3 Things to Do Before You Start a Blogger Outreach Program

Colleen Pence, Debi Pfitzenmaier and Fran Stephenson at PRSA Luncheon

Colleen Pence (from left), Debi Pfitzenmaier and Fran Stephenson at PRSA San Antonio.

If you think that reaching out to bloggers might be important for your brand, then you are joining hundreds of companies who consider bloggers a vital component of their marketing plan.

But before you get started, here are three things to consider to make the engagement worth your while.

The first consideration is to make sure your efforts are integrated into your overall marketing plan.  It may sound boring, but if you can’t answer the question “Why are we doing this?” with a sound answer that reflects sound business objectives, it’s quite easy to miss the mark.

Just last week, I sat on a panel with two of the smartest local bloggers in San Antonio which addressed this topic to the local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Colleen Pence of SA Mom Blogs and Debi Pfitzenmