Justin Rubner

Archive for the ‘public relations’ Category

Did Someone Mention Social Search?

In public relations, social media on 10/28/2011 at 3:09 pm

If you’re using Google Alerts or individual sites to monitor what’s being said in the social-media sphere about a company, product, person or topic, you’re probably wasting time. More importantly, though, you’re probably missing critical sentiment.

That’s because Google, even with recent social-media enhancements, isn’t as good as a site that focuses on social-media search. And searching every site is near impossible.

There are plenty of media-monitoring services that are great for keeping track of realtime social-media sentiment for B2B companies, such as Radian6. But if you don’t need that kind of serious automated capability, there are free sites that are actually quite good.

I recently tested a bunch for a PR agency, using the terms “Salesforce.com”, “Reed Hastings” and “software analytics”. You might think these sites would be more or less the same. They’re not.

Here are six that stood out, ranked from best to worst:

  1. Social Mention
  2. WhosTalkin.com
  3. Addict-o-matic
  4. 48ers
  5. Surchur.com
  6. Joongel

The last two, Joongel and Surchur.com, offered little B2B value.

Joongel, “Internet, the easy way,” is a simple web application for searching and navigating through the most popular sources on the Internet in different categories. The service says its search method is based on the geographic location of the user and traffic-ranking analysis. Sources include every major one except Facebook and LinkedIn. After a test, nothing came up for “salesforce.com” or “Reed Hastings”. Plus, it seemed glitchy at times.

Surchur.com, which describes itself as “realtime discovery, realtime search and realtime social,” is catered to seeing what’s trending more than anything. For most B2B applications, it has limited results. But it could be powerful for consumer issues.

Now on to the good ones. The one site I’d recommend somewhat is 48ers. Bottom line: Wasn’t great, wasn’t bad.

48ers, “which was created to help you search for what’s happening right now,” says it trawls conversations from all the major social networks to bring back “nuggets of information” to help you:

  • Discover what people are saying about your company or brand.
  • Find out what other people think of the TV shows you’re watching.
  • Be the first to find out about breaking news stories.
  • Tap into the public mood about the latest sporting events.

Sources include Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz (no thanks!), Digg and Delicious.

The site ranks searches by time posted and displays them in a  Google-like format. Searches on the three topics yielded somewhat relevant and timely results, but they weren’t as exact as I was hoping for.

As for usability, Twitter results, perhaps because of the sheer amount of content, vastly outrank other results on the first page, so you have to click the other sources to see them. That’s a bit cumbersome and not really practical.

There are better social media search sites, including…

Addict-o-matic is pretty good and the most fun

Addict-o-matic

Addict-o-matic, the coolest-looking site of the bunch, “searches the best live sites on the web for the latest news, blog posts, videos and images.”  It’s the “perfect tool to keep up with the hottest topics, perform ego searches and feed your addiction for what’s up, what’s now or what other people are feeding on,” the site says.

Sources include Google Blogs, WordPress, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Wikio, Ask.com, Friendfeed and more…but no Facebook or LinkedIn. It also searches regular engines such as Google News.

My observations? WordPress results are old and seem to have no ranking logic. Google Blogs results, however, are up to date and seem comprehensive. Twitter also seems up to date—latest post was 8 minutes old.

Usability was strong. It’s visually appealing and intuitive with its modular design. You can select which sources to use and can bookmark search terms and settings. It’s a bit annoying that the results contain so few words—you have to actually click the link to get a real view on what’s being said. It’s particularly nice, however, to come back to the site to have the results waiting for you.

Upsides? Segmented results, tremendous flexibility in searching, strong search capabilities, and a fun user experience.

The downsides? No LinkedIn or Facebook and having to click onto the actual sites.

WhosTalkin.com has the best Facebook and LinkedIn results

Who’sTalkin.com

Who’sTalkin.com is a social media search tool that allows users to search for conversations surrounding the topics they care about most, “whether it be your favorite sport, favorite food, celebrity, or your company’s brand name.”

Sources include 60 sites, including Facebook and LinkedIn.

WhosTalkin.com breaks searches down by category, like  Social Mention, which is analyzed below, and you can also search by source. Twitter results were only 10 seconds old. Facebook results all seemed timely and relevant. The LinkedIn search was also solid. (I must say that in the weeks following this analysis, search results have occasionally taken a long time).

As for usability, it doesn’t look impressive, but this site is the only one reviewed that delivered consistent results for all major networks. However, subsequent uses have yielded painfully slow results.

Upsides would be that its sources include Facebook and LinkedIn.

Downsides would be that you can’t create alerts, it’s slow sometimes, and is just an average user experience.

