Monday, December 29, 2008

The Downturn’s New Rules for Marketers

So I just read an article of the same name that was in The McKinsey Quarterly. It explains (and I’m paraphrasing the 11 pages) how the global recession is changing how cash-strapped marketers have to operate in 2009. A ‘reprioritising’ of geographies, consumer segments, b-2-b opportunities, sales & marketing resources, adverting vehicles etc.

To an extent I agree. A reprioritisation of geographies does seem to make sense. I’m sure we’ll see a number of organisations re-org their staff and budgets when it comes it the never-ending central/disbursed models of marketing. I’ve worked client side both in the central office (using centralised budgets) and out in the dim and distant field (where local budgets were fort over and sometimes even measured). Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but for sure a centralised model will save money (but whether it will produce a greater ROI is a discussion for another time).

I am also in agreement that measurement needs to be stepped up and looked at more closely. The era of “oh, lets just sponsor this event because it sounds like a good idea” is not particularly savvy in this environment.

But here’s the thing. It’s really very simple for marketers to cut their budget and prove an ever increasing ROI. The old ad adage is "I know half of my advertising spend is wasted; I just don't know which half." Sod it. Cut half of it – any half - because that’s where the saving needs to come from. Want to know how to still increase your ROI? Then read on…

A large international client came to our agency recently and said they needed to cut their marketing budget by 75% across the board. Every agency they were working with was getting cut – design, media buying, media monitoring, PR, events, POS etc etc.

Our arguments to NOT cut the PR budget but actually increase it included...

1 – A relatively small dollar decrease in budget significantly reduces the amount of PR coverage obtainable.

2 – Unfortunately PR is not like a water tap that can be turned on and off. It’s easy to loose SOV (share of voice), but takes many months to build it up.

3 – The percentage of marketing budget spent on PR is comparatively small. A smaller percentage saving from the advertising or event budget can save an organisation considerably more money and allow PR (which has a low cost and a high ROI) to flourish.

4 – The reduction of monthly PR retainer of, for example, 25% (lets say from $10,000 to $7,500) is equivalent to the same cost saving of one page print advert a quarter in an average industry magazine.

5 – Strategically speaking, many organisations are about to go through a rough time in the media due to a reduction in sales, profit, a falling share price and reduced workforce. No amount of advertising is going to repair the bad press that job losses will promote – the only way to manage this is going to be PR.

So in a time of economic downturn – cut your advertising by 50% and increase your public relations by 25%. Not only will you greatly reduce your marketing budget (by about 45%), you will also safeguard your brand, increase your ROI and in the long term have greater marketing success.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Targeting is the bedrock

Nothing is more important in PR or marketing than getting the targeting right. Understanding who the right audience is and knowing how to reach them is one of the first things to undertake and will be a key factor on how effective and efficient your campaign will be.

So I read with interest an article that talked of the the targeting potential of LinkedIn last week in Advertising Age.

Highlights from the study:
* 30 million current members
* 8.4 million (24 percent) members are senior executives with a mean salary of $104,100
* 1/3 of members are savvy networkers with an average of 61 connections (the overall average is 38) and personal income of more than $90,000
* 21 percent of members are seeking job opportunities

OK, so we all knew LinkedIn members used the site for business reasons -- vs. the more purely social networks such as Facebook or MySpace – but we didn't know exactly who they were.

Now we do.

Certainly a very aspiring group of people and they are neatly grouped so theoretically easier to target. The problem I have now, is how can PR utilize that nugget of information. Sure some can afford to place a banner advert on LinkedIn – but where is the potential for PR?

I don’t have the answer just yet – but think the question is worth considering…. Please do let me know if you think you have an answer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Seven rules of crisis management

OK - so first off I am pretty proud that I'm a co-author on the new Crisis Communications book.

Crisis Communication: Practical PR Strategies for Reputation Management and Company Survival’ (ISBN: 978-0749454005)

This new book by the publishers Kogan Page is a joint work by 20 international authors - and that's what I think makes it special.

No company or organization is immune to crisis. A crisis, however, does not necessarily have to turn into a PR disaster. Crisis Communications provides readers with advice on how to limit damage by acting quickly and positively. Moreover, it explains how to turn a crisis into an opportunity by communicating efficiently via a successful public relations strategy.

Crisis Communications is a thorough guide to help prepare an organization for unexpected calamities. It provides information on accountability, planning, building corporate image, natural disasters, accidents, financial crises, legal issues, corporate re-organization, food crises, negative press, media training and risk managers.

As I start the publicity for this book, I am being asked to summaries the 200+ pages into 300 words... so here goes...

1. People - The team involved in managing crisis communications should be fully briefed on who will contact who in the event of a crisis, and which method of contact they will use.

2. Roles and tasks - Have a checklist of what role each team member will fulfil during the crisis, and what tasks they are assigned as the crisis breaks, during the crisis and afterwards. Suggested roles include: briefing members of the board; internal communications and keeping staff informed; media relations; media monitoring; and online monitoring.

