Have you noticed how bone-crunchingly boring some companies’ media releases and news items are? They do little to grab attention and even less to retain it.
There’s a very small window of opportunity for enticing a reader to study an item with a reasonable degree of care. That is why a strong heading and introductory paragraph are so vitally important.
The headline – and pictures – guide the eye to the start of the story. If the copy works past this point (80 words in) people will probably read further. But those lost by now may be gone for ever.
Don’t let the fat finger of criticism point in your direction because if it does your company’s efforts to produce compelling content are more like to spawn simple discontent. Readers will certainly be less likely to make an informed decision to buy your products or services.
What I’m talking about are the PR pieces that kick off with a torrent of corporate self-glorification, leaving readers gasping for breath long before they reach the real news. For example:
[Company], part of the European Division of [Group], is pleased to announce that its award-winning Research and Development Division, based in [place], has completed an exhaustive pre-launch testing programme for our new [product] …
Ouch! Real-life examples abound on low-budget websites and in trade magazines where editors are either too busy or too unenterprising to edit submitted material.
On the other hand, here are six simple steps for copywriters and corporate scribes to make content more effective.
Write for the reader
Start with the benefits the reader could enjoy from the product or service, then discuss its features and finally add a bit of background information.
Surprise the reader
If you can leave the reader thinking “Wow! I didn’t know that!” you are well on the way to getting him or her to talk about you to colleagues and customers.
Don’t repeat yourself
Sometimes repetition of content is inescapable – so, wherever possible, rewrite as much of it as you can. Messages often gain strength from rewriting.
Get your facts straight, be meticulous about spelling and grammar and, above all, don’t exaggerate or make rash statements
Vary the recipe
Within the confines of grammar, language offers huge possibilities for variety. Be bold – experiment! Spice up your message!
Think of it as a game. Have fun massaging the message into an eye-catching shape. Be enthusiastic and you’ll never be boring!
Social media procrastination is a two-edged PR problem for business
Large numbers of people in the English-speaking world have doubtless grown up with constant reminders from parents, grandparents and other wise relatives that “procrastination is the thief of time”.
The saying comes from a meditative work by the 18th century English poet, playwright and priest Edward Young – and some 300 years after it was first penned it still holds true in the era of social media.
It’s unbelievably easy to procrastinate with services such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. And in business, that can be a serious problem.
There are two kinds of corporate social media procrastinators:
The former can be dealt with through good management: the latter through personal discipline, specialist recruitment or a decision to outsource.
Businesses should use social media for three key reasons – all driven by the need to attract customers online and physically:
It’s really about reputation management, developing favourable perceptions of the organisation (and occasionally handling the odd crisis) – in essence, another tool in the public relations kit.
Large organisations have it easy if they can support one or more staff members dedicated to the three key processes identified above. But in the SME sector that’s a luxury many businesses simply cannot afford.
Owners of the smallest businesses need to strike a sensible balance with their social media activity, building regular slots into their personal daily schedules to allow for selective scanning of news and comment and time for outbound messaging and response where necessary. Even the most hard-pressed solo entrepreneur should be able to find five or 10 minutes a day to communicate in his way.
Larger businesses in the SME environment may find it more convenient to entrust the social media responsibility to a specialist, such as a public relations consultant with competence in this area and the ability to treat social media as a natural extension of traditional PR tactics. This also helps to ensure consistency of messaging across all communication channels.
The specialist is perhaps also better placed to provide a synopsis of social media trends and track results of a client’s posts. Statistics now available from Twitter, for example, provide considerable insight into daily activity and the performance of individual messages – pointing towards a measurable return on investment in social media.
So the advice to time-starved managers who are lagging in the social media race is simple: make a commitment – today!
If I chose to exchange my keyboard for a ‘for sale’ board – making houses, rather than words, my stock in trade – what thoughts on communication would I take with me to power-up a career in real estate?
It’s not an unreal scenario. An agent friend once tried to lure me into the business – but I preferred working with agents, rather than for them. I did, however, obtain a basic qualification.
So, in case I ever change my mind, here are my communication notes to self. They might give some practising agents food for thought – and help other professions, too.
It’s your shop window, a showcase of properties to attract genuine buyers to your business. It can also help to draw future sellers, too. Add fresh material frequently – bright, clear pictures and honest copy – and ensure everything is optimised for the search engines so that your site appears at least among the first results for the most applicable search terms in your area.
Update your news page (or blog) at least once a week – daily if possible – with a range of articles demonstrating thought leadership, market leadership and the benefits buyers and sellers receive from dealing with you. Comment on local issues: say something of substance, but avoid controversy. Go easy on human interest stories about staff – they may undermine the professional image you should be trying to portray.
Give potential newcomers to your area a head start: tell them everything they need to know about life in your area. Make sure your local information is always fully up to date and that hyperlinks to amenities such as schools, churches, surgeries and other public facilities actually work. And make sure they open in new pages, so that people are more likely to return to your site.
