Darn those “bothersome” clients!

Recently I’ve been following a few threads on the LinkedIn, including one on sharing media lists with your clients.

I stated my opinion on that in an earlier post.

However, what’s struck me most about the ongoing discussion is the disparaging way that some of these practitioners talk about their clients.

This is the comment that really made me stop and go, wow.

I would not want my hard-earned relationships with my media friends “sullied” by bothersome clients.

I hope this woman’s clients don’t read that forum. They might not “bother” her with their business if they did. It makes me cringe for her.

Maybe I’m just especially lucky, but my clients are smart, savvy and accomplished. I can’t imagine they would do something so egregious that they would embarrass me and ruin my relationship with my media “friends.” I like to think of my relationships with clients as partnerships. We work together to accomplish a defined goal.

I also can’t imagine that my media contacts, many of whom I’ve known for decades, would shun me if a client where to call them and say something stupid. Sure, they might call me and poke fun, but they wouldn’t cut me off. Editors need us as much as we need them — today every newspaper and magazine is short staffed and if we bring them stories that are relevant and well written, they will always take our calls.

Really, we must remember that our clients are the people who pay our bills. We work on their behalf. That shouldn’t involve ridiculing them or making disparaging remarks. If a client really doesn’t appreciate your skills or talents then don’t work for them. But don’t make fun of them behind their backs.

PR is more than media relations.

To many people public relations = media relations, and that includes practitioners. We have PR professionals that guard their media lists like gold and are looking for ways to quantify the value of their “clips.” Yet, at the same time they want to establish that Public Relations encompasses a broader scope of activities.

Practitioners who want more need to focus on strategy rather than tactics. I have nothing against media relations, but it is just one way for companies to reach their publics with their messages. I think practitioners have fallen into this trap because it’s relatively easy to quantify. Look, they say, this press release ran in a gazillion small newspapers and was picked up on websites globally. That means that more than 8 gazillion eyeballs saw your message and that’s why you pay us the big bucks.

Ironically, current evidence points to a diminishing role for traditional media. Readership is down. Staffing is down. Increasingly magazines and newspapers are closing down their print presence in favor of online media and turning to citizen journalists for news and content. In light of these trends aligning your business with traditional media may well bring about the demise of your practice. Yes, there will always be practitioners who have the ear of the top journalists at the best publications, but as for the rest of us? Better to focus on more ways to communicate your client’s messages.

Increasingly I see opportunities for companies to contact their prospects and customers directly — enewsletters, websites, webinars, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter all create ways to engage your customers in a dialogue and communicate your messages directly with the people  your client/company most wants to reach. Not only are these methods direct, they are also measurable. Everyone is feeling the pinch of hard economic times and it is essential that communicators can show how our efforts support the sales function.

Sure, moving into new areas will take time and education. You need to be able to show your client that these methods are effective. You may also need to explain to them that any activity that influences their target audience’s perception of their company is public relations, not just media relations. It will benefit everyone.

Sharing media lists with clients.

One topic that I’ve seen discussed on PR forums repeatedly is whether or not you should share the media lists you develop for an account with your client.

For me, that’s been a moot point. In the past 25 years I’ve had clients ask me for their media lists a grand total of . . . never. If they wanted it, though, I would gladly hand it over. Why not? They paid for it. After all, it’s just a list. Anyone with a subscription to Bacon’s, Vocus, or MediaPro can create a list; there’s not a lot of magic there.

Many of the practitioners who say they would not hand over a list (and there are plenty) seem to feel justified because their contacts are “private”. I don’t buy that. What the client cannot do is immediately recreate your relationship with the journalists and editors that you have nurtured over time. A list, or a contact at a publication, does not guarantee a result. I hope that my clients hire me because of my ability to successfully place articles on the topics that are most important to them in the publications that reach the right audience.

I think that folks who don’t want to share their lists are worried that the client will take that information and try to “wing it” on their own. If that’s the case, they have a larger problem because their client does not perceive that they are adding value. In that situation, often the best choice is to hand over the list and move on!

Analytics saving California Social Services Agency Millions

I know lots of companies that don’t measure the performance of their websites or enewsletters. On colleague of mine told me that he had a “gut feeling” about what works for his company.

However, when you look at what you can learn from studying your stats, it’s eye-opening. Many of my clients are truly surprised to find out what information their constituencies find most interesting, which pages on their sites get the most traffic, and which of their pearls of wisdom are generally ignored!

Now the Alameda County, Calif., Social Services Agency  has found that using analytics can save taxpayers a lot of money.

