How to Reconfigure a (Bad) Press Release

Posted in Tips on 26 November 2014

Some senior-level corporate PR pros claim they are hamstrung by upper management and the legal department in what they can write. So, why rock the boat and put real news into a news release? The answer is simple: If you want news professionals to publish or comment on your news release, it has to be news, and has to provide benefits to the media outlet’s audience.

The following is an actual news release. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

BIFFCO Announces Repositioning Actions to Further Reduce Expenses and Improve Efficiency

HILL VALLEY, CA— BIFFCO today announced a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency across the company while maintaining BIFFCO’s unique capabilities to serve clients, especially in the emerging markets. These actions will result in increased business efficiency, streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies.

“These actions are logical next steps in BIFFCO’s transformation. While we are committed to—and our strategy continues to leverage—our unparalleled global network and footprint, we have identified areas and products where our scale does not provide for meaningful returns,” said CEO Biff Tannen.

At the end of the next paragraph, filled with financial estimates, we finally get to the news: “These actions will result in a reduction of more than 11,000 positions.” The release goes on for another 800 words.

In a previous column (PR News, Nov. 25, 2013) I wrote about the “Five Gospels of News.” Let’s use those to deconstruct the release.

▶ Topicality. Is the news contained in the release topical? Unable to decipher what a “repurposing action” is, we don’t know if it’s topical until we learn that 11,000 “positions” are being cut.

▶ Conflict. Eleven thousand employees are being laid off. That is serious internal conflict that goes unaddressed for the first 205 words, but still doesn’t use the word employees. The media will turn this into an “angry employees versus uncaring corporation” story.

▶ Locality. You have to dig much further into the release to find how many employees will be laid off from which departments and localities. If you’re not a Hill Valley Telegraph reporter, why should you or your audience care?

▶ Human interest. Nowhere in the release are employees mentioned; they are merely “positions.” Nowhere in the release does the CEO express any concern for the company’s most important asset: employees. Horrible.

▶ ‘ Visuality.’ No images are included, for obvious reasons. But the media will locate terminated employees to humanize the story and use video or photos to tell the heartbreaking tale of American dreams crushed.

BIFFCO’s public relations team has managed to please upper management, investor relations and the legal department by focusing on the financial ramifications and never mentioning the human costs of the layoffs.

Journalists, however, will track down union leaders, affected employees, vendors, suppliers, city fathers, faith-based leaders and others for comments, and frame the story around them.

I understand that public companies have to please stakeholders by cutting expenses to improve the bottom line. But such cuts can be handled with compassion. Here’s how:

1. Don’t hide the truth or bury the news in corporate speak. The financial estimations are not the news. Corporate writers must think like journalists and ask: What’s the news? Where’s the benefit for my readers, listeners or viewers?

2. Show compassion. By adhering to a financial only message and not addressing employees in his quotes, the CEO comes off as cold, calculating and uncaring. That may play well on Wall Street, but it doesn’t give employees—both those being laid off and those remaining—any comfort.

3. Let the world know what the company is doing to help dismissed employees. Including information about severance packages, job search assistance, counseling and other efforts can go a long way in showing remaining employees that the company does care about them.

4. Humanize leadership. Ditch the corporate speak quotes and talk about how difficult it is to lay off employees, how hard the leadership team worked to try to avoid layoffs and how the corporate culture must pull together in this difficult period. Never let someone else tell your story.


4 Key Elements of Any Media Relations Strategy

Posted in Tips on 26 November 2014

Whatever your brand may be—a multinational conglomerate or a small business you run out of your garage—you need to connect with the media to tell your story. Media relations are integral to reaching new customers and developing advocates for your brand.

Kathy Grannis, senior director of media relations for the National Retail Federation and a featured speaker at PR News’ Dec. 11 Media Relations Next Practices Conference in Washington, D.C., shares thoughts here on the principle elements of any media relations strategy.

Relationships are essential to media relations success. A personal note to select reporters about your organization’s news–even prior to announcement–will go much further than throwing the pot of spaghetti noodles on the wall and hoping a few stick.

