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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!

  • 01Apr

    When you start to build a social media marketing campaign, you don’t just charge off and start posting comments and sharing random videos on Facebook. You need to consider your objectives and what you want to gain from social media engagement. You should have a strategy in mind and then use the right tactics to ensure your social media success.

    Here are five easy steps to help you succeed with your social media marketing strategy:

    1. Understand your objectives. Do you have clearly defined goals in mind for your social media program? What are you trying to accomplish? Increase brand recognition? Build an online following? Expand your mailing list? Whatever the objective, be clear about what you hope to achieve so you know success when you see it. (And remember, selling through social media is not acceptable so don’t link social media objectives to sales goals.)

    2. Know your social media channels. Understand how to engage with followers on each social media channel. Facebook, for example, is good to sharing brand information and engaging with customers and prospects. Twitter is good for distributing instant information (it’s been great for those looking for their favorite food truck), and for trending data. LinkedIn is great for business-to-business interaction, especially through the forums. Pinterest is useful for sharing goods and success stories, those “favorite things” that build business. Understanding how your audience uses each channel is the first step to understanding how to engage.

    3. Listen first… The biggest mistake most social media newcomers make is diving in before they test the waters. Take time to listen to what is being said before joining the conversation. You want to go with the flow and attract attention rather than act like a party crasher.

    4. …then engage. Once you understand the nature of the conversation, you can engage appropriately. For example, you can use blog content to promote conversation with contacts on Facebook, or you can post other people’s content. On LinkedIn, however, you can use the same blog but turn it into a question for use in the forums: “Is this your experience?” “How would you handle this situation?”

    5. Measure the results. Set milestones and measure the results. Are you looking for more likes? More followers? More comments? How many new contacts can you now engage with directly, and perhaps promote a separate sales call? Choose metrics that are meaningful to your business and measurable.

    Now assess your progress, and your process. Are you getting the kind of quality social media engagement you want to build your business? Are you getting enough social media exposure, in the right places? Identify the weaknesses in your program, make the necessary adjustments and then rinse and repeat. Part of the secret to social media success is consistency and frequency, so continue to engage as often as you can with quality comments and content.

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  • 18Dec

    I just received the end-of-the-year wrap up from my friends at High-Tech Connect, including some predictions on what’s going to drive marketing budgets in 2013. The insights, taken from their own observations and the results of a survey by StrongMail as reported in MarketingProfs, indicates that social media and online search are going to continue to drive marketing programs in the year ahead. And when it’s all about feeding the Web, those who can deliver the content are going to benefit.

    According the the StrongMail "2013 Marketing Trends Survey", social media is commanding the lion’s share of marketing dollars (46.2 percent). Spending is going to Facebook, viral marketing, Twitter, and the means to manage those campaigns.

    Here’s how MarketingProfs explains how the social media channels stack up:image

    Marketers rank Facebook as the most valued social media channel (receiving a score of 1.92 on a scale of 1 to 8 with 1 being most important). Twitter is No. 2 (2.76), followed by YouTube (3.48), LinkedIn (4.30), Google+ (4.68), Pinterest (5.06), Instagram (6.53), and Yelp (7.27).

    What do all of these social media channels have in common?

    They are all hungry for content.

    Here are some of the coming trends in marketing according to the survey findings (with editorial interpretation from High Tech Connect and myself):

    • Executive as brand is being driven by social media. The concept of “executive as brand” is not new, just ask the folks at Virgin or Apple, and as executives continue to gain visibility, social media will increasingly become their megaphone to speak to their target customers. Those executives who learn now to establish a rapport with their market base, without pretention or a sales pitch and with humility and authenticity, will come out ahead. The wise ones will look for help from strong communicators and writers who can help them package and polish their personal brand.
    • Content is still king! Social media is hungry, and needs to be fed regularly to entice followers to continue to follow. And search engines and online visitors need fresh information to keep then interested. Marketers will be seeking out new content sources, including written material, audio, and video, to keep social media sated.
    • Mobile is moving up. More folks are accessing information while on the go, using smartphones and tablets to access data and social media wherever they are. Mobile marketing is following the trend, and while more companies embrace BYOD and enable the new mobile workforce, professionals are turning to their handhelds to deliver up-to-the-minute, business-critical information.
    • The tried and true is tired. Interestingly, the tried and true programs, like public relations and direct mail, are taking a back seat. Public relations is down to 13.9 percent of the budget, and direct mail 15.5 percent.

