These days there’s so much expert advice about public relations, marketing, website performance and so on that another lengthy article on these topics won’t do you – or me – any good.
Instead, I shall concentrate briefly on what I believe are the three key considerations for communication success.
1 What you say
Nearly a century ago Elmer Wheeler came up with that memorable marketing message: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” He was underlining the importance of the customer experience – the benefits of the product, rather than its features.
We’re all understandably and justifiably proud of the all the good things we’ve crammed into our product or service offering, and it’s very easy to list them all. But that’s seldom enough to convince customers.
Grab customers’ upfront attention by focusing on the benefits of using your product or service. Once you have their attention, the features will serve as positive reinforcement, demonstrating how you will deliver the promised benefits.
2 How you say it
Grammar and spelling aside, language gives us the freedom to pick from a multitude of styles. I favour a newsy approach to copywriting, because most readers are already familiar with it. Additionally, it is a neat way to deliver benefits and features in descending order of importance.
This traditional ‘press release’ approach provides scalable material for a wide range of outputs including traditional print media, social media and that all-important medium over which you have full control: your website
3 Going online
I’ve recently reworked my website to emphasis the benefits that I can bring to my clients. The features are still there, but they are off-menu and are a click through from the focus pages.
At the same time, I have rewritten my site title and description to make it more relevant to potential clients in my geographical area. My Google search performance has shown a marked improvement.
So now I am generating more material to keep my site fresh – and using social media to attract people to it. And if that’s how you’ve reached this paragraph, perhaps you’d like to chat about how we could develop a similar programme for your business. Please use my contact form to get in touch.
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!
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:
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.
The internet is awash with advice for successful blogging – so why do so many people have such difficulty with this great way of communicating? Here are five possible reasons and some suggestions for overcoming them.
‘I’m too busy’
This is a valid reason – many people are so busy ‘doing’ that they have minimal time for ‘thinking’. Blogs don’t just happen, they require a bit of thought before the writer can start composing, and the writing also takes time. The solution is to brief a trusted writer.
‘I can’t write’
This is also a good reason for getting a professional writer to do the job for you. You may be an expert in your field, even a brilliant speaker – but if you cannot communicate your ideas in writing, your blog will never achieve its purpose – and you could risk damaging your corporate and personal reputation.
Don’t recognise opportunities
Blog posts don’t have to long, turgid and philosophical: if they are, people won’t read them. Keep an eye open for a chance to comment quickly and briefly on current issues that affect you and your customers. Use your posts to tell the story of how you are maintaining your delivery schedules, despite bad weather. Use them to demonstrate the knowledge and understanding that lies behind the products or services you supply.
‘I don’t see the reason’
If you have a blog page on your website simply because the web designer told you to, then you are wasting your time. Your blog should be part of a co-ordinated and sustained communication programme, designed to establish you and your organisation as leaders in the field. The blog is also a neat way to get fresh copy on to your website – making it more interesting to the search engines.
Failure to plan
You might be a great writer, with the inspiration and time to channel some of your energy into a blog – but unless you can commit to producing the necessary flow of material, results of the blog could fall well below expectations. Plan your content, plan your time and stick to your plan!
Forget those ideas of cutting back on chocolate, alcohol and other trivial items – you need some serious New Year’s resolutions. Here are our top five recommendations for simple public relations ideas that are easy for you (or your PR consultant) to implement – and will certainly benefit your business in 2014.
Engage with your customers
Customers are your most valuable asset – talk to them, research them, listen to them, monitor their social media channels, understand their needs, seek fresh opportunities to serve them.
Keep your website fresh
It’s your electronic shop window and it’s as important as your in-store displays. Freshen it with frequent changes of copy and images to maintain search engine interest and to keep it attractive to customers.
If you blog, blog often
A blog is among the easiest ways to generate new copy for a website. Talk about things that matter to you – but always write with good reader-appeal. Keep blog items nice and short and post them as often as you can.
Tweet your heart out
Use Twitter and the other social media services regularley to drive people to your website (and into your business). Set an attainable target for daily posts and keep at it. Follow interesting people. Use every opportunity to interact.
Proclaim your news!
Most businesses are awash with exciting news about products, services and people. Share your excitement with customers and prospects and highlight your professionalism through eye-catching print or email newsletters.
Have a great 2014.
Many of us, through our career or business choices, can rightly claim to have developed a certain expertise in our particular fields. Some of us may also have become seasoned thinkers about our area of business. But do we make enough of our expertise and our thoughts?