3. Messages - Work out in advance the key messages you will want to communicate in a crisis. Don’t bother with corporate messages about visions and mission statements – journalists aren’t interested in these. Think about what messages you want to get across about which journalists will realistically write. 

4. Draft statements and responses - Having template statements ready prepared can help you turn things around quickly when a crisis breaks. Have background facts and Q&As about the company ready and to hand.

5. Speed - You need speed of response, but also speed of thinking and actions to be in control of the situation, rather than panicking to catch up with the media. You want to run the pace of the story your way and have the -media responding to you, rather than the other way around.

6. Control - Work out how you will take control of the story for each likely scenario. The plan should identify media-trained spokespeople who can talk in a crisis. Have some ready-prepared images available. If you don’t, the media may look elsewhere to fill the gap.

7. Practice - Teams need to be familiar with the crisis comms plan. NettResults recommends crisis training twice a year and a simulation exercise at least once a year.

And if asked to define it in 6 words...

Conflict builds character - crisis defines it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Four ways to gauge the success of your spokesperson

Beyond owners/C level's own ego, having the best spokesperson representing your organization is imperative. Once the chosen representative has mastered your messages and talked publicly, there are some ways to tell whether they have been successful in the delivery.

• How is the media depicting matters vital to your organisation's interests and objectives? If they are noticing the strategic messages and themes you've created to define your brand, campaign or mission, it demonstrates that your spokesperson has been successful at communicating those ideas. If not, than you may want to re-evaluate your messages or your spokesperson's approach to conveying your objectives.

• Is your spokesperson cited in the story? Being quoted in an article sets your spokesperson up as an expert. Even if the article isn't directly related to your company or brand, a good spokesperson will be able to position himself as an authority.

• What is the editorial tone of a given media piece? Knowing whether the media is portraying your organization or spokesperson in a favourable, neutral, or unfavourable light can provide valuable information on which to plan follow-up messages or campaigns.

• How prominently mentioned is your spokesperson? The content and context of your organizations mention are key indicators in accessing a spokesperson's success at conveying your company's ideas. Among some factors to consider: the position, location, length, and exclusivity of your spokesperson's mention, message, or quotation.

It's a tough call to make - but if they are not doing a good job then more training is needed... or maybe a new person found to fill the spokesperson function.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Being a Good Spokesperson

Regardless of job title, all spokespeople must possess the same basic qualities. In addition to being authorised to represent the organisation, a spokesperson should:

• Resonate with your audience
• Project a good visual presence
• Possess good quality of voice (particularly when speaking live, or on radio and television)
• Maintain a good rapport with journalists
• Remain readily accessible to the media

Although some of these qualities directly reflect the individual's personality, others can be learned and refined over time. Therefore, regardless of the spokesperson's level of experience, proper media training is essential. Conveying key messages and being savvy about how to avoid missteps are skills that can be learned.

A little training can go a long way
A good spokesperson knows how to be interviewed and is aware of what journalists want. Here are just a few points to consider when training your representative to be an effective spokesperson:

Image. How you look can and will affect audience perception. Visual perception accounts for at least 60 percent of how audiences take in messages. At least another 30 percent is auditory, while the remaining is the actual message or what the audience believes is the message (The Spin Project, Broadcast Media and Spokesperson Skills, 2008).

Rehearsal. Practicing before hand helps prevent stumbling and mumbling during the real interview or appearance and helps perpetuate a sense of confidence and authority.

Sound bites. Sometimes all you have is a moment to punctuate key messages, or perhaps a journalist needs only one quote or phrase to set the tone for the entire piece. Your spokesperson should be prepared with snippets.

Control. You may not be able to direct a journalist's line of questioning. However, you can still maintain control of the answers by transitioning them in a way that reinforces the key messages you want to convey.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Email Revolution

Everyone wants a piece of you. So they send you e-mail.

Over 100 real e-mails come in each day. At three minutes apiece, it will take five hours just to read and respond. Let's not even think about the messages that take six minutes of work to deal with.

If you feel the same way, then it’s time to get together; maybe we can start a revolution.

The problem is that readers now bear the burden. Before e-mail, senders shouldered the burden of mail. Writing, stamping, and mailing a letter was a lot of work. Plus, each new addressee meant more postage, so we thought hard about whom to send things to.

E-mail reversed that system in no time. With free sending to an infinite number of people now a reality, every little thought and impulse becomes instant communication. Our most pathetic meanderings become deep thoughts that we happily blast to six dozen colleagues who surely can't wait. On the receiving end, we collect these gems of wisdom from the dozens around us. The result: Inbox overload.

Taming e-mail means training the senders to put the burden of quality back on themselves.

What's the best way to train everyone around you to better e-mail habits? You guessed it: You go first. First, you say, "In order for me to make you more productive, I'm going to adopt this new policy to lighten your load…" Demonstrate a policy for a month, and if people like it, ask them to start doing it too.

