of 500 U.S. small-business owners from the same sponsors found that just 22% made a profit last year from promoting their firms on social media, while 53% said they broke even. What's more, 19% said they actually lost money due to their social-media initiatives."
The article offers a few anecdotes of success and frustration. What I'd have liked it to suss out, however, is whether the companies that have met with some success with social media employed some strategy other than "interact with customers." I'd also be interested in learning how the small business owners are balancing social media with other forms of marketing and customer support. I assume social media isn't the only tool they're using.
At Schwartz, we generally advise companies that are starting to use social media that they need to work with it consistently for about six months before really starting to judge what it's doing for them. The next step is figuring out, based on early results, how much time and effort should go to social media compared to other customer outreach and support programs.
I suspect that the self-styled gurus are learning along with entrepreneurs and communicators that social media isn't free, that you can measure returns only if you defined a goal at the outset, and that those returns have to be stacked up against those of other marketing programs.
There's no standard definition of public relations--it generally includes things like internal communications, media relations, investor relations, community relations, crisis communications and a several other marketing subdisciplines. But one near constant in PR is the need to communicate through someone else--a reporter, an analyst, a blogger, an employee who you'd like to be an ambassador of sorts to other people.
Over the past few years, the media relations world has had to adjust the way it reaches audiences or constituents because the media itself is under such pressure. As advertising revenues have dropped, magazines, newspapers and broadcast outlets have laid off journalists and pushed assignments out to cheaper freelancers, offered more syndicated content than original material or folded altogether.
[Two great and very different resources that can help you keep abreast of these changes are Paul Gillin's Newspaper Death Watch blog ("Chronicling the Decline of Newspapers and the Rebirth of Journalism") and, on Twitter, themediaisdying.]
The media is, as people who are good at commiserating often say, "going through a tough time." As a result, companies can't rely on reporters covering them the way they could in the past, particularly if they're using old tactics to communicate.
So how are forward-looking companies dealing with this bump in the road? Largely by understanding that success in media relations today means ability to create smart, oftentimes visually appealing content that journalists can use. This tends not to be a press release about your latest product upgrade; rather, it's insight about trends, timely expert commentary, a willingness to be controversial, graphics and video, and articles or blog posts that require minimal editing.
Companies, even their marketers, often don't have a feel for what, of all the things they could say or do, is going to capture the most media attention. It's the PR person's responsibility to advise on topics like this.
It's also the PR person's job to help produce content. When companies know they're going to want a lot of it, though--a blog created and constantly updated, extensive white papers written and so on--many healthy mid-sized and large businesses have turned over the past few years to that pool of journalists who have been laid off or chosen to leave their publications for more stable environments.
In a podcast with Fresh Ground, Steve Wildstrom, who covered technology for BusinessWeek for years and is one of the most widely known tech correspondents, talks about how some reporters have become "journalists in residence" blogging for companies, not about products, but about topics of "intense interest" to those companies. He happens to be blogging for NVIDIA. Other examples abound--check out my colleague Tim Whitman's recent run-down of who's employing some very prominent security industry journalists, including Ryan Naraine, Dennis Fisher, Rob Lemos, Brian Fonseca and Joris Evers.
Mr. Wildstrom said that he thought his work might meet with some resistance from former colleagues, but that's not been the case.
I was also reminded of the primacy of good content when I checked out the DK Books video on "The Future of Publishing" that's been making the rounds through March. "Content is more important than packaging," they say. DK is talking about the book industry, but when I look at the changes in tech and business journalism, I think DK's assessment is equally apt.
The intersection of PR and SEO for B2B tech and healthcare companies is My Current Obsession. Naturally, then, I'm fascinated by how Google works. We all know it's a Google world, right, but I care in particular about Google's treatment of news releases and content generated by the media.
I was interested, then, in last week's BusinessWire post on "Why Your Release Might Not Make it Into Google News." Not often, but every now and again a client doesn't find their release on Google News and they wonder what happened. Sometimes they ask us to "call Google and fix it." Tragically, we can't do that, so it's going to be easier to write the release in the first place to maximize its chances of getting picked up by Google News.
In the BusinessWire blog entry, Joseph Miller lists four reasons that releases may not be indexed by Google News: the release is too short (fewer than 125 words), too large (e.g., an earnings release with huge associated tables), appears to be fragmented into unrelated bullet points and, most important, the title is too long. Specifically, Mr. Miller says, a news release headline shouldn't exceed 22 words.
Really long press release titles should be avoided because they're clumsy, of course. Beyond that basic guideline, we've understood for some time the importance of prominently including keywords in press release headlines to improve SEO--they should appear toward the beginning of titles. It's useful to also know now that verbose headlines not only don't help SEO, they likely hurt it by causing releases to be tossed out by Google News altogether.
eMarketer's got an informative post from Debra Aho Williamson this week, "Why Social Media Makes Sense for B2B Marketers." She presents some info on the different ways that B2B and B2C companies measure the success of social media programs. The top three for both are website traffic, brand awareness and engagement with prospects.
Here's where they diverge: B2Bs are more interested than B2Cs in using social media to generate a high volume of quality leads and, not so surprisingly, they're less likely to evaluate success by looking at a direct increase in revenue. I assume this is because every B2B marketer knows how difficult it normally is to draw a straight line from any single marketing activity to an actual sale.
