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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!

  • 30Aug

    Customer case studies  have been part of my job for longer than I have been doing media relations. When I started out as a trade journalist reporting for publications like Educational & Industrial Television and Video Trade News, end user stories were the mainstay of our editorial. Readers want to hear from peers who have “been there, done that,” which is why customer relations continues to be such an important part of any PR program.

    Of course, customers aren’t always willing to talk, especially in high-tech. Trying to get a financial services company or insurance company to open up about the inner workings of their CRM system or their security systems can be challenging. Customer companies don’t usually have much inventive to share information about how they do what they do; there usually isn’t much in it for them. That’s why you want to enlist customers as allies, not just topics for case studies. You want to find incentives to help them with their own sales and marketing so they will help your clients by serving as case study candidates.

    That’s part of the reason I was so pleased to place a profile of Stoops Freightliner in Heavy Duty Trucking this month for my client, FaceTime Communications. The story profiles how Stoops Freightliner is using FaceTime’s Unified Security Gateway to promote a secure social media marketing program to reach truck drivers across the Midwest. When I had an opportunity to place the story, I thought of Heavy Duty Trucking for a number of reasons:

    • Heavy Duty Trucking is one of the biggest titles reaching trucking executives and decision-makers.
    • A profile in Heavy Duty Trucking would help Stoops reach its customer base as well as new prospective customers for FaceTime – a win-win for everyone.
    • I have a soft spot for Heavy Duty Trucking since my dad sold advertising for them for a number of years.

    The strategy worked. Not only did Stoops get a great profile of their social media success at work, the article also brought in a new prospect for FaceTime.

    When I develop a customer relations program for a client, I like to develop an integrated program that benefits both my clients and their customers. As part of the sourcing process, I work with end users to determine what their marketing objectives are and how far we can carry their application story for mutual benefit. The result is, at minimum, a published case study with supporting sales collateral, content to feed social media outlets, anecdotal data for press briefings, and Web content. With a cooperative customer, you can extend the program to include webinars, speaking engagements, and more. The key is to make sure that all the participants come out ahead.

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  • 20Aug

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    An important part of media relations that many agencies and PR professionals tend to overlook is industry analyst relations. From my earliest days working in high-tech public relations, I have worked with the industry analysts at Gartner, IDC, Forrester Research, Yankee Group, and even those big firms that are no longer with us, like Dataquest, Meta Group, and Jupiter Research. And I work with a variety of specialty firms like Nemertes Research, Osterman Research, and MobileTrax.

    I advise my clients that industry analysts are an invaluable media resource for a number of reasons:

    First, of course, they write reports about emerging technology, and there are a number of IT managers and CIOs who won’t make a buying decision without first referencing a Gartner Magic Quadrant or a Forrester Wave report.

    Second, analysts are great resources of industry insight, and they aren’t shy about poking holes in your product or your go-to-market strategy. I find that too often clients become so immersed in a new product or concept that they can’t see the flaws, and analyst briefings often can point out a lot of challenges before you go public with a story.

    And third, analysts are invaluable when it comes to talking to reporters. Enthusiastic start-ups and product managers have been known to be, shall we say, premature in announcing a product that may not be quite ready for market. Over the years reporters have become wary of “vaporware.” Analyst and customer references have become essential for any new technology product launch, and by briefing analysts in advance, we can offer reporters references who can give an unbiased opinion about my client’s product and its impact on the market.

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    I want to thank Gerry Purdy, principal analyst at MobileTrax, for offering a simple, and cogent explanation of what he calls the Press-Analyst Cycle (see Gerry’s diagram above), which was the topic of this week’s Inside Mobile newsletter, and Gerry’s blog. Gerry has done a terrific job of explaining how the analyst briefing process works, and how it fits in his world from the analyst’s perspective.

    I have worked with Gerry for a number of years, and whenever I have a client with a new product in the mobile telecommunications market, Gerry is at the top of my analyst contact list. He is always open and frank with my clients – which is important, especially if there are flaws in a product or go-to-market strategy – and I know I can always count on Gerry’s cooperation in the Press-Analyst Cycle, and to be a fair and well-informed editorial reference. As Gerry explains:

    Vendors have to live with the results of the writings of the press and analysts like me.  Often, positive stories greatly influence the decision to buy that product or service.  A number of bad reviews or stories can also hurt.  However, with the Press-Analyst Cycle, vendors are most often able to maximize the awareness and build credibility for their mobile and wireless product or service. 

    And the great thing about working with analysts is they are usually happy to serve as references, even if your client is not one of their clients. After all, analysts have to build their own market credibility and promote their own personal brand, and being asked to comment as an independent expert is a great way to keep your name in front of the market.

    So the next time you see an interesting story about a new product or technology, or you see a quote from an IDC or Forrester Research expert, think of the process behind that story to deliver that opinion. It’s all part of media relations.

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  • 10Aug

    Here’s a really interesting tidbit from Fast Company. The July issue featured a profile by Adam Penenberg of Professor Paul J. Zak of Claremont Graduate University, a.k.a. Dr. Love, who is pioneering a new field, neuroeconomics, the study of brain chemicals and their impact on consumerism.

