Pity the Poor Press Release

newsroomWhen Christopher Penn dropped his post about the ineffectiveness of press releases, it verified what many of us already knew:

The press release, as a go-to communications tool, is yesterday’s news.

You might very well have information, insights and knowledge your audience needs, cares, and should hear about, but the press release ranks lowest on interest, effectiveness, and clickability.

Reporters, editors, and bloggers rarely read them. News organizations no longer cotton to them. A press release means the inevitable follow-up call that asks the one question a reporter never and still doesn’t want to hear: Did you get my press release?

Press releases are vain.  

Just because your organization thinks something is newsworthy, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

Who cares about being “pleased” and “proud” about the newest VP?

Is the latest but not very important iteration of your software, unless it does something phenomenally first, like Tesla’s fully autonomous vehicle announcement, worth an editor’s time?

Does your CEO like seeing his or her name in the press just…cuz?

Press releases are passive.

Your audience, editors and the web crave information that is relevant to what they care about, in forms they want to consume.

When a press release offers no context, no understanding of the receiver, and no story, it is lazy “action”.

Creating news and sharing vital market-building information takes time and research. If the information you supply doesn’t meaningfully speak to the receiver, you’re wasting your budget and the target’s time.

Press releases lack utility.

It was once upon on a time before Google Panda, Google actually indexed press releases and hence, provided some SEO utility. No longer. Using a syndication service and having your information plastered on a UHF station website out of the 50th biggest media market is definitely something to sneeze at.

If you must…

If you feel compelled to write a press release (many of you must for regulatory reasons) or you have actual real news (like Tesla, for example) keep the following in mind:

Is it really news?

When we discuss PR initiatives with prospects and clients, we always ask if the information passes the “who cares” litmus test. If you can’t come up with a compelling reason to communicate, think of another way to get that information into the hands of your prospects. Or, ditch the idea altogether.

If press releases come up, we counsel that the media, who wear many hats and cover much more ground, REALLY don’t care about a commercial messages poorly masquerading as news. They want objective knowledge and information to create meaty stories that keep readers, viewers and subscribers glued to their screens.

Know your target

The endemic banality of most press releases – and reporters’ negative reaction to them – show the majority of the people who send them know little to nothing about the publication, blog, or broadcast outlet or the reporters’ area of coverage.

You can weaken the reporter’s impulse to ignore your news with a well-written release directed to them, better yet, work your media contacts via email and phone with a tightly-honed pitch. Of course, we all have stories about a press release that led to an impressive placement. But routinely blasting news rather than taking a rifle approach isn’t effective in a world of building inbound links and winning hard-won domain authority.

Get to the point

Overly verbose and quote-heavy releases get deleted fast. Releases that take four paragraphs to get to the point often including details that cloud the reason you’re contacting the reporter in the first place. Releases don’t tell a story; they should offer up reasons why your story should exist.

If your information doesn’t create curiosity about a new story or add to an existing story and discussion, be ruthless with finding valuable particulars. Such specificity takes time and research.

Be available

A minimalist approach to news releases needs to be supplemented with additional info. Supply links to your website for the rest of the information about your product or service so reporters can determine if it’s worth a deeper dive.

Always include contact information at the end. And always reply to inquiries. If you add an email address, check it; a phone number, answer it. Be there and be responsive.

As with all marketing tactics, use the right instrument for the right task. Press releases have their utility. Practically, though, they now occupy a much smaller space in the tactical tool belt.

This is not to say that media relations isn’t relevant. It certainly is. But now your other content assets – blog posts, white papers, ebooks, infographics, and presentations – deliver your news and content more directly to prospects you aim to influence and want to consume your product or service.

A far better option is to plan and spend your valued marketing dollars on strategies and tactics that will propel your brand, enhance your domain authority, build traffic and entice your prospect to buy.

The Problem With “Down and Dirty” Marketing

I have to get something off my chest.

I like strategy and process.

I like developing communications roadmaps that take companies someplace and accomplish something.

I’m not one of those “pull it out of no where” communicators. A strategy based on engaging in correct and extended tactics during a long period of time will pay off and yield tangible returns.

