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Hi, I'm Tom Woolf and I have been practicing public relations and offering marketing communications strategies for 20 years. And I'm still learning from people like you. Drop me a line!

  • 28Nov

    If you are working to harness Twitter to help build your Internet presence, you should know about the latest Twitter innovations – Twitter lists and Project Retweet.

    Twitter lists are a new innovation that let you create your own customized lists, or access other users’ lists. It’s an open source approach to tame the Twittersphere that allows you to organize fellow Twitterers by relationship, expertise, topics, or whatever suits your fancy. Anyone can create a list and become curator of that list. Twitter currently allows only 20 lists per user, and up to 500 names per list, but that’s still a lot to keep track of.

    Who knows? Twitter lists could become a real innovation to marketers looking to carve out a niche on Twitter. We will have to see what creative approaches people start to apply, and see what the developers start doing with this new feature.

    Project Retweet has been anxiously awaited by a number of the Twitterers  I follow. This is a new beta program that basically adds a retweet icon to each microblog post, allowing you to immediately retweet posts without manually cutting and pasting the Tweet content. If you use some of the third-party Twitter applications, like TweetDeck, this feature has already been included. However, Twitter has just added it as part of their Web AUI to you can now retweet at the click of an icon.

    If you read the Twitter blog post, you will also see that this new icon is just the tip of the iceberg. Twitter developers are opening up a new API that will help aggregate retweets, even beyond your immediate sphere of contacts. And if you find the retweets annoying, you can turn them off.

    The point here is that Twitter is adding new ways to help you extend your sphere of online influence in a way that promote your personal brand and expertise. Now you can build new lists that relate to your expertise and your professional passions and share those lists with the world. And you can share retweets beyond your sphere of influence which can help extend your brand.

    Now if Twitter could only start coming up with a revenue model…

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  • 24Nov

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=994311320387519719How important are personal relationship in public relations? I can’t recall how many new business pitches seem to hinge on the quality of your Rolodex (or for you younger readers, your database). If you can name drop that you just had lunch with Walt Mossberg, or you just had coffee with the producer who handles bookings for Oprah, then people will generally say “Oooh, Ahhh” and be sufficiently impressed. But do those kinds of connections really help your clients tell a mediocre story?

    Naturally, prospects want to make sure you know something about their business. You need to be able to demonstrate you understand what their company and its products offer, how they fit in their market, the value they offer target customers, and how to effectively differentiate their brand. The objective of every marketing campaign differs. Some are about brand building, others are focused on thought leadership, and others are to support sales. In fact, most PR campaigns measure success on multiple levels, but never by who you know.

    So when I am pitching prospect or talking to a client and asked, “Do you know So-and-so?” or “Who do you know at this Trade Journal Weeky?” I usually respond, “Who do I need to know?” Granted, relationships are built and maintained over time, and I have a number of established and respected journalists that I consider friends as well as professional contacts. I also can name reporters at various technology trade magazines, and even have a lot of history with most of them. I reconnected with a former CMP editor who is now a freelance analyst, and we remembered each other from past stories and pitches.

    So it turns out I do know a few journalists. But that doesn’t mean I can pick up the phone to pitch them a bad story. Without the solid foundation of strategy, storytelling, and an understanding of what editors need to make a good story for their readers, it doesn’t matter who you know.

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  • 23Nov

    YouTube Preview ImageI had two interesting grammatical revelations from my stepkids this week. The school systems are failing our kids and contributing to the erosion of English grammar. It’s not just the advent of text messaging and e-mail and “quick, qwerty” communications. There is something more fundamental going on here. Kids are not being taught the basics of grammar and sentence construction, and if they are being taught the basics, the schools are not reinforcing those lessons with solid writing assignments.

    My stepdaughter is in her freshman year at college, and was trying to get her mid-term paper completed for her writing class. I told her I would be happy to look it over before she submitted it. When I read it, I was amazed that a college freshman had such a weak grasp of basic grammar and sentence structure. I know that she’s a very hard worker and not the best writer, but even so, she needed to submit a solid admissions essay to get into college, so I wondered why this paper seemed to be so poorly written? Most of the problems were things that have become second nature to me, such as subject/verb agreement, starting sentences with a conjunction, and a myriad of other simple rules that were drilled into my head at an early age.

    Now consider her younger brother who is a very gifted writer with a natural grasp of language and grammar. He has aspirations to become a professional journalist; whatever that role looks like in the future.  However, his high school stands in his way. He can’t write for the school paper without first completing a series of prerequisite writing courses, so even if he wanted to try his hand at journalism, he will have to wait until the end of his senior year.

