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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!

  • 30Nov

    imageI love seeing what my fellow professionals are writing about. I turn up lots of interesting tidbits and ideas from my fellow writers and marketeers, and I like to follow a number of bloggers who manage to serve up with fresh content on a regular basis. One of my favorite bloggers is Carol Tice, an accomplished freelance writer who is not only good at her craft, but good at promoting herself.

    I now want to take a moment to share my admiration for successful freelance writers. The first freelancer I ever met was my Uncle Ed, who was very prolific and successful. In the age before the Internet, he would hear a new joke and mail it to Playboy or come up with a new story idea to sell to the New Yorker or Field and Stream. Uncle Ed was creative and a good marketer, able to sell a story idea to a wide range of magazines. Early in my career, when I was working as a magazine editor in Idaho, one of my good freelancer friends, Hank Nuwer, taught me about the discipline of freelance writing. Hank would rise early in the morning, around 3:00, and spend the next eight hours writing, whether the words would flow or not (which left the afternoon free for trout fishing). It’s that kind of focus and discipline that makes a successful freelancer.

    And as I have been following Carol Tice’s blog, I can see she has the same creativity and commitment to her craft as a freelance writer. Her latest blog post about Sarah Palin inspired me, because the lessons she offers to freelance writers to help them promote themselves can be just as easily applied to any public relations endeavor. Her basic point is that Palin has figured out how to get attention, and keep getting attention. Whether you agree with her views or her politics doesn’t matter, she’s a good self-promoter. I have not seen her new reality television show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” but it has been getting a lot of attention and a fan following. My wife mentioned the show to me over dinner this evening, and even though she is not a fan of Palin’s politics, she said her views of Palin have changed since she saw a couple of episodes of the show. Palin has the promoter’s gene, like Buffalo Bill and P.T. Barnum - she knows how to pack ‘em in and remember why they came.

    And I wish some of my clients could learn from their example. I have been preaching social media to my clients for some time, and the problem most of them have is they are not interesting in being social. They don’t want to invest the energy in promoting their personal brand as an extension of their corporate brand. They lack that promoter gene.

    So here is a quick recap from some of Carol Tice’s tips for freelancers, and why freelance writers or anyone seeking publicity can learn from the Sarah Palin promotional example:

    1. Palin is fearless. She makes a mistake or gets called on some error she makes in a speech and it doesn’t phase her. She just keeps rolling on. I think many PR programs fail largely because of fear of failure. You have to be willing to get out there and take a risk.
    2. Palin loves the limelight. Clearly, she is a believer in the adage that all publicity is good publicity, and she is willing to get other there and mingle to be known.
    3. Palin is not easily embarrassed. She ignores the elephant in the room, like her daughter having a child of out wedlock while she’s running as vice president, and just sticks to her message. None of my clients would be able to show that kind of tenacity in a tough interview.
    4. Palin has a game plan. She is not interested in abandoning the plan just because it didn’t work the first time. She’s refining her strategy and is determined to get elected to higher office.
    5. Palin is clearly different. She is not like most politicians and clearly stands out in a crowd, which makes her easier to promote. And, of course….
    6. Palin is memorable! She makes outrageous comments, challenges her critics head on, and leaves a lasting impression. If I could get more of my clients to use memorable quotes, anecdotes, and sayings that would make them memorable, they would be quoted more often. Too bad we can’t see Russia from Silicon Valley.

    Love her or hate her, you have to admire Sarah Palin’s ability to effectively promote her own brand. She knows how to get the attention she wants and how to stay on message. I wonder who is brave enough to do her media training?

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  • 23Nov

    I have been talking to a number of clients about branding lately – what goes into a brand, how personal branding ties to corporate brand, how to think of social media and branding, etc. These discussions let me to one of my old standby texts on branding by Al and Laura Ries, The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. And I began to consider how exact is the science of branding? Can you really define a brand using scientific terms?

