Tag Archives: marketing

A Partial Reading List for PR Students

August 23, 2013

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Students in class

Image courtesy of Flickr user vasta

College students across the country are in the midst of moving back to college for the fall semester. In between partying, traveling, club activities, sports, Greek commitments, and jobs, some will also be attending classes. Those lucky enough to be taking a PR class should be looking forward to discussions about an industry that’s being turned upside down by technology. You’ll learn from brands who have made mistakes. You’ll learn from brands who have succeeded. You’ll learn about laws governing social media. You’ll learn how to use social media for yourself. You’ll learn how social media is being integrated into areas beyond just marketing and PR. And you’ll also probably learn plenty of tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts, all in the name of efficiency, scalability, or optimization.

Do me a favor this semester. If your PR professor starts sounding like a Buzzfeed article sharing all kinds of tips and tricks advocating how to get the most fans, followers, retweets, likes, or views, tell them that you want to stop taking the easy way out.

If the books and blogs you’re reading for your PR or marketing class start to sound too much like late night infomercials extolling get-rich quick schemes, here’s are some resources I’d recommend sharing with your professor and classmates this semester.

  • The Cluetrain Manifesto  - I’ve talked about this book a lot for a reason. It’s one of the first books I read when I first started in social media back in 2006. It’s as relevant now and it was then, and is a great foundation for any PR or marketing professional.
  • Humanize - Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter provide a fantastic how-to on making organizations not just seem more human, but actually function in a more human way. It tackles the hard people side of change that most organizations seem to think is taken care of with a memo or a training class.
  • Marketing in the Round - Marketing and PR are no longer the only organizational touchpoints with the public. Customer service, marketing, PR, operations, executive leadership – the public doesn’t care about your org chart. Successful marketing is integrated marketing.
  • Social Media Strategist - There’s a difference between being the millenial who is handed the keys to an organization’s social media accounts and being a business leader who uses social media to change an organization. FYI – the latter is who you want to be. Read this book and learn how to do that.
  • Spin Sucks - One of my favorite blogs for years – Gini and her team are whip-smart PR practitioners who understand there’s no technology replacement for good PR.
  • The BrandBuilder Blog - You’ll hear people whine and complain about the difficulty in measuring the ROI of social media ROI. Don’t be one of those people. Read Olivier’s blog and book.
  • Shel Holtz - I’ve been a fan for more than five years. Shel’s one of the smartest PR practitioners you’ll ever meet.
  • Shelly Kramer - I’ve just started reading Shelly’s blog over the last year or so, but I love her matter-of-fact approach to marketing and conversational tone.
  • Doug Haslam - I love Doug’s sense of humor and willingness to call BS on marketing “best practices” that have pervaded this industry.
  • Rick Rice - Rick and I share very similar views and frustrations with the PR industry – the PR practitioner as consultant and adviser, not as publicity hound.
  • Geoff Livingston - I’ve known for a long time too and have always admired his commitment to his beliefs and his broad knowledge of everything from marketing to branding to PR to social media.
  • Jeremiah Owyang - one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in this industry. His blog, presentations, and dozens of research studies have been immensely helpful to my career.

There are a lot of other great resources out there (please share them in the comments), but sadly, even more that will lead you down a path full of shortcuts and hacks.

This semester, avoid taking the easy way out and remember that establishing and maintaining relationships are supposed to be hard. As any college student will tell you, creating and maintaining any relationship isn’t easy. It’s not easy in our personal lives, and it’s certainly not easy in our professional lives. It takes time and commitment. There’s small talk, awkward silences, disagreements, reconciliations, and long conversations. This is the case whether it’s girlfriends, boyfriends, roommates, customers, reporters, or employees.

Through all the tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts, remember that at the end of the day, successful PR really comes down to basic interpersonal communications. Listen more than you talk. Empathize with the other person. Add more value than you take. Say please and thank you. Be honest. Apologize when you’re wrong. Keep the basics as your foundation and you’ll do just fine this year and into the future.

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Using Social Media to Reach the Hard-Working Class

June 1, 2013

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How are you engaging with the new "hard-working class?"

How are you engaging with the new “hard-working class?”