Social Mention

Social Mention has the most capability

Social Mention is the clear winner here, although I also like Addict-o-matic and WhosTalkin.com. Social Mention describes itself as a “social media search and analysis platform that aggregates user generated content from across the universe into a single stream of information. It allows you to easily track and measure what people are saying about you, your company, a new product, or any topic across the web’s social media landscape in real-time.”

Sources seem to include every major social site, including Facebook and LinkedIn. Plus it offers basic sentiment analysis capability (you should check it out), daily social media alerts and a buzz widget.

On a search for “salesforce.com”, with a parameter of the last 24 hours, it brought up 97 Twitter results, 26 Stumbleupon results, three for Bing, one for Facebook and one for Google Blogs. However, another search did not deliver any Facebook results and a subsequent search brought up 19.

The sentiment analysis section is impressive looking, but it would take repeated use to determine how accurate it really is. It can tell you how many results appear to be negative, neutral or positive. Given recent bad publicity around Netflix, the sentiment analysis for its CEO, Reed Hastings, seems as if it would be pretty accurate.

Rather than separating by source, Social Mention lets users search by category, such as blogs and networks, which actually makes  sense. If you want, you can click the individual source after a search.

For some reason, Facebook results were glitchy. Sometimes they showed up. Other times they didn’t. But that could very well be an anomaly. I can deal with this, though.

Another great feature of Social Mention are alerts, which are like Google Alerts, but they are, as of this writing, not available.

As with anything free, no site is perfect. The site with the most power, functionality and context is Social Mention. The site that has the best Facebook and LinkedIn results, at least during this testing, was WhosTalkin.com. The best user experience, especially if you want instant results automatically, is Addict-o-matic…but it has limited sources and is the distant runner-up.

For those who want just basic social-media monitoring, would like some sentiment analysis, and don’t mind a little manual effort, your search should end at Social Mention.

What Pink Floyd Can Teach Us About PR

In marketing strategy, public relations, social media on 08/16/2011 at 9:00 am

Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe PR people aren’t good at publicizing the benefits of PR. Either way, the longer I spend in this industry, the more I’m reminded of one of my favorite Pink Floyd-isms:

“If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”

In this case, the meat represents tactics: A strong message, solid writing, thought leadership, press relations, social media.

The pudding is the reward: More conversions, name recognition, instant credibility, media coverage, brand engagement.

So many companies spend all of their resources on direct product marketing and collateral and expect big returns. These tactics are crucial. If done well, they will help increase name recognition.

But as I often tell clients, PR accomplishes this goal and establishes credibility. Social media, on the other hand, brings brand engagement to the mix. And a strong message? It’s the glue that holds everything together.

If you ignore or even downplay these tactics, how many rewards are you potentially missing?

After all, any company can advertise. But when a company is mentioned in a respected news outlet, it establishes an instant reputation that no ad, press release or whitepaper can. And when a company is doing a good job at social media, it’s  engaging people–exponentially–in a way no story can.

However, if you’re contributing to only part of this list, your marketing efforts will likely suffer. All social media and no PR will not garner nearly as much credibility. All PR and no social delivers little engagement. A strong message with no way to promote it is downright useless. And a strong promotional machine with no message is like yelling in the wind. In Northern Saskatchewan.

In other words, strive for balance.

My recommendations:

  1. Develop a core message that resonates with potential clients.
  2. Develop talking points for media relations.
  3. Use this messaging consistently.
  4. Write well. The other day, I read a case study with a major grammatical error in the lead sentence. Almost as bad, it, like many others, was mind-numbingly dry. There’s no reason for either. Bad grammar or dry writing negatively impacts your image or at the very least causes people to not read your material.
  5. Focus your PR efforts on thought leadership, accomplishments and near-term expansion plans–not your product.
  6. Identify trade publications and opportunities for coverage.
  7. Identify local media outlets, paying close attention to editorial calendars. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll be seen as too small by getting local coverage. Unless it’s a story on your company picnic, local coverage–from small capital raises to large expansions–establishes credibility.
  8. Identify national mainstream outlets that cover your industry. Don’t think you absolutely can’t get national coverage. That’s where your focus on thought leadership will help.
  9. Don’t treat social media as a push channel. If you’re not finding ways to engage people, you’re really not using it to your full advantage.
  10. Find ways to promote marketing collateral such as whitepapers through PR and social channels.
  11. Find ways to make your company more than just another brick in the wall.

- Justin Rubner

Reporter: Leave Your Number Twice and Don’t Pitch Me on Your Green Building

In public relations on 07/12/2011 at 4:52 pm

If you’re involved with any aspect of public relations, you know that contacting journalists can be daunting.