    So as marketing programs continue to find new channels to reach consumers and potential customers directly, through conversation and social media content. So to feed these tactical programs, professionals will need more writing and content development services capable of keeping up with social media marketing demand. That’s where we come in; helping our clients tell their story and talk to their customers with customized content that is compelling and that promotes conversation.

    Happy holidays and here’s to a prosperous 2013 for all of us.

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  • 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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  • 23Apr

    I’m sorry. I have been remiss in keeping the PRagmatist up to date in recent weeks. I realized it’s been more than a month since my last blog post so it is high time I added some fresh thinking here to share with you.

    But then, I’m just following the trend of corporate America. According to a new research report from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, corporate blogging is clearly on the decline:

    Of the companies they surveyed, only 37% were blogging in 2011. That’s down from 50% in 2010. If you look only at Fortune 500 companies, the percentage drops to 23%.

    Why are corporate blogs falling out of favor? USA Today says, mostly because Facebook and Twitter are so much easier to manage.

    Well that makes sense. I heard a news report today that with the pending Facebook IPO there are now more than 900 million active Facebook users. Twitter says they have hit 500 million users. Clearly people are hanging out on Facebook and Twitter as their online water cooler, and that’s where a lot of companies want to be seen, with an impact.

    And as Cynthia Boris points out in her blog, Marketing Pilgrim, imagesCA29WMKZ

    Keeping up a blog is a lot harder than people think. I’ve dealt with dozens of clients who jump in with grand plans of updating every day! They soon learn that updating even once a week is a chore. It’s amazing how quickly seven days pass when you need to come up with a fresh blog post.

    Facebook and Twitter are easier to keep up with, but everyone is throwing their pebbles into the same pond so it’s harder to make a splash, let alone a ripple. People with interesting things to say will rule. Just ask George Takei who has 1.7 million Facebook “likes.” He reposts material from his fan-base and occasionally sprinkles in information about his latest project or a political message. The funny posts keep it interesting so he can deliver the stuff that matters. For most companies, keeping it interesting and staying on brand message is a real challenge.

    What blogging does does for you is give you focus. It allows you to tell a story in a way that you can’t do in 140 characters or a status update. It allows you to elaborate on an idea in a way that builds a different kind of rapport with your audience. Why does corporate blogging matter?

    • Blogging lets you tell a story in detail, with nuances and context.
    • Blogging gives you an independent voice isolated from the social media noise. If takes you away from the cocktail party  for an intimate conversation.
    • Blogging gives you greater searchability. You build more web credibility and Google credibility with a blog than you can with Facebook posts or tweets.

    I like blogging because it forces my clients to focus their best brand thinking, and it’s that thinking that drives outreach through Facebook and Twitter. I consider the blog home base of the mother ship; the incubator where you can test and refine ideas before you take them out on the road.

    So while the survey says that corporate blogging may be on the decline, those companies that are passionate about their brand and sharing that passion with their customers and others will continue to blog. It’s still the best forum to tell a complete story.

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  • 24Feb

    As a marketing and communications professional, I appreciate the challenges of launching any kind of customer outreach program. I have recently been working on a marketing campaign for a client to reach their customer base with a new product, and we have been walking the tightrope of how much outreach is too much? These customers already get two or three regular communications each week with pertinent research and other data. How many times can we add a sales pitch to the mix without alienating our clients? Just because a contact opts into a mailing list doesn’t give you the right to bombard them daily with spam.