    We need to encourage students to write, not discourage them. And we need to work with them to help them understand the structure of language and how and why the rules are applied. I taught English as a second language for a time and know it can be difficult to master the English language. The key is to practice using it, and not by texting or sending funny e-mails, but with true writing projects that will help you master grammar. Maybe it’s time to bring back Grammar Rock.

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  • 20Nov
    Twitter Total Registrants - WebProNews

    Twitter Total Registrants - WebProNews

    All of my clients, including the agencies I work with, are watching the evolution of social media with keen interest, and one of the most curious phenomena to power social media is Twitter. Although they still don’t seem to have a revenue model, Twitter and the whole concept of microblogging has taken the Web by storm. I recall when Twitter first launched two years ago at the Web 2.0 Expo at San Francisco. I was there to help launch Vidoop, an innovative security solution for logging into Web sites, and the Vidoop marketing team were all abuzz about Twitter. They actually started using the service on their mobile phones to keep track of each other during the show.

    Now Twitter seems to have grown up, a lot. In March, Mashable reported that Twitter was growing at a rate of 1,382 percent with 7 million unique visitors. And more services continue to leverage Twitter as part of their social media strategy; the latest being LinkedIn, which just launched a Twitter feed for users, and Yahoo which is harnessing Twitter to promote search.

    But how effective is Twitter as a marketing mechanism? Can you use Twitter to reach your target audience? According to a new study by Pew Research, 19 percent of Internet users are using Twitter, up from 11 percent in April. Not surprisingly, web users who are already using social networking sites such as MySpace, LinkedIn, or Facebook seem more likely to use Twitter (35 perce

    nt). And the more devices a user owns, the more likely they are to use Twitter to update their activities – 39 percent of Twitter users have four Web-linked devices, 28 percent with three devices, 19 percent with two devices, and 10 percent with one device.

    What was really interesting about the Pew study were the Twitter demographics. As of September, 54 percent of Internet users have a wireless Internet connection, either from a cell phone, laptop, game console, or other mobile device. Twenty-five percent of those 54 percent use Twitter, which is up from 14 percent in December 2008. The median age for T

    witter users is 31, with users between the ages of 18 and 44 up dramatically in the last six months, and

    Total Tweets for 2009 - WebProNews
    Total Tweets for the 2009 – WebProNews

    Internet users over 45 are coming on at a slower adoption rate.

    I think the most interesting statistic, and the most important to consider from a marketing perspective, is that according to Harvard Business School researchers, 10 percent of Twitter users account for 90 percent of all tweets. In addition, of the 11.5 million Twitter accounts, most people post once a day and one in five have never posted on Twitter.

    So what does this mean for your personal PR and marketing program? Understand your objectives before you embark on a social media program, and who you are trying to target. Twitter exposure can be valuable in promoting your online brand, but you want to make sure that you have the right followers. Twitter can be a valuable tool for market research and information dissemination, but only if you can tap a demographic that you care about.

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  • 18Nov

    free-stuffI have been using newswire services for as long as I have been doing public relations. I have used BusinessWire, PR Newswire, MarketWire (formerly Internet Wire), and PR Web and have had good results with each in turn, depending on the media and marketing strategy. There are any number of discussion threads among my LinkedIn PR groups asking which is the best service? The answer is, of course, it depends.

    One of the real advantages of using wire services is Web distribution and online exposure. The wire services give you reach you can’t get with conventional outreach, including social media. Of course, wire drops can be expensive. The national circuit for the mainstream wire services can be $1,000 or more for a single press release, which is beyond the budget of many smaller companies and start-ups that want the reach but can’t afford it. I advise clients looking to penetrate vertical markets to use a narrower geographic target in order to gain access to the vertical media circuits offered by PRNewswire, BusinessWire, and MarketWire. This can save a lot of money and gives them both media outreach and Web exposure for search engine optimization.

    And then there are the clients who can’t afford to make paid wire services a consistent part of their program. I have been working on an alternative strategy with one client who new press announcements on a weekly basis. Paid wire services would break their budget, so we rely on direct media outreach and posts to a number of free wire services like PR.com, i-Newswire, PR-Inside.com, and a host of others. These services have helped with both media and Web exposure, but they come with risks.