    One of the more active discussions on one of my LinkedIn marketing communications groups asks the question, “Define ‘a brand’ in a single sentence.” The responses are quite diverse (all 750 of them) and range from “a slogan” or “a promise delivered” to “the emotional relationship between a company, a product or a service and a purchaser” or a “reputation.” The fact that this question elicited so many different replies just shows that it is challenging to define a brand. However you define it, a brand is subject to specific rules.

    Which is why I was fascinated to run across this presentation on TED by Dan Cobley, who offers a new perspective on the science of branding. Apparently, the laws of physics also can be applied to marketing and brand management. Cobley makes some interesting parallels:

    • Newton’s second law of motion – Force = Mass x Acceleration. The more massive a brand, the more force you need to change its positioning or direction.
    • Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle – The act of measuring a particle changes the measurement, just as the act of observing consumers changes their behavior. (Think of that the next time you set up a focus group.)
    • The Scientific Method – You cannot prove a hypothesis by observation, you can only disprove it. The same is true of brands; they fulfill their expected promise,until they don’t and let you down. A single brand disaster, such as the Toyota recall, is enough to destroy the brand.
    • Increasing Entropy – The measure of the disorder of a system will always increase. In today’s world of social media, the stronger your brand image, the more you will lose control of it to digital comment and social media as you brand becomes dispersed.

    Some interesting ideas about the “science” of branding and and how physical laws can serve as marketing metaphors. The floor is now open to comments….

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  • 16Nov

    As I speak to clients more and more about social media strategies, it is clear that the potential power of social networking has almost everyone mesmerized. Social media offers the potential to interact with prospects and customers in new way that promotes peer-based marketing. Through the power of buzz, you can get your message in front of hundreds or even thousands of new people, who tell their friends, and they tell their friends. And how cool is that.

    But most executives still don’t understand social media marketing. They think if they set up a Twitter feed or a blog their marketing woes are over. Or if they simply use Facebook and LinkedIn to spam their prospects with marketing messages they will fill their sales pipeline for the next six months.

    As with any discipline, social media marketing has its own unique set of rules, and its own discipline. Anyone turning to social media as a panacea for their marketing woes is kidding themselves. Sure, adding social media can strengthen your marketing program, but it can’t do the whole job.

    I recently spotted an article in Web 2.0 Journal outlining Five Misconceptions About Social Media Marketing, where SEO and Web marketing strategist Brace Rennels points out the biggest fallacies that most marketing execs have regarding social media:

    1. Social media works as a standalone program – Social media doesn’t work without a foundation behind it. You can use social media to promote other aspects of your program, like a webinar, a white paper, or some other offering, but what you have to say has to have some value to your audience. There has to be real content behind the program.

    2. You need a social media expert – Actually, you shouldn’t outsource your social media, although you can contract some help to guide you. The best programs are the one that find the internal experts, tap their knowledge and their passion, and then show them how to build their social network themselves. With social media the idea is to share your ideas with others, and there is no substitute for authenticity.

    3. “If you build it they will come” – Just setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter feed won’t build a following. You have to have a plan that includes what your social media objectives are, who you want to attract, and how you can engage with those people in a compelling way. It takes time, thought, and commitment to build an online community, and you have to nurture online relationships to get your followers to keep coming back for fresh insights.

    4. How do you stop the naysayers and the critics? – You don’t. The whole idea is to provide an open forum that welcomes critics as well as fans. If you try to shut down the naysayers or you can’t honestly engage with the critics, your social media program will backfire. By way of example, check out this week’s blog post on PR101 by Jeff Cole. He offers the example of Cook’s Source magazine, who used its social media forum to address a charge of copyright violation and the disastrous result until the editors took a deep breath and realized they were in the wrong. (It’s a great parable in the power of social media.)

    5. You don’t have a social media presence – If you have employees, then you probably have some kind of social media presence whether you want one or not. Facebook now has 500 million active users, and Twitter has 190 million users tweeting 65 million times per day. Chances are someone is talking about you behind your back, and the best way to control the message about your company is to engage in the conversation.

