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Resolved: We Should Focus More on Connection and Collaboration in 2015

As I reflected on this past year, I’ve been thinking about competitors…those who do what we do.

I’m not big on quotes, but this happens to be one of my favorites: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

Along these lines, let me tell you a story.

When I first moved back to central Ohio from the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the first things I wanted to do to get my business established here was to network with others who either did what I do or did complementary work (graphic designers, web site developers, marketing agencies and so forth).

When I asked around to get some names of others I should connect with, I came up with a list and began reaching out, asking if they’d be willing to meet for coffee to connect and learn more about each other’s businesses. Many of them were very willing to do so. They took time to sit down with me, generously sharing their knowledge and advice. But, one in particular was not so willing. In fact, when I contacted her, she replied, “You’re a competitor—why would I want to meet with you?”

This simply floored me.

I had come from a world where it was common to network with others who do the same work as you. In the Bay Area, I had a strong network of other consultants and small firms who provided pretty much the same services I did. In fact, some of my favorite colleagues competed directly with me—the difference was, we never saw it that way. Our belief was that there’s enough work to go around for all of us and that not everyone specializes in everything….so it makes sense to have a robust network of other pros ready to refer work to, which we often did. My number one source of new business was referrals. I’m fairly certain that was partly because I was so open to creating connections with others.

When I moved back to central Ohio, however, I found that some had a different mentality. It was more of a territorial type of mindset. This was difficult for me to adjust to. Being an open and genuine person by nature, I didn’t know how to react to the concept that someone wouldn’t welcome me with open arms. Instead, they’d actually be rude and dismissive—not even taking the time to find a polite way to say “no, thank you” to a meeting with me.

Then, I’ve run into others who have had the attitude of not needing to build a connection with those who do anything similar to what they do. Or, they just plain have an attitude. Again, the question is why?

It’s always been my belief that people want to work with those who are genuine–and who genuinely believe in helping others. To me, connecting with others who do what I do or with those who do complementary work is a rush because I know that at some point, we may be able to work together. Or, I may be able to connect them with a client that might be a perfect fit. This, for me, is one of the joys of being independent. I can leverage my network to help my clients and colleagues. The more professionals I know, the more I can bring to the table to help others.

Regarding competition, I rarely feel as though I’m truly “competing” with others as much as I am with myself. I hold high standards and try to focus more on that than on worrying about what others are doing. In fact, it can really get you off your game if you become so focused on the competition that you’re not paying enough attention to knocking it out of the park with your own clients.

So, in the new year, I resolve to try harder than ever to make connections with others—and never to make anyone feel the way that “competitor” made me feel. For me, it’s more about collaboration than it is about competition.

For You! Free Resources to Help You Do Your Own PR

With the holidays upon us, I thought about what I could give readers as a gift this season. What better than a list of my favorite resources, many of them free, that I often use and tout in my PR talks. If you’re interested in doing your own PR and are on a budget, check these out before spending any money on pricier solutions.

Here’s hoping they help you achieve great results with your PR efforts in the coming year! Happy holidays to all!

1) Free press release distribution services: If you need to distribute a press release, you may want to consider using what we in the biz call a wire service. There are MANY free wire services out there, but the two I use—and find get good results—are PRlog and PR.com. I use both in tandem. Here’s why: PRLog allows the use of links and even video within the release at no additional cost. PR.com gets the release on the search engines.

One additional note: Reporters who’ve seen a client’s release on PRlog have contacted me directly, so they DO work! If you have no budget for pricier services, this is the way to go.

And, if you do have budget to spend, PRWeb usually offers a discount on your first release. Look online for a $50 off code. PR Newswire is also good, but another notch up the ladder as far as pricing.

2) If you’re looking for editorial opportunities, there are a number of free resources to help you:

The most popular is probably HARO (Help a Reporter Out). This is completely free—and it works!! I’ve gotten my clients (and myself) in stories through HARO.

