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Having these 4 things ready before you contact a reporter will make you more successful

rlw-uc03gwc-glenn-carstens-peters February 10, 2017

You have a great idea for a story to pitch a reporter. You decide to call or email the reporter with your idea. He or she responds with interest. Good news, right? But, have you thought through what the reporter may request in addition to your pitch?

Having a strong pitch is, of course, vital to your PR effort. The trouble is, no matter how great the idea is, if you aren’t prepared to provide the elements to back up your story, it may never see the light of the day.

Reporters who do a thorough job will always look deeper and want more than your side of the story. This validates what you’re saying. Because part of PR is to make things as easy as possible for them, before you ever hit send on your pitch, you’ll want to be prepared with information to back up your story.

With that in mind, here’s a helpful guide for what you need to have ready when you contact a reporter:

Continue reading Having these 4 things ready before you contact a reporter will make you more successful

Forget the resolutions: 5 ways to get started on PR in 2017

happy-new-year-1915406_1920 January 1, 2017

2017 is here. As the New Year begins, resolutions are being made. That includes resolutions for your small business.

But, what if you don’t believe in making resolutions? And even if you do, for some of us, they simply don’t work.

That’s OK. How about we just focus on getting it done this year? If you’ve been thinking about doing some public relations for your small business or startup, there are some simple ways to get the ball rolling.

Here are five ways you can make it happen for your small business when it comes to PR:

Continue reading Forget the resolutions: 5 ways to get started on PR in 2017

8 of the best tools to help you master PR, social media and content marketing

iclzbvw5w5a-todd-quackenbush December 20, 2016

The holidays are upon us!

Yes, it’s that time of year, the time for gift giving. If you’re doing your own PR, social media or content marketing, you probably need some help. In that spirit, I wanted to share some free and low-cost tools you can use to streamline your efforts.

Here are eight of my favorites: Continue reading 8 of the best tools to help you master PR, social media and content marketing

Doing PR over the holidays? What you need to know about timing

photo-1470938017644-581bd9737a31 November 17, 2016

The holidays are indeed upon us.

Though many may be in denial—Thanksgiving is NEXT week, people!—they are coming, and coming fast.

In talking with clients about their imminent public relations plans, timing over the holidays has to be taken into consideration. Not only might potential readers be tuned out to product announcements, but many reporters are also out of the office enjoying holiday time with their loved ones. And, adding yet another hurdle, one reporter I just spoke with mentioned that the holiday changes his newspaper’s production schedule.

As you might imagine, between your schedule, the reporter or publication’s schedule and potential readers’ or viewers’ schedules, it can be a challenge. So, if you have news you must pitch over the holidays, what’s a PR pro suggest you do? Continue reading Doing PR over the holidays? What you need to know about timing

The quality of writing is on the decline – 7 tips to make you a better writer

portrait-317041_1920 October 18, 2016

The quality of writing today is on the decline.

If you read any online publications or blogs, you’re probably noticing more and more errors (even in major ones). Why is this?

  • There’s more content—everyone is creating content. With the rise of content marketing, blogging, self-publishing and guest posting, the volume of content has increased dramatically. More than two million blog posts are published every day, while 72 percent of marketers are producing more content than they did the previous year[i].
  • There are fewer copy editors. There are about half as many copy editors today as 10 years ago. Copy editors have been sacrificed more than any other newsroom category[ii].
  • There’s a rush to get content out there. Some statistics claim that companies that don’t blog daily will be left behind. With that sort of a rush mentality, it’s no wonder there are more mistakes than ever in our writing today.

Whatever the reason for this decline in our writing, our standards are being lowered. This hurts our credibility as professionals. 81 percent of businesspeople in a recent survey agree that poorly written material wastes a lot of their time[iii]. It distracts the reader from the intended message. And, it just makes us look plain unprofessional.

Conversely, while the quality of writing may be decreasing, content marketing is seen as an increasingly vital part of a company’s marketing strategy. Content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads (Source: DemandMetric). It’s efficient, compelling and highly customizable, catering to virtually all businesses and industries[iv].

So, given all of this, what can we do to produce higher quality written content?

