One Of The Best Tools For PR Pros

If you are considering a career in PR, or are just starting out in the biz, you might be surprised by one of the most important skills you need. To find out what it is, watch the video below or on YouTube.

What do you think? Am I so right or so wrong?

I'd love to hear from PR pros as well as folks just starting out. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Marketing During A Recession E-Book

After many weeks of work, I am proud to release a new e-book: Marketing During A Recession: Economic Slowdowns Are Opportunities (PDF)

We're all worried about how the recession will effect us and our business. But there are a lot of misconceptions and downright mistakes about how to use marketing during this recession. This e-book draws from expert advice and provides you a path forward in these difficult times.

Please download it or check it out on SlideShare. (It's free, of course.)

I got some great help from Joann Sondy, a designer in the online community - she's the reason this e-book looks so much better than my previous ones. She was great to work with and knew the best design strategy for this particular material.

Consider hiring Joann for your next project. You can check out her portfolio at CreativeAces.com (seriously, have your annual reports ever looked this good?) and read her blog at OutsideTheMargin.biz. Some more information about her work is below:

Joann Sondy has an extensive background creating and delivering corporate materials for financial and investor relations. With more than 15 years, Joann has produced distinctive communications that help IR/PR agencies build audience awareness and confidence. If your strategy calls for a presentation, e-book, white paper, fact sheet and/or annual report, contact Joann today. joann{at}creativeaces{dot}dom or DM her via Twitter: @jsondy.

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7 Ways Authors Can Avoid Being Scammed By Online Book Promotion

book-signing

Online marketing can be very useful, but when does it become a time suck? Are there industries where online marketing is more likely to fail? Or are any potential failures just the result of bungled efforts?

I recently read this article about an author's problems marketing her novel online: One Author Speaks Out About The Bad Side Of Online Promotions. It was interesting to read a post that contained both missed opportunities on the part of the author as well as justified limitations to her online marketing efforts.

The author in the blog post felt as though she had largely wasted her hours of online promotion for a recently published book. I would like to offer the following advice both as a humble rebuttal as well as in hopes of helping other authors think about their online promotions.

Lessons To Be Learned

There are a lot of lessons illustrated in the author's blog post. Here are a few that jumped out at me, along with corresponding quotes from her interview:

"I blogged, guest blogged, blogged at Amazon, podcasted, was interviewed by books bloggers and book review websites, joined Facebook, and Twittered. I also joined several networking sites and writers organizations associated with my genre."

Lesson #1: Don't spread yourself too thin. I'd recommend only participating in the number of social networks where you can provide value. It sounds like the author was spreading herself across the entire internet, rather than focusing on a targeted community and fulfilling a need they had.

"I concentrated all of this effort in the month my book released and the two immediately following."

Lesson #2: Don't wait until the book is out to build community. This is possibly the biggest mistake for any author. Waiting until your book is published before starting your online community building is like waiting to buy flood insurance until after the waters recede - you should have thought of it before the big event. Work in advance to build an audience so you can all start promoting the book once it hits shelves.

"For three months, all the time I normally spent online and more was focused on Internet promotion: 3 to 8 hours a day...This interview, for example, took me 9 hours to write."

Lesson #3: Need to manage expectations and time. Authors should plan to spend a good deal of time with promotion, depending on their motivation, size of potential audience, and other factors. (Good) online promotion takes a real investment of time. That said, 9 hours on a 6 page interview seems way too long to me. If that's a regular occurrence, you should consider honing your verbal skills and complete other interviews orally.

"...I was able to track the outcomes of individual interviews. The results were shocking. After an interview posted on a website claiming thousands of unique visitors per day, exactly one person followed the link to my website."

Lesson #4: Clarify your goals. Earlier, the author stated that the goal of her online promotion was to increase name and book title recognition. If so, then don't judge your success on CTR or web traffic. Determine what you want, figure out success metrics (ask "How do I envision success"), and then execute.

"I know some will say I'm missing the point; that the objective of all this activity is to build the author's long-term [i]nternet presence and establish a brand. But to a newly published author, 'online promotion' is synonymous with 'sales.' It has to be."

