marketing PR

The Evolution of PR in the Digital Era

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Before the internet, public relations was all about outshining the other guy. In the digital world, corporations, nonprofits and public agencies must communicate in ways that build trust. You still want your organization to stand out from competitors. But how you do it and where you do it have changed markedly in the digital era.

Traditional media no longer owns the turf. People get news from a mix of disparate sources, many of which have a point of view or even an agenda. There isn’t a national fireplace around which a majority of Americans gather to hear the news from a handful of trusted broadcasters. A lot of people open up their morning newspaper, if they still subscribe to one, on their smartphones.

(Reposted from April 30, 2019)

(Reposted from April 30, 2019)

Once upon a time, consumers had confidence in what brand leaders said. Now, people want a more personalized relationship with the brands they buy. They want to make sure brands walk their talk.

Skepticism about claims runs deeper, causing consumers to give more credence to reviews than advertising. Events and contests, long a PR staple, stimulate consumer engagement, but don’t automatically build trust. 

The reality: A digital presence is mandatory to connect with consumers, clients and contributors. Websites, blogs/vlogs and social media platforms are gateways into a brand, a cause or an agency because they can tell a more extended and authentic story than a press release.

Organizations are smart to recognize that a sharp online presence can pay dividends in terms of increased transactions, richer interactions and bolstered loyalty. Websites can be layered tiers of useful and relevant information that invite exploration. Blogs or their video siblings can raise awareness through demonstrated thought leadership. Social media can provide a comfortable conduit for purposeful engagement. 

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Stimulating digital media doesn’t just happen by accident. It requires skill, patience and a deep understanding of your consumers, clients or constituents. You need to anticipate what they want to know or would appreciate knowing, then provide it in an appealing, even entertaining way. In the digital world, you have a larger palette of communication colors and a virtually unlimited lens to project your information and messaging.

A critical difference between your grandfather’s PR and digital PR today is linkability. A press release, event or contest could build interest, but didn’t have much shelf life – in part because there was no internet to archive them and make it easy to retrieve them later. Digital content shines because it can be linked to other digital sites, especially a website, the mother earth of an online presence. And it never disappears, even if it falls to page three of a Google search.

A press release or press statement organically has limited reach. When first utilized, they went to legacy media that dominated the public’s attention. That’s less true today. Breaking news, other than car accidents and fires, is more likely now to burst into public view on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Savvy organizations need to use these channels to dispense their big news – or respond to news about them – in real time, a luxury digital media affords.

Press releases have limited emotional appeal. Video and photographic content, which flourishes on digital media, isn’t limited. It can touch hearts, create associations and lead to loyalty. Visual and audio content can strike familiar chords and become sticky in people’s brains.

Digital media’s greatest appeal is its interactive character. Viewers can respond instantly, thoughtfully and impactfully. You may not always like what they say, but the interaction gives you a chance to build a relationship, to seize an opportunity to turn a critic into an ambassador. That’s something the venerable press release never could do.

Of course, the press release has evolved into a digital tool. They can contain rich content and useful links. The internet and social media such as Twitter make it easier to distribute your news and messaging to key digital media targets. 

The digital world doesn’t spell the end of traditional PR principles. Story pitches still need a sharp hook. Pitches work best when tailored and aimed at the most appropriate news outlets. Customizing a story for a particular outlet remains a smart strategy. Fresh content, a unique angle and a human touch still get the attention of news people.

You don’t have to toss all you know about PR out the window. Just open the window and scan all the possibilities the digital world affords to tell your story and spread your message.

 

Content Curation Follows in Footsteps of Reliable Influentials

Online influencers and celebrity endorsers are long-time marketing staples. Now content curation is entering the picture as an authentic, reliable source of advice on products, services and information.

Online influencers and celebrity endorsers are long-time marketing staples. Now content curation is entering the picture as an authentic, reliable source of advice on products, services and information.

Online influencers and celebrity endorsers may face competition from curators, who collect, organize and share content from multiple sources.

Like online influencers and celebrity endorsers, content curators target specific audiences, but their approach is different – and often more authentic. Curators aren’t typically paid for the content they collect, organize and share.

Influencers who specialize in product niches and celebrities who have fans and followers pitch products for cash. Scrupulous influencers review products with enough independence to point out the good and the bad. Celebrities like to guard their reputations and avoid endorsements that conflict with their stage personas or may offend their fans.

Curators are more like thought leaders or trusted advisers. They build audiences and monetize their curation based on the value of information they find, organize and share. Instead of getting paid by advertisers, they have subscribers or followers.

[CFM’s Rules of Engagement blog is an example of content curation in the form of thought leadership. We canvass a spectrum of information about marketing trends, select the most useful articles to our followers and share our perspective on them. We don’t accept payment for blog topics or charge for subscriptions.]

Influencers and celebrities gravitate to platforms such as Instagram. Curators thrive in a wider array of mediums from social media to blogs to podcasts. Influencers and celebrities try to generate buzz. Curators are more about water-cooler conversations.

Influencers offer value by trying out new products so busy consumers can skip expensive, time-consuming trial-and-error. Celebrity endorsements traffic in a product’s cool factor. Curators are more like your friend who is well-read, thoughtful and eager to share what he or she has learned.

Influencers and celebrities can be critical pieces of marketing and advertising campaigns. For consumer-facing startups, a favorable review by an influencer can be marketing gold at a fraction of the price. A celebrity endorsement can put a popular face on an organization (Tom Selleck/NRA) or lend style to a product (Jennifer Garner/Neutrogena).

Curators serve a broader purpose. They include news article aggregators to services such as Angie’s List that provide qualified lists of products and services. Their popularity is based on the value they deliver to individuals who don’t have time to read 10 daily newspapers or want an easy, reliable place to look for a plumber.

Content curation, at its best, replicates the hallmarks of Influentials who do their homework and share what they have learned for the rest of us who are too busy to do the homework ourselves.

Content curation, at its best, replicates the hallmarks of Influentials who do their homework and share what they have learned for the rest of us who are too busy to do the homework ourselves.

For years, market researchers took advantage of “influentials,” the roughly one in 10 people who are well-read and willing to share what they know. Influentials often form an early majority in a market. They may not be trend-setters, but they reflect emerging trends. 

Influencers and curators both seek to fill the role of Influentials in a faster-moving, more fragmented society to provide relevant, reliable views on what camera to buy or the significance of a surging political movement.

Influentials deserve credit for expediting public acceptance of 401(k) retirement accounts, personal computers and cell phones. They also have led mass skepticism of marketing claims, which accounts for why the reputation of the public relations and advertising industry ranks so low. 

You could extrapolate that the best content curators today are trying to follow the long-time example of Influentials as authentic, trusted advisers. In an era of fake news, skewed information sources and partisan bubbles, content curation can play an invaluable role in sorting, organizing and fact-checking product claims and news stories in service of restoring public confidence in what they read.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

Telling Your Unique Brand Story Through a Tagline

A tagline attached to your logo is a great place to tell your brand story, with words customers would use in describing your business or nonprofit. Taglines work for any kind of business or nonprofit, including the real estate industry.

A tagline attached to your logo is a great place to tell your brand story, with words customers would use in describing your business or nonprofit. Taglines work for any kind of business or nonprofit, including the real estate industry.

Telling your story through a tagline is a smart branding strategy. And it isn’t a strategy limited to high-end consumer brands or heartwarming nonprofits. Real estate agents prove the point. 

Real estate is not a business sector renowned for buzzy branding. However, increased competition and flashy technology has spurred fresh thinking on how to stand apart and above the home-selling crowd. Taglines are a key component of fresh approaches.

blog posted by FollowUpBoss, which produces CRM software for the real estate industry, provides the rationale for and examples of excellent storytelling taglines, as well as offering useful tips to create your own tantalizing tagline.