Call me crazy but cogent plans help me sleep at night.

Yet, so many companies persist with the need for instant gratification. They persist with short-term thinking brought on by even shorter-term attention spans.

I don’t mean to go on a rant here (apologies to Dennis Miller and not the current one; the one at the time when he was funny), but precision is needed to strategize and execute integrated social media marketing campaigns and to measure their business outcomes. Anything else is mud wallowing.

Having said that, I propose the following phrase be banned from our business lexicon forever:

Down and dirty

These three words are the harbinger of wasted time, effort, and budgets. I’ve worked on the agency side of PR and marketing for most of my career, and out of the list of useless business jargon, “down and dirty” is the one that makes me clench my teeth to the point of cracking a molar.

Too many marketers use it to convey to their agency they want to just get something out quickly and inexpensively. “Keep it simple,” they say. “You know, don’t spend too much time on it; just get it out. ”

So much for strategy.

Executing something with the down and dirty mind set is like sitting inside a German dirigible brimming with hydrogen while holding a match.

Oh, the humanity.

The only aspect remotely strategic about the phrase is the person saying it is being lazy, cheap, or both.

I’ve created a list of talking points here so next time you get asked by your client or employer for down and dirty, you’ll know what to say.

Down and dirty marketing:

  • Threatens brands because of a lack of strategy behind the efforts.
  • Does nothing to enhance reputations.
  • Won’t build products, services, or your business model.
  • Will not positively ingratiate your company to people and their needs.
  • Is sloppy.
  • Won’t encourage others to share what is good about your company when you don’t care enough to do it for yourself.
  • Is for poser marketers.
  • Doesn’t engender trust.
  • Won’t keep your company top of mind.
  • Won’t position you as a thought leader.
  • Won’t help you invest in the best marketing strategies (whatever those maybe) to boost customer loyalty and retention.

Well, almost never. There’s only one use of down and dirty will ever be acceptable:

Down and dirty describes the kind of work ethic that is needed to succeed.

A version of this post originally appeared at Spin Sucks.

The One New Year’s Resolution Every Business Person Should Make… And Keep

In the pursuit of every pitch and proposal comes the inevitable follow-up phone call… and the predictable frustration that follows.

You have a meeting; you talk over objectives, needs and points of pain. With positive words and head nods, there seems to be a connection. You create and submit your plan and wait the requisite week for response to look professional, but not over eager. With no word, you place the call about next steps and…. nothing. Another week slips by. Then you’re like Lt. Uhrua on Star Trek. All hailing frequencies open. Emails and phone calls ensue. What you get in return is dead space.

You scratch your head, wondering what possibly went wrong. Odds are you’ll never find out because, for whatever reason, you’re out of the running. The prospect is no longer interested, and for some so-called professionals, it means you might as well have never existed.

Just what makes it so hard for business people to promptly return emails and phone calls? It’s my number one pet peeve.

Too busy? Sorry, we’re ALL busy. Don’t care to deliver bad news? Too bad. This is business. Not only is this silence bad etiquette, it harms reputations. Take a few seconds and think about your last non-responsive prospect. Yeah, I thought so.

You’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of behavior and you know how it feels. You’d like it if that the person you were perusing showed class and professional courtesy. So here is my suggestion: make 2012 the Year of the Return Phone Call. Now, this does not mean EVERY call. Unsolicited messages don’t count; just the people with whom you purposely engage. If the person or business you were talking to with so much interest isn’t selected or if there is a delay in your decision-making process, make sure to call him or her back.  Not only will you look professional, you’ll cut down on the amount of calls you’ll receive.

So, if you cringe at every voicemail you get, make it stop. Respond back and tell them why there will be no deal. Ten seconds later, you’ve rid yourself of one more unimportant call and come off looking like a decent human being for having done something so few people these days have the courage — and the courtesy — to do.

Why I dislike “like”

A while back, I asked my Facebook friends about the business weasel words and phrases they can’t stand.  I know other bloggers have written similar posts and held contests on detestable business speak.  I’ve had my list sitting here for a while, and I’ll post it next week.  What I had to share was a conversation, if you’d want to call it that, my family overheard while dining out earlier this week.