To help generate those leads that B2Bs want to see, Williamson mentions a product from Optify. One that a number of technology PR clients at Schwartz have been using is from HubSpot. What's particularly interesting to me, as a PR person, is that HubSpot allows us to see which articles in the media (social or professional) drive traffic and, in turn, sales leads to clients' websites. That helps us fine tune technology PR programs over time.
Another current post I found valuable was from Chris Koch, who offered advice on "How to use social media for B2B." He talks about monitoring, engaging and managing. "Wait a minute," I thought when I read his post, "what about measuring?"
I had a hard time not seeing measurement on his list, so read back over his previous posts to see Koch had stated earlier that "[s]ocial media is notoriously difficult to measure and ROI is unclear. Therefore, social media should be used as a platform to drive traffic to the channels that are easier to measure and have proven ROI. There should also be a way to get customers and prospects from social media into systems for tracking and managing interactions (e.g., CRM)."
I agree with his first and third statements and am still thinking about the second. But clearly his observations and eMarketer's survey results are in line with each other: informed B2B marketers look to social media today for traffic and leads, but not--yet--ROI.
Measurement techniques and the necessary link between social media and CRM or marketing automation systems haven't kept pace with B2Bs' use of social media. Looking at increases in traffic and leads, though, it's natural to expect quantifiable returns to soon become clear.
This week's issue of PRWeek describes a holiday Twitter campaign that Schwartz designed and executed for Australian client RetailMeNot.com.
RetailMeNot is an online discount and coupon site. They're a current Schwartz client, but this article focuses on a push made around the 2009 holiday shopping season to reach RetailMeNot's target demographic of women between the ages of 18 and 39 with messages about new merchants, discounts and other offers to help drive website traffic.
Check out PRWeek for a description of Twitter tactics. The result was a 70 percent increase in referral traffic to RetailMeNot.com and continued strong traffic after the conclusion of this particular campaign. Pretty nice for a campaign that lasted just over a month.
He describes how the agency, which serves established and entrepreneurial businesses in industries that include healthcare, technology, cleantech and professional services, performed over the past year and notes that our diversification across industries, lack of reliance of a handful of big clients for revenue, and ability to span social and traditional media at a time when many agencies push one over the other were sources of strength in 2009.
Bryan also answers questions about agency and client PR workloads in 2010 and notes that the recession has forced both ends of the PR team to focus on the highest value activities--those that help bring sales leads, drive website visits and close sales.
A report today from Conductor, a company that provides SEO technology and services, concludes that "the Fortune 500 fail natural search." Specifically, the report looks at big companies' visibility in natural search results for terms that those companies have elected to purchase for ad campaigns.
The idea is that if an advertiser is paying a lot (and they probably are--the report says that the Fortune 500 pay $3.4 million a day on nearly 100,000 keywords), the word may be important enough to also be supported with a natural search campaign.
Sears, a company that I personally like, received a poor grade. That caught my eye and I asked myself what a business such as Sears, which sells thousands of unrelated things, could do to make its products appear on the first page of natural search results.
I suppose the real answer is that optimizing on all of the most competitive (i.e., expensive) search terms is entirely impractical and so they have to pick their battles carefully by focusing on the company's biggest money-makers, which may not be the same thing as the most competitive keywords.
What does any of this mean for companies that are taking on the industry behemoths?
The most obvious conclusion is that market challengers should be optimistic that they can outmaneuver or at least pull alongside big competitors when it comes to organic search. The simple fact that their product lines tend to be more focused should make it easier for them to build momentum in a way that a company with more offerings may find difficult.
Since great placement in organic search rankings may realistically be within medium and smaller companies' reach, it would stand to reason that they'd want to be attentive to good SEO practices. (Search Marketing Sage; Search Engine Guide, which focuses on search marketing for small businesses; and Search Engine Watch's "search marketing topics" section are good resources for thoughtful SEO advice.)
Most of the companies that Schwartz works with--they tend to be innovators in markets like technology, healthcare, cleantech, materials and professional services--fully appreciate that website design matters. Many have overhauled their websites with things like better navigation, URLs and page titles in mind.
That's good, but they shouldn't lose sight of Google's advice (Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide; Version 1.1; November 13, 2008) that "[c]reating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here," (i.e., more than website mechanics).
So, good website content matters, but so also do things like inbound links from reputable websites to the innovator's website. Securing these links, not via cheesy requests, but through on-message media and blog coverage that points back to the company's website, is part of PR's job these days. As is being aware of the company's keywords and using them intelligently in content like news releases, which can have nice SEO value when syndicated.
Freshness of content and consistency over time also impact SEO. Smaller companies sometimes think they can turn PR on and off. This works in a limited set of cases, but is normally ineffective for an array of reasons.
Reflecting on the conclusions of today's report and considering what we know about the importance of good content in supporting SEO, as a PR person, my conclusion is that market innovators and challengers--those who haven't yet made the Fortune 500--are well served by communications strategies that are created with SEO/lead generation in mind and that are pursued steadily over time rather than in fits and starts.
Most technology innovators are eager for positive, on-message media coverage to build their brands, drive sales leads or support other business goals. But unless you're already a tech industry behemoth, getting consistent, repeated media coverage across a variety of publications and channels takes some creativity, a fair amount of knowledge of what makes a good story and a ton of persistence.
When a technology company has before it an opportunity to work with a journalist, blogger or other influential individual, they're going to want to make that interaction as perfect as possible. Right?