    In a series of studies spanning nine years, Zak has changed our understanding of human beings as economic animals. Oxytocin is the key (and please, do not confuse the cuddle drug with the painkiller oxycontin). Known for years as the hormone forging the unshakable bond between mothers and their babies, oxytocin is now, thanks largely to Zak, recognized as the human stimulant of empathy, generosity, trust, and more. It is, Zak says, the “social glue” that adheres families, communities, and societies, and as such, acts as an “economic lubricant” that enables us to engage in all sorts of transactions. Zak is a walking advertisement for oxytocin; his vanity license plate reads oxytosn, and he hugs virtually everyone he meets. (“I’ll hug you, too,” he warns.) It’s this passion for the hormone that led to his Claremont campus nickname, Dr. Love.

    What Zak discovered is that oxytocin, the cuddle chemical, not only engenders generosity and trust, it also promotes social networking. Apparently, hanging out on Twitter or Facebook stimulates the release of oxytocin in our brains.

    “Your brain interpreted tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for,” Zak says. “E-connection is processed in the brain like an in-person connection.

    Consider what this really means. According the the article, when 200 University of Maryland students were asked to give up social networking for a day, many of them actually had withdrawal symptoms. The implications for business are huge. If companies start trading in trust, they can reap greater profits:

    The idea is that if businesses wish to thrive in our interconnected world, where consumers’ opinions spread at the speed of light, they must act as a trusted friend: create quality products, market them honestly, emphasize customer care.

    So the reasoning goes something like this. Companies that engender trust in their customers will gain customer loyalty and even customer evangelists. If you have a positive experience with a vendor then you Tweet or post to Facebook about it – it’s the entire business premise for Yelp! The actual act of sharing information online promotes trust, not only because of our sense of online connectedness, the tribal nature of social media, but because our brains are wired to release oxytocin while networking, which promotes trust and a sense of connected well-being. Ergo, companies that engage in building trust online have a leg up on the competition, not only because they build a closer relationship with their customers, but because people’s internal hormonal chemistry makes them more disposed to trust their online connections.

    Not long ago, when sitting in a marketing meeting with a client, the Vice President of Sales repeated a worn marketing axiom, “People are motivated by fear and greed.” If Dr. Love’s research is any indicator, people are also highly motivated by trust, and it’s time that companies started realizing that they will go farther by building a loyal customer following than striving to scare of con them into buying a better mousetrap.

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  • 03Aug

    If you follow social media trends while you surf the Web, then you will have noted that one of the biggest topics on social media sites is, naturally, the effectiveness of social media. I spotted an article last week on Mashable entitled How Social Media Can Make Us More Productive by T.A. McCann, CEO of Gist. As McCann points out, the lines between professional and personal social media use are blurring, particularly with the new Millennial workforce. Companies that are prepared to acknowledge the fact that their workers live and work online and find a way to embrace social media as part of their workflow will go farther recruiting the best and the brightest, but you still need to understand the best way to actually apply social media tools. As McCann says,

    “The trick is to realize that it’s not about the tool itself, but your ability to step back and analyze the tool’s real value in helping you accomplish tasks. If you’re not evaluating the way that you’re using social media to get things done, then you’re probably becoming increasingly inefficient because of it.”

    So I wanted to share some of his observations on how to get the most out of social media. These rules certainly apply in marketing and media relations, but they are also universal.

    1. Scalable networking. Networking now takes on many forms. The old methods of meeting peers and prospects at trade shows, over lunch, at open houses, etc., still apply, but the advent of Web 2.0 makes the channels for connection global. As I have noted in this blog before, social media users tend to be tribal. so making connections with others through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media channel gives you a built-in sense of camaraderie; most people tend to respond to social media contacts before they will respond to email. You can use tweets, blog comments, Facebook comments, and other means to build online intimacy with a wider range of contacts. And the Web makes it possible to connect with thousands rather than dozens. The trick is to make those connections meaningful and respect the tribal connection, so you can uplevel the conversation when you need to.

    2. Uncovering valuable, actionable information. McCann notes that information overload is nothing new, and tools like Twitter and Facebook can contribute to information overload if you fail to use them properly. The key is to filter the information, so you are getting pertinent, actionable information. Filter the feeds to distinguish between personal and professional data streams. Identify those data points relevant to your job and focus on them. McCann uses the analogy of stockbrokers filtering incoming data feeds from trusted friends and sources, gathering data in real-time for their clients. You need to set up social media data feeds that support your professional decision-making and push the rest aside as less irrelevant noise.

    3. Social media is about collaboration. Web 2.0 levels the playing field when it comes to collaboration. It not only promotes collaboration, but it provides the tools to help you collaborate in the most productive fashion possible. As McCann points out, with Web 2.0 the medium doesn’t get in the way of the message. Social media helps make collaboration organic, without having to rely on proprietary software or platforms to achieve your goal.

    4. It’s not what you use, but how you use social media tools. One of the biggest challenges with social media is the plethora of available channels. Don’t try to filter everything. Instead, identify those tools that make a real difference in your work life. McCann recommends ranking your social media tools in order of “must have.” Which social media tools do you really consider essential to your professional success, and which are really “nice to have” and not essential? This will help you optimize you social media flow and determine if you are getting the most from your online investment. Stay focused, and mine your most valuable channels more deeply rather than trying to use a shotgun approach.

    So as with all tools, the efficacy of social media is in how you apply it to meet your professional needs. If you use social media sites to strict professional advantage, without distraction or fooling yourself that posting the latest kids’ soccer pictures or what you had for lunch will advance your professional standing. It’s largely a combination of savvy, focus, and discipline.

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