Lesson #5: Community leads to sales, not necessarily vice versa. If you only go online for the sale, you will fail; if you go online to provide value/access, you will make the sale. Consider David Meerman Scott - he is active in the community and gives most of his content away for free. Crazy? Nope. He knows that he attracts fans through the free content and he makes his money selling books to this targeted, pre-engaged audience and by speaking to them at conferences. A short-sighted attitude toward sales will kill you online.

"Once content is posted, it doesn't go anywhere. It just sits for awhile, then disappears. By contrast, articles and blog posts made at the major online magazines and newspapers show up at dozens of other websites within minutes."

Lesson #6: All traffic is not the same. Besides showing a somewhat alarming naivety regarding search, this quote implies that all online traffic has roughly the same worth. For most authors, a targeted focus on niche audiences is far more likely to yield interest, buzz, and sales.

"[N]o one even knows if Twittering and social network sites sell books."

Lesson #7: Social networking sites don't sell books. You sell books. Read that sentence again and really take it in. It might be the most important thing you find in this post.

With that in mind, consider that Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff compares the traditional sales function to "energizing" in their fantastic book, Groundswell. Instead of hard-line sales tactics, social networking "[m]akes it possible for your enthusiastic customers to help sell each other" (page 69).

Or, if you're still pessimistic about the power of your online connections, consider this excellent article by David Alston called "Social Media ROI - What's the 'Return on Ignoring'?" Alston makes the convincing, even simplistic, case that doing nothing will result in...nothing.

"But what does "return on investment" really stand for in a business? Roughly translated, it means the value we expect to get out of all the effort we put into something. It's the definition of the output (return) from an input (investment).

But here's the trick: ignoring the input, or doing nothing in social media, will surely guarantee no return at all."

The Right Attitude

I don't want it to sound as though the author was clueless; that's certainly not the case. Throughout the blog post, I marked sections where I thought her concept of social networking and online marketing were correct.

For instance, as an unschooled professional, she taught herself a lot about the importance of search. Despite one or two missteps, she does present search accurately and astutely as a marketing tool. In fact, she may not give herself enough credit for the results she had (which were fairly fantastic).

Readers could also tell that the author had a long history of being online, even if she wasn't marketing herself this whole time. Familiarity with the online channel greatly decreases the learning curve for online marketing.

And finally, she seems to have a good understanding (more than me, certainly) of the relationship between author and publicist regarding online promotion. If she's to be believe - and I have no reason not to - the book publishing promotion world still seems centered on in-store and other offline promotions. On the flip side, she also understands that relying on a publicist for online connections would be a mistake.

Worth A Read

In general, I enjoyed this post because it gave me a lot to think about and showed insight into a field I know less about, though am interested in.

The point of this post is to help other authors avoid the pitfalls she went through. Was this helpful? Or did I skip over an essential lesson? Please leave your comments and suggestions for other authors below.

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(Image courtesy of Pathfinder Linden via Flickr)

My 2009 Blogging Resolution: More Providing, Less Promoting

I disappointed myself last week.

It was as simple as a reminder in my Outlook: "Check this out and do the usual." I was referring to The Shorty Awards, another vaguely worded contest to feature the world's "Top Twitterers." It was just one more made up PR stunt where I hoped to get some traction and gain a few eyeballs for this blog.

Luckily, local Chicago folks offered a reality check. @Tankboy and @me3dia weighed in, but @BlahGeeTsa put it best by questioning whether Twitter had turned into a high school popularity contest with The Shorty Awards as a prominent culprit.

It's Not The Shorties, It's Me

So why was I disappointed in myself?

It wasn't really about The Shorty Awards, but rather my reaction to them. I didn't question them, didn't investigate, didn't consider why my blog readers would care - I simply went into promotion mode.

That's a tough mindset to break out of. Marketing your marketing blog is de rigueur. You're required to demonstrate your theories while you talk about them. It's akin to giving juggling lessons while keeping all of your own balls in the air.

The danger, of course, is if you start to do these things without thinking. The way I'd begun to flock to every promotional opportunity was similar to the way other people artificially increase their friend count on social networks. It's like an insulation against obscurity.