Every business needs to market itself, using advertising and other forms of communication. Advertising sets out the offer to sell, and strives to elicit a buy response. Other channels – loosely ‘public relations’ – educate customers to make informed purchasing decisions.
Expertise (not to be confused with experience) is a powerful marketing tool – and a good hook for a PR campaign. Thought leadership is even more powerful, because it couples ability with understanding.
From personal experience: two clients, one manufacturing bricks, the other, plasterboard. At face value, two relatively boring subjects. No! Both clients were able to showcase expertise in wide product ranges and great technical quality. Both were also able to demonstrate thought leadership in terms of the contribution their products made to the built environment, and the application of the products to solving problems facing building specifiers and contractors. The result: people noticed.
These days, one can sometimes convey thought leadership via articles in the mainstream press, both national and local, as well as consumer and trade publications. Increasingly, however, better results are achieved electronically – especially where you or your PR team control the final output: in your own email newsletters, blogs and online news pages. Get maximum ROI by using the same basic words in as many channels as possible – and remember to use social media to drive readers to your words.
Too busy with the day job to worry about thought leadership articles? That’s where you need help from a PR professional – preferably one who can also demonstrate expertise and thought leadership.
You are in the widget business, and you have decided to step up your communication with customers. So you are thinking of a website, a newsletter and, perhaps, some news releases and a blog to get the ball rolling. You managed to write your way through school and higher education – so why, you may ask, would you need to hire a professional writer?
Let’s first look at some of the underlying issues: who are you trying to reach, what is your message, and what is your desired outcome?
In most cases, the main targets will be existing and potential customers. The message will be to tell or remind them about the goods and services you offer (and how good you are). You want them to buy from you – not once, but repeatedly.
Achieving this goal may require patience and dedicated effort to influence perceptions and change buying habits. Breaking through may require more than one type of communication. You’re a bit like the BBC – you must inform, educate … even entertain. Each type of communication needs a different approach, which makes more difficult for the non-specialist to produce.
If you can do it, good luck to you. If you can’t here are five reasons why you should hire a professional writer instead.
1 The time factor
A good piece of writing requires research, composition and editing. That translates to a briefing interview, reading source material, gathering contributions from various people, sorting and selecting key information, writing it into a readable article, and checking to ensure the words convey what is intended, in a manner suitable for the recipients.
Many businesspeople can write – some extremely well. But I doubt that there are many whose business responsibilities give them enough freedom to tackle in-depth writing on a regular basis.
Hiring a professional writer means you can minimise your involvement in the process and focus your attention on your primary responsibility: managing the business.
2 Not all writing is the same
Very little ‘grown-up’ writing bears any resemblance to what we learned at school – and what we did pick up at school and university may not provide adequate grounding for addressing today’s plethora of media channels.
As a business person, unless you are unusually talented with the written word, the chances are that you will struggle to write effectively for all the media now available to promote your business.
Professional writers, on the other hand, draw on their multi-channel experience to produce copy in a variety of styles. For example, they will package your basic message in news releases, feature articles, blogs, case studies, web content, brochures, speeches, presentations and more – even Tweets.
3 Presenting a balanced, objective view
Many professional writers trained as journalists, and were taught the importance of reflecting both sides of a story in their copy. They would also have learned how to pitch their writing at a level appropriate to the mythical ‘average reader’.
People who write without this background tend to write for themselves, highlighting the facts they want to hear in language that sounds impressive to them. This often results in stodgy, self-congratulatory verbiage that does little to convey the real message.
The professional will ask lots of questions to get to the core of the subject – and then write about it objectively, in a clear, concise fashion, to ensure the message gets across, loud and clear!
4 Knowing what to say
Business people often find themselves approached for comment on issues relevant to their business. Some are blessed with the eloquence to dash off a quick sound bite that adequately puts their point and demonstrates their thought leadership on the particular subject: others are less able.
A professional writer is quickly able to get a good understanding of the client’s views and ability to comment on key issues. This enables the writer to develop suggested words for the client to approve – and if the job’s done properly, there won’t be many amendments.
Equally, the professional who becomes deeply involved in the client company’s products, people and ethos is able to write authoritative, image-building articles with a minimal brief on the requirements.
5 Good grammar and spelling enhance your reputation
What you say is very important – of course. How you say it is also vital, because the delivery impacts the effectiveness of your communication – as well as the listener or reader’s perception of you and your company.
Professional writers sometimes make mistakes (we’re only human, after all), but generally we can be relied on to spell well, use words correctly and to be masters of grammar and punctuation.