Understanding leadership’s objectives. It’s easy to put the wheels in motion when executing your media relations strategy. However, if leadership is more focused on specific results, it would be wise to develop a strategy around that instead of spinning your wheels and wasting precious time and resources.

Leveraging digital content. The press release is not dead, but it has had a facelift. In order to keep that facelift visible to the public and looking fresh, oftentimes it makes sense to consider additional channels to get the most out of your hard work. A blog or news article on a company website, a bylined article submitted to a trade publication, or a letter to the editor/op-ed are all excellent channels that continue the conversation around your message and very likely get more eyes than a press release ever will.

Confirm measurement objectives. If broad circulation is the desired outcome of a media strategy, then Business Wire and national publications would be the best way to go. However, if a more targeted result is expected, such as a local hit in a select outlet or specific trade magazine, it will be easier to measure “success” in the end.


Even Twitter’s CFO Has Trouble Using Twitter

Posted in News on 26 November 2014

If you're not especially technically savvy, Twitter can be one of the more difficult and confusing social media platforms to use. The system is rather elaborate, with each user having multiple streams making up a personal timeline as well as separate feeds for direct messages, notifications and "activity." There's also the problem of Twitter-specific lingo, sometimes confusing shorthand invented to cope with the limited character length of Twitter messages. Just this month, the company moved the space for composing tweets (the one that reads "What's happening?") to the top of users' timelines, a more natural position that's easier to locate.

Still, operating Twitter is brain surgery, so it should come as a surprise when people who work for Twitter display a lack of understanding for how to use their own product. That's exactly what happened yesterday when the company's chief financial officer, Anthony Noto, tweeted publicly what appeared to be intended for a direct message:

“I think we should buy them. He is on your schedule for Dec 15 or 16 – we will need to sell him. I have a plan”, is the message he posted on Twitter.

Noto is new to Twitter, having just joined the company in July, and he's definitely not the first person to confuse the tweet and direct message options. This mistake is basically harmless, although Business Insider notes that because Twitter is a public company, any talk of acquisitions can potentially move a company stock up or down.

What the errant tweet really provides is a laugh, as quotes taken out of context that don't make any sense are often hilarious, and a lesson in taking the time to make sure that you're using Twitter correctly.


What marketers can expect from Facebook at Work

Posted in News on 26 November 2014

As rumours of a ‘Facebook at Work‘ network surfaced earlier this month, this latest announcement, aimed at rivalling the likes of LinkedIn, Yammer and Google Drive, was not unexpected.

Aside from the obvious security concerns that this will raise from businesses and individuals alike, it will also fuel questions from marketers in terms of how Facebook will plan to monetise this new platform.

Facebook’s current advertising revenue model will unlikely be a good fit with many businesses, who will be more willing to pay a software licence fee and maintain the privacy of their data in an ad-free environment, making this platform a potential difficult sell for businesses as a “one size fits all” business tool.

Even Google launched a paid-for service, after realising that businesses were not keen on their ‘free with ads’ platform. It will however, sit very well with individuals, entering the market as a significant rival for LinkedIn, which already operates a successful advertising revenue model.

The Facebook Ads platform has come a long way over the last few years and so it stands to reason that these advancements will be transferred over to the new platform to allow hyper-relevant targeting, such as Custom Audiences. However, where Facebook draws the line between ‘allowing advertisers to target people they have established relationships with on/off Facebook’ and ‘breaching data privacy’ is a question that will be on many people’s lips.

With Facebook at Work having access to data from a professional’s work history right through to highly sensitive business data, through the proposed collaborative work function it could be that the level of audience data available to advertisers is necessarily limited, to avoid Facebook getting into trouble over data privacy.

On the flip side, Facebook could choose to combine the ad platforms of its personal and business social networks, meaning that the audience reach and level of targeting would increase exponentially. If this is the case, advertisers will need to be wary of not alienating potential customers on either platform by bombarding them with irrelevant ads. While users will be able to operate completely separate personal and professional profiles, an overlap in ad targeting is probably quite likely, blurring the lines between work and home life; something which users of both platforms would probably want to avoid.

