Marketing Public Relations

Missing a Newsjacking Layup

When Villanova's men's basketball squad made it to the Final Four, the university seized upon the chance to show off its academic prowess on LinkedIn. But the execution fell flat, as Villanova failed to capitalize on an easy newsjacking opportunity.

When Villanova's men's basketball squad made it to the Final Four, the university seized upon the chance to show off its academic prowess on LinkedIn. But the execution fell flat, as Villanova failed to capitalize on an easy newsjacking opportunity.

 

Villanova University turned a sure newsjacking score into a flubbed layup.

After Villanova's basketball team made it to the Final Four, the university turned to LinkedIn to tout its players’ 100 percent graduation rate. Smart. However, the link attached to its intriguing newsjacking post took viewers to a stale college catalogue explanation of Villanova and its virtues. Informative, but hardly a match for the newsjacking tease.

Newsjacking is the slick pass to capitalize on news events to grab attention. But that's only half of the play. You can’t just dribble the ball, you need to take the shot and score points with the audience you attracted. 

Obviously overlooked were short video vignettes from the Villanova players about their academic experience. Other options might have been a snappy video tour of the campus, showing off what makes Villanova different and its academic atmosphere, or testimonials from successful Villanova alumni.

Almost anything would have been better than a page ripped from the college admission handbook, which came across like a two-handed set shot.

They clearly missed a clear-court layup, but after Villanova’s scorching, historic victory over Oklahoma in the semifinals, it has another chance in the championship game. They have great footage from the basketball court. They need to team it with some compelling off-court footage, which shouldn’t be too hard. After all, it’s just a layup.

 

Content Marketing Personas

Content personas are similar to buyer persons, but add emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Content personas are similar to buyer persons, but add emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Buyer personas are established elements of marketing plans, so why shouldn’t a content persona be appropriate for a content marketing plan.

Buyer personas show how existing or potential customers think, their perceived needs and where they get information. A content marketing persona is similar, but it zeroes in on what kind of content customers view as useful, informative and entertaining.

Buyer and content personals all have the same objective – to convert someone from a viewer into a customer. They both search for triggers for that conversion. They seek ways to establish a bond of trust between brand and buyer.

There are subtle differences. A content persona places more emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Marketing personas are ways to humanize customer statistics. It is hard to conjure a marketing plan for metadata. It is easier to envision a plan that addresses people with certain kinds of common characteristics. 

Personas reveal "pain points,” “priority initiatives,” “perceived barriers” and “decision criteria.” Marketers like to track the “buyer’s journey” and “success factors.” Content marketers must be mindful of all that within the framework of creating content.

A pain point could involve finding a way to get rid of mold in the shower. A buyer persona might focus on a product. A content persona would show the process of how to use a reputable product to scrub away the mold. It is the difference between promoting a product directly or demonstrating how your product works.

This example illustrates that some “buyers” just want a solution, while others want to be involved in the solution. That oversimplifies the difference between buyer and content personas, but it does show how they differ.

Another key difference is perspective. A buyer persona is intended to mark the path to a sale. A content persona is a roadmap to winning the customer’s trust and, ultimately, loyalty.

Many companies have shifted marketing dollars to content marketing because it matches well with customer relationship management. If all you do is pitch products, you aren’t distinguishing yourself from competitors. If a competitor comes up with a snappier, cooler and cheaper product, your buyer persona is hasta la vista. Competitors have a tougher time busting through the rapport you establish with layers of successful content marketing that deliver continuing value.

Content marketing and personas don’t require throwing away all you know about marketing or buyer personas. They do require a marketing master's degree in how to generate content from the vantage point of a helpful neighbor with a garage full of unbelievably useful tools.

Alaska Air’s Eclipsing Brand Personality

Alaska Air may have eclipsed its long history of a smiling-faced Eskimo brand personality. The airline took a cue from curious customers and slightly realigned a regularly scheduled flight from Anchorage to Honolulu to give passengers a porthole view of a total solar eclipse on March 8.

The customers were veteran eclipse chasers who realized their chances of seeing the March 8 eclipse were slim because monsoons would obscure the view in Indonesia and Micronesia, the only land areas where it would be visible. Astronomer Joe Rao, who works for the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, did some checking and noticed Alaska Air’s Flight 870 would intersect the arc of the eclipse.

There was a problem, the plane’s scheduled departure would be 25 minutes too early. Rao contacted Alaska Air officials, explained the situation and the airline switched the departure time. On the day of the flight, Alaska officials reviewed the proposed flight path and wine and weather conditions to optimize viewing the eclipse. Ground crews made sure all the windows were clean. The plane’s pilot relied on the flight management computer to hit the mark.

The 181 passengers, including more than a dozen “eclipse geeks,” were treated to a grand spectacle en route. Alaska Air won plaudits for accommodating the eclipse chasers. “It’s an unbelievably accommodating gesture,” said Mike Kentrianakis, solar eclipse manager for the American Astronomical Society and a passenger on Flight 870. “Not only is Alaska Airlines getting people from Point A to Point B, but they’re willing to give them an exciting experience. An airline that’s actually talking to their people – and listening? That’s air service at its best. It’s become personal.”

You couldn’t buy a testimonial that good. Nor could you find a way to reinforce your brand personality as an airline that shows it cares about passengers by the quality of its service.

The flight wasn’t just a mystic experience for the eclipse junkies. Dan McGlaun, who viewed his 12th total eclipse on Flight 870, brought 200 pairs of specially filtered glasses so everyone on board could witness the sun during all phases of the eclipse.

Alaska Air has undergone an image refresher since the beginning of 2016, putting more snap into its logo and imagery. Other than Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Air is the only major carrier with a human face as its brand face. The smiling Eskimo isn’t a particular person, but is intended to convey a sense of family and community.