They’re not part of the 99% or the 1% or the 47%. They’re not part of the East Coast Elite or the Bible Belt or the Sun Belt or the Rust Belt. They’re nurses, office administrators, housekeepers, entrepreneurs, waitresses and stay-at-home moms. They’re told they’re part of the middle class, but they sure don’t feel like they are. They’re part of a growing class of people in this country making between $30K and $50K a year, aren’t eligible for government assistance (and wouldn’t take it even if they were), are married with kids, and are working their butts off to make things work any way they can.

According to new research released today by Cramer-Krasselt (disclaimer: I work there), more than 75% of lower-middle income moms are more likely to identify themselves as part of a new group called the “Hard-Working-Class. These are people, specifically working moms, who don’t identify with the any of existing consumer segments. They’re technically middle-class, but middle-class doesn’t reflect their reality.

“I’m technically middle class, but I don’t feel that way. If you’re middle class, you should be able to have a home, be able to save for college. I’m barely able to make ends meet. Every day is just a struggle.”

The study found that these moms are re-defining themselves into a new social class and social mindset. For marketers, these moms don’t represent just a new, sizable consumer segment, they wield a lot of influence within their families and with their friends. And while they are price sensitive, they also have many smart strategies for making ends meet.

  • They use coupons…a lot
  • They like/follow/subscribe to brands in social media…if there’s a deal involved
  • They get together with friends…to share and trade clothes, food, and coupons
  • They use coupons to save money…but also to get that feeling of “getting a deal”
  • They buy generic brands…but will spend more for “tried-and-true” brand names

Marketers have to not only better understand this new segment of consumer, they have to find out how to help them. It’s not just about getting these “masters of making it work” to buy your products, it’s about identifying ways to help them out. They’re looking for brands to do more than just offer them a deal or a coupon. They’re looking for acknowledgement, recognition, and most importantly, support.

For members of this hard-working class, they use online communities, forums, Facebook, and Pinterest to create these communities and support systems and conduct the research that allows them to make their dollar work as hard as possible for them. For brands, social media allows them to connect with these moms…if they can stop the hard sell and be helpful and supportive.

  1. Go where they are. Hard-working class moms realize they can’t do it all by themselves. That’s why they’re constantly scouring message boards, forums, and other social media for tips, tricks, and deals. Rather than creating your own branded online communities, consider first actively participating in existing unbranded communities by answering questions, solving problems, and offering discounts to those who need it. Why do you think Best Buy employees frequent online electronics forums or car brands actively participate on top auto blogs? Not to drive customers to a branded site, but to solve problems and answer questions where they already are.
  2. Instead of begging for likes, ask for feedback. Stop using social media to grovel for likes and instead use it to ask what your brand can do to help these moms. Is it making smaller, less expensive SKUs? Is it offering payment plans? These moms have been misunderstood by brands for years. Use your social media channels to ask them for their thoughts and really understand their situation. The trick then, of course, is that you have to actually do something with this feedback once you get it. 
  3. Help her use what she already has. Take a page from Patagonia, who explicitly told their customers that they didn’t have to buy a new jacket just because it was the holiday season. They realized that by helping their customers understand how to do more with what they had, they actually increased loyalty and sales.
  4. Demonstrate the versatility of your products. Campbell’s has realized these moms are always thinking of ways to stretch their budget so they are helping customers understand new ways to use their products. Their Chunky Dinner Creator allows moms to stretch that one can of soup into a whole dinner for her family. Brands should use social media to demonstrate unique uses of their products and encourage their customers to share their discoveries too.
  5. Evolve the coupon. Brands have used coupons to instill customer loyalty by offering a discount. But these women aren’t looking for handouts – they’re looking for hand-ups. They’re looking for more value, not just lower prices. What if brands flipped the coupon and instead of lowering prices, they offered more value at the same price? What if brands took all that big data everyone’s talking about to identify and reward their loyal customers with insider access, limited edition products, or sneak peeks into new plans?
  6. Show how your products work in conjunction with others. Are you a fashion brand? Use Pinterest to show these moms how your shirts, pants, or accessories can be matched up with other clothing items they may already own. A food brand? Help them craft entire meals for their family. A car brand? Instead of talking about horsepower and torque, show how your cars can fit a soccer team’s equipment in the trunk or how kids can stow their toys in the backseat.

What do you think? Has the term “middle-class” become an anachronism? Is it too broad to actually mean anything to anyone? Do you know anyone who identifies more with the hard-working class? Do you?