    Which brings me to Orchard Supply and the debacle of their new customer loyalty program.

    spam_jpgI went to the hardware store last weekend in search of some sandpaper and stain to refinish a dining table for our deck. When I pulled into the parking lot I noticed a large banner announcing Club Orchard, Really Useful Rewards. My first reaction was: “Cool! Now I get rewards for my home improvement projects. Guess I’ll have to stop going to Home Depot.” So I signed up.

    I got my first communication for the rewards program today.

    Between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. this morning I received not one, not two, but 20 identical “Welcome to Club Orchard” messages, each inviting me to register online. I found this annoying and laughable at the same time. So I hit reply and basically told OSH corporate to tell their marketing department to get their act together. Naturally, the email bounced, so I had to do some investigating to find the right link, navigate to an online form, and lodge my complaint with OSH corporate. I immediately received a trouble-ticket acknowledgement via email, and about four hours later I received a message thanking me for my efforts and concerns. Shortly after that, I received another canned message of apology – obviously a blanket response to their screw-up earlier in the day. And still later in the day I received TWO MORE INVITATIONS within 10 minutes to register for their new customer loyalty program.

    So between 5:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. I have received 25 separate email communications from Orchard Supply OF NO VALUE TO ME WHATSOEVER.

    There is so much wrong with this program launch:

    1. It took five full days to send a welcome message for the new program. I know I entered my email and telephone number when I checked out at the register. Why wasn’t that information relayed to headquarters and used to IMMEDIATELY generate a welcome message waiting for me when I got home? The system is automated, and it should be simple matter to demonstrate how much the company values my trade with a timely welcome.image

    2. Why do I have to register twice? I registered for this program once at the store with an email and a phone number, then had to register a second time online. This may be one way to address the double opt-in concern but it is clearly awkward. Wouldn’t a confirmation email or some simpler, more customer-friendly approach suffice?

    2. No one bothered to test the message server. It is INEXCUSABLE for anyone to send out the same identical message every six minutes for two hours. The first rule of any marketing campaign is test, test again, and then test some more, and that’s not only valid for marketing messages, but the the delivery technology you are using as well.

    3. The feedback loop is clearly broken. When I correspond with editors, customers, or any group en masse, I am damned sure they have a means to communicate with me simply and easily. I try to use my own email address so an email reply goes right to me. Barring that, I make sure there is some easy way to respond to an email message beyond the required opt-out option. Two-way communications is the key to any successful campaign.

    4. There is no excuse for sloppiness and inattention to simple details. The shear sloppiness of this launch tells me a lot about this company’s marketing capabilities and sets a very low expectation for their customer service program. If they can’t get a simple thing like registering for a customer loyalty program right, then how can I be assured that they can offer reliable in-store service? Is this level of incompetence a reflection of the company overall? (Maybe the clock they used in their email message is really a ticking time bomb.)

    Granted, managing an effective customer loyalty program can be challenging, but when it’s done right, it really pays off. By way of contrast, I give you Safeway.

    clubcardWe all need groceries, and just as I can choose from a number of hardware stores, grocery chains abound. I like to shop at Safeway largely because of my Safeway Club Card. Granted, I have to drive farther to shop at Safeway, parking is not always as convenient, and occasionally they don’t have the specific product I am looking for but I still prefer to shop at Safeway. It’s because the Safeway Club Card has real value for me:

    1. It saves me money. I can see the savings at the register with the card discounts, and they typically are 20% or more.

    2. I can choose how I shop. If I am in a hurry, I often use the self checkout with my discount card – it’s fast and easy, and I still save money.

    3. I get in-store coupons. As a Safeway Card shopper, I get discount coupons at the register. Some are valuable, some are not, but I always check to see what might be useful for my next trip.