Seated directly behind my wife were two 20-something girls, talking about… whatever. We couldn’t understand the conversation (no, we weren’t eavesdropping) but were fascinated by the utterly gratuitous use of the word “like”.  I know what you’re thinking.  Use of the word “like” is more common than weeds. This woman’s use, however, was extreme.  Here’s an approximation:

“Like, I told Jessica, like, she had, like, a really, like, bad attitude about her boyfriend, and, like, if she, like, didn’t want to see him anymore, she should, like, stop seeing him….”

My wife decided to clock how many times she heard “like”.  At the height of the onslaught, she counted 10 in a mere 20 seconds.  That’s a lot of “likes”.

We disliked it.

What’s wrong with this overuse of “like”?  It turns out, grammatically and historically, nothing, according to language columnist Mark Peters. To me, the word “like” is the preferred binder and filler of the English language.  Similar to contracting a pathogen from bad food processing, this woman, and so many like her, have fallen victim to a verbal plague.

Like is perfectly fine when it’s used as a comparative word. Use like. Just don’t use it as effortlessly as many people swear.

What other “binder” words do you “dislike”?





, , ,

Dear CEO: Content Is Your Social Media Fuel

Earlier this year I was asked by the irrepressible Gini Dietrich to contribute my thoughts to an ebook titled, Dear CEO: Letters to the C-Suite from Experts on Vision, Culture, Community, and Integration.  It’s a collection of letters to an unnamed CEO offering honest, unvarshished advice from 30 other business, marketing and pr pros.  It was a humbling experience to be asked, because there are some REALLY smart people in this book, including social marketing luminaries Danny Brown and Beth Harte.

Here’s my contribution:

Dear CEO,

You already know that social media is the new (and now permanent) marketing glue. It‘s not going away and its reach and use is permeating practically every corner of your marketing efforts.

What‘s in store for social marketing trends? From a handful of blog posts from leading bloggers and social media luminaries, I‘ve aggregated the following items: QR codes; mobile; group buying; niche location; Facebook advertising; reputation management; listening emphasis; customer service and Q&A sites.

All these will have an affect to varying degrees or another, but in my opinion, content development and marketing will be the most important this year. Developing new, compelling and valuable information is what progressive organizations will use to attract and hold the attention of their prospects and buyers.

Content is the fuel of social media. The value is how you mine it, process it, refine it and present it. You‘ll do this two ways. First, look internally to the wealth of information contained in your internal assets (read: your people and their expertise); and second, engage on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and blogs to tap the pools of marketing crude and deposits of customer insight. These rich sources will help you continually engage, educate, and inform your customers and followers in such a way to keep them transacting with you.

Yes, like the saying goes, content is king, but it should not be content for content sake. It should be systematic, adaptable, relational and relevant. Content needs to cover your customers at different stages of the buying cycle in the right formats. It‘s been said many times by many people: divvy up your content into bite-sized marketing morsels that can be used in many different forms. This repurposing is more time and cost effective and will give you greater flexibility to meet the needs of your customers to influence their buying decisions.

Bottom line: Create content with context.

Best regards,

Bob Reed Partner & Co-founder

This little book is brimming with wise insight and advice.  And you can secure a PDF copy for free.

Be the first of ten people to share it, and you’ll get it.  Use the #DearCEO hashtag on Twitter, and share it on Facebook, LinkedIn and wherever else.  Then let me know via any of my profiles.  I’ll be watching. If you miss out on the freebies, head on over to Arment Dietrich’s Spin Sucks and purchase a copy.  It’s worth it.

Twitter Interview with Jason Baer

As a lead-up to the PRSA Counselors Academy Conference, an annual meeting of independent PR agency owners (and an event I try to never miss), I interviewed social media superstar Jay Baer (@jaybaer) of Convince and Convert, who is presenting at this year’s confab. He is among a small group of forward-thinking social media strategists and luminaries who are helping the rest of us harness the  power of the social Web.

This is a recap of our conversation, matching the style of Jason’s well known Twitter interviews, on how PR agencies need to think about the practice of social and digital media.  Even if you aren’t with a PR agency, this has noteworthy information nonetheless.  It originally appeared on the PRSA blog, “Comprehension.”