Whichever road Facebook goes down with its advertising model for Facebook at Work, it’s likely to encounter some challenges before it is 100% right for Facebook, advertisers and the consumer.


Where brands are going wrong on YouTube

Posted in Tips on 26 November 2014

Out of the 5,000 most popular channels on YouTube just 74 are brands. It’s a mind-blowing statistic, given the video platform’s millions of daily users and the size of marketing budgets for international brands.

However, these 74 high fliers often enjoy one new view every two seconds, with their content liked and shared by legions of loyal fans. So, it begs the question – what are 4,926 brands doing wrong?

Brands need to consider the ways that YouTube and its community works and engages. The power of YouTube as a platform needs to be leveraged to add value to users whether this be through entertaining or educating, however the reality is many brands are still not getting this right. Only 50% of branded content achieves more than a 1,000 views. How should this be addressed?

GoPro’s channel sets the brand benchmark on YouTube and according to The Touchstorm Video Index is the fifth biggest brand channel. GoPro has built up a base of 2.4 million subscribers through posting regular compelling pieces of content that uses the product to capture the story, and build emotional connection with potential new consumers.

John Lewis’s strategy of launching their Christmas advert starring Monty the Penguin on social channels prior to TV has worked to the effect of gaining 7 million views in the first 24 hours. It reached nearly the same amount of viewers in comparison to a prime time TV slot with the added value of higher user engagement through shares and comments.

All too often brands produce content for YouTube, which bears little resemblance to their established tone. Whether it’s producing a product launch video or a lifestyle film to connect from different demographics, a brand’s value needs to be expressed consistently and authentically.

To generate a return on investment, brands need to think creatively if they want to craft engaging content that resonates with a global audience. Some argue that creativity in the context of profit is somehow counter-intuitive to the creative process itself – we argue this is not the case. Ultimately, ROI is a business necessity and also drives growth and innovation.

One example of this is our recently launched campaign for winter sports brand Head. ‘Race’ is the first of four short films, which takes viewers inside the locker room to see the intimate pre-race routines of alpine ski racers Anna Fenninger and Askel Lund Svindal. Humanising the story by showing these world-class athletes preparing to push their own limits helps inspire everyone to stretch their own personal goals. This authentic storytelling is at the heart of the campaign, which was created solely with an online audience in mind.

If you look at each of the top 74, we see them applying a similar methodology – the content is consistent, authentic, relevant, and timely. It communicates a message that’s both engaging to its target audience and true to its brand values. It’s only with this creative strategy that brands will start to see success on this channel.


Google Contributor: the end of ads on the web?

Posted in News on 26 November 2014

Users who pay between $1 and $3 a month will be able to read some websites that have a thank you message instead of ads. They also won’t be tracked by Google.

Google Contributor is only available as a limited trial. Users have to be invited to sign up. Just six websites are currently participating in the trial, including image platform Imgur, Mashable, The Onion, wikiHow, Urban Dictionary and Science Daily.

Since Google is not the only major web ad platform, readers may still see ads from other networks.

Why now?

Google has not revealed exactly why it is running a subscription experiment, which is seemingly at odds with its core business model. The company makes approximately 90% of its revenue from online ads.

Asking users to pay small amounts for content is not a new idea, with companies such as Flattr offering a micropayment model to reward publishers and other creators.

Google plans to take a cut of the subscription fee paid by users, but won’t say how much. For the new model to work, the subscription fee would need to match whatever Google would make from that user through ads.

It isn’t clear how or why the system will benefit publishers, who could simply launch their own paywalls and take 100% of the subscription fee as well as continue to display ads.

Darin Brown, EMEA CEO for digital agency Possible, said: "Since the first publishers appeared on the Internet, we have talked about consumer funded models.  

Contributor may help to build a better appreciation amongst consumers of the value advertisers bring by underwriting the content that consumers get for free

"There are some great cases where it does work – Wall Street Journal, Netflix - but most of the internet remains advertising funded.