In July of 2009 the county agency launched a $1.5 million business intelligence and analytics package from IBM that integrates six systems in order to give caseworkers a nearly real-time look at how and when clients are using various social services.

Bingo! This is the beauty of information shared on the web. You can measure it. You can track responses, view traffic patterns and look at referring urls.

Now, you don’t have to spend $1.5 million to do so. In fact, for someone just starting out, a free program such as Google Analytics is a good start. I use it for several of my own sites and for client sites.

As a result of what we’ve learned from collecting data over a period of time one of my clients redesigned their site and changed the type of information that they presented. For example, we found that the FAQs section of the site drew the most visitors. As a result, we started putting the information that we felt was most important for customers to know in that section. We also found that there was an enormous need for basic educational information which drove us to create several tutorials.

As for e-newsletters, knowing which topics attract the most readers is valuable from an overall perspective but critical for sales people who want to learn more about the customers in their territories.

I think that one of the greatest barriers to installing analytics programs is that people are afraid what the measurements will show; that their programs aren’t performing as well as they should. My take on this is different. To measurably demonstrate the value that public relations and marketing communications adds to a company you must be able to provide the data and you must establish a benchmark for your current success. After all, you can’t improve your outreach if you don’t know there’s a problem.

Make your video shoot successful

Recently I responded to an RFP to produce a “virtual plant tour” video. As part of the proposal each team was asked to identify best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid. Here’s some of what I wrote:

Best Practices

  • Plan well: the videos that are the most successful are the ones that are planned properly. This means using storyboards and shot lists to plan out exactly how each portion of the script will be illustrated.
    Shoot additional b-roll while you’re on site. Today’s viewing audience is used to fast-paced video with many transitions. You never have too much video but it’s easy to end up with not enough.
  • Spend enough money to make the video look good. Your video will be around for a long time. Many of our clients are still using videos that we shot a decade ago. Hiring a cinematographer who knows how to light properly and use equipment that will produce a quality product that will warrant your investment.
  • Shoot in High Definition. Some clients believe it isn’t really necessary but we disagree with you. HD is now the standard – even on YouTube. If you shoot it in another format you immediately label your information as dated. Even when shown in smaller formats it is apparent as HD is a different aspect ratio than standard video.
  • Think small as well as big. YouTube is now the second largest search engine and one of the largest broadcast channels for video in the world. When you plan your big corporate video, think about how you can break it into modules and show them on YouTube. This approach will help you reach a broader audience very quickly. If you don’t have your own YouTube Channel, this would be a good time to set one up.

Biggest pitfalls:

  • Not hiring a professional scriptwriter. Conveying information via the spoken word is different from writing articles or brochures. Including a scriptwriter on the team – someone who is familiar with how to meld words and images in a package that is easy to listen to – makes a huge difference. I know many folks think they can do it themselves but if you’re hiring a camera crew and spending the amount of time necessary to do a video, don’t skimp on the writing.
  • Trying to shoot it yourself. Don’t kid yourself. Your customers can tell when you shoot your own video and they are generally not impressed. Think about the message that it sends: we don’t (or can’t) invest the money in doing this professionally. Flip videos are great but unless you’re going for that Blair Witch Project effect, will backfire.
  • Shooting “from the hip”: if you don’t plan your video shoot it’s easy to end up in the editing suite with not enough footage to illustrate your script.

Video is definitely making a comeback now that the bandwidth exists to watch it online. With some pre-planning and vision, your next video project will be a success that lasts for many years.

Weber describes YouTube as a “juggernaut”

Thank you, Larry Weber, for helping me sell the idea of corporate YouTube channels. With your new book, Sticks & Stones: How Digital Business Reputations are Created Over Time and Lost in a Click, and your subsequent tweets, you’ve given the stamp of credibility to YouTube and made it an acceptable tool for corporate America.

For the past year I’ve been talking to my clients about the necessity of managing their on-line reputation by taking control of such viral elements as video. Now that Larry has chimed in and devoted an entire chapter of his book to YouTube perhaps they’ll pay more attention.

Maybe now people will understand that YouTube is no longer just college students lighting farts. Okay, that’s still part of it, but in general there has been an on-going shift on YouTube to more professional content that is an integral part of a company’s (or college’s) outgoing message.

Maybe now people will understand that by not participating in YouTube they are giving the control of their online reputation to the masses. Just because YOU haven’t put anything about your company on YouTube, don’t assume that there’s nothing out there.  Type your company name into YouTube and see what you find. I did that for a client of mine and showed them that there are three videos that come up. The first two were a rant from a former employee that started with the statement, “They want to shoot the president and black children at my job.” Just what you’d like your customers to find when they are looking for information about you, right?