@RAReed: We’re transitioning from thinking and talking about social media to doing and measuring its effect. What are agencies getting right?

  • @jaybaer: Social media is so all encompassing that it’s lost meaning to say that you’re good at social media. There are so many facets to it now.
  • The best break social media into pieces and focus on possibilities and outcomes, influence or outreach, brand community or social CRM.

@RAReed: On the flip-side, what are the biggest missteps agencies are making with social media?

  • @jaybaer: Agencies tend to silo their social expertise where they only have a couple people who are the social media experts.
  • There is too much focus on social outposts like Twitter accounts, a Facebook page or YouTube channel versus opportunities to be social.

@RAReed Larger agencies seemingly have the horse power to get a leg up on social media practices.  Where can smaller agencies catch up?

  • @jaybaer: I think smaller- and medium-sized agencies make the transition from traditional to social-enabled PR much easier than larger agencies.
  • Smaller agencies are closer to customers.  They adopt new services more easily  and can change what they do for the client with less internal friction.
  • Large agencies can dedicate staff to social media but that’s not necessarily good.  But they have clients that can experiment more.

@RAReed: What skill sets related to social media do the majority of agencies still need to develop? SEO immediately comes to mind.

  • Content optimization and analytics in all forms and fashion. It’s being better at Excel instead of Word.
  • Marketing is not a campaign any more.  Think of it more as a river and that changes everything.  Monitor and respond in real time.

@RAReed: What are you out to convey in the pre-con session that won’t be covered in the regular CA sessions?

  • @jaybaer: We’ll talk through the social media planning process to build a sustainable strategic framework around all social activities.
  • I want people to learn how to be social and not just how to do social.  Forget thinking Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.  Be tool agnostic.

@RAReed: What are the three or four most important things agencies can do to differentiate and market their social media offerings?

  • @Jaybaer: Understand the science and math of social media.  There is a lot there that people don’t gravitate toward as much as they should.
  • Know the data and numbers.  There’s a right time to tweet, a best way to update Facebook and the right way to search optimize a blog.
  • Help clients with social media CRM and customer retention more than campaigns or the customer acquisition component.
  • In the end we’ll wonder why we thought social media was good for customer acquisition when it’s clearly a loyalty and retention tool.

@RAReed:  What are the first, most important steps an agency should engage in to build its social media presence?

  • @Jaybaer: Understand what you’re good at, be specific about it and then create and atomize content that supports that supposition.
  • Whether it be blogs, podcasts, webinars, speeches, know where you have to participate in the inbound marketing domain.
  • Embrace giving away info snacks in order to eat a meal down the road.
  • Drive content awareness via search optimization. People will eventually find and recognize you as actually good at that particular thing.

@RAReed:  I need a one word answer to this last question: In 2010, when it comes to social media, PR agencies must _________.

  • I’ll have to give it to you in two words: embrace math.

Plan A Little Leeway

Like most people, I expect that when I toss my business card into a bowl to win something, what I get is one less business card to carry around.

My luck changed at my local Jimmy John’s sandwich shop last week.  It turned out the distinctive Element-R business card was either randomly picked, or someone said, “Oooo.  Cool card.  Let’s pick that one!” to reward me with their “Enter to Win” giveaway bowl.

The e-mail telling me I won stated “With this, you have been chosen to receive one Jimmy John’s 15 piece party platter!  This platter will contain your choice of 5 sub sandwiches (#1 thru #6) to share with your friends, family, or coworkers!”

Cool.  I had planned to use this free lunch giveaway for a family dinner party of Austrian and German dishes we’re hosting this weekend where I know the stuff I’m prepping will be greeted with some kids scrunching up their faces and turning up their noses.  “What, you don’t want steak tar tare and goulash?  Here, go gnaw a sub.”

But, after a very hectic week, I cashed in my e-mail last night for a quick dinner.  I called the store, placed the order, and asked that the sandwiches not be cut into thirds, producing this exchange:

JJW (Jimmy John’s Worker): “We have to cut them to make them fit on the platter.”

