The Matchbox.

Aug. 11

Content Marketing Run Amuck?

Nearly every corner of the Internet today offers self-publishing platforms that give mere mortals instantaneous thought leadership status, or so they think.

The opportunity to publish content and the ever-increasing consumption of content has reached a crescendo — according to Google News, 18 million+ online articles were published in Q2 2016. And with it has risen a crowded market of content marketing agencies and professionals touting their services to make anyone and everyone into an overnight guru. Even prestigious online publishers like Wired and Forbes have gotten into the game.

While there are some admittedly talented agencies and professionals out there, I have seen on too many occasions lately the fever-pitched drive to over-produce content for the sake of getting it published, regardless of the platform or more importantly the meaningfulness of the content.

For BtoB technology-driven organizations, of which we have represented a diverse and large number, their content investments should be strategic and driven by a goal to ultimately encourage a qualified reader to learn more about their organization, the industry and its innovations. Content should be developed with an overall endgame in mind that is more than a check mark off the list.

*Note: A version of this post also appeared in the July 2016 issue of The Spark newsletter.

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Jul. 11

The Art of the Phone Call – It Still Matters

phoneIn today’s technology driven world many of us rely on email, messaging apps and texting to communicate with clients, vendors, media, family, friends. Even my 7 year olds love to text their grandparents. With work, we are lucky to no longer be tethered to an office, or even a specific desk, to communicate (although my FitBit tells me I’m tethered in other ways).

But something is lost in not actually talking.  You can spend a lot of time crafting what you think is a detailed, well-articulated email or text – only to have it misunderstood or skimmed by the reader.

Much of the art of communication can be lost in the written word. Picking up the phone has become an anomaly today. But it is amazing how much a quick phone call can clear up confusion, articulate tone and more effectively deliver a message – you have someone’s focused attention.

So, as summer continues to fly by, and when no doubt more people are working remotely and trying to do more with the daylight hours, I vow to pick up the phone more. Let’s not lose one of our best ways to communicate – with our voices – and truly connect.

*Note: A version of this post also appeared in the May 2016 issue of The Spark newsletter.

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Jun. 27

PR 101 for Start-Ups

Start-ups are an interesting breed when it comes to public relations and thought leadership. On one hand, they are in growth mode and have a lot of activity – and often great progress – to share, whether executive team hires, new office openings, major technology releases or industry partnerships. However, they are often trying to raise rounds of funding or boot-strap their growth without overspending, which can result in limited PR investment options.

I recently attended Boulder Start-Up Week and had the opportunity to hear from local early-stage company leaders and network with some impressive local entrepreneurs. While clearly of the innovation mindset and developing solid products and service offerings, many of them were unsure how to establish their brands without plunking down the equivalent of their quarterly operating budget for a big or trendy PR firm.

Instead of going with a discount PR shop or hiring an intern to manage PR, start-ups should consider a strategic, targeted PR program from an experienced PR partner. A focused, core PR program can help elevate a new brand while developing a voice in the marketplace. Here are some ideas:

— Get Your Brand Messaging Right – One of the keys to a successful PR and thought leadership campaign is the ability to clearly articulate what your business does, the demand it fulfills in the marketplace (including what problem or pain points it helps solve) and your main differentiators versus competitors. A sound PR team will take the time to get these elements right before engaging with media or industry analysts, including gaining consensus from the founders and/or senior leadership team, as the core messaging should be used across all marketing efforts for brand consistency.

— Commit to Your Audience – It may sound cliche, but if you’re trying to be everything to everyone, then you’re nothing to no one. Savvy buyers – whether enterprise or consumer – want to do business with companies that specialize in what they’re offering. They seek out the experts who can deliver real advice to match their needs. Take the time to identify which segments of the market you’re currently serving and squarely place your marketing emphasis there. It doesn’t mean you’ll never expand beyond the initial audience targets but it allows you to put a  stake in the ground and to build your business around specific buyer profiles, e.g., company size, buyer titles, vertical markets, etc.

— Showcase Real-World Case Studies – The best way to prove your product or service’s effectiveness and establish industry clout is to share success stories from users who trust your brand and can present real-world results. It is common with start-ups to showcase customers who have helped you evolve your product – these initial customers or beta users are often willing to tell their stories if you’ve been a solid partner that has helped them improve their business.

In the world of start-ups, PR should be an evolving initiative that helps the business progress by building clear market reputation and visibility. Founders and leadership teams will be best poised for a successful market entry if they focus on the core PR elements – the ones that are most impactful for startups looking to make it to the next stage of the game.