“Most brands underestimate the power of a stellar tagline and end up with the kind of goofy, thoughtless or cheesy slogans that trigger an instant eye-roll,” writes Brittany Ryan.

Sometimes people are too busy or too afraid to take on the task of telling their story in a handful of words. However, the gold in a tagline, according to Ryan, is a phrase or image that “clearly defines the unique value of your service.”

A good example, Ryan says, is EXIT Realty with its trademarked tagline “A Smart Move!” Through its tagline, EXIT touts its international network of “highly trained and knowledgeable agents” and a host of technology tools to pinpoint properties to buy and market properties to sell. “Their tagline is simple, yet it subtly aligns their brand with the customer's desire to make an educated, rational real estate decision,” Ryan says.

Noble Black, which deals in luxury properties in Manhattan, uses this tagline: “Exceptional Reach. Exceptional Results”. “Word choice is 90 percent of any great slogan or tagline and by using the word 'exceptional', the team at Noble and Black is speaking directly to uber-wealthy prospects looking for a service capable of connecting global buyers and sellers who are comfortable with multi-million-dollar transactions.”

New Story is a nonprofit with a mission to end homelessness. Its tagline tells its story: “We pioneer solutions to end global homelessness.” “New Story's tagline perfectly defines its identity, goals and vision for the future. It’s no surprise it’s backed by big players like BHGRE, Sotheby’s International and DocuSign.”

Ryan’s advice for creating a tagline applies regardless of business sector or type of nonprofit. In addition to clearly defining your organization’s unique value, “tell your audience exactly what you do and use active verbs,” she recommends.

Taglines should be customer-centric. “Tell your customer what’s in it for them,” Ryan says. “Answer your customer’s real fears and desires. Keep it emotional, but not scary.” When possible, choose words your customers use when describing your business.

Coming up with the right tagline can be a harrowing experience, so don’t go solo. Ask questions of customers, engage your employees and test your options with stakeholders. You may land on the perfect tagline in your first brainstorm, but more likely it will take greater effort and longer reflection.

“Step away for at least a day before coming back to it with fresh eyes,” Ryan advises. “Try to look at it from the perspective of your ideal customer. After all, a great tagline is more about them than you.”

Engage Social Media Audiences with Regular, Not Random Content

The Property Brothers TV show about house renovation is highly popular. And so are their social media platforms, which highlight their televised remodeling successes with interesting twists. On the  Property Brothers Facebook page , one post features an interview with the first couple who got the “renovation of their dreams” – and doubled as a casting call for new couples who want to realize their dreams.

The Property Brothers TV show about house renovation is highly popular. And so are their social media platforms, which highlight their televised remodeling successes with interesting twists. On the Property Brothers Facebook page, one post features an interview with the first couple who got the “renovation of their dreams” – and doubled as a casting call for new couples who want to realize their dreams.

Social media marketing suffers from “random acts of content,” which makes it hard to win a reliable audience with a consistent appeal. 

Jay Baer of Convince and Convert recommends following the lead of television networks that air shows with a “defined audience and narrative arc” in mind. No randomness about their approach.

“For each social platform, think about what social media content initiatives you can execute on a regular basis, keeping in mind your audience and objectives for that platform,” Baer advises. “Then create and distribute these ‘shows’ consistently. This gives your audiences something to recognize, engage with and (hopefully) look forward to on a regular basis.”

“Repeatability” is the key to attracting and keeping an audience on social media, Baer says. In a blog posted on Medium, he gave as an example a major homebuilder that launched an Instagram presence centered on images of interiors in its homes. Baer said the photos average 5,000 likes apiece and fetch comments, including from professional interior designers, that offer suggestions for new design touches and Instagram topics.

“It’s a highly targeted, nearly free focus group,” Baer says.

A one-size-fits-all social media strategy doesn’t cut it as each major platform has sharpened its differentiation, attracting a different mix of viewers and offering them a different vibe. That means, Baer explains, a separate content strategy for Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

“Posting the same social media content, in multiple channels, at the same time and hoping to achieve spectacular results hasn’t worked in years,” Baer insists. “From a marketing perspective, there is no such thing as ‘social media.’ It’s nearly pointless to think of social media as one thing, because the audiences, use cases, technology, algorithms, optimal cadences and other characteristics of each social platform continue to diverge.”

Once you have locked in a strategy and understand what viewers expect from individual channels, the task is to identify useful and informative kinds of content that can approximate “regularly scheduled programming,” to use Baer’s words.

You still can offer a mix of content, Baer says, but the bread-and-butter of the strategy need to be “shows” that viewers can count on, look forward to and tune in almost automatically. 

While specialized and repeatable content designed to fit the contours of each social media platform you employ may sound daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Yes, it requires thought and discipline, but not a full Hollywood production team.

Baer’s example provides a solid hint. His homebuilder client established his brand on attractive interiors. Ergo, why not share his best interiors in images on platforms that reward photography such as Instagram and Pinterest, the latter of which has a compatible demographic. The effort involves regularly scooping up good imagery and presenting it in a consistent fashion that is viewer-friendly and invites engagement. 

Hard, but perhaps fun, too. One more chore on a to-do list, but a chore that earns feedback and kudos.

As usual, Baer drills down to practical ideas to achieve marketing success. The concept of repeatability is at once obvious and brilliant. Even better, it already has a track record of success. Just watch your favorite TV shows to see the proof.

 

Using Simplicity and Subtlety to Make a Brand Stand Out

This Ring video doorbell advertisement has been simplified to two images – the doorbell and the image you get on your smartphone showing who is on your doorstep. The visitor faces you see are friendly, but the ad subtly underlines the product’s value when more malign intruders come knocking.

This Ring video doorbell advertisement has been simplified to two images – the doorbell and the image you get on your smartphone showing who is on your doorstep. The visitor faces you see are friendly, but the ad subtly underlines the product’s value when more malign intruders come knocking.

Standing out in the crowd is essential in today’s overloaded brand world. Sometimes it just takes a little imagination and an awareness of the moment.

Highlighter pen maker Stabilo Boss launched a series of print ads in 2018 based on historical black-and-white photos of remarkable women, including Katherine Johnson. She was the NASA “computer” featured in the award-winning movie Hidden Figures who made the complex mathematical calculations for safely returning the Apollo 11 astronauts from the moon to earth.

The simply designed ad pictured the NASA control room full of white men wearing white shirts, except for Johnson, who is African-American. She was singled out in the photograph with a yellow highlight connected to a Stabilo Boss pen. The ad carried the headline, “Highlight the remarkable.” 

The campaign, which also featured similar ads “highlighting” Nobel Prize winner Lise Meitner and First Lady Edith Wilson, was a social media smash and distinguished Stabilo Boss from what we think of as generic highlighter pens.

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What makes this ad series so impressive is how deceptively simple it was to create and execute them. The key was linking “highlighting” and “highlighters,” then imagining what would be impressive to highlight. The ad creators identified remarkable women as a topical, positive and appealing subject. And voilà. 

What makes the Johnson-centered ad so appealing is its simplicity and subtlety. It also should be a light-bulb moment that creating great marketing material can be manageable, affordable and even pleasurable. 

The initial inspiration was to connect the distinctive quality of the product with a concept that embodies or signifies that quality – highlighter/highlight. The purpose of highlighter pens is to make something stand out, so the next decision is what deserves to be highlighted for standing out? All it took was an awareness of trending topics. Recognizing women for signal achievements fit the moment as the #MeToo movement continued to claim public attention and social media traction.

Marketers, brand managers and entrepreneurs can trace a similar logic train to discover a wildly simple, yet evocative way to shine a light on their products. The result of the thought process might be only a sketch or an inspiration image. A graphic designer can take it from there.