How do you get their attention? How should you handle an exclusive? Should you call in the morning or afternoon? Should you contact a reporter or editor? How do you get them to write about your wonderfully-efficient environmentally-friendly office?

The other day, I discussed this issue with my pal and former colleague, Rachel Tobin, who covers commercial real estate for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here are some of her friendly tips:

AJC reporter Rachel Tobin

Leave your phone number twice. Tobin, like many reporters, receives scores of tips and pitches every day. Make hers and all reporters’ lives easier by leaving your contact info at the beginning of your voicemail and at the end. She finds it particularly annoying to listen through a lengthy voicemail only to have to listen to it again to hear the number. She also recommends making sure your email system is set to show your contact info on every message. This is plain good advice for all business communications.

Write a compelling subject in the email. Seriously–they get pitched every day, so write your news as succinctly as possible in the title. “Unless I already know you, I’m probably not going to open an email that just says ‘press release,’ Tobin says. “It’s amazing how many people do this. It’s the biggest rookie mistake in my opinion.”

Paste and attach your release. Tobin recommends pasting it on the bottom and attaching it. I would also recommend summarizing the news–targeting it–for the reporter in your lead sentence.

Know the best time to call. That’s usually in the morning. Deadlines are often at the end of the day and reporters are busy fielding calls related to stories and making appropriate edits. Although the affable Tobin wouldn’t likely yell at you if you bothered her with a bad pitch 30 minutes before deadline, I’ve worked with plenty of reporters who would. In Tobin’s case, anytime after 3 is not a great time to call, especially on Wednesdays when Sunday stories are due, she says.

Don’t go over their heads. If you have a story you think is newsworthy for someone’s beat, don’t pitch the editor on getting the reporter to cover it. I despised that practice when I was a reporter. Tobin dislikes it too. Even if a reporter happens to make an error on a story, contact him or her first, she says.

Follow reporters on social sites. Some people only let personal friends on Facebook, others invite anyone. Today, most reporters have Twitter accounts, LinkedIn profiles and more. This will not only help you keep track of recent stories but will give you an easier way to contact them. P.S., Tobin asked me to include a contact link to the AJC editorial staff, which is a bit hard to find, even harder to find on other outlets’ sites, so here it is. “We want you to follow us,” she says. “We’re using social media a lot. I really hope my sources would follow me.”

Watch overly-creative pitches. The best PR people, she says, are creative. But she also dislikes “gidgets and gadgets” to get her attention. I don’t have specific advice on this one; just realize their job is to find newsworthy stories and that they’re often pressed for time to do so, receive tons of pitches, and are desensitized to gimmicks.

Write good press releases. I’m so glad she brought this one up. So many press releases I read are awful. Just awful. Often, she has to do basic fact-finding on news in press releases–simple stuff like sale price, who the previous owner of a building was, and square footage. “Most press releases are so badly written, they’re a waste of time,” Tobin says. “Some just make PR people look bad.”

Know what an exclusive is. She says an exclusive is not first dibs on useless news or news that’s been reported elsewhere. “Most PR people who pitch us on exclusives aren’t giving us real news,” Tobin says. “It has to be interesting. Also make sure it’s really an exclusive before you pitch it as such. Even if we’re the first ‘mainstream’ pub to get it, and a trade got it first, it’s not a clean kill.”

Know what news is. In a previous post, I offer tips on pitching reporters and lament some of the bad pitches I received, including one on how some company installed green toilets. Well, green buildings aren’t that exciting either.

“In this day and age of real estate, the fact that you want to make your building green is not interesting,” Tobin says. ”It’s fluff and just trying to make your company feel good. In addition, we’re not interested in anything ‘in the weeds.’ We’re a general-interest newspaper. We aren’t going to write about the intricacies of real estate law.”

- Justin Rubner

Eleven PR Alternatives to Saying ‘No Comment’

In public relations on 06/22/2011 at 9:00 am

If you’ve ever worked with the news media, you’ve likely heard these rules:

  1. “Think like a reporter.”
  2. “Release bad news on a Friday.”
  3. “Never say ‘no comment.’”

The first two can go without further explanation. But for some reason, the no comment thing seems to come up over and over.

Take this thought-provoking post re-published in Ragan’s PR Daily.

The author says that since he got good coverage once after saying “no comment”, despite his reservations, that it’s OK to sometimes do it and that it can actually get reporters more excited to cover the particular news. Actually, the client more than likely got good coverage not because “no comment” was said, driving reporters into some mad frenzy, but rather because the story was newsworthy.

Saying “no comment” implies so many nasty things—guilt, dishonesty, laziness and even contempt for the media.