On its website, Alaska Air says the iconic Eskimo’s visage may have been drawn from grandfatherly faces in Kotzebue, a small Alaskan community 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Before a hospital was built there in 2013, Kotzebue residents who were ill or injured “called Alaska Airlines first,” symbolizing that the carrier is “embedded into the fiber of the communities it serves."

Alaska is a company with a distinctive brand personality and an awareness of what it takes to showcase it.

Ten Essential Skills for Digital Marketing

The rise of digital media reinforces marketing skills such as clear writing and visual communications and requires new skills ranging from using digital analytics to working productively in virtual teams.

The rise of digital media reinforces marketing skills such as clear writing and visual communications and requires new skills ranging from using digital analytics to working productively in virtual teams.

As we plunge deeper into the digital age, some old skills take on greater value and new skills are required to remain top of mind, convey brand value and get work out the door.

Arik Hanson, in his blog Communications Conversations, offers what he calls 10 essential skills for the future of public relations. The skills could just as easily apply to the future of successful communications for brands, nonprofits and public agencies.

Video and audio production and advertising copywriting skills top Hanson’s list. He might have added animation skills. The tools to produce compelling video and audio content have become vastly more accessible to everyday users, who face growing demands to generate visual content. Advertising is expanding to social media, which demands knowledge of how to write snappy copy, even if you aren’t an “advertising creative.”

Another emerging skill set, Hanson says, is the ability to create social media content and manage social content systems. Some still cling to the view that social media is all about dog pictures and people describing what they ate for dinner, original content that is useful, relevant and entertaining has become a staple of marketing programs, especially for nonprofits and public agencies. Curating and stockpiling content, as well as making it searchable, has become a fundamental marketing ground-game skill.

Writing clearly for external and internal audiences isn’t a new skill, but Hanson insists its role is growing. With information overload and a casual attitude about writing, those who can communicate clearly in words will be highly regarded – and perhaps in short supply. Writing for internal audiences involves “understanding what motivates employees,” Hanson says, “as well as having solid writing skills.”

Visual communications dominate on digital media, which means organizations and their PR counselors must “develop a visual style” for their online presence. It’s not enough to be online. You need to stand out online.

Another reality of digital media is the power of influencers. Hanson says collaborating with influencers is a whole new ballgame. "Four to six years ago, everyone was talking about blogger outreach, and with good reason: Blogs were the dominant cog in the social media machinery. Fast-forward to 2016, and there are now platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat – with people on those networks who command significant attention.”

Satisfying clients remains a priority, but Hanson says it now requires a “deep understanding of traditional, digital and business analytics.” It also requires, he adds, an “understanding of how to produce reports that make sense to clients.” “Provide relevant context, provide ideas as outcomes of the data and always cull the data and present them in terms the client can understand.”

The final skill Hanson points to is the ability to work in virtual teams. “I see virtual work environments as a huge trend over the next five to seven years,” he says. That involves understanding virtual team workflows and investing in tools that work in virtual team environments.

Hanson, who is the principal for a Minneapolis-based marketing firm, wrote a similar list of 10 essential skills in 2012. The list changed significantly in just four years. It is highly likely to keep changing rapidly into the future, which means organizations need to adopt an attitude of continuous improvement and a willingness to learn and embrace new ideas.

From Brand Journalism to Branded Entertainment

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

First came brand journalism. Now we have branded entertainment. 

Tonight’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra sketch sponsored by American Express. Other shows such as “The Voice,” “Blindspot” and “Today” have slipped sponsored content into slots normally occupied by traditional advertising.

Branded entertainment, in the form of comedy sketches, extra interviews or extended segments, reduces the amount of advertising while still making the cash register ring. It is a response to more viewers moving to services such as Hulu that offer content without advertising breaks. TV networks are banking that fewer advertising slots will fetch higher prices and different kinds of slots will appeal to gold-star advertisers like American Express.

The notion of branded entertainment is as old as radio and television. Way back when, individual sponsors were associated with shows. The Jack Benny Show was originally called “The Lucky Strike Program.” Ed Sullivan’s Sunday evening variety show was primarily sponsored by the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company. 

Native advertising, where the ads look and feel like the content or medium they appear with, has been gaining in popularity. But it is still advertising, which some readers and viewers want to avoid. Branded entertainment, which involves sponsorships, is an attractive alternative.

National Public Radio has a form of branded news and entertainment, with sponsors that receive Twitter-size acknowledgements. Weather and traffic reports on radio and TV are another common form of branded content.

According to The New York Times, American Express approached NBC last December about its branded entertainment idea, which it will use to promote one of its credit cards. An American Express spokesman called the partnership with NBC an opportunity “to create a different kind of paradigm” for TV advertising in an increasingly segmented market. 

If the experiment works, expect to see it replicated on more than TV shows as well as promoted on popular online news sites. NBC invested $200 million in BuzzFeed, which “will produce online posts related to sponsored programming,” the New York Times reported.

Avoid Snap Judgments about Snapchat

Snapchat is no joke with more than 100 million user visits and 7 billion video views per day and a user base heavily weighted with Millennials.

Snapchat is no joke with more than 100 million user visits and 7 billion video views per day and a user base heavily weighted with Millennials.

If you want to direct a message to young adults, consider delivering it on either Instagram or Snapchat. Yes, that Snapchat. 

For many people, Snapchat, which launched in 2011 and was originally called Picaboo, is a quirky social media platform where you post something, then it goes poof. Well, that impression is so yesterday. Almost literally.

In the last two years, Snapchat has added new functionality that allows users to tell more complex stories that hang around longer, send direct messages and conduct video chats. Snapchat’s popularity has exploded, with 100 million user visits per day, a user base nearly the size of Twitter’s and 7 billion daily video views. That is close to Facebook’s 8 billion daily video views, but Facebook has an audience 15 times larger than Snapchat.

