An overnight request from a professional commentator who specialises in financial matters has provided some valuable food for thought. His question is one we should all be asking – regularly – if we are blogging to stimulate our businesses.
Blogs – the popular abbreviation of ‘web logs’ – give any computer user the ability to contribute knowledge to the internet, where it may be shared among closed groups or publicly. Suddenly, Everyman could be a ‘published’ author, and an authority on anything. Some of Everyman’s blogs are brilliant, others are just a waste of cyberspace.
Corporate bloggers – myself included – use blogs to engage with key target audiences. Typically, we are striving in the first place to communicate with existing and potential customers, closely followed by others who may influence future ‘buy’ decisions. Theoretically, the company blog is a great PR tool.
The drawback is that while some people may follow blogs published by top politicians, journalists and academics, I suspect very few actually read company blogs on a regular basis. Even if they do, unless they respond by leaving a comment or ringing the sales desk, there’s nothing to complete the communication loop. And unless you get the feedback, you don’t get a measure of your blog’s effectiveness.
Ironically, perhaps, one target audience that welcomes every new blog post is the search engine fraternity. It responds by improving website rankings, which means better visibility in search results – but that’s still many clicks away from boosting sales.
So, how can we make blogs more attractive, and facilitate real engagement with customers?
Write what readers want: This post and its immediate predecessor are prime examples of direct responses to requests. My posts also include comments on professional or topical issues where feel I can add value to my readers’ knowledge and understanding. So if one is an ‘expert’ it is perfectly legitimate to give readers what they need, perhaps before they know they want it.
Write for an easy read: However technical your subject, never assume the reader has anything near your level of understanding of the topic and its background. Keep it simple, interesting and informative. Ensure everything is explained properly, never leave questions or statements hanging…
Say something: If you really want to be read, be prepared to say things that really matter to the people you want to reach. Stick your head above the parapet, be slightly controversial, and provoke comment and debate. But remain professional at all times, and be very careful if you criticise in public.
Make it attractive: Let’s start with the assumption that you have selected a blog or website style (basic layout, colours, typography) that won’t change. You can still experiment with use of images, clever headlines and varied writing styles to create variety within a basic style. Follow the lead from your favourite newspaper: it has rigid rules on editing and layout, but still plenty of variety.
Encourage feedback: Make sure your blog has comment and social networking facilities (many do, automatically). Remind people to use them. Put in a live link to your contact/enquiry form, include your sales/info e-mail address. Ring some of your key contacts, ask them to read a particular blog and respond. Check your blog stats regularly. And when you get feedback, verbal or statistical, use it to sharpen your future focus!
Drive people to your blog: People won’t read you unless you keep reminding them. Advertise your blog prominently on your website – especially if you have a post of major importance, and in any literature going out to key targets. Get readers to ‘bookmark’ your blog. Cultivate a strong following on Twitter and/or other similar networks. Tweet to announce new posts (include a direct link). Intersperse your blog Tweets with comments and retweets, so your stream does not become totally one-sided. If you update more than once in a day, do a combined Tweet. If you have very short blog updates, perhaps they would be better as Tweets?
Finally, ask yourself: “Would I read this? Could I benefit from it?” Don’t make changes just to please yourself – be sure that any improvements will be seen as such by your readers.
And now, please add your comment below and feel free to share this with your contacts.
'So how do you make walls sexy?' That was the challenge from an industry expert concerned that partitions and ceilings don't get much space in the media, while the more glamorous elements of a building – such as furniture and fittings – enjoy extensive coverage.
I've risen to his challenge for two reasons. First, because the basic PR or communication solutions for walls have echoes across a vast range of products and industries – and perhaps this is a sector that needs to become more proactive in its communication. Second, while I've written PR material for a broad spectrum of products and services, two that stand out for longevity are bricks and plasterboard. I reckon I know a bit about making walls sexy. So, how?
Start by asking some questions.
Step 1: Why communicate? Are you trying to sell a product, or the skills necessary for a perfect installation? What makes you different?
Step 2: Who are your targets? Ultimately we are all selling something and it's important to know who our buyers are, because we need to communicate with them in terms they can understand.