Founded by branding/PR expert Peter Shankman, here’s a description: Everyone’s an expert at something. Sharing your expertise may land you that big media opportunity you’ve been looking for.

Here’s how it works: Reporters who are looking for sources for their stories post opportunities that are then sent out a few times each day via email to HARO subscribers. You can follow the instructions to submit yourself as a source. There’s a deadline, so pay attention to that when responding. It’s best to read these as soon as they hit your mailbox and reply as quickly as possible, as they do receive many, many responses in some cases.

Two others I don’t use as often, but they are free, are PitchRate and SourceBottle.

3) Related to #2, if you’re in need of editorial calendar opportunities, you can try using Cision’s free ed cal site, http://us.cision.com/edcals/edcals.asp.

You may also visit each publication’s site. Many list their editorial calendar online (sometimes it can be found under “Advertising” or “Media Kit”), so it’s possible to build your own calendar of opportunities that may be a fit for free. Paid services (e.g. Myedcals) are also available: http://www.mymediainfo.com/myedcals.html

4) For awards and speaking opportunities, try ITDatabase’s TechCalendar, a great free resource geared toward the IT industry. You can sign up here: http://itdatabase.com. http://itdatabase.us1.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=e179f3d5fb981a768db456f5c&id=6a0dfa05f0

5) For research, use Google News or Bing News. Type in your company name or whatever search term you like and news stories will come up. I use these to track announcements made by my clients, as well as to do competitive research, all completely free!

For those on a budget—and so many smaller businesses are—these resources can definitely help get the job done. For more tricks, tips and helpful advice, keep following!

 

Where’s Your Press Release?

I’m mystified by something. Twice today—just in the few hours I’ve been at work this morning—I’ve run into situations with companies who seem to lack press releases. Both cases occurred when I needed to pull up some basic info quickly and thought, “Oh, no problem, I’ll just pull the press release from their site.” Wrong!! And this isn’t the first time it’s happened! In my mind, this underscores a bigger issue. This is too commonplace an occurrence these days. Which leads me to ask: Where are the press releases?

For the life of me, I will never understand why press releases are so underutilized. They provide the who/what/when/where/how at a glance and give a quick overview of an event, announcement, etc. In today’s “We need the details quickly” world, press releases are the perfect vehicle to get the word out about whatever you want to share.

Designed to whet the appetite of a reporter, they contain only the “need to know” info so anyone intrigued enough can then visit the site to learn more. They’re simple to write and easy to post to your site (and you can go beyond that—see my article “5 Ways to Make Use of a Press Release”  on how to use a press release once you have one). So, why aren’t more entities leveraging this valuable communication tool?

The next time you want to get the details out about a new product or service, an event, an award or countless other pieces of news, remember our friend the press release, a multi-purpose tool designed to help you get the job done.

 

Micropreneurs, Don’t Try to Do It ALL

I came across this piece on Forbes, Micropreneurs: Don’t Waste Your Time On These 7 Business Tasks,  and as a micropreneur, took a few minutes to check it out. After all, what small business couldn’t learn to be more efficient, right?

Like the author, I sometimes loathe paying for services, but there are times when it makes sense. For example, before I even started my business, I had lined up an accountant who specialized in working with SOHO (small office/home office) types. I had heard enough horror stories about others who’d failed to pay quarterly taxes or put aside enough money to cover year-end taxes to know that I didn’t want to find myself in that position!

Even so, I can see where #6 (writing) and #7 (marketing) might be tougher sells for the micropreneur. After all, his or her day-to-day business probably isn’t dependent upon either of these (don’t pay your taxes and you’re in trouble!). But, thinking of the many examples of poor writing or missed marketing opportunities I see on a daily basis, I wonder how much this is actually hurting many businesses…?

