I’m an ‘armchair PR quarterback.’  I have experience in the field, but currently reside in PR hibernation, focusing professional attention on writing and internal marketing.  However, my former professional sentiments can’t help but fuel my interest and inner passion.  I regularly trace the PR operations of brands, shouting at the computer screen like an aged, high school quarterback who lends his voice to the television screen while assuming the Lazy-Boy position.  “C’mon how could you make that PR play!”

Today I offer a few sentiments I would like to see better implemented into your public relations strategy.

Think Boutique
Outsourcing is a choice for some and an absolute, immediate necessity for others.  However, I suggest considering going with a boutique supplier of PR services.   For one, there’s a learning curve associated with your respective vertical.   A PR person really needs to know the ‘lay of the land’ to ensure effective campaigns.  Don’t assume bigger brands, which address PR in several verticals, are going to assign you with a person well familiar with your vertical; it’s highly unlikely this ‘perfect match’ will fall into place.

However, the learning curve drastically decreases when partnering with a boutique service provider, which specializes in your particular niche.  An immediate advantage is the list of apropos contacts and relations the boutique may have already established.  Let’s face it; you’re electing to outsource due to a lack of internal resources, you want the outsourced entity to act as an ‘internal teammate’ as much as possible.  You don’t have time to educate the person on your vertical; you expect momentum.  Siding with a boutique service can expedite the process.

Products/Services Shouldn’t Need Attention, Consumers’ Needs Do
I take notice of brands after the production phase.  It would likely be disappointing for some owners to hear my questions as to why some products/services made it past the production phase.  In short, there are a lot of products/services out there of poor quality.  PR won’t help as SEO can’t compensate for poor quality

That being said, a PR professional should not have to do any work for the products/services.  In short, products/services should ‘sell’ themselves; or, your company has many issues to address other than PR.  I see a lot of PR efforts mirroring the error in logic of a lot of ad copy.  Make the endeavor about the consumer and not about your services and products.

I’m sure some are confused; isn’t PR about my business?  Yes, but PR is public relations, meaning the process involves relating (your brand and associations) to…the public.  The public part is important.  I don’t care what marketing processes are being leveraged; marketing is always about engaging the consumer.  So, even if you’re involved in a product launch, the approach necessitates people-centric engineering.  It’s not about how awesome the product is; it’s about what an awesome job the product does in addressing a consumer need and desire.  I hope you understand; because, this is a crucial insight to ‘get.’

Service Person Neglect
As a copywriter, I sometimes felt neglected by clients.  It was my job to create something based on little to no initial information.  Many times, clients neglect to inform service providers, which is mind blowing.  If I wanted another entity to do ANYTHING in my business’ name, I would most definitely ensure my provider was on the ‘same page.‘  That would a huge part of my responsibility regarding the partnership.  Business owners, do you host the same concerns?  I really hope you do.

Again the PR person is the translator, like a ghost-writer.  It’s absolutely essential the PR person is using your words and sentiments, truly understands your brand and direction, and sees eye to eye with the executives and brand represented.  PR is very important; whose mind are you letting make maneuvers for your company?  It’s essential the public relations rep understands key execs and the essence of the brand.  Otherwise, there’s no way an outside entity can properly represent your brand to your public.  If there’s a lack of understanding, it’s in the best interest of your brand to address it.  Any gaps or misunderstandings can be avoided through proper lines of communications.  Never neglect communications with an outsourced provider.  Each passing, neglectful moment negatively affects your brand.

PR and Social Media
Public relations probably needs a new definition or at least new consideration within the backdrop of online marketing evolutions.  Yesterday we had PR; today we have social media, which can achieve a lot of the initiatives PR always has.  PR is not extinct; but, such processes should include social media usage.  I’m sure many PR providers are presently not social media providers too, making things complicated for service seekers.  In my opinion, the two worlds need integration.

If you’re outsourcing PR but doing social media in-house, you need integration.  If you’re doing PR and social media in-house, the processes need integration.  If you’re doing PR in-house and outsourcing social media…well, you get it.

Formulate a strategy, leveraging the two processes, especially if different people are addressing them.  Strategy enables more reach and efficiency on both fronts.  You need the two marketing initiatives working together.  For instance, your PR professional landed your company in a major publication.  How are you going to perpetuate the exposure?  Social media is a good choice.  It’s not about choosing some processes over others; online marketing is about using available tools strategically, ensuring all brand endeavors are working in harmony.  It all warrants a bit of quarterbacking…zero quarterbacking begets frustrations.  I don’t want to be jeering your PR decisions from my computer screen;  I want to be cheering them.  The ball’s in your hands.

