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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!

  • 04Feb

    Public relations professionals have always been storytellers. Our job has traditionally been to identify the interesting storyline in the client’s company or product and articulate that story to reporters, editors, and analysts, who in turn will report it to their audiences.

    The rules of professional storytelling have changed.

    Now, instead of pitching stories to the media, we are more often telling stories to help clients attract customers. More magazines are abandoning print in favor web publishing. And with this transition, we are seeing more B2B and consumer media sites that are hungry for fresh content, and fewer journalists and staffers producing articles. The void is being filled by contributors from all areas, especially PR and business. As Christopher Penn, Vice President of Marketing Technology at Shift Communications, writes:

    “As traditional media either evolves or dies, the traditional media relations-only model of PR will evolve or die with it. Public relations work will transform more into earned, owned, and paid media generation, and PR professionals will find themselves increasingly doing work that transcends the traditionally rigid boundaries of earned, owned, or paid media.”

    As professional storytellers, trained PR professionals are in a better position to create quality content  that is more relevant to our client’s market audience. With the explosion of online content designed to drive SEO, our job today is to help the client tell their story in a compelling way to build audience loyalty, not just create link bait. Effective storytelling builds market audience and promotes audience loyalty by delivering relevant and valuable information.

    Effective PR can drive brand messaging. If your client has a strong value story, it will influence your storyline and permeate all aspects of the client’s content strategy, from the web site to social media to white papers. Smart marketers often start with the PR strategy to develop market messages that can then be applied to the rest of the marketing program.

    Once you have a strong storyline, you can tell the story again and again in different formats. Repurposing content using well-thought-out messages across different media will promote a consistent brand identity and, if you do it right, engage your target market on multiple levels. What starts out as a press release or press pitch should become a blog post, white paper, social media post, or take whatever form makes sense to reinforce the message and reengage the audience.

    Producing relevant content should create a customer feedback loop. As you disseminate new content through various channels you can measure customer engagement by monitoring which channels drive different kinds of traffic. The more you uncover about how your audience engages with the content, the more relevant you can make that content.

    It’s a brave new world for PR and that means developing new skillsets to help keep your clients’ stories relevant and engaging. Think beyond the old media relations strategy and embrace audience engagement. Learn more about SEO, paid placement, new content applications and formats, and how to apply new tools to drive market awareness. Those who can adapt and shape the inbound marketing strategy will be able to demonstrate real client value in measurable ways.

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  • 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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  • 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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  • 19Jan
    Social Media Theorist Clay Shirky addresses the broader implicaitons of SOPA and PIPA

     

    Okay, I ripped off this video to share with you here. I am not going to make money sharing this content, but if the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation pass, my sharing this information would become illegal.

    I have some thoughts on what Clay Shirky offers in this particular TED talk. Whether you agree with what Shirky has to say or not, I do know that mainstream media producers are rabid about protecting their intellectual property. As they should be! As a content producer myself, I understand the value of copyright and being able to protect your ideas and your work so someone else doesn’t steal it for their own gain. However, as I understand it, the new SOPA and PIPA legislation now before Congress will do more than just protect IP, but it will eliminate the ability to openly share a lot of the information we exchange today. Social media and the Web as we know it may disappear.

    During my formative years as a trade journalist, I watched the copyright wars play out in the home video business, in the satellite TV business, and elsewhere. Video advocates like Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America were incredibly threatened by new technology such as Betamax, the VHS video recorder, DVDs, and computers. Digitization of entertainment made it easier to disseminate over channels such as the Internet, and led to the birth of whole new sub industries, both legal and illegal, to address content protection. I was part of the rise and fall of the home satellite industry which boomed when home owners miles from the nearest cable link or TV station suddenly discovered they could get TV signals direct from the satellite, until the content owners like HBO and ESPN decided to scramble their signal to prevent theft. That led to the birth of the underground black box industry, as well as new industries like DirecTV. Technological progress has often been the result of the struggle between information dissemination and content protection, but where do you draw the line?