Me: “I don’t want the platter, I just want whole sandwiches.”

JJW: “You won the platter, so they have to be cut.”

Me: “Why?  Can’t you just make the sandwiches without cutting them?”

JJW: “No…  Uh, well… Let me ask my manager.”

After about a minute, the sandwich maker returned to the phone.

JJW: “The contest is about winning the platter, sir.  It’s what it says.”

Me:  “OK, you’re going to make the sandwiches and wrap them in paper, right?”

JJW: “Yes”

Me: “Here’s what you do… Make the sandwiches, wrap them in paper, but just don’t pick up the knife.”

JJW: “Uh, let me go call the district manager.”

After about 30 seconds, he returns to the phone.

JJW: “Uh, OK.  We’ll do it this one time, but if you enter and win again, you have to take the platter.”

Me: “You bet.”

The sandwiches that my family consumed last night were typical, tasty Jimmy John’s fare.  But the rules and procedures in which sometimes corporations and their franchises tightly wrap themselves can create unnecessary problems.

Jimmy John’s could have planned a little empowerment and given the person I spoke with some leeway to fulfill my simple request, making my winning the contest a short and satisfying encounter, not one where I had to coach the sandwich maker to think and run up a simple request up the chain of command.

Four Questions NOT to Ask a PR Agency

New business opportunities can come out of the blue.  Like any agency owner, I welcome them with open arms.  Usually, the initial call helps both agency and prospect tee up a meeting to learn more about the prospect’s company and what it’s looking to accomplish.  The written ones give you time to conduct due diligence before the next step.

However, some questions prospects ask on quickie phone intros send up immediate yellow flags.  I recently had one such phone call that left me with the impression the caller was trying to put out a tactical fire rather than build and send strategic smoke signals.

Articles and blog posts abound about what business owners and corporate marketers should ask agencies to see if there’s a fit. These should be reserved for either a face-to-face meeting or a longer scheduled phone call.  As you read over those articles, here are four questions and statements not to ask, especially over the phone:

1. “What would be your approach?” Until an agency owner or representative can sit down with you or spend some time over the phone to ask the right questions, they won’t have and should not offer any recommendations.  This potentially allows the client to prematurely latch on to a solution which may not even be close to solving their problem.

2. “We’re thinking about a press release.  Would that help?” Yes, media relations could be one of several tactics that can generate exposure, but most companies face additional issues beyond exposure, such as more compelling presentation of their company, together with more relevant messaging (we’ve found it can always be improved!). Press releases are tactical tools – one of many — not thoughtful strategy.

3. Can you get us a story in (insert name of publication/TV/Radio/portal/blog)? Targeting publications is a good idea… if the upfront work to know what messages are to be conveyed is done (which only comes from knowing much more about a prospect’s business). Other concerns include knowing who to contact and how they prefer to be approached, and crafting a story that is a good fit with their editorial slant or the blogger’s preference.

Many companies tend to gravitate to well-known media outlets that in many cases aren’t the best fit for their audience or their business and marketing objectives.  This is often because they don’t fully understand the potential depth and nuances of good publicity.

4. Can you submit a plan by the end of the week? Some agencies can work very quickly if they get access to key decision makers, have time to ask the right questions and can review existing business and marketing plans.

Questions are imperative.  As we’ve written in earlier posts, answering good questions invariably leads to a better outcome for both agency and client. Question number one is completely appropriate after spending some time with the agency.  Avoid the other three.  Because some questions are better left unasked.

Thanks, Michael.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  Members of Facebook, Twitter and bloggers of all types are taking a moment to reflect with their friends, followers and readers on what they’re thankful for.

So I join their number and declare, I, too, have much to be thankful for.  Naturally, there is the urge to reflect on the immediate past.  Yes, I am grateful for my family, friends and my ability to do what I do and how I do it.  Yes, business could have been better this year.  It’s always seems to be the case, no matter what the economic conditions.

No, I thought of a former boss, mentor and friend whom I’ve privately thanked for many years for the attention he provided that enabled me to stretch my abilities.