Before going all in, test reaction to your ad. Ask your test group if the ad shows off what makes your brand distinctive, catches the eye and is in step with current trends. See if your ad has the sparkle it takes to be shared and talked about.

Developing effective marketing content can be a dreary task. Creating a homegrown winner using the Stabilo Boss formula can be fun and rewarding. It might even be a career highlighter.

 

Shark Tank Case Studies of Good (and Bad) Brand Stories

Shark Tank  is a great place to check out good (and bad) brand stories that show how a product works, what problem is solves and why it was created.

Shark Tank is a great place to check out good (and bad) brand stories that show how a product works, what problem is solves and why it was created.

Shark Tank affords entrepreneurs a high-profile opportunity to seek a business-building investment. The popular TV show also serves as a case study for telling a compelling brand story.

Entrepreneurs typically enter the “shark tank” by showing how their product works and describing the problem it solves. In conversation with the investor-sharks, entrepreneurs share their back story, relevant financial information and the channel where their product is sold. In other words, they tell their brand story.

Sometimes, the brand stories click. Other times, they flop. The best brand stories hang together – from brand promise to value proposition. The worst brand stories break down because they aren’t convincing or fall apart under questioning.

Too often the concept of brand story is conflated with slippery marketing goo. Brand stories focus on why a product is wonderful and neglect explaining why it’s useful. Brand stories should avoid turning products into heroes and concentrate instead on demonstrating how a product can make users heroes.

Like any engaging story, a brand story needs to strike a chord with its intended audience. On an episode of Shark Tank, three Clemson University entrepreneurs told how as beer drinkers they grew tired of lugging heavy ice chests to events, so they invented a sleek, lightweight container that fits perfectly around a six-pack. For extra appeal, they add an exterior with logos from universities or sports teams. Their brand story featured an affordable, reusable and customized cooler you carry with a shoulder strap. [Mark Cuban invested in the company.] 

On the same episode, two entrepreneurs displayed their patented door block, designed to thwart a forced entry. They demonstrated how it worked by repeatedly kicking and ramming a door without it flying open. Even though the demonstration was impressive, the entrepreneurs went away empty-handed because the sharks viewed the price-point as too high to attract a mass audience. This was a case study of a brand story that didn’t prove its value proposition.

Interestingly, the door-block entrepreneurs mentioned off-handedly a recent purchase order from a school district looking for an affordable way of securing vulnerable classrooms from intruders. This throwaway mention would have enriched their brand story much more than the exhaustive demonstration of how the door block works by showing an unanticipated, scalable use.

Back stories can be critical to brand stories by humanizing products and their inventors. Back stories can illuminate how an entrepreneur came up with his or her idea or what expertise they bring to their nascent business. We live in a time when consumers, especially young consumers, want to associate with a brand. Back stories are gateways to such associations.

Brand stories are important because they convey values, not just value propositions. The sharks frequently decide whether to invest in a new product based on the values of the entrepreneur. Consumers make a similar judgment.

Nike’s embrace of Colin Kaepernick and Patagonia’s longstanding commitment to public lands protection are examples of value-forward brand storytelling.

Authenticity is critical for a brand story to resonate. You cannot assume consumers are gullible. Treat consumers as an invited audience into your brand living room to share real information. In sharing, steer clear of hype, hyperbole and self-aggrandizement. Save that, if you must, for the 30-second TV ad. Best advice, leave your ego back at your garage or wherever your startup started.

Emotive content fits better in brand storytelling than almost any other marketing tool. Who hasn’t bought a pair of TOMS shoes because the for-profit company posing as a charity donates a pair to children in poor countries. TOMS has taken pains to flesh out its brand promise with 360-degree videos of its shoes being delivered to delighted children in Central America. It wouldn’t be surprising if some asylum-seeking families at the US border have children with well-worn TOMS shoes.

The best brand stories – like the ones that capture investments on Shark Tank – are fulsome. They don’t stop with the “what” of a product; they continue with the “why” and the “how.” Entrepreneurs need to be prepared to go deep. Websites allow layered storytelling that can accommodate more complex and complete stories. So can videos.

It goes without saying that brand storytelling on Shark Tank is visual. There aren’t any fact sheets, backgrounders or instruction manuals. It is an entrepreneur facing a skeptical audience waiting to be impressed. What the product does is important. How the entrepreneur explains what it does is more important. Did I mention videos?

Shark Tank, for better or worse, is ubiquitous on television, so tune in and check out visual brand storytelling at its best – and often at its worst. The winners are the ones with a clear demonstration of worth and an equally clear picture of value.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Clues to How and Why Chatter Can Matter

People get and give advice by word-of-mouth, but how this kind of networking actually works is still a bit of a mystery. Jay Baer brings his marketing touch to the subject, offering clues to why chatter matters and how to trigger effective word-of-mouth marketing.

People get and give advice by word-of-mouth, but how this kind of networking actually works is still a bit of a mystery. Jay Baer brings his marketing touch to the subject, offering clues to why chatter matters and how to trigger effective word-of-mouth marketing.

It’s no secret we seek advice from friends, family and people we trust before purchasing products, making decisions and casting votes. Yet, how word-of-mouth actually works still remains a mystery to most marketers, decision-makers and political operatives.

Jay Baer has a new book that seeks to roll back the curtains on how people rely on word-of-mouth and how marketers can create consumers through “chatter that matters.”

Baer endeared himself to marketers with his earlier work called Youtility – the concept that marketing should focus on help, not hype. Baer contended providing useful information is the best route to attracting consumers.

In his new book, Talk Triggers, Baer and co-author Daniel Lemin attempt to provide the same level of illumination when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing. In a companion piece, Chatter Matters, Baer and Lemin analyze research data gathered by Audience Audit to assess word-of-mouth trends and preferences by different age groups and categories of purchasers. They also studied whether online or offline word-of-mouth has the most impact and the effectiveness of celebrity endorsers.

Word-of-mouth is, of course, the oldest form of recommendation and customer acquisition, and it may be more important than ever,” Baer and Lemin say. “When receiving a verbal recommendation from a friend or family member, 83% of Americans are more interested in purchasing the discussed product or service.” 

While word-of-mouth is a preferred form of advice for nearly everyone, men and women, as well as people of different ages, rely on it at varying degrees. Data in Chatter Matters indicates women rely on offline word-of-mouth from friends and family 22% more often than men. White Americans are more inclined to try a product recommended by a friend or family members than non-white Americans.

The report indicates we may give as much advice as we receive, noting “55% of Americans make product or service recommendations to other once per month.” More than 80% say they have offered recommendations.

Younger Americans are more inclined to share “overheard word-of-mouth,” according to the report. Gen Z are the most likely to share (48%) compared to Baby Boomers (38%).

Chatter Matters touches on the trust level of celebrity endorsements. Research found 25 percent of respondents don’t trust any celebrity endorsement. Of the celebrities mentioned in the survey, the highest-ranking person was Oprah Winfrey at 4%. Donald Trump weighed in at 2.8% and Warren Buffet at 2%. No one else broke the 2% threshold.

Personal recommendations appear to matter more than ones on social media. “Americans value word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family 41% more than social media recommendations.” However, a failed relationship can sour the “trust quotient” – “66% of Americans trust an anonymous, online review more than a recommendation from an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.”

Friends with personal experience count for more than advertising when it comes to major purchases. For example, the report says, “When planning a wedding, word-of-mouth from friends is 331% more likely to be relied on than advertising.”

Choosing a restaurant is different. Overall, 50% of Americans rely on recommendations from friends and family when choosing a restaurant. However, Gen Z and Millennials are 99% more likely to rely on social and online reviews than are their Gen X and Boomer counterparts.

Word-of-mouth is much more dominant force than advertising in influencing how people vote, especially for Millennials. Baby Boomers pay more attention to news coverage to inform their voting.