Let’s take writing. I’m sure many micropreneurs are thinking, “Eh, it doesn’t matter if I can spell or punctuate correctly, no one will notice.” But, they DO notice. And it makes you look unprofessional. Some folks just can’t string a coherent sentence together to save their lives. While they may be brilliant at what they do, they’re just not good writers. When that’s your reality, it doesn’t hurt to find someone who can write for you. Write your site copy, write a company description, or write other documents you may need. Or, if your writing just needs a little finessing, you can hire someone to proof your work and fine tune it by making minor adjustments. It shouldn’t be terribly expensive (if it is, you’re talking to the wrong person) and can truly help you polish your professional image and that of your business.

Then there’s marketing. Of course, there are many aspects to marketing. The truth is, if you try to tackle them all at once, you may go broke. One approach is to take a look at the marketing mix and choose a couple of areas you think would help your business most to focus on. Depending on your industry, there are marketing tactics that may be more helpful than others. For some, it’s paid search marketing. For others, social media promotion or SEO may be more effective. And let’s not forget PR. PR is applicable to any business that wants to raise its visibility and drive traffic and sales. While PR isn’t rocket science, I don’t know many micropreneurs who know much about it, which is when it can be really beneficial to hire an expert.

A PR consultant can work with you in a variety of ways, mapping out an approach and carrying it out—or maybe just providing some coaching if you want to try to do it yourself. Sometimes, micropreneurs need help with PR on the writing side of things. Others may need more help with the media pitching. You can find help with this at a reasonable cost. There are consultants and freelancers who work with smaller businesses and understand their budgetary constraints.

So, I would add another item to the list of things micropreneurs shouldn’t waste time on—and that’s worrying about finding help that won’t break the bank. There are cost-effective alternatives out there if you look.

 

4 Social Media Tips for the Overwhelmed

I wanted to devote today’s post to a topic that continually crops up when I speak with small business owners: social media. While everyone understands that it’s here to stay and that they should be taking advantage of it because it’s a free way to market their businesses, there remains a “deer in the headlights” look on many of their faces when this comes up.

First, a disclaimer: I don’t consider myself a social media “strategist,” which I’m quick to point out whenever I talk about social media. However, I do handle social media for some of my clients and for myself, so I share this knowledge based on my experience. (Hire with care when it comes to those who do claim to be social media “experts.”)

So, for those of you who may be experiencing social media “paralysis” (!), here are a few tips to get you moving:

1) The first tip I want to share is to decide which social media platforms you want to focus on. For B2B types, I suggest LinkedIn and maybe Twitter or Google+. For B2C, it’s probably Facebook and one of the others. Obviously, Pinterest is huge for some B2C companies. Why only two to three, you may be thinking. The answer is if you focus on ALL of them out of the gate, most likely, you’ll want to quit before you even get started. I’ve seen this happen, too. Small business owners get on a kick to hit social media hard and decide to go after all the major platforms at once. Then, they quickly see they can’t keep up, so they stop. Entirely. So, my advice choose two and master those before adding others to your repertoire.

We could discuss why I suggest these particular outlets, especially Google+–not everyone “gets” that one. I never did either until a colleague explained that whatever you post there contributes to your SEO (search engine optimization) results. It’s true. Try it. I’ve posted about clients on Google+, then when I’ve Googled them, my post comes up on the first page of results.

2) Which brings up another important point: don’t be afraid to experiment. Even if you use the wrong hashtag or forget to include a link the first time or two, it won’t hurt anything. You can learn as you go. We’re all learning as we go with social media. Look at what others are posting to get ideas. If you feel it’s truly that poor a post, you can always edit it–or worst-case scenario–delete it.

3) And let’s talk for a minute about how much time you should spend. To start, it may take a little longer. Spend 30 minutes three days/week to see how much you can get done. Once you get the hang of it, it shouldn’t take a lot of time. There are, of course, ways to set up automated posts via Hootsuite and other solutions. You can investigate those, as well, if you feel so inclined.

A word of caution: It’s good to post on a regular basis once you start. I often see folks on Twitter who look like they got started, but then haven’t posted for six months. That’s a no-no. There may be weeks when you can’t post as often, but try to commit to making sure you post at least a few times a week to show that you’re serious about it.