Here are seven tips to improve your writing:

1) The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect: Just get it down on paper…get the words out. You can go back to fine tune it later, but it’s important to get all the information out of your head and on the page first.

Some writers seem to be intimidated by the writing process. But truly, the first draft is just that—a draft. If you get the words down, you can always go back to edit them. Don’t be afraid to just start writing. Remember—you don’t have to show anyone your first draft—so who’s judging?

2) Write when the mood strikes you: I often see pieces advising writers to set aside a block of time each day to write. And yes, generally speaking, there are times of day that are better than others for most when it comes to writing in a focused manner.

But sometimes, an idea will just hit you—that’s the time to go with it. Run with that inspiration to achieve some of your best work. For example, I can tell you that writing a 500-word blog post is going to go a lot faster when you’re feeling inspired to write—versus when you’re forcing yourself to write.

3) Allow time for rewrites: I find that my best work is usually a product of having enough time. Sure, there are times when you just have to get it written and done. But, a much more effective process is allowing yourself a couple of days in which to write, walk away, and then come back to refine your work. You’ll be amazed at what you catch and can improve if you give it time to breathe.

4) Proofread your work: Of course, you need to proof your work. Many simple errors would be caught before publication if writers would simply review their work. A tip I use often—read your work aloud. This will help you catch errors you might otherwise glance over. (A side note: You may want to try this when no one else is listening…!)

5) Have someone else review your work: After you’ve proofed (and re-proofed!) your work, ask someone else to review it. A spellchecker is good, but it’s not the same as having another human review your work. This could be a colleague, or even a friend (or check a service like Fiverr to hire a copy editor at a reasonable rate). It’s just helpful to have another pair of eyes reviewing your work to catch the errors you (or spell check) may miss.

If you have no human to proof your work, you can try a tool like Hemingway App or Grammarly. There are even free versions of these tools, which help catch complex sentences and common errors.

6) Follow style guidelines when applicable: Not sure if a number should be spelled out? Ever wonder if a word should be capitalized? Style guides to the rescue! If you’re in the news or PR fields, AP Style is generally preferred. The Chicago Manual of Style is the guide for authors, editors and publishers of books, periodicals and journals. A full explanation of both is here.

7) Look to the pros for more tips: Looking for more advice? I always recommend Ann Handley’s best-selling book, “Everybody Writes.” And, sites like MarketingProfs, Contently and Copyblogger are great sources to glean more writing tips and tricks.

Those are my best quick tips. What works for you when you write?

A closing thought: Did you know that 64% of B2B marketers outsource writing? (Source: TopRankBlog) So, if you need writing help, get in touch.

Looking for more writing and PR tips? Sign up for my free monthly newsletter by clicking here.

[i] http://neilpatel.com/2016/01/21/38-content-marketing-stats-that-every-marketer-needs-to-know/

[ii] http://www.poynter.org/2013/asne-survey-there-are-about-half-as-many-copy-editors-today-as-10-years-ago/203244/

[iii] https://hbr.org/2016/09/bad-writing-is-destroying-your-companys-productivity

The quality of writing is on the decline - but how can you improve your writing?

The quality of writing is on the decline – but how can you improve your writing?

[iv] http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2016/08/content-marketing-stats/

 

It’s Q4—is it time to check in on your marketing budget?

photo-1450101499163-c8848c66ca85 October 5, 2016

Yes, it’s here—the last quarter of 2017. The last three whooshed by quickly, didn’t they? As we head into Q4, it can be a good time for small businesses to take stock of where their marketing budgets were spent.

Statistics show that while businesses are cutting back on traditional print and broadcast advertising, spending on digital marketing continues to increase. 66 percent of small businesses are maintaining or increasing their spend on digital marketing[i]. Makes sense, as more and more buyers turn to online sources to gather information and make purchases.

As spending on digital marketing increases, so does spending on social media, content creation and public relations[ii]. But, other statistics reveal that many small businesses still don’t have a social media presence. According to a survey, 67 of small business owners are new to social media, while another 18 percent don’t have a social media presence at all[iii].

Why don’t small businesses see the value in social media? One reason may be that they don’t know what to post. I often hear this from business owners I speak with. “I know I should be on social media–but what should I post?” Of course, if you have your own content, you’ll want to share that. Curating others’ content is also important. (For more ideas on how to curate content, see this piece, “The small business owner’s answer to, ‘What Should I Post on Social Media?’”)