Chatter Matters is what you might call the appetizer to the full meal in Talk Triggers, which offers advice and examples of how to use word-of-mouth marketing effectively.

 

Video Story Pitches = the Steak in the Sizzle for Startups

The best asset for a startup business is the entrepreneur who risked everything to start it. Their face in a video story pitch can more than compensate for the money, skill and established rapport of larger businesses.

The best asset for a startup business is the entrepreneur who risked everything to start it. Their face in a video story pitch can more than compensate for the money, skill and established rapport of larger businesses.

Startups usually don’t set aside pots of money for marketing. To get noticed, they need low-cost options with a decent chance of success.

Writing for EntrepreneurJennifer Spencer offers some suggestions, starting with video story pitches.

Established firms with a PR agency or in-house staff have existing relationships with local reporters and key trade press publications. The best asset for most startups is the founder. There is no better way to pitch a story than in the voice of the founder.

A video literally puts a face to the pitch, Spencer says, showcasing the brains behind the new business. That can spark interest and stand out in a crowded queue of pitches written by public relations professionals.

Written press releases can include quotes from the CEO, while a video pitch conveys context in a conversational tone. It’s as if he or she is personally sharing their views or telling an interesting story, because he or she is personally sharing a view or a telling the story.

Standard story pitches have embraced multi-media. Video story pitches also can be accompanied by infographics, charts, images and B-roll video.

Video story pitches still need to be news worthy. No fluff or self-serving CEO quotes. And production values matter.

Video story pitches still need to be news worthy. No fluff or self-serving CEO quotes. And production values matter.

Well-conceived and engaging videos used for story pitches can be repurposed as social media content, which isn’t true of typical text-based press releases. Video content attracts more clicks and has wider generational appeal.

Creativity is useful in developing story-pitch videos. There aren’t really too many restraints. For example, a video might include short clips of endorsers for a new product or a visual explanation for how to use a product.

Another creative use of a video story pitch is to newsjack, the art of piggybacking on a trending story to gain attention for your brand. A lot of newsjacking occurs on Twitter, so a video story pitch can be an attention-grabbing variation that can make its way onto traditional media websites and social media platforms.

Think of video story pitches as teasers. Produce longer versions or a series of clips that can be shared in response to media inquiries or as extenders if the media picks up your story.

Video story pitches still need to be newsworthy. You need a captivating news hook. Fluff won’t cut it. Self-serving quotes don’t come across any better on video than in print. Poor production can undermine the effort.

As things stack up, lacking financial resources could even be an advantage. It will force you to be inventive, authentic and engaging – more or less, the steak in the sizzle of any good story pitch.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Feedback Serves a Purpose; FeedForward Can Serve a Higher Purpose

Feedback can provide useful insight into how to make something or someone better. Feedforward offers a more dynamic perspective by looking beyond feedback to imagine other options that can be differentiating, disruptive and transformative.

Feedback can provide useful insight into how to make something or someone better. Feedforward offers a more dynamic perspective by looking beyond feedback to imagine other options that can be differentiating, disruptive and transformative.

We have been conditioned to seek feedback. Why not pursue feedforward?

Feedback, by its nature and name, focuses on the past. Feedforward, on the other hand, peers into the future with a sense of moving forward. Both can be valuable. Looking forward may offer the most upside.

It is a military truism that generals prepare to fight the last war, not the next one. The same holds true in public relations. You don’t conquer the next generation of communications challenges by fighting past battles.  

While feedback informs you of what went right and what went wrong, feedforward can inform about how to tackle anticipated future issues. Feedforward incorporates feedback, but projects it forward. Feedforward skips past guilt and resentment for failure dredged up in the feedback process.

The advantage of a feedforward perspective is widening the horizon of options. Feedback is limited to reactions of what actually happened. Feedforward allows you to imagine potential scenarios. Feedback has the quality of history. Feedforward is more like science fiction. Feedforward taps into an energy pool of what could be.

“Quality communications – between and among people at all levels and every department and division – is the glue that holds organizations together,” writes Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. “By using feedforward – and by encouraging others to use it – leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring that the right message is conveyed and those who receive it are receptive to its content.”

“The result,” he concludes, “is a much more dynamic, much more open organization – one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past.”

Of course, Goldsmith’s view undersells the benefits of seeking candid feedback. Feedback isn’t always negative and recipients of feedback aren’t always put on the defensive. Reliable analysis of strategies, initiatives, output and products is part of a constructive feedback loop with a goal of continuous improvement.

Feedback loops are just that – loops. They are intended to improve what is, not explore other options. Honest feedback can surface other options, which is where feedforward comes in as a means to evaluate other ways of doing or making something.

The difference and interplay between feedback and feedforward is analogous to the management dilemma of correcting an employee’s weaknesses or leveraging their strengths. It is never exclusively one or the other. However, too often, correcting an employee’s shortcomings dominates interactions, with little attention paid to how an employee strength could be nurtured and maximized. 

Feedback serves a useful purpose. Feedforward may serve a higher purpose. Acknowledging that and learning how to incorporate both in strategy development and decision-making may turn into an unexpected organizational strength, creating a clear differentiation and disrupting the status quo.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

The Cost-Effective Benefits of Brand Ambassadors and Influencers

If you don’t have millions to spend on paid advertising, recruiting brand ambassadors and influencers may be the most cost-effective way to build your brand in an organic, authentic and durable way. Brand ambassadors and influencers have overlapping goals and qualities, but are actually quite different.

If you don’t have millions to spend on paid advertising, recruiting brand ambassadors and influencers may be the most cost-effective way to build your brand in an organic, authentic and durable way. Brand ambassadors and influencers have overlapping goals and qualities, but are actually quite different.

Brand ambassadors and influencers can be important parts of marketing strategies. While both seek to build trust, their roles can be confused, their motivations misunderstood and their value overlooked. 

A brand ambassador is a consumer who falls in love with your product or service. An influencer is someone with a large following who recommends your product or service, sometimes for a fee. 

Both are legitimate and effective strategies. Each tends to work best at a different point in brand evolution.

Influencers can jumpstart a new brand or a new brand offering by testing a product and giving it a thumbs up. Brand ambassadors can reassure fellow consumers that the brand is retaining or recommitting to its commitment to quality and responsiveness.

Recommendations from brand ambassadors tend to spread by word-of-mouth. Recommendations by influencers are typically promoted on social media.

Celebrities fall into the influencer camp. Experts can be an integral part of a brand ambassador program, such as a dentist recommending a specific brand of electronic toothbrush or a personal trainer wearing a particular brand of workout apparel. In this sense, celebrities and experts fulfill a similar role vouching for a brand. They both may receive some form of compensation in the form of payments or discounts. Brand ambassadors may be given product discounts.

Marketers directly contact influencers to explore product tests, with the understanding the influencer will produce a review. Influencers are chosen based on whether their following matches the target demographic of a brand. Some influencers accept free samples to test; others don’t. Some influencers are paid directly; others make their money on advertising on their platforms. The review by influencers is not guaranteed to be positive. Of course, a hired celebrity with a script is a sure thing.

Brand ambassadors are cultivated, sometimes by turning angry critics into brand zealots. They tend to be recruited to tell their own story about a brand. You might call them indirect spokespersons. Influencers also can tell a story about your brand that is more of a direct recommendation on why and how to use it.

Influencers come in all sizes. They can be well-known celebrities, macro-influencers with thousands of followers or micro-influencers that are connected to a network of bloggers and social media sites. A circle of friends can be an influencer starter set. In fact, many entrepreneurs have launched successful products by getting their friends jazzed up and spreading the word. This is where influencer and brand ambassador programs overlap.