If you want to reach young people in the 18-24 age group, Snapchat is a good choice. It has more than three times the following in that cohort than Facebook or Twitter and more than twice Instagram.

If you want to reach young people in the 18-24 age group, Snapchat is a good choice. It has more than three times the following in that cohort than Facebook or Twitter and more than twice Instagram.

Snapchat appeals to young adults because it is relatively frictionless. Tap and shoot. Hold the button down for video. Snapchat is more personal than Instagram. You can share with a chosen group, not broadcast to the world. For the impulsive, Snapchat offers nearly guilt-free, real-time sharing, with the knowledge that the post will soon disappear. (After a run-in with the Federal Trade Commission, Snapchat settled and admitted that posts aren’t absolutely deleted and in some cases can be retrieved with the right forensic tools. For intentional users, this is a meh moment.)

Writing for socialmediaexaminer.com, Suzanne Delzio says Snapchat’s audience is growing and highly engaged – appetizing metrics for advertisers and anyone who needs to reach a young adult audience. For example, Snapchat could be a perfect crisis response vehicle to tell college students about an infectious disease outbreak and the steps to combat it. Snapchat might be the right vehicle for a continuing campaign to reduce the incidence of sexual abuse on dates.

Delzio says Snapchat endured early criticism for its vertical-only video format. However, data indicates mobile device users strongly prefer vertical versus horizontal video formats. Score this as a built-in advantage for Snapchat. The video completion rate, Delzio adds, on vertical formats is nine times higher, which is good news for marketers who often place their calls to action near the end of a video. Think of how this might work with a video about a car or car insurance aimed squarely at young adult consumers.

Instagram has staked out a strong position with Millennials, but Snapchat is catching up. Delzio reports that a study of Millennial smartphone users shows they spend 5.9 hours per month on Snapchat versus 7 hours on Instagram. Millennials spend almost 26 hours per month in Facebook, but it is a different experience. The key takeaway, Delzio writes, is that 76 percent of Millennials are already plugged into Snapchat.

The network that started in a Stanford classroom may be ready to dress up and go out on the town. Delzio says advertising rates have been lowered on Snapchat to sweeten its appeal for a broader group of advertisers.

In the world of social media, yesterday’s news is ancient history. Snapchat may have been a punch line, but it has quickly grown into a significant network for a key demographic group. Reconsider any snap judgments you may have made about Snapchat and consider how you can put it to work. 

Twitter is in Trouble

Twitter isn’t growing its user base, is losing money and has seen its stock price stumble, but the social network is still a direct, powerful, real-time way to share the news.

Twitter isn’t growing its user base, is losing money and has seen its stock price stumble, but the social network is still a direct, powerful, real-time way to share the news.

Is Twitter a digital 140-character dead letter? Maybe not yet, but it faces a major challenge from Instagram, Snapchat and a new digital platform called Peach for the right to be called the news bureau of social media.

Writing for The New Yorker, Joshua Topolsky says Twitter, which once seemed unassailable, now seems confused and vulnerable. Twitter's original appeal as a forum for “raw, streamlined” citizen journalism has turned into a company without a compass.

"Changes to the product made it hard to follow conversations or narratives,” wrote Topolsky, co-founder of Vox Media. "A lack of rigor in verifying reliable sources made information suspect or confusing. More troubling was the growing wave of harassment and abuse that users of the service were dealing with – a quagmire epitomized by the roving flocks of hateful, misogynistic, and well-organized “Gamergate” communities that flooded people’s feeds with hate speech and threats. The company seemed to be wholly unprepared to handle mob violence, with few tools at its disposal to moderate or quell uprisings.”

Perhaps most troubling are reports that Twitter will lift its 140-character limit and allow tweets with as many as 10,000 characters. Topolsky mockingly called that change an attempt to compete for the “short- and long-winded alike.”

There is objective evidence Twitter has hit a digital wall. Its user base is stagnant. It is hemorrhaging money and has watched its stock value tumble by 50 percent. The company has also lost a bevy of top executives, some of whom have gone to work for Twitter competitors.

Worse yet, Topolsky says, Twitter could be on the verge of irrelevance. Millennials employ Instagram and Snapchat for quick, real-time news-sharing. Instagram, WhatsApp and WeChat now have as many individual users as Twitter, and Snapchat is gaining ground fast.

Many young social users also have abandoned Facebook, Topolsky notes, but Facebook has adapted and kept growing. He says Facebook has “come to dominate and define the concept of social conversation” by dealing aggressively with online campaigns of “noise and intrusion.” Requiring people to use their real names, according to Topolsky, "has certainly made Facebook a much safer space in which to engage.”

Topolsky, who counts himself as a committed Twitter user, hasn’t given up hope. "The core ideals that made the product great are not lost, yet, even if they’ve been obscured," he says. "The directness and power at the heart of Twitter – short bursts of information that can make you feel that you’re plugged into a hulking hive mind – are still its greatest asset.”

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has returned to lead Twitter through its difficult patch, much like Steve Jobs was summoned to revive Apple. Meanwhile, Twitter users will keep their fingers crossed for the social media platform that is a perfect for newsjacking, crisis response and story-sharing. For busy people interested in what’s going on, it is an invaluable tool. The question is whether it will remain relevant.

Even More Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul serves up stories that motivate us, and it has used that core brand value to expand its brand universe.

Chicken Soup for the Soul serves up stories that motivate us, and it has used that core brand value to expand its brand universe.

The road to market is littered with brand extensions that crashed. Chicken Soup for the Soul, on the other hand, has a track record of brand extension success, including a new TV series, that offers insights on how to do it right.