"I would love to see a model like this work but I am pretty sceptical it will catch on with scale. If anything, it may help to build a better appreciation amongst consumers of the value advertisers bring by underwriting the content that consumers get for free."

Nick Stringer, regulatory affairs spokesman for IAB UK, cited stats suggesting the majority of consumers would expect a chunk of the internet to "disappear" without ads.

He said: "Advertising helps to fund a wide variety of content and services on the internet, as well as driving commerce and enabling greater savings for consumers.

"It also enables so-called ‘freemium’ services and helps subsidise many subscription services - so we’ll be following Google’s US-based ‘Contributor’ model with interest."

A genius idea

But Gartner analyst Andrew Frank described the idea as "genius", stating that the model could lead to valuable insights for marketers and Google.

He pointed out that Google could effectively create a class of users who are "harder to reach" through normal display ads, and could then charge to give marketers access to these individuals.

If it does end up tracking these users, Google could also compare their conversion behaviour on blocked and unblocked websites, then charge marketers for that data.

There’s a better-than-even chance that the program will simply fail to attract a critical mass of users and fade into the vast landscape of forgotten innovations

Contributor could also improve Google’s standing among publishers, with major players concerned by the company’s monopoly over the search market. Separately, EU lawmakers are pushing to break up Google in an effort to end that dominance.

Still, even Frank suspects Contributor will not work as a standalone experiment.

He said: "There’s a better-than-even chance that the program will simply fail to attract a critical mass of users and fade into the vast landscape of forgotten innovations that have tried to change the long-standing equation of free content supported by ads.

"That is still probably a winning scenario for Google as it will stand as a proof point that consumers are willing to tolerate ads even when given a choice to pay directly for content – although those most vehement about ads will simply use ad blockers instead."


5 things to avoid when marketing to a youth audience

Posted in Tips on 26 November 2014

For marketers, there is no greater challenge than promoting your goods and services to young people. In the past the challenge was to produce advertising that wasn’t too patronising, cringeworthy, or transparently craven.

For marketers, there is no greater challenge than promoting your goods and services to young people. In the past the challenge was to produce advertising that wasn’t too patronising, cringeworthy, or transparently craven.

Recently, as the internet has matured and a generation has grown up with social media, the rules of marketing to young people have changed – and so have the errors.

Here are five traps to avoid:

Treat all “youth” as one age. In 2006, today’s 16-year-olds were eight, and only just beginning to regularly retain long-term memories. Today’s 25 year olds, meanwhile, were a year away from voting age. The lesson is that as you focus on increasingly young audiences, the age difference increases exponentially. Don’t look at 16-24 as one market – it is a clutch of different markets with different tastes, and the perfect campaign for one may alienate another. Instead, develop messaging suitable for smaller age groups and place and promote this on an appropriate platform.

Assuming all youth are interested in the same thing. The phrase “this is what the kids are into” is deceptive – young people’s interests are as varied as those of any other section of the population. Treat them as one homogenous group and you will repel as many potential customers as you alienate.

In the 60s you had The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and they dominated the charts. An 80s metal head would have avoided a product advertised by Duran Duran; a 90s grunge kid might have shunned anything fronted by Take That.

Today the media landscape has changed thanks to the multitude of services and lower cost of producing music. There is an infinitely greater amount of music available compared against 50 years ago. However, the diversity of kids’ interests has not changed. For instance, while YouTube vloggers such as Alfie or Zoella have enormous and fiercely-committed constituencies, their appeal is not universal.  Consideration should be given to passion groups that are better suited to your brand strategy rather than a knee jerk response to whatever’s mainstream.

The key to success is contextual relevance; getting a young person at the right time with a message for them. The lesson for marketers is to think in terms of interest as well as age. It’s important to identify the section of young people you wish to appeal to, find the interests which best correlate with this group, then select a medium, spokesperson or message tailored to them. One size does not fit all.

Becoming obsessed with millennial media. True, a lot of young people are on Vine and Pinterest, use Snapchat as much as text message and consume information through phones as much as computers. But this doesn’t mean all campaigns should focus solely on the latest social media channel.