Let’s take guilt. If there’s a dispute, people will more than likely think you’re at fault.

If it’s a rumor, people will more than likely think it’s true. This could be particularly damaging. If it’s a true rumor on a deal, for instance, the process could become derailed by inaccurate, speculative press coverage. If it’s not, well, you have false stories about you in the media. Commenting, even noncommittal statements, can help limit this.

Or, how about dishonesty, laziness and contempt for the media? If you say “No comment,” what you could be construed as  saying is “I don’t trust the media and I can’t be trusted to work outside of a script.” You could also be saying “I’m too lazy to get you an interview on a story I haven’t pre-packaged.”

If that weren’t enough, saying “No comment” often puts you in an adversarial position with reporters. Sometimes, the adversarial position in PR is necessary. But more often than not, you want to be a helpful ally.

So, you think saying “No comment” is a good idea if you’re not ready to release news? If the story is big enough, a solid reporter will seek the scoop out—with or without you. Then you’ll be left without a voice.

If a reporter comes to you with a rumor, or a fleshed-out scoop, why not do everything you can to promote a positive story? Especially if it’s bad news.

I can’t think of any instances in which you’re better off saying “No comment.” That’s not to say it’s the worst thing ever. As the blogger points out, he skirted the rule and came out fine. People actually do it all the time.

But there are more mutually benefiting and strategically-advantageous alternatives:

  1. Answer what you can and promise to answer other questions when it’s feasible.
  2. If it’s a false rumor that could be harmful, by all means be up front. Why would you not talk in this case?
  3. If it’s a potentially true rumor about something not quite solidified, say something non committing.
  4. If it’s just news you weren’t ready to put out, realize the reporter is going to run the story anyway, bite the bullet, and offer an interview. You’ll be better off because of it. So will the reporter.
  5. Offer the reporter the full story and an exclusive interview in return for holding off a day or two until you get everything straight. Yes, this may not work, especially in a Twitter world. But most reporters would rather have the full exclusive rather than a half-baked one. Play this card.
  6. If you’re involved in a dispute, find someone on your side not involved with the case and offer him or her as a source. Isn’t that better than not having your side of the story told?
  7. If you’re suing and for some reason your lawyer says you can’t comment, then repeat the facts in the lawsuit and say you’re not allowed to add anything else. As a reporter, I’ve interviewed dozens of lawyers and individuals mentioned in lawsuits, so litigation is by no means a cut-and-dry excuse to say “No comment.” As a PR person, I’ve gotten very positive stories in the media by offering up the same.
  8. If you’re being sued or indicted, and you don’t want to talk, issue a prepared statement.
  9. Speak on background or at least offer to verify facts if you can’t be quoted. Would you rather the reporter run factual errors on you? If you point out a bunch of factual errors and logical inconsistencies, the reporter may even back off.
  10. If there are public documents that support your cause, offer them to the reporter if he or she doesn’t already have them.
  11. If the news is sketchy, attempt to sway the reporter not to cover a story with well-thought-out facts and logic. If that doesn’t work, go to the editor. As a reporter, I’ve been swayed by well-reasoned, polite arguments. It doesn’t hurt to try.

Some of these alternatives aren’t possible in all situations. But I assure you, at least one of them will ultimately be better than saying “No comment”…regardless of the situation you find yourself in.

- Justin Rubner

Brand Engagement, Career Evangelism: A Look at Plantville and B2B Games

In marketing strategy, public relations on 06/08/2011 at 3:13 pm

Could an online game raise visibility for a global company, be fun to play and help recruit a future generation of engineers?

Siemens Industry thinks so.

Plantville

Plantville is a creative way to raise corporate visibility and spark interest in engineering careers.

The German-based industrial technology giant, which makes everything from electric motors to solar cells, has been operating an online game called Plantville for two months and has plans to expand it in the near future.

The game puts you, the factory manager, in charge of running three plants–Beewell Vitamin Co., Quenchco Bottling Co. and Hopon Train Co.

It’s a bit like FarmVille, the wildly popular game on Facebook and iPhone developed by Zynga. Only instead of earning Experience Points (XP) and growing tomatoes, you’re improving Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and hiring assembly workers.

Tom Varney, head of marketing communications for Siemens Industry, recently sat down with me and talked about Plantville. He said the game already has 12,000 active players, operates in 136 countries, and is in use at 500 universities and schools worldwide. As for metrics, the average user is on the Plantville website for 14 minutes, he says.

Think a whitepaper could engage that many people for that long?