4 Testimonials and case studies
A well-written piece showing how you provided customer service excellence and achieved a great outcome for buyers and sellers can be powerful reference material, giving future customers the confidence to deal through you. Write objectively (as far as possible) to enhance credibility. Focus on the benefits of your service, rather than the features.
5 Attracting visitors
Be aware that the majority of website visitors will be people who are looking to buy or sell in your area now or in the near future. They will look at other agents’ sites, too. You will stand a better chance of longer visits, return visits and ultimately commitment to purchase if your site offers the right stock at the right prices – and is perceived also to demonstrate the best levels of professionalism and usefulness.
The biggest issue is how to drive traffic to your website in the first place – an that is why it is so important to spread your web address (url) as widely as possible. It is also the reason for maintain a high profile on social media.
Because buyers and sellers generally have only a short relationship with you, don’t expect them to make a long terms commitment to following you on Twitter (or any other social channels you use). For the benefit of those who do click the follow button, make sure there’s a stream of posts pointing them to website content that adds value to their experience.
Use your Twitter account also as a source of information for yourself: follow other agents, mortgage brokers and lenders, property developers, builders, local councils, chambers of commerce, schools and other local institutions and, most importantly, local, regional and national news sources – especially property journalists. Build yourself an influential list of contacts that adds to your credibility: encourage people to follow you. Wherever possible and relevant, engage directly with your Twitter followers and use Twitter to announce significant news items.
If you still prefer a print newsletter to distribute door to door, make it relevant to the buyers and sellers you are trying to impress. Let the benefits of dealing through you be apparent from the successes you report on; demonstrate your understanding of the local market through careful comment on trends. Don’t let the main theme of your business be overshadowed by publicity for feats of physical endurance or other charity events – keep their prominence in proportion.
If you have a suitable email for produce an electronic newsletter. Keep it short: headline, picture, one paragraph of tantalising copy – and a link to the full story … on your website.
8 News release
You may still have occasion to issue a news item as a traditional press release to one or more journalists. If so, it should double up as copy for your website, newsletters and Tweets. In fact, write all news pieces as if they are press releases, so that they can be digested easily by all readers. Don’t blow an ‘exclusive’ publicity opportunity by publishing it on your own site before the chosen journalist gets a chance.
Be as creative as each medium allows. Be willing to try new channels, new techniques. Be enthusiastic about every communication opportunity. And if you need help, please get in touch.
Which is the worse example of ignorance: misuse of a fairly simple word or misunderstanding its meaning?
My question arises from an early report of a tragic incident in which a 35-year-old man died as a result of an electric shock at a sports centre.
The incident came to my attention through a news Tweet this morning. It stated the man had been electrocuted and had been taken to the major hospital nearby.
No problem in the language, but perhaps a slight ambiguity on the time of death: was it instantaneous, on the road or at the hospital? Either way, full marks to the newsteam for using ‘electrocution’ to mean ‘death as a result of electricity’.
Another Twitter user, however, suggested the news Tweet could be updated, as he had needed to Google the incident to discover if the man had died. Oh dear – only if the original writer had confused ‘electrocution’ with ‘shock’, as many do.
There was an update, saying police had confirmed that the man who had been electrocuted had died. Withdraw full marks awarded earlier!
If you are using big words in public, get them right!
Am I being pedantic or does this really matter?
Every word has one or more legitimate meanings or uses. Over time, our language is enriched by new vocabulary and fresh meanings. Words are great playthings, too. But we should also strive vigorously to prevent the morphing of mainstream meanings into the erroneous, and even the absurd.
‘Electrocution’ is a relatively young word, neatly combining electricity and execution. Its correct uses relate to both capital punishment and accidental death. It does not mean non-lethal electric shock.
I believe the correct use of words is essential if we are to communicate effectively.
In a world seemingly full of experts, there’s no shortage of advice on how organisations should conduct their PR and marketing communication campaigns in the year ahead. But, as far as I can see, all the collected wisdom boils down to three key ideas – and these form the nucleus of the message I shall be taking to clients in 2016.
Key number one – compelling content
Whether you’re selling a product or a service – or simply conveying information – your website and/or printed literature must appeal to the people you are seeking to attract … and hold their attention long enough for them to respond positively to your call to action. Educate and inform your customers, focus on the benefits they can expect from your product or service. But always keep your messages as short and to the point as possible.
Key number two – engage socially
If you aren’t already exploiting the business possibilities of social media, you should be. Build a two-way network of followers, and get out there often. Social media activity helps to boost your profile, enables you to engage with customers and influencers and, most importantly, drives people to your website. Remember that channels such as Twitter are already big news channels in their own right: use them wisely to spread your headlines … with that all-important link to the full story on your site.