Step 3: What are the core messages you want to get across?
Step 4: What are the best media? The potential range is huge – from traditional print to the new electronic media such as websites, blogs, emails … and Twitter.
Now let's think more closely about today's example: walls and ceilings.
Apart from being part of our shelter from the elements, bricks, plasterboard, timber, glass and other materials define the space in which we live, work, learn and play. Walls convert a naked structural frame into a fully clad human environment. Walls are the blank canvas that we decorate to turn a house into a home, commercial space into an office, or retail space into a shop.
Walls and ceilings also contribute to our quality of life. Masonry, insulation and plasterboard, for example, combine for enhanced thermal and acoustic performance that puts a brake on our energy costs and separates us from noisy neighbours. The excellent fire resistance of many modern partitioning and ceiling products also improves our safety in emergency situations.
Many products now used for partitions and ceilings are eminently recyclable, so construction and demolition waste no longer need to go to landfill – indirectly enhancing our response to environmental issues.
By now it should be clear that if I want to make walls sexy, I have to think outside the construction box to identify their ‘human’ side. Where there's people there's news. Installing a partition isn't news; creating an office just might be. Lining out a new building in less than the scheduled time, with minimal wastage and no compromise on quality is a tribute to skill and good management – and if it's publicised properly, it can bring more business.
If all you do is install partitions, you can't trumpet that all the time. But if you can showcase each example of your work in case studies, you can underline your installation brilliance endlessly. This means that you can continually be ‘in front of’ your potential customers so that when they need what you offer, you are already top of mind with them.
Having lots of case studies also helps to keep your website fresh and exciting, and gives you an excuse to use Twitter to drive people to each new entry (how did you find this blog?).
If you are Tweeting about walls, or any other subject, rekeep it professional – your company image is at stake!
If you are a busy installer you probably don't have the time or the inclination to develop case studies or other PR material. You'd do well to call in specialist help to identify news angles and exploit them editorially, so you get a fully professional product to match the high standards of your own work.
You could spend a fortune on PR, but you don't have to. Good PR these days is all about providing cost-effective solutions and value for money. You can make your walls really sexy at surprisingly little cost.
Contact me if you’d like to know more about making walls (or other products and services) sexy.
Some time ago I lost a PR account pitch despite being well-suited in terms of sector experience, skills, creativity and results. The client chose to appoint an agency perceived to offer a wider range of in-house marketing services.
Having just seen some badly written new publicity material in the client's name, I hope that the agency's other services are being delivered with greater attention to detail and better overall quality.
Losing a pitch is always a disappointment, but it's part of life in PR. In fact, it's good for the profession – challenging practitioners to sharpen their responsiveness to clients' needs, and their awareness of new solutions – and it's good for clients because it stimulates competitiveness. Agencies can and should learn from pitch failures: those that don't improve deserve to fail.
I don't blame potential clients who opt for a 'full service' agency purporting to offer them the convenience of one cheque a month for an army of unseen workers busily building the company's image – freeing the head of marketing to do 'other things'. But the fact is, whether the there's a one-stop agency or a team of individual suppliers providing different aspects of the mix, the head of marketing should always be closely involved and ideally should not be doing other things.
I also have no complaint against the many full service agencies that cram a comprehensive range of skills under one roof, managing the diversity of talent with great professionalism and delivering high quality, cost effective and successful campaigns for their clients.
There is, of course, a danger that the additional investment in people, equipment and facilities may make a full service agency unnecessarily expensive for the benefits it might otherwise provide. Another danger is the big agency principal who wins an account by promising the earth – and then employs account handlers who can't match the promises.
Smaller agencies, naturally, are more hands-on and have lower overheads – but they are just as able to provide full services. Instead of relying on the skills of one or two in-house writers, designers or photographers (for example), they can draw on a wider range of specialists, applying the necessary management to ensure that the client still gets plenty of creativity and competitive prices.
Small or large, there is no excuse for an agency to issue a media release or other PR material that is poorly constructed and ungrammatical – it rapidly tarnishes the client's image. And that's the exact opposite of what an agency should be doing.
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 17 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.