In these times of predictive text and gr8 messaging shorthand (lol), it may seem pedantic to show concern about spelling and grammar. But there’s good reason to believe that a company’s image suffers significantly as a result of poor attention to detail in this regard.
Consider: if you were choosing between two ‘professionals’ and one had a mistake-riddled website – all other things being equal, who would you choose?
So, if you are really serious about your widget business and promoting it through quality communication, brief a professional writer today.
Difficulties facing retailers in towns and cities nationwide – typically too few customers spending too little money – are also typical of the problems being experienced in many other sectors of the economy.
There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for improving the business outlook, but communication is an area we should all be looking at, whatever our sector.
It pays to advertise, according to the old saying, and it’s certainly a good way to transmit a repetitive sales message. But what today’s businesses need is a deeper way to change behaviour – to turn potential customers into actual customers.
This is where communication comes in. Retailers – and others – who educate and inform their customers properly will also entice them. And then they’re well on the road to behavioural change.
So, what’s needed? First, it’s the right products, prices and attitude. You should also know your customers and potential customers – they may have very different characteristics. Then you need a story to tell, which could relate to your product range, expertise, brilliant customer service, your ability to solve customers’ problems cost effectively, and so on.
Fill your website with useful information, then use social media, emails and every other opportunity to encourage people to visit your site. Ensure there’s always a strong call to action … and clear contact details.
Whatever you do, don’t simply talk to people: talk with them. Real communication is a two-way process, and feedback from customers can be extremely valuable.
This week I was honoured to be elected to the committee of our local chamber of commerce. I have been a member of the chamber for almost three years, during which time I have made valuable new business contacts and – more importantly – developed a keener understanding of the commercial and communication challenges facing small businesses.
Many people, I suspect, view chambers of commerce merely as interest groups (even social clubs) for local retailers. This may be true of some chambers, but ours, at least, has a good representation of other sectors too – and its activities go a long way beyond the purely social.
What all chambers share is the capability to drive regional economic growth – and to speak out on vital local issues.
It’s a simplistic view, I know, but for most SMEs there is always business potential on the doorstep – it just requires a concerted effort to encourage local communities to ‘buy local’. A similar effort may be needed at times, for example, to counter the enthusiasm of councillors and officials for changing parking arrangements to the detriment of some businesses.
A difficulty for some chambers – ours included – is that not all local businesses give financial or other support. The annual subscription is modest – so is not a valid excuse for apathy – and the reason for becoming involved should be a no-brainer. The challenge, therefore, is to recruit more members, so the chambers gain more muscle and a more powerful voice.
Our new committee will, no doubt, build on the excellent foundations laid by our predecessors. We will certainly be encouraging the community to look locally for customers and suppliers. We’ll also be recruiting members. My main aim as a committee member will be to ensure that the chamber communicates with greater power and effect than previously, and that we also empower members to communicate more effectively.
Have you considered how your local chamber could help your business – or what you could do to support the chamber? Get involved today!
I’m writing this on a Friday in January, when the weather forecasters were 100% correct and my corner of the UK is experiencing significant snowfalls. In fact, much of the country is covered in the stuff and it’s causing immense disruption.
All this I know because I have been dipping into Twitter from time to time, and finding that it is a wonderful medium in times of need, such as today. Local authorities and other agencies are tweeting important information, and retweeting by others is helping to spread those messages even more widely.
Now it may be that people have more time today to use Twitter, but the medium works in the same way on ‘clear’ days, too.
So, in this new era of ‘public service tweeting’, pause to think how you could be making better use of social media in your normal communication with stakeholders.
Think about the elevator pitch. It’s short, sweet, and rich with the messages that need to be conveyed. It’s also a key to good PR messaging – and with the growth of social media it will become increasingly important. It takes a great, information-rich Tweet to grab a reader strongly enough to prompt a further response. Similarly, a good PR piece should have enough information in its first paragraph to capture the reader’s attention. And that same paragraph should include all the key messages so that it can still work for the client, even if the rest of the piece is not published. Want to reach the top floor with your PR messages? Call me. Going up!
Whatever your line of business, in the run-up to Christmas you are probably wondering what you can do to make 2013 a whole lot more profitable.
You know your market, your products and pricing are right, your service is excellent – but somehow you are not quite cutting it.
It’s likely the one thing you are not doing adequately is communicating. That is the activity you simply must step up during prolonged periods of downturn or recession. You must keep telling people what you offer and why they should buy from you.
Advertising is good – if you can afford enough placements across a wide range of media to reach all your target customers. A public relations programme, on the other hand, can make a limited marketing budget go a lot further. You don’t need to spend huge sums on PR, but plan for ongoing activity, every month.