For more on the study, check out the articles below:
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How a New Communications Graduate Can Stand Out

May 26, 2013

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Image courtesy of Flickr user stevendepolo

It’s graduation season and once again, the resume, internship, and informational interview requests are rolling in. You’ve just graduated with a degree in communications, advertising, PR, or marketing, and have joined the thousands of other grads in competition for hundreds of entry level jobs and internships. It’s a tough market out there and I don’t envy the position you’re in at all. On the one hand, you’re being told you need to have experience to get the job, but to get that experience, you need a job. It’s a Catch-22 that many people never figure out, leading to them either going back to school hoping things will be easier with an advanced degree (they won’t) or giving up hope entirely.

As someone who has reviewed hundreds of resumes and hired a number of entry level folks over the years, I wanted to share five things that make those resumes stand out to me:

  1. Internships located away from your hometown and college - Ultimately, it’s the quality of the internship that is most important – did you get a chance to hold real responsibility? Interact directly with clients? Learn from respected professionals? Aside from that, one of the things that catches my eye is when I see that your internship was located in another city, away from your familiar surroundings. It shows me that you’re willing to take a risk, to go after an opportunity even if it’s not the easiest path, and that you can do it and come out better for it on the other side. There’s nothing wrong with taking the internship that will get you your college credits – with a local business, a family friend, or even with your own college, but if you want to stand out, consider taking that internship that’s a little bit scary and totally outside your comfort zone. After all, if you get a job in this industry, that’s pretty much where you’ll be every day – might as well get used to it now.
  2. Specific, detailed examples - One of my pet peeves is when I read resumes that read like job descriptions. Don’t spell out your job duties in a laundry list of bullets telling me what you were hired to do. Tell me what you did do. Rather than taking five bullets to tell me that you wrote press releases, managed social media sites, created media guides, and pitched media, tell me a story. How many press releases did you write? Can you link to them? What were the results? How many social media sites did you manage? What types of content did you share? What were the results? How many media guides did you create? How were they used? If you pitched media, was it local, regional, or national? Where were the results? What was your approach?
  3. An active, professional online presence – Link to your blog, your Facebook page, your Twitter profile, your Tumblr, your LinkedIn profile – anything that will give me more information than what’s on your resume. Every new grad has a resume. Not as many have a credible, professional online presence. And please, at least make it look like these profiles weren’t started the day after you graduated. The people who have built and maintained their online presence over a long period of time will stand out over someone with no search results at all.
  4. A point of view on…something – If you’re going to have an online presence, make it worth something. Pretty much all recent grads have a decent resume. Most have a LinkedIn profile. Some have an About.me or similar site, but very few have a point of view on something related to marketing, advertising, or PR. You’ve got fresh eyes. You haven’t been jaded by years of bureaucracy, clients, and budgets. What needs to be changed? What do you want to accomplish? What are your thoughts on the future of social media? Are you a PR specialist? Then start a blog and talk about your thoughts on the industry. Get on Twitter and share your thoughts on the latest PR crisis. Share links to articles you’re reading on Facebook. This isn’t rocket science. If you’re a graphic designer, talk about the latest trends in graphic design. Share your opinion on who’s doing it right. Show me your thoughts and beliefs and what sets you apart from the hundreds of other people who claim to do that as well.
  5. A recognizable name – And by a name, I mean your name. It’s pretty easy to find the names, blogs, Twitter accounts, and LinkedIn profiles of people working at the organization you’re applying to. Before blindly filling out some form, attaching your resume and hitting submit, do some research first. Comment on the blog posts of the people in the department you’re applying to. Follow them on Twitter. Share one of their status updates with your network. That way, when your resume hits their desk, you’re not just another applicant, you’re that person who’s been making those insightful comments on your blog or retweeting your tweets.

There are a lot of new graduates and not a lot of available positions. Working three or four internships even after graduating is common. Many will get frustrated and give up. Don’t let a boring, run-of-the-mill resume keep you from reaching your potential. Spend some time now updating your resume and online presence to set yourself apart. Even that may not be enough to get you the job, but it should at least help you get your resume printed out and put on the boss’s desk a lot more often.