1 - Use a subject line to summarise, not describe.
People scan their inbox by subject. Make your subject rich enough that your readers can decide whether it's relevant. The best way to do this is to summarise your message in your subject.

BAD SUBJECT: Subject: Deadline discussion

GOOD SUBJECT: Subject: Recommend we ship product April 25th

2 - Give your reader full context at the start of your message.
Too many messages forwarded to you start with an answer—"Yes! I agree. Apples are definitely the answer"—without offering context. We must read seven included messages, notice that we were copied, and try to figure out what apples are the answer to.

You're probably sending e-mail because you're deep in thought about something. Your reader is too; only they're deep in thought about something else. Even worse, in a multi-person conversation, messages and replies may arrive out of order. And no, it doesn't help to include the entire past conversation when you reply; it's rude to force someone else to wade through ten screens of messages because you're too lazy to give them context. So, start off your messages with enough context to orient your reader.

To: Mickey Mouse
From: Minnie Mouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive
Yes, apples are definitely the answer.

To: Mickey Mouse
From: Minnie Mouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive.
You asked if we want apple pie. Yes, apples are definitely the answer.

3 - When you copy lots of people (a heinous practice that should be used sparingly), mark out why each person should care.

Just because you send a message to six poor co-workers doesn't mean all six know what to do when they get it. Ask yourself why you're sending to each recipient, and let him or her know at the start of the message what he or she should do with it. Big surprise, this also forces you to consider why you're including each person.

To: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck
Subject: Press Release draft is done
The Press Release draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The PR agency will need our responses by the end of the week.

To: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck
Subject: Press Release draft is done

Mickey: DECISION NEEDED. Get marketing to approve the draft

Minnie: PLEASE VERIFY. Does the release capture our branding?

Donald: FYI, if we need to translate to Arabic, your translation project will slip.

The Press Release draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The PR Agency will need our responses by the end of the week.

4 - Use separate messages rather than bcc (blind carbon copy).
If you bcc someone "just to be safe," think again. Ask yourself what you want the "copied" person to know, and send a separate message if needed. Yes, it's more work for you, but if we all do it, it's less overload.

To: Donald
Bcc: Mickey
Please attend the PR meeting today at 2:00 p.m.

To: Donald
Please attend the PR meeting today at 2:00 p.m.

To: Mickey
Please reserve the conference room for Donald and me today at 2:00 p.m.

5 - Make action requests clear.
If you want things to get done, say so. Clearly. There's nothing more frustrating as a reader than getting copied on an e-mail and finding out three weeks later that someone expected you to pick up the project and run with it. Summarise action items at the end of a message so everyone can read them at one glance.

6 - Separate topics into separate e-mails … up to a point.
If someone sends a message addressing a dozen topics, some of which you can respond to now and some of which you can't, send a dozen responses—one for each topic. That way, each thread can proceed unencumbered by the others.

Do this when mixing controversy with the mundane. That way, the mundane topics can be taken care of quietly, while the flame wars can happen separately.

We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.
Speaking of which, I was thinking … do you think we should fire Pluto?

Message #1: We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.
Message #2: Pluto's missed a lot of deadlines recently. Do you think termination is in order?

7 - Combine separate points into one message.
Sometimes the problem is the opposite - sending 500 tiny messages a day will overload someone, even if the intent is to reduce this by creating separate threads. If you are holding a dozen open conversations with one person, the slowness of typing is probably substantial overhead. Jot down all your main points on a piece of (gasp) paper, pick up the phone, and call the person to discuss those points. I guarantee you'll save a ton of time.

8 - Edit forwarded messages.
For goodness sake, if someone sends you a message, don't forward it along without editing it. Make it appropriate for the ultimate recipient and make sure it doesn't get the original sender in trouble.

To: Mickey
Minnie's idea, described below, is great.
From: Minnie
Hey, Daisy:

Let's take the new press release and add a picture of the product. Mickey probably won't mind; his design sense is so garish he'll approve anything.

To: Mickey
Minnie's idea, described below, is great.
From: Minnie
Hey, Daisy:

Let's take the new press release and add a picture of the product.

9 - When scheduling a call or conference, include the topic in the invitation. It helps people prioritize and manage their calendar more effectively.

Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.

Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. to review press tour details.

10 - Make your e-mail one page or less.
Make sure the meat of your e-mail is visible in the preview pane of your recipient's mailer. That means the first two paragraphs should have the meat. Many people never read past the first screen, and very few read past the third.

Understand how people prefer to be reached, and how quickly they respond.
Some people are so buried under e-mail that they can't reply quickly. If something is important, use the phone or make a follow-up phone call. Do it politely; a delay may not be personal. It might be that someone's overloaded. If you have time-sensitive information, don't assume people have read the e-mail you sent three hours ago rescheduling the meeting that takes place in five minutes. Pick up the phone and call.