Then there’s a college that I’ve been talking to. Type in their name and one of the top five videos was of a student, drunk, with his friends writing all over his body with black magic marker. It perhaps did not accurately convey the image of the college that they had intended.

YouTube should be evaluated and handled as part of every organization’s public relations strategy. Because, guess what? Every day more of your “public” is finding their information right there.

No one reads anymore . . . The future lies in video.

Has anyone else noticed this? Because it seems glaringly obvious to me that people no longer read. Not us PR types. We still read. It’s the people we are trying to reach that have given it up.

I am assuming this is why when someone is given written instructions, the task is inevitably done wrong. Or why when you email or text a question to someone, the response is not an answer. At least not an answer to the question you asked.

The alternative is that people are mostly stupid and I don’t think this is true. Reading, especially reading for comprehension, is just too time consuming.

That leaves us with a conundrum. How can we tell the stories we need to communicate in a way that appeals to our target audiences? The answer is video.

Ten years ago corporate video was widespread and elaborate. Web-based communications made video unfeasible until recently because of bandwidth restrictions. Now, it’s back and it’s more important than ever.

YouTube is now the most broad-reaching broadcast channel out there. It’s bigger than any of the network channels and soon will reach a larger audience than all of those channels combined.

To best serve our clients, we must now embrace the use of video as a communications medium.

Do your projects have “legs”?

In this economy, the best public relations projects are the ones that can gain your company exposure in several venues. If you’re going to make an investment, it’s important that it has “legs”. In other words, that it’s something you can use more than once.

For example, if you have a subject matter expert speaking at an industry conference, you can leverage this investment in time and preparation in several ways both before and after the event:

  • Promote the presentation before the event. This helps position your speaker as an industry expert. A little extra work can reap significant rewards by making each of your efforts work more effectively.
  • After the event, turn the presentation into a Webconference or Podcast. This is a great way to reach the people who couldn’t attend the industry conference but who are interested in the topic.
  • Write an article based on the presentation and place it in an industry trade publication.
  • Use the information as the basis for a White Paper on the subject. If you post this on your Website you can harvest email addresses by requiring that people register to download the paper.
  • Feature the topic in your company newsletter (or e-newsletter) by linking to the article, Webconference archives, or White Paper.

Writing Press Releases that are Optimized for Search Engines

The press release is the most ubiquitous part of any public relations campaign. Short, direct and inexpensive, when done well they serve as a catalyst that can catapult a product or topic to national prominence. Even when budgets are tight companies should take advantage of the reach that press releases offer to get their news out to customers and prospects. The key is to differentiate your press release from the thousands that are issued each day.

When I first started in PR my boss used typeset the releases to make them look more professional than our competitors. These days typesetting is not enough to set you apart from the crowd.

Press releases now are sent out online and often are published on online news sources. They are the most effective viral marketing strategy available today because they encourage people to pass along your content and publish it.

To get the most exposure for your release it’s important to optimize them for search engines. By building your press releases to take advantage web distribution and online publishing not only will you reach more people, but you will also be able to track the success of your efforts by measuring the number of people who “click through” your embedded links into your Web site or other destination.

So how does it work?

Use links. Links on key words or concepts allow readers to learn more about things that interest them. It allows them to peel away layers of the onion and get into the nitty gritty.  In many releases that I see the only link is to the home page of the company’s web site. Keep in mind that you want information to be only 2-3 clicks deep from the person browsing your site. Don’t make them search!

Write key words into your release. If you know how people search for information on your product or service make sure that those words are included in your release. If you’re not sure what the key words are, you can use a free key word search engine such as Google Key Words. Even better, if you have access to your Web site statistics, look to see how people searched for your company Web site. For optimum results put a key word in your heading, a key word in any subhead, a key word in any anchor text and include key words in the first 250 words of your release. How many key words should be included? Pick the top three to five words or phrases. Don’t over use key words or your release will start to look like spam.

Embed photos and/or video in your release. Media rich releases garner more attention plus you can use key words in your “alt text” to attract more attention.

Use Web-based metrics to track your success. Web site analytics programs (even free ones like Google Analytics) allow you to track your referral sources. That’s where your hypertext links come in: you can track how many visitors to your site come from the specific links on your press releases. This information gives you valuable data about what your customers and prospects find newsworthy.

The success of your efforts will be apparent in the quality and quantity of the inbound traffic generated from your release. If you want a way to evaluate the potential success of your press release, there’s a free news release grader from Hubspot.  Run your release through that and see how you do!