You'd think so, but technology companies torpedo their chances of securing media coverage by doing, or by failing to do, some pretty elemental things. These mistakes have nothing to do with faulty communications strategy or going to the wrong journalist with the wrong story. They're more basic and they're pervasive in some companies' PR programs. Maybe the belief that the problems are small makes some people underappreciate their impact, but they kill coverage all the time.
The good news, then, is that they're fully within the tech company's control and doing this stuff right can make a huge difference in PR results. If the PR team detects these problems as they're occurring, they're remiss if they don't point them out, but ultimately only the tech company can fully correct these media relations errors.
1. Fail to provide a spokesperson. Your PR person has possibly just walked through walls to get a journalist to agree to talk with your company's expert. That reporter wants to hear from one of your smart people and if your industry is driven by breaking news, he needs to hear from that person minutes from now. In some cases, we may have the luxury of a couple of hours or days to provide an expert source. In either case, any small to mid-sized tech firm should be able to get an informed spokesperson on the phone quickly.
2. Neglect to prepare for the conversation. Your PR team will give you information about the blogger or journalist before your interview and tell you what she's been covering lately. You want to look at this information before, not during, the conversation. And there's no substitute for spending a little time reading the reporter's recent articles yourself. You'll feel more confident during the interview and be in a good position to give the journalist information that she'll find useful.
3. Miss scheduled briefings. Everyone's busy. Everyone also has a mobile device that allows them to contact their PR team before missing a briefing. Journalists are as stretched as anyone and we have to respect their time. Along those lines, we need to plan ahead to conduct the interview from an area with a decent cell connection and low background noise. Anything else will guarantee that the reporter will get off the phone with us at the earliest possible moment.
4. Respond on your own timetable. Media relations success is largely about being in the right place at the right time. A big part of that is understanding that reporters work on deadlines that are anything but leisurely; we have to conform to deadlines or forfeit coverage. It's hard for everyone involved, but if options are "I'm in the story" and "my competitor is in the story," priorities become a little clearer.
5. Decline to provide photos or graphics. Technology media are increasingly interested in telling stories that have a visual component. Your PR team should work with you to anticipate these needs, but when requests come for something we don't have on hand, know that providing it can mean the difference between coverage and exclusion from the story. Particularly when all that's required is a photo of the new executive, there's no reason for not being able to quickly provide one. Grab your camera and get it done.
6. Refuse to discuss pricing. Everyone who works in the B2B technology industry understands that there's no set price for anything and that stuff tends to be pretty expensive. And you didn't invent volume discounts--journalists understand the concept. So we need to have an answer to the elemental question, "how much does this cost?" Some journalists can't or won't cover our story without being able to say "pricing starts at ...."
7. Talk about confidential material and then ask the reporter not to use it. The #1 rule of media relations is "don't say anything you don't want to see in print." It's unfair to journalists to give them information that you later ask them not to use. They generally don't want to see you get into trouble, but you, in turn, should understand that it's a problem for them to not use material that they consider interesting. Don't put them or yourself into this painful position--if your PR team has asked you not to talk about how that big customer is using your product and about to toss the big vendor out on his ear, don't do it.
8. Decline to discuss competitors. Maybe we truly don't have any, but most tech companies do. We don't need to offer up information about competitors, but if asked, we do need a coherent answer. Your PR team will work with you to think through how to answer this question, but flat-out refusing to address it makes it hard for the reporter to cover you because he needs to be able to place your company, particularly if it's small, into some larger context. Really, we should view questions about competitors as opportunities to talk about who we're challenging.
9. Ask to review the article prior to publication. Some journalists will allow you to take a peek at quotes, but most will not. And protests about having been misquoted in the past aren't that convincing, so the key here is to work with your PR team before the interview to think critically about the messages you want to convey and then take care not to go off on a tangent. Normally if we prepare for conversations and stay focused, we will come out of interviews feeling comfortable, not worried about what we said and how it might have been interpreted.
10. Speak in PowerPoint. Reporters and bloggers don't want a canned presentation--they want information that's tailored for them. Your PR people should tell you that using a PPT for media briefings is generally discouraged. Nothing says "I've had this conversation with all your competitors" like reliance on canned information.
11. Be boring, ramble, speak in monotone or otherwise fail to sell. Your PR team will help you understand what the journalist wants to learn about, how much time she has and what messages you need to deliver. It's then on the spokesperson to seal the deal by offering informed and timely conversation. Spokespeople from most companies should adopt the mindset, because it's nearly always true, that they need the journalist more than the journalist needs them and that the interview is not going to be an intellectual give and take. The spokesperson's job is to inform or educate the journalist and to convince her that this subject is worth her time. Make it interesting or expect to hear from your PR team that the reporter will "keep the information on file."
12. Assume the relationship is personal. Journalists value connections to people at tech companies if and only if those connections yield useful information. Perhaps they included us in an article or two, and that's great, but the challenge is to keep coming back with fresh info. If we cease to provide that, we should expect to be left off the short list of companies to include in stories going forward.
Your PR team, whether they're inside your company or with an agency, should be working to keep you on the straight and narrow in all these areas. You can help your technology company eke out every last bit of media coverage if you understand that these little mistakes can have a significant impact on your coverage.
Technology companies that don't blog but know they should often ask where, exactly, they should blog. Should it be a part of the corporate website or kept separate on a platform like TypePad or Blogger?
