The Matchbox.

Aug. 27

Fall is near…Are you budget planning?

Ahh, late August. A time for backpacks, school buses and budget planning. With Q4 closing in on us, companies are swinging into full 2011 planning mode. While 2009 was a financially challenging year for many, 2010 has seen some budget increases – or at least a correction back to similar pre-recession levels. Where is your organization this year? If you are considering a new external PR program, investigating a new agency or planning an agency search, here are a few tips:

  • Establish what you want your PR partner to accomplish and who is going to be involved in the decision making up front, so there aren’t roadblocks along the way.
  • Focus your agency search. Starting with a field of 20 agencies is going to drain your energy (and your interest in the effort) and waste a lot of time. Look for industry experience, personal recommendations and proven success for the agency’s other clients to narrow the field of candidates.
  • Be realistic about your timing. We all have good intentions about timelines to selecting partners but—in reality—it always takes longer than expected. Stay in touch with candidates to keep them updated on the latest, or at least let them know there are no changes.
  • Pay attention to follow through. Make sure the agency delivers what it promises. Timely responses and meeting proposal deadlines are absolute must haves. And don’t forget reference checks to learn what it is really like to work with a particular agency’s team.
  • Don’t lose sight of the value of chemistry. Certainly industry experience and creativity are helpful, but at the end of the day it is often about who you work with best.
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Aug. 12

How Much Corporate Social Media is Too Much?

There is still a great deal of dissension regarding social media and its value for the business community—with some ready to give their right arm in its defense and others caring less if their tweets dwindle off or their corporate Facebook page sits stale. With little hard measurement or research proving its ROI (yet), but plenty of anecdotal examples of social media’s ability to elevate a company’s reputation, I’m in the camp of social media believers, however, it shouldn’t cannibalize other priority marketing/PR activities. In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Here are a few ways to balance your investment in social media without overdoing (or underdoing) it.

–Don’t Get Sucked Into Compulsive Tweeting: It’s easy to get engrossed in Twitter updates all day and feel compelled to tweet once an hour or catch up on Facebook posts while multitasking during meetings. Resist the urge and give yourself a range on both the low and high end for the desired number of weekly updates/posts, so you can better plan for them and not go wild (or dormant) in lieu of other priority activities.

–Give Traditional Marketing/PR a Social Twist: Marketing and PR don’t have to be either all traditional or all social, so why not make them a hybrid for extended reach? For example, instead of doing a straight e-mail newsletter with stagnant content, insert some social media elements such as a link to a brief industry survey on your corporate Facebook account or pose a thought-provoking question on Twitter and report on the responses (if relevant) in a press release or webinar.

–Continue Your Core PR Program Momentum – There are table stakes to a successful PR program – consistent, strong and clear media messaging; ongoing communication with key audiences to relay company news and thought leadership content on relevant trends/issues; and spokespersons who are prepared to bring their company and content to life. Remember that these elements are the underpinning of the overall marketing/PR program and that social media flows from them, rather than the other way around.

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Aug. 06

Kids Get a Clean Slate Each Fall; Businesses Deserve One Too

As back-to-school season is upon us, businesses can learn from this annual rite of passage for students and apply it to their public relations programs. That means taking a look at what is and isn’t working.

Here are a few questions to ask during this back-to-school season:

1) What are your PR goals and objectives?

It can be easy to get mired down in the day-to-day.  Take a look at your PR program’s objectives and line them up with expected metrics.  Don’t be afraid to modify elements of the plan if it will meet the desired outcome.

2) Are you reaching the right audience?

Public relations is designed to support sales team and marketing efforts and it is critical that initiatives are reaching the correct audience.  Otherwise, your efforts might not meet the goals above or boost the organization’s visibility, credibility and bottom line.

3) Are you allocating resources properly?

If you are with an agency, adding another executive to the client account team can reinvigorate a PR program and that individual might grow professionally because of the opportunity.  New ideas and a fresh perspective can help boost the account and foster idea growth among all peers involved.

4) Do you have the right toolkit?

You might need to eliminate one or two tools or add additional tactics.  Now is a good time to trial a new approach to your blog, a Twitter program or case studies.

5) Do you need a new look?

It might be time to reevaluate your website, blog, logo, corporate materials, etc. and address how you are presenting yourself visually. Keep your company’s core message front and center, but do so in a clear and concise way.  Readers are known to skim over heavy-copy websites and materials.


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Jul. 28

Have a Thick Skin

As a follow up to my recent blog post regarding byline articles, it seemed a natural extension to address comments on contributed content. Today, any professional who participates in media relations – who puts their name to a fact or opinion online – should expect the peanut gallery of respondents to include supporters, doubters and a few a-holes. Comments are a good sign – it means people are reading your contributions but some of the comments can be disarming as readers can post comments without identifying themselves. As we are often helping clients get their insights and opinions heard online via byline articles, quoting opportunities, case studies and more, we are often asked how to respond to comments. Here’s my two cents. First, have a thick skin – understand that the Internet affords everyone – regardless of credentials or knowledge – to be an expert.

Second, it helps to set a policy for how to handle comments so there is organizational and individual uniformity. This includes who responds and the frequency of review and responses. Similarly, set a policy or guideline for how your organization will respond to articles from others. We typically don’t recommend addressing individual comments as it can be endless. It also sets a precedent that commenters will come to expect and that must be maintained. It doesn’t help the case to selectively respond to individuals. This is obvious, but sometimes hard to do – don’t entertain irrational, nasty or threatening dialogue.