To help you, here are five PR-related ‘New Year resolutions’ for better communication:
Are you living on a one-way Tweet – or are you responding to Twitter traffic in the opposite direction?
This question is primarily directed at companies that Tweet a fair amount and are happy to welcome followers – but don’t generally follow back. Ironically, those like this among the companies that I’m following may never read this post, because they won’t have seen the promotional Tweet (unless they are following somebody who happens to Retweet it).
As I have said in the past, I’m flattered to receive new followers on Twitter, but I am selective about following back because I don’t want my incoming stream clogged with Tweets that are irrelevant to my needs. I might add that my interpretation of ‘relevance’ is fairly generous, so rest assured I don’t lightly take a decision not to follow back .
Judging from the results recently when I once again invoked TwitCleaner* to scan the Twitter accounts that I’ve been following, there’s a lot of companies that routinely don’t follow back – and I’m not complaining about the ‘Breaking News’ and similar accounts that are obviously one-way.
Companies that don’t follow others are at risk of missing out on important sources of news, advice and – most significantly – business intelligence. There’s much superfluous information in Twitter, but there’s also much of potentially great value. And this is why I urge businesses to see Twitter as a two-way street.
Many companies, I suspect, have launched wildly into Twitter and other social media because it’s the thing to do, the place to be seen in. Many managers have grudgingly bowed to the advice of others and reluctantly allowed social media to become part of the corporate communication arsenal.
Sadly, the responsibility for maintaining the social media presence is often delegated to junior employees with insufficient time to do the job properly, and possibly not enough skill to recognise potentially valuable incoming information. Small companies might find it particularly difficult for any staff member to devote time to the Twitter account – but ignoring it could be to their cost.
Admittedly, Twitter can be addictive, but with disciplined use it can also be a powerful tool for sending and receiving messages. Make sure you are on a two-way Tweet!
*TwitCleaner categorises the less-than-perfect accounts you have been following, and enables you to selectively unfollow those that are no longer adding value. For more, click thetwitcleaner.com
How well does your business communicate? Before you answer, think carefully about every aspect of your communication with customers, suppliers, staff and any others you interact with on a regular basis. Then ask yourself: Can we communicate more effectively?
The answer is always ‘yes’ because communication is not a precise science and there is always scope for improvement. Opportunities for communicating are constantly evolving – and even the channels through which we communicate are in ongoing development.
Companies that merely survive need to make communication their top priority. Those that succeed are probably communicating reasonably well – but even they could do better. At the other end of the scale, businesses that do not communicate externally will lose their customers, while those that ignore internal communication are well on the way to becoming ‘sick’ organisations.
So what can you do to claim a place on the success ladder?
The imminent opening of stationery giant W.H. Smith in Our Town has sparked an unsurprising howl of anger in the local media. “It’s unfair,” people say, suggesting the new branch will be a grave threat to existing retailers in the stationery, books and greetings cards sectors. But is it another nail in our local retail coffin – or an opportunity for small shopkeepers to grow their businesses?
As an observer, it’s easy for me to comment – but I believe competition is good for any market. Competition is only unfair if existing players fail to rise to the challenges introduced by new participants. And that’s no fault of the majors.
As a communicator, I would urge existing businesses to reassess how they engage with their customers and potential customers – and then settle down to a fresh policy of comprehensive stocks, attractive prices, excellent service and continued engagement.
In reality, every successful business has to invest time and energy in development. It’s no good simply waiting for customers to appear. You have to offer what they want, then tell them to come and get it! I call it crafty communication.
Given the widespread decline of traditional high street shopping across much of the UK, public concern when yet another national store moves into a small town is understandable.
However, what many overlook is that major chain stores attract customers, encouraging footfall and therefore increasing the visibility of smaller retailers. This is why many shopping malls have majors in the corners, forcing people to walk past – and, hopefully, into – smaller boutiques in between.
Towns which have suffered severe high street decline may reflect more than the arrival of overwhelming competition – they may also have been unable to accommodate central retail and parking facilities to suit today’s population. Record levels of car ownership underline the attractiveness of conveniently sited out-of-town superstores.
Our Town is more fortunate. We have two main shopping nodes, three strategically placed supermarkets and a wide range of specialist retailers. A mere handful of vacant shops await new tenants. Parking is a sore point locally, but there are ample spaces for shoppers – and we do still have a reasonably good local bus service.