Key number three – face up to video
Wherever you sit in the A-Z of business, there’s no excuse for overlooking video as a channel for communicating with your customers. Used properly, even the low-cost filming and editing technology available via many mobile phones enables you to broadcast instant, credible clips of company news and comment. If your budget can stretch to a more professional production, so much the better, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a reasonable quality video.
So far I’ve given you a few thoughts about what you should be doing to encourage favourable perceptions of your company or products. Now for the ‘how’.
The key ring – get outside help
If you are a hard-pressed entrepreneur in a small to medium business, or the marketing head in a larger one, you cannot be everywhere all the time. The solution is to involve experienced, creative agency professionals who can tie your three ‘keys’ together in a co-ordinated campaign – and produce all the deliverables on time and on budget.
Start by contacting me. Then, look forward to a happy and PR-osperous 2016!
What are your business plans for 2016? With the time for New Year resolutions fast approaching, now’s a good time to decide between a ‘same again’ approach or a dynamic 12 months of sustained effort focused on growth.
After watching this year’s batch of The Apprentice candidates bumbling their way through the ‘interview’ episode (in which they and their business plans were ruthlessly torn to shreds), I was struck by two key thoughts:
I have resolved to devote time over the festive season to my own business plan for the year ahead. Like any good plan, it will have benchmarks and targets, under two main headings:
Now I have no immediate intentions involving either The Apprentice or any other situations where I might need to present my own business plan. However, I will still produce it in document form with concise, credible content – just in case.
A business plan is often overlooked as an essential element of an organisation’s annual communication programme. That’s because it tends to be numbers-driven, and is produced more often by ‘numbers people’ than ‘words people’. It may be designed for a different audience than the marketing and PR output, but it also helps to shape perceptions of the organisation, so it should be treated appropriately.
Business plans can be written at any stage of the year, although 1 January, the start of a tax year and company anniversaries are perhaps the three most likely dates.
One of the growth tactics that I shall be writing into my own plan for 2016 will be to place more emphasis on business plans as part of the overall communication package.
Need your business plan written or refreshed? Contact me now for details of my professional, affordable and high-impact service.
I can’t guarantee you’d get past Lord Sugar’s aides totally unscathed – but you’d certainly do better than this year’s candidates!
Technology has done wonders for communication – but are we perhaps becoming slaves to the ‘how’ of the internet age and overlooking the importance of the ‘what’ we upload?
“The trouble with my website,” a local businessman told me recently, “is that it’s written more for the search engines than for the potential customers I want to attract.”
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is vitally important for certain types of business – especially online retailers. Such businesses depend on fast – even impulsive – buying decisions often based on an in-your-face presence at the top of the first Google page.
Most businesses have to make do with a lower position in the search results, and have to rely on many other techniques to attract visitors to their websites. I would venture to suggest that if a business can’t make it into the first few pages, it’s probably not worth wasting effort on SEO.
What I would recommend is a thorough overhaul of the messages a company wishes to convey through its web presence, followed by professional writing to ensure that each message is clear – and in a form that is easily received by the target audience.
Naturally, with or without SEO assistance, there also needs to be supporting activity to drive the reader in the desired direction. For example, if you are reading this on my website, chances are you got here via social media. And if you’ve found this on LinkedIn, you may choose to follow up by clicking through to my website.
Now, to return to my starting point: it’s very easy to become obsessed with SEO and links in all directions across the internet – literally killing the art of communicating. What matters is not how many followers I have, or how many times I post new items – but rather a message that inspires you to buy my skills and services.
Behind the staging of the pitch and the showmanship of the presentation there are seven basic ingredients that can make or break a public relations pitch.
Creativity in pitching is important – it showcases an agency’s talent and it helps ensure attention during the presentation. But there may be a fine line between wooing the client with sensory enrichment on one side and plain overkill on the other.
Content is what really matters. It defines an agency’s approach – and should, without any further embellishment, enable the client to make an objective decision.
So, whether you are writing the pitch or considering a proposal that has been delivered to you, here are the guidelines for content and evaluation that work for me:
1 The situation: Demonstrate an understanding of the client’s organisation, markets, products and the business need for a PR campaign. This may be supplemented by a SWOT analysis.
2 The objective: Define the purpose of the campaign, together with a quantifiable outcome.
3 The targets: Identify the target audiences for the campaign as aspects may need differentiation to suit a range of needs across the audience spectrum.
4 The Messages: State the key messages to be delivered to each of the target audiences.
5 The Activities: Describe the various strategies and tactics proposed to convey the messages to the target audiences. This should include an aspect of PR campaign management to ensure that there is flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances during the campaign.
6 The Budget: Detail the cost of the campaign, including estimates of agency fees as well as products and services to be purchased for the campaign.
7 The Evaluation: List the measures that may be applied to give the client an indication of the campaign’s return on investment.