    A number of these free sites are powered by advertising. Recently, I have had one or two clients come to me asking about the ads that are associated with their news releases. Apparently, some sites are less discriminating than others about the types of ads they will accept, so my clients’ new products may run with an ad for male enhancement solutions or something else unexpected and undesirable. You have to continuously monitor your free news site strategy because terms and conditions are changing all the time. For example, one of my favorite free release sites recently eliminated its free option and now only accepts paid press release distribution.

    As with most things, you get what you pay for, so you can’t expect much from a free press release site. However, there are some criteria you can apply to give you greater confidence that you are controlling how your news is seen on the Web. Check to see what the site’s advertising policy is and see what kinds of ads are associated with similar news announcements. See how much control you get over your free news release account, e.g. does it archive your news announcements and give you hit counts and statistics? And monitor your coverage! Be sure you are tracking how your releases are propagating on the Web. When you find that some of your free sites are posting inappropriate ads or your news is appearing on the wrong kinds of Web sites, scratch those free sites from your list.

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  • 12Nov

    internetbdayI can’t believe that I forgot the Internet’s 40th birthday. Throughout most of my professional career the Internet has been a steadfast ally; a friend that has helped me stay in touch and brought me new business. I have been writing and talking about Internet technology for 25 years now. Some of my first clients sold TCP/IP stacks for Windows, VMS, and Macintosh (no, the IP protocol wasn’t always bundled with the OS). I worked with early SMTP vendors, including the guys who created the MIME standard that lets us send files by e-mail, and the first SNMP stack vendors selling raw, Internet management goodness.

    The march of alphabet soup has continued over the years, the Internet has become a bosom companion. Who knew that from the early ARPANET days, the Internet would grow from a network of loosely connected college computers to a global infrastructure supporting billions of users? One of the things that continues to amaze me about the Internet is that it is an autonomous entity. There is no central Internet authority. And while the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) remains the harbinger of evolving networking standards, the Internet infrastructure itself has become a self-healing mesh of data arteries that remains incredibly reliable, even though no one entity is really in charge.

    The Internet’s actually birthday is somewhat in question. One group claims that it was born in 1961 when Dr. Leonard Kleinrock presented a paper on packet-switching at MIT. Most acknowledge the Internet was born in 1969 when data was transmitted by two California universities. Wherever you set the marker, the world has never been the same since.

    And it is important to remember that the Internet is not the same as the World Wide Web. The Web has made the Internet more consumer-friendly and commercially accessible, but the Web is only 20 years old. Tim Berners Lee first proposed the concept of the Web to CERN management in March 1989. However, the Web is just another protocol that runs over the Internet, like e-mail of file transfer.

    So with the growth of the Internet and the Web, our world has changed. And as a PR professional, our world has changed dramatically as well. I have been doing PR long enough to remember stuffing envelopes with press releases that were mailed to editors for publication. Today, of course, data is distributed via e-mail, blog posts, Twitter, and any number of other Internet-driven communications. Information access has become virtually instantaneous, which makes our jobs as publicists infinitely more challenging. We have to make our clients’ stories more compelling, more relevant, and more Web-friendly in order to have an impact. We need to engage in the Internet-driven conversation, rather than pitching stories in a one-way channel, pleading with editors to write about our clients.

    The Internet has made the world much smaller, and given us instant access to an unprecedented amount of data. I believe that part of our responsibility as PR professionals is to use the power of this incredible technology for good, and to promote best practices, authenticity, and adopt new methodologies that promote truth and authenticity. And the 40th birthday of the Internet seems to be an appropriate moment to pause and consider what role we can play in shaping the future of the information revolution.

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  • 11Nov

    Veterans Day 2009 - We all need to remember

    From the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com, Major Bill Tubbs of the California State Military Reserve plays Taps at the San Francisco National Cemetary in the Presidio. More than 30,000 soldiers have been buried here since the Civil War. I recall my father, who served in Europe during World War II, marching in the Memorial Day parade in my home town as a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. As a boy I didn’t understand what that meant. But today, I want to remember dad and all those who served, and to offer our thanks and gratitude.

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  • 10Nov
    Effective media training promotes good storytelling

    Effective media training promotes good storytelling

    I have been working on one or two new product launches over the past few weeks, and that means putting CEOs and senior managers in front of reporters and analysts to tell a story. It’s amazing how many executives are bad at storytelling. They are confident speaking to managers, their board of directors, even venture capitalists, but when it comes to telling a compelling story to editors many seem at a loss.