And of course, this is dangerous and unnecessary. From Scott Brown in November's WIRED: "We squirrel away Friends the way our grand-parents used to save nickels - obsessively, desperately, as if we'll run out of them some day." For me, running blindly toward every marketing opportunity to show off my web 2.0 chops actually hurts the case I'm trying to make about new marketing!

My Resolution

I'm not bad-mouthing The Shorty Awards. If that's your thing, knock yourself out.

Even those who seek to build "Friends" lists as a means to have a bigger audience to pray 'n' spray their marketing message - I find it inane, but I won't say much.

Rather, I'm going to focus on providing better content, helping more people, and showing true leadership. In 2009, I will worry less about my stats or my rank on Technorati and the Power 150.

I would love to see us move more toward Intimacy 2.0, as defined by Mitch Joel:

"Maybe true success in these online social circles will not involve metrics like amount of connections or how many times something happened, but rather how powerful and poignant something is to the specific target market."

And my target market is you, the readers I appreciate so, so much. Here what you can do for me in return: keep me honest. If you see me veering into hubris or promoting without providing, I want you to call me on it. Immediately.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you back here soon.

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Marketing During A Recession: Economic Slowdowns Are Opportunities

People are scared.

Recessions (OK, economic slow-downs) are scary things. Maybe that's why I have noticed a recent theme emerge from some prominent bloggers - a lot of smart people are discussing risk and stability, and they are discussing the role of failure from a business POV.

This week, I will post a series on these topics, drawing from some of the more knowledgeable online marketers and social media types. This series will focus on the role of marketing during a recession and how to manage risk, stability, and failure. My aim is to embolden you, to reassure you that we're all sharing this anxiety but that there is a path to success.

Recession As Opportunity

Typically, marketing is one of the first departments to see cuts during economic hard times. But cutting marketing, advertising, or PR is one of the only sure ways to lose market share during the recession and then really be screwed during the boom time sure to follow.

Here are some quotes from the experts:

"[H]istorically, PR, Marketing and Advertising budgets are the first to be cut; however, that could be one of the first mistakes a business makes in an economic crisis." -WSJ's MarketWatch

"In a downturn, aggressive PR and Communications strategy is key." -Doug Leone, VC, Sequoia Capital Silicon Alley Insider

"This is not the time to cut advertising. It is well documented that brands that increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times." -John A. Quelch, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School

"Savvy marketers realize that it is because many marketers cut advertising spending during a recession that a recession is the best and least expensive time to gain market share through advertising...It's well-documented how companies leverage downturns in the economy to effectively market themselves. In the 1970s, marketers like Revlon and Philip Morris increased their advertising to gain market share. Today, companies like Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Verizon, News Corp and PepsiCo all increased their first-quarter ad spending." -Joelle Gropper Kaufman, MediaPost

Clearly, marketing during a recession allows you to retain or grow your market share when your competitors are hunkering down. Maintained visibility translates into recognition, familiarity, and, ideally, trust.

Why Online, Why Now?

The role of the marketer has undergone dramatic changes in recent years. Instead of interrupting, we are facilitating two-way conversation. Instead of persuading with subterfuge, we are providing valuable content as a way to get new business.

The online channel is cheaper than other mediums, easier to measure, and only increasing in importance. If you agree with the premise of this first post - that marketing should not be shunted during a recession - then I encourage you to check back for future posts.

I will be posting about the idea of stability during a recession, the role of a marketer in regards to risk management, how failure can be your greatest asset, and why an economic slowdown might push social media tools into the mainstream. Subscribing is an easy way to ensure you are notified when these posts go online.

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PR Fail: 11 Ways AMC Could Have Avoided The Mad Men Twitter Flap

Image stolen and probably fodder for future lawsuit By this time, you've probably heard about the AMC-Mad Men-Twitter flap. If not, check out Jennifer Jones' SpeakMediaBlog for an explanation and update.

Basically, someone started tweeting as Don Draper, the protagonist of Mad Men - a popular show on AMC. He'd say smarmy things and recommend Scotch in the afternoons (ok, the mornings too). Then we noticed Peggy. Then Joan, Pete, and the rest of the gang. They would disperse bits of wisdom mixed with comments riffing from the show.