Don’t treat this as the ultimate definitive list: every pitch has specific needs and there may be some great ideas you would care to share. As an example, the agency’s credentials may be essential in a first-time pitch to a client.
Once the content is in place, give thought to the ‘staging’ of the presentation. Now’s the time to give free rein to creativity. There’s the talk-through, the visual aids, the work samples, the leave-behind document….
Don’t overpower the content with technology, simply use technology to enhance your message.
And a final thought: Don’t spoil your effort with errors of fact, spelling or grammar. It ranks you with a baker selling mouldy bread!
What is the outlook for writing? Is there a future … or will we soon be reflecting on an imperfect past?
My question is actually in three parts, because ‘writing’ has a trio of key meanings that are particularly relevant: First, the art of putting pen to paper; second, the act of composing text; and third, the ability to make a living out of the other two.
I have been writing in various ways for a long time and have seen many changes in practice, style and opportunity. Overall, I think developments during my career have been positive – enabling me to derive greater pleasure and profit from my work and allowing me to deliver more quality and quantity for my clients.
Computers and the internet, for example, have made it easier to research, compose, edit and publish instantly to a potentially global audience. Grafted on to the foundation of an education that embraced the disciplines of grammar, spelling and a reasonably legible handwriting, the digital era has certainly expanded my horizons: but it has also made me aware of the need for quality in communication.
While welcoming the opportunities of this new age, I worry that the science is overshadowing the art. At the same time, the focus is shifting away from the basics of writing, raising the possibility that future generations could be much poorer in communication terms.
This comment has been written on a computer – as has most of my professional output over the past 30-odd years. I’d probably struggle to compose by hand, and my handwriting has degenerated to a scrawl. But at least I still hold a pen properly when I need to.
I have it on good authority that many children now in school have never been taught to hold a pencil or pen correctly – with the result that they may have difficulty in writing legibly. Coupled with an underemphasis on spelling and grammar, this does not bode well for communication in the future.
I suspect we are now seeing a compounding effect as many of today’s younger teachers are themselves the product of a learning-by-discovery education that dispensed with rote-learning for the basics. The impact of this is also apparent in the media – typically with the all-too-frequent misuse of words such as ‘less/fewer’ and ‘decimate’.
Mobile telephony has brought the ability to communicate virtually anywhere, at any time. But is has also spawned the phenomenon of ‘text speak’ and the powerful (but sometimes dangerous) social media. Why use a pen when you have a phone, why worry about spelling when you have predictive text and why worry about grammar when you have only 140 characters?
We could be heading for a crisis of literary skills.
While I may be sounding gloomy with regard to the first two parts of my question, I am much more optimistic about the third.
I believe that people who endure the process of learning to write – in both senses – will be in great demand as communicators and custodians of knowledge. They will:
We will still need good writers. We will need them to shape our messages. And we will need them to uphold the literary traditions that – fortunately – still underpin today’s world.
If you have read this far, why not give some thought to the points raised above and join the debate by way of the comment facility?
It’s five years since David Goddin Communications made its debut on the UK public relations stage, offering a range of PR and marketing communication consulting activities direct to clients and as a standby service for agencies and corporate marketing departments.
As with any business start-up, there have been highs and lows – but, thanks to good client support, the general trend has been positive and the outlook remains good. Business is fun – and I want to keep it that way.
The business came into being because I wanted to fulfill a dream of putting my name to an agency that could make a real difference for its clients. It’s made a huge difference for me, too, with many fresh opportunities: for example working for interesting clients in new sectors, expanding my range of communication tools and enjoying greater flexibility in work patterns.
Communication is a basic need for all businesses – mine included. My challenge as a consultant is to deliver a cost-effective blend of experience and creativity, so that clients large and small always get the best solution that I can offer.
Experience from previous career steps provides the backbone of my skill set, but with the proliferation of ‘new media’ – bringing exciting new communication techniques – I am now using words in ways that were scarcely on the agenda five years ago. I still regard the news release as the fundamental element of PR copywriting, but it can now be adapted for use in many different ways … from 140 characters upwards!
Consulting is not only about writing and communication technology: it also involves a great deal of listening and learning. This is because to make messages more effective, the PR consultant needs to balance what the client wants to say … and what the customers might want to hear. A good consultant will, of course, loyally represent the client at all times – and should also earn the position of trusted adviser.
My plan for the next five years of David Goddin Communications includes modest growth on the foundations already laid plus further exploration of new communication opportunities. in short, I simply want my business to be enjoyable – as much for clients as it is for me.
Despite all the great technology we have at our fingertips, it’s good to know that some businesses are still using the traditional, printed newsletter to communicate in their markets.
As a former print journalist I have a fondness for words and images on paper, and I believe the newsletter can – and should – have a place in the marketing mix for many years to come. However, I think that many valiant efforts to use this medium are prone to failure – the result of too few skills and poor advice.