The new stationer will no doubt bring increased demand for parking and bus seats – but that’s good for the town, because it’s more shoppers. Smart shopkeepers will be looking to cash in on higher traffic volumes, and to do that they need to talk to their customers using all available channels and tactics. It’s what PR consultants are here to help with.
If you would like some help engaging with your markets
Tough penalties await companies that take the name of the Stratford (and satellites) International Sports Festival in vain – or, indeed, misuse a range of festival-related terms in their advertising and PR copy.
With the programme for the British Capital 2013 (minus 1) Frolics set to kick off just 10 days hence, the BBC today carried a warning to business that even some quite common English words such as ‘gold’ and ‘medal’ could in the wrong context land the speaker in hot water.
Even more sinister is that the copyright clampdown is enshrined in legislation passed by that great bastion of Free Speech, the Mother of Parliaments.
Behind this anomaly is the fact that ‘SISF’ is the latest manifestation of a huge global brand in its own right, and it relies on enormous sponsorship support from massive international commercial brands. Big brands demand protection, and legislation is the strictest control.
Given the enormity of the occasion, it’s not unreasonable to expect additional protection for logos and other symbols so that they cannot be used, for example, on this article. But it’s a grey area when words taken from plain English are scooped into the copyright net.
The legislation has also effectively gagged many companies that have supplied materials and services essential to the overall project. Normally, many of these suppliers would already have been using their involvement in such a major project to fuel their PR and advertising. Will they be ungagged automatically after the event, or will we need Freedom of Information-type disclosures to discover which manufacturer supplied which building materials?
In reality there’s just a thin line between sponsorship and censorship. And it’s being pulled tight round the ‘SISF’ fundamental: sportsmanship.
What do you think?
This weekend’s UK media frenzy over the announcement that security contractor G4S is unable to fulfil all its commitment to safeguard the Olympics – now less than two weeks away – highlights PR blunders as well as opportunities.
And there’s a double lesson for any company embarking on high-profile contacts with government or other public sector organisations:
For the media the G4S disclosure was a godsend. Bored with the flood of weather stories, ongoing economic gloom and not much else to excite in the run-up to London 2012, suddenly they had a lead with multiple angles, political overtones and ‘national heroes’ to the rescue.
The TV apology by G4S CEO Nick Buckles was unconvincing and did little to explain what had gone wrong. Even the facts were difficult to glean from his response to questions. He was certainly buckling!
For the CEO of an organisation as big as G4S to come across so feebly in such serious circumstances suggests he has a sad lack of media training and crisis handling skills – two inexcusable PR failures.
He faces an even more torrid time in the coming weeks as media and politicians demand answers. If his PR team hasn’t already put ‘crisis’ at the top of their agenda, they should consider themselves on borrowed time.
The facts, it appears, were that G4S was originally contracted to provide 2,000 trained security personnel to secure Olympic venues – but late last year the government increased the security requirement to 10,000. While G4S has made some progress towards meeting the additional numbers, delays in recruitment, training and accreditation mean that it is falling far short of the target. And this is despite high national unemployment figures – which include many former police and military personnel.
With the Home Office and Locog (the London Olympics committee) sitting on its back all the time, how on earth did G4S keep the problem hidden for so long? Bad management on one, two or three sides? More bad PR all round!
The solution has been to bring in the troops. And that’s a great PR opportunity.
Already the RAF is on standby to deal with any unauthorised air traffic in the East London no-fly zone, the Navy has HMS Ocean providing a floating airbase on the Thames, and the Army has – controversially – installed rooftop missile platforms. Now, by providing troops to work alongside civilian security officers on gate control and other duties during the Olympics, the Army is able to use its personnel in a high-visibility ‘civil defence’ role. They are, after all, security professionals.
Whether regulars or territorials, soldiers deployed on Olympic service have a unique peacetime opportunity to interface directly with the public whose rights and freedoms they protect – and to demonstrate to foreign athletes and visitors that a military presence is not necessarily a symbol of political oppression.
I suspect that many of the personnel involved – many with sometimes bitter experience of service in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and the Falklands – will welcome the chance to do something useful on home soil other than just training, administrative and ceremonial duties.
And I think the Games-going public will actually have greater peace of mind with our forces supplementing the crash-trained G4S contingent. Now that’s really good PR!
Websites are an essential part of the marketing mix for virtually every business. The huge successes of e-business should be enough to convince even the most sceptical of entrepreneurs that they need a strong online presence. So how do you achieve a ‘good’ website?
The most basic website is a shop window, telling the world who you are and what you offer. At the very least, it should also include your contact details. At this level, the website is an extension of your physical shopfront, and the information on your van or in your local newspaper advertising – taking your invitation to do business to a potentially much wider audience.
