Category Archives: PR & Marketing advice

Keep It Simple

Simple

In our busy, complex personal and professional lives, filled with information coming from every imaginable source, simple things are appreciated. We all have a finite amount of time and attention to give each day.

Here’s how you can help…

  1. Write shorter paragraphs, using shorter sentences.
  2. Edit your email signature and dump all that legalese at the bottom (which no one ever reads anyway).
  3. If you own a restaurant, eliminate half of your menu items. You’ll make life easier for your diners, your staff and yourself.
  4. Include just one sales message in your marketing emails. (You don’t have to tell me everything about your organization.)
  5. Make sure images in your emails and on your website are as recognizable on a tiny phone screen as they are on your big desktop screen.
  6. Facebook and Instagram allow for long posts. Don’t do it! Most of us will just scroll on past the long ones. (Thanks, Twitter, for maintaining a maximum post length.)
  7. Place a time limit on videos you share. How long? Determine what your audience is comfortable with. (Consider that some of us may hesitate to watch a 7-minute video but will gladly watch 7 one-minute videos.)
  8. Be merciless when editing content. Three good paragraphs beats twelve mediocre paragraphs every time.
  9. Unless it’s your doctoral dissertation, don’t be afraid to use sentence fragments, when appropriate.

For a perfect example of the beauty and effectiveness of a simple approach, compare the layouts of Google.com with Bing.com and Yahoo.com. (Google has a 67.68% market share for searches; Bing, 13.27%; Yahoo, 8.14%.)

An almost infinite number of choices in many aspects of our life is wonderful. Unless we want the regular version, in the standard size, and it’s not in stock. Have you ever gone grocery shopping and found a dozen or more variations on the product you want, but not the particular version you want?

The great singer/songwriter Merle Haggard who died last week was once quoted as saying, “The most important thing in a song is simplicity.” Keep it simple.

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Perception Is Reality

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It’s true. If a person perceives a brand, a product, a service, a retailer, a restaurant, etc. to possess certain qualities, it colors all of that person’s interactions with that entity. Even when hard evidence shows the perceived belief is not true.

Certain brands have buzz and are perceived by many to be cool, superior, innovative, etc. The list includes Starbucks, Apple, Uber, IKEA—I’m sure you can name a few more. Even when those cool brands fail or when they “borrow” ideas from others, they are often given a pass because of positive customer perceptions.

The current TV series The People Versus O.J. Simpson reveals incorrect appraisals of potential jurors by both prosecutor Marcia Clark and defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. Each perceived African-American female jurors to be sympathetic to the prosecution’s case. Both were wrong. The scene showing Marcia Clark behind the glass monitoring a focus group as they offer comments about her is powerful and enlightening.

During my radio career, I was reminded many times that perception is reality. If a listener perceives that station A plays more music than station B, it doesn’t matter which station actually plays more music. If a listener thinks a personality is snarky and insensitive, that personality can perform tons of good deeds and still be perceived to be a jerk. A listener’s perception is that listener’s reality.

Because perceptions matter—whether they are based on facts, gossip, online chatter, peer pressure or subtle factors—it is important to work to mold perceptions. Public relations, marketing and social media all play a vital role in creating and reinforcing positive consumer perceptions of a product, a service, a radio station, an idea or a presidential candidate.

It is dangerous to presume that we know how customers or prospects perceive the goods, services and messages we offer. How do we find out what they think? We observe how they act. We monitor their online comments. We ask them. What is their perception? It’s their reality.

 

 

 

 

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What To Do When Technology Fails You

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How many times have you seen it happen? You’re at a presentation and the PowerPoint doesn’t work. Or the projector doesn’t work. Or the wireless mike doesn’t work. Or the video doesn’t play. Or there’s feedback on the audio system.

Things happen. Sometimes there’s someone to blame. Sometimes there are equipment failures. Sometimes you didn’t bring the right connector. It doesn’t matter. Technology has failed. If it fails you, what can you do?

  1. Be cool. If your PowerPoint screws up, don’t worry. If your remarks are compelling enough, you probably don’t really need the PowerPoint. Rather than spend a huge portion of your allotted time trying to make it work, just deliver the presentation without it.
  2. Learn to project your voice. If you are going to speak before groups of people, you should be able to make yourself heard by the person sitting farthest away, without amplification. Not by yelling, but by talking louder and projecting.
  3. Video in a presentation is a tricky proposition even if everything works properly. Anything more than a short clip may get tedious for the audience in a hurry. But if you insist on including video in your presentation, be ready to describe the entire content of the video if it doesn’t play. That’s what TV newscasters have done for decades when the film, the tape or a live feed doesn’t work.
  4. Focus on your main message points and don’t let tech failure ruin your presentation. At a luncheon a few years ago, a St. Louis consultant to non-profits had colossal tech issues. The PowerPoint was too small to be seen, the video took a long time to load and then it was almost inaudible. But she struggled through. Her message—that the best way to communicate to donors is with stories about the people who’ve benefited from your services—came through loud and clear (despite her many tech problems).
  5. See #1. Be cool. At a PRSA/St. Louis luncheon a couple of years ago, right after the panel discussion began, the power went out. Curtains were opened to let in some light and the program continued. Without microphones, without amplification, without technology. The panelists spoke loud enough to be heard throughout the room and the program moved along without a hitch.