11 - How to read and receive e-mail
Setting a good example only goes so far. You also have to train others explicitly. Explain to them that you're putting some systems in place to help you manage your e-mail overload. Ask for their help, and know that they're secretly envying your strength of character.

12 - Check e-mail at defined times each day.
We hate telemarketers during dinner, so why do we tolerate e-mail when we're trying to get something useful done?

Turn off your e-mail "autocheck". Please, please, please – turn it off.

Only check e-mail two or three times a day, by hand.

Let people know that if they need to reach you instantly, e-mail isn't the way. When it's e-mail processing time, however, shut the office door, turn off the phone, and blast through the messages.

13 - Use a paper "response list" to prioritise messages before you do any follow-up.
The solution to e-mail overload is pencil and paper? Who knew? Grab a pad and label it "Response list." Run through your incoming e-mails. For each, note on the paper what you have to do or whom you have to call. Resist the temptation to respond immediately. If there's important reference information in the e-mail, drag it to your Reference folder. Otherwise, delete it. Zip down your entire list of e-mails to generate your response list. Then, zip down your response list and actually do the follow-up.

14 - Charge people for sending you messages.
One CEO I've worked with charges staff members five dollars from their budget for each e-mail she receives. Amazingly, her overload has gone down, the relevance of e-mails has gone up, and the senders are happy, too, because the added thought often results in them solving more problems on their own.

15 - Train people to be relevant.
If you are constantly copied on things, begin replying to e-mails that aren't relevant with the single word: "Relevant?" Of course, you explain that this is a favour to them. Now, they can learn what is and isn't relevant to you. Beforehand, tell them the goal is to calibrate relevance, not to criticise or put them down and encourage them to send you relevancy challenges as well. Pretty soon, you'll be so well trained you'll be positively productive!

16 - Answer briefly.
When someone sends you a ten-page missive, reply with three words. "Yup, great idea." You'll quickly train people not to expect huge answers from you, and you can then proceed to answer at your leisure in whatever format works best for you. If your e-mail volume starts getting very high, you'll have no choice.

17 - Send out delayed responses.
Type your response directly, but schedule it to be sent out in a few days. This works great for conversations that are nice but not terribly urgent. By inserting a delay in each go-around, you both get to breathe easier.

(In Outlook, choose Options when composing a message and select ‘Do not deliver before’. In Eudora, hold down the Shift key as you click Send.)

18 - Ignore it.
Yes, ignore e-mail. If something's important, you'll hear about it again. Trust me. And people will gradually be trained to pick up the phone or drop by if they have something to say. After all, if it's not important enough for them to tear their gaze away from the hypnotic world of Microsoft Windows, it's certainly not important enough for you to take the time to read.

Your only solution is to take action.

Yeah, yeah, you have a million reasons why these ideas can never work for you. Hogwash. Just one can bring some semblance of order to your inbox. So choose a technique and start applying it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When to target Bloggers in PR

The Entrepreneurs Organisation recently polled their 7,000 members in 38 countries and asked these business owners:

Is Blogging a valuable business tool for you?

And the results are in…
Yes, and I blog on a regular basis = 36%

No, but I blog for other reasons = 16% 

No, I don't see the value in blogging = 36%

Other = 12 %

A resounding split. A third of the business owner community around the world are interested in blogging. A third not. The rest, not so much.

In our PR work we often come across clients that are targeting ‘business owners’ as their clients. And I expect the EO’s membership criteria is a pretty accurate a target within this category.

So should PR agencies be spending so much effort ‘influencing’ bloggers?

Personally, I think that a PR pro should be conscious of their target audience. If that target audience are, for example, The Millennial generation (16-27 year olds) who grew up with broadband, the Internet and mobile phones and for whom technology has a huge impact on their lifestyles, then bloggers are for sure an important target.

However, if the target includes, for example ‘business owners’ then maybe the weighting of other more traditional media should be seriously considered.

Just an idea.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Writing With Style - Part 3 of 3 - Brevity

Beautiful things come in small packages.

The public’s desire for brevity is universal. Blame it on MTV, blame it on media as a whole, but if CNN can bring you the “Hollywood minute” to sum up all entertainment news into 60 seconds and Fox gives us “The World in Eighty Seconds”, you can sure cut some of that press release.

Edit your media copy to make it as short as possible. Then edit it again to shorten it. Then pass it to a colleague to get them to shorten it.

Keep it short. Period.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Writing With Style - Part 2 of 3 - Clarity

There is a too much drivel out there. Pick up 99% of press releases and read the boilerplate (the last paragraph that explains what the company does). Drivel! Too many ‘isms’ and not a lot of sense. Really – most of them don’t actually make sense. Try looking at an online press release service and just read a few.

1. State the wow!
2. Cut the jargon
3. Dress up the message with enhancers
4. Streamline approval

Don’t tell me what the company does – tell me what it offers its customers. It’s not the company that sells the product or service, it is the benefit that customers obtain from it that is your message.