    Effective media training can address a number of these problems and actually show senior executives how to think like a reporter. It can show managers what is really newsworthy and printable, and help them tell a story. I want to direct you to a new white paper by seasoned freelance writer Mark Halper and offered by Johnson King. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Mike King for many years, and can’t recommend a better high-tech PR firm if you are looking to break into the EMEA market.)

    Mark had some interesting observations in his white paper; observations from which all executives can benefit. I suggest you read Mark’s comments for yourself, but here are some highlights.

    1. Know your audience. I prepare briefing documents for all my clients. In those briefing sheets are insights about the reporter, his publication, its audience, and likely topics of interest and questions that might be asked. From the interviews that follow from those briefing sheets, I have to wonder if the clients actually read them. In order to get coverage, you have to offer information that is informative and relevant to the editor. (And by the way, Mark’s penguin analogy is much more colorful than my insights here.) Today, for example, I had an interview with Skype Journal about a client’s new product. Fortunately, most of the conversation focused on Skype but it could easily have taken a left turn, focusing on other non-Skype-related product features that would have been irrelevant to the story. Too often clients become so focused on their own script that they neglect the human element – connecting with the reporter and asking him what he needs to file his story.
    2. There is no such thing as “off the record.” This is a common failing that I have seen the most experienced executives make. They are so busy trying to establish a rapport with a reporter that they forget the rules of engagement. You need to know when to reveal information and when to withhold it, and you need to know that there really is no such thing as “off the record.”
    3. Make it colorful. Anecdotes are incredibly useful. The right story or key phrase can stick in the mind of the reporter and make you look larger than life. Remember that no matter who the reporter is writing for, readers are always people and they gravitate toward interesting stories and anecdotes.
    4. Not just the facts, tell a story! In order to make their articles interesting, reporters must be storytellers. In the world of high-tech, reporters always ask for analyst and customer references, not just to validate new technology but because third parties add color. I recently landed an interview for a client with the San Francisco Chronicle about corporations adopting social media strategies. The quotes that made print were the colorful anecdotes about customer observations and trends that put a human face and connection on the story.

    As Mark states, “Executives should not underestimate the storytelling aspect of journalism.” Media training can not only teach executives how to control an interview, but how to “keep it real” and give the interviewee the kind of color commentary that makes a compelling story that goes deeper than the facts.

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  • 08Nov

    Does technology make us more indifferent to one another? Are cell phones, e-mail, and Facebook responsible for bringing us together or putting a wedge between us and our loved ones? According to a recent study by Tech Anthropologist Stefana Broadbent, technology is actually promoting intimacy. Check out what she had to say at the Oxford TEDglobal conference earlier this year.

    What I found most fascinating from a marketing standpoint is that most people use their technology infrastructure – cellular phone, texting, instant messaging, e-mail, etc. – to communicate with a handful of loved ones. That’s it! Consider the stories Broadbent shares about the families who gather together via webcam for a meal, or the friends and coules who communicate regularly from work via e-mail and text. Of course we all do it, and technology can bring us closer to our loved ones. I am in ongoing contact with my spouse via text and cell phone. In fact, she now uses her iPhone to stay in constant contact with her daughter, who is a college freshman this year 3,000 miles away, using text, e-mail, Facebook, and, of course, phone calls. It’s almost as thought my stepdaughter was still home every night (and a far cry from the weekly call I made from the payphone to my parents in the days before cellular technology).

    This demonstrates man’s infinite ability to adapt new ideas and new technologies for the things he cares about most. However, from a marketing standpoint, I have to wonder if this revelation undermines the value of social media to reach customers and prospects. If people only communicate with a handful of close friends on Facebook or Twitter, are the rest of us shouting in the wind, trying to get their attention? I don’t think so, but we do run the risk of devolving into so much white noise as people pursue the more intimate conversations that matter to them. Establishing online intimacy with strangers is difficult, but if we understand that the Web has become a tool to communicate both in an intimate way as well as with a larger universe, it helps us better understand how to reach the people who matter to us.

    I also have to wonder about the impact it has on how we separate our personal and private lives. Broadbent talks about class distinction and our separation from the workplace. We seem to have come full circle. In medieval times, the merchants lived above their shop or place of business, the farmers lived on the land, and there was no thought of separating your work and your personal life. That came later with the modern concept of cities and suburbs. Our fathers, and our fathers’ fathers, used to travel from home to the workplace and back again, isolating themselves for eight to 16 hours in an office, or a factory, of a field, where they toiled to support their families. With the aid of technology, home and workplace have converged once again, or at least grown closer together. The more affluent use technology to carry their workplace with them. I work from home, and my office is my laptop and my cell phone, which means I carry my place of work with me. (I often joke that the great thing about working for yourself is you keep your own hours – any 24 hours in the day you choose.) Those who don’t use the technology are the commuters who transport themselves from home to workplace and back again, forging boundaries (both real and artificial) between their professional and personal lives.