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Jun. 09

PR from 2004 to 2016 – Celebrating 12 Years with Y&A

This month marks my 12th year with Young & Associates. As I reflect on the last decade, it is certain the PR industry has evolved its fair share. While a lot has changed from how consumers digest content to how we conduct meetings and communicate with clients, there are a few things that remain the same:

1) Tenacity is a key tenant of PR

A tenacious, hardworking agency devoted to its clients is necessary to produce results. Meeting clients’ needs, requests and deadlines is imperative for maintaining success. How do you find an agency like this? When you engage with a potential PR partner, ensure that you will be working with the individuals who initially present the program and carefully review their activities and results with current clients.

2) Strong relationships with reporters are key to success

Potential touch points with journalists have multiplied, but reporters’ schedules seem to be busier than ever. While today there are more ways than ever to connect, e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, HARO, thoughtfully building a connection with journalists is always the best bet for securing positive media coverage down the road. That means closely following journalists’ stories, their social media presence and reaching out from time to time with brief emails to determine if you or your client can serve as a resource.

3) Writing is always at the core

Writing will always be the foundation of an effective PR program. A decade ago, our focus might have been on press releases, byline articles and case studies. Now we have the luxury of producing a greater variety of multi-faceted content pieces. From eBooks to infographics to blog posts, our communication channels continue to grow allowing us to bring even greater visibility to clients.

Cheers to the next decade! I can’t wait to see what is in store.

 

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May. 18

Shaking Up Your PR Program

lightbulbWe’ve all been there – your PR program starts to feel like Groundhog Day with the same press releases, pitch angles and bylines year after year.

And while publications may still be receptive to your news and ideas, you are likely stuck in a PR rut. Here are a few tips to shake things up and reinvigorate your efforts to maximize results:

1) Hold A Brainstorming Session – Pull in your marketing and sales teams for a brainstorming meeting to get those creative juices flowing. Discuss new tactics – Are there new trends that haven’t been exercised? Sometimes good ideas come from unlikely sources.

2) Interview Unconventional SMEs – Similarly, set-up calls with senior leaders who aren’t traditionally tapped for their expertise to gain an alternative perspective on trends or customer issues the organization is solving.

3) Conduct a Competitive Review – How do your PR efforts stack up against your main competitors? Take a few hours once a quarter to investigate their marketing and PR tactics and coordinating results.

4) Reconnect with Reporters – Even when you have no news or trends to share, drop a friendly line or pick up the phone and remind a reporter that you are glad to serve as a trusted resource.

 

*Note: This post also appeared in the May 2016 issue of The Spark newsletter.

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Apr. 07

3 Tips to Pump Up Post-Conference Buzz

With March in the rearview mirror and with it SXSW, LeadsCon and a number of other key digital marketing conferences, it is time to start prepping for the next series of trade shows (regardless of the industry, it seems conferences always come in batches). Many companies like to issue press releases pre-announcing their sponsorship or speaking role at industry events (hey, we’ve even recommended it). While beneficial for SEO and marketing purposes, it doesn’t maximize media buzz. Instead, consider ways the post-event takeaways can generate additional interest via contributed articles, a blog series and press releases that offer actionable analysis.

Here are a few best practices:

notes-macbook-study-conference-medium1) Act as a Reporter – Even if you have limited time to participate in the conference sessions, pick a few noteworthy discussions to attend. Review the common themes and trends that stand out and how your business or industry can further those trends. *Bonus: Spend five minutes with the presenter following the session for follow-up questions.

2) Chat Up the Competition – Engaging in conversations with other vendors at a show can reaffirm or conversely negate certain hypotheses you might be developing as they relate to your industry. You might even be surprised to uncover partnership opportunities for mutual industry gain.

3) Grab Some Stats – Most meaningful presentations include industry research to introduce or support a trend. Make sure to take note and credit such research in your post-event content development.

* A version of this post originally appeared in Y&A’s The Spark newsletter.

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Mar. 22

Journalism’s (Positive) Disruptors: Freelance Reporters

It’s become the antidote to the shrinking newsroom—throngs of freelance journalists covering stories ranging from business to industry-specific articles. This growing trend has disrupted the journalism landscape, where editors still need to cover the 24/7 news cycle with relevant, in-depth content without the expense of a full bench of staff reporters.

While a bit haphazard when freelancers aren’t 100% familiar with their coverage topics, the new dynamic has improved publications’ content and offered fresh perspectives. Why? Editors are still serving as outlets’ editorial leaders and determining the direction of stories, but there are now more flexible reporter options. Also, freelance journalists can hone their expertise in multiple areas and apply it across relevant publications, giving them more consistent and predictable work as well as requiring high-quality reporting to generate follow-on assignments.

From a public relations perspective, we’ve certainly broadened our media relationships to include more freelance journalists, while also maintaining existing relationships with publications’ editors and on-staff reporters. It has become the new normal of media relations. And while this hybrid approach to journalism may have risen as a means for media outlets to survive, it has also given journalism new branches to evolve forward as a profession.