When a local company’s four-pager hit the doormat recently I found myself wondering how many businesses are pumping money into print – but getting little in return.
In truth there is a brief golden moment when a reader picks up your newsletter and makes the choice between read and recycle.
So how does your newsletter shape up? What part of your print run goes for pulp with hardly a glance? Here are some pointers that should help to make your publication produce profits:
Know your purpose – Don’t just publish for the sake of it. Define your editorial policy to complement the role that your newsletter will play – for example: enhancing the corporate image and encouraging sales by showcasing market leadership, understanding of customer needs and successful applications of products or services. In reality, the goal is to get the reader to visit your shop (or website) … and buy!
Remember the reader – Think of your reader as a hard-working commuter coming home to a family, domestic responsibilities and a garden in need of attention. If he (or she) is going to pick up your newsletter from the hallstand and digest it intelligently, it must scream READ ME on every page. So it must be relevant, appealing … and must convey benefits to the reader.
Make it newsy – You don’t have to make every page look like a mini-clone of the popular press – the content and design possibilities are endless. But whatever the appearance, the content should clearly demonstrate editorial flair. What you need are magnetic headlines and gripping copy that draw the reader and retain interest … right down to your call to action.
Cut out the waffle – Beware of the MD’s ego-trip essays or the sales director’s lengthy ponderings on the state of the market. Rather channel their enthusiasm into thought leadership articles that make readers sit up and take note. And remember that since the arrival of 140-character communication, keeping it short is what readers increasingly expect.
Be visual – Grab the reader’s attention with stunning images and informative diagrams. You are competing with colour on TV, PCs, mobiles, tablets and supermarket shelves. So be bold and be bright … or your publications will certainly be heading straight for the bin.
Be informative – You want the reader eventually to make an informed buying decision. So help that process along by providing information in such a way that the reader immediately perceives a benefit from learning about you and what you offer.
Be clever – Today’s production and print processes give you the flexibility to create separate editions for different geographical areas or customer types – of from different divisions of the company. You can also load your newsletter as a pdf file on your website – giving a wider audience the ability to read it online or print it for themselves, if they wish. Don’t forget to use social media to encourage people to read your latest issue. And if you’ve a really good story on the front page, send it out as a press release or add it to the company blog.
Call in a pro – If you have the time and skills to put a newsletter together on your own, by all means do so. But it’s well worth calling in a writer/editor/designer package with the experience and skills to give you impartial advice on content and presentation. You want a professional product that adheres to traditional standards of journalism and printing, enhances your reputation … and boosts your bottom line.
A website is as essential in your marketing armoury as a distinctive logo and snappy business cards – but is your organisation reaping all the benefits of being on the internet?
Never before in the history of commerce have businesses enjoyed such opportunities to broadcast tailored corporate messages cheaply, instantly, to wide or targeted audiences and without fear of editorial intervention. But many organisations still don’t make full use of the internet to spread their messages: as a result they are not being heard.
One of the reasons the internet and its spinoffs – email and social media – are so powerful is because the content that reaches the reader is precisely what the sender intended. This is also true of printed newsletters, brochures and direct mail – but the internet has immediacy.
In contrast, the traditional press release was often edited and rewritten by journalists keen to add their own touch – sometimes with dire consequences for the original corporate message. Not that all editing was bad – some press releases were (and still are) in need of extensive improvement.
Companies now have virtual carte blanche online to say anything (within the law and bounds of common decency, of course). Some have in-house resources to craft creative content. Others rely on outsourced skills (like mine) to produce copy that ticks all the boxes. Either way, good content is essential.
As citizens of the internet, we are all looking for a massive return on our investment in a domain name and content. To achieve that ROI we have to get the right people to visit our sites and then to be sufficiently impressed to take action.
The first step is to ensure we have the right content. This means providing information that people will need in order to make a ‘buy’ decision. People respond more readily if they are told what they want to hear, rather than what we want to tell them. But too many companies focus on how good they are rather than what they can do for the customer. In short, promote the benefits not the features.
Content needs to be refreshed frequently to keep the search engines interested and to give customers a reason for returning to the site over and over again. Just think of the big e-commerce sites: people keep looking at them to see what’s new.
The second step is to attract people to the site: unless you are extremely well known or on the first Google page you’re unlikely to get random hits that mature into valuable customers. This is where social media marketing plays a vital role, affording the opportunity to publish a brief ‘teaser’ with an all-important link to the real article. And if your posts are clever enough, others will ‘like’ or ‘share’ them to the wider audience of their own connections.
Now, please share this article and have a look round my website!
Next week the British electorate faces a big decision: who should govern the country for the next five years. For many voters it could be a difficult decision because there are many candidates to choose from. For others it could be an opportunity to unseat someone who is judged to have under-performed – either in Government or Opposition.