Here are the basic factors that I take into account when I get this query:
- Most blogs, and hopefully all of those run by companies, have clear themes. If the general topics that the blog explores are in line with the messages that the business is trying to disseminate, it makes a lot of sense to have the blog on the company website and not hosted somewhere else. Readers will be able to easily jump from your blog to other resources that live on your website and vice versa.
- Plus, if you know you've got great stuff to say and think others might even want to link to your blog, having those inbound links pointing to your website and not to a site like TypePad should, over time, help elevate your site in the eyes of search engines. That's not likely to be the case immediately, but if you go with a blogging platform now--maybe you think it'll be more convenient--and figure you'll move your posts over to your company's website later, don't expect hard-earned links to follow you.
On the other hand, there are perfectly good reasons for separating the company website and blog:
- If your blog will focus on a brand that you're marketing to a different audience than the group of people who typically visit your website, you may do well to have the blog separate from the website and just link to one from the other. In this case, you may benefit (from branding and SEO standpoints) from being able to choose a different domain name and from being able to promote two distinct information resources. This arrangement makes sense if a company is trying to raise awareness of a medical condition, for example, but not promote its own products. It may also be the best course if an open source project has a large and active community apart from the project's corporate sponsor.
- Perhaps people from outside of your company regularly contribute to your blog and need to make clear that they're not too closely affiliated with the business. A situation such as this, where the blog may be viewed as a community resource--albeit one funded and largely driven by one vendor--may also be a good candidate for being hosted separately from the corporate site.
- If the blog isn't a company resource per se, but is really the CEO's or CTO's latest thoughts on a range of topics, it's likely best to host the blog elsewhere and just link to it from the company website.
In sum, I think the blog is best housed in the corporate website for the convenience of readers and to support SEO and branding unless the company intends the blog for a slice of its normal audience, has a specific need to separate brands or wants to underscore that an exec's musings are purely his or her own.
Social media is an integral part of many companies' marketing programs today. Tech companies in particular no longer view social media as optional or an experiment; rather, it's a core element of their outreach to customers, partners, employees and other constituents. Naturally, companies are starting to think about how to measure social media's impact.
On Tuesday, February 2, Katie Delahaye Paine will speak at a Mass Technology Leadership Council breakfast seminar on measuring social media campaigns. The author of All You Need to Know About Measuring Social Media and the Complete How-To Guide to Measuring Social Media, Ms. Paine is widely known for her expertise in measuring PR, social media, media relations, public affairs, internal communications and blogs.
The February 2 event runs from 8:00-10:00 a.m. at the Foley Hoag Emerging Enterprise Center located at 1000 Winter Street in Waltham, Mass. Breakfast starts at 7:30 a.m. You can register here.
Schwartz is a sponsor of Mass TLC's social media group. We look forward to seeing you there.
I'm a technology PR person and, as you'd expect, I read a lot. Most days, however, I don't have time to look at blogs that won't give me readily usable information. So lately I've been sorting out the stuff I really must read from sites that provide food for thought, but are maybe a little more academic or philosophical.
I thought I'd share a short list of blogs that I believe consistently give readers relevant, immediately usable information about B2B marketing and PR.
1. Social Media B2B--I recommend this one to clients every time I get the chance. One or two posts a day, many with an eye toward lead generation. This blog's total devotion to B2B is impressive; I think they know their audience well.
2. Journalistics--Practical insight into how media relations is really practiced today. (And no, it doesn't begin with a Vocus or Cision list.) If I were managing a PR agency or in-house program, I'd read this to help gauge whether my team was keeping pace with changes in the media and in PR.
3. B2B Ideas@Work Blog--If you like HubSpot and the concept of inbound marketing, as do a number of Schwartz clients, you'll be interested in this ad agency's blog.
4. CK's Blog--Help for traditional marketers who need a guide on getting going with social media and making it integral to their programs.
5. Social Media Today--Essential (yes, really) compilation of posts on all aspects of social media from dozens of bloggers. Theory plus execution ... what could be better?
Tom Foremski, one of the more thoughtful observers of interactions between PR people and journalists, has a couple of fascinating recent posts on "the killer pitch." In the first, he says that because some reporters' compensation is based on page views, the killer pitch would be the PR person's claim that they can drive traffic to the journalist's website. He goes on to say that PR people don't really know how to do this.
"Well, that's not entirely correct," I thought--PR people understand that clicks matter and we aren't completely unable to influence them now and then. Certainly, we've had people comment, and sound pretty happy, I might add, when they've enjoyed a boost in traffic after a company links to a favorable article. So as I read the first post, I thought, "okay, I may personally not have enormous ability to pump up a story that makes my client look good, but I know how to advise the client on promoting it, which can have the same result."
Then, in a follow-on post, Mr. Foremski puts a finer point on the question and wonders whether agencies can "reliably drive traffic to specific stories." This idea is more focused and far more interesting.
If journalists are evaluated based on page views and, at the same time, PR people create a repeatable approach to promoting the stories their clients like, and do so in a way that affects the reporter/blogger's bottom line, the media's role as a critical observer of an issue or industry can't help but be negatively impacted. (You really want to read the original posts and comments.)