The iconic motivational book series about people and pets has borrowed a photo from “Candid Camera” to launch “Hidden Heroes,” a new weekly TV series that features people doing good things. In the most recent episode, a grandfather stymied by his laptop asks for – and receives – help from random people on how to dial up his grandchildren online.

Small story, big-picture kind of stuff. That’s how Chicken Soup for the Soul got its start as a brand. Motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen dotted their presentations with engaging, inspiring stories. When audience members asked to read more stories, Canfield and Hansen decided to write a book with 101 of their best stories. They came up with the idea of Chicken Soup for the Soul because it reminded them of the comfort kids get – and they got – from their grandmothers’ cooking.

No major publisher expressed interest in the original book. It took a small health and wellness publisher in Florida to give it a chance. There have been 250 Chicken Soup for the Soul books published and 11 million copies sold, making the series one of the most popular and beloved brands in the world.

The secret recipe for the success of Chicken Soup for the Soul is “people helping others by sharing stories about their lives.” That still drives the organization, which was sold in 2008 to Bill Rouhana and Amy Newmark, a husband-wife team that has led a spurt of brand extension beyond the bookstore.

There are now Chicken Soup for the Soul lines of food for people and their pets, online forums, apps, a motion picture and even a Chicken Soup for the Soul YouTube channel. Meanwhile, the organization still publishes a new book every month.

As befits its image, Chicken Soup for the Soul is socially conscious. It contributes a portion from all sales to the Humpty Dumpty Institute, a nonprofit started by Chicken Soup’s CEO, that attacks worldwide illiteracy, addresses hunger and promotes animal welfare. Proceeds from food sales support free school breakfasts. Royalties from some books go to the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Human Association and A World Fit for Kids.

So, the formula for Chicken Soup for the Soul’s success rests on sharing user-generated content across as many platforms as they can imagine and shaving off some of the revenue for causes that relate to the brand’s identity. Viewed another way, it offers a product or service people find useful, and keeps feeding that appetite and sharing the success, both through content and resources.

A lot of executives get embarrassed by thinking people buy into their brands instead of the values of their brand. Chicken Soup for the Soul understands its brand value, which is a true guide on brand extensions.

Gary Conkling is president 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.

Reader Ideas to Meet the #ChipotleMarketingChallenge

Faced with a series of high profile food safety mishaps over the past several months, Chipotle is on a daunting mission to restore its image. 

Faced with a series of high profile food safety mishaps over the past several months, Chipotle is on a daunting mission to restore its image. 

Based on the ad hoc advice we got, Chipotle may have a tough time convincing wary customers to return.

The Mexican restaurant chain – which built its fast casual brand on quality, locally sourced food – faces the challenge of wooing back customers after at least three separate food safety incidents across the country. One source reported Chipotle’s revenues – despite reopening its previously closed stores – dipped 30 percent in December.

We asked people to pretend to be the chain’s marketer and meet what we called the #ChipotleMarketing Challenge,” an open-ended strategy session about how you would repair the damage. Here’s a sampling of comments, without attribution, that we received:

“I never went back to Sizzler or Jack in the Box after their troubles.”

“They’ve given an edible plant a bad name. I guess they could work on another one.”

“No kidding! Been wondering how they will rebuild the Grand Canyon of public mistrust."

“Chipotle = Corvair. It will be over very soon.”

One commenter threw up his hands and said the best thing Chipotle’s marketing director could do is look for a new job.

Not everyone was fatalistic, though.

“Challenging situation, but Chipotle is not Enron.”

“Try explaining what happened and how it’s been fixed. How about treating customers like intelligent beings. Then suck it up and take a hit on profits for a little while trust is rebuilt.”

“Rename and rebrand. Not that hard if you do it the right way. But you can’t polish a turd.”

“They could start by foregoing all the healthy positioning of food that isn’t healthy. Hello to the 1,200-calorie burrito.”

“Maybe divide local sources of food into distinct local brands featuring regional specialties based in part on what is in season locally. Emphasize freshness and a lower carbon footprint from transportation.”

“Food safety is obviously essential. Overhaul safety procedures in a transparent way. Open up the facilities with web cams and implement a pioneering food handling effort.”

“Have a long view and don’t attempt to rush to a quick fix (like losing all brand equity). Execute. Execute. Execute. This is a process issue and can only be fixed through years of excellent in process improvement and execution.”

"I believe in second chances. What about a 'Great Reopening' campaign. A day of free samples of food? Coupons and food prize give-aways. Everyone likes free stuff. Have each location give away one free meal an hour. Must make a purchase to qualify for the hourly drawing. Have one big grand prize at the end of the day. Good luck!"

There were also some more entertaining suggestions, like following the example of “The Worst Hotel in the World,” where you warn patrons up front. Here are some more quirky marketing ideas.

“Hire Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog, who have great chemistry on her talk show, for a series of cute ads.”

"Have Morgan Spurlock (a documentary filmmaker and humorist known for producing “Super Size Me”) eat at Chipotle for 30 days, then follow him with cameras to see what happens. The toilet experience might be too graphic.”

On the other hand, maybe Chipotle doesn’t need a big marketing campaign to restore its image after all, which one commenter pointed out. “A large number of their customer base are high school students who don’t care and have continued to eat there three or four times a week through all this."

#Chipotle Marketing Challenge

After a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness at Chipotle restaurants around the U.S., the company is launching a massive marketing campaign to restore its image. 

After a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness at Chipotle restaurants around the U.S., the company is launching a massive marketing campaign to restore its image. 

Chipotle, which has faced dozens of food safety problems across the country over the past several months, is launching a massive marketing campaign to woo back its customers.