We write across subjects on this blog – Jason has written a good amount on social media recently, and Anthony on public relations and relationship building just today. So when you look across subjects one central element that runs through is the importance of engagement. Or more specifically – purposeful engagement. Whether in forming professional relationships in person or through a digital medium, connecting with customers through social media, or reaching out to past customers, one of the ever-present goals is purposeful engagement. What is meant by this is that when marketers connect with audience members, they want it to be meaningful and impactful, inspiring them and moving them to action. Marketers need this communication to hold value for the audience members and not just be token promotion or commenting.

We all know what each feels like in everyday conversations with friends, colleagues, and even traditional promotions that we are exposed to. But transitioning this to the digital landscape is a challenge. How do you meaningfully engage with 25k followers if you are a business on Twitter or with the 10k account holders who liked your business on Facebook? These are essential questions. One specific concept from PR theory that helps with the background of this strategy for purposeful engagement is the Two-Way Symmetrical vs. the Two-Way Asymmetrical Model of Public Relations from PR researcher James Grunig.

Two-Way Asymmetrical Model
In this model of public relations, marketers and PR professionals engage in two-way communication with the audiences. They send crafted messages, receive feedback, do research, but the goal is still persuasion rather that genuine communication and engagement. The slanted downward arrow represents the persuasive element in the figure for this model below.

Two-Way Symmetrical Model
In this model of public relations, PR professionals and marketers engage in dialogue with the audience and the goal is mutual understanding and purposeful communication where both parties receive benefit. Research is done here as well but rather than using it to determine how to persuade the audience, research is used to learn the direction to take the company’s genuine communication in order to better cater to audience needs and establish how to motivate them to authentic action. Notice the two straight lines.

In Action
Two-Way symmetric may seem a bit idealist or pie in the sky, but it really is not. It represents the optimal method of interaction that will win customers because they are heard and treated to communication that carries value rather than strict promotion. It represents the long-term rather than short-run mindset that businesses should be taking in relation to the interaction they have with their audience – and there has never been better time where more tools are available to put this sort of purposeful, genuine, two-way, symmetric engagement into action than now.

With social media at marketers’ finger-tips, they need to utilize their resources in SEO companies and marketing firms that offer such strategic assistance to implement a meaningful campaign. Businesses need to make a concerted effort to research their audience and know what subject matter will be of value to them. Further, engage with that in mind and most importantly listen, take feedback, and address customer concerns and questions in the social space, making all efforts to connect with as many unhappy or concerned customers as possible.

Reach out to me directly at rbuddenhagen@webimax.com and @ryanwbudd for more information regarding how your company can purposefully engage with their audience.

 

I watched a great online marketing video last week hosted by a popular CEO.  He made excellent points throughout; yet, one message particularly hit home.  He voiced that the real problem with startups and young brands was not producing quality services and products; the real issue was marketing, gaining attention, informing people of your offered goods and services.

Traditionally, brands pursued the ‘media’ (mainly news sources) to gain exposure.  Before the boom of the Web, PR reps would pen press releases and make attempts to contact various sources, which would possibly run a related story.  That was then; things are different for modern-day PR people.  Sure, there is a lot more competition in each vertical; yet, it is easier to find and connect with news sources.

Consider implementing the following actions to build PR connections:

Twitter
Twitter never sleeps.  There are people tweeting quips and tips at all hours of day and night, making it difficult to read everything, but easy to pinpoint particular authors.  It’s common for people to include author names (sometimes praise) along with and associated URL.  I wouldn’t suggest going overboard with compliments; but, if you enjoyed reading a piece, it’s a nice sentiment for a writer to hear.

If you find an author, writing stories relatable to your vertical, endeavor at making a connection.  Twitter makes it easy to get ‘to know’ someone a bit, as users tweet about business and personal life too, giving readers an opportunity to ascertain a ‘larger picture’ regarding online personalities.

Example:  Yesterday, I read a story featuring Topps’ mobile applications.  Topps is a traditional brand trying to make an impact in a new digital market.  My boss, Ken Wisnefski, has knowledge of the baseball card industry and online marketing, potentially providing advice regarding Topps online pursuits.  If I was the PR person, I could attempt to connect with the story’s author.

Would you say you have a plethora of opportunities? "Oh, yes..."

Facebook
Facebook has been ‘around’ for some time now; but, businesspeople have really just began engaging the platform in the last couple of years, especially after introducing  brand pages.  Recently, Facebook has introduced timelines.