There is every possibility that neither of the main parties will secure enough seats to command an outright majority in Parliament. If this happens, another coalition is a possible outcome – but if parties are unable to overcome their differences sufficiently to work together there could be no government and a further election would have to be called.
People must make up their own minds about where they will place their ‘X” on 7 May. But there are some key issues they all need to consider before they enter their polling station.
Increased choice of candidates in any constituency is likely to draw votes away from one or more of the main parties. This means whoever wins the seat may be elected with a much smaller share of the vote and a smaller majority than in previous elections. So, technically, the elected representative could be the choice of only a minority of voters.
Every seat that a major party loses could be a step towards a nation that is ungovernable – at least for a while. On the other hand, change can be good, as long as it is constructive.
So, what happens if a candidate from a new, smaller party wins a seat? Will he or she have enough clout in the Commons to make a real difference – either to life in the constituency or to major national issues such as health, education, transport, social welfare, government finance, and so on? If there is a hung Parliament, will this candidate’s party end up in a coalition, or in limbo? Is it therefore safer to support a sitting candidate who represents a party that has more chance of power – on either side of the House?
Pre-election promises and manifesto pledges are good for the media, but few are likely to come to fruition without massive expense and upheaval, so it’s not worth basing too much of a decision on them. We’ve seen plenty of inter-party posturing recently: sniping among party leaders makes for exciting TV debates, but it does little for the politicians’ credibility.
Ultimately, voters must consider each candidate’s track record and prospects and make the decision they feel is right.
Who should people vote for? That’s not for me to say – but if voters believe that the devil they know is better than the one they don’t, then the Status Quo party might be the best choice.
Politics and business have a lot in common – and a great deal to learn from each other’s successes and failures. So with the UK General Election just weeks away and the next race for the White House on the starting blocks, it’s a good time to think about the art of getting customers to vote for you.
Becoming the market leader – or the government of the day – hinges on two vital factors. First is the ability to provide what the market wants – on acceptable terms. Second is the ability to convince customers of this.
For business, these factors translate to production and communication. In politics they are promises and spin. But both are ultimately presenting a case and seeking an emotional response.
Here’s a selection of ideas that entrepreneurs and election candidates can share towards the common goal of public support:
One of the most interesting periods of my career so far was the five years I spent writing – not exclusively, I hasten to add – about plasterboard. During that time I learnt that it is possible to make plasterboard sound sexy. It’s a valuable lesson that I use in my everyday writing – because it works in virtually every other sector, too.
A key purpose of writing in the public relations and marketing communication area is to enhance perceptions of a company and its product. This is not by puffery or outlandish claims, but rather by presenting a reasoned case in an interesting and informative manner. This should enable readers to make a sensible judgment and, one hopes, take the desired action: usually, to buy.
So how do you make two sheets of stiff paper with a filling of gypsum interesting enough for people to want to buy it? It’s pretty much a commodity item that is a mainstay of modern buildings, but in its raw state it’s not very inspiring – even when its higher-performance variants come with tinted paper. Arguably, there’s not much to choose between products from the main manufacturers.
What I did was to look beyond the dullness of a pile of boards, newly delivered to a building site, and see them instead fulfilling their real role, which is to define human space.
I wrote about plasterboard in contexts that readers – including architects, dry lining contractors, property developers and homeowners – could relate to as human applications: Houses, schools, offices, churches, theatres, hospitals and many more. These are paces where people live, learn, work, play, pray, are entertained and made healthy.
Suddenly, the boards are elevated from their bland flatness and – you’ve guessed it – they start to sound sexy.
The danger, with plasterboard and the many other products that find heir way into press releases, is that manufacturers are often too focused on shouting about their excellence in product development, manufacturing, customer service and so on. They forget that these important qualities should be balanced by human elements that make the story more appealing to readers.
The aim is to grab the attention of readers – and that’s usually achieved more easily by giving them something they want to hear, rather than something the you want to tell them.
If you have a boring product – even an interesting one – that needs brighter promotional writing, please be in touch. Let’s make it sound sexy!
Hire a good writer to give your PR or marketing message the best chance of reaching your targets – and stimulating the responses you want.
So, what is a ‘good’ writer?
You’ll know when you’ve got one, but finding one may be challenging. Here are 10 handy guidelines for selecting a writer, based on my own experience of writing and working with other people’s words.
This week I had good first-time meetings with two London-based business service providers – each a specialist in his chosen field and both well aware of the importance of communication in commerce.
We spoke about the key roles that blogs play – first as conveyors of useful comment and thought leadership and second as sources of fresh website content to develop and maintain search engine interest.
The underlying purpose of all business writing is to drive sales.
Today’s post is designed to address these needs for David Goddin Communications and www.davidgoddin.co.uk. But is it enough simply to pen a few words and paste them into the blog page and hope for the best? No!
Your PR copywriter and/or content manager need to be much more creative if you really want to get more bang for your blog.