Technology is wonderful. But be prepared to make accommodations when technology fails.

(During Summer 2015 I have been revisiting some earlier posts. This one was originally shared on April 30, 2012. A new article will be posted on September 14.)

Small Business Marketing On The Cheap

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Every week we receive at least two direct mail pieces at our home from dental practices in our neck of the woods (suburban St. Louis, Missouri). Some dental mailers are more effective than others in marketing their services, but direct mail can be pricey for a new business that also has personnel, real estate and equipment costs.

Here are some other ways these dentists might want to market to prospective patients.

  1. Send targeted, personal mailings. Take a page from many who have transitioned into financial planning careers. They send handwritten notes to friends and associates offering their services and soliciting referrals. Time consuming, yes, but effective.
  2. Reach out to neighbors. If your clinic is in a strip center or an office complex, take time to say hello to other tenants. Drop off a dozen doughnuts and invite them to stop in and visit your digs.
  3. Employ social media. It may not be easy to get a large number of likes or followers immediately for your new practice, but you can let all your personal Facebook friends (and Twitter followers) know about your venture. And you can purchase reasonably priced, targeted Facebook ads that let you reach people within a specific age range and geographic area.
  4. Network with competitors. This idea may sound counterintuitive but other area dentists may have useful marketing ideas (and other guidance) that they are willing to share.
  5. Be part of community events. Business expos, health fairs and community festivals offer good chances to meet people. You may not be able to offer free samples of your services, but you can hand out items such as toothbrushes with your name on them.
  6. Similarly, look for opportunities to donate services as door prizes/auction items for non-profit events in your area. While a free exam and teeth cleaning may cost you time and effort, the lucky winner/high bidder may need further dental work done.

Of course, these suggestions may apply to other small businesses who are in the beginning stages and may have limited funds available for marketing.

IMPORTANT: For a dental practice your #1 marketing goal is to generate a phone call (which may result in an appointment). Make sure that the people who answer your phone are friendly and well informed. Since my longtime dentist just retired, it just might be me on the other end of the line.

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/15489034@N00/1573121946, http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

 

Message Delivered But Sales Weak

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What happens when your marketing/content/PR person does his or her job correctly but results are less than stunning? You both step back and try to figure out what happened.

If your message is clearly stated and widely shared via your websites, social channels, email, media coverage and, perhaps, paid advertising, but response is tepid, the problem is probably not the effort expended to get the word out.

When a message about a new product or a special event is delivered but customers don’t buy, the reason may simply be lack of appeal.

(The soon-to-be introduced Apple Watch bears close observation, based on deeply polarized predictions of its relative market success.)

Because we cannot know for sure what will resonate with a target, those who sell products and services take chances. A distributor may have a hot new widget or a business owner may get a brainstorm and a plan is hatched to tell the story and generate calls/hits/visits/etc. designed to lead to sales.

Even the best testing methods can give inaccurate or vague advance feedback, so it is often necessary to actually take an idea (product/service/concept) to market to see if it flies.

Analyzing what has worked and what has not can help inform future decisions. But just because thing A is a success or failure, it doesn’t mean the thing B will necessarily follow the same path.

In an evolving business world, it is imperative to keep introducing new products, services and events. It is also important to keep informing prospective customers about these new things via all available channels. Be bold and innovative, but realize that not everything will be a hit.

 

 

 

 

 

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On Sharing Discouraging Words

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Last week I watched the PBS Frontline program “Being Mortal,” featuring Dr. Atul Gawande. A main focus of the show was the difficulty doctors have sharing bad news with terminal patients. Dr. Gawande spoke to doctors, patients and family members about the reluctance to utter discouraging words.

Because one of my clients is a St. Louis area hospice and because I am a fan of clear, concise communication, I found the program informative and instructive. There are lessons to be learned here that apply beyond the medical world.

Regarding situations that do not involve life or death, most of us can recall work/business occurrences when we were given unwelcome news: “we’re hiring someone else,” “we’re going with another agency” or “we are not at all interested.”

Our feelings may be hurt and we may be upset or angry. But, at least, the person delivering the news had the guts and integrity to communicate directly and clearly. It certainly beats being strung along and/or getting the scoop from a back channel source. I once learned, in the midst of what I thought to be productive contract negotiations, that my employer would not be renewing me. I found out from a media gossip website.

(I choose not to venture into the area of personal romantic relationships here, although some of these thoughts may apply in those circumstances as well.)

Yes, it can be difficult to tell a person something that he or she does not want to hear. But it is generally better to share that news than to say nothing.

Former Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal is quoted in last Friday’s New York Times as saying: “You should always say exactly what you think directly to people all the time. In the moment, the first time.” (She was referring to having been “fired,” rather than resigning, as had been reported.)