News sources are ready to make online impacts, much like traditional sources did in providing news for decades.  Take a gander at some popular news sources in the industry; they are trying very hard to integrate into the digital age; the brands are using social media platforms like Facebook.  Take a look at the timelines of a few.  Can you see patterns in stories covered?  What stories are receiving the most engagement by readers and social media followers?  Those are likely to be stories pursued in the near future; or, you can at least gain a ‘feel’ for what kinds of stories are ‘hot’ and ‘trending’ at the moment.

There's a story opportunity here somewhere.

Example:  Let’s take a look at the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook timeline.  I see from the timeline, the WSJ posted a video about good-guy CEOs.   I could attempt to engage the author through the WSJ page; but, it’s not as personal; I’m likely to pursue an author via their own social profile.  However, here I see the story has gotten a lot of shares, people are interested.  Could I use this information to pen a ‘hot’ story for my own online property?  Yes.  Could I proactively ‘interview’ my CEO and pitch a possible follow-up to the story’s author?  I could do that too.  The timeline gives me a lot more information than PR people had years ago before the boom of the Web.

How’s your brand getting attention today?  There are in-house and external ways to beckon attention.  Seek search engine optimization information; vendors offer an array of choices, addressing technical, social, and copywriting needs.  Do you want ongoing commerce from customers once you have their immediate attention?  While SEO offers opportunities to drive traffic to your site, your company has the power to make your brand a ‘regular hangout,’ enjoying endless attention.  That’s what you want, right?

I read a Search Engine Land article this morning by Myles Anderson; he gives good ideas regarding improving local business commerce.  His notion of the death of traditional PR caught my eye.  I agree; some things have changed.  The approach has been tweaked, but the end goals of public relations initiatives remain worthy of pursuit.

Traditionally, PR initiatives spread awareness about a brand, conveying internal and external news.  That’s still highly valuable and will always be (it’s a part of ‘branding’); while SEO and online marketing get attention, relating to the public (your brand’s customers) helps maintain commerce, offering (free) marketing via word of mouth and other ways consumers communicate…like through social media.

Press Release Exposure

While a press release gets brands mentioned in several news sources, the price of ongoing releases can add up. There are alternatives.  Does your brand leverage Facebook?  CEOs and executives want press releases to get read and spark brand-associated conversations.  Brands can do that on a weekly (or more often) basis using Facebook.  Why direct fan attention toward a static page when you could direct attention toward your brand’s dynamic Facebook page?  While some platforms allow you to upload images and video along with your release (usually at an extra charge), your brand can implement all the media it desires directly on its (free) Facebook account.

While a brand can garner attention from emulating a press release from a social platform, the additional exposure a press release could attract should not be completely put to rest; additionally, getting an inbound link from a high-authority news site helps SEO.  Read this Neil Patel post on attracting authority links for additional insight.

Brand Players

PR spreads word about a brand, encompassing its services, products, and messages as well as the people behind the brand.  Is your brand introducing its team ‘players’ to its public?  Are your executives writing guest posts, speaking at conferences, and offering insight on major news stories?  Great Web sites ask for contributions all the time.  Do research in your respective industry, finding guest post opportunities.  You could find guest post opportunities using Twitter, as featured in this Ethan Lyon post.

About You

Companies use press releases to better familiarize the public with the respective brands.  This can be performed from a company blog or a dynamic ‘about us’ page.  Let’s face it; competition is fierce in all verticals.  How is your brand different?  No, not your services and products; how is your brand different than that of competitors?  I often encourage brands to make copywriting selfless, to address the consumer rather than the brand’s vanity, but the ‘about us’ sentiment is the exception.  This is where you want to sing your company’s praises, where you want your consumers to ‘get to know’ a brand’s personality and the people who comprise it.  Be genuine and transparent.  Why should consumers champion and revisit your brand?  Address those questions for them via one or a series of dynamic, ‘about us’ sentiments.  Read how transparency helped the Domino’s brand.

Do you have something to add to the conversation, or just calling attention?  I would address high school students in this manner who were temporarily ‘off task’ during class.  High school students are socially savvy; most got the point and understood the difference elucidated by my question; were they serving the good of the community or engaging in personal endeavors at the moment?

Does your brand have something to add to the ‘conversation’ or just desiring attention and exposure?  The latter sentiment is shared by all brands (what brand does not want attention?!), yet the former sentiment is really the most effective means to the latter’s end.  I read a good post today on bootstrapping and brand awareness.  The author addresses ways to formulate an effective PR campaign.