    4. I get paperless online coupons. Safeway’s new online shopping program gives me a heads up on sales, discounts, and even can register for product discounts online. The savings are automatically granted at the register when I use my card.

    What’s the common thread here? It’s savings, and its service. Using my Safeway card is easy and painless, and it always delivers a return. And I have multiple ways to get a discount. So it’s worth my going out of my way to shop at Safeway.

    Based on today’s experience, I am not sure I can say the same about Orchard. I guess I’ll have to go back to shopping at Home Depot.

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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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  • 01Dec

    In our last blog entry, we highlighted some of Roger McNemee’s predictions for the future, one of which is that indexed search is on its way out. Whether or not Google will dominate search a decaded from now is in question, but for now Google is the king of search, so how they optimize search matters.

    Here is an interesting infographic care of Silicon Valley Watcher on the latest iteration of search, and therefore SEO. I wanted to share the attached infographic which demonstrates how Google is changing its thinking about search.

    Google Longtail Keywords.

    Infographic by SEO Book

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  • 13Nov

    Social networking is more art than science. I try to instruct my clients in social networking techniques,and some have a natural affinity for it while others are, shall we say, socially awkward. Using Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter effectively requires a certain knack; a natural affinity for communicating online and keeping your followers engaged while staying on message. Here’s an example of one lady who has that affinity.

    I had the privilege of meeting Kathleen Flinn at a book signing a few weeks. Kathleen is the author of two books, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry about her adventure studying at the Cordon Bleu, and her new book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, where she takes a step outside the “food bubble” to help nine homemakers become fearless cooks in their own kitchens. My wife had served as Kathleen’s Bay Area escort on her previous book tour and Kathleen not only remembered her but was genuinely excited to see us at her new book signing, which is what makes her so good at social networking. She is genuinely interested in people and it comes across online.

    engage_cartoonI have been following Kathleen online for some time and am very impressed with her social media approach. She is not pushy or obnoxious, but maintains a real dialogue with her followers that is sincere, interesting, and always on message. She is interested in all aspects of food, but not as a “foodie” or a food snob, but as good cooking and everyday foods can be transformed into great cuisine by any cook willing to wield a knife. She uses her blog effectively, finding topics that are interesting, personal, and always worth reading. And she uses her blog to feed her Facebook page and other social media to build her following. I, for one, started looking forward to seeing her new book long before it’s release because Kathleen was very good at sharing little insights here and there. She never overly flogs her books, but you always know where she is and what she’s up to, and following her online promotes a level of interest and intimacy I don’t get from many so-called social media experts.

    So how do you promote your own social media following? Be genuine, but also avoid being the online boor. Here are some of the basics that everyone needs to remembers about being genuine through social media, with thanks to Aliza Sherman, who originally compiled a variation of this list for GigaOm:

    1. Respect the medium. Remember that the Internet is an information tool that was not originally created as a collaboration tool, not a marketing medium. Successful use of the Web requires that you respect the spirit of the Web; it’s about collaboration not hard-sell advertising.

    2. Listen. The biggest mistake people make when they use social media is they assume it is a broadcast medium. It’s not. It’s about collaboration and conversation, that that means listening first. Listen to the conversation threads. Determine what is appropriate and what is not. Get a better sense of what people are saying and what the tone of the conversation feels like before you barge in with new information or an expert opinion.engage

    3. Add to the conversation. Don’t just appear, post your piece, and log off. Engage! Add value! Promote conversation within the community. Remember, in most circles, hyping your product or service doesn’t help anyone but you.

    4. Be responsive. Remember conversation is continuous. Answer questions. Respond to comments. Be timely in your response. In other words, respect your visitors and followers by actually listening and talking to them.

    5. Share with others. The Web is a global medium that allows everyone access to valuable information. Share your information, time, and inspiration to fuel conversation.

    6. Credit where credit is due. Share other people’s ideas but give them credit. Repost and retweet to add to the conversation (not to promote spam) and be sure to give credit to the source.