I would add that being tactful and respectful is to be desired when you share discouraging words. I’ve been told “no” politely and I’ve been told “no” rudely. I prefer the former.

(If interested, you can click HERE for a link to Frontline: Being Mortal. The program runs 54:11.)

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16210667@N02/8131195146, http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/)

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Bury Your Message

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During my media career, I have observed the full spectrum of messaging styles. I am convinced that, in almost all cases, the best way to generate a desired response is to make your call to action direct, clear and unambiguous.

Hard sell commercials on radio and TV may be annoying but they exist to sell a product or service or to motivate you to do something that is likely to lead to a purchase—such as visit a store or website, call for more info or ask a doctor to prescribe a medication.

In our new media world, much of the promotional messaging we receive is more subtle and low-key. Often, the call to action may be hidden deep within useful or entertaining content. The call to action may only be implied or vaguely suggested.

A Facebook post that shows a cute puppy may not contain verbiage that urges you to visit a certain pet supply store. But if it’s on the Petco page, you are likely to make a connection and may be more prone to shop there. When Petco mentions a 20% discount in its posts and encourages you to shop by a deadline date, you may be likely to respond (than to the simple puppy pic).

My earliest guidance on email marketing made a strong case for including useful or entertaining content (to assure a significant open rate) in each email and including a sales message almost as an afterthought. While this may work for some, I prefer to describe what is being offered, issue a call to action, then provide means for response: website, email address, phone number, etc.

In today’s environment where we are being inundated with more messages than
before from a larger number of sources, it is important to state what you’re selling, share a key selling point or two and tell how to buy your product or service. Burying your pitch deep inside your content may not produce your desired outcome.

With that thought in mind, a quick (direct, clear and unambiguous) message about my work: I help businesses tell their stories and promote their products and services via media placements, social media and email marketing (among other channels). If you or someone you know needs help with getting key messages to target customers, please call me in St. Louis at 636-346-3434.

 

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What To Write About

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Ideas needed. Every day.

If you are generating original content for a website, a blog, a Facebook page or other platform, you want to deliver something fresh every time.

Where do ideas come from? Newspaper columnists tend to react to current events or to an issue that may have been suggested by a reader, an editor or even a PR person.

Where can you find a seed that might grow into 300, 500 or a thousand words?

Here are some suggestions regarding what you might want to write about. Remember to make your content relevant to your target audience, no matter how narrow or broad it may be. I hope you might find something here that will start you up.

  1. Write about a colossal success and lessons learned from that success.
  2. Tell the story of a major failure and what that failure taught you.
  3. Describe the main difference between you (your company, your product/service, your concept) and others doing similar things.
  4. Praise a person who inspired you to pursue your current path.
  5. Share a valuable bit of info you recently acquired.
  6. If current events impact your work, acknowledge that impact and tell how you plan to respond to it.
  7. Address the biggest misconceptions about you (your company, your product/service, your concept).
  8. Recall meaningful comments you may have recently heard from colleagues or competitors and offer your own take on those remarks.
  9. Discuss the evolution of your product/service and why recent changes are good.
  10. Write about another organization like yours that has done something worthwhile.
  11. Pass along the most significant feedback you’ve ever received from a client/customer.
  12. List the goals that you (your company, your product/service, your concept) wish to achieve this year.
  13. Offer your best tips for staying focused on necessary tasks to achieve your goals.
  14. Note the significance of upcoming calendar events for your company/product. Holidays, seasonal changes, etc.
  15. Deliver your personal opinion about a good or bad business practice you’ve observed and how it has affected your behavior.

Is there a seed there somewhere? Hope so.

(photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/adikos/4440061936/, Adikos via http://photopin.com., http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

“I Love Your (Product/Service)!” —David Craig, David Craig PR And Marketing

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An endorsement is a form of word-of-mouth marketing. A recommendation from another person can have greater influence on decision making than a traditional ad.

A positive comment about your service or product, especially from a trusted source, can cause you to choose one car/restaurant/plumber/movie/etc. over another.

It’s important to make sure the good things being said about your product or service are shared via your website and your social media platforms. You don’t have to include the entire text of a rave; in fact, a brief except usually works better.

Hollywood knows this. Short blurbs, lifted out of context, have powered movie promotion for decades. A sentence or two of user-generated input from a happy customer makes a quick, easy to digest, post for your Facebook page. A few such glowing statements can be a strong addition to your website. But, again, keep them short.

If yours is a business that’s not reviewed on Yelp, Angie’s List or another review site, ask your customers for feedback. If you have a small number of clients/customers, ask them individually for an endorsement.

If a Yelp review says great things about you, but also adds a downbeat disclaimer, it is not unethical to edit accordingly (unless you change the meaning of the comment).

Even when endorsements are paid, they can be effective. I like Matthew McConaughey and I believe he actually does drive a Lincoln. On local radio, a live, conversational endorsement spot by a personality tends to generate more reaction than ad copy read by an announcer.

When people say good things about your product or service, don’t just smile and say thanks. Proudly share those raves with your market through all available channels.

(photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/kc7cbf/8526035785/”>Nick / KC7CBF</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;)

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