The company is closing its doors at each of its locations – there are more than 1,900 in the U.S. – for a few hours on February 8 for a food safety discussion with all Chipotle employees. This is a respected brand, but what will it take for you to walk through Chipotle's doors and order a burrito?

Share with us your marketing strategy for Chipotle. Comment on this blog or share your thoughts on Twitter at #ChipotleMarketingChallenge.

We will share what we learn in a future blog.

Cause Marketing Gains Popularity, Maturity

Cause marketing campaigns are becoming more sophisticated, such as Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at homes.

Cause marketing campaigns are becoming more sophisticated, such as Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at homes.

Cause marketing continues to gain in popularity and recent examples have moved substantially beyond co-promoting a company and a worthy cause by asking for a donation or signing a petition.

A great example is Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at home. The insurance company's choice of a safety program aligns with its business. Instead of teaming with a single organization, Nationwide reached out to a hospital, pediatricians, parents, caregivers and toy manufacturers to identify sources of injury that could be prevented.

David Hessekiel, founder and president of Cause Marketing Forum and author of "Good Works!" says companies are pursuing more sophisticated and creative approaches to address nagging social problems. Some, like Nationwide's campaign, hitch together "complex, multi-player coalitions."

The "Make Safe Happen" program scores well on another pair of important virtues – usefulness and relevance, both key components of successful content marketing strategies. The program isn't just about doing good; it's about helping to avoid an injury to your child or grandchild.

To ensure the campaign was useful and relevant, the techniques used by Nationwide zeroed in on firsthand, frontline sources, such as partnering with Safe Kids Worldwide to "engage caregivers in real time," explained Hessekiel.

In an article written for Forbes, Hessekiel cited other significant cause marketing trends in 2015:

•  Using iconic branding to make a point (Coca-Cola replaced its trademark logo with "Labels are for cans, not people" to promote acceptance of cultural differences).

•  Promoting behavior change (AT&T's It Can Wait pledge to persuade motorists to stay off their smartphones while driving).

•  Educating younger generations (H&R Block's Budget Challenge initiative to teach financial literacy).

•  Creating multi-channel experiences (Coke's #MakeItHappy campaign to encourage positivity).

Cause marketing examples involving large companies can be intimidating for small and family-run businesses. But it would be a mistake to see cause marketing as only the purview of the big brands.

Micro-volunteering is one of the more interesting tools that smaller companies – or nonprofits and public agencies – could exploit in a cause marketing effort. Micro-volunteering involves bite-sized chunks of time that employees can give at work, home or almost anywhere in support of a wide range of causes.

NPR recently featured a micro-volunteering effort to aid blind people who live at home. In the story, a blind woman who needed help in identifying the ingredients she would use to prepare a meal hooked up online with a micro-volunteer. The volunteer, who in this story happened to be in a different city, and the blind woman connected via live streaming so the volunteer could read the ingredients of various bottles. The volunteered assistance took only a couple of minutes.

According to the website helpfromhome.org, popular micro-volunteer causes include animal welfare, environmental watchdogs, health, poverty and scientific research. The website says micro-volunteering opportunities let people "make a difference on their lunch break."

The Art of Engagement and Spam

Online engagement isn't a choice between what is and isn't spam. Online engagement is all about what works.

Online engagement isn't a choice between what is and isn't spam. Online engagement is all about what works.

The point of social media is engagement, but a lot of engagement resembles spam. Cory Torella says it doesn't matter.

Torella – the founder and CEO of Better Auds, a social media marketing firm – says most posts on social media sites seek to engage other people. He calls that "strategic, purposeful conversation." You may be sharing a video of your dog refusing to go out in the rain or inviting people to participate in a contest. Torella says at some point "spam is no longer spam."

"If you guessed that the amount of spam that I receive on a daily basis is fairly high, you are correct," says Torella. "However, I love reading spam…. I read every single word of it."

Most social media users don't share Torella's enthusiasm for spam, but they may unknowingly share his habit of reading it. Especially if the "spam" has strong visual appeal and an irresistible hook.

Torella's business is all about cultivating an audience online without trying to buy followers. Earning an audience on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Instagram is all about content that engages people.

As individual users, we seek to engage our circle of friends by sharing experiences, pictures and thoughts. Corporate, nonprofit and pubic agencies seek to engage target audiences to sell a product, ask for a contribution or change a behavior.

The social media strategy for individuals may be as simple as connecting with "pals." The strategy isn't that different for organizations, except they usually want their "pals" to connect with their websites.

Torella's zest for consuming spam posts is tied to his interest in finding what works, what appeals to certain audiences. In effect, he is looking for how users segment social media.

One of the most vexing problems for organizations that have worked to accumulate a large number of "followers" is to keep them engaged. Many people "like" a company or organization, then never go back to the Facebook page. Sustaining engagement takes energy, creativity and perseverance. You have to work at it constantly.

Torella views spam as a form of lab mice. By trial and error – and, in his case, careful observation – you see what works and what doesn't. "I determine if there's anything I can take away from [spam]," Torella explains. "If it's good, I will write it down or screenshot it. If it is bad (and I mean really, really bad), I will write that down, too. So while most [people] see spam, I see art."

Engagement, spam, good art, bad art all may make no difference. What counts is what works – to gain clicks, conversions and customers. The only way to find out what works is to experiment. That is a lot easier and cheaper to do on social media than paid media. You simply have to be willing to engage and let that lead you where it will.

Doing Good and Getting Noticed

Encore careers can be rewarding and high-impact, aiding struggling nonprofits and helping smaller businesses gain notice and respect.

Encore careers can be rewarding and high-impact, aiding struggling nonprofits and helping smaller businesses gain notice and respect.

Cause marketing is usually reserved for the big rollers, but there are ways small and medium-sized companies can team up with worthy nonprofits to do good and be noticed.