    7. Don’t be a spammer. Spam will inevitably isolate you from the conversation. It’s impolite, and it’s dumb. Don’t just hype your wares, but talk about what you know, politely and in the context of the conversation.

    8. Be authentic. Authenticity is the key to social media success. If you represent a brand, you can still be authentic in your conversation without violating the integrity of the brand. Just be real. Admit your fears and flaws as well as your successes. Be interesting by being authentic.

    9. Collaborate, don’t compete. The idea is to add to the conversation, not to outshout the other guy. Try to find ways to get together to expand the reach of the conversation so everyone benefits. There’s room for everybody.

    10. Practice social responsibility. If you do good, you will get good in return. Embrace the authenticity that the web has to offer to not only expand the conversation, but to help others seeking insight and information. Don’t just sell your stuff. Find ways to give back to the greater community by doing good. You can help spread the word and make your corner of the Web a little better.

    If you remember these simple guidelines as you engage online, your social media conversations will be more satisfying, and ultimately more profitable. Don’t shout. Engage.

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  • 04Nov

    I have been spending a good portion of my work day today working on a marketing Request for Proposal (RFP) for a local educational institution. While I have been reviewing this RFP in detail, I have been reading between the lines, trying to determine what has been predetermined. What were the assumptions that went into creating this document? Did they already decide that the end product needs to be green or the program targeting left-handed people? What vital part of the back story have they failed to include?

    The challenge with trying to complete a Request for Proposal is that the prospective client has already thought-through their needs for you and you have to plug your services into their template, which means you automatically start at a disadvantage. They are looking for an expert to solve their problem, but through the RFP process they have already defined their problem in a way that they have already decided on a specific solution and so they are looking for a vendor to provide that unique service. If you don’t fit the solution profile, you are out of the running before you can show what you bring to the problem.Dilbert_bid

    But does it make sense to start with a well-defined set of assumptions in the form of an RFP? When you structure an RFP, are you asking for what you really need, or has the RFP process already boxed you into the wrong corner before you even start? Let’s consider the following example:

    A company is struggling to build its sales pipeline. What are they going to do? The head of sales and marketing decides that a kickass advertising campaign is needed to raise market visibility, since the company is new to the market. So they put out an RFP for an ad agency and hire a creative award-winning firm. The firm develops the kickass campaign that gets lots of visibility, a lot of comment in social media and at trade shows, wins a few awards, and helps make the company a household word. However, the phone doesn’t ring and the client company doesn’t get email requests for sales information. They defined their problem – lead generation – and then defined the wrong solution to the problem – advertising. Instead, they should have gone to different marketing creative firms and asked for help with lead generation. In return, they would have gotten more creative proposals with a blended strategy of branding, direct marketing, and prospect outreach that would have added contacts to the sales pipeline.

    Or consider the RFP I am currently working with. The assumptions are extensive and the proposal spans a broad range of activities. But is all that activity really necessary? What is the real objective – something that is not clearly spelled out in the RFP. Is it to recruit new students, help with fund-raising, increase community awareness, increase market awareness, or all of the above? If it is all of the above, what is the order of priority?

    Through the RFP process, this institution is working on the assumption that they need EVERYTHING, from advertising to PR and social media. But is that an effective use of their budget? And would it make more sense to segment this process into multiple proposals so you can find the best-of-breed service providers for each component: advertising, PR, social media, direct mail, etc? (Let’s face it, no one agency can do all these tasks well.)

    So by starting with an RFP process, the company or organization is limiting its options. Rather than trying to define the solution to their problem and shop for vendors to provide the solution, why not solicit expert help in defining their problem as well as the solution?

    Okay, there is a risk here. If you bring in various agencies to help you define your problem, the agency will define their problem in terms they understand, and can solve. For example, if you ask an ad agency to help build sales, they will look at the problem in terms of market awareness and offer an advertising-driven solution, since that’s what they know how to do. You ask a PR firm for help with the same problem then you get a PR proposal to address sales growth. However, if you have a smart firm or multiple firms bidding on the same project, you will get a blended recommendation that includes a number of program elements, many of them right on target.