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Eight Conversations Your Customers Want to Have With Your Brand

April 15, 2013

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A brand’s customers represent some of their best resources, yet most brands leave them on the bench

My last post criticized the content that a lot of brands share via social media – the incessant begging for likes and shares, the linkbaiting, and the meme-jacking that brands have adopted in their constant quest for “engagement.” Instead of following some guru’s best practices formula for social media content that will increase your followers, friends, and comments, try to have the conversations they actually want to have. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn and how it can transform your business for the better. The fun, informal banter still has its place, but make sure you balance the small talk with some actual substance. After all, you’re not in business just to amass likes, followers, and fans are you? Next time you’re working on your social media content calendar, start thinking about some of the conversations your customers want to have -

  • Your history. Over the last ten years, I’ve talked with hundreds of clients who have some amazing stories about how their organization/brand/company began and how it got to where it is today. You know that boring “About Us” page you have your website? Breathe some life into that content and make it a story. Believe it or not, your fans are interested in hearing about the history of your brand – why do you think brands like Coca-Cola, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz have created entire museums dedicated to their history? For those brands that can’t create their own museums, Facebook’s timeline feature allows you to share that history virtually. Look at what Manchester United or Ben and Jerry’s are doing with their timelines for an example. Go and talk with people who know your brand’s history. Listen to the stories. Collect old photos and videos. Share those stories with your fans. 
  • Ideas that didn’t make the cut. Your cutting room floor is a gold mine for social media content. Share those ideas that were discarded and explain why they weren’t implemented. Too expensive to make? Too niche? Too controversial? You might be surprised to find that your fans and followers love them even though your creative department didn’t. Ideas and products that might have been killed before are now becoming alternate endinghugely successful products, and breakout hits because brands now understand that going directly to their fans are often better indicators of success than surveys, ratings, and focus groups.
  • The “why” behind business decisions. Did you just have to lay off some employees? Get out in front of the story and explain why. Talk about the numbers behind the move. Share the long-term view. Be empathetic. But most of all, be honest. Customers understand you run a business and that there are often tough decisions to be made, but they won’t understand why you would be all cloak-and-dagger about it. Talk openly and honestly when the going gets tough and though it might not be intuitive to you, they’ll love you more for it.
  • Challenges. Your social media fans are more than clicks, likes, and followers – they’re potentially important team members that you’re ignoring. Got a product or business challenge you’re struggling with? Open up your data and bring your customers into the process. You might be surprised to discover the value they will bring. Interestingly enough, brands can look to the government for guidance on this as Challenge.gov is a great example of how to create content and get your customers involved.
  • Your culture. Your customers want to get to know your brand, your real brand, not the one ginned up by marketing, but who you really are and what you’re all about. They want to understand your culture, your work environment, the way you do things. Why do you think shows like Undercover Boss, The Pitch, and Restaurant Impossible are so popular? Why do you think Zappos gives tours of their headquarters? Why do you think virtual tours of company offices are so popular? They pull back the curtain on the brands they buy from.
  • New product uses. When you think of the Porsche 911, you probably think of the iconic sports car that rich guys only drive on Sundays. However, did you know that it’s actually a car that thousands of people drive every single day? A car that takes kids to school? A car that has four-wheel drive that you can put your skis on top and take to the slopes? A car that can fit all your groceries and golf clubs? So Porsche went out and asked their customers how they use their Porsche every single day. (disclaimer: my agency created this campaign).
  • Requests for feedback. How are we doing? What could we be doing better? What do you love about us? What words come to mind when you think about our brand? What do your friends and family think about our brand? Just like that annoying guy who won’t shut up at the party, most brands never stop sharing content long enough to simply ask their customers for their thoughts. Sometimes all it takes is a “what questions about our products/services do you have?” to get the ball rolling.
  • Your causes. What does your brand care about? Customers want to know that your brand is about more than just profits. Go beyond just writing a check and a photo opp. Panera uses their website and social media to tell the story of their passion – feeding the hungry of America. (disclaimer: my agency created this campaign). Does your brand contribute money to a local or national charity? Do they volunteer? If so, make sure you get someone there to capture these stories to share them.

Great content marketing shouldn’t only be about determining what content will lead to the most likes, comments, or followers. It should be about creating and sharing content that tells your brand’s unique story, creating conversations with your customers that lead to greater customer loyalty. You may not want to have these conversations. You may not be ready to have them. You may be scared at what your customers might say. You may not know how to react. That’s too bad because avoiding these conversations is no longer an option. If you aren’t ready to have these conversations, don’t you think that’s telling you something? Shouldn’t this be an opportunity to fix what’s broken internally so that when your customers demand to have these conversations (and they will), you’re ready for them?

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