Increasing PR is a lot like search engine optimization efforts.  It takes time, effort, and methodology.  While many of us know how a brand can get into trouble on the Web in its quest for better SE rankings, there are no direct ‘PR Panda’ updates;  however, calling attention without ‘adding’ is likely to leave your brand bewildered, inert, and possibly ‘blackballed’ by reporters, amongst other violations.

Update your in-house PR sentiments with these ‘PR Panda’ updates:

Update 1 – General PR Campaign – PR or Link Building?

In modern times, public relation work is a lot like link building.  In the past, what were the main goals of PR efforts?

-          Spread brand-related info

-          Gain consumer attention

-          Build brand authority

-          Attract future interest

Link building efforts, complemented by modern-day social media engagement does all of the above.  Many of the same ‘do not’ and ‘best-practice’ sentiments of link building apply to PR efforts.  Before making a PR move, think about your brand’s intentions because ulterior motives are transparent and don’t make much traction. 

Update 2 – Press Releases – Is.It.News.?

This is a bitter pill for many press-release hopefuls to swallow; is the release sharing ‘worthy’ news?  Of course, ‘worthy’ is a relative term, but think outside your brand when asking yourself this question; think like a consumer; would you be intrigued by the news?  Unfortunately, this ‘PR Panda’ update is not going to be applied by news sources; it’s going to be applied by readers (consumers) and your release’s traction (or lack thereof). 

There aren’t many obstacles obstructing a brand from orchestrating and distributing a press release to the masses; however, dispersing a release, offering very little news of value, is deserved of ‘PR Panda’ penalty and may hurt your brand’s reputation or future efforts to call attention to ‘news.’

Update 3 – Reporters – What are you doing for them?

Do you want to contact a reporter about your brand?  Ask not what this reporter can do for you, but…  I know – the irony of it all!  That’s right; if you’re going to contact a reporter, you should be contacting them because you have something for them and not vice versa.  Sure, contributing to a story or adding insight is likely to get your brand mentioned; you’ll get credit for your work. 

Are you just looking to arrive at the PR party with nothing in your brand’s hands?  You’re likely to put the kibosh on any future relations with the respective reporter (and likely their brand too).

I read an entertaining article this morning regarding public relations work.  A PR professional listed thirteen ominous mentions, which sound cacophonic bells and whistles off within a service provider’s head.  Is your business currently receiving public relations services or working with an in-house professional?  Are you resounding some of the same sentiments mentioned in the article?  Is your campaign a bleak, dramatic picture of what it’s supposed to be, leaving participants in a state of mystery?  Let’s explore some things mentioned in the article and better your understanding of what is and isn’t under a PR pros control.

Beyond Control

Some things may be beyond your PR professional’s control.  While the end goal clearly spells ‘more exposure,’ it is necessary to understand your public relations pro is a part of a larger system and must adhere to regulations and the whims of reporters and editors.

“Can you find what the reporter will ask before the interview?”

“Can I do the interview over email?”

“Why weren’t we in this story?”

The above are some things mentioned in the article by disappointed clients.  Often the PR pro must defer to the ultimate decisions of reporters and editors.  Sometimes reporters may tell your public relations professional one thing, yet an editor makes another executive decision (bumps a story) and unfortunately, your business’ exposure suffers for it…

It actually happened to one of our brands a few years ago.  Our CEO, Ken Wisnefski, was set to do an interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews.  We were all very excited for this opportunity for great exposure.  But wait!  Who decides to drive his way into the headlines like a free-roaming bronco?  None other than OJ Simpson!  Unfortunately, Ken’s chances to be interviewed were ‘taken’ by a pressing story and executive decisions, which were out of our control.

You’re an Asset

Last Friday, I wrote about a few SEO-related things a business owner should ‘know.’  It’s important to understand, while a service provider is doing a bulk of the work, your input is needed and considered an asset.  PR work is sometimes very contingent on sensitivity of time and the participation of business consumers.

“I need this to be done in an hour.”

“We need this to be viral.”

“We’ve decided to go in a different direction.”

“I want this news embargoed.” [when it's not news]

Those are a few things mentioned in the PR professional’s article, related to the ongoing participation of the client.  Understand public relations providers must have enough time to successfully pitch stories and position your brand to garner great exposure.  In many cases, going viral is contingent on other factors besides a penned press release and major news source distribution.  The story’s content, industry ‘influencers,’ and the timing of the release also play a major role in the public’s reception.  Ensure you are giving your public relations professionals all the necessary tools, allowing them to recruit exposure for your brand.