    What constitutes fair use of IP? In my mind it has to do with profit. If you are not stealing content for profit, or maliciously trying to undermine someone’s copyright for illicit purposes, then if you purchased the content, it should be yours to use as you wish. Apple has been progressive in this regard; they figured out a way to sell you music that you can play on your computer, on your portable music player, or burn to a CD for your car and still protect the artist’s copyright. If I buy a movie, I want the license to include the ability to watch on my computer, on my TV, or on my phone if I choose without having to buy the same product multiple times. It would be nice to share parts of that content with family and friends, assuming I am not undermining the artist’s rights to earn a profit from their work. But where do you draw the line?

    I believe in protecting IP, but not at the expense of locking down all freedom of expression. As Shirky notes, consumers like to share as well as consume, and creative sharing will actually increase profit from IP, not limit it. What the “old school” media have failed to grasp is the power of the Internet, especially social media, to sell their product. I buy music, movies, books, and other digital products because I get to sample it; because people send me clips or I found online sound bites that inspire me to purchase the original work.

    If you take away the freedom to share content, then the flow of information will slow to a trickle and we all will suffer, including the media companies behind SOPA and PIPA. If sharing digital content becomes illegal, then we all run the risk of becoming criminals.

    Let’s all work to defeat legislative stupidity and promote a fairer, wiser alternative.

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  • 22Dec

    I just set up a new Google+ destination page for a client this week. Now I am assisting with posting content to their blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now Google+. Does this really help with brand visibility? Of course it does, assuming you can build the appropriate following in each channel. The trick is knowing what sorts of content work in the different social media channels. I find Facebook, for example, gives me a strong general following, but LinkedIn is more valuable for professional peer-to-peer contact. The jury is still out on Google+, and Twitter has some value, although I think most participants just like to hear themselves tweet.

    If you are confused about where to post your social media content, it’s not rocket science. Consider the context for the message and who is watching where. This illustration although quite funny is also instructive. It’s important to be seen online, and you need to lay a trail of virtual breadcrumbs that lead back to branded content that helps you tell your story. However, if your followers are on a low-carb diet and want something other than breadcrumbs, be prepared to feed them something more appealing or lose them. That’s why the content you post to Facebook should be different from what you post to LinkedIn, or even Twitter.

    I hope this gives you a chuckle. Enjoy.

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  • 29Nov

    TED always has something interesting to share. Here is a new presentation from Roger McNamee, a follower and investor in disruptive technology. Here are some interesting insights posted on TED earlier this month, with six big “aha” ideas he predicts will shape Internet business. McNamee’s prediction is that the future will be all about engagement, with Apple leading the charge. Here is a synopsis:

    1. Windows is dying. (Okay, you can stop cheering now). McNamee’s point is that workstations and enterprise software are become dinosaurs that will be made extinct by the meteoric rise of handhelds and other devices that can access the Internet.

    2. Google and Indexed Search is on its way out. The index has become full of garbage because the web is full of garbage. Now search is becoming specialized with destinations like Wikipedia, Yelp, Twitter, Tripadvisor, etc. The point is that Google’s dominance in search will be eclipsed by specialty resources that don’t serve up garbage with the index. Google commoditized content, but users are looking for more than commodities. Index search doesn’t work well on smart phones.

    3. Open source, i.e. the Web, has migrated to branded, value-added content. Apps rule over freeware. Apple will ship 100 million Internet-enabled devices, and those device users will be hungry for copyrighted apps.

    4. HTML 5 is coming,and it promotes engagement. With this new programming language you can construct a web page with embedded interactivity and video and audio without Flash and other clunky bolt-ons. Now you can create a differentiated and complete experience in one native language that works on various browser platforms.This is the key to total engagement, and you don’t need the commoditized providers.

    5. Tablets are dominant. McNamee predicts that the Apple will sell more iPads than they sold iPods and it will become the dominant engagement platform. The iPad revolution is another reason Windows is dead.