It's a big topic to consider. When I initially read this, I thought that the question of "the killer pitch" was a timely twist on questionable but sadly common tactics like trying to buy positive editoral coverage by advertising or sponsoring publications' conferences, currying favor by giving select reporters exclusives on news items that you know more than just one would find appealing and--the PR equivalent of holding your breath until you turn blue in the face--not communicating with reporters who don't see eye to eye with your client.
However, the issue that Mr. Foremski describes is new. The question is what happens when the reporter covers his or her industry carefully and thoroughly, with an eye to clicks but not primarily motivated by them, but companies become adept at elevating the prominence of coverage they find most flattering. Obviously, companies will effectively hide from search engines coverage that's negtive or even just balanced.
It seems to me that it would take more than a few submissions to Digg and some tweets to do the trick, but when I check out one client's Twitter following of a couple thousand and then consider that some of those people are active re-tweeters of links to our news coverage, I wonder whether the scenario that Mr. Foremski is talking about might really come to pass. In particular, I can envision it in segments of the tech industry that have relatively few reporters left.
Really, it's the flip side of what some companies already do when they try to bury a particularly bad article by stepping up the pace of their own news releases for a few months, thus loading down search engines with fresher content.
At any rate, Mr. Foremski's posts are the most interesting I've read so far this week.
As we all hear reports about some parts of the economy rebounding, while others still lag, it's natural to wonder where marketing budgets will land in 2010.
Many of the marketers we work with are either just finishing budget planning for 2010 or are working with their CEOs or boards to determine how much their budgets will be. As they're muscling through this process, some marketers are supporting their requests for more dollars by looking to their peers for signs of what they're doing.
It's with this in mind that we spoke with 20 top marketing and business execs to get their take on where budgets are going, as well as tips they'd give other marketers during budget season. We took their feedback and assembled it in this white paper with the hope that it will help those marketers still fighting the good fight.
Here at Schwartz, we've been talking quite a bit lately about measuring results of social media programs. Not just programs we've designed for clients, but those of people who we meet at conferences or with whom we're just chatting.
Without a doubt, many companies are thrilled with their involvement in social media. They love the outlet that participating in blogs or forums gives them, they're able to talk with people on Twitter whom they'd likely otherwise miss and they're connecting with patient communities on Facebook. (One client, Digium, gives us a tour of their use of social networking technologies here to gain "customer feedback, suggestions, highly qualified sales leads" and to talk with people in their industry.)
Some, though, are a little disappointed in social media. When I hear that, my first question is always "what did you hope to gain that you're not seeing?" I often wonder whether they're measuring success based on number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans--today's corporate version of a teenage popularity contest. This would be unfortunate because such metrics are nearly irrelevant for many B2B companies.
PR people need to keep in mind the Cheshire Cat's words of wisdom to Alice: "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." It's our job to help clients think through exactly what they're trying to achieve and to recommend use of social platforms because they make sense, not because they exist and are free.
Last week I attended a Mass Technology Leadership Council discussion on social media and lead generation. Mark Roberge, HubSpot's VP of sales, led the talk. Toward the end, he turned the group's attention to measuring social media ROI--certainly a topic of interest to a number of people today. (Some great reads are here, here and here.)
Mr. Roberge talked about website visitors and sales leads--reasonably straightforward things to quantify and important metrics for any B2B company. He also talked about "SEO assets" such as inbound links and improved performance in organic search results. Those things take time to build--perhaps a problem is that some companies look for an immediate impact in this department when it may be more reasonable to expect a change in six months' time.
Just guessing, but I bet some of the letdown that a few companies feel stems from their desire to get something for next to nothing--a measurable impact from use of free technology. Certainly using social technologies is free, but so is calling up The Wall Street Journal or "Good Morning America." Anyone can do it--the question in every case is whether you've got anything interesting to say and can articulate it in something like a compelling manner. In any case, it's your PR person's job to figure it out.
Altogether, these things are a great reminder to me that B2B companies using social media--and their PR people--need to be clear in setting objectives and in understanding the likely timeframe for success.
We've all heard that Google likes short press release titles. Write short, we're commanded--I'd heard that we should use a maximum of seven words. So I'd try to restrain my verbose self and write short. I got more detail on this subject from Malcolm Atherton of BusinessWire's Phoenix bureau and thought it was useful, so wanted to share it.
Here's the deal: Google will truncate press release titles--it will stop reading them--after 61 to 64 characters. Depends on the day and how Google is feeling--some days you get 61 and others you get lucky and get 62. So the "seven words or fewer" rule doesn't really hold--what matters is characters.
This matters because the two biggest factors, by far, that Google takes into account when looking at your press release are the title and the optimized presentation in the body of the release of key words or phrases. When considering the body, the first 200 characters matter more than those that follow, but the body of the release taken in its entirety and the title are The Big Things to Pay Attention To.
So if the title matters, you want to write them so that key words or phrases that your company really wants to optimize on appear in the first 61 characters.
This means that you may, if you can't keep your title to 61 characters, have to put those words first and your company's name later in the title. This is the reverse of how many of our clients want releases written--they like to see their name first. But if they're into SEO, we want them to understand that if the title can't be short, it at least needs to be worded in a way to get that key word or phrase into the first 60 or so characters.
Over at Journalistics, Jeremy Porter considers a timely and under-appreciated topic: "The Impact of Dying Newspapers on Older Readers." He notes, "While many media companies work to preserve their future with digital strategies aimed at younger audiences, they are simultaneously alienating themselves from their older (and often most loyal) readers." It's worth a look.