And for just a second, you felt like you were part of the show. It was a step toward a Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe (DINU) - a concept coined by WMBN founder Rick Liebling from eyecube.

The only trouble was that the corporate overlords at AMC did what corporate overlords always do: over-react and send in the lawyers. The profiles were pulled and the Sterling Cooper Twitter branch offices went dark.

Or Did It?

Within 36 hours, AMC was dancing the mea culpa at beat the band. Accounts were reinstated and things seemed back to normal. The only thing the exercise in stupidity garnered was a load of bad press. The reaction from the blogosphere was loud and angry - but most often, not helpful.

However, here at OnlineMarketerBlog, we believe in positivity. So, to help AMC and the future AMCs (don't laugh - it could be you next time, buddy), I offer 11 ways they could have avoid the bad press, instilled brand loyalty, and maybe even picked up new viewers in the process. Here is what AMC could have done rather than dispatch the lawyers.

  1. Pay the kid. Seriously. He's already doing your job because he loves it. What better person to have on the payroll?
  2. Register similar names and do it yourself. If he's using @Don_Draper, register @DonDraper (oops, too late again!). If you think you can do it better, the do so.
  3. Hook him up with product placement deals. Have Don hock Scotch and have Joan push push-up bras. Then give him a substantial cut. Everybody's happy.
  4. Secure the SterlingCooper URL before you piss him off. The guy was using SterlingCooperAdvertising.com (which re-directs to AMC's site) before all this started, so he's either smart or sending you traffic. If it's the former and he registered the URL, pay him for it before the shouting starts.
  5. Start up tangential Twitter accounts to serve as a social connector. I'd be sure to follow @SterlingCooperBreakRoom just to see what happened.
  6. Use him to foreshadow. Send this guy early information about the next episode so he can build anticipation among your most fervent fans.
  7. Spruce up his Twitter pages. Send him quality designed images so your product looks as good as possible, even if someone outside the company is doing it.
  8. Test out new characters online. Flesh out the voice of potential characters (and build a following) before introducing them on the show.
  9. Send him shwag to give away. Build his cache and your own by delivering Mad Men martini shakers and Mad Men high-gloss shoe polish. Fans would go rabid.
  10. Set up a job board for advertising/PR/marketing folks. Collect ad money and job advertiser fees to keep the site afloat, then use it to cultivate new advertisers for the television show from companies soliciting for jobs.
  11. Hold contests. For instance, hold a "best line from a character" Twitter contest and then feature the winning statement on a future episode. Tons of people send in free content, you get a lot of good will, and you encourage viewers to take on your character's personas. This equals a brand engagement super-win.

There you have it - 11 ways AMC could have avoided all the unpleasantness and bad press, and given fans something to enrich their experience rather than subtract from it. But, you know what, I'd like to pass along a bonus idea for bone-headed companies: Try talking to the person first.

It turns out the guy behind all the of the profiles and tweets would have been happy to turn over the keys and go on his merry way. I know actually picking up the phone and calling is just a crazy idea to many in business-land, but believe me, you can avoid a lot of hassle that way. Oh, and I don't mean a lawyer calling - I mean a real person.

Don't Laugh Yet

Sure, AMC has egg on their face this week, but that will pass. I don't really mean to be so hard on them - I love the show and have no reason to think they will make the same mistake again (otherwise, I wouldn't be giving real suggestions).

However, remember that any company is susceptible to tone-deaf-ness when they don't pay attention (or at least have a new media consultant, cough, cough). Your company could be next. What are you doing to avoid AMC's fate? Are you listening to your customers and congregating where they are? If not, you likely deserve to get blindsided.

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Journalism At The Crossroads - To Evolve Or Not

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr Journalism is at a crossroads, with two distinct groups voicing their opinions.

On one side, many journalists don't buy the trend toward social media and have their heads firmly entrenched in the sand. They believe in their readership's loyalty and claim that social media is a passing fad.

One the other side, other journalists have fully embraced the social media tools at their disposal and go so far as to trumpet the death of journalism. They expect newspapers to close up shop; the death knell of print news is a symphony of tweets.