For a start, your public relations or marketing communication copy should be part of a sustained campaign of informative, educational material to reassure existing customers and help convert prospects. Not hard-sell copy, but rather words that persuade with subtlety.
Next, you should include plenty of relevant keywords to increase your chances of appearing reasonably high in the list when someone searches on Google or one of the other search engines. Note: there’s much more to proper search engine optimisation (SEO), but this should help.
Third, if you’ve gone to the trouble of compiling a brilliant blog, why stop there? I’m not!
This piece is also going to social media where, I hope, it will be shared more widely by members of my networks. And I will place it on our local business community website, because one should never overlook potential on one’s doorstep.
A word of caution: if you are planning a multiple online publication, it’s worth making cosmetic changes to each version so that the search engines don’t penalise you, assuming you are spamming the web.
Use your blog properly and it will open doors for you!
Content is everything these days. It’s what goes into websites, email marketing, social media, brochures – even old-fashioned media releases. No surprise, then, that it’s become a big talking point in the marketing sector.
In reality, content is what I – and countless other PR professionals – have been producing for clients over many years. Our challenge is to keep abreast of the latest content opportunities and to adapt our output appropriately.
But it’s not that simple. There’s so much content around that we have to be even more creative in our word-crafting if our clients’ messages are to stand out amid the swelling mass of communication clutter.
It’s refreshing to see some of the profession’s thought leaders suggesting that the key is not to pump out clients’ sales messages – basically what they want to say – and instead to produce what their customers might want to hear.
As one of the experts I follow suggested recently, content creators need to stop selling and start listening. After all, communication is a two-way process: a one-to-one conversation is nothing but series of balanced responses. Why should content be any different?
So, to promote a product in today’s market, the content copywriter should be focusing on the benefits rather than the features. The sales messages can still be woven into the text, but subtly.
If we give the reader a captivating story, with which he or she can easily identify, we are surely on the way to converting prospect into customer.
I believe many companies are losing out because their messages are clouded by outdated construction and blind obedience to what pleases the managing director. This may be because neither they or their communication advisers have embraced change.
I have spent many hours writing about ‘boring’ products including bricks, plasterboard and various systems that go into modern buildings. I’ve also addressed more glamorous subjects. Whatever the subject matter, I always try to develop a human angle to help readers associate more effectively with the products my words are promoting.
My clients are happy.
As a profession, though, we need to put greater effort into educating more clients on what it takes to communicate effectively.
Then we can all be happy.
Most people have probably used – or at least heard – the expression “A picture is worth a thousand words”. But how many remember this when they select a mugshot of themselves for their social media channels – especially LinkedIn?
The expression dates from 1911, when leading New York editor Arthur Brisbane told the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club: “Use a picture – it’s worth a thousand words.” It remains true today.
The thumbnail pictures we post on LinkedIn and other social channels reveal a great deal about us, our personalities, interests and careers. A good analyst might easily get 1,000 relevant words out of a typical head and shoulders image.
It’s important to choose our images well – so that anyone looking at them is steered in the direction of 1,000 positive words.
In today’s visual world, there’s no excuse for using a bad picture as a thumbnail – but many people do. It’s my guess that many people with bad pictures don’t enjoy the full benefits of social media exposure.
Some people are naturally better looking than others, but we can’t all be beautiful/handsome. So we have to encourage viewers to look beyond the flab, wrinkles and odd hairstyles and go behind the face to see the real person they are about to link with.
Here’s a list of 10 don’ts – if your thumbnail has one or more of them, I’d suggest you think about changing it.
Do not look away from the camera – you want to engage with the viewer: in most modern societies, that means eye contact. Looking away may convey impressions of disinterest or having something to hide.
Do not frown at the camera – a ‘black’ look is a great turn-off, whereas a slight smile suggests approachability and a degree of friendliness.
Do not share the frame with another person – it’s you they are potentially linking with, not your spouse, partner, relative, colleague or best friend. Two heads in one thumbnail can make it difficult to decide which is the named person – and it may also conjure up the idea that the person is unable to stand on his or her own two feet.
Do not drag your children into the picture – sadly, other people’s children are not always as endearing as one’s own!
Do not use a logo or product image instead of your face on personal pages – it marks you as a pushy sales person, looking for any opportunity for a free advertisement. Logos and products are fine on corporate pages.
Do not portray yourself relaxing on a Caribbean beach, in the snow-clad Alps or bungee-jumping at Victoria Falls – it may suggest that leisure, rather than business, is your number one interest.
Do not hide behind the default egghead image – it suggests either that you are afraid to show your face in public or that you just don’t care: two views that are not conducive to engagement.
Do not select a fuzzy, out-of focus or blurred image – or one that makes you look like you’ve escaped from Crimewatch. Again, pictures like this are not likely to win friends.