*This post originally appeared in Y&A’s Spark newsletter.

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Feb. 23

Embargoes: Still Viable, But Do Your Research First

For many journalists, embargoed news releases represent an advance preview of critical news before an announcement hits the wire. Typically, they offer reporters additional time to process the news, gather additional research, schedule interviews and write their stories to be ready to publish the day the news becomes public. While not all news announcements warrant an embargo, we utilize the approach for important corporate news and often even lengthier product announcements. However, it isn’t as easy as blasting out an embargoed release to your entire media list.

Some reporters do not honor embargoed releases because they view them as a challenge to their news writing process and prefer to cover the news once it is live. Separately, many tech media outlets and blogs will not honor embargoes as a way to avoid the competitive back and forth and habitual embargo breaking that was commonplace in the technology blog world not too long ago (See TeScreen Shot 2016-02-23 at 2.05.22 PMchCrunch’s Lyft example here).

However, there are other reporters who won’t cover an announcement if they do not receive the information in advance, proving that knowing reporters’ newsgathering and writing styles is important. This upfront work is paramount to navigating embargoes and building strong relationships with the media. Respecting those preferences will go a long way in helping your company or client achieve successful and ongoing media coverage.

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Feb. 05

Chipotle’s PR Salsa

In just a few short days, Chipotle will close its doors for a day in hopes of quelling fears by consumers that its food isn’t safe and most importantly regain lost revenue – dropped nearly 7 percent in Q1 2016 – and customer loyalty. While undoubtedly a PR move by senior execs and its advising agency and internal communications team, the food safety day announcement in mid-January – nearly a month prior to the actual closing day – was mishandled from the start. I’ve read countless articles where the media and the 24/7 news cycle was blamed for the negative press, but in truth it was the PR team and management that bungled what should have been a positive event. Headline after headline declared that Chipotle was shuttering its stores yet failed to mention just for a day. The fast food burrito giant mismanaged its communications crisis by burying the lead and then overlooking critical crisis management steps.chipotle

And here’s why: 1) Accept responsibility for the issue – and apologize. Not in the press release or any of the interviews, did the co-owners or communications leads apologize for the issue. 2) Announce all of the steps to be taken to rectify a very serious situation. While announcing a food safety employee day should be a positive, what about all the other steps involved in making Chipotle a safe and healthy place to dine? 3) Communicate quickly to get ahead of the news cycle. I appreciate that it might take a week or so to develop plans for a food safety day, but why wait nearly a month from the announcement to host it? What about the days leading up to the day – are the employees properly trained and is my burrito bowl safe to eat on February 6?

In the age where people move on to the next crisis like a dog gets sidetracked with a squirrel, a few best practices could have severely improved Chipotle’s position with its customers and its bottom line. For the record, I am still frequenting the chain and enjoying the shorter lines.

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Jan. 11

Not Your Old-School New Year’s Resolutions

While there are many traditions worth following, I’ve noticed that the practice of proclaiming New Year’s resolutions often sets people up for failure. They get overly excited about something and quickly commit before thoroughly thinking through what is actually required to deliver. Case in point, the influx into fitness gyms during the first two weeks of January, followed by a mass exodus by mid-February.

The same issue crops up in business, for example, when executives set pie-in-the-sky goals to improve on last year’s results without proper planning. That’s not to say that setting goals is a poor idea; in fact the opposite is true. However, the key lies in the execution – here are a few thoughts to consider when setting goals for the year.

— Focus on the Motivation: What is actually driving your goals? You may want to improve customer satisfaction by a certain percentage by Q2 2016, but consider evaluating your current benchmarks to determine why it needs improvement. Are there specific issues with your product, customer service reps or corporate communication processes that need addressing? Focusing on the “why” will help your team develop meaningful goals that will move the needle in driving success for the whole company.

— Don’t Go It Alone: Make sure to rally the troops before putting a stake in the ground. Securing team-wide accountability and support for a major goal is necessary for meeting all the milestones that lead up to the big results. Also take the time to clearly communicate goals internally before sharing them with external parties – this will help avoid alienating employees and give them a greater sense of team in approaching objectives.

— Plan for Follow-Through: Sure, setting goals makes people feel good, but the follow-through is often hard work. Approaching the goal-setting process with a healthy dose of realism is vital. Develop a solid plan that accounts for all steps required to move forward, including determining metrics and benchmarks that will prove you were successful when you deliver results.

Ultimately it can serve us well to set resolutions to move forward in both our personal and business lives – it helps us stay focused and organized with our eyes on the prize. And in business, the exercise works particularly well for unifying multiple individuals to collaborate toward a specific vision. Wishing our clients, friends and readers a successful 2016…and may your resolutions come to fruition!

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