However, to compete effectively in today’s markets, websites need to be much more sophisticated and attractive. Design is vitally important, and so is content.
What you need is a website that not only entices people to buy your products or services, but also encourages them to return to your site (and buy) regularly. Remember, your website isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s also a major selling tool.
So, change content and add fresh items regularly. Look at other sites for ideas. Include more information about your products and services, publish case studies about products in action or how your expertise has helped solve problems for customers. Publish news about your company, comment on industry trends on your blog page. Stimulate communication and customer loyalty by urging people to sign up for your company newsletter. Spotlight special offers. Enable e-business and e-payment facilities to increase convenience for customers. In short, add value to your online customers’ experience – give them something to come back for.
There is no such thing as a perfect website, so be prepared to experiment to find the formula that suits you best. Then, continue to seek improvements.
The next important thing to remember is that while some people may find it on their own, you must also actively drive traffic to your website. Do this by splashing your web address (url) and its QR code variant wherever you can. Use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to announce developments – and always include a link to your site!
All this sounds like a lot of extra work that could interfere with your business role. I believe communication with stakeholders is a key entrepreneurial responsibility, but it requires careful time-management. You could also delegate some of the responsibilities to a professional communicator whose services you buy in to generate material and manage site content. Cost? That depends on what you agree.
And a final thought: decide what you expect your website to do for your business and ensure you have the tools to measure the site’s success.
After the horrors of January’s Costa Concordia disaster (possibly the worst ‘public relations’ gaffe in history) and the fire scare affecting sister ship Costa Allegra a few weeks later, the cruising industry is fighting back with some interesting PR. And this has useful lessons for many other companies.
Although it did generate considerable exposure, I’m discounting the Titanic memorial cruise aboard Fred.Olsen’s Balmoral, which suffered rough seas and then had to turn back so a suspected heart attack victim could be airlifted to Ireland.
What did strike me as clever was Cunard’s ability to cap the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend by bringing its three current queens – Victoria, Mary 2 and Elizabeth – into and out of Southampton on the same day. This ‘first’ gave Cunard some great media exposure, something for the merchant marine enthusiasts to marvel over – and, no doubt, a few more grey hairs for those working behind the scenes on board and on the dockside. And now there are more grey hairs to come.
I see that P&O Cruises plans to mark the 175th anniversary of the ‘P’ in P&O next month by going not one better than Cunard, but four better. The aptly named Grand Event on 3 July will see its entire fleet of seven cruise ships steaming down Southampton Water in line astern before dispersing to various destinations. Adonia and Ventura are bound for the central Mediterranean, Aurora for the Baltic, Oceana for the Fjords, Arcadia for Norway and Iceland, Azura for the Canary Islands and Oriana for Amsterdam.
I have to confess a preference for marine architecture of an era that predates these vessels, but the prospect of seven big passenger ships of any age in the same colours heading out to sea simultaneously is pretty hard to beat. I suspect it will be shoulder-to-shoulder on the beaches that evening.
The pre-publicity includes the inevitable disclaimers, but if P&O Cruises can carry this one off not only will they provide an amazing public spectacle but they should also secure great media coverage and, of course, obtain fantastic images and footage for their future marketing campaigns.
If the event is to succeed, it will have required many months’ careful planning – which, I am sure, the P&O team (like their Cunard counterparts) will have done – to ensure that every detail is taken care of. It’s not just a case of synchronising seven ships’ schedules – it also means ensuring thousands of passengers arrive in Southampton ready to board the right ship at the right time, and that vast supplies of food, beverages and other consumables are delivered to the quayside at the right moment.
Will P&O’s Grand Event help to bolster the cruise industry’s bookings? That’s unlikely in the short term, because pressures on not-so-rich pockets probably have more impact right now. But PR events of this magnitude – plus spin-off marketing – work slowly and I would expect that P&O should see a substantial payback in the longer term.
So what can Cunard and P&O teach companies of all sizes in other sectors of the economy? Simply this: If you want to be noticed, do something positive that really grabs the public’s attention. But first, put every effort into detailed planning to minimise the risk of anything going wrong. Then, make sure every angle is covered by cameras so you have a full record of the event for subsequent marketing. Tell the relevant media and all your target audiences in plenty of time. Finally, sit back and enjoy the event: big ones like this simply cannot happen very often.
Oh, and steer clear of submerged rocks!
On my desk this morning is the latest issue of a building industry trade magazine that I receive regularly. As usual, it is mostly filled with 100-word reports on ‘new’ products – and, again as usual, they are so boring!