Aren't the two views mutually exclusive? Which one is correct?

Personally, I believe they are both wrong. Some newspapers will outlast social media and some have already been taken down by it. The basic truth is that some people love getting their news from social media like Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed, while others will never replace their tangible newspaper-with-coffee routine.

This post will explain, however, that newspapers and journalists who use social media - in effect integrate these two seemingly opposing ideas - will likely be the long-term winners. There is no doubt that the old ways are changing. Journalists who refuse to accept that should begin cleaning up their resumes.

But major news networks need not shutter the windows quite yet. Embracing this change could be the key to stopping the newspaper industry's slow (and recently not so slow) slide into irrelevance.

An Industry In Turmoil

You don't have to look far for evidence that the newspaper industry is in trouble, and this has been a trend for several years. The New York Times reported that 2006 saw one of the steepest declines in the newspaper industry ever. In 2007, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported a continued 3% decline across the board. This pattern involves not only newspaper sales, but the related topics of ad sales and job cuts.

So where have all the readers gone? You guess it - the internet. The NYT title says it all: "More Readers Trading Newspapers For Web Sites." Or how about "Newspaper Circulation In Steep Slide Across Nation." Get the picture?

A (Social) World Of Solutions

So, in these tough times, what if there was a way for newspapers to:

  • Create a sense of loyalty to a particular magazine
  • Develop brand advocates (word of mouth ambassadors)
  • Provide more relevant news
  • Link into a network of concerned citizens
  • Increase pageviews and (connected to increased traffic) increase revenue

A recent article by Todd Andrlik about The Chicago Tribune's recent forays into the social media space illustrates a newspaper who has done just that. Here's a quick run-down of the results of their efforts:

  • Traffic: Social media efforts are responsible for an 8% increase in pageviews.
  • Market research: "'Essentially, social media gives us a year-round, real-time focus group to monitor conversations and keep us in tune with what consumers are thinking,' said Bill Adee, associate managing editor for innovation and head of the Tribune's social media task force."
  • More relevant content: The Tribune created a special section on the website about Chicago's O'Hare airport directly based on the conversation they heard on Twitter.
  • A network of citizen journalists: The newspaper recently broke a story about a bomb scare at the Daley Building after being tipped off my concerned followers on Twitter.
  • Positive local and national PR: Serving as a example (and occasionally picking up the tab at tweet-ups) has the tangential benefit of blog posts just like this one and hundreds more online.

Flash In The Pan Or Gem Of A Strategy?

Maybe the successful efforts are a momentary success. After all, despite the success found through social media, I'm sure things are still tight over at The Tribune.

And yet, more and more smart people are figuring out that social media enhances the journalistic work they do. For instance, marketer and author Peter Shankman's "Help A Reporter Out" connects journalists with possible sources. Formerly journalists had to pay for such a service, but Shankman does it all for free. He gets notoriety out of the deal and a little advertising, but the more than 20,000 subscribers seem to think it's worthwhile.

Likewise, MyCreativeTeam introduced a wiki list of journalists who use Twitter to connect PR people with journalists and media outlets. The list has grown exponentially since it first began and you can read more about it here.

One can only assume that the hundreds or thousands of journalists using these services are getting something out of them. Staying connected, developing sources, staying in touch with your community readership, providing more value - don't these sound like smart business goals for newspapers and the journalists who run them?

Final Assessment

Frankly, I don't think newspaper will go away entirely. It's difficult to imagine a Norman Rockwell-esque scene in which Father Dearest whips out his blackberry to connect to the Twitter stream rather than reading his paper by the fire.

However, the journalists and newspapers who deny the use of social media - for themselves or their audience - might as well have targets painted on their backs. Your days are numbered.

But, if you take the route of The Chicago Tribune, Shankman's HARO, and MyCreativeTeam's journalist Twitter wiki, you may reap rewards you never expected. Experiment, have fun, but also measure the results again your business goals and reassess accordingly. Journalists should not - heck, cannot - avoid social media. But if they get wise to the tool, it may become one of their greatest assets.