One way is through Social Venture Partners (SVP), which serves as a matchmaker for companies that want to contribute and nonprofits that need the help.

SVP – which operates in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and Calgary – sponsors a program called Encore Fellows. The idea is to connect seasoned private-sector professionals with nonprofits with specific resource deficits in areas such as human resources, organizational design, financial management and marketing communications.

Encore Fellows agree to provide 1,000 hours of their time over a six to 12-month period. Fellows receive a stipend – typically $20,000, which can be paid by the employer, the nonprofit, SVP or some combination.

While this may not seem the equal of glossy relationships with more of a retail edge, the fellowships can mean life or death to a promising, but struggling nonprofit doing good work.

One of the fellowships featured on the SVP website involves semi-retired Portlander Wendy Weissman, who has worked at General Electric and Hewlett-Packard. She teamed up with Friends of the Children, a youth-mentorship nonprofit, lending her HR expertise to assist with leadership development and process-improvement programs.

Even though Weissman completed her 1,000-hour fellowship, she is volunteering additional time. "My heart got hooked," she says. "It's a dream come true."

With the growing number of Baby Boomers retiring or moving toward retirement, they afford an ample supply of talent to tap and a pool of people with a strong desire to put their talents to good use in the twilight of their careers. Many nonprofits have gaps or challenges they can't afford to fill with a full-time employee or an expensive outside consultant. It is a perfect and fairly obvious match.

For a relatively small investment, a small company can loan one of its senior people – or a recently retired employee – to a nonprofit, creating a beneficial partnership with tangible, local outcomes.

SVP has placed more than 250 senior professionals in high-impact nonprofits, according to Jim McGinley, the director of Seattle's Encore Fellows program. He expects that number to grow dramatically.

"Finding quality candidates who are looking for a second act in their careers is the least of our problems," McGinley says. "The focus now is on finding the right companies."

It is a perfect set-up for companies that want to make an impact in their community – and in the minds of their customers.

Earning Clicks and Much More

If you want to be heard, be seen.

If you want to be heard, be seen.

Images improve the chances of connecting your customers with your content. If you catch their eye, you can earn a click.

However, images can do much more than just earn clicks. They can deliver useful information, answer common questions and provide clear explanations. 

Visual content works because our brains are wired to process images much faster than words. That's why a good picture is worth more than a 1,000 words.

Images have other virtues, too. They can simplify, symbolize and sequence information in ways that are familiar, comfortable and nearly automatic. It takes far less effort to look at a picture than to read a paragraph.

Capitalizing on visual content requires the same care, thought and editing as writing an effective paragraph. Sticking a picture into the middle of a mound of words won't cut it. We use the phrase "information design" to describe the process of determining how to meld words and images into a cohesive communications unit.

Here are some tips about finding and using visual content successfully:

1  All pictures aren't created equal. You need to choose pictures that grab attention and tell your story. We have moved past the Polaroid era and people expect higher quality imagery, which they see everyday, all day on television and the Internet. If you can't discriminate between a good picture and a bad one, get help so what you choose does the job.

2  You don't have to be a world-class photographer. Some of the most powerful pictures are ones taken in the moment on smartphones. The pictures you want to use should be judged by their effect on your customers, not based on the credentials of who shot them. 

3  Images don't have to be pictures. Some of the best, most shareable visual content comes in the form of charts and infographics, which are cleverly packaged and logically sequenced information delivery vehicles. Charts are especially good ways to show contrast. Infographics work well to explain a complicated piece of information in a simple, digestible fashion. They also are powerful ways to show causal relationships.

4  Video counts as visual content. Video gets discounted because of a perception that it is too hard and too expensive to develop. That's yesterday's news. Short videos can be easy to produce and are an effective way to show how something works or share a testimonial.

5  Seek and use customer content. A great way to generate images is to ask your customers to send them to you. You may receive a lot of unusable stuff, but all it takes is a few gems to add value to your communications. Customer-generated content is also a great way to engage your customer base.

6  Little pictures matter as much as big ones. No question a large, dramatic picture can be spellbinding. But smaller pictures can be appealing, too, such as photographs of the staff member who writes a blog. Think both big and small when you search and select images.

7  Don't overlook the element of surprise. Pictures, unlike words, can make people do a double-take. Visual surprises pull the eye toward them because they conflict with our sense of the familiar. They cause us to take a second look, which increases your chance of getting someone to spend more time with your content.

8  Be careful with stock photos. Stock photography can be a short-cut to getting a relevant, eye-fetching picture. It also can be a can of worms. First off, make sure you purchase the stock image you use for the purpose or purposes you intend. Second, be mindful of whether a competitor has used the image, which can be very embarrassing. Finally, stock pictures are just that. They are generic, not specific. If you are going for authenticity, look somewhere else than the online galleries of stock photography.

9  Insert personality into your visual content. Selfies are popular because they are personal. Inserting some personality into your pictures, charts or infographics underscores authenticity and can reinforce your branding. Be careful not to inject a tone that is inconsistent with your message.

10  Leverage familiar patterns. Infomercials can be effective by relying on tried-and-true patterns, such as "before" and "after." Visuals that are basically doodles work because most people doodle. A familiar picture with an odd twist can be turned into a meme that results in shares and comments online. Be a good observer and follow your own visual instincts.

How to Make Your Thank You Stand Out

How to make your thank you stand out

Next time you want to make an impression, consider taking a cue from an earlier time. Send a handwritten thank you note. 

While it might seem old-fashioned, a handwritten thank you note can make an excellent impression. While it’s much easier to send a quick email or tweet, a thank you note cuts through the digital clutter. Think about the last time you received actual mail that wasn't clearly mass produced.