The biggest failing, I find, is that concise descriptions of products and their chief benefits are hidden by irrelevant verbiage. And that in pieces supposedly encouraging me to buy?
Companies pay people to write and distribute these boring news releases – often either the in-house ‘I can write’ bod or an external PR person with more charm than talent. Then the companies pay the magazine (and hundreds more like it) to publish the releases. Value for money in times of austerity? I think not.
Doing the job properly does not have to be expensive. What’s more important is finding a writer who can present all the key information in 100 words (or less) and maintain reader interest throughout. If you are reading or writing a draft for approval, ask yourself: Will this really encourage people to buy the product? And: Does this copy enhance our corporate image?
I’ve had a long association with ‘product’ news releases both as an editor and as a writer. Quite frankly, I’d go mad if I had to churn out some of the rubbish that gets into the trade press. But I do enjoy the challenge of concise writing. So when I’m asked to write a product release, I try to hit the reader with the USP and then distil the other important angles into the remaining words.
Even I can’t guarantee that readers will read and buy – but I’m confident we can give them a good start towards making informed choices. That’s value.
Along with hundreds of people of varying age, shape, size and ability, I exercise fairly regularly at our local swimming pool. Apart from the obvious cardiovascular and related heath benefits, I find my pool time provides a great opportunity to think. During a leisurely early morning 1,500 metres this week I found myself exploring the parallels between swimming (or a visit to the gym, if you prefer) and public relations activity.
Watching others as we passed in the water I came to the conclusion that, unless one is engaged in competitive swimming, distance covered, speed and pureness of stroke are irrelevant. What really matters is progress towards achievement of personal goals and the 'feel good' factor this engenders.
Translating this into PR terms, it does not matter which mix of PR tactics one chooses to employ, or how they are implemented, providing they move the PR campaign in the right direction. Detailed measurement of PR results is always problematical, but in my experience most clients start to feel good when they know they are making progress: so much the better if there's a tangible result such as increased inquiries or substantial media coverage.
So what's the best way to swim yourself to fitness in the choppy waters of PR?
Your campaign needs frequency to build top-of-mind awareness. Remember that your target audience is constantly being bombarded by thousands of other messages. Don't assume that a single media release will be seen by everyone – it won't. To be effective, you need to parcel your messages in various ways so they can be used repetitively – but without obvious repetition.
At the same time, spread your PR tactics across a wide range of media, ranging from traditional print titles to newsy websites and your own in-house channels such as the corporate website, e-mailers, newsletters and your social media sites. Don't pump out the same message every time – make it varied, new and interesting. Don't waste time worrying about what you 'should' do – just get on and do something!
Measure what you can
Even the weakest athlete can benefit from keeping half an eye on the clock and counting laps. Similarly, in PR, some measurement is better than none – if only to prove to management that their investment is paying off. Your campaign should always elicit one or many forms of formal or informal feedback, all of which can be quantified.
… and feel good!
You should always get a thrill out of seeing/hearing your company's name in print, and on TV, radio, social media or websites. The more bases you can cover, the greater the chance you have to influence your target audiences. And there's no greater thrill than seeing target audiences responding positively.
Today marks the start of the final 100-day countdown to the London Olympics, which will give 'Brand Britain' arguably its greatest PR opportunity yet. Of course, the coincidence of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee makes the year even more special.
So far the signs are looking good. The Olympic Park and other facilities are effectively all ready, and many of the venues have hosted test events – raising public interest and providing valuable training for the thousands of volunteers who will be helping to make the Games run smoothly.
At this stage it seems that if Lord Coe and his organising team have fallen down, the ticketing process will be the first to be blamed. In fairness, though, it's hard to imagine any other system of allocation being judged 'fair' by those who don't get a seat at their choice event.
The challenge now is for the whole of the UK – especially the hospitality sector, transport workers and retailers, as well as the wider business sector and the general public – to recognise the important opportunity that the Olympics provides to market Great Britain. We won't have the same opportunity again, so we'd better make the most of this one!
So what does the London Olympics teach us about running a good PR event? There are several points:
1 Negotiate a fair budget at the outset
2 Appoint good management
3 Plan meticulously
4 Communicate with stakeholders
5 Implement plans according to budget and timetable
6 Check and test every possible detail before opening doors to the public.
You'll find this helps with any event, from a small cocktail party … to the Olympics!