No wow: example

Wow: example

Buzz words are not for media copy. They should be thrown out of the dictionary all together, but seeing as I’m not an editor for the Oxford English, we can together work to get them out of your PR tools.

For a start, lets delete for good – next-generation, core competencies, out of the loop, value-add, think outside the box, results-driven, empower, knowledge base, at the end of the day.

We once had a South African girl that worked for us. She diariesed, theorised and actionised herself out of a job. We could not handle it any more. Don’t use three words if it can be said in one and don’t use words of three syllables if it can be said with one syllable words.

So now that you have cut to the wow, and cut out the jargon, you have some room to clarify even further with some message enhancers. Examples include:

If you’re not using public relations properly it’s like shouting to a room of def people.

When the United Nations World Food Program wanted to radically increase their donations but didn’t have much of a budget they approached NettResults. Let me tell you what we did for them…

The Holmes Report recognised NettResults at the Saber Awards as the leading PR agency in the Middle East and Africa region.

For one of our clients, Creative Labs, we guaranteed the amount of coverage we would achieve week after week - showing that we stand by our service level.

Typically we can increase your marketing budget by a factor of five. If your retainer value is $10,000 a month, then we will be getting $50,000 of coverage equivalent – i.e. that is how much it would have cost you if you’d paid to advertise in the same space.

As Amer Farid of Habib Bank AG Zurich says, “We have partnered with NettResults for over eight years now because they not only produce great results, but they are as passionate about our business as we are.”

One last thing to add clarity to your message is to update your approval process. A press release should be like a racing horse and not a camel. The camel is what you get if designed by a committee. Your press releases and press materials are not to be designed by committee. Streamline the approval process. If at all possible keep the product managers away – then it won’t get too techy. The less managers – the clearer the message. At all costs keep the legal department away – they’ll water your message down with their neurotics.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Writing With Style - Part 1 of 3 - Start Strong

A powerful beginning and end with stick with your listeners
- Oprah Winfrey

It’s well talked about in the PR industry that journalists receive between 50 and 100 press releases a day and use about one a day.

You would have a 1 in 50 or a 1 in 100 chance of getting your story picked up if this was down to chance. Luckily it isn’t. There is a way to beat the odds and get picked up every time.

In Selling the Invisible, marketing expert Harry Beckwith writes about the study of an apple and the pomegranate. When people are shown a series of objects for a few seconds, say a group of fruits like an apple, pear, peach, plum, and a pomegranate, what are they most likely to remember? The first and the last item in the list – the apple and the pomegranate.

The same is true for you PR copy writing. Grab the journalists attention and you’ll get them to actually carry on reading your piece. And this is the first stage of getting picked up.

In journalism, when a headline of a story is buried somewhere in the middle of it, it’s called ‘burying the lead’. It not good journalism.

In broadcasting media ‘The Lead’ is when journalists introduce a story. In television this is typically fifteen to thirty seconds. It’s meant to be so intriguing that you’ll want to hear the rest of the story. If all the leads are good then you’ll watch the entire newscast.

A strong start is relevant for all writing you work on and all tools you produce. For a press release this is really simple. You get a headline – use it wisely. This is not the headline you’d like to see the journalist use – this is your number one pitch to the journalist to get them to carry on reading.

It is normal convention to get into your release – geographical location, date and companies positioning statement. Boring! Let’s break convention. At NettResults our agency standard it to add three bullet points after the heading. Be bold, be provocative, and above all sell the story so the journalist will read on.

How to end? Use the last paragraph of your press release to quote the client in some provocative or newsworthy way. Use the end of your press release format to include a call to action for the journalist, so they can reach you and get further information, images or an interview.

Start strong. End Strong. Be strong.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Patty's Hierarchy of Needs

If you know SCORE then you may have a perception of retired grey tops with some outdated business acumen. Well after a few months of personal coaching I can tell you it’s anything but. In fact the Score Orange County, CA chapter has amazing members.

This week I attended a session presented by Tom Patty (Tom was part owner and manager of a highly successful ad agency before selling it – some of his best work includes being integral in the Apple 1984 Super Bowl TV advert). All of the presentation was fantastic – more on that another time.

He presented such a clear and concise picture of agency (PR, but could be any retainer based service industry) workings in regards to the client purchasing process that I wanted to share. Tom’s too modest, but I’ll call it the Patty Hierarchy of Needs.

1 – Client fires exiting agency (or is new out of the blocks and didn’t have one)
2 – Searches for the right agency
3 – Shortlist a handful of hopefuls
4 – Pitch (agency side just love this part!)
5 – Account is awarded
6 – LOVE has to be transmitted

Inevitably, the account is lost and the process continues it’s loop. The real question, as Patty puts it, is how long the LOVE can continue.

There are plenty of great examples of agencies hanging onto accounts for multiple years. At NettResults we have accounts for eight plus years, but what is the success of longevity?

For me that question is simply answered. The agency has to ONLY do two things well, consistently month on month:
1 – deliver measurable results with a positive ROI
2 – a positive, mutually respectful personal relationship with the client

I’ve seen many accounts that have one or the other, but not both, and these are not the ones that survive. The few that have both gain longevity.

Continue the LOVE.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Art of Persuasion… “Social Proof”

The Background: As we repeatedly point out on this blog, you have to be good at persuasion if you want to be good at PR.

The Find: It’s not news that popularity breeds popularity and people follow the herd, but social psychology research points out that this principle, known as “social proof,” can radically improve results and is often underutilized.

The Source: Tips on polishing your persuasion skills from, ‘Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive’ - by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini.

The Takeaway: What’s social proof? It’s the psychological term for looking for confirmation from the crowd when you’re unsure whether to act. When I was a student my friends and I would start lines outside of closed doors and see how many people would join the lines. Often we’d get 20+ joining our queue. Why? Social proof.

Business leaders can harness the same principle. A classic example is a recent program written by Colleen Szot that shattered a nearly twenty-year sales record for a home-shopping channel. Szot simply replaced the classic call to action– “Operators are waiting, please call now”– with “If operators are busy, please call again.” Rather than imagining bored operators filing their nails, home shoppers pictured phones ringing off the hook. The implicit message: others must be buying, so should you.

The researchers behind Yes! set out to see if this principle could work for hotels too. Along with the usual environmental message and images of crystal clear water and rolling green fields on the cards asking patrons to reuse towels, the researchers placed a message indicating that the majority of guests already chose to reuse their towels. Guests whose cards subtly employed the principle of social proof were 26% more likely to recycle their towels than those who saw only the basic environmental protection message. That’s a big improvement at no additional cost to the hotel.

The Question: Are there unused opportunities to put the principle of social proof to work in PR?

And the Obvious Answer: Of course there are. Suggesting to one media that your story has already got a good reception from other media may well be useful.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Art of Persuasion... just Because

The Background: As you know, good PR is all about the art of persuasion. You are persuading the client to go with your strategy and persuading the media to cover your client.

The Find: Giving a reason, any reason, may help you persuade others to do as you ask.

The Source: Tips on polishing your persuasion skills from, ‘Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive’ - by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini.

The Takeaway: This is based on research carried out by behavioural scientist Ellen Langer and her colleagues, which involved someone trying to cut in line to use a photo copier.

Langer set up three scenarios:

1 - A stranger approaches someone waiting in line to use a photocopier and simply asks: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” Sixty percent of people agreed to allow the stranger to cut in line when faced with this direct request.

2 - Next, a stranger made the same request but added a reason: “May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” Nearly everyone (94 percent) agreed.

3 - Finally, the stranger approached and gave a totally senseless reason for the request, but still employed the word ‘because’: “May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” Despite the inanity of the reason, 93 percent of people still complied with the request.

The Conclusion: If you want to persuade someone to publish a story or cover your client’s news, give them a reason. Of course, a good reason is best, but even if you think your reason is less than compelling, this research suggests that the media are more likely to comply than if you had given no reason at all.

Why is giving a reason going to improve your PR coverage? Because the research says so.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Web 3.0 and International Public Relations

In May 2006, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web stated:

“People keep asking what Web 3.0 is, I think maybe when you've got an overlay of scalable vector graphics - everything rippling and folding and looking misty - on Web 2.0 and access to a semantic Web integrated across a huge space of data, you'll have access to an unbelievable data resource.”

So what does this mean to international public relations?

We’ve hardly got a firm grip on Web 2.0 and already we have to understand and utilise Web 3.0. Well don’t start to get too tense – there is still a wide variation as to what Web 3.0 really is or means. But at this point in the middle of 2008 there does seem to be a trend emerging in the form of the semantic web.

“The semantic web is the extension of the world wide web that enables people to share content beyond the boundaries of applications and websites." 

To help appreciate Web 3.0’s applicability to PR, BurrellesLuce suggests we consider the following relational statements:
* PRSA is a well-known organization for public relations professionals.
* Jane Doe is a member of PRSA’s Detroit chapter.
* PRSA publishes a monthly journal called Public Relations Tactics.

It’s easy for humans to process such concepts, but for computers it’s a very different matter. Since computers and machines do not understand syntax and logic the way we do, they are unable to link ideas together. The semantic web seeks to “describe the relationship between things (like A is a part of B and Y is a member of Z) and their properties (like size, weight, age, and price)” in a language recognizable to computers.

Unlike the Internet, which relies on human editing of documents, the semantic web allows information to be digitally pulled from a variety of sources and synthesized with precision.

BurrellesLuce continues to suggest three ways Web 3.0 could improve the work lives of public relations professionals

1. You’ll be able to spend less time searching for relevant information. Web 3.0 will permit you to do what you do best — craft and disseminate your organization’s or client’s messages.