Goals for the game include:

  1. Company awareness. Every product you order as a plant manager–from surveillance systems to conveyor systems–are made by Siemens Industry.
  2. Lead generation. The game provides Siemens Industry with a list of viable prospects.
  3. Internal education. This might come more of a surprise as the above two goals, but given Siemens Industry’s enormous size and product breadth, employees have learned about solutions they previously didn’t know about.
  4. Career evangelism. Getting kids more interested in industrial engineering could be Siemens Industry’s most important goal for Plantville.

After playing the game, I most definitely see this as a tool that could help in the career evangelism role. As you might know, American manufacturers are expecting a critical shortage of engineering talent in the coming years. The fear the nuclear industry has is well documented.

“Kids in high school no longer say ‘I want to work in a factory as an engineer,’” Varney says. “There are stigmas that it’s dirty, sweaty, dangerous or boring. One of our goals is reversing these stigmas. We really do hope we can help inspire the next generation of engineers and factory workers.”

Due to outsourcing and an overall shift in American culture and ethos, this talent shortage is widespread. Fixing the problem starts at college, high school and even sooner.

Companies such as Siemens Industry and Bell Helicopter know this.

“There’s a shortage of math, science and engineering skills, and global competition is only intensifying,” Bell Helicopter CEO John Garrison Jr. recently warned students at Texas Christian University, which was quoted in this story.

Recalling how many horrible exercises I had in school, I can see Plantville being popular with kids. Just recently, Varney was pleasantly surprised to see a large number of users at a South Georgia high school logging in to play the game.

“There’s a real fight for talent and it’s only getting worse,” Varney says. “This is one of many things Siemens can do to raise its profile in the education system.”

Engagement is Better Than ‘Any ROI Calculator’

Many large B2B companies have launched games to promote brand engagement. IBM, GM and Microsoft come to mind right away.

One Forrester analyst has high praise for IBM’s CityOne game. He says games such as these do a lot more than just grab your attention. They explain “where a company’s products and services fit into the machinery of the real world.” He adds that “someone might quibble with the details, but if they’re quibbling, they’re engaged. And if they’re engaged, you’re communicating your value proposition more effectively than any ROI calculator.”

How Do I Get My CEO to OK a Game?

Getting approval for a project like this likely takes some perseverance. But mostly, it’s about data.

Varney credits his CEO and CFO for having the vision to spend money on a year-long development project. He says the data was just too persuasive to pass up. That data showed alarmingly positive trends in social media, mobile apps, B2B games and more.

“We had to get the higher-ups to latch on,” Varney says. “Without hesitation, they saw it as an innovative approach. There are always a lot of proposals, and they could have killed this one, but they had guts and gave us a green light.”

Unlike companies such as Google and many mobile-app developers, Siemens Industry wanted the game to be as slick and bug-free as possible–right away.

Utopia

Remember Utopia?

Plantville is, in fact, slick, bug-free (for me, at least) and enjoyable to play. While it’s certainly similar to FarmVille, naysayers should be reminded of a popular Intellivision game in the 80s called Utopia that had players in charge of their own islands. In the 90s, it was SimCity, only the thing you were in charge of was cities.

Speaking of mobile apps, that is most definitely on the table. Varney says the company is seriously considering adding the game to mobile platforms

I hope Siemens Industry releases Plantville on Android. Nothing against Angry Birds, but a mobile Plantville game would actually teach you something.

-Justin Rubner

Do Journalists Make Better PR People?

In public relations on 03/02/2011 at 11:00 am

At a recent Public Relations Society of America event, I met a young job seeker looking to break into the PR world.

The job seeker, Barbara Scurry, mentioned a PR niche she was potentially interested in, and a God-awful interview I had last year with an agency focused on that niche came to mind.

Here’s the all-too-true story:

An in-house recruiter calls me out of the blue after seeing my profile on LinkedIn. She says I was a potential great fit for a senior-level position at the agency she contracts with. We schedule a phone interview.

The interview goes glowingly. I agree to a formal interview, in person, with the CEO. I’m thinking, while I love my job, a position with that level of management is a challenge I’m up for.

Over the next week, I learn everything I can about the agency, its market, its clients. I spend time thinking about my own strategies if hired, what I bring to the table, what my management style is, and so on.

Only I never get to talk about those things.

Job interviewThat’s because the entire interview consists of the CEO grilling me on why he thinks my credentials aren’t up to snuff. “We have at least a few Senior Account Executives with more agency experience than you,” the CEO says. “Why should I bring you in at a higher position?”

Honest question…but didn’t you call me? I think. I explain why I’m cut out for the position.

The CEO says things like, “Former reporters don’t know how to write press releases. I’ve found they can’t deal with the massive amounts of back and forth it takes with the client.”