Do not use special interest pictures or ones that are totally irrelevant – people don’t want to link with steam trains, aircraft or double basses. Let your connections learn about your relevant interests later.
Do not put another face where yours should be – you aren’t Alfred E Neuman, Morph, Kermit or scores of other iconic characters. If you can’t show your face, perhaps you should not be on social media?
Today’s blog is for all the pedants whose enjoyment of historical drama is marred when ‘poetic’ licence is taken too far: in particular, the injection of incongruous elements intended to add appropriate atmosphere or realism.
Such errors by production teams may result from plain ignorance or the failure to check details – but either way they tend to undermine the credibility of the overall representation.
These notes are prompted by the BBC’s three-part mini-series, adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. In episode two (aired last night) there is a scene in the local church, where the congregation is nearing the end of a well-known hymn.
The hymn is Sir Henry Baker’s The King of Love My Shepherd Is, based on Psalm 23, and sung to its original tune Dominus Regit Me, by John Dykes. The two clergymen’s collaboration was first heard in 1868.
The problem is that Jamaica Inn is set in 1821 – the year of Baker’s birth and two years before Dykes’s.
It took me just a few minutes on the internet to confirm my suspicions that the storyline and music were incorrectly paired. Why, then, cannot TV drama producers do likewise? It’s hardly likely to erode the budget significantly.
Does all this really matter? Probably not – unless one has the sort of mind that is quick to recognise errors of detail, which leads to a diminution of enjoyment.
So how does the Jamaica Inn ‘hymn fail’ relate to public relations? I see it as a reminder of the importance of detail in PR writing.
Communicators have to remember that if an error is spotted even by just one reader, it’s one too many. The tendency is for the reader to interpret a single error as evidence of more in store – and a mindset like that is a sure way of undoing a PR client’s reputation.
The professional PR approach is to ensure all the facts are correct and then to translate them into appealing – and accurate – copy. As a writer, one has to understand that errors do occur: so fastidious checking is required – both before copy is sent for client approval and again before it is published.
In the noisy, competitive world of modern business communication, an error-based ‘PR fail’ is unthinkable.
Publicity raises awareness of your business, reinforces your reputation and helps your customers make informed choices. So what can you and your PR team do to create material for the press and, increasingly, to populate your own media – such as your website and your newsletters? Here’s a selection of ideas behind 10 top story-triggers.
1 Say something
You are an expert in your field: show it by commenting on trends and issues relevant to your area of interest. Demonstrate your thought leadership.
2 Do something
Reinforce your status by talking about your roles in a trade or professional organisation, civic body, school or college, and the challenges they face.
3 Launch something
Announce a product or service that gives you a real competitive edge, and spell out all the benefits it will give your customers.
4 Buy something
Adding real estate, a new subsidiary or new machinery to your investment portfolio trumpets success. People prefer to deal with successful companies.
5 Open something
A new shop, office or factory is always an opportunity to make a statement about your company and the economy. Don’t be shy!
6 Develop something
You and your boffins have devised a stunning new system or process that could revolutionise your industry: when you are ready, make a big splash.
7 Report something
Research an area of interest in your industry or community: comment extensively on your findings to highlight your subject insight.
8 Sponsor something
Whether it’s a national charity or your local football team, your support for a good cause is news that can put you in a good light. Don’t hide it!
9 Refurbish something
From a fresh coat of paint to a complete store refit, refurbishment is an opportunity to talk up your business – especially if you are open throughout!
10 Change something
You are finally changing a company logo untouched for more than 40 years – explaining the ‘why’ is a great story (so is reassuring loyal customers!).
So how does your business rate in terms of exploiting some of these ideas? If your score is low, perhaps we should talk about solutions to suit your needs – and your budget. Please click here to get in touch.
In a recent Dragons Den episode, Dragon Deborah Meaden said: “If you are not spending at least £3,000 a month on PR, you are wasting your time.”
While that may have been music to some PR people’s ears, it was probably a switch-off for thousands of small business owners with low public relations budgets.
In fairness, the Dragon’s claim is quite correct – for major companies with vast marketing budgets to splash around global, national and larger provincial PR agencies. Big clients have high demands for service and are able to pay for it.
So, what should you spend?
PR does not have to cost the earth. Plenty of small PR agencies can deliver excellent advice, creativity and service appropriate to the needs and budgets of SMEs.
Business theorists may disagree, but in my view there is no golden rule on the percentage of turnover – or any other financial measure – that SMEs should invest in PR.
Decide the maximum you can afford to spend on PR – and then find a consultant who can make your money go as far as possible and still give you top-class service. That’s a challenge some PR professionals thrive on!
But be prepared to commit to an ongoing campaign – six months is good; a year or more is preferable. PR produces its best results over a period of time, during which you are gradually developing more effective engagement with your customers and other stakeholders.
Give us a call – let’s see what we can do for you.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 16 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.