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Sometimes Breasts Aren't Enough, Julia Allison

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr I have been trying to figure out why WIRED's cover story on Julia Allison incensed me so much.

You won't find me bashing Paris Hilton or her ilk on this blog. As someone who barely watches TV, her brand of reality-show insta-celebs barely register on my consciousness. However, I do dwell in the PR world, the internet world, the social media world...and when you screw around in that world, I consider you fair game.

I don't normally do hit pieces. I am usually positive about how marketing/PR/advertising can make the world a better place (no small task, believe me). But the Julia Allison story deserves some response on this blog because it illustrates:

1. How not to do PR

2. How not to use web 2.0 social media tools

3. How not to run a magazine

Here's a quick recap of the article: WIRED portrays the piece as a "how-to," giving advice on the art of online self-promotion. It details how a woman in her mid-20s weaseled into the digital pages of Gawker, Valleywag, and (now) WIRED.

On the splash page before the article, WIRED writes, "She can't act. She can't sing. She's not rich...[S]he's an internet celebrity." In case you missed the underlying message, it's that WIRED just gave a cover story to someone devoid of talent. Here is why Julia Allison is a terrible example of self-promotion, a warning of the missteps of public relations, and why WIRED ought to be ashamed.

How NOT to do PR

There an old quote from PR that any news is good news. But this adage rings hollow in the web 2.0 world, where the relationships we create and the trust we build determines who we do business with.

Here's a tip, Ms. Allison: Page views are temporary. People may show up to see what you do next, but a long-term strategy this is not. You see, one of the words in "PR" is "relations."

Take this quote after Julia visited the west coast:

"'We are all in awe,' one blogger wrote, 'and quite honestly left scratching our heads over how someone, in such a short period of time, could make an incredibly controversial impact - with an entire community breathing a sigh of relief at her departure.'" (Emphasis mine.)

Does this sound like relationship building? Sure, it might get you a mention on a blog, but come on. You are making PR professionals look worse and that's tough to do.

There are no "relations" when it's all one-sided. And when I look at her sites and her persona, I can't hear anything over the shouting and it reeks of the self-obsession that turns off the vast majority of people.

And yet, WIRED claims that Julia's talent - using the term broadly - is self-promotion. Well, if that's her gift, all the shouting must be a great way to garner PR. However, via Shannon Paul's Very Official Blog:

"According to [AdWeek's] Brian [Morrissey], the best thing PR people can do is 'Recognize that media organizations are shrinking while PR is growing.' If you’re in PR and that estimate doesn’t strike fear in your heart, well, it should. What that means is that the old, impersonal methods of pitching won’t work anymore."

How does this relate to Julia? There are more people than ever in PR, promoting themselves or others, and the number of venues is decreasing. Julia's response is to shout louder. That will be one of her un-doings.

How NOT to use social media

WIRED claims that "Allison's trick is to think of herself as the subject of a magazine profile, with every blog post or Twitter update adding dimension to her as a character."

Anyone who has every used a blog or Twitter (or any other social media tool) knows that you will fail if you only discuss yourself. No one is endlessly interesting (especially Julia). Her shtick of constant self-promotion gets old really quick and this is the first rule of social media etiquette.

The way to succeed with social media is to give it all away. The people who succeed (I'm talking about people like Chris Brogan, Mitch Joel, Christopher Penn, and Jeremiah Owyang, to name just a few) are popular because they built a community on quality and promote their network.

Julia employs the folly usually reserved for business people decades her senior: using web 2.0 technology in a web 1.0 way. She might be blogging, but where's the conversation? You can't expect to succeed (especially in PR, if that is your chosen field) in this new era by only talking about yourself. Believe me, no one else wants to gaze at your navel.

How NOT to run a magazine

WIRED, we need to talk.

Listen, man, I get it; I'm down. I was a marketing manager for a magazine. I can rap all day with you about the need to sell these things.

But giving your cover story to this chick? Don't get me wrong, I understand the pressure to make newsstand sales. A cover featuring a pretty girl with her breasts hanging out does affect sales. But if your beat is tech, doing that makes it cheap and hurts your street cred.