I tell the interviewer I’ve written more releases than I can count, including some for law firms. “You don’t get a more fine-tooth-combed eye than an attorney,” I say.

The CEO then says something that really takes me for a loop. “You’d think former reporters would make good PR people, but I just don’t think they do.”

You’d think it because it’s logical, and, in many cases, true, I think. I find myself articulating why the agency would want someone with journalism experience. At this point, I’m pretty certain I don’t want to work there.

This goes on and on. I never get to talk about the things I prepared for. I only get to ask about three questions at the end. I leave the interview feeling, “What in the hell  just happened?”

A few days ago, I had a discussion with a former journalist who became a VP at a major agency.  He said he’s often had to proselytize that journalism experience should be equal to agency experience.

But…do journalists actually make better PR people?

Often, they do. Sometimes, they don’t.

Many journalists think PR consists solely of flacks sitting around a table scheming to get stories pitched. It’s much, much more than that. There’s business strategy, marketing strategy, social media, messaging. There’s a lot of creativity involved. There’s the ego thing–being the pitcher instead of the pitchee. Then, there’s account management. I learned  this is far more difficult than managing sources. It was a learning curve for sure. Some journalists may not be cut out for it.

But I will say this: A year of quality journalism experience is easily equal to a year of major agency work. I’d rather take a person any day of the week with six years of reporting / editing and three years of small agency / consulting experience over any recent college grad with only three years of major agency experience.

News judgment, especially business-news judgment, for the most part is learned with experience. I can tell you that from the years of horrible pitches I’ve received as a reporter. Further, former journalists know it’s about being a resource during times they don’t have a story to pitch.

It’s a no-brainer. For me at least. If you want communications strategies based on real-world experience, and more quality news coverage, my advice is to hire some people who actually know what a newsroom looks like.

- Justin Rubner

The Restaurant That Loves a Bad Review

In marketing strategy, public relations on 02/16/2011 at 5:05 pm
Restaurant turns a bad review into good PR

Restaurant turns a bad review into good PR

No business wants to receive a bad review on Yelp.

But one, a popular gastropub in Chicago, Longman & Eagle, turned one into a great positive with this postcard.

You could say the reviewer, who apparently doesn’t know where a question mark goes, got served.

Dealing with bad reviews isn’t easy. Even if they’re nonsensical, like this one. The best way is to actually take reviews to heart and change the biggest thing people are complaining about.

It’s also important to engage reviewers. Often, if you’re honest, and offer to right any wrong they think you made, they’ll come around. Sometimes, they’ll even update a review to make it positive.

What else can you do? Encourage positive reviews with happy customers. In extreme cases, you can also start a content campaign to drown out bad reviews on search engines.

Kudos to this restaurant for coming up with an imaginative, and edgy, alternative solution. As you can see, Facebook fans ate it up.

Don’t know about the bone marrow. But next time I’m in Chicago, I’m game for the wild boar.

Facebook fans for Longman's & Eagle's

A great way to truly engage Facebook fans

- Justin Rubner

Nobody Cares About Green Toilets and 12 Other PR Tips On Pitching Reporters

In public relations on 01/21/2011 at 10:30 am

Always know what a reporter covers before the pitch

The following is a real conversation.

PR person: My client, Solutiony Solutions Inc., is a solutions provider and just released Solutions ‘R Us Version 2.0. Do you write about solutions?

Reporter: Not really.

PR person: Well, they did just install water-saving toilets and energy-efficient light bulbs AND started a ride-share program! Green Business Weekly last year ranked them the 20th-greenest solutions provider in America. Do you write about the environment?

Reporter: No, I cover venture capital, economic development, international business and Steve Jobs. You really should know this before calling me on deadline.

PR person: Oh, they just raised $200 million from Vulture Capital LLC, are hiring 2,000 people in your city, expanding into 20 countries, and added Steve Jobs to their advisory board. Is that something you’d be interested in?…

OK, that was a bit of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, I’ve had conversations similar to this all too often when I was on the opposite side of the pitch.