Does your marketing budget include PR?

And, how can public relations help? PR can generate earned media in the form of articles that can be used as content on your site and shared via social media. A focused PR effort can also help you land opportunities for contributed articles in vertical industry publications that can then be shared on your social media channels and on your site.

And what about a company blog? Do you have one? If so, you need content for that blog. Many PR pros are also skilled writers who can help craft content. And, you can then repurpose those blog posts by self-publishing that content via platforms like Linkedin Pulse and Medium.

Another way to create content is to look to your customers for ideas. Are there customer stories you could share? Testimonials? Photos of customers using your product or service? These are all great content for social media and can also be plugged into your PR and marketing efforts in various ways.

So, as you consider your Q4 marketing budget, don’t discount the value of PR in feeding the content creation and social media machine.

Want more free PR tips and advice? Sign up for our free monthly newsletter here.

[i] http://localvox.com/resources/marketing-statistics/#small-business

[ii] http://www.webstrategiesinc.com/blog/how-much-budget-for-online-marketing-in-2014

[iii] http://www.inc.com/john-brandon/new-survey-59-of-entrepreneurs-dont-view-social-media-as-essential.html#515

6 Communication Lessons from the Presidential Debate

communication lessons September 27, 2016

Last night was the first of three presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Millions watched as the candidates went head to head on issues affecting our country. But, for those of us in the audience who communicate for a living, we were probably watching as much for the lessons in what to do—and NOT to do—as we were for anything else.

Here are six communication lessons we can learn from watching:

  • Preparation matters: It was clear to most of the viewing audience that one candidate seemed very prepared—while the other less so. When it comes to important events in our careers—big meetings, presentations, negotiations, speaking engagements—we can’t just “wing it.” Taking the time to prepare appropriately pays off when you can confidently deliver your message and handle tough questions.
  • Sometimes, it’s better to say less: We watched several times as Clinton let Trump hang himself by not saying anything. She could’ve intervened, but she waited—and let him go on. This was a strategic move on her part. The more he talked, the more missteps he made. She simply stood by and let it happen. This can apply in a meeting or negotiation, as well—even in written communications. Sometimes, saying less really is
  • Moderators need to moderate: Trump continually interrupted Hilary last night—AND he interrupted moderator Lester Holt. Of course, this is bad manners, but if professionals do this, they need to be reigned in. The moderator’s job is to help control the amount of time each person speaks and not allow anyone to step on others’ time. Holt is taking heat for allowing it to go on and not stepping in more assertively. It works the same way when you’re part of a panel at an industry conference, for example. This should be a lesson to anyone moderating—maintain control of the event.
  • Keep your cool under pressure: If we’re under pressure, sometimes, we crack. We saw this last night, as Trump continually lost his cool, baited by Clinton multiple times. We must remember that, no matter what happens, we need to keep our composure. Don’t let anyone throw you off your game. When Trump stuck to his game plan, he was able to make some solid points. Unfortunately, that was overshadowed by his inability to remain calm to cool-headedly answer questions and stick to messages he knows resonate.
  • Don’t interrupt: Communication 101—try not to interrupt when others are speaking. Yes, sometimes someone will go on and on—and then we may feel the need to try to get a word in edgewise. But, interrupting continually should not be our default mode of operation. It’s rude. Children do it—but they’re children. Professionals shouldn’t operate this way. Keep interruptions to a minimum, if you feel you must interrupt at all.
  • Every once in a while, smile: If you noticed last night, the only time Trump smiled was at the end of the debate, while Clinton smiled throughout. Smiling makes you more likable, more relatable. According to The Definitive Book of Body Language, if you smile at your audience, they’re more likely to feel a connection with you (even if the smile is forced). Struggle with remembering to smile? Put a reminder in your notes.

What communication lessons did you learn from watching last night’s debate?

7 Takeaways from Content Marketing World

img_1961-1vertical September 15, 2016

As I continue to come down from the “high” of attending Content Marketing World this past week, I’ve begun to process all the knowledge I drank in.