Here are a few tips to make your thank you note stand out. 

1. Create personal stationery: While it may be easier to purchase a box of thank you notes, having your own personalized stationery feels more genuine. One easy way to make personalized stationery is to divide a piece of paper into four sections using a program such as Apple Pages or Adobe InDesign. You can either print the thank you notes yourself or go through a professional printer. Be sure to see and touch an example before you purchase or print a large amount. Include your contact information on the stationery, as recipients are more likely to keep a handwritten thank you note. 

2. Use quality paper: Quality paper demonstrates a clear tactile difference. When selecting a paper, be sure to touch and feel it before purchasing. Many office supplies stores will allow you to bring your own paper to be printed. Paper Source is an excellent place to purchase high-quality paper for making your own personalized thank you note. 

3. Consider colored envelopes: Using colored envelopes is an easy way to make your thank you note stand out. Make sure you’ve already designed and printed your thank you notes so that you can select the correct size. If you’re planning on hand-addressing your envelopes, make sure the color is light enough to write on. Paper Source also an excellent source for high-quality colored envelopes. 

4. Make sure to actually write and send your thank you notes: This step might be the hardest of all: sitting down to actually write the thank you note. Designing stationery and selecting envelopes may be fun, but follow through is the most important step. 

Advice for Aspiring PR Pros

Dear PR Student:

The best advice for would-be PR professionals is to learn as much as you can about as many subjects as you can, starting with journalism.

The best advice for would-be PR professionals is to learn as much as you can about as many subjects as you can, starting with journalism.

Congratulations. You are embarking on a fascinating career ride in public relations. Here is some unsolicited advice that may come in handy.

1. Take journalism classes. You very likely will be asked to write press releases. You should know what it's like to receive one.

Understanding news media needs and demands puts you in a better position to help, not just send an email with a news release. The goal is to get your client's message into print, online or on air. Having first-hand knowledge of how news is identified, researched, prepared and delivered can guide when and how you approach reporters and editors, as well as what you serve up to them.

Volunteering to work for a student newspaper is a great way to get experience. It will ground you in basics such as Associated Press style and serve as a reminder of grammar. It also will force you to write with the reader, not a client, in mind.

2. Be a liberal arts student. PR clients come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Their needs will stretch your knowledge. There is no way to know in advance everything you will need to know. The best you can do is to learn how to learn — fast.

Luckily, that is what a liberal arts education is intended to provide. All those non-major requirements may seem like boxes to check en route to a degree. In fact, they are important way stations to widen your horizon, to open your mind to knowledge you may have had no idea how to acquire or assimilate.

Take a physics class. You will be surprised how valuable it can be in understanding new technology. Take an economics class so your client's business plan doesn't look like gibberish.

3. Learn the tools of the trade. One of the exciting dimensions of public relations is that it deals with an environment that changes at the speed of light. Ten years ago, designing and building a website was a rarity. Today it is an imperative. Five years ago, people thought social media was a fad. Now it is viewed as an important communication channel.

The PR world five years from now is likely to be very different. However, you won't be able to leverage what's new if you aren't rooted in what's worked for a long time. A great example is how to fashion an effective presentation. The software may change and the animation may be cooler, but the fundamentals of a presentation that does its job won't be all that different.

You may write on an iPad or dictate into your Google glasses, but solid writing transcends the tools. Knowing how to tell a story and basic principles of design, which are universal, are foundation skills you should develop.

4. Know your chosen profession's history. PR professionals in the future will face an increasingly complex set of challenges in choosing the best platforms and the most resonant channels. A knowledge of how PR professionals in the past innovated is invaluable.

The use of events, contests, third-party validation, outrageous stunts, clever ads, smart writing and guest columns were all new in their time. Study to see how these ideas evolved so you understand, with some helpful perspective, how you go from problem to solution with creativity and élan. You don't need to discover gravity or reinvent the wheel. You can learn from your peers how they did it, so you can do it, too.

The Picture of Opportunity

Pope Francis blesses a baby at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Saturday, Sept. 26. The pontiff visited Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen)

Pope Francis blesses a baby at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Saturday, Sept. 26. The pontiff visited Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen)

The whirlwind U.S. tour by Pope Francis should convince every marketer of the power of photo ops to reinforce key messages.

Pope Francis departs the U.S. Capitol after his address to Congress. (Photo Phiend)

Pope Francis departs the U.S. Capitol after his address to Congress. (Photo Phiend)

From riding around in a tiny Fiat to having lunch with the homeless to meeting with prison inmates, Pope Francis exhibited what humility means in practice and underscored his pleas not to forget society's downtrodden souls.

The imagery from his trip was searing and kept most of the nation spellbound. The Pope's insistence to stop his car to bless a child provided a viral visual witness to his words.

The papal visit is a reminder that imagery can tell a story in a way words never can. Yet so much time is spent on words and too little time on actions that could convey your message in a genuine, impactful way. Even when visual communications are considered, choices often boils down to a video or an infographic, which can lack the raw appeal of an opportunistic photograph.

Photo ops have earned a bad name as manipulative ways to make a point in front of a camera. That bad reputation is deserved for the most self-serving "shots," such as the grip-and-grin pictures of someone handing an oversized check to a charity.

The art of the photo-op is to avoid making it look phony. That usually requires making sure it isn't phony.

Pope Francis is a media-savvy guy who keenly understands the value of walking the talk. He knows he is photographed constantly whenever he steps outside. But his actions that generate endearing images appear spontaneous. There is nothing forced or phony about them.

Pope Francis and President Barack Obama are greeted by Catholic school children on the flightline at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 22. The children are local to the National Capital Region and presented the pope with a gift of flowers. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

Pope Francis and President Barack Obama are greeted by Catholic school children on the flightline at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 22. The children are local to the National Capital Region and presented the pope with a gift of flowers. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

While Pope Francis is a hard act to follow, his ability to curry powerful imagery is something everyone can emulate by following his example.