For instance, according to Ofcom’s 2013 report into news consumption in the UK, only three in ten 16-24-year-olds said their main source of news was a website or app – less than the proportion who still get their news from TV. This isn’t a reason to abandon your planned Tumblr campaign – but it means that marketing pushes should be integrated across several channels, rather than obsessed with whatever is seen as today’s most fashionable gimmick.

Being obviously inauthentic. Todays youth want to be individuals and appreciate a targeted approach. They are also extremely media savvy. The reason behind this is the relative maturity of the internet – with little effort it’s now possible to uncover people and brands’ online histories, stretching back years.

For example, 70s bands such as Chic or Roxy Music managed to cultivate an air of mystery by withholding biographical information and refusing to put themselves on the front covers of their records. In 2014 the band Jungle, a modern soul collective attempted roughly the same trick, but internet sleuths had uncovered their identities and backstories within months.

For marketers, this means that you cannot simply claim a link or affinity with a person, style or scene without the internet history to back it up – young people will notice, complain, and your campaign will backfire. Do not attempt to repurpose a scene without having been involved with it for years.

Simply slap a brand name on a product. In the mid-noughties News International attempted to market its newly-purchased social network Myspace by sponsoring events such as London’s Camden Crawl. No matter how many logos appeared, the website’s slide continued. Unfortunately, attaching your brand to something popular does not mean you automatically inherit that popularity.

The answer is to provide a related service, experience or benefit that adds value to the user experience. For instance, last year Beats by Dr Dre partnered with my firm, AEI media. Their branding on our website was subtle, but they also provided original artist content as a pre-roll before the stream began, and a link to the website where viewers could purchase the band’s music. They were providing something genuinely useful, and giving a reason for viewers to like the brand.




Bing and Yahoo! want to be Apple's search engine when Google contract runs out

Posted in News on 26 November 2014

Google's deal to be the default search provider on Apple devices is set to expire next year with both Microsoft's Bing and Yahoo! keen to take over.

That's according to The Information reports that claim Microsoft and Yahoo! are separately competing to take over from Google, who have held the position since the launch of the iPhone in 2007.

Should Yahoo! become the chosen one it would represent another major coup for the computer software company after they recently partnered with Mozilla to become the Firebox browser's default search engine in the US for the next five years. This marked the end of Mozilla's decade-long collaboration with Google and was likely a consequence of the Internet-related services provider creating its own Chrome browser in 2011.

"Our agreement came up for renewal this year, and we took this as an opportunity to review our competitive strategy and explore our options," said Mozilla’s CEO Chris Beard upon the announcement.

“In the end, each of the partnership options available to us had strong, improved economic terms reflecting the significant value that Firefox brings to the ecosystem. But one strategy stood out from the rest.”

Earlier this year it was reported that Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer was planning a viable mobile search engine and monetisation platform to convince Apple to make Yahoo! the default search engine on its Safari browser.

Both Yahoo! and Bing are currently included in Safari as alternate search options.


Facebook Makes It Easier To Unfollow People & Pages In News Feed

Posted in News on 25 November 2014

As promised by CEO Mark Zuckerberg during the townhall Q&A yesterday, Facebook is giving users more control over what they see on the social network.

The new News Feed controls will make it easier for people to unfollow people and pages and give clearer messaging to people who choose to hide a post.

Now users who click to hide a post will be able to indicate that they want to see less from the page or person, or go the more extreme unfollow route, “if you don’t want to see any of their stories in your News Feed,” Facebook product manager Greg Marra wrote in a blog post. “You can always visit News Feed settings to see everything you’ve unfollowed and have the option to re-follow them.”

The News Feed settings, which are accessible through the More button on the mobile app, have also been reworked to give users better tools adjust the dials. Marra explained:

News Feed settings will now show a list of the top people, Pages and Groups that you’ve seen in your News Feed over the past week. You can choose to sort by people, Pages or Groups posts, or see an overall summary. Unfollow any friend, Page or Group if you don’t want to see their stories in your News Feed. You can also see who you’ve unfollowed in the past and can choose to re-follow them at anytime.