2. More-focused messaging will increase the odds of pinpointed delivery to your intended audiences. The ability for your audience to “pull” the appropriate information as needed (think RSS on steroids) means less “pushing” of your ideas onto a general audience.

3. Reaching the appropriate targets will allow for the development and maintenance of deeper, more-productive relationships.

In an effort to create an interactive dialogue between businesses and consumers, many public relations professionals heavily use online technology, including social media, podcasts, and viral video. For those who are just beginning to take the plunge or who haven’t yet considered doing so, using these communication channels can stir up some anxiety.

With Web 3.0 capabilities in place, PR professionals could, in theory, cross reference data both in and outside a given social network, as well as other sources — helping to zero in on a targeted audience. Each audience member, in turn, could use the same method to find providers most closely aligned with its needs. The high precision and speed offered by Web 3.0 will enable PR practitioners to create closer one-to-one relationships, shedding the one-to-many approach common to traditional outreach efforts.

Which of course all good PR professionals know, means we have to get increasingly personal with the media we interact with. One press release email spammed to 100 contacts is not going to cut it. If you work agency side you have to understand the client deeply, understand the media deeply and marry the two in a personal manner.

Friday, July 11, 2008

4 Generations to Target

For many public relations professionals, selecting the prime channels to use when reaching their targeted audience can be a daunting challenge. The task is made even more demanding when the intended audience spans several generations. Sometimes targeting generations helps overcome the complexity of multiple international markets... if only there was a good way to target the generations.

BurrellesLuce has released an interesting white paper that does just this.

Broadly speaking, today’s PR audience comprises four generations. Listed below are the generally accepted parameters of each group, and historical milestones that helped to form their worldview:

* Traditionalists (born before 1946) – Were shaped by the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean War.
* Boomers (born 1947 to 1964) – Came of age at the time of the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, space exploration, and the assassinations of prominent national figures.
* Generation Xers (born 1965 to 1976) – Were young observers of, or participants in, the Watergate hearings, the first energy shocks of the 1970s, the women’s liberation movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the first Gulf War.
* Millennials (born 1977 to 1989) – Grew up during a period of large-scale school shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing, rapidly advancing technology, the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, and the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Generational values at a glance

Their research shows that each generation also possesses a distinctive set of core values. These widely shared beliefs and perceptions shape decisions and behaviors.

A generation’s core values should matter to a PR practitioner because they can significantly influence message development. The following lists the core values that are most closely associated with each generation, although not necessarily exclusive. In addition, people born in proximity to the cutoff points may internalize some of the the values that more typically characterize the generation on the other side of the chronological divide:

Traditionalist = Hard work; Dedication; Respect for rules; Duty before pleasure; Honor
Boomers = Optimism; Personal gratification; Team orientation; Involvement; Personal growth
Xers = Diversity; Fun and informality; Techno literacy; Self-reliance; Pragmatism
Millennials = Optimism; Confidence; Civic duty; Achievement; Respect for diversity

Media usage also varies

Not surprisingly, some research* shows significant differences in media consumption by generation. For example, the two older generations spend more time following the news and are more likely to read print versions of newspapers than do the two younger generations.

Another way of slicing the pie:
multi-generational media and life stages

One research model applies terms such as Traditionalist, Boomer, GenX, and Millennial not to an age group but rather to the types of media utilized. Thus, a Boomer who often logs on to social media sites, chat rooms, and online communities may actually align with Millennial values. Similarly, a Millennial who eagerly peruses the printed pages of newspapers and magazines may exhibit core values closely resembling those of their Traditionalist or Boomer counterparts.

Other research has suggested that a generation also can be understood in terms of the stage of life in which individuals find themselves. So in theory, a career-driven Xer who is experiencing all the events associated with that lifestyle could just as easily be a woman in her 30s as a woman in her 50s.

Communications tactics that bridge the generation gap

Ultimately, there is no “one size fits all” medium, as audiences vary widely. However, there are ways to ensure that you are communicating effectively with each of the commonly defined generations.

1. Understand your audience by demographic. A little research can go a long way. Determining the gender, age, and other key characteristics of your core audience is the first step in creating a successful campaign. Your marketing department should have the data to share with you; if not, start to gather it on your own.

2. Shape messages based on audience values. Knowing that Boomers often view themselves as team players who value personal growth while Millennials see themselves as confident individuals with a respect for diversity can help you build messages aligned with each constituency.

3. Use media channels most frequented by your target audience. A large part of getting your message into the right hands involves knowing how and where your audience gathers information. If you’re looking to reach a general consumer audience, you may find beneficial research from analyst firms such as Forrester or Jupiter. Better yet, conduct your own customer surveys and interviews, which will enable you to target your messages with precision.

4. Pay attention to those responding. Cross-generational values and multi-generational media outlets can cause your messages to reach more than just your intended audience. Therefore, you should closely examine who responds to the calls to action contained in your news coverage, in order to properly tailor future messages.


