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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!

  • 30Jan

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    When I start working with new clients, I inevitably have to talk to them about newswire services. If the company is larger or publicly traded, then the need for using one of the big three wire services – BusinessWire, PR Newswire, or MarketWire – isn’t a problem. They know that the wire helps address issues such as disclosure for publicly traded companies, and they usually have wire distribution built into the PR budget. However, when dealing with PR newbies and smaller start-ups who are worried about conserving their budget, how do you justify the added cost of hundreds or even thousands of dollars for wire distribution for a press release?

    imageI actually went through this exercise for two clients this month. I researched publications in different distribution circuits, performed a cost analysis, and developed a comparison of the big three services. My basic argument to justify the cost: wire distribution gives you access to news outlets you would be hard-pressed to reach through other channels, and the benefits in terms of Web exposure are unparalleled.

    I posed this question to my peers on LinkedIn – “How do you explain to your clients why a newswire is valuable for their press release?” I was gratified that the responses echoed my own thinking:

    • Wire distribution reaches media that probably isn’t in your core media list, such as broadcast, TV, or trade media, oimager niche sites that don’t have the editorial staff to dig out fresh news.
    • Mainstream news media, such as Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN,and ABC, all have wire feeds and that gives your news a big credibility boost.
    • The SEO benefit is huge. Wire releases are picked up by Yahoo Finance, Google News, and other news search engines. Traditionally, news releases also appear higher in search rankings and if you have optimized your press release properly (which basically means you have written a clean press release with all the appropriate keywords in strategic places) it should improve your search rankings.
    • And the newswires should feed your social media program. All the wire news is online and you should be using those links to feed your blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

    Most of my clients are serving niche markets, so I seldom recommend national distribution. You can choose a local circuit for $200 to $400 and get the same benefits of SEO and online exposure, as well as distribution to target vertical trade circuits, which is where I think you get real wire benefits. There is something about seeing a press release distributed via a reputable newswire service that lends credibility to your news announcement. It shows that you are serious about sharing your news with the world and are willing to invest in established news channels to do so.

    For smaller and pro bono clients working with little or no PR budget, I have forgone the paid wire services and used the free newswires, which is really more of a shotgun approach. The free news services give you some help with SEO, but you really get what you pay for and the free services don’t carry the same credibility.

    All that said, there is no substitute for direct press pitching. If you have real news worth sharing then you need to get it in the hands of your target reporters before you hit the wire. For many editors, in the age of the Web by the time news hits the wire it’s old news, so you should be proactive and share with your contacts before your wire release. They will appreciate the heads up.

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  • 24Jan

    My recent blog post about marketing professional who have lost the art of picking up the phone resonated with a lot of my peers on LinkedIn. A number of seasoned PR pros noted that the younger professionals seem to suffer from “phone fright,” and that Generation Y would rather send e-mail or text than pick up a phone. However, I think the anonymity of the web points to a larger issue.

    I recently spotted a column on CNN written by sports writer Jeff Pearlman about his encounter with an online hater and how he tracked him down. Although the Internet detective story isn’t quite as exciting as The Cuckoo’s Egg, the confession of the online hater is revealing. After tracking him down, his online hate-monger confessed:

    “You know what’s funny?” Andy says. “I enjoy your writing. But I disagreed with you [about Bagwell] and I got caught up in the moment. When you read something you think is bull—-, you’re gonna respond passionately. Was I appropriate? No. Am I proud? Not even a little. It’s embarrassing. But the internet got the best of me.”

    Andy pauses. It’s an awkward few seconds. He is not happy I called, and later pleads, “Please don’t eviscerate me.” But, to his credit, he takes responsibility, and says this is something he needs to work on.

    “All I can say is, I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m truly sorry.

    So let’s consider how the anonymity of the web plays out in professional communications. It allows the upcoming generation of PR professionals to hide behind email or social media. As one of my PR peers noted, it’s one thing to acquire an email address from a database and throw a message into cyberspace in hopes of a reply. It’s another thing to actually network to make a connection so you can collect a mobile phone number or a Facebook invitation and then say, “Hey, I have a story idea for you.”

    And the anonymity of email goes the other way as well. Sending an email pitch to a reporter makes it easy to ignore. You can craft the perfect story, be right on message, with supporting facts and a unique angle and, because it came in via email, it’s easy to ignore or file for later. If you get as much email as I do, it’s hard to sift the nuggets from the avalanche of spam so it’s no wonder that email pitches don’t get the attention they may or may not deserve.

    Another of my colleagues commenting on the LinkedIn thread noted that he has talked to a number of reporters who admitted reading the email but they needed a personal call to cement the pitch. People want personal contact, and the ability to hide behind an email, or even a Twitter or Facebook update, undermines that contact. Not that social networking isn’t valuable, but it can’t replace the exchange of ideas promoted by a telephone call or a meeting.

    Making a connection via LinkedIn or Facebook might make the connection more personal, but it’s still too easy to ignore. You need to reach out and make a personal contact via phone to cement a relationship. Once you’ve made contact you can have a meaningful dialogue that will yield real benefits.