They share other characteristics, too. Both can command respect from consumers and are capable of building trust in a brand. Both share content about a brand. Both exercise a level of autonomy in what they choose to tout, which gives both a sense of authenticity. Both speak with their own voice. Their recommendations don’t reek as marketing. Sometimes, a compensated influencer evolves into an unpaid brand ambassador. 

There are significant differences. Influencers are chosen because of their expertise that has attracted a following that matches a target market. Brand ambassadors are like invited guests into your house. Influencers test your product and are paid to rave about it; brand ambassadors love your product and are eager to talk about it.

Employees are the most obvious source of brand ambassadors. Nike and Columbia Sportswear make sure their employees have access to their respective company stores so they wear what they design and market.

Influencers and brand ambassadors can show consumers how your brand performs. An influencer on YouTube can demonstrate how to prepare a Sunday dinner. A brand ambassador might offer to cook a Sunday dinner in your home.

For brands unable to sustain or even start a paid advertising presence, influencers and brand ambassadors represent a cost-effective marketing alternative. Because both rely on relationships and seek to build trust, they pair well with the zeal of contemporary consumers to engage with the brands they buy. Both are organic and conversational. They aren’t intended to reach masses overnight. They are aimed at creating a solid base of consumer loyalty on which to build a thriving business.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling. 

 

The Evolution of PR in the Digital Era

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Before the internet, public relations was all about outshining the other guy. In the digital world, corporations, nonprofits and public agencies must communicate in ways that build trust. You still want your organization to stand out from competitors. But how you do it and where you do it have changed markedly in the digital era.

Traditional media no longer owns the turf. People get news from a mix of disparate sources, many of which have a point of view or even an agenda. There isn’t a national fireplace around which a majority of Americans gather to hear the news from a handful of trusted broadcasters. A lot of people open up their morning newspaper, if they still subscribe to one, on their smartphones.

Once upon a time, consumers had confidence in what brand leaders said. Now, people want a more personalized relationship with the brands they buy. They want to make sure brands walk their talk.

Skepticism about claims runs deeper, causing consumers to give more credence to reviews than advertising. Events and contests, long a PR staple, stimulate consumer engagement, but don’t automatically build trust. 

The reality: A digital presence is mandatory to connect with consumers, clients and contributors. Websites, blogs/vlogs and social media platforms are gateways into a brand, a cause or an agency because they can tell a more extended and authentic story than a press release.

Organizations are smart to recognize that a sharp online presence can pay dividends in terms of increased transactions, richer interactions and bolstered loyalty. Websites can be layered tiers of useful and relevant information that invite exploration. Blogs or their video siblings can raise awareness through demonstrated thought leadership. Social media can provide a comfortable conduit for purposeful engagement. 

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Stimulating digital media doesn’t just happen by accident. It requires skill, patience and a deep understanding of your consumers, clients or constituents. You need to anticipate what they want to know or would appreciate knowing, then provide it in an appealing, even entertaining way. In the digital world, you have a larger palette of communication colors and a virtually unlimited lens to project your information and messaging.

A critical difference between your grandfather’s PR and digital PR today is linkability. A press release, event or contest could build interest, but didn’t have much shelf life – in part because there was no internet to archive them and make it easy to retrieve them later. Digital content shines because it can be linked to other digital sites, especially a website, the mother earth of an online presence. And it never disappears, even if it falls to page three of a Google search.

A press release or press statement organically has limited reach. When first utilized, they went to legacy media that dominated the public’s attention. That’s less true today. Breaking news, other than car accidents and fires, is more likely now to burst into public view on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Savvy organizations need to use these channels to dispense their big news – or respond to news about them – in real time, a luxury digital media affords.

Press releases have limited emotional appeal. Video and photographic content, which flourishes on digital media, isn’t limited. It can touch hearts, create associations and lead to loyalty. Visual and audio content can strike familiar chords and become sticky in people’s brains.

Digital media’s greatest appeal is its interactive character. Viewers can respond instantly, thoughtfully and impactfully. You may not always like what they say, but the interaction gives you a chance to build a relationship, to seize an opportunity to turn a critic into an ambassador. That’s something the venerable press release never could do.

Of course, the press release has evolved into a digital tool. They can contain rich content and useful links. The internet and social media such as Twitter make it easier to distribute your news and messaging to key digital media targets. 

The digital world doesn’t spell the end of traditional PR principles. Story pitches still need a sharp hook. Pitches work best when tailored and aimed at the most appropriate news outlets. Customizing a story for a particular outlet remains a smart strategy. Fresh content, a unique angle and a human touch still get the attention of news people.

You don’t have to toss all you know about PR out the window. Just open the window and scan all the possibilities the digital world affords to tell your story and spread your message.

 

Find and Share the Many Faces of Your Story

Discover a great story to tell, then think how you can share it uniquely and effectively across different outreach platforms such as your website, social media and email. Hint: think of your intended audience and follow where they lead.

Discover a great story to tell, then think how you can share it uniquely and effectively across different outreach platforms such as your website, social media and email. Hint: think of your intended audience and follow where they lead.

Sharing your story on multiple media is smart. But don’t assume a one-size-fits-all strategy for content. Discover the many faces of your story that align with your different outreach platforms.

Some story forms work on a website, but land like a thud on Instagram. Optimally, the story should conform to the audience that dominates individual platforms. The demographics and viewing habits of audiences vary greatly from Twitter to Facebook or from LinkedIn to Instagram. The content should be shaped accordingly.

Russell Working, writing for ragan.com, channels some of the secrets employed by Good Morning America, which he notes is the number one morning news show with a history of online success. Working pulls together some of the top tips from Terry Hurlbutt on effective content and distribution strategies.

One of his tips is to “adopt the story to the medium.” “What is the story we’re trying to tell?” Hurlbutt says. “What is the heart of it? And then how do we adapt that story to a different medium?” It could be as simple as using a video on Facebook and a selfie or behind-the-scenes look for an e-letter.

A story told by a TV anchor works for a network website. Taking the host out of the story elevates the same story’s interest on Facebook. Selfie-style video may pique interest of the same story on Instagram. Live streaming offers a you-are-there perspective that can appeal to viewers who want ultimate realism. 

Sometimes the variations are as simple as where the camera is pointed. For a cooking show, you want to see the chef, but your best view of a recipe-in-progress can be a top-down camera view.

Most brands and businesses don’t have all the resources of ABC or network news shows. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to creativity and maximize what you shoot for multiple outlets. Hurlbutt advises that an advantage of digital content is that it can be easily molded and folded to “feel natural” to conversations on different digital platforms.

Not every story lends itself to repurpose for multiple media. The stories that are most amenable tend to be inspirational and about real people. “The world is full of inspiring stories every day,” Hurlbutt says. “Find them and elevate those stories to a wider audience.”

It goes without saying the critical element in spreading around your story is careful planning. You can’t just wing it or hope it works out. That trivializes what could be a golden moment.

As Hurlbutt advised, look for stories with multiple facets that can be told through a mix of lenses. Identify the core of the story, which needs to be the mother rock of whatever variations you develop. Then do a 360 around that core to see how it looks or can be viewed from different angles. Consider narrators and story forms in the context of audience preferences or platform norms. Think about how to capture these different views. Finally, lay out how to optimize each vantage point to maximize your overall story reach. 

Yes, this involves some hard work and getting out of your comfort zone. Keep in mind, your audience will appreciate the effort and show their appreciation by sharing your story far beyond your immediate orbit.

 

Infographics are Eye-Grabbing Pictures of Information

‘Infographics’ is a seemingly new word to describe pictures of information, but the concept dates back to the days of cave-dwellers and is as common as a subway map. Infographics capture eyeballs and can be easier-than-you-think to create.

‘Infographics’ is a seemingly new word to describe pictures of information, but the concept dates back to the days of cave-dwellers and is as common as a subway map. Infographics capture eyeballs and can be easier-than-you-think to create.