4) This would be a good time to mention, too, that the frequency of posting varies from one platform to another. For example, I tweet more often than I post on Facebook. I post on Google+ more often than I post on LinkedIn. The school of thought on this varies, but because the life of a tweet is so brief (I think I just read 20 minutes), I post there most often, sometimes five times/day. There’s a lot of research on what times of day to post, as well, which you can Google and read if you’re interested. On Twitter, at a minimum, I try to be sure to post first thing in the morning, again around lunchtime and maybe again later in the afternoon. I don’t always post on weekends.

I see this is getting lengthy, so I’ll talk more next time about what to post. Hint: It doesn’t all have to be original content.

 

In Honor of Halloween, 6 Potential PR Horrors

As we near Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, here are six PR “horrors” to be on the lookout for:

  1. Your pitch may not be read—or even opened: No matter how much time you spend researching, interviewing and writing your pitch, PR peeps have no idea if the email will be opened or read. Reporters can receive 100 email pitches/day, and the “horrific” reality is, if yours just doesn’t fit the bill due to poor timing, it may never be seen. Take this week for example. If you were trying to pitch a health or travel-related story this week, good luck, unless it was somehow tied to Ebola.
  2. You don’t know if the story will appear—or when—or what it will say: When I speak on PR, I always emphasize that there are no guarantees. There are no assurances if the pitch will be read, if the reporter will write a story, and if you make that far, when (sometimes even if!) it will appear. There are times when the reporter has completed an interview with your client, but the story never appears…hmmm…now that’s “horrifying”!
  3. Relationships with reporters can be fleeting: Just when you think you’ve established a relationship with a reporter who’ll be around a while, he or she departs, leaving you to start all over again with his/her replacement. Yes, this happens—sometimes a reporter you have a good rapport with moves on, so you have to figure out how to move forward. It’s a “horrific” concept, but it happens now more than ever, as newsrooms shrink and publications fold.
  4. Your client wants you to write a press release about how what they had for lunch: Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the point: Not everything a company does is newsworthy. News items must be chosen with care or reporters may tune you out or not take you seriously—and that would be a “horror” story! It can be a challenge to convey this to clients, but if you offer an alternative to issuing a press release, that can soften the blow. Perhaps it’s more of a fit for a blog post or, in some cases, a site banner or some other form of more traditional marketing or advertising. For example, if they’re having a sale, that’s not press release material.
  5. The PR biz can be a bit up and down: For the consultants among us, there are periods of time when you may not be sure when your next client or project will come through. Although this would be “horrific” for anyone, this is the reason to work as much as you can when the projects are flowing and save for those times when budgets are tighter. After being in business for myself for 15 years, I’ve definitely seen some higher—and lower—points. As long as you’re smart about planning ahead, you just ride them out and keep going!
  6. Office politics that make our jobs “horrifying”: Again for consultants, you never know what type of political atmosphere you’re walking into when you start working with a new client. The trick here is to stay out of “horrific” office politics as much as possible. Focus on the work at hand and ignore any politically charged vibes you may pick up on. Don’t get involved in gossip or any of that nonsense. After all, isn’t this one of the very reasons you left the corporate world to start your own consulting practice?!

Avoid these “horrors” and you’re on your way to PR success!

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

This 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.

Without Media Relations, Is It Really PR?

This post by Geoff Livingston caught my eye this week:

PR Cannot Escape Media Relations. In this post, Livingston talks about the inescapable connection between PR and media outreach and how some in the PR profession struggle with this.

This struck such a chord with me, because I, too, came to a point in my PR career when I was really resistant to continue doing media relations. I struggled with this—I’d really rather just write, I told a few trusted  PR-savvy colleagues. “Well, then, is that still PR?” some of them replied.

So, I took some time to think. When I looked closer at the needs of my clients, I began to realize what an integral part of PR media relations is. What did my clients really want, in many cases? Media coverage. And why? Because media coverage:

  • Adds to a company’s credibility
  • Raises visibility
  • Paves the way for your sales force
  • Is shareable
  • May be repurposed
  • Feeds content marketing

When you think about all that media coverage can do for a company, it makes sense that businesses are looking to include media outreach in their PR efforts.