    This is where you, as the prospect looking for help, need to set aside your assumptions and take a hard look at the suggestions offered. Assess the recommendations based on what you need and what you know about your problem. Ask for ways to measure results, and see if the metrics address your requirements. See if there are creative ideas in the proposals that you haven’t thought about before and how those ideas change your thinking.

    The best proposals are a collaborative process between the prospect and the agency. It’s a dating ritual. You meet, compare notes, learn about one another, and see if you are well suited for one another. If you start with a checklist of predetermined criteria, e.g blonde, blue-eyed, six-feet tall, Master’s degree in engineering,etc., then you may overlook some great potential partners.

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  • 12Oct

    lampoon

    The Web has given new power to consumers as well as to marketers. The power of Yelp and online protests have been proven time and again as noisy consumers who complain about bad customer service or faulty products win out over corporations. Yet it still surprises me that name brands continue to abuse their customers in the name of greed and expect customers to just accept it.

    Netflix is the latest example. If you have been following the Netflix story, you know that Netflix first decided to raise its prices as part of the strategy to monetize its online streaming service, then they announced they were going to split their DVD operation and their streaming service in two with the launch of Qwickster. The customer backlash was substantial. Complaints started rolling in and the blogosphere was abuzz with commentary about Netflix’s insensitivity to its customers and its stupidity. It’s not as though they were the only game in town. Hulu Plus has been gaining momentum and there are other video services available.

    Netflix arrogantly was counting on its customer loyalty to see them through.They assumed that the goodwill they had built with their customers gave them the right to abuse that customer loyalty.

    Clearly, Netflix is not Apple. They don’t command the same rabid customer loyalty, but they also don’t offer the same level of customer service or the same level of innovation. Apple has build a trusted relationship with their customers. They have created a unique and consistent customer experience, and they keep their customers well informed about product changes and innovations, usually with a lot of fanfare and support.

    Which brings me to Comcast. In my household we have been having a challenging experience with Comcast Internet access over the past week. Comcast has an anti-virus service they are touting called Constant Guard, a malware security suite from Xfinity. This apparently is a free package offered to Comcast subscribers, but instead of promoting it through conventional opt-in marketing, Comcast is using malware marketing to force customers to adopt it. Comcast apparently monitors virus activity on computers connected to their network, whether you want them to our not and no matter what anti-virus software you use. And when Comcast sees a preset level of malware attacks, they hit you with their own popup that says your computer is infected with a bot. The popup requires you to make several clicks to a customer service center to deactivate it.

    We have four computers in our family, including both Macs and PCs, and they are protected by different anti-virus packages. We have all experienced this malware marketing program from Comcast, and we have all had issues getting rid of their popup. At first, we were naturally suspicious and assumed this was a malware attack, but after a couple of calls to a bewildered support team we finally found a representative at Comcast who admitted, “Yep, it’s ours.” In fact, we received a very empathetic call back from the regional customer service executive, who also seemed baffled and filed a trouble ticket. Ultimately, we received a call from another service rep who basically told us, “Yeah, it’s ours, We have uncovered tens of thousands of attacks on your computer. If you want it all to go away, just download our free software. And by the way, we are perfectly within our rights to do this so get over yourself” (or words to that effect).

    So this is how Comcast is selling its triple-play strategy, although I think it’s more like three strikes and you’re out. Comcast wants to force you to use their anti-virus solution, whether you want it or not. (I also should note that a scan of all the computers turned up no evidence of a problem, so clearly whatever protection we have in place seems to be working.)

    Let’s hope this is not a harbinger of things to come. Consumers should always have a choice as to what services they want to buy and what price they are willing to pay. There are times when even free looks too expensive.

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