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Marketers and PR professionals frequently refer to “infographics.” You may not recognize the word, but you most likely have seen more than one of them.

In the simplest explanation, infographics are pictures of information. They can include charts, illustrations, photographs and text designed to convey information in a more visual way than a series of dense paragraphs.

Infographics is a new coinage for an ancient idea. Cave drawings may have been the first infographics by showing through pictures significant events or achievements. Mapmakers have produced infographics for centuries that show continents, oceans, mountain ranges, rivers, trails and, more recently, highways. Public transit maps showing routes and stops are a perfect example of an infographic.

The surge in interest in infographics is tied to social media viewing habits. Infographics attract more clicks and are far more likely to be read than messages consisting of only text. Busy (or distracted) people want to acquire information as easily as possible without digging through dense prose. Infographics appeal because they package information so skimmers can pick out key facts and easily follow a short visual narrative. Viewers like infographics because they are easy to share.

Communicators should like infographics because they demand a disciplined approach to what you are trying to say – and forcing you to say it in more than words that you tap out on your laptop.

Like any other communication tool, the secret sauce of infographics is saying something worthwhile, then figuring out how to visualize what you are saying. That starts with your storyline. Yes, infographics are just another storytelling technique. Begin with an eye-catching piece of data to grab attention. Make sure your narrative is logical for your audience to follow.

Once you have a story to tell, think about how to illustrate your key points to keep the story moving. Use stick figures or scribbles to develop your basic design. If you need inspiration, Google infographics, look at some examples and select the styles that work best for your story. 

Some communicators shun infographics, despite their proven effectiveness, because they don’t know how to create them. That’s understandable, but very curable. There are plenty of tools that can walk you through their creation. If you have a teenager or young adult, they could whip one out with ease. You may have someone on your staff who can take your rough draft and turn it into a splendid infographic. There are plenty of graphic designers who will do it for you at a reasonable price. 

Have a point of view on how you want your infographic to work and look. At the same time, be open to other ideas about how to show your story. There is no formula for the perfect infographic. New ideas are being explored everyday – from squares instead of scrolls to 3D illustrations.

The constants in infographics include using color that is consonant with your branding, readable typefaces, social media sharing buttons, mobile optimization and a clear call to action. The design you put into your infographic should be repeated in other communications, so you have a consistent visual identity. 

To achieve its objective, your infographic needs to be promoted and shared. LinkedIn is an excellent platform, along with Facebook and Twitter. Instagram can be the right choice if your target is younger eyeballs. Don’t forget to post the infographic on your website or write about it in your blog.

Still not convinced? Read this infographic developed by Spiralytics about how infographics can benefit your business.

 

Backstories Forge Bonds with Internal and External Audiences

Backstories can inform fellow workers and impress external audiences. They are a form of storytelling based on authenticity that can convey human feelings and intriguing details as a way to build bonds to a brand.

Backstories can inform fellow workers and impress external audiences. They are a form of storytelling based on authenticity that can convey human feelings and intriguing details as a way to build bonds to a brand.

Think about how an inside job can become a revealing piece of content for the outside world. It could be doubly worth your time.

Going behind the scenes to tell the story of how one part of your operation works can be great content for your internal audience. The story also can be compelling content for your external audience.

Authenticity has always been important, but it has taken on deeper significance in the digital age with the specter of bots, fake feeds and deceptive or reimbursed reviews. Backstories convey authenticity to consumers by personalizing the employees and processes that produce the goods and services they buy. They can be about talented employees, unusual process or colorful personalities. They can appeal to emotions and feelings.

Internal audiences have a built-in interest in learning what their fellow employees do and how they do it. These backstories can be animated with human interest details, which, coincidentally, also hold appeal for consumers who like having a more tangible connection to the people that make a brand.

Antora Energy shares its backstory from the childhood of its founders to its emerging position as helping to create a cleaner electric grid for America.  https://medium.com/cyclotron-road/backstories-antora-energy-d06de388a388 .

Antora Energy shares its backstory from the childhood of its founders to its emerging position as helping to create a cleaner electric grid for America. https://medium.com/cyclotron-road/backstories-antora-energy-d06de388a388.

A smart approach to capturing interesting backstories is to create the equivalent of an editorial board. Its job would be to identify workers or parts of a business that lend themselves to backstory treatment – unique processes, intriguing personalities, unexpected successes. The editorial board then would assign someone or a team to go get the real backstory.

Most organizations have moved beyond a printed newsletter to an intranet or enterprise forums such as Yammer, Slack or Chatter. These platforms expand the range of formats that can used to tell the backstory. A mix of formats, such as video, infographic, photo gallery or podcast, can keep the storytelling fresh and inviting. Smartphone videos and photographs provide ample production values.

The same formats can conform themselves for external sharing through a website, social media or paid advertising. Backstories about your own employees can be a source of interactivity if you invite consumers to share their backstories involving your product or service.

Care needs to be taken to avoid contrived backstories. The stories should be real, even if they aren’t glitzy or heart-melting. If consumers or employees get the scent of hype, the magic of back stories goes poof. 

There is a lot of competing content to break through, regardless whether it’s aimed at an internal or external audience. Backstories can work if they are truly authentic and thoughtfully expressed.

The objective of sharing backstories is to generate bonding – among your own staff, with your consumers and for your brand. Like all forms of storytelling, back stories can attract and hold attention. They also can teach and touch people’s heartstrings.

Aim Digital Content at People, Not Search Engines

When you create marketing content, should you write for your audience or search engine algorithms? One expert says write for your audience, providing informative, useful and relevant content.

When you create marketing content, should you write for your audience or search engine algorithms? One expert says write for your audience, providing informative, useful and relevant content.

When you write a blog or some other form of digital content, is your target audience real people or a search engine? It is more than a theoretical question because without search engine optimization, your content may never reach the eyes of your intended audience.

Writing for Search Engine Journal, Sam Hollingsworth claims writing for a search engine is a mistake. He says digital content producers should focus on “the human beings who are actually reading the content” and let ever-improving search engines do the rest.

“Google’s role in the everyday lives of humans across the world becomes greater each passing minute, deeply rooted in its dedication to ensuring its search engine is giving users the best-possible answers to specific search queries, anytime and anywhere,” Hollingsworth says. “For these reasons, Google (or any other search engine) doesn’t need us to write content that is specifically designed for it. Google serves its users, and it wants content to serve them as well.”

That sounds good, but does it really work that way? It does, Hollingsworth insists, if you follow some basic rules of the road for search engines. Here are for writing “quality content:”

  • Quality content should have a purpose – a topic matched with an audience. The topic should be of interest, relevant and useful to the intended audience. It wouldn’t hurt if it also was entertaining and had some presentational value. Stick to a single topic in each piece of content so you can fully engage readers, not confuse them.

  • Quality content has a unique voice. If your content sounds like anyone could have written it, then you provide little incentive for readers to search for you. People may have favorite genres, but most people appreciate a variety of writing styles. The surest way to write in a unique style is let your writing reflect how you think and speak about topics.

  • Quality content is well researched. It should cover a topic thoroughly and not be limited to a specific word count if the topic demands longer treatment. Solid research should be showcased by effective packaging – headlines, charts and illustrations.

  • Quality content is well written. Copyediting is a must to catch typos and grammatical flubs. Editing for writing style and clarity is also important to put forward your best wordsmithing. Maybe most important, attack your story in an arresting way so it will seem fresh and inviting. It never hurts to make your first sentence the best sentence.

  • Quality content should have an author. Readers will want to know who they are listening to, so tell them. Bylines become reputational business cards attached to quality content. If people trust what you write and find it interesting and informative, they will follow you, which after all is the point of content marketing.