If you’re not familiar with Content Marketing World (#CMWorld, for short), it’s a conference put on by the Content Marketing Institute in Cleveland, led by the “godfather” of content marketing (and all-around nice guy), Joe Pulizzi (@joepulizzi). This year, it drew 3,500 attendees from all over the world, including attendees from 40 Fortune 100 companies. If you create or market content, trust me—it’s a BIG deal.

So, what did I, as a writer and PR pro, take away from the event? Here, I share my top takeaways from the week:

  1. Slow down: This message seemed to come through time and again. If we’re doing too much, and not doing it well, maybe we need to do less—and do it better. It’s quality, not quantity, that matters. In our race to produce as much content as possible, something’s lost. So much of the content produced today isn’t as stellar as it could be. And, the number of typos seems to be growing, even in the work of high-level publications. Let’s slow down, take a breath and make sure what we’re writing is of a higher quality. Let’s make sure to make what we produce count. As social media and content marketing expert Ian Cleary (@iancleary) noted, “Don’t publish content just to publish – make it worthwhile.”
  2. Writing is a constant: Strong writing matters. Without great writing skills, our content suffers. That’s why, if we’re accomplished writers, we’ll always have a future in content creation. So, a focus on improving your writing skills will never go out of style.
  3. Better writing IS attainable: On the topic of writing, I was lucky enough to hear one of my favorites, best-selling author Ann Handley (@annhandley), present not once, but twice, at CMWorld. What I like about Ann is her practical advice on writing—it’s not magic. To get better at writing, guess what? You just have to write. Yes, there are some techniques and approaches Ann shares in her bestselling book, Everybody Writes, that are quite helpful (if you don’t own this book, you should). However, as she herself said in her session, “There is no magic feather” that will make you a better writer overnight.
  4. Strong opinions lead to more shares: Content marketing authority Andy Crestodina (@Crestodina) gave one of the most popular keynotes at CMWorld (no wonder he was the most highly rated speaker at the 2015 event). He talked about the power of strong opinions when creating content. What do you believe that most people would disagree with? What questions are people in your industry afraid to answer? Andy says if you take a stand and publish your strongest opinions, more followers will share your content.
  5. Social media involves more than just setting it—and forgetting it: Jonathan Crossfield (@kimota), content marketer and social media expert, talked about how history repeats itself—and there’s really little excuse for brands that could learn from others’ mistakes. Be thoughtful when planning social campaigns—don’t rush to push that campaign out there without first doing your research. Learn what not to do—and there are PLENTY of examples.
  6. Don’t forget the visuals: We know visuals are important. But HOW important? Research published by Hubspot says content with relevant images gets 94 percent more views than content without relevant images[i]. That’s 94 percent! So, find a designer or some tools (like Canva) to help you. There are also plenty of sources for royalty-free images like Unsplash and Pixabay, if you don’t have your own photos to use.
  7. Get buy-in: Content creation isn’t a solo activity. You really need buy-in from the top AND engagement to ensure the success of your content marketing efforts. If you struggle to get that buy-in, take small steps to win them over. As content strategist Deana Goldasich (@goldasich) said, “You have to walk before you can run.”

 

[i] http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/visual-content-marketing-strategy#sm.00006ju6bu19m4dg8y3gk2ofxhfjg

 

Do Midwest Startups Have a PR Problem?

startup-593304_1920 August 14, 2016

This week while scanning the news, I saw an article that struck a chord. It talked about the Columbus startup scene and how startups here don’t often get featured in major tech publications like TechCrunch—because they don’t reach out to TechCrunch.

The article was based on thoughts shared by TechCrunch editor John Biggs during a recent interview with Columbus Business First, “TechCrunch editor to Columbus startups: Do a better job promoting your product to national tech media.”

Unfortunately, I know this to be true. From my first-hand experience doing PR with startups in both Silicon Valley and the Midwest, I can tell you that it’s just not a priority for startups here. In fact, I’ve written about it previously (5 ways PR can help startups toot their own horns).

I don’t know if it’s the Midwest in us, but we need to do a better job of promoting ourselves. And according to Biggs, it’s not unique to Columbus. It happens in other smaller markets, too. Continue reading Do Midwest Startups Have a PR Problem?