Making the Most of Your Marketing Communications

From a marketing communications perspective, the conventional wisdom used to be “throw some money at advertising and marketing to create awareness and sales will follow”. Marketers were more interested in building awareness and brand recognition and there was no linkage between sales and marketing. Lots of assumptions were made and there was little accountability.

All that has changed. Now sales and marketing are inextricably linked and it’s all about return on investment — ROI. Marketing budgets are now scrutinized to squeeze the most value out of media plans and PR activities. So how do you get good ROI from your marcom budget when you’re trying to reach a specific target market with information about your product or service?

ROI in marketing communications is all about taking the time to really understand who you are trying to reach and what it is that they really want. It also requires finding the most cost-effective way to reach that very specific target audience. No longer can the strategy be spray and pray, identifying the largest trade magazines and industry websites in your market and then hitting the biggest audience with a general message, assuming that you’re going to benefit from trickle down. Traditional vehicles like on- and off-line trade publications are suffering from some of their lowest advertising revenue in years, which translates into reduced readership and effectiveness. So, despite some very attractive deals out there, chances are industry trade publication advertising right now doesn’t offer very good ROI.

Identify your target customer accurately.

So what do you do? You practice something called guerrilla marketing. You find multiple, more focused ways to reach a highly qualified, targeted audience. And you start by doing your homework on who you really want to reach. For example, don’t say your target audience is engineers. Go that extra mile to confirm that the person you really want to talk to is the senior design engineer who’s driving specifications for board-level components. Target, target, target.

Now you can concentrate on how to most effectively reach your highly qualified target. Because you’ve selectively reduced the audience to a critical few, think about generating case studies, white papers, and press releases containing relevant keywords and specific “long-tail” search terms that potentially would be used by your target customer, with helpful industry links as well as appropriate anchor text and links to landing pages within your own website. Then make sure you have more complete, relevant information on your landing pages and an interactive contact form that enables them to query you and provide some details on what they really need.

Keyword every page in your site using those long-tail terms specific to your niche; for example, instead of a generic keyword such as “fabric”, use “waterproof, ripstop fabric.” Ten well-qualified leads are much more valuable than a hundred less-than-qualified leads.

Tweak your web site to contain a wide range of links out to appropriate trade pubs and industry or trade association websites, and try to get them to post a link to yours on theirs. All these things cost very little money, yet they can go a long way toward creating visibility for your company and product or service.

Use social media wisely.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding social media networking these days. One thing that is true, though, is that a thoughtful, appropriate presence on major sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can boost your visibility and help you open conversations with potential customers.

If you don’t have an account with these social media, get one. Join relevant professional groups on LinkedIn and start discussions there (almost every major industry has at least several professional groups on LinkedIn). Start a company blog and Facebook page, get a Twitter account, and have your comments posted automatically to all three (they all have mechanisms that enable, say, a LinkedIn comment posting to appear automatically on your Twitter page). There are lots of helpful, easy-to-find blogs, websites, and consultants that can help you explore social media networking more fully.

Five tips for achieving marketing communications ROI:

Know your target customer

Do your homework and research who REALLY would buy your product or service. Avoid generic job titles or descriptions as much as possible and try to drill down to the job responsibilities and purchasing needs of the person you’re trying to reach.

Hone your message

Focus on customer pain – the thing or things that really present a challenge to your potential customer and that your product or service will “cure”. Avoid the trite and hackneyed and communicate with clarity. Talk about what concerns your potential customer, not your company.

Disseminate your message creatively

Don’t blindly rely on traditional methods that may or may not work for your specific circumstances and in these economic times. Seek alternative methods, such as using social media networking and free article directory sites to post industry-related comments, key-worded case studies and press releases that can be found by industry bloggers and e-publications looking for content.

Find ways to “get found”

Generate case studies, abstracts, and articles that can become search-optimized content for industry publications, all pointing back to you. Make sure your website is updated regularly to include new and better content and links for increased visibility. Foster online relationships with industry marketplaces, trade journal sites, and professional organizations. Position yourself as an industry expert — line up speaking engagements and conduct seminars, webinars, and podcasts where possible.

Repeat

Once you find the right mix of message and media, repeat as often as possible. Stay on-message and on-target by producing key-worded content on a regular basis for outside publication and your own website. Create new content more easily by expanding upon previously-covered topics and updating older pieces with new information.

Good ROI for your marketing communications efforts comes from doing your homework, understanding what you’re trying to accomplish, and setting goals. Do this, and you can sleep easy, knowing your marketing communications program is working as hard as it possibly can.

10 Components of Online Public Relations

The expansion of public relations into the online arena is essential, both for PR pros and clients who hire them. Public relations is broadly defined as “unpaid publicity,” setting it apart from advertising, or “paid publicity.” Thus, Internet ads, including programs such as AdWords, should be left to advertisers. However, many online activities are available at no cost and require original vendor-neutral content. Therefore, they can properly be undertaken by a public relations agency.

1) Blogs

Collections of short entries with a common theme, blogs provide original thoughts by the client and are often written or edited by a public relations professional. They should reside on the client’s website, contain contributions of 200-300 words, and be posted at least once a week.