  • Quality content cites sources. Saying where statistics come from is essential to establish credibility. Citations also reflect the reliable sources you are monitoring to prepare your content. Relying on sources has the salutary effect of curbing any temptation to hype a fact.

To the extent content generators need to worry about search engines, they should concentrate on the relevancy of their content. This goes beyond the purpose of the content to the purpose of content marketing. What are your consumers or clients searching for and how can you deliver the content they search?  Your expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness need to bend to the simple proposition that you must provide the answers for your intended audience’s questions. There is no other reason for marketing through content.

There are different strategies to consider. You may want to appeal to a wide universe and build a large following. You may increase your clicks and stimulate word-of-mouth engagement. Or you may zero in on a smaller group of people, who have specific questions that, depending on your answers, could convert them from readers to buyers.

Relevance written small or large doesn’t change Hollingworth’s main advice – quality content should aim at people, not algorithms. Understand how search engines work because they are critical to connecting with your audience. But really understand what your audience wants to know – and give it to them.

 

Hot Trends to Keep Content Marketing Fresh and Relevant

Target audiences keep moving and so should your content marketing strategy to reach them. Here are tips and trends that can enable you to keep your content fresh, relevant and easy to access by consumers.

Target audiences keep moving and so should your content marketing strategy to reach them. Here are tips and trends that can enable you to keep your content fresh, relevant and easy to access by consumers.

Successful content marketing involves a lot more than slapping a slab of content onto your website or into a blog. It requires a strategy, moxie and keeping current on evolving trends.

Brendan Gannon, who is the marketing and editorial coordinator at Ragan Communications and PR Daily, produced an infographic that tracks the seven hottest trends for content marketing. Some of them aren’t new, but have become even more important. Others stretch the concept of content marketing.

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At the top of Gannon’s list of trends is authenticity. This has always been an essential ingredient in content marketing. The spread of fake news has heightened consumer interest in brands they can trust. Gannon cites statistics to back up his point – 91 percent of consumers will reward brands for authenticity and 86 percent say authenticity is important in their decision of what brands to support. Transparency, he explains, is the best way showcase brand authenticity.

Another staple of content marketing are personal connections. The tried-and-true way to build rapport is through content that is relevant, informative and useful. Gannon suggests that can extend to social media by replying promptly to consumer comments or questions, hosting Twitter chats or Facebook Live Q&As and telling stories on Instagram. Content can be personalized, he adds, by showcasing your own staff so consumers feel comfortable they are in a relationship with people.

Gannon’s third hot trend is somewhat counterintuitive. He argues for augmenting video and podcast content, which draw the biggest online crowds, with long-form content, which attracts serious consumers and impresses Google’s algorithm so you move up in searches. Longer pieces, according to Gannon, also underscore you are an authority on a subject and someone worth consumer attention.

Placing content in multiple channels and formats is at once obvious and not so easy to accomplish. To cover all your consumer bases, Gannon says, you need to spread around your content. Video is the big dog, estimated to represent more than 80 percent of internet traffic this year. Some 75 million Americans watch online videos every day and viewers can retain as much of 95 percent of what see in a video. At the same time, nearly a quarter of Americans regularly listen to podcasts, some as many as five podcasts per week.

Social commerce offers a bigger opportunity than in-store searching and purchasing. Instagram and Facebook provide consumers with a real-time platform to share images and videos of people using and enjoying products. Product features can be highlighted. Mobile apps can become like online shopping buddies that offer advice and tag along as consumers roam the racks and aisles.

We tend to think of content marketing as pristine and unsullied by advertising. However, Gannon suggests perception doesn’t square with how shoppers shop. It’s true that consumers aren’t salivating to see ads, but they can absorb them when the ads deliver value and are integrated closely with the adjoining content. The key is to make ads look like an integral part of the content, not just the odd man out along for the ride.

Gannon’s final hot trend deals with collaborative content. This involves teaming with complementary companies that have common marketing objectives and the kind of products that can be combined with yours to spark consumer interest. The good news is that collaboration can relieve some of the burden of continuously finding fresh content. The bad news, if you can call it that, is it takes work and patience to pull off collaborative marketing because there are more people and egos to please. Collaborative marketing may work best in lifestyle and food spaces. But don’t let that dim your enthusiasm or curb your curiosity.

Thought leadership remains a stalwart part of content marketing, especially for professional service firms that sell what they know rather than what they make. The boundaries of thought leadership can be stretched, too. In addition to demonstrating mastery of subjects, thought leadership can showcase keen insight, empathetic perspective and the human dimension of serious issues. Put another way, thought leadership can display leadership as well as thoughtfulness.

Gannon’s underlying advice is to keep your content marketing strategy, tactics and execution fresh. Your target audience isn’t standing still. Your content marketing shouldn’t just be marking time, either.

 

Millennials Glued to TV as Much as Other Adults

Contrary to public perception, Millennials consume commercial TV programming as much or more than other adults and favor it over YouTube videos. Millennials forge stronger emotional bonds with programs and actors, which spills over into other digital channels and influences purchasing decisions, according to a report from the Video Advertising Bureau.

Contrary to public perception, Millennials consume commercial TV programming as much or more than other adults and favor it over YouTube videos. Millennials forge stronger emotional bonds with programs and actors, which spills over into other digital channels and influences purchasing decisions, according to a report from the Video Advertising Bureau.

Millennials like TV programming, even with advertising, as much or more than other adults. And Millennials have stronger emotional bonds to TV characters than YouTube personalities, according to a 2018 report by the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB).

The common perception is that Millennials have deserted commercial television. The data in the report indicates otherwise, noting Millennials watch TV as much as other adults, just less so on cable. This finding suggests marketers trying to reach Millennials shouldn’t entirely abandon ad-supported TV programming and dump all their advertising on Instagram and YouTube.

VAB’s members are pretty much the who’s who of broadcasting and premium video content. Nevertheless, the takeaways in the report titled, “Exploring Millennials’ Meaningful Relations with TV Programming,” are striking. The topline finds are:

  • Millennials feel a strong bond with TV programming and regularly set aside time to watch their favorite programs, prioritizing it as “me time.”

  • Millennial viewers are actively engaged beyond when TV programs air by sharing and posting video clips, following actors on social media, reading recaps and scouring the web to find behind-the-scenes scoops.

  • Motivated by their attachment to TV shows, Millennials buy products, select travel destinations and dine at restaurants they have seen featured or advertising on TV.

A key underlying theme in the report is that Millennials do more than watch TV; they engage with programs and actors that interest them. The emotion bond they forge carries over to digital platforms such as “liking” a program or actor on Facebook, sharing video clips and tweeting.

Millennials are often the cultural carriers of phrases or memes that originate on TV programs, including dressing up like a favorite character on Halloween. They also serve as the word-of-mouth ambassadors for programs that have appeal for Millennial audiences and are more likely to feel personal connections to favorite TV program actors. Sometimes the attachment is so strong Millennial viewers go through something akin to withdrawal when a season ends. 

The picture of Millennials sitting by themselves staring at their smartphones or tablets isn’t completely accurate either, according to the report. Millennials enjoy the communal dimension of watching favorite TV programs with their friends.

While Millennials consume lots of content on YouTube, the data from the VAB report indicates they enjoy live TV programming, despite advertising, significantly more (40 percent to 29 percent).

The Video Advertising Bureau report shows Millennials can be ardent viewers of TV content that appeals to them and enjoy sharing and taking about they see with friends and on social media.

The Video Advertising Bureau report shows Millennials can be ardent viewers of TV content that appeals to them and enjoy sharing and taking about they see with friends and on social media.