When a young entrepreneur lands an interview on UK national radio, Google Analytics shows the power of the broadcast word. Steve Barnes, co-founder of Appetise.com, the fast-growing online takeaway food ordering service, explains why he’s clicking the radio button.
Getting your business featured on radio is something that as a business owner, marketing manager or sales director you probably dream about. Whether it’s a local station or national coverage, the exposure is what we crave: it’s what our businesses thrive on and need to survive.
How you actually get yourself on radio is something different entirely, and it may well depend on the skills and contacts that your PR team can muster. But once past that hurdle, how can you maximise your time on air and what sort of results can you expect?
It may surprise you, but radio listeners are more closely engaged with their programme content than TV viewers are with theirs. This is because listeners need only to focus on a single channel of output. Viewers on the other hand have to split their concentration between what the eyes are seeing and what the ears are hearing. The video element is enormously compelling, so it’s impossible to concentrate fully on what the person on screen is actually saying.
When people are listening to you on radio they are entirely focused on the words you are saying because that is their only input. Similarly, people often totally block out the outside world when they are on the phone: they are clinging to their only source of input and ignoring everything else that isn’t relevant.
The audience is tailored
Every radio show has its own unique listenership and the regularity of most radio shows means that a person probably tunes into that DJ or presenter every day. This is the same with local and national radio.
Before you go on air it’s a good idea to research the sort of topics they usually discuss and build a picture of the typical listener the programme is targeting. Ask the producer before you go into the studio. Pitch anything you say appropriately to your audience – and you must: if you don’t, your time on the air will be cut short!
What you say matters
If the show is broadcast live, then you need to hit the right notes quickly otherwise the interviewer will simply cut your part short and move on to the next person or feature. If you are interesting and engaging and your words lead the interviewer to ask more questions then your time on the air may be extended.
For successful radio PR you need to either be doing one of both of these:
• Provide tremendous value to the show’s listeners – One of the main reasons to bring people on to a show is because they are experts in their field. You need to be armed with some great information or tips on your subject area
• Tell a compelling story – This is less likely to be the reason you are invited on to a show as a guest. However, once you are on air, the story you tell needs to be clear, concise and interesting. Practise telling your main story before you go on so that you can convey your key messages properly. Give the interviewer a detailed briefing sheet in advance: as this helps steer questioning along lines that you want.
What can you expect?
Going on the radio requires an investment in your time that is disproportionate to the time you are actually on air. So what’s the attraction? The answer, quite simply, is that the few minutes you have at the microphone represent a golden opportunity to talk directly to large numbers of people who could be your customers. Their response can be immediate.
I was fortunate to be invited on to The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 to talk about the business I co-founded – Appetise.com. The interview lasted about four minutes, and was broadcast at a time when our online takeaway food ordering service is normally very quiet.
While I was on air, we tracked the number of hits on our website, using the real time activity feature in Google Analytics. The results during and immediately after the interview were staggering many hundreds of people clicked on Appetise.com. You can listen to the interview and see our screencast of site hits in the video below.
Perhaps you won’t see a result as instantly measurable as ours, but if you handle things well you can’t lose by increasing the reach and image of your business.
Do you have any experiences of getting your business on the radio? If so, please share in the comments.
You can follow Steve Barnes on Twitter: @stevejohnbarnes
For more on Appetise.com, go to www.appetise.com or follow @appetise
On a recent foray into cyberspace I found an article by a PR person providing step-by-step instructions on writing a media release. To many of us who make a living from drafting media releases – and the many other types of PR copy – this is something of an ‘own goal’: why tell potential clients how to do something free that you could do for a fee?
‘How to’ articles like that one are often dangerous, because they don’t always cover all the essential steps. Even with the best will in the world, they cannot conjure up those vital sparks of creative genius and journalistic flair that are honed by many years’ experience of news and PR writing.
As a result, do-it-yourself PR attempts often fail, leaving their authors disillusioned with the process – and their communication plans unfulfilled. Worse, they may not even turn to professionals for help.
The alternative scenario involves outsourcing the preparation and dissemination of media releases to dedicated PR specialists who know how to achieve results and have a track record to prove it. This scenario does not have to be expensive, but it is certainly the more cost-effective – especially as it frees up client time for concentrating on mainstream company business.
Few companies are strong enough to meet all their service requirements in-house, so they buy-in a host of skills when needed. PR is one such skill.
Perhaps the one redeeming feature of the ‘own goal’ article I read on the Internet was that it could help potential clients to understand some of the complexities of writing releases. Enough perhaps, to steer them in the direction of my professional colleagues and me: but not enough to turn them into successful PR writers – however well they write by any other standards.
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.