2) Email marketing

The purview of programs such as Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, email marketing consists of a customized template with article snippets and an optional link, “click here to read more.” The link will drive the reader to the client’s website and thus increase traffic. Email newsletters are also useful in reminding prospects of your services by showing up in their email box every other month.

3) Social media

The “sexiest” element of online PR, social media gives the opportunity for visitors to post their thoughts and links to interesting articles, with the option of commenting on posts left by others, known as followers, connections, etc. The big three: LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter should not be neglected, but social media is constantly evolving. Pinterest was all the rage for a while and more recently, Instagram has taken its place.

4) Website development

Creating new web pages is relatively easy to learn, and you can then use FTP programs to upload, download and edit pages at no cost. The ability to create new pages is essential for a client’s website to remain dynamic, react to recent developments in its field and stay ahead of the competition.

5) Media room

A media room gathers all the publicity about your client in one section of its website. It should contain categories such as press releases, email newsletters and bylined articles with a landing page for each one, a list of the publicity achieved and a link to the full document. A media room will grow as the public relations professional achieves publicity for its client.

6) Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization or SEO requires the creation of original content and increasing the number of inbound links going to the client’s website. Inbound links are simply clickable text on other sites pointing to your own. Google uses this parameter as a primary element in determining the ranking of websites.

7) Keyword research

Keyword research provides critical information in determining website content. You must find out what keywords or short phrases your clients’ potential customers are using when they are looking to purchase their product. Then, you can optimize for those keywords by including them in the clients’ website and “meta tags.”

8) Article marketing

Article marketing involves the creation of bylined documents and then posting them on “content provision sites.” These sites provide material for their visitors, but anyone publishing them must include the URL to your client’s (author’s) site, thus creating an inbound link and improving SEO.

9) Graphic design

Typically outsourced in traditional public relations, elementary graphic design such as cropping and resizing images is essential for website content and email templates.

10) Integrated communications

The ability to combine all the elements above, re-using content where appropriate (depending on copyright permissions), and using them in tandem with traditional PR, is essential to garner the maximum benefit from an overall public relations program.

Increase Your Sales 300% With Public Relations

Many small business owners with whom I talk simply don’t see the need for public relations – much less the need to hire an agency to represent them. I often hear small business owners say “I don’t need you, I write my own press releases!” That’s great, but if you consider “public relations” to just be writing a press release then you are probably missing 90% of the value.

The fact is, almost any small business can receive a positive return on investment if they manage their expectations and budget accordingly. Unlike advertising, you can’t dictate where, when, what and how often your message will be delivered. Public Relations is many things, but it is NOT “Free Ads.” Instead, one should view it as the ultimate “word of mouth.” Instead of one happy customer telling 10 of her friends, today’s Internet media can reach MILLIONS of people in a single day!

This is a great thing if you have confidence in your brand and patience with reporters who may have never heard of you, your company, products or even your new business concept. Ultimately, if you can sell the idea to an individual reporter he will talk about it – to his readers, co-workers and his friends at the TV station on the other side of town.

The long term benefits of public relations are what really create value. Unlike advertising, public relations campaigns aren’t always powerful immediately, nor do its effects fade once the campaign is over. Good press will last for months and years. It will also help defend your company from negative things that may come up. Additionally, positive press and public image can also generate increased awareness, leading to even more coverage … without you even lifting a finger!

For example, if you put a banner advertisement on a site that features a review of your competitor’s product, your message is delivered and that’s great. But what about two weeks or six months later when that advertising campaign is over? Your competitor’s review is still there … building value for their brand.

In fact, with today’s search engines, that review may actually become more powerful as people begin to link to it and treat it as an authority!

Last fall I created a campaign suggesting that as people upgraded their Xbox game consoles to the Xbox 360 that they might find a new home for their old console inside an arcade cabinet kit from Dream Arcades ([http://www.prweb.com/releases/2005/11/prweb310903.php]). The results from this campaign are a perfect example of the power of public relations.

The news that their controls would work with Xbox was old – everyone in the enthusiast community already knew that – but people that read Maxim, Stuff, New York Times, NBC … even ESPN didn’t!

They all loved this pitch. It was timely, well crafted and most importantly, it stood-out from the thousands of “Coming soon, an even better Xbox!” articles that everyone was obliged to write.

As a result, traffic to DreamArcades.com exploded – and so did their orders!

You are probably thinking that sounds like the end, but in reality this was the beginning. The wonderful thing about public relations campaigns vs. advertising campaigns is that the impact just keeps growing … if you are able to keep feeding it.

A few weeks later I got a call from PlayBoy. They had heard about Dream Arcades and now wanted to feature it in their April 2006 feature “PlayBoy’s Ultimate Gameroom.” With nearly 2 million paid subscribers and who knows how many total readers, this is a MASSIVE achievement. If I had simply called them and pitched cold I would never have made it past the call screener. Instead, I had an editor CALL ME!

That article – and the media preceding it allowed Dream Arcades to increase the price of their products, while at the same time increasing their sales volume. The PlayBoy feature alone resulted in a sales increase of more than 250% and remains at a much higher level than it was prior to that.