Consider an overarching response once a few comments have posted, acknowledge the input and thank them for the idea exchange. You could even offer your email address – this detracts commenters that post without identifying themselves. The beauty of the Internet and the evolution of media is there are an abundance of channels to share expertise and opinions.

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Jul. 21

The Age of Indecision

Six days before leaving for vacation with my family (husband and 5-year-old daughter), I was paralyzed with anxiety — no, not about work or going to another country. I couldn’t make a decision about our lodging. This year, in lieu of the old-fashioned route of buying/borrowing dozens of travel books on Montreal and Quebec City, I decided enough was enough and hit the vast travel sites in search of the perfect hotels. Good luck. As a proponent, user and seller of social media, I am generally a big fan. But in the case of my own vacation, social media and technology became my worst enemies.

Across the board, each travel site offered their own value or rating systems — sometimes with the travel site offering its own assessment, e.g., 4.5 stars, as well as the users’ combined score, e.g., 2 stars (this is a true example). How is it that the likes of Orbitz, Priceline and have such varying ratings? And then the user reviews: “Best hotel I have ever stayed in,” “Worst hotel I have ever stayed in,” “Staff were rude,” “Staff went out of their way to make our trip memorable.” Of course, I also Googled the potential candidates and found plenty of dissenting blog entries. The endless amount of contradicting information was simply crippling. In the end, I took a leap of faith and, in some cases, the hotel was superb and in others not at all what the good reviews described (complete with screaming kids and a scary ‘don’t walk around at night’ neighborhood, yet providing a clean, large room). Upon my return, I posted my own reviews but have to wonder — am I adding to others’ indecision with another differing opinion?


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Jul. 07

Cutting Through the Clutter Key to Product Launch Success

New products—they are constantly flowing to meet today’s “yesterday’s widget is old” mentality. What’s different in the new iPhone? Is the new version of Hootsuite better? Which of the latest CRM solutions is right for my company?

Reporters often wonder what is significantly new about new products, so proper PR positioning can mean the difference between no coverage and powerful, on-message media. Fresh off a few new product launches, here is some insight that consistently helps us garner targeted coverage for clients.

Get Your Messages Straight…Before the Interview – Take time to develop core messaging around the new offering—including a clear target audience, key benefits and reasons for the new product (without knocking the previous version) and ensure the leadership team and company spokespeople are on the same page .

Plug the Business Benefits, Not the Product Features – Of course the product’s features are important, but they shouldn’t be the first messages out of the gate. Customers care most about the reasons for the features – and so do reporters. Explain the business benefits to cut through the clutter for reporters who stare at feature-centric pitches and press releases all day.

Get a Third-Party Onboard – If possible, brief at least one third-party analyst before the launch to kick the tires on the new product. More often than not, they will have valuable insights and questions about how the product fits the needs of the marketplace. And, bonus, one of these folks may be willing to contribute a quote to your launch press release.

Offer a Test Drive – Product reviews can be powerful. If your product stands up and is bug-free, offer key media a test-drive on their own. This type of coverage (if positive) can also be used to close key sales deals.

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Jul. 02

New PR Grads: Use Social Networks for Job Hunting

For this year’s PR grads, how can you find the job of your dreams? Look to social networks – these sites are no longer just a way to communicate with friends.

Facebook. Don’t post anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want a potential employer to read.  Also, delete photos in question – you know the ones.  Beyond your profiles, use Facebook to connect with interesting organizations by “liking” their corporate or careers page.  You can learn a lot about a company’s personality and philosophy – great for finding out if you want to work for them and also help prep you for interviews.

Twitter. Keep an ongoing Twitter keyword search of “public relations” on HootSuite or TweetDeck so that you can peruse career opportunities.  Many recruiters are using Twitter to attract job seekers.

Help a PR Pro Out. Follow and engage with Help a PR Pro Out (#happo), the group started by Valerie Simon (@valeriesimon) and Arik Hanson (@arikhanson) to help job-seeking PR professionals connect with organizations through social media.

LinkedIn. Build your network of LinkedIn connections and let them know you are looking for a job.  Don’t be afraid to reach out, even if your connection is not involved in the PR industry, they might know someone who knows someone who knows someone.  You get the point.  Also, don’t forget to create a polished and easy-to-read LinkedIn profile.  It is an extension of your resume.

There are so many ways to engage with potential employers through social media. The list could go on and on.  What has worked for you?


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Jun. 24

The Spark Newsletter: New Clients; Advice on When to Engage PR

In case you haven’t seen it, the latest edition of our newsletter–The Spark–is out!  The issue celebrates new client Shooger and the renewal of PeriscopeIQ, as well as announces the purchase of Young & Associates by long-term employees Jennifer MacLeid Qotb and Meggan Manson. It also offers signs that a start-up is ready for a PR partner, and Meggan Manson pens a My Two Cents column on preparing corporate leaders to deliver sound and confident speaking engagements and interviews without landing in the hot seat like Mark Zuckerberg at All Things D8. There’s also a PR Pulse on how to work around customers’ tight-lipped media policies to showcase their satisfaction with your company’s product or services. Read the full edition here.

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