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  • 19Jan

    I just finished writing a new business proposal and, as always, I ran up against what seems to be the age-old question for consultants – what do I charge? I have experimented with different pricing models over the years – hourly rate, retainer, by the project. I have even developed a rate card that I use with prospects for project work, but inevitably, to be competitive, you have to haggle. There are many times I think I should hire an Arabian rug merchant and learn the gentle art of haggling for a better price.

    What continues to amaze me is that in public relations and marketing consulting, everyone sees pricing as negotiable. Do you question the fees of your doctor? Or what you pay your plumber? Sure, you have to be prepared to accept a market rate, but in the current economy it’s gotten harder to get a fair wage. I actually challenged my accountant last week when I was quoted a rate for a routine task, and we struck a compromise. But you can’t sell your services on price alone.

    Once again, I have Peter Shankman to thank for some great advice about getting paid what you are worth. As Peter notes, when you set your price, remember you can come down but you can’t go up. Also determine what you think your time is worth and calculate accordingly. I know that many consultants don’t necessarily adjust their rate but they miscalculate time, so a project takes twice as long as they anticipate, which means they get paid half their normal rate. And, of course, you have to charge market rate, but you also have to charge what you think your services are worth. If you have a healthy ego, you should be able to name a fair rate and stick with it. If the client doesn’t think your services are worth the rate, then you probably shouldn’t take the contract because they won’t respect the quality of the work if you underprice it.

    When working with a new client, you also have to be sure to understand the intangibles that may affect your rate. For some clients, this might be translated as the “hassle factor.” I was revisiting a thread on one of my LinkedIn Groups today where a PR professional was asking how much information to share with a client; should you share contacts, pitches, and enough detail to allow the client to micromanage the process? My response was, “Of course not. The client is paying you for your expertise.” If they want to tell you how to do your job, then the rates should go up. As one of my first clients told me (and I have lived by these words ever since), “You can pay me for process, or you can pay me for results. Process is a lot more expensive.”

    And to echo one of Peter’s other points, there are times when working for less pays off. I have a couple of clients that are on a very small retainer, and I know I over service them. More importantly, they know I over service them, which means they never hesitate to offer a referral, send new business my way, or help when I need something. It’s a nice symbiotic relationship that pays off in many ways.

    So is there a hard and fast rule about setting fees? I guess the golden rule is never sell yourself short.

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  • 13Jan

    I am a baby boomer, which means I was born long before e-mail, the Internet, and the Web. I was even born before the advent of touch-tone phones and answering machines – when I was a child my parents had a party line. Remember those? For some reason, the telephone has fallen from favor as a business tool. I recently ran across a quote from President Rutherford B. Hayes, who made one of the first telephone calls on from Washington to Philadelphia on Alexander Graham Bell’s new invention. Hayes exclaimed, “An amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one?”

    In the age of electronic communications, we have adopted the same philosophy. Why pick up the telephone when you can sit at your computer and compose your thoughts in an e-mail. Or what about the new concept of unified communications? It’s now normal for me to check on Skype or IM to see if a client is available and ask a simple question as a text message rather than sending an e-mail and waiting for a response. With IM I get “presence” which means I can see if the other party is online and then I can ask a question for almost immediate response via chat or, if necessary, escalate the communication to an Internet phone call with the touch of a mouse, then follow-up with an e-mail.

    Which leads me back to the telephone. Somewhere along the line, the PR profession has lost the art of the phone call. These days editors, reporters, and PR people hide behind e-mail. We draft compelling “pitches” designed to titillate an editor’s imagination and yield a positive response – “That sounds interesting. I would like to talk to your client.” However, e-mail has also created a communications black hole where all flack spam is relegated. You can draft the most compelling pitch in the world with interesting factoids and an innovative story angle no other publication has ever considered, and if it doesn’t get read it’s all for naught. I know that I must process almost 1,000 e-mail messages daily. When I log in to my mail in the morning I see the messages pile up in different folders and I go through them, determining which are news feeds with interesting tidbits, which are solicitations, which are spam, and which are editor or client requests that need immediate attention. The process is rather fast and indiscriminate and those messages that don’t require immediate attention are often left unread until they are deleted.

    And that’s the problem. E-mail is too easy to ignore, and to misread. I don’t know how many times I have received an e-mail from a colleague or client and misread between the lines, injecting mood and meaning that just wasn’t there. And text messaging is worse. If you have teenage children you know they won’t pick up a telephone call but they will (usually) respond to a text, which leads to a different level of miscommunications. For example, I recently had a text exchange with my stepson:

    • Me: “We’re taking mom out for her birthday at 7:45, will you be home?”
    • Him: “Kk”
    • Now the time is 7:30. Me: “Where r u? We will be late”
    • Him: “You said 7:45.” Me: “That’s the time of the dinner reservation. We still need to get to the restaurant.”

    You get the idea.

