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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!

  • 14Nov

    So where do your customers hang out? What are they reading? Where are they going for the latest market information? Those are the questions that should keep my clients app at night. I know I spend a lot of time and energy pondering those questions on their behalf.

    The simple answer is they read everything and are everywhere. In the age of the Web, links can take you anywhere so whether your client gets of coverage in the local weekly or the leading trade journal, it’s all good. This is part of the school of thought that believes “any PR is good PR,” which is only partially true. What makes good PR is preaching your audience with the right brand message in the right context.

    Broadening your niche- I just had a client tell me that he wasn’t interested in an interview with Forbes because his technology customers aren’t small business. He would rather see coverage in the technology trades that cover his TLA technology*. Granted, you want to get strong coverage in those trade journals that have a strong presence in your market, especially for B2B marketing. However, you can be too laser focused. Any B2B story has to demonstrate broader business value, which should make pit appealing to any business publication. You never know where your next customer goes to get his or her information,

    Big business and brand cache – Then thee are those clients who only want coverage in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. That is coveted editorial coverage, but the big name media outlets have limited space and fairly specific rules of engagement. I don’t know how many times I have had o explain to start-ups that the business press are looking for a demonstrated track record. Without a stock ticker or some high-profile customers to explain why they can’t live without your product or service, the chances of getting coverage as an upstart newcomer are pretty slim.

    Social media – The big question for everyone is how big a role does social media play in generating brand visibility and nurturing customers. I had a conversation with a client earlier this week who has been investing a lot of time and money in building his presence on Google Plus and Facebook to attract fans. As he sees it, “It’s the long game. This strategy will pay off over time.” And I am sure he is right. Customers feel better about their buying decision when they feel an affinity for a brand; they are buying from someone they feel they know and that has already become part of their consciousness because of the social media experience.

    Everywhere else – Context can be as important as content. Where prospective customers or brand influencers encounter your brand can be as meaningful as the message. R example, a story in the local paper about your company’s participation in the annual Aids Walk says more about your company and its culture than how cool your latest product is. When a prospect does a news search on the be, those stories will show up next to the spec sheets, and will leave a positive impression that may tip the scales when it comes time to make a sale.

    Who’s whether or not you believe that all PR is good PR, don’t make your media targets too laser focused. To build brand awareness, you want to tell your story in different ways to appeal to your audience on multiple levels. Your customers are lurking in unlikely places, so don’t be afraid to engage them in as many ways as you can.

    * TLA is three-letter acronym

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  • 14Mar

    I saw an interesting post last week on Silicon Valley Watcher. Tom Foremski was commenting on PR firm LaunchSquad and their launch of a new social media and marketing service, Original9 Media. Apparently, this new company was specifically created to combine content creation with online marketing. Foremski quotes LaunchSquad co-founder Jason Mandell as saying:

    We will offer a full spectrum of premium content services including strategy, distribution, analytics, creative, web and mobile content and site/app development, infographic programs, blog creation and management and influencer recruitment, among others.

    This is part of a reinvention plan that’s been underway at LaunchSquad for several years. It’s a new time for marketing and PR and we believe an amazing time to create new types of services based on the original creation and distribution of high quality content.

    It’s the middle ground between ad agencies and PR firms that everyone is acknowledging and running toward…

    Foremski’s response:emperor_has no clothes

    The creation of Original9 is interesting because it seems to split-off that work from the list of PR services that a PR firm such as LaunchSquad would offer. Will clients notice the difference? Or is this a move to help add revenues that would normally be funneled through PR services?

    Thank you, Tom, for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. C’mon. We do content development now! In fact, I would argue that 90 percent of my job these days is developing and distributing content created to reach customers, and perhaps press and analysts along the way. With the increased decline of reporters and publications and the increase in online publishing and self-publishing, those of us who used to feed the media information are now feeding the social media machine and the web. It’s basically the same process with a different audience.

    As Foremski notes, “In many respects, Original9 is acting as a publisher — a media company.” This move essentially positions Original9 to become a paid content provider, creating information to appeal to a target audience, just like a publisher, or a PR firm for that matter. Semantics aside, what this new firm is doing is the same thing the old firm was doing, but now they get to change the labels and mark up the prices.