Here are some tips aimed at avoiding a bad pitch like this so you’ll A) get press and B) won’t get hung up on:

  1. First thing’s first. Develop a PR plan that identifies targeted outlets and relevant story ideas.
  2. Once you have news, target your pitch. If pitching a trade publication, for example, your angle should focus on the  industry it covers. If pitching local broadcast, your angle should have a local spin. And a business pub–it better be business-y.
  3. Do your homework BEFORE pitching. You should know what the journalist covers. Come armed with similar stories he or she has done. After all, if you were a salesperson, would you call a prospect, ask him or her what the company does, and try to sell something that’s of no use? Of course not–you wouldn’t waste the prospect’s time, or, more importantly, yours. Don’t make that mistake when pitching a reporter.
  4. Know a journalist’s job is not to give you publicity, but rather to tell news that is of interest to the outlet’s  consumers. Publicity is an after-effect.
  5. Keep timeliness in mind. An event that happened a month ago is often not newsworthy. That’s why they call it the “news”…and not the “olds”. Sorry, bad joke.
  6. Be prepared for questions. While most PR agencies approach their craft smartly, I have often been pitched by account execs who couldn’t answer any questions outside their script. Worse, I’ve been pitched by interns who often didn’t know enough about business in general to answer relevant questions. You should know as much as possible about the thing you’re pitching.
  7. Offer exclusives. Many media outlets thrive on them. Really, why should someone read the exact same story in two competing newspapers?
  8. Offer up the CEO or the person involved in the news for an interview.
  9. If sending a press release,copy and paste it in the email. Reporters get tons of releases every day. They don’t want to open attachments.
  10. Write an email subject that stands out. When dealing with a hundred pitches a day, many reporters delete emails without even opening them when subject lines makes no sense or are full of corporate jargon.
  11. Sum up the news of the release in the email. Sometimes, you’ll have to change the angle to suit the particular person you’re pitching.
  12. If a reporter bites, NEVER ask to see a story before it’s published. Any respectable publication wouldn’t allow this. First, stories would never get done. Second, it’s a violation of basic journalistic standards to have a source edit something. Instead, offer to check facts.
  13. Understand that NOBODY cares about how environmentally friendly your company’s toilets are. Unless it’s The Journal of Green Plumbing Fixtures. And I hear it’s about to go down the tubes.

Have other PR tips you’d like add? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

-Justin Rubner

One Political Mailing That Actually Isn’t Offensive or Boring

In marketing strategy, public relations on 09/30/2010 at 4:39 pm

What small business owner hasn't had problems in this economy?

I recently saw this direct mail piece in my mailbox, and something about it made me want to read the entire thing. I’m usually either turned off by attacking or patronizing tones or bored because of mushy rhetoric.

In the mailing, Jill Chambers, a state representative in Georgia, defends against  alleged attacks from her competitor. While I haven’t monitored this particular race, and am not endorsing either candidate, I like Rep. Chambers’ approach.

Apparently, she had a business that recently went out of commission, and like many such transactions, it ended up with lawsuits and tax disputes. Seizing on a potential opportunity to cast her in a negative light, Chambers’ opponent supposedly ran attack ads on the matter.

Many constituents, myself included, often complain about attack ads. But study after study shows the unfortunate and sad practice works in close races. By early September 2010, candidates running for state and federal offices spent $395 million on commercials for the midterm elections, according to CNN and Campaign Media Analysis Group. That compares to $286 million for the 2006 midterms. On the Senate side, 70 percent of the ads were negative!

It’s obvious we pay more attention to attack ads. But sometimes, thankfully, negative campaigns backfire. Maybe, it will here too.

“When she attacks me for the loss of my savings and business,” Chambers says, “she is also attacking every single citizen who is suffering from the national economic downturn.”

Well said…and very true. While it may be a good tactic in a normal economy, going after an opponent’s failed business in 2010 is a bad idea in most circumstances. We can identify with struggling entrepreneurs. We cheer for them. When you attack them for their misfortunes, even if it is their fault, you are attacking all of us.

I like how Chambers defends herself here, without being defensive, and goes on the offense, without being offensive. Inside the mailing, she further explains her business tax issues, which is brilliant, and even gets into her personal life. Strategically,  she stems any attack before it happens.

Some might see this as desperate, Georgia political insiders particularly. I think most voters, however, will see it as brutal honesty, which is sorely lacking in politics.

I’m not saying her entire campaign has been clean; I’ve read some blog posts lamenting the representative’s own harsh tactics…which have worked. This particular ad also works, in a non negative way. It connects. It humanizes.

Negative campaigning will never go away in our lifetimes. I would prefer ads to say why Candidate X is better rather than why Candidate Y is worse. But if you must attack your competition, be careful you aren’t attacking potential constituents (or customers) when you do go down that slippery route.

-Justin Rubner

How to Write and Promote a Press Release

In business communications, copywriting, news media, public relations on 09/13/2010 at 8:33 pm

Two of the most common phrases people use to find the Copycation blog include “How to write press releases” and “How to promote press releases.” Hence, the unimaginative title of this post–”How to Write and Promote a Press Release.”

Got to give them want they want, no?