    And I have to wonder about the impact all this has on organizations. From my recent work with FaceTime Communications, I have a deeper understanding of the challenges that IT managers face in trying to contain personal conversations on public networks. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype are pervasive, and defy many of the conventions of IT managerial control. If you can access the Internet from your office computer, then you can chat online with you boyfriend, your girlfriend, your mother, and completely bypass most enterprise security measures. Companies can choose to block access, or try to control it. I have a client that uses Barracuda to control employee network access, which means when I work on site I can’t be productive because I can’t access any of the social networking sites or online tools I use for the client. Locking the door isn’t the solution. Instead, you need to find a way to help your workers feel more connected to home in order to increase productivity. If you control the online conversation rather than blocking it, you can prevent abuses and data leaks while letting workers connect with their loved ones, which helps everyone.

    There are some important insights here as to how technology is transforming human interaction. What are your views? Can you build intimacy online? Share your thoughts.

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  • 06Nov

    YouTube Preview ImageAs a continuation of my most recent blog post, part of following the rules of being a good journalist, or a good PR writer, is understanding how to apply AP style. The AP Stylebook is the “journalist’s bible,” just as the Chicago Manual of Style is the bible for book editors and the MLA Style Manual is essential for scholars. Writers have been using style manuals for as long as they have been writing, not only to enforce the rules of good grammar, but to help codify usage in order to promote a common understanding and avoid confusion or misunderstanding.

    I received an e-mail yesterday from a good friend and associate whom I had not heard from for a while. It was a short message, and I understood the frustration expressed between the lines:

    “Does anyone follow AP style guidelines anymore? It seems that most people have no idea what they are and don’t care about them anyway. I can remember when any company (especially a public company) was fanatical about following AP style guidelines.”

    It’s too true. With the explosion in electronic communications, everyone is writing more, whether it’s e-mail, blog posts, Facebook posts, or text messages. As a result, a lot of the rules of good grammar and style are going out the window in favor of shortcuts and TLAs (three-letter acronyms). Although recent research says that texting does not affect student’s writing, I have to believe that the sheer volume of written communications that we all have to deal with every day is blurring the lines between casual writing and formal or business writing. That’s why we all need to be reminded of the rules and adopt style guides, especially today.

    As a PR professional, I care about style guidelines, and I have always followed the AP Stylebook. When I get into a discussion about the use of commas or why to spell out percent with a client, I can point to AP style as my authority. It saves a lot of needless discussion, and actually promotes good writing. (And if you are on the go, there is even an iPhone app that gives you access to AP style anywhere, anytime.)

    So whether you are writing press releases, white papers, case studies, reports, or anything for public review, use a stylebook. In addition to the AP Stylebook, I have a few other sources that can help you become a better writer:

    Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style – Although this writer’s guide dates back to 1918, it still offers some great writing tips and helps clarify some of the most common grammatical mistakes. If you haven’t looked at your Strunk and White for a while, it might be time to get reacquainted.

    Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing – I must confess that I am a fan of Mignon Fogarty, whose nom d’ecrit is Grammar Girl. I listen to her podcasts from iTunes and she has offers good advice on how to deal with common writing challenges, and I follow her on Facebook. You might also want to check out her new book, The Grammar Devotional.

    Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age – I am not sure that this book is still in print, but Wired magazine professes to be a harbinger of all things digital, and if you are writing about technology you want to have some kind of stylistic source. Wired Style doesn’t cover everything, and it disagrees with other sources (e.g. email which is preferred by Wired, versus e-mail , which is preferred by AP), but it’s a place to start. When it comes to technical terms, I look to credible sources, such as Wired, InformationWeek, or the New York Times, and look for a precedent for usage.

    And don’t rely too heavily on your electronic grammar checker. At one time, as an experiment, I decided to take a paper I was working on for my Master’s degree in literature and submit it in two forms; one that I manually reviewed and edited, and one that I ran through the computer grammar checker. She told me that the errors introduced by the grammar checker would have meant a failing grade. If you want to be a better writer, learn the rules, use common sense, and think before you type.

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