    We already offer content services, strategy, distribution, analytics, etc., etc. In fact, targeting blogs and writing for blogs has become a major focus for my consulting firm. So if I call it something different, does that mean I can charge more for my services? I think my clients would notice. And I think they would go to a more cost-effective resource to help them spread the word.

    Call it PR, or marketing, of content development, it’s still working with clients, helping them package their story, and get that story into the hands of people who matter to the client. Whether you do it through handbills, press releases, or blog content, the process is the same.

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  • 16Feb

    Public relations is a profession that has long been at war with itself. Those of us who are in PR are used to be calling nasty names because of what we do. The most common is “flack,” and I am still not sure of the etymology of the term. Some of my peers say that Tom Wolfe first coined the term in Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers; others tell me that it has to do with catching enemy fir, such as anti-aircraft shells or flak. in any case, we take heat from both our clients and the media. Event the PRSA is struggling to identify the proper definition for “public relations.”

    Why?

    Because public relations people are inevitably placed in the middle. We often have to help a client tell423899_293305987391663_130828826972714_719915_80234888_nl a bad story or try to put a positive face on a disaster, as well as helping them tell a good story or when they have good news. And as far as the press is concerned, they can’t tell when we have something truly useful or are just trying to hype a client product or service. Reporters have come to distrust and even loathe PR people because all too many of us act like used car salesmen in order to “sell” a bad client story. I think Peter Shankman. the founder of HARO (Help a Reporter Out), summed it up nicely in a Forbes interview this week:

    There will always be problems between PR people and journalists, no matter how much we try and repair the rift. Look, fundamentally, the two are simply designed to oppose. On one hand, you have journalists, who have the job of finding actual news – a good story, a trend, something interesting. That’s not easy to do, and they’re being asked every day to do more with less. On the flip side, you have PR people, who are beholden to the request of the clients – A very simple, yet incredibly complex request: “Get us press.” I’d say the biggest mistake PR people make is not standing up to the client and occasionally saying “Hey, that press release you want us to issue about you repainting the conference room? THAT’S NOT NEWS. NO ONE IS GOING TO COVER THAT, AND IF YOU MAKE US PITCH FIFTY JOURNALISTS ABOUT IT, WE CAN GUARANTEE THAT THOSE FIFTY JOURNALISTS WILL NEVER COVER US AGAIN, EVEN WHEN WE DO HAVE SOMETHING WORTH WRITING ABOUT.”

    For some, the thought of PR ethics is an oxymoron. For others of us who take our profession and its ethics seriously, we understand that our job is to not only counsel the client, but to advocate for the press. When a client has a bad story or wants to publicize the new paint on the conference room, it’s the PR professional’s job to tell the client his story stinks and no one will care. No one wants to tell someone their baby is ugly, but if a story is bad you have to point it out.

    There is a broad-reaching misconception that public relations is the same as publicity. Those who can’t understand the difference are the same folks who think that any press is good press. Publicity is not PR. And any story is not a good story.

    Kudos to my friend, Dr. Mitchell Friedman, who is a long-time PR practitioner and now is teaching PR practice and ethics to the next generation of flacks. As Mitchell points out, publicity is not public relations:

    Public relations has a far different orientation, as noted in PRSA’s aforementioned campaign to redefine the function. Responsibilities include building and managing relationships with an organization’s key audiences (both internal and external); overseeing its reputation (or what’s often referred to as “managing the corporate brand”); and serving as the organization’s conscience. Publicity and media relations are part of this equation, along with a variety of other functions.

    Mitchell has identified eight well-reasoned principals for what makes good public relations which I agree with wholeheartedly. My role as a PR professional has evolved substantially in 20 years. On my best days, I am working with senior management to support corporate marketing, refine and reinforce brand messages, and manage conversations and relationships inside and outside the organization. On my best days, I get to act as a corporate conscience, pointing out when something is wrong and won’t work and how to navigate a bad situation with honesty and integrity. On my bad days, I have to hype a bad product or make something out of nothing, often putting lipstick on the pig to try to hide the fact it’s a pig. Fortunately, since I am self-employed, I have more latitude in telling a client when he or she is wrong, but I recall many instances from my agency days when you grin and agree to whatever the client says because he or she is writing the check.