A parallel trend that we're seeing is a decline in local TV affiliates' ability to cover healthcare news. ("Local programs" that medical or healthcare PR agencies run are designed to reach target audiences, including patients, through their town's newspapers, radio programs or TV news.) Many affiliates don't have the budget anymore to cover medical news more than a few times a month. One Boston TV station isn't sending camera crews out anymore to gather healthcare stories. A sad statement if you consider how important medical research is to Boston's economy, not to mention the individuals who live here.
I'm sure that some older people are comfortable getting their news online and that more will follow. I do hope, though, that it's not all WebMD and stories created for national audiences. Hopefully it'll still be available in most towns written by local journalists who know the community and medical centers and have the professionalism (guess I haven't seen any hyperlocal sites covering healthcare news) required to work with patients and their families.
Really interesting info from Josh Bernoff, author of Groundswell and Forrester analyst. (You've likely read his book, written with former Forrester analyst Charlene Li, about the use of social technologies to reach customers.)
His general conclusion, described in a recent blog post about survey data collected in Q2 of this year, is that consumers trust corporate blogs less than any other information source included in the survey. Tops were, naturally, info from friends or groups of other consumers.
He does add more nuance to the issue of lack of trust in corporate blogs and makes some recommendations. The many comments on his post add further dimension and are well worth a look.
What's equally interesting to me, despite the fact that it isn't Mr. Bernoff's main point, is that traditional media fares pretty well, which is not surprising. Much of the value that technology PR brings is reaching journalists (AS WELL AS bloggers, but not one to the exclusion of the other) who themselves vet information about clients or their products or related issues and then, by writing about companies/products/issues, may lend a certain degree of legitimacy to the information.
Journalists generally take care to present "the other side of the story"--information about competitors or different perspectives. Not always, but normally, and that sensitive BS detector and the resulting trust it can create in many people is what makes the media one of the best routes for communicating with target audiences.
Another key point, I thought, was that search engine results are seen as pretty trustworthy. Tech PR, when pursued in concert with smart search engine optimization, can boost organic search results. To me, this survey shows the important benefit that we provide clients when we make technology communications work in concert with SEO.
Blogs are a delightful creation, but so many bloggers are a tad big prickly ... evidently looking for ways to skewer someone just a little more effectively than the blogger they just read. We all know this. Maybe it's the next Olympic sport--lobbing insults via blogs. Feel the burn.
It makes me look for multiple meanings in otherwise mundane stuff that I read. Do I "get" what the writer's trying to say? Do I want to?
Into this larger context drops a postcard from our local Coldwell Banker realtor, sent to "postal patrons." There's a nice photo of a meadow on the front. [My town has an abundance of trees. Deer like the woods and ticks like the deer. It's a problem because much of the town seems to get Lyme disease each year.]
The realtors write, "Through the years, we have become aware of the tick population which has led to the discovery of a tool which removes them. This handy gizmo is called 'Ticked-off.' If you would like one, call either of us. The supply is limited, so call soon for your free tick remover. Happy Summer!"
First I rolled my eyes (bad habit), and then I thought ... well, we do have a tick problem. Then I thought a second longer and figured that this is actually a brilliant attempt to turn people off to the town and list their houses with this realtor. Now I don't really care what motivated this post card campaign, but am mystified by my own inability to take at face value what I read and to stop questioning the agenda of the writers.
For this, I don't thank graduate education, living in a "liberal" state or any of the traditional guilty parties. For this, I thank too much time spent with blogs.
It turns out that women work slightly fewer hours than men because they spend more time taking care of their kids. This disparity puts pressure on other doctors--generally male, oftentimes older--who are left to pick up the slack. The study also points out that women often go into underserved areas like primary care or pediatrics, which pay less than other medical specialties, in order to gain scheduling flexibility. Anyone who succeeds in scheduling an appointment with a primary care physician or pediatrician likely benefits from the decisions many women doctors make.
When you need to be seen by a doctor, you need to be seen by a doctor, but the article got me thinking afresh about the value of working in an office building surrounded by coworkers vs. the obvious trend toward electronic communications and remote work. Indeed, I've always wondered what it says about me that my best client relationships are often with the people who I rarely see.
At the same time, I benefit enormously from being able to walk down the hallway and ask 15 other VPs what they think about my PR conundrum of the day. It's hard to say no to collaboration when someone plops themself down in your office, but certainly my colleagues could make their excuses about being busy and I'd clear out.
This is nice, but what I always find interesting is that colleagues working in other cities, whom I've never met in person, are just as willing to help. A little stroll down the digital hallway is just as effective as seeing people face to face.
Of course there's business you can conduct only in person. But when you've got a group of people with common interests, do you have better relationships with those you can see? Is there clear value to being in the office simply to be in the office--to putting in that face time?
My hope, and I'm pretty optimistic that this is really happening, is that social media allows groups of people with similar interests not just to compare pet peeves on Facebook or to post photos of their vacations, but to remove most of the need for face time. It'll probably be of minimal use to the 50 percent of medical students today who are women, but for the rest of us who are looking to "be there" for both our families and our employers, the ability to interact in a way that's increasingly targeted and personal--yet is entirely electronic--sure holds a lot of promise.
On Tuesday night I attended a wonderfully informative PRSA Boston / Social Media Club event on the future on journalism in a social media world.