    When used effectively, social media can be a great tool to reinforce your brand and your brand message. I have one client that publishes a weekly report for the banking industry on deposit rates, and we use social media as part of a larger marketing program. In addition to an opt-in mailing list, we give these weekly reports a prominent place on the company web site. And we use the content in the company blog, which we use to feed conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Over the past few months blog traffic has consistently doubled, and we are gaining a following among target readers and media outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and CNBC, who regular report about my client’s research. Social media helps us expand our reach so followers can find the information they want in the format that best suits them, and then comment on the findings. However, the only reason this strategy works is because it’s part of a larger marketing program that we are continuing to refine.

    So don’t be fooled by the placebo effect. Social media marketing is not a cure-all, but it can be an important extension of your marketing strategy. The key is to set your social media objectives, and make sure they mesh smoothly with the other elements of your marketing program.

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  • 09Nov

    What does it take to launch an effective social media program? What kind of help do you look for? Finding a good social media consultant is a lot like hiring any consultant – you have to understand what you need and find a resource who has the skills that match your needs. It’s curious that a lot of marketing professionals and CEOs forget the basic rules of hiring subcontractors, and they look for a consultant with mystical powers who can help them tame this unknown monster called Social Media.

    I was gratified to see a recent blog post on this topic that offers a lot of common sense advice about hiring social media help. The basics include:

    1. Determine your objectives. You need to understand what you want to get out of your social media campaign. That doesn’t mean producing the next killer viral video or getting your corporate blog off the ground. It really means what you expect to gain from adding social media to your marketing mix. Why do you need it and how do you want to measure success?

    2. Does your consultants have the chops? Has he or she got the right expertise, and can they deliver what you need? You need to assess their metrics of success for other clients. What have they done and how do you know they know their stuff. Don’t be fooled by the names of high-profile clients they list on their web site. And don’t be put off by social  media mumbo jumbo. A social media marketing program has the same measurable results as any other program, so don’t let the newness of the medium get in the way of the metrics.

    3. What can this consultant do for me? You need to match your prospective consultant’s capabilities to your marketing needs. Ask for samples. And ask questions about how what they offer maps to your objectives. How does it matter to your brand, and how will they make a difference.

    As I talk to prospective clients about their social media needs, I encounter a lot of confusion and uncertainty. SMBs in particular understand the power of social media, but aren’t sure (or sometimes aren’t completely convinced) that social media can help them. That’s when we get into discussing the tough questions, like what are their real social media objectives, and do they have the resources to really sustain a social media campaign.You have to identify their real points of pain before you can determine if a social media program can relieve some of that pain. If the consultant is good, they will be able to map the use of social media tools to the prospects’ marketing goals. If they overpromise or say that social media is the cure for all their marketing ills, there is definitely something amiss.

    For many companies, the real pain is usually pretty basic – it’s lack of resources. They want to embrace social media, but they can’t make it a natural extension of their internal marketing program. They don’t have the time to Tweet or post to Facebook, and senior managers are too busy running their business to talk about it. And many companies are rightly concerned about losing control of their messaging and their brand if they turn social media over to junior staffers (the social media channels are clogged with examples of poor representation of corporate brands). These companies want to outsource social media because they don’t have the time and staff to deal with it internally.

    The challenge for the social media consultant is to provide value and support the client’s program objectives without overpromising. The client needs to be willing to give you the time to build a following. They also need to understand that while you can help them facilitate a social media program, the real value of social media is personal engagement. Social media is primarily social, and it’s tough to outsource authenticity and personal interaction. (We need to leave a discussion of the ethics of ghost-tweeting and ghost-blogging for another discussion.)

    In those situations, I find the greatest value for clients is helping them mine their brand intelligence and package their brand insights in a way that makes it easer to feed the social media machine. As part of any social media program, you have to inventory your content and what internal intelligence is worth sharing with your contacts. A consultant can help you gather your content, repackage it to highlight your brand and its value, and show you where to cast the bread upon the social media waters so it will do the most good. And they can help you define ways to measure social media success.

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