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

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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

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

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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?

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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

7 Takeaways from Content Marketing World

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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

 

Content Marketing Isn’t New — And It’s Not for Everyone

content2This Entrepreneur compilation of experts discussing marketing trends to avoid is packed with advice from some industry luminaries, such as Peter Shankman and Jim Joseph. But the quote that caught my attention was this one from Ilise Benun of Marketing-Mentor.com:

“I’m peeved most lately by all the people treating ‘content marketing’ like it’s brand new. We’ve all been marketing ourselves with content forever! I’ve been publishing an email newsletter, doing speaking engagements and writing articles and books for more than 20 years with the goal of sharing useful information and positioning myself as an expert. It used to be called ‘marketing.’ Now it’s ‘content marketing’ and everyone thinks they have to do it. Not true! It’s not right for all businesses, and it’s a lot of work!”

Yes, content marketing is all the rage all of a sudden, but she’s so right that we’ve been doing this forever. In PR, we create content and try to get others to create it, as well. This all feeds content marketing. Every press release, every news article, every success story, every newsletter–it’s ALL content and it ALL emanates from the marketing/PR department. 

The other point she makes is also important–let’s break it down into two parts. First, she says content marketing isn’t right for all businesses. True again. Should every company be spending time and money creating content? No, probably not. For some, there are wiser ways to spend the marketing dollars. And then, beyond that, she says, “….and it’s a lot of work!” Right! I think this can be glossed over at times. There are a lot of businesses who hear about content marketing and think, “Oh, yeah, that’s the ticket!” without realizing how much work it actually is. When you think about the hours it takes to create an article or write an e-book, for example, it’s extremely time consuming and requires someone with the right skillset to collect the information, write it, edit it and then issue it via the right channels. And then, will anyone respond? Will anyone read it and become a prospect or a buying customer? There’s no guarantee. For smaller businesses, it can be an overwhelming prospect. (In an upcoming post, I’ll provide some examples of content marketing that’s simple to do for small businesses.)

So, it’s good to remember that content marketing has been with us for a while now. You’re probably already doing it, whether you call it that or not. And while it’s great for some companies, it’s not for everyone. Take time to think and carefully examine your needs and goals—and your budget—before you hop on the content marketing bandwagon.

Think Spring: Five Ways to Spruce Up Your PR and Marketing Efforts

Ah, spring is here at last! Spring is the time of year when our thoughts turn to freshening up our homes, cleaning out our closets, and by the way, have you checked out that cluttered garage lately?! All kidding aside, while spring cleaning your home may be on the top of your list, how much thought have you given to your business and to freshening up your marketing, and specifically PR, initiatives?

In the spirit of spring cleaning, here are five things you can do to spruce up your marketing and PR:

1) If you haven’t made the commitment to social media, do it now. Social media isn’t going anywhere…and it’s a free tool just waiting to be taken advantage of. If you haven’t dipped your toe in the water yet, come on in! Start small, so as not to get overwhelmed. Pick one or two platforms you can commit to consistently updating. LinkedIn is a great place to start. I also like Twitter and Google+. Of course, there’s Facebook, Pinterest and many others, depending on the audience you’re trying to reach.

2) Consider a press release. Press releases are a multi-purpose tool in the marketing mix. They’re like the Swiss Army knife in your marketing arsenal! They help you get the word out to the masses and also help your SEO (search engine optimization). They can be posted to your site and to social media. You can pitch the release directly to reporters who may be interested in covering the news. Your sales team could use the press release in their efforts.

3) Content marketing is hot in 2014. Have you embraced it yet? To develop your own content, look internally for ideas. Are there customer case studies or success stories you could create? Is there a trend in your industry that might make a good white paper? Maybe look into creating an infographic you could publish. Once you have the content, make sure to add it to your site and post it to all your social media outlets. If you mention a customer or partner, perhaps you can ask them to blast it out on their social media platforms, as well. PR plays right into content marketing, as it can be used to create much of the “content.”

4) Have you booked a speaking engagement? Speaking is one of the best ways to increase visibility and be seen as the “expert.” Many organizations need speakers for their meetings and conferences. While these are generally unpaid speaking gigs, the benefits you’ll reap in the form of visibility can really boost your business and help your product or service get on the map. You can publicize the speaking engagement before, during and after the fact to get the most visibility from it. Again, using this as content on your social media platforms is a great idea. And those at the event may try to book you for another event or even purchase products or services from you.