Whether these changes will prove to be good news for marketers remains to be seen. Many will likely bristle at the idea of giving people easier ways to unfollow pages. But then if users are annoyed enough by a business’ updates to hide or unfollow a post, they are probably not the best prospects anyway.

And as Zuckerberg noted yesterday, Facebook is always going to favor the user experience over making sure businesses reach their customers.

“And in every decision that we make, we optimize for the first, for making it so that the people who we serve, who use Facebook, and who are reading News Feed get the very best experience that they can,” he said. “And that means that if a business is sharing content that’s going to be useful for them, then we’ll show that. But that means if the business is sharing content that isn’t going to be useful for them, we may not show that.”

Facebook said the new News Feed settings will be available starting today on desktop and mobile. The new feedback options will be available today on desktop, and coming to mobile in the coming weeks.


Though People Trust Other Consumers Most, Brands Still Have A Role To Play

Posted in News on 25 November 2014

Word-of-mouth has always been a powerful tool, but it was limited by proximity – until the last decade. The onset of social media allowed word-of-mouth to span the distance, causing a shift in who has the greatest influence when it comes to purchase decisions.

As recently as 15 years ago, those with authority were advertisers and marketers. Consumers used to learn about new products from commercials or billboards and would make a purchase decision based on what they saw or read.

Today, however, we live in a relationship-driven economy, and consumers’ perception of advertising has shifted. According to WOMMapedia, 92% of consumers globally now trust family and friends over advertissers.

Additionally, consumers are now comfortable seeking advice from distant strangers who have built credibility and an online reputation as knowledgeable resources for various topics.

This shift to peer-to-peer trust, combined with the growth of various social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, was a wake-up call for companies to provide consumers with an online space dedicated to their thoughts and opinions.

The Community Approach

Today’s innovative brands look at ways to build on the power of reviews and improve the customer peer-to-peer experience by gathering people in online social communities.

As a member of a brand’s social community, consumers interact, learn from each other and quickly identify those peers that have credible experience and expertise with the brand’s products and services.

Sephora’s BeautyTalk is a prime example. The brand created an online community where users can share information like product tips or reviews with like-minded consumers.

With over 1 million monthly page views, Beauty Talk reveals how brands are seeking to cultivate spaces for social engagement with consumers.

The rapid increase in online community engagement as part of a company’s CRM strategy also demonstrates how businesses now comprehend the value of developing an individualized relationship with the consumer. Consumers enjoy sharing their opinion, positive or negative.

Public social media gives us the power to rapidly boost or harm a brand’s reputation. (In fact, 51% of consumers aim to influence others when expressing their preferences online.)

Brands understand this. While companies originally sought to control what was said about their brands, they are now creating those online social communities to provide an outlet for consumers to share their thoughts and sentiments.

Consumers have realized the power behind these communities and are using them to create relationships not only between those with shared interests, but also with the brands.  This consumer-brand relationship builds the most crucial element in the purchase process: trust.

A Balancing Act

While these online communities can be valuable resources for discovering new information or maintaining brand relationships and communication, the amount of data consumers are inundated with on a daily basis can be overwhelming.

With the growing complexity of data, consumers need a way to easily find trusted recommendations and peer experts that can inspire confident buying decisions.

In light of this, brands are seeking ways to provide consumers with methods to measure credibility and discern where to find consumer expertise. One method is employing social analytics tools to discern which community members have the most knowledge and the greatest influence regarding particular topics.

These influencers are recognized by their passion and expertise on specific topics. Using such tools to gauge the degree of expertise among social networks enables brands and consumers to quickly drill down and find like-minded peers with similar interests.

By leveraging innovative tools such as participating in a brand’s online community and utilizing social media analytics platforms, consumers can readily access credible data tailored to their individual interests — making purchasing decisions simpler, more convenient and more confident.

The individual consumer owns the power in driving trust and consumer expertise. Smart brands value such influence by making peer- to-peer interaction and recommendations easy, fun and the “new normal” of how consumers make trusted purchasing decisions.


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