First, the Pope looks for moments that can crystallize his messages. After a wedding ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Francis donned a red nose like the ones worn by the bridge and bridegroom, which was captured by the wedding photographer. He enabled a photographer during his visit to a prison to capture his arm in the papal robe firmly in a handshake with a heavily tattooed inmate's arm. Francis kissed, hugged and fawned over children with grandfatherly naturalness, with iPhones clicking madly.

Second, the images we saw on TV, online and in social media were all captured and shared by journalists and onlookers, not a Vatican production company. They were in many cases crowdsourced, which attested to their authenticity, even if in some real sense they were stage managed.

Finally, the Pope evaluated his schedule on its symbolic qualities. He insisted, for example, to go to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, not just to be photographed paying homage to the dead, but to participate in a live inter-faith service. The service delivered some of the most emotional imagery of his trip, which never would have been filmed if he hadn't gone there.

Incorporating photo opportunities into marketing PR plans requires a lot of creativity and hard work. But an image that takes seconds to comprehend and embeds itself into memory is worth the effort.

Amazon and Customer Relationship Management

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claims he does not recognize the Amazon depicted in the New York Times story, which described the company as a "bruising workplace."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claims he does not recognize the Amazon depicted in the New York Times story, which described the company as a "bruising workplace."

A Facebook friend posted, "Just purchased items today from Amazon before reading about how it treats its employees. This will be my last order from Amazon."

The post succinctly captures the challenge Amazon and other businesses with questionable workplace standards will face as consumers act on their "relationships" with these companies. It is the downside, if you will, of customer relationship management.

You can spend a lot of time and energy currying relationships with customers, only to see it flash away with a "crisis of confidence" in the relationship. Amazon offers great customer service and value, but it it comes at a price of running the equivalent of a huge sweat shop, then no thanks.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has mounted a vigorous defense of his company and its culture, which the Times' story headline called a "bruising workplace." In a communication to Amazon staff members following the New York Times exposé that relied on interviews of 100 former company employees, Bezos said he wouldn't want to work for a company with the traits described in the article. But he also said that isn't the company he knows as Amazon.

While wise to engage quickly and unreservedly about the issue, Amazon will have to do more than talk about the true nature of its culture. To win back some disenchanted customers, it will need to demonstrate that isn't the company's culture – or won't be any longer.

The distasteful picture of a day in the life of an Amazon worker was magnified by a contemporaneous Netflix announcement that it would grant up to a year's leave for new fathers and mothers. This employee decision was designed in large part to retain and recruit top-flight young talent. But it also showed a positive face externally to Netflix customers. The decision aided customer bonding.

Even by Bezos description over the years of what makes Amazon tick, it is clear the company places innovation and customer service above all else. It may not quite as simplistic as Donald Trump's "I'm a winner and you're a loser" mantra, but it isn't warm and fuzzy either.

Perhaps you can't become the world's largest retailer by being warm and fuzzy, but by the same token you may not keep all your customers by telling a woman who suffered a miscarriage to go on a work trip the next day.

Amazon is extraordinarily true to its brand promise. But as Wal-Mart has discovered, what it takes to achieve your brand promise can get in the way of customer relationships.

Include Online Influencers in Your Media Relations Strategy

Growing an army of online influencers is an important part of your media relations strategy. 

Growing an army of online influencers is an important part of your media relations strategy. 

You’ve built your media list, filling it with great contacts from local and national media. You’ve included television, radio, newspapers and magazines. Is something missing? Yes. You’ve forgotten online influencers. 

Online influencers are an essential part of any robust media relations strategy. Online influencers include bloggers. Some may not have an official blog, but they have significant followings on social media. 

Online influencers are often more topic-specific than traditional media. In these days of shrinking newsrooms, most reporters cover a wide range of issues. Most bloggers and online influencers tend to focus on specific interests. They have followers, often in large numbers, interested in the same topics. If your business is related to these interests, partnering with an online influencer can create a direct line to your target audience. 

After you’ve decided to connect with online influencers, the question becomes how. Here are a few suggestions for how to connect with online influencers. 

1. Check your media database. Most media databases include prominent bloggers with significant followings. This is a great way to identify some of the most famous bloggers who write about businesses similar to yours. However, if you want to partner with one of these bloggers, be prepared to pay. Most popular bloggers are willing to partner with businesses, but they expect to be paid for the privilege. Their blog is a business. Don't rule this out. A great sponsored post by a top blogger may be more valuable than an advertisement. 

2. Check your social media followings. If you’re active on Twitter and Facebook, take a look at your followers who you interact with the most. Twitter is usually a better platform for this than Facebook, given its one-on-one nature. It’s also very easy to look at Twitter follower profiles to check out their number and quality of followers. If they are blogging, most will link to their blogs on their profiles. 

Instagram is another great platform for finding online influencers. If one of your followers has a large following on Instagram that could be enough to consider them an online influencer. Note that Instagram followings may be smaller than other social media, but the level of engagement on this platform is often higher. If your business has a physical location, be sure to look to see if anyone has checked in to your business. Many people might have checked into your business without finding your account so be sure to follow them. 

3. Hold a social media contest. Having a Instagram contest is a great way to grow your social media following and find great online influencers. Ask people to use a particular hashtag to tag their Instagram photos. Have a physical location? You have even more options. Consider setting up a selfie station. Make sure to follow and engage with everyone who participates in the contest. 

After you’ve grown your list of online influencers you can start offering special promotions and opportunities to keep them engaged. These influencers can be powerful brand ambassadors.