Have you read the comments to the story? Your readers think this story is a load of stinking garbage. And again, I know August is the toughest month with everyone away on vacation, but come on. Anything else would have attracted more attention while you retained your self respect. (I mean, there was E3, The Dark Knight premiere, Comic-Con...pick your nerd-fest!)

The Gist

If you garner anything from the WIRED cover story or this blog post, it should be that Julia uses PR as a bludgeon, misuses social media tools completely, and, by associating with her, some of the stench wafted over onto WIRED.

Then again, maybe I'm just jealous. Unlike Julia, I'm not "internet famous" and probably won't become so. Instead of gossipy pre-teen fans, I only have a good job, years of experience, and, there was something else... Oh yeah, my dignity.

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Are You Outsourcing Your Best Asset?

Are you outsourcing the most valuable aspect of your business? Or worse yet, not paying attention to it at all? Technology has been replacing humans at work for many years. And recently the remaining humans in American and elsewhere have been replaced by other humans in areas that pay lower wages. The result has been a significant deemphasis in the value of human capital in business in America.

Here's The Equation

Web 2.0 amplifies the voices of dissatisfied consumers. And yet, most companies have been subtracting the number of humans period (technology) or humans housed at the corporate office (out-sourcing). Finally, another increasing trend is the face-to-face contact consumers expect from companies (ComcastCares, anyone?).

Increase in personal interaction - humans equipped to handle that interaction + web 2.0 vehicles to spread word of dissatisfaction = potential major headache for companies.

The Good News

Some companies, however, understand the increasing importance of the customer experience. H&R Block set up a Second Life avatar to answer tax questions during scheduled meeting times, in addition to their efforts on Twitter and Facebook. They understood that they were required to go to where their customers were, instead of expecting customers to come to them.

This outreach isn't easy though. The Social Media podcast spoke with Paula Drum, VP of Marketing for H&R Block about this outreach:

"The other big surprise is how much time you have to put in from a human capital standpoint. And we knew that going in, that the trade-off between buying media is going to be the human capital side, but really understanding that human capital side of it and thinking about it from [the perspective that] 'if this is successful, how do you scale it to make sure you can still deliver the same experience.'"

What's A Small Business To Do?

If a huge, multi-national corporation in a highly conservative, regulated industry recognizes the use of social media, what is your excuse? If this business behemoth was able to learn and grow along with their customers, why is your small business still wavering?

While I mention the cost in human capital, there are two important factors for my readers who are small business owners:

1. While time is a cost, most of these social media tools are completely free, including blogging, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Delicious, etc.

2. Your human capital costs will be much, much smaller than H&R Block. First, the number of customers clamoring for your attention are far less. Second, you aren't hiring an associate marketing director to oversee this.

Teach your smartest high school employee about what you want to get out of the exercise, what your priorities and expectations are, and what they can handle versus what you need to be alerted to. If they are as smart as you think, I would wager they could effectively handle 95% or more of that traffic.

The Gist

Don't outsource the most important part of your business: the human part! I don't know how human capital became so devalued, but I urge you not to make this common mistake. Create advocates of your employees so your brand will be safe and your company will prosper.

Or am I completely wrong? Am I overstating the importance of human capital or is it simply too expensive an investment? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Bonus Note: Examples Of Companies Ignoring The Focus On Customer Service And Human Capital

In recent years with the advent of web 2.0, stories of the effects of this shift have been circulating at an increasingly rapid pace. Just last week, as though any of us needed more evidence of phone companies' problem with their human capitol, Max Kalehoff and Seth Godin wrote ripping criticisms of Sprint and Verizon's customer service failures, respectively.

Pitching To Bloggers Done Wrong

Last week, I gave an example of the correct way to pitch to bloggers. In this post, I will show the wrong way to pitch to bloggers - learn from this person's mistakes and do not repeat them. Bees and Honey

I believe in positive posting - attracting more bees with honey and all that. Anyone can be smarmy and abusive, but if you are going to do a hit piece, I think you need to have a good reason and do your research.

The thing that really grinds my gears is that I laid out a perfect plan for pitching on Thursday. So when I got this email - not 24 hours later - I was shocked at how poorly virtually every element was handled. Click the picture to the right to read the email.