*The Pew Research Center, The Maturing Internet News Audience, 7.30.06
The Pew Research Center, Generation Online, 12.05
Annual Knowledge Networks, How People Use TV’s Web Connections, 3.11.08

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Keep your Press Releases RELEVANT

A recent study of Journalists in the US (stated in PR Week) found news releases are used by 90% of business journalists as sources for story ideas.

However, as 54% of those same journalists say they also turn to bloggers, press releases must go beyond simple text and incorporate features like links, social media tags, images and when possible video.

Quick technique tips:
1 – DO include links to pages where multiple instances of your key words/phrases reinforce your message
2 – DO place terms in key positions like headlines and first paragraphs
3 – DON’T go link crazy – too many links confuse journalist
4 - DON’T use low res images – opt for high res multimedia that can easily be used (or provide links to high res)

Monday, July 7, 2008

3 simple ways to exceed customer satisfaction

While we are in the PR business we are also most definitely in the customer satisfaction business.

To exceed customer satisfaction makes them feel good and makes our life easier (happier clients are so much easier to deal with).

From my experience there are three simple ways to achieve this:

1 – Get ahead of the client
Don’t you sometimes know that given a day or week the client is going to ask for something? If you haven’t been offering proactive creative ideas on an account and are worried that the client is going to call you on it, then it is possibly time to get ahead of the client and go on the attack before you have to defend.

The more you work within an industry the easier it is to get ahead of a client.
After working with Creative Labs and them telling us about the convergence of technology and music... We then used the same ’convergence’ story with O2 and Motorola.

2 – Infuse Passion
The one complaint I hear about PR agencies is that they are not passionate about the client or the client’s product/services. Believe me, when I sell into a client I am so passionate that they believe I would do anything for their brand. That is one of the small secrets of sales and it is also a secret of happy PR clients. Use the client’s service/products and learn to love them.

3 – What’s new
It’s something that you should constantly be asking the client from their company perspective. I have had too many meetings with Habib Bank AG Zurich to mention which starts by me asking, “What stories do you have for us” just to be met with silence. When I then ask them to tell me everything in the bank that is new I normally come away with 4 or 5 stories.

The other side of the “What’s New” coin is being able to tell the client what’s new in the region and their industry. You can pick this up very quickly by reading the newspaper a magazine and logging into international web sites.

These three simple concepts will help you make the client happier and will make your life easier.

And everyone in PR wants an easier life.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Social Media & Public Relations

Social media: a tech term you've been hearing about. FaceBook, MySpace, YouTube, and Kazaa. On the business side, what about LinkedIn, CraigsList, and EBay? They, too, exemplify:

" ... the integration of technology and interaction" (from Wikipedia, a 'wiki' website and yet another example).

This (or any) blog is also a type of social media. We're blogging to have a conversation with someone having a shared interest: you. You can comment back and tell us what you think: you can interact. And our blogging goal is to create a community to connect, share, and for you to come back: we're marketing. But is a business blog worth your investment of time and money? What's the ROI of social media?

Let's take a look at a community, in fact a merging of several communities, by one example: a recent podcast on the ROI of social media marketing. But, before we listen to it, let's peel back its social layers. It is:

* First, it is a podcast, an audio file that can be streamed ('listened to') online, downloaded for later, or (this is important) linked on emails, websites, and blogs;
* Second, this podcast was distributed by IT Conversations: a company that has created a community of people with shared interest in tech podcasts (i.e. a social network);
* Next, this podcast was originally recorded by yet another company, Talking Portraits, with its own online community; and,
* Last, the person being interviewed, Giovanni Gallucci, is an authority with his own community through his blog, The Agency Blog. And, how do we learn he's an 'authority'? That's right, through yet another social community hosted by Technorati.

One podcast. So many connections. So many (potential) ears.

Back to the podcast. It's 41 minutes on the topic of the ROI of social media marketing (SMM). Tom Parish (Talking Portraits) interviews Giovanni G. They are both developers and technologists, and seem to be talking 'to' both providers of SMM services and businesses considering SMM (i.e. you). The first couple of minutes are a bit clunky, but they soon fall into a very informative chat on SMM. Things to listen for:

* The difference between campaign marketing and relationships marketing;
* Short-term versus long-term marketing goals;
* The importance of community trust, and how little control you have over it;
* The commitment required - expected - by your audience;
* That ROI might not be quantifiable, but there are valuable marketing benefits to be gained;
* They use several examples. Here are links to some of them: Mattel's BarbieGirls, Lego, Digg.

Marketing hasn't changed, but these new social media tools introduce some new dynamics. Over the next few months this blog hopes to spread news about how social media is effecting and working in one marketing function - public relations. We also hope to cover other areas in public relations so this blog builds a community of PR professionals. And we hope you will tell us what interests you by adding to this blog.