So, instead of distancing myself from media relations, instead I embraced it. And what have I found over the years since? This has become a differentiator for me. I don’t how many PR pros I’ve met who say, “Oh, I don’t really do media relations.” Then, how can you call yourself a PR practitioner, I would ask. As Livingston mentioned, “You can run, but you can’t hide” from media relations.

Further, I get the impression that some PR practitioners tend to look down at media relations—almost as if it’s something beneath them. This was what I encountered when I worked at an agency, as well. The “smile and dial” approach was often used, which is probably why people didn’t enjoy doing it. And, it would be assigned to the most junior person on the team…further demeaning it and its value to the client. If this is the most important thing to the client, why would you look down on it and assign to a junior team member? If it’s so important, as Livingston points out, wouldn’t you want to assign to someone who has some experience and even skill doing it?

“I believe a media relations pro or agency that can open those doors and facilitate that story breakthrough is even more valuable today than ever before,” writes Livingston. “Practicing public relations without media relations is much like playing the lottery. Assuming the media will stumble upon your business story may as well be a raffle, one that loses probability every year.”

As long as media relations provides value to clients, it will continue to be a vital part of PR. “PR pros who no longer want to offer media relations could position their service offering a little differently. They can clearly offer marketing communications services, or social media marketing or simply content,” Livingston continues. I like this line of reasoning. And they can leave the media relations to those of us who understand its value and truly embrace it.

 

Five Midyear Money-Saving Tips to Cut Your PR Costs

July marks the midpoint of the year, when many businesses assess budgets and begin forecasting expenditures for the remaining months as they start to plan for 2015. In the spirit of budgeting, today’s blog post focuses on tips to help you save money on your PR efforts.

You may not realize that there are free resources out there to take advantage of. Of course, there are some lower cost paid options, as well, if you have some budget but don’t want to break the bank.

Here are five categories of  helpful PR resources, many of them free, to assist you with your efforts:

1) For reporter queries: Here are three resources you can sign up for free that send out email daily with reporter queries (reporters looking for people to interview). Anyone may respond, as long as the guidelines are followed:

  • HARO: Everyone’s an expert at something. Sharing your expertise may land you that big media opportunity you’ve been looking for. http://www.helpareporter.com/
  • Pitchrate: Simply register as an expert, and then when you see a request that’s appropriate for your expertise, “make a pitch.” That will send your pitch to the journalist making the request. http://www.pitchrate.com/
  • SourceBottle: Exclusively focused on topics around women’s interests, including beauty, business, home and lifestyle, health, parenting and relationships. http://www.thesourcebottle.com/us-can/

2) For awards and speaking opportunities: IT Memos: This service provides a complimentary subset of award and speaking opportunities geared toward the IT industry (the paid service provides even more opportunities): http://itdatabase.com

3) For research: Take advantage of Google. Use it to research to see which reporters and publications are writing about your competitors and your industry. Also use it to research publications that might be a fit and then check editorial calendars for opportunities.

4) Press release services: Issue press releases free via these wire services. There are many, but these are the two I use most often:

  • PR.com, http://www.pr.com/. This one gets the news on the search engines; note there’s a 24-36 hour lag time on the release actually being posted, so plan ahead.
  • PRLog.com, http://www.prlog.org/. This one allows you to add a photo and/or video at no charge. You can choose to issue the release instantly or set a date/time.

And, if you have the budget, here are three services that charge to issue press releases:

5) For editorial calendar opportunities: To find editorial calendar opportunities, here’s a free resource:

You may also visit each publication’s site. Many list their editorial calendar online (sometimes it can be found under “Advertising” or “Media Kit”), so it’s possible to build your own calendar of opportunities that may be a fit for free. Paid services are also available such as MyEdCals, http://www.mymediainfo.com/myedcals.html.

 

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!