I'd gladly have sat for an hour to hear any one of the panelists (listed here) speak about his own thoughts and experiences. Moderator Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers and upcoming Secrets of Social Media Marketing, brought the big questions and kept the discussion moving right along.
Too much great, usable information to summarize, but one thing I took out of it is the need to help reporters make their stories more visual.
[I should note that my clients are technical--biotech, nanotech and business-to-business computer technology. There's no obvious visual element to most of these stories beyond the obligatory headshot of the company spokesperson (suit or golf shirt?). Sometimes we mix it up with a network diagram or image of a 96-well plate. Our teams that represent consumer technology and medical companies have long understood the need for beautifully conceived and produced visuals.]
Tech journalists who used to just write are now carrying around cameras and other equipment in order to capture more elements of the story at hand or to be able to present it to a wider audience. It's increasingly common that reporters will talk with a client and then videotape an interview or record a podcast. (Some examples are here, here, here and here. Disclaimer: they're Schwartz clients SpikeSource, Appcelerator, Sentrigo and SugarCRM.)
Nice for a start. The next step is to contribute more to the slide shows that media are starting to rely on because each slide requires a click--advertiser heaven.
Our job has always been to make technical stories accessible. Now, as the media looks to layer a multimedia dimension onto reporting, look for entrepreneurial tech companies to differentiate themselves to reporters by providing new types of ideas and content. Most aren't doing it today--clearly an opportunity for those willing to try something new.
The rapid evolution of tech journalism as it's impacted by social media, among other factors, is affecting every company in the tech industry. Media relations isn't what it was last year, and it's monumentally different than it was 10 years ago.
Anyone who works with the media or who relies on it to help reach customers, partners or employees has to understand the pressure journalism is under and the resulting changes it's undergoing. It's that basic!
To that end, you're invited to learn more about "The Future of Journalism in a Social Media World" at next Tuesday's event sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America's Boston Chapter and the Social Media Club. (Registration is available through the PRSA Boston website. The event will be held in Weston at the American Cancer Society's offices.)
Veteran journalist Paul Gillin, author of "The New Influencers" and the upcoming book "Secrets of Social Media Marketing," will lead the discussion. Questions he'll ask include:
How are blogs, podcasts and online video impacting both the business and the reporting of news?
Will journalists need to master video, audio and photography in order to practice their craft in the future?
How has journalism been impacted by the success of bloggers moving into the reporting business?
What does the future have in store for mainstream media? How can those media stay relevant?
Ted McEnroe, director of digital media, New England Cable News
Robin Lubbock, director of new media, WBUR
Howard Sholkin, director of communications and marketing programs, IDG
David Wallace, consultant, adjunct journalism professor at Emerson College and former writer for The New York Times, Reuters and numerous websites
We're all well aware that traditional media have been under strain for years, first due to the web and now as a result of competition from "new media."
Some are handling the challenge as gracefully as they probably can, given the situation, and some are not. CNN.com (U.S. Alexa ranking: 19) splashes down into the latter category.
CNN has always, in my mind, been a mix of fluff and serious reporting. You might disagree, but I think that what CNN does well (e.g., some international reporting), it does better than just about anyone.
So that makes all the more stark the contrast with CNN.com. Mixed in with "American cancels 900 flights" and "China says 35 arrested in Olympics bomb plot," we have "Wedding bed found in polygamist temple" (voyeuristic--is this the most important element of the story out of west Texas?), "I'm a sociopath, hiker's killer tells police," "Witness: beheading victim asked for help," "Woman makes gruesome find after mom dies" and "Principal nabbed with teens, porn, pot."
It's depressing to see CNN.com take events that deserve careful treatment and clearly pander to site visitors' desire to read about and view the sordid, the morbid and the just plain gross.
NYTimes.com (U.S. Alexa ranking: 33) manages to pull in huge traffic without upping its eeew factor, but they're the only general news site giving CNN.com a run for their money.
Perhaps when CNN.com readers have their fill of sludge, they're heading to NYTimes.com for a more serious take on events. One can only hope!
Congratulations to Schwartz clients Sentrigo, Fortinet and Qualys, who were recognized at last night's annual SC Magazine Awards Gala, which is held in conjunction with RSA.
Sentrigo, an innovator in database security software, won Rookie Security Company of the Year; Fortinet took home the award for Best Integrated Security Solution for its unified threat management systems; and Qualys was recognized for Best Audit/Vulnerability Assessment Solution.
Congrats to all -- details on the winners are here.
My office looks out on Route 128 and since last fall, I've been watching the demolition of a building, clearing of the site and now the digging for the foundation of a new office building. They've been blasting and when this is about to happen, state police stop traffic in front of the building across all eight lanes of the highway.
I'm sure that blocking traffic is necessary to keep Massachusetts drivers, rubberneckers all of us, from driving off the road. But it also creates nasty traffic jams during times when travelers would typically expect to get from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time.
Route 128 carries something like 200,000 cars a day and continued development of big office buildings and shopping areas along it affects people who live and work along 128.
Where should those people turn for information about the development? Big regional newspapers? Well, no. The last time the Boston Globe, for example, covered this sort of development was four months ago.
Obviously they can't cover everything repeatedly. But where are 200,000 who wonder what blew up next to Uno's to go?
I keep heading for Wicked Local. I'm so happy that a news outlet recognizes that there's much more to the Boston area than Boston itself. And for those who love the city, a coworker recently pointed me to Universal Hub, a wonderful aggregate of all things local.