    It’s past time that those of us in PR stop worrying about the clip count and start worrying about the quality of the story and how we are managing our client’s reputation. Our profession is not about creating buzz but rather building brand and brand awareness. My role continues to broaden as I review web content, help with customer relations, and work with marketing and sales to help my clients promote their brand promise. I rely less on media calls these days and more on web optimization to do my job. That’s because I not just a publicist. I am a public relations professional.

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  • 08Feb

    The only constant is change. And when it comes to client relations, sometimes one of your outgrows the relationship and it comes time to break up. Breaking up is never easy, but when you know the relationship is no longer working, then you have to face facts and tell your client, “I’m sorry, but it’s over.”

    I have had a lot of those moments in the past few weeks. With the coming of the New Year, there are changes in strategy, budget, staff, and what used to be a great working relationship suddenly changes. Here’s a litany of my recent client break-up experiences:

    1. New company direction and budget reset for 2012 – marketing and PR support is no longer a priority.
    2. New marketing executive who decides to bring in his own team.
    3. Economy has reduced the client’s budget to the point where you lose money working for them at a reduced rate.
    4. The client’s demands are starting to take up more of your time, but they won’t  allocate more budget and they are increasingly slow to pay your invoices.

    breaking-upAny of these sound familiar? Working with clients can be a lot like dating. As long as the relationship has mutual benefit then you continue to work together, but if one or the other party becomes disenchanted, well… I actually see it as part of my mission to help my clients outgrow my services. If I am good at my job, the client company’s business will expand to the point where they need more marketing and PR resources, which means it’s time to hire more in-house staff or bring in a bigger firm. I’m always satisfied when that happens because it means I have done my job and they client has evolved to the next level. It’s all part of the business lifecycle.

    Still, breaking up is always hard to do. When it becomes clear that the working relationship is no longer of mutual benefit, it’s time to part company. Sometimes you will find that a client wants too much, or is detracting from more profitable work, or is just too difficult to work with. Pareto’s Principle of 80/20 indicates that 20 percent of your clients probably make up 80 percent of the workload. They also should make up 80 percent of your profits, but not necessarily contribute 80 percent of the headaches.

    When it’s time to say goodbye, it’s always difficult. You don’t want to turn away business, even if it gets in the way of finding something more lucrative. Somehow, the idea of firing a client seems to bad for business, when in reality, getting rid of a bad client is the best thing you can do for your operation.

    So how do you do it? Be professional and be up front. We all like to avoid conflict, and that leads to unclear communications and passive-aggressive behavior that just makes things more difficult. You want to end the relationship in a way that you both have respect for one another, and so you can use that soon-to-be-former client as a reference later on. Here are some tips I’ve borrowed from Nellie Akalp of CorpNet that you should find useful.

    1. Remove emotion from the equation. I know I tend to get pissed off at clients for any number of reasons. Don’t make decisions when you feel angry or hurt; it will be the wrong decision. Instead, assess the client relationship calmly and rationally and weigh the pros and cons before you decide to part ways. If you find your ego being bruised time and again by the same client, then listen to your instincts.

    2. Honor the contract. My contracts have a termination clause – typically from two weeks to 30 days. Be sure you have fulfilled your part of your contract and honored all of your obligations. It’s good business and will help you secure a reference if you need one, and keep you out of trouble. Beside, it’s just the right thing to do.

    3. Schedule a meeting. It’s so easy to send an email or leave a voice mail message. It’s also a cowardly way to avoid confrontation. Schedule a personal meeting or at least a phone call to explain your position, come to a mutual understanding, and discuss any transition. Meeting face-to-face may be uncomfortable but it’s the right thing to do. (You wouldn’t dump your girlfriend with a text message or PostIt would you?)