An Intranet’s Dual and Often Clashing Roles for HR, News

An intranet isn’t for every organization, but they are extremely useful for corporations and nonprofits with disparate, far-flung operations to build cohesion. Too often, organizations try to cram together a human resource portal with an internally focused news channel, which can be awkward and a source of friction. Both functions are important and work best when designed and managed separately like siblings.

An intranet isn’t for every organization, but they are extremely useful for corporations and nonprofits with disparate, far-flung operations to build cohesion. Too often, organizations try to cram together a human resource portal with an internally focused news channel, which can be awkward and a source of friction. Both functions are important and work best when designed and managed separately like siblings.

Organizations with intranets often struggle with how to maintain a site that offers human resource information and news content aimed at employees. The lure of a one-click online employee information center can actually be a mirage.

Managing an online HR portal versus an internally aimed news channel is distinctly different. The content needs for both aren’t in conflict, but how they are packaged and promoted can be very different. More fundamentally, they serve different needs for employees – and management.

Intranets are critical for sprawling organizations. They can create cohesion among far-flung employee groups with different jobs, clientele and languages. HR portals are invaluable tools for onboarding and departing employees. Internal news channels are a proven way to keep employees in touch with company news, upcoming events and a response to a crisis.

The HR portal carries sensitive information, which usually involves legal review and variations for employees in different states or countries. For example, health insurance coverage can vary widely for an organization that operates nationally or transnationally. The news channel should center on timely information that is relevant to employees.

Employees will seek out the HR portal to clarify benefits, learn about policy changes and find out the steps involved in leaving. The test for the HR portal is providing up-to-date, accurate and accessible information. 

Employees will go to the news channel if it delivers real news, not just acts as a conduit for bland management messaging. The test for a news channel is to offer brightly written, inviting content about their organization and some form of interactivity. Without interactivity, readership will be perfunctory and engagement nil.

For organizations with bargaining units, the HR portal may need to be segmented for covered and exempt employees. For organizations with international operations, the news channel packages need to be customized for various markets.

Information on the HR portal is unlikely to change often enough to warrant an app. But an app that allows employees to check the internal news channel on mobile devices for breaking stories or timely information is a must. Keeping the internal news channel newsy is necessary to sustain interest and viewership.

Some content, such as a video of a top executive explaining a new organization-wide policy, can be shared on both online platforms. A video of an executive describing the steps being taken to address a major incident or announce a huge new customer are more appropriate for the news channel, which can be designed to accommodate breaking news.

The audiences for an HR portal and news channel are not completely coincident. The HR portal should be constructed to state as clearly as possible organizational policy on behavior and benefits for the employees for whom those benefits pertain. The news channel can be an outreach vehicle for a wider audience that can include key stakeholders as well as employees.

The design of an HR portal should feature access to key information employees might seek. The design of a news channel should appeal to employees and draw them in as viewers and even active participants. Organizations that encourage employees working at different locations to “congregate online” would prefer the congregation on a news channel rather than an HR portal.

When employees depart, they typically surrender company-provided laptops, tablets and smart phones and are denied access to the main HR portal. However, former employees may require some level of continuing contact to monitor unexpired benefits. Access by ex-employees to an internal news channel is usually not a good idea because at least some of the stories – and certainly the interactivity – will have a for-employees-only quality.

As you can see, the purpose, management and day-to-day activity of an HR portal and an internal news channel vary greatly. Their coexistence on a single website can be problematic and an unnecessary source of friction. For both online platforms to be successful, they need to perform their unique functions well. Their overall design and functionality can be coordinated and similar, reflecting the organization they both reflect. There are off-the-shelf designs that can make it easier to start or reinvent an intranet. But it is a smart choice to treat, manage and customize them as separate and valuable avenues to reach employees.

 

 

Looking Behind the Camera at the Video Production Team

Video and visual storytelling are “in.” Before you jump in, you should understand what it takes to produce a professional video that will represent your brand and tell your story authentically and effectively.

Video and visual storytelling are “in.” Before you jump in, you should understand what it takes to produce a professional video that will represent your brand and tell your story authentically and effectively.

Producing a video is a team effort. But many times, clients don’t know what each team member does, or even what kind of help they need. So, here’s a guide to the key players on a video team, and the role(s) they play in the production.

Videographer: (Also called camera operator, photographer, director of photography)

This is the person with the camera, lights and equipment. He/she is responsible for capturing the visual images used in a video. Some of the necessary, and unseen, duties the video photographer is responsible for include: 

  • Scouting potential filming locations;

  • Lighting interviews and filming locations;

  • Operating specialized camera equipment such as a dolly, slider, jib, pole cam and drone;

  • Setting up audio and microphones for interviews (including shotgun and lavaliere mics);

  • Monitoring audio during interviews;

  • Conceptualizing interesting ways to film a subject, product or idea.

Producer:

This person is the conductor of your production. He/she oversees all aspects of the project, including but not limited to:

  • Budgeting;

  • Scheduling;

  • Hiring the video team;

  • Story mapping;

  • Story production;

  • Interview preparation and conducting on-camera interviews;

  • Assisting the video team during filming;

  • Reviewing raw footage and interviews;

  • Project management;

  • Script development and/or scriptwriting, if voiceover narration is needed;

  • Auditioning and hiring professional actors and professional voiceover talent, if your production calls for that;

  • Logistics;

  • Permit acquisition (if filming in public spaces);

  • Issuing waivers;

  • Booking out of town travel;

  • Working with the video editor to make sure the client’s vision is clearly communicated in the finished video. 

  • Also handles coffee and lunch runs for the crew.

Editor:

This person weaves together the raw footage, interviews, voiceover narration, motion graphics and animation into a cohesive video that reflects a client’s key messages. Editors are responsible for:

  • Selecting music;

  • Selecting interview clips and b-roll footage;

  • Resizing still photos;

  • Color correcting footage;

  • Selecting effect transitions;

  • Creating 2D and 3D animations;

  • Editing audio to remove clicks and pops;

  • Exporting a video file for Internet use.

Many videographers are also accomplished editors and are involved in the creative process from the beginning, which can help streamline the production process. Whomever you hire to edit your video must be proficient in editing software such as Premiere, Avid or Final Cut. 

Now that you know the players on the video team, let’s crunch some numbers.

It takes an average of 8-12 weeks to produce a three-to-five-minute video, and around 90 hours to produce the project professionally. If you divide the number of hours by three (for videographer, editor and producer), you’re looking at an average of 30 hours of work required for each team member. Based on that, these are the questions you need to ask:

  • Do you have a producer-videographer-editor team in-house that you can free up to produce your video? Can you get other staff to take on the additional 90 hours of work that your in-house team can no longer do because they’re working on your project?

  • If you have experience as a producer, do you have an additional 30 hours of unpaid time in your schedule that you can devote to working with an outside videographer and/or editor to produce a video? 

  • If you’ve never produced a video before, would you even know how to approach such an undertaking? 

  • If your specialty is filming and editing, would you be willing to devote hours of unpaid time to learn the production part of the process?

Once you determine how much time you’re willing to commit to producing a video, you can figure out the financial investment you’re willing to make.

Generally speaking, a videographer/editor will be less expensive than a producer/videographer/editor team. Occasionally, you can find “one-man band” video pros – people who can film, produce and edit. If you want to keep costs down, hiring one person who does it all might be a good fit for you. The producer-videographer-editor team would be on the high end budget-wise because you’re paying for producing expertise. But if you’re someone with little time to spare, paying a higher fee might be a good trade-off because of the time you save by not having to be so hands-on during each phase of the project.

Whichever option you choose, base your decision on the amount of time you’re willing to devote to the actual production of a project, as well as your experience in the nuts and bolts of video production.

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About the author:

Holly Paige is a story consultant and video content creator based in Portland, Oregon. She produces videos for businesses and organizations that want to tell their stories and tell them right. Visit: www.waveonegroup.com