Financial constraints and, certainly, assumptions about what the masses want to read have for years impacted regional dailies' coverage of companies that haven't yet reached the size of a Fidelity or EMC. As someone who believes the action is with the smaller companies, I've long been irked by this.
This opening has cleared the decks for the success of an Xconomy, which is more than happy to dive into the growing tech companies (disclosure: this one's a client) that drive much of our local economy.
Without a doubt, major media have done much to successfully rework themselves, but I have to believe that readership of newer sources will keep growing as people like me look to the news outlets in their backyard.
A former colleague sent me a postcard from her recent trip to India. I was ridiculously happy to receive it.
Yes, I keep up with her on Facebook and email and all, but a postcard was so much more fun to receive.
I'm sure this is just yet more proof that I need to get out more, but there's something to be said for going old school when it can make a friend stand in the middle of the hallway smiling in a way that Facebook never has.
When Google introduced the Google Alerts service, my first thought was "Great! Now my clients don't need to pay for expensive news searches." Many of them had already pared back their use of such services because they were looking to save every dollar coming out of the tech recession, so they were just happy to find a cheap alternative.
My opinion changed when some clients became obsessed with tracking not only their own coverage, but that of their competitors. I had a number of conversations with people who had a tough time accepting that it's not realistic to expect the agency to stop--literally to prevent--other companies from getting noticed in the media. (Intruding on those companies' coverage--there's the goal.)
I still think it was mostly an emotional reaction to being able to really understand, probably for the first time, where their competitors were appearing in the media.
But now, most clients are way past the emotion. They're deep into their site analytics and are tracking visitors who come from news articles, product reviews and blogs. I love to hear that an article the PR team helped out on brought in a bunch of well-qualified visitors, some of whom went on to download the client's software.
Tech (and increasingly healthcare) companies and PR people talk about what this means for the practice of PR. Certainly, no one wants to feel like they're spending money on faith alone, so they're holding PR up against things like SEO and other marketing tools.
To be sure, measurement can be a wonderful thing. But I wonder if the techniques most in vogue today really capture the cumulative effect of steady-state volume--that stream of Google Alerts that companies love and that helps stack them up nicely to their competition--plus positive (not just okay) reviews, plus getting the Fortune 50 customer (not the no-name) to talk on behalf of the start-up, plus the CEO Q&A that gave him space to talk in depth about his or her corner of the industry ... and so on.
Some of these things have no immediate tangible effect, but does this mean they won't matter in sum six months or a year out for companies trying to establish a new category or go up against a much bigger player?
I'm thinking that PR's real value these days lies in the ability to bring all of these things--some easily measurable, others not so much--together. It's not social media to the exclusion of "traditional," or product PR in lieu of thought leadership campaigns. If I were running a tech company, I'd ask myself how I could have all of these things AND still have money left over for my Google AdWords campaign.
I recently attended a conference on PR measurement put on by the Institute for Public Relations. Hearing what’s working for other PR people is always interesting, but this conference was particularly welcome because it brought together people who are doing the deep thinking on probably the hottest topic in PR: evaluating PR’s impact.
Measuring PR is rough for a number of reasons. Just a few include the difficulty of tracking changes in perception of a company or product to editorial coverage (as opposed to advertising, opinions articulated by colleagues, etc.), the sometimes prohibitively high cost associated with measurement itself and, not least, the desire PR people have to defend their budgets.
Conference presenters included a senior director at Microsoft who’s working to represent the effectiveness of PR for that company’s product lines and executives with a single number. There’s an appeal to the simplicity of a single-number score. But I didn’t understand why obliterating the nuance associated with, for example, media reports on Vista, was a good idea. Nevertheless, good to know that Microsoft is playing with the idea of measuring PR with one number.
At Schwartz, we work with entrepreneurial companies that are looking to grow very quickly. In the past, many of them “just knew” when PR was working. They’d report more in-bound calls, greater willingness of potential customers and partners to take meetings, and so on. We liked to hear anecdotal evidence that our programs were working, but it was only partially satisfying.
A few companies found it meaningful (some still do) to look at advertising equivalents. This is okay—if nothing else, it makes the case that PR is cheaper than advertising—but ultimately not that useful.
Here’s what I’m seeing a few small companies do, and do really effectively over the past couple of years. It’s cheap, it gives the PR team instant feedback they can use to tailor the PR program going forward and it doesn’t require that we ask inane questions like “what’s the ad equivalent of an Associated Press article?”
A couple of my clients care only about software downloads. Those companies like their Google Analytics and they track, to the number, visits to their websites stimulated by editorial coverage. I love to get their updates on what’s working. Hearing, for example, that an article in Dark Reading brought nearly 100 highly qualified visitors, but one on another site stimulated maybe 10, helps our team place a premium on the sites that deliver visitors (many of whom then download the software, white paper, etc.).
A while back, a client told us that a cover story in a well-read IT journal barely caused a blip in traffic to their site. They liked the article, they were kind enough to say, but it didn't, well ... do anything for them. I was glad to get that feedback, too, because it told us that the publication barely mattered for the client. The cover story was a nice vanity placement, but not much more than that.
Ability to focus programs—to fine tune them over time based on results and not only focus on what’s working, but discard initiatives that show little return, and all for little to no expenditure on measurement—is something both clients and PR people can be genuinely pleased about.