    4. Be succinct. Don’t rehash all the reasons you are firing the client, or all the good work you have done in the past. What’s the point? Just keep it short and sweet.

    5. Give sufficient notice. Don’t walk out in the middle of a project. Don’t leave the client in a bind by dropping everything. Honor the spirit as well as the specific terms of your contract and provide the best service you can right up to the end. That shows professionalism and a genuine desire to see your client succeed.

    6. Help with a transition. Offer alternative resources. Prepare all the material you need to help the client hand off the work to another resource. Acknowledge your contribution by offering to pass on what you have done and what you have learned so others who follow don’t have to start from scratch.

    Once you recognize the party’s over, leave gracefully. The professionalism of your exit and how you choose to terminate a client relationship says a lot about you, your firm, and your professionalism, and may make the difference in building your brand reputation or making an enemy with unkind words that may follow you to your next gig.

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  • 05Jan

    I have been talking to a lot of executives over the years, gathering information for press releases, case studies, and strategic plans. And as I have become more involved in customer relations, I spend a lot of time talking to IT managers and C-level executives about tactical issues that affect their business. Interviews are tough, because you don’t want just the Jack Webb interview – “Just the facts” – but you want to get the Piers Morgan interview, with deep and colorful, quotable responses.

    Many marketing and PR pros (and even journalists) are being consumed by the ever-increasing demand for content. They have lost the fine points of conducting a really meaningful interview that yields more than just who, what, when, where, and why. Interviewing is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced or you get rusty. I want to thank Carol Tice for providing a refresher course from the freelance writer’s perspective. Here are some of her tips on the best way to conduct an interview, adapted with some of my own experience to make them more relevant for the marketer:phoneinterview

    1. Email exchanges are not interviews. I have been relying more on email questionnaires for convenience, but the information I get from those exchanges is always sparse. I have seen more journalists and analysts doing the same thing, and I have to urge my clients to dig deeper and provide a little color with the facts when they write their responses. Carol also notes that emails are not really quotable as part of best journalistic practice; live interaction is always preferred. You always get more from a spontaneous exchange that is fresh and quotable.

    2. Make a connection. I find that the best interviews come when you establish a rapport with your contact. Take the time to set the stage with a couple of ice breaker questions about family, sports, the weather – something to forge a connection. If you need to use that contact in the future, then be sure to leave the door open for future discussions, and try to leave a thread to reestablish the link. If they are fans of the Red Sox, for example, open with a baseball reference they next time you call.

    3. The subject is as worried about the outcome as you are. Your job is to gather the information for that killer case study, application profile, or for use in a press release. You have something at stake in the conversation. So does the other party. He or she wants to make sure you get your facts straight and don’t make them look foolish to their boss, their peers, or their customers. Use that mutual concern to work together toward the common goal – getting the best story down on paper.

    4. Be prepared. Don’t walk in cold saying, “tell me what you do.” Do your homework. Read the company  web site. Understand the basics of their business. Research their business challenges. You want to bring sufficient knowledge to the interview to ask meaningful and revealing questions, not waste time asking questions to which you should already have the answers.

    5. Respect the interviewee’s time. Schedule your interview in advance, be prompt, and be brief. Executives don’t want to waste a lot of time talking to you so be focused and get the information you need. If possible, leave the door open for a follow-up call or contact for clarification or more information, when you can go into greater depth if you have to.

    6. Be prepared to follow up. Thank your sources. Keep them apprised of the progress for a specific project. Get them to review the content as part of your fact-checking. Be sure that you have your subject’s complete contact information, and determine who else in their organization should be involved in reviews and approvals, or who else might provide additional information.

    Developing marketing content is not the same as writing for a newspaper or a magazine, but the rules of a good interview are still the same. Your objective is to get the best story you can, with all the facts and in living color. The final approval process will be different. You will won’t just be fact-checking, but you usually share the finished product with the interviewee for formal approval. That doesn’t mean you should put the onus on them to fill in the blanks or correct a sloppy interview. Think like a reporter and get everything you need the first time around. It saves a lot of effort and embarrassment later on.