    Which is why I think President Hayes was totally wrong. Sometimes, you have to pick up the phone. There is nothing more satisfying to me than getting an editor on the phone, talking to him about his magazine and readers, and then presenting a case for my client. “Where does this story fit in your universe and how can we make it relevant for your needs?” You forge a different kind of connection with a telephone call. You hear a human voice on the other end of the phone and you develop an audio picture of the other party. You exchange ideas – which is really hard to do in e-mail – and you can come to an understanding quickly. When I can actually engage with an editor on the phone, we can quickly determine if the story is interesting, relevant, and what we need to change to make it suitable for his or her readers. It’s a lot more efficient than blind e-mail pitching. Of course, you have to contend with the black hole of voice mail, but then every voice mail gets followed up with an e-mail, right?

    There is an immediacy to the telephone that just can’t be denied. You have to use courtesy and common sense – “Hello, I am calling for Acme Company about a new Road Runner capture solution. Do you have a few minutes to talk about how what this might mean for your readers?” You can only forge a real relationship by telephone. Social media is great, and you can talk to your “virtual” editor friends through Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, but at the end of the day they remember the phone call, the laugh, and the offer to help them with information they can take to print. If you think about “reverse-engineering” this process, if you were an editor, who would you contact first to help you with an editorial problem? The guy who sent you an e-mail or the guy who you talked to on the phone about your story needs, the weather, and who is gonna win the World Series?

    Do yourself a favor. Pick up the phone!

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  • 01Jan

    Anyone who has worked in the technology has heard of Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web. He continues to be a force shaping the Internet, and he sees social media as a threat to the principles of the web, as he notes in an article in the December issue of the Scientific American, “Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality.”

    According to Berners-Lee, what makes the Web work is the principal of universality, the ability to connect to anything and offer information in a common format that can be read by anyone. Whether the connection is wired or wireless, and the data is written, graphic, or spoken, it should be accessible from any device that can connect to the Internet. Along with universality, the Web calls for decentralization. As with the Internet itself, the Web has no central server or authority that monitors or approves content. In fact, the open nature of the Web has made it a truly democratic world medium. As a recent editorial on Technorati notes:

    The principles of an egalitarian society where all are equal immaterial of race, colour, class, wealth or nation is embodied in the web today. It has become the beacon of democracy and is more vital to free speech than any other medium, because it is perhaps the least censored most used and universally connected resource in the world.

    What Berners-Lee sees as a threat to the openness and democratization of the Web are the increasing numbers of walled off Internet content. We are talking about social media. Emerging business models that are attracting lots of users and inviting them to a private party where information is shared only among those who have been invited to join in. As Berners-Lee writes in his article in the Scientific American:

    Social-networking sites present a different kind of problem. Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendster and others typically provide value by capturing information as you enter it: your birthday, your e-mail address, your likes, and links indicating who is friends with whom and who is in which photograph. The sites assemble these bits of data into brilliant databases and reuse the information to provide value-added service—but only within their sites. Once you enter your data into one of these services, you cannot easily use them on another site. Each site is a silo, walled off from the others. Yes, your site’s pages are on the Web, but your data are not. You can access a Web page about a list of people you have created in one site, but you cannot send that list, or items from it, to another site.

    With the social media explosion, I believe that Web users are confusing social media and the Web. Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, ant Twitter are not open platforms. They are proprietary platforms that are operated as businesses, but that fact is becoming obscured by their popularity. Facebook is now the most popular destination on the Internet, even surpassing Google, but it’s still not an open platform. As Berners-Lee notes, the threat of monopoly limits innovation, and freedom.

    The social media and Web explosion has led to mega-monopolies like Google and Facebook. These entities have become so popular that they have developed their own juggernaut-like momentum, and yet they are still not open platforms but businesses. Democracy does not thrive in a business setting, since money is the fuel that drives the business. Granted, companies like Google say they will protect your privacy, and things like Gmail are protected by the company. Google even has the phrase “don’t be evil” as part of their code of conduct. But even a benevolent despot is still a despot.

    Then you have to consider entities like Facebook. If you haven’t seen the film “The Social Network” I recommend it, not only as a good film but to give you some insight into the ethics that went into forming the company. Facebook is in business to make money, billions of dollars in fact, and they do it by maintaining a closed infrastructure and gathering information about its users that they can use for profit. Facebook has had a number of privacy issues arise in the past, and they will sell your information for a profit This from InfoWorld commentator Bill Snyder on “Why Facebook is selling you out – and won’t stop”:

    The root of Facebook’s most recent transgression (allowing third-party apps to harvest user IDs) is greed — greed for the millions of dollars that app developers are pulling from the site. Facebook wants a piece of that action, and if privacy, freedom of speech, or any other trivial concern users may have get in the way, that’s just too bad.

    One of the other guiding principles of Berners-Lee’s vision of the Web is “no snooping.” Content in e-mail and even the TCP/IP data stream need to be considered private, and freedom of speech needs to be protected on the Web. Private entities like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter don’t have to adhere to those principles.

    So what are the implications of all this for marketers? You have to dance with those who bring you to the party, and as long as the party is happening at online locations like Facebook and Twitter, that’s the place you need to be. But be wary. Remember that places like Twitter and Facebook are still a private party and you are there by invitation only, and subject to the rules of your host. Conduct yourself accordingly.

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