The lesson that is important to draw from this is that sometimes PR takes months to generate dividends but when it does, it pays off dramatically. For the example above, the story began in Sept. 2005 and the feature came out in Feb. 2006 – five months later.

So what can a business owner do and, if she should hire someone, what should they help her with?

Anyone with time to spend, the ability to write clearly and speak English well can:

1. Write a press release

2. Write a letter to the editor of their local papers and trade media

3. Answer the phone when a reporter calls

4. Quickly and concisely provide the information the reporter needs.

Additionally, with access to the internet, most people can also research the contact info for national and regional media. Or they can use a service like PR Web to quickly, cheaply and easily send out a press release.

So why do you need a public relations agency if you can write a press release and talk to the media all by yourself?

The answer is simple; because a professional can usually do it better – generating more positive results quicker, with less mistakes.

A public relations agent can:

1.Provide access to pre-existing contacts, PR tools and media databases.

2.Provide an outside perspective – and the ability to suggest new ways of promoting the company, products, and services. I once had an article in the Financial Times and my boss called me in and demanded to know why I was “wasting my time” with, “some paper he had never heard of!”

3.Work with the business owner to maximize opportunities such as holidays, pop-culture news, or even political events.

4.Construct and polish pitches that are tailored to individual media and reporters.

5.Provide the experience of knowing what will and what won’t work – so that you make less mistakes. Good PR agents have already made and (hopefully) learned from their mistakes!

6.Help when the business owner simply doesn’t have the time to do it herself.

Should a business owner decide to brave the PR world all by herself, there are some quick and easy ways to make reach the public and the media – without spending a lot of money.

Make Friends with Trade Press!

If you are in an industry such as plastics, vending, gaming, dentistry, or even video games, find out who your trade media is. Almost every industry has trade media – websites, magazines, and newsletters. These guys are your friends. Your suppliers and your distributors probably read these. The best part is that if you send updates and news once per month you can build good awareness and even better – experience working with the press … a friendly press.

Make your Website Press Friendly!

You should have a website. Your website should be easy to navigate. Reporters should be able to quickly find a section labeled as “press” or “media.” This section should contain all the information that a reporter would need to cover your company and products.

This at a minimum should include: contacts (phone and email), product brochures, product and company logo images for print and online use, brief company history and accomplishments, press releases and a list of upcoming events.

Let People Know about Your Website!

All of your marketing materials should include a link to your website. This includes emails, business cards, and brochures. Today you can even buy personalized stamps (www.zazzle.com) to make your mail stand out even before it’s opened.

Learn from your Mistakes!

You will make mistakes. Don’t let that bother you. Most media people are very forgiving. Often, they want the story as much as you want to give it to them. Just remember, they are human too.

Talk, Write and Share Your Knowledge!

Write articles for sites such as this one. Hey, it’s free except your time! This creates your own PR. Just like an article written by someone about me; it will last on the internet. If you like my ideas and comments I am sure you will be interested to learn more about who I am and what my company does. This can work for you just as it does for me!

3 Public Relations and Marketing Lessons Inspired by Nature

Nature can teach us, if we’ll listen and observe. Recently, I was inspired to discover the amazing connection between what nature knows and the work we do in public relations and marketing. Here are three of the lessons I’ve learned:

You must get noticed

A peacock fans its feathers producing a show-stopping display of color. Sunrises and sunsets are so captivating that television meteorologists include viewers’ photos of them on their broadcasts and social media pages. A spider weaves an intricate web that gives one pause to observe, if you’re lucky enough not to walk through it first! Examples are everywhere in nature.

Likewise, in public relations and marketing we use a variety of strategies to get clients noticed. We work with the media to tell their story. We use social media to connect and build engagement with target audiences and influencers. We create marketing collateral to explain products and services.

Relationships matter

Hummingbirds draw nectar as nourishment from flowers while serving as pollinators. Cows stir up insects that egrets gobble up. Ladybugs eat aphids on daylilies, thereby enabling the flowers to thrive.

In public relations and marketing, our very survival is based on mutually advantageous relationships such as those found in nature. That’s why the Public Relations Society of America defines PR in this way:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Sometimes we meet with stakeholders in one-on-one meetings. At other times, we gather a larger community together and ask for feedback. Regardless of the format, public relations professionals know that building relationships matters.

Change is good

Chameleons change colors. Crawfish molt. Deciduous trees drop their leaves. Butterflies burst from chrysalises. Just as nature changes, those of us in public relations and marketing must adapt and change with our profession.

In recent years, we’ve embraced new technologies and media channels. We’ve added permission-based marketing strategies to our toolboxes and become masters at content marketing. We more quickly and efficiently deliver news to information-hungry consumers who expect instant news. And as the influential voice of these stakeholders has grown, we’ve engaged them in meaningful dialogue to build valuable relationships.

I love this saying from Albert Einstein, as he obviously understood the power of nature: Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to step outside for some fresh air. Maybe I’ll be fortunate enough to see a bird or a butterfly and learn a new lesson from nature about public relations and marketing.