    6. Social is a sideshow. Facebook has won the social media race and the rest of the social starters have to follow Facebook to pick up the crumbs, like Zynga which has built its market on Facebook’s dominance. But McNamee sees social as a feature, not a platform. What’s coming is a new means of engagement.

    So we are looking toward a world where everything is an app, and every advertisement becomes a store. You can create and satisfy demand in the same place, through immersive engagement.

    McNamee may be totally wrong. I believe enterprise technology will continue to prosper as long as there is a need for closed network systems. Everyone has been talking about the cloud recently but it’s value and security has yet to be truly proven. And will handhelds really replace laptops or computers? They certainly will pick up market share, but who knows if they will become dominant anytime soon. I don’t feel qualified to talk about HTML 5, but I know that before there was Blu-ray the television industry had been talking about HDTV since I started writing about it in 1978.

    It will be interesting to see how accurate McNamee’s predictions are. Share and enjoy!

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  • 21Nov

    There are probably still a few skeptics out there who question the value of social media. For those naysayers, I will point you to recent news reports that companies are demanding to retain social media contact from fired employees. Clearly some companies see real value in social media intellectual property.

    I recently rand across a post by Cynthia Boris, who blogs under The Marketing Pilgrim, that poses the question, “Are Twitter twitter-confidentialfollowers a company asset?” Are social media contacts considered proprietary information, like a customer list or competitive information? Apparently that premise is being tested in the U.S. courts, as Boris explains:

    But what about your Twitter account? In the case of an employee whose job it is to update the company Twitter, it’s an easy call. It’s not so easy when you’re talking about journalists or other Tweeters who blur the line between business and personal.

    Such a case is currently being tested in court, but it’s not going so well for either side. The case in question is between PhoneDog and Noah Kravitz, who used to work for them as a reporter. The object of desire is a Twitter account with 17,000 followers formerly known as @PhoneDog_Noah.

    According to the original news report, “a federal judge in San Francisco refused to dismiss news site PhoneDog’s complaint which argued that a Twitter password and the identity of followers was a trade secret.” Apparently Kravitz merely changed the name of his account from PhoneDog_Noah and kept tweeting. So who owns those contacts? Is it the same as a journalist’s sources, which go with him when he leaves a job?

    lockedoutThere is a similar case for LinkedIn contacts being tested in the U.K. for the first time, a British court is reported to have ordered an employee to turn over his LinkedIn contacts to an employer. According to the report in the Telegraph, this case “highlights the tension between businesses encouraging employees to use social networking websites for work but then claiming that the contacts remain confidential information at the end of their employment.”

    Now it’s one thing if you were hired to promote the company using social media as one of your forums. I can understand where it becomes part of your job description and the content, including the contacts, would revert to the company. But what if you are using your own contacts and your own network as an extension of your job? Does that mean you have to surrender your contact information for Aunt Millie or the High School Class of 1985 because you got fired?

    Commenting on the UK case for Forbes, guest columnist David Coursey notes:

    Meanwhile, more and more companies are issuing policies, and asking employees to sign contracts and agreements, that spell out who owns social media contacts. According to a recent study by DLA Piper, a third of employers have disciplined employees for something posted on a social media site. The research also found that 21% of employers had to give their employees a warning for posting something derogatory about a colleague or about the business itself.

    One thing is clear, it’s time to start updating your contracts, whether you are working as a full-time employee or as an agency or consultant. Intellectual property is becoming increasingly valuable, and they could be an increasingly valuable asset that should follow you as you build your personal network to further your own career or advance your business. If you are going to use social media as part of your job, be sure you understand who owns the social media content and the contacts. If there is a doubt, duplicate – create a professional social media persona and a personal persona and keep them separate (although you might enlist the same followers to track both accounts). But whatever you do, be sure you know where you stand with your clients or employers. If you aren’t sure, ask! It’s better to come to an understanding now rather than getting into a tussle later.

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