First thing’s first, though. Before you spend resources on writing, approving, promoting and publishing a release, you really should ask yourself if the news is A) important and B) if it’s actually going to be read by anyone. That means no fluff. It also means coming up with topics that would actually be of value to readers. That’s why you have a VP of Corporate Communications or hire a PR pro or agency.

Off we go.

Press Release Headline

  • Make it pithy. Your headline is the most important part. It’s what get readers clicking on the release…or away.
  • Keep it short. Usually, headlines should be less than three lines.
  • Try to use active language. Active is stimulating. Passive is boring. Say “I write killer press releases.” Not “Killer press releases are written by me.”
  • Egos aside, remember it’s often better to focus on the impact on the company–or better, the community. What’s more exciting: “Firm X Hires Real Estate Attorney John Doe”, or “Firm X Launches Real Estate Practice”? The first one would only be of interest to publications that cover attorney hires. The second would be of interest to publications that cover attorney hires, the real estate industry, the legal profession, the local community and general business. You can get into the attorney in the subhead or lead.
  • Avoid too many proper names (such as other companies) in a headline. Your message gets lost.
  • Consider a subhead if you want to quickly communicate the impact of your news or if you have a lot of proper names to mention.
  • Use large, bolded text for headlines.

Lead Sentence

  • Get to the news right away! The lead is often the only part that gets read. I have written only one anecdotal lead in my experience as a PR person and only because the story was more powerful than the news.
  • Avoid unnecessary words such as “Company X announces…” Even the biggest firms and agencies use this language, but it’s redundant. Of course you’re announcing something. That’s what press releases are for!
  • If you’re going to tell what your company does in the lead, do so in as few words as possible. The news will get lost.
  • Make sure you put the date and city in the dateline.

Other Writing Tips

  • Watch your grammar. Bad grammar says a ton about a company–none of it good. Hint–refer to people as “who”, not “that”.
  • Avoid puffery and corporate speak. Press releases are supposed to be factual. They should read somewhat like a news article. Phrases such as “leading provider” don’t fool anyone.  If some organization says you are the leading provider, prove it somewhere in the copy…with a source.
  • Succinctly tell readers what your company does high up in the copy. Get to differentiation lower in the copy.
  • Quote feeling, not fact. “This new market represents an amazing opportunity…”said CEO John Doe. That’s feeling. “We are a software provider that does x, y and z…” That’s fact.
  • Know that quotes are not necessary. Seriously. If your company just won an award, is it really going to accomplish anything with the cliché, “We’re honored…” Yes, there are times your release needs no quotes at all!
  • Use hyperlinks to relevant pages on your website.
  • Use bullets and subheads to break up thoughts.
  • Use bold text for proper names (people and companies). This makes it easier to spot and gives the eye a break.
  • Use  the “inverted pyramid” style of writing. That is, the news up top and the facts supporting that news toward the bottom.
  • Use Associated Press style. This should be the accepted style of all your marketing communications not only because that is how most reporters write but also because most of it makes very good sense.
  • Don’t over-think length. As long as your news is in the lead, does it really matter if the rest is too long? For really important news, a lot of content can really help reporters out by giving them key facts. It can help you out by making sure your messaging points are right there.  They don’t have to read everything, but I see no harm in having long press releases as long as you don’t bury the news. On the flip side, I also don’t see harm in a release that takes up just a few paragraphs.
  • Your contact info should be on each release, even the one you’re posting on your site. Don’t make people work to find you.
  • Don’t underestimate the boilerplate. This section at the bottom of a release is often read by people to get a fuller understanding of what it is you actually do.

Promoting Press Releases

Here are some tips on getting the word out:

  • Do your homework first. Establish a list of reporters you are targeting. Don’t waste their time with fluff. And don’t send a release on your new software version to the Lifestyle editor. That Lifestyle editor might ignore you when you actually have a good feature idea for the Lifestyle section. Again, that is why you have a VP of Communications or a PR account executive on your team.
  • Know that reporters want scoops. Offer one reporter the news before you publish or send to other reporters. This will establish a rapport. NEVER tell someone you are giving him or her a scoop and not oblige. Rightly so, this can get you blacklisted.
  • When sending your news to reporters, know they are getting hundreds of releases sent to them. Copy and paste the release into the e-mail. It’s much more likely to be read that way.
  • Use premium wires such as Marketwire and BusinessWire for big news. Use free services such as PRLog and Citybizlist for all news. You can use both to maximize your exposure.

That’s not all–I didn’t even touch on social media–but I don’t want to give away everything in one post!

I hope these tips help. If you like what you see, please let me know. Also, if I might have missed something, or if you disagree with any of these, feel free to opine.

-Justin Rubner

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