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  • 20Oct

    There are many times that I see public relations as a relatively thankless job. As with many professions, your bosses or clients typically call out what went wrong with a program or campaign or when the results are lackluster. They seldom let you know when you hit it out of the park and do outstanding work – after all, isn’t that what they are paying you for?

    client-agency-relationshipsHowever, one of the things that clients often fail to understand is that any successful PR or marketing support team is only as good as the collaborative support they receive. If they don’t give you sufficient support and information, then the results will be only as good as you can deliver without setting the right objectives and doing the right data gathering from the outset. I have a couple of clients who make our regular strategy call a low priority and just assume that the program can bump along without much input. The real problem clients are the ones who expect I am supposed to read their needs and fill in the gaps to make the program work in a vacuum. As with computing, if you put garbage in, you get garbage out.

    I spotted an article in Ragan’s PR Daily last week that addresses some of these issues. The idea is that as an external consultant, you need to be a collaborative partner with your clients, and that’s a door that swings both ways. You not only need to give your best expertise and effort as the contractor, but the client needs to be forthcoming with any relevant information and concerns, and set an expectation that you can both agree upon so the desired results of the program are set in advance and measurable. Here is some wisdom from the nine tips on how to promote good PR/client relationship from Ragan’s PR Daily:

    1. Communicate goals and expectations. You need to agree on the objectives of the program and the key performance indicators, i.e. how to measure success, in advance! If you deliver a huge clip book for a product launch, for example, but all the client cares about is coverage in Gizmodo which didn’t cover the story, then you failed, no matter how many articles you generate. However, if the client didn’t clearly set Gizmodo as a priority, the failure is theirs for not communicating expectations.
    2. Commit time to communicate. This is a two-way commitment between the client and the consultant. You both need to set aside time to discuss strategy, tactics, and reaffirm goals and expectations. Your team can only be as good as the quality of information and access given, so make time to talk on a regular, scheduled basis, as well as with ongoing email, instant messaging, whatever it takes.
    3. Be respectful of agency time. Many PR firms bill by the hour, and others, including mine, bill on a retained basis, although I track billable time to gauge performance against the retainer. Clients need to be respectful of agency time. If they take up all your time for too little return, you will be less inclined to go the extra mile when they really need it.
    4. Demand feedback. Feedback needs to come from the client about performance, but the client also should rely on the PR consulting team to provide independent input on media perception, brand reputation, and what the market buzz is saying about their brand. The PR firm’s role is to provide neutral insight into brand reputation, and the client should be open to feedback.
    5. Be transparent. The client needs to communicate business goals and impediments to success in an honest, frank manner to get frank feedback. The PR team is working under confidentiality, and to be effective they need to know the good, the bad, and the ugly.
    6. Manage expectations. One of the reasons I try to work only with senior decision makers is I know I will get the straight story on what the expectations are for the program. Most programs fail not because of execution, but because the objectives for the program weren’t well defined in the first place. You may reach the defined goal, but the end result may not be what the client really wants because they failed to set the proper expectations.
    7. Give credit where it’s due. Positive feedback helps fuel the PR team. We all like to be praised for doing a good job, and I know I work harder for clients who appreciate the work. I always praise my team when they perform, and I love to get praise from the client when we do a good job. It really fires up the team.
    8. Challenge the PR team to deliver more. Ask for new ideas and creative input and you’ll get it, and more. The more interesting the project, the better the effort.
    9. Be a strategic partner. Okay, I know that all agencies say they are strategic partners for their clients, but that strategic relationship only works if there is mutual respect and shared goals. If your client can engage in a way where you feel invested in their success as part of the team, then the performance and results will be that much greater that if you are just asked to handle the block-and-tackle tasks.

    Successful PR and marketing programs are build on successful client communications and a mutual commitment to achieving results. It has to be a cooperative effort where both parties commit the time and resources necessary to make the relationship work. Lack of commitment and lack of communications will be sure to have a negative impact on any program.

    (With special thanks to Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications, who authored the original article for Ragan’s PR Daily and for the blog MENG Blend.

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