5)Have you considered an award submission? Many industries and publications have awards programs you can enter, some at no cost. What does this get you? If you win, you can publicize it with a press release and once again, blast it out via all your social media platforms. You can also post the win on your site (some awards come with an icon you can use). Awards create credibility that lasts forever. Think of the Oscars—Tom Hanks will forever be known as “Academy-Award Winner Tom Hanks.”

Try leveraging the power of some “fresh” PR and marketing initiatives this spring by putting some of these ideas into action.  

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Ideas to Feed Your Content Marketing Efforts

Content marketing is a hot topic in 2014. Seems that while every company wants to do more content marketing, many are struggling to find the content.

You need content to push out through all those social media channels, as well as for your site, and perhaps even for your customer or employee communications—but where do you get this content? Who creates it? Where does it come from?

Leverage what you already have, such as company news—new hires, new partnerships, awards your company has won, speaking gigs your executives are participating in, new products or services, new customers, customer successes, events your company is participating in and so on. The stream of possibilities is endless, if you take the time to look for newsworthy items.

Then, you need someone to write the content. Think everyone’s a writer? Wrong! I’m so often amazed by the number of typos I see in business communications. Typos mean more than just a misspelled word or a missed punctuation mark. They make your company look unprofessional and weaken your credibility. Make sure to use a strong writer, if that isn’t among your talents.

If you commit an hour or two per week to plan and craft content to use in your various channels, you’ll be surprised at the results. If you don’t have the time or the ability to create the content yourself, consider hiring a professional business writer to craft the content for you. Once you have it, it can be repurposed in a number of ways, making your minimal investment of time well worth the effort.

My Holiday Gift—10 Ideas to Pump Up Your PR and Marketing Efforts in 2014

Today’s blog post is my holiday gift to you—here are 10 ideas to pump up your PR and marketing efforts in 2014:

1) Try a press release: If you’ve never issued a press release or if it’s been a while, find a reason to issue one in the new year. Press releases help search engine optimization (SEO) and can be used in a number of ways to help market your product, service or company.

2) Reach out to local publications in your area: If you haven’t reached out to your local media,  be sure to consider that in 2014. Most cities have a major daily paper, as well as smaller community newspapers and magazines that are specific to certain suburbs. You can also try local TV and radio, if your story lends itself to broadcast media.

3) Sponsor an event: Have you tried sponsoring any charitable events, perhaps in conjunction with the types of businesses you’re trying to attract as clients? If you attach the company to a benefit or charity, that could attract potential clients’ interest.

4) Try social media: There’s always social media—every smaller business probably needs to do more here. Start, if you’re not doing any, by choosing one or two platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or Facebook, or beef up your efforts, if social media is already in your marketing mix.

5) Online news area: Add an online news area to your site, if you haven’t done so. This can be an area for press releases and news stories about your company. You can also add a downloadable “press kit” with more information on the company, team bios, photos, logos, product shots and other material. This makes it easy for reporters who may want to cover you to grab what they need. It’s always PR’s role to make their job easy!

6) Create case studies: Position yourself as an expert by creating case studies and/or white papers to distribute not only to the media, but to potential customers and other influencers in your industry. Content marketing continues to be all the rage, and this is perfect example of that. 

7) Speak to increase credibility and visibility: Speaking engagements are a great way to attract the attention of potential clients and positions you as the expert. It’s important to select the appropriate venues, so do your research on local, regional and national trade shows and other industry events that accept speaker proposals.

8) And the award goes to: Awards programs are fairly easy to implement and can help attract attention to your product, service or company. If you win an award, it makes great marketing material! You can tout it on your site or issue a press release and forever after be known as the “award-winning” company! Think of Tom Hanks—“Two-time Academy Award winner” always precedes his name!

9) Reach out to vertical media: Don’t overlook media outreach to industry publications and/or bloggers, selecting those publications and blogs that your potential customers are reading.

10) Network like you mean it: Networking isn’t really in the PR category, but for referral-based businesses, this should be an obvious one. Be sure to dedicate the time to do it and select the events your potential clients attend. Get involved in an organization or two at a deeper level to really get to know people. I’ve seen how his pays off over time to keep business coming your way.

Just a few ideas to get you started…please feel free to comment with your own ideas or questions. Wishing you the best for the holidays and a successful and happy 2014!

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