When I met him at my first agency gig in Northern New Jersey, Michael Bratnick, without fanfare or ego, diligently went about serving his clients with dedication to quality, fairness and responsible advocacy.  He brought his scientific training as a meteorologist and oceanographer (among many other talents and experiences I found out about much later) to bear on the agency’s technical clients.

I was assigned to help Michael with a chemical company.   I quickly discovered that my communications and PR degrees didn’t prepare me for dealing with high level of technical knowledge needed to accurately and expressively discuss the ins and outs of sulfuric acid, calcium chloride and soda ash.  And those were just the commodity chemicals.

Upon taking on the responsibility for every aspect of a critical corporate newsletter that had intense management and subsequent shareholder attention, I found myself spinning my wheels.  I had eaten up a majority of the writing budget and produced copy that, well, stunk.

After reading what I’d written, Michael pulled me into his office and said, “Your performance is uneven.  But you have potential.  With most people, I wouldn’t care, but you?  You I’m going to help.  Up for it?”  With that, he handed back the edited copy and told me to try it again.

Over the course of two weeks, I worked practically every night at the office until 10:00 p.m. to make up for the time I burned.  During the day time hours, Michael repeatedly handed back my copy saying, “Do it again.”   Frustration and fatigue began to show.  I heard a co-worker say to Michael, “Bob is getting pretty pissed.”  Michael simply responded, “It’s good for him.”

And it was.  With newly learned writing abilities, at dead line I handed off what I knew was good, clean copy.   It was a turning point.  Two years later I moved on to a global agency in New York and then Chicago.  Michael left to start his own agency.

After a break of about five years, I again worked with Michael.  Despite me being in the Midwest and him in New Jersey, the work kept on flowing.  After thanking him one day for a new assignment, Michael remarked how difficult it was finding good, local professionals to work at his level.  “I just hand this stuff over and you get it done,” he said.  “You know I don’t like to hold hands.”

He’s right.  He didn’t hold my hand.  He beat me over the head.

That’s when I asked him.  Why did you help me?  He chuckled and explained that he was very close to being fired from his first agency job when his boss did to him what Michael did to me.

Michael died of cancer nearly two years ago.  Yet I’ll always remember the words he said on more than one occasion.  “Everything I know I learned from someone else.”

We all have someone who went out of their way to help and kindly beat us over the head… to believe, teach, guide and trust.

Here’s to you, Michael.  And thank you.



Going For The Gold

Sydney-2000_Olympic_Medal_PodiumThere’s been a lot of talk in Chicago (our town) about the Olympics these past months, weeks and days.  And now that the buzz and excitement has dulled to a quiet mumble (for obvious reasons), it let me to ponder:  If you were evaluating your agency the way the Games decides winners and those just a step behind, how do they rate?

Gold – Agency offers and applies well-constructed, strategic planning to your product or service offering; there is a solid mix of senior account people and supporting writers and peripheral talent; they possess a good working knowledge of your markets, customers, sales channels and nuances that go into moving your products; they regularly prepare and present creative, actionable, big ideas that apply to your business, as well as your bottom line; and, the agency regularly stops to assess what is working, and what is not.

Silver – Agency offers good, applicable plans to your products and services; has senior talent available to your account, but their presence is more ceremonial in nature; they have a basic understanding of your markets, but still ask more questions than you care to answer; they present good ideas, some of which might work, but they are not backed by strategy or a focus on the bigger picture that is your company’s performance; and, their measurement is adequate, but not easy to understand.

Bronze – Agency offers good, basic planning, based more on what they have done in the past than what you are trying to do in the future; there is a good mix of people on the account, but you haven’t seen the senior-most folks since the original pitch; they possess a basic understanding of your markets, but really have no true “feel” for how to reach prospects and customers; they present cookie-cutter programs that may or may not suit your specific needs; and, the measurement they present is defensive and vague.

And here’s a tongue-in-cheek aside:  if your senior-most agency people have a MapQuest page peeking out of their briefcase, you might ask to see them a bit more often ….

There is something to be said for thinking, analysis, experience, big, actionable ideas and measurement that makes sense to all involved, and holds both parties accountable for their end of the bargain.

As you apply the above template to your agency, what medal would you give them?  Are they even on the podium?