I thought I was clear the first time at the way to successfully pitch bloggers. But I guess some folks can only learn from "Do Not" instructions.

  • No introduction: If she was able to get my email address, she certainly could have gotten my name.
  • Wrong information: My "Clearcast Digital Media blog"? Does she mean "Comcast" or was she referring to these guys? Who knows? But clearly she does not know me.
  • Marketese: If she'd read my white paper, she would have known that marketese is death. But I'm given a full serving in this email, from start to finish.
  • Bad writing: In addition to the marketese, she's inconsistent with her italics, occasionally writes the authors name's in capital letters FOR NO APPARENT REASON, and also capitalizes words haphazardly. Here's a tip: If you are writing to a blogger who writes about writing, know how to write. 'Nuff said.
  • No seduction: What is my incentive to go to the book's website? I'm promised "great free content and commentary" but why would I believe that based on this email? Weak.
  • Zero relationship: In this email, she had the opportunity to create a connection. Relating the book's content to something I had written about would have been perfect. It would have made the email more relevant, explained why she wrote me in the first place, and showed me that she cared about my work. Instead, epic fail.
  • Too general: The authors are supposedly leading experts, but who says so? Their strategies have resulted in $12B in sales, but for whom and how can I make it work for my business? What about: "Conoco Philips made one change based on these strategies and it saved them $156,723 in one quarter." Isn't that more intriguing?

These are bad mistakes to make in any email, much less one where you are writing a marketing/writing blogger. But to receive this one day after I lay out instructions for how to impress me - wow, way to demonstrate that you could not care less.

Learn the Ways of the Force

While I hate picking on this person who may be a well-intentioned junior staffer or intern, there is someone up that food chain who approved this email copy. Shame on them for not explaining the blogosphere to the sender.

I hope these examples help the rest of you to craft considerate, professional emails to bloggers you want to reach. In my mind, it is really not that difficult. But looking over this email, I guess I might be wrong.

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Pitching To Bloggers Done Right

There's been a lot of hubbub around pitching to bloggers. The Chris Andersons and Gina Trapanis of the world don't want to be solicited to by PR companies. They have some good points - including explicit warnings not to email them - and I don't fault them for their actions. However, PR does serve a valuable purpose in business and it's certainly not going to disappear in the new media landscape. In this post, I will describe essential elements of a stellar PR pitch to a blogger.

The Right Pitch

I received a great email yesterday from Christina at The Advance Guard for Coke's new Facebook widget. Here are the good things about it that too many journalists and PR folks forget:

  • Short: The total email was 130 words long. Already, this sends the message that she respects my time.
  • Introduction: In one sentence, she explains who she is, who the client is, and why she's writing to me.
  • Description: Again in one sentence, she sums up the product with a minimum of the adjectives that decrease believability ("best," "great," "unique," etc).
  • Seduction: I would have made the mistake of describing at least one feature or benefit. Instead, Christina piques my interest just enough and then leaves me two links from which to garner the specs. I had clicked these links before I even finished reading the email.
  • Help: Another one-sentence reminder that I can contact her with any questions.
  • Thanks: She ends by acknowledging my limited time and thanking me for reading. Even if it sounds heavy handed (which it doesn't), the blogger is getting his/her ego stroked and that never hurts.
  • Transparency: The postscript is not only transparent by again mentioning the client, but also encourages transparency if I write about it. This mentality builds trust.
  • Tone: The tone is helpful, but reserved (not one exclamation point!).

If your copywriting follows these simple rules, you cannot help but improve your response from bloggers. In the end, it comes down to being respectful, professional, and sounding like a human being. (It turns out people prefer other people rather than PR robots. Who knew?)

Postscript For PR People

Personally, I love being pitched, especially if there's free stuff or advanced notice involved.

I'm sure this will change as the blog picks up pace, but considering how much media I consume to write this blog (and how much that costs), I certainly do not mind someone sending me a free book or whatnot. (And considering the amount of books alone I mention positively, your chances are pretty good I'll find something I like.)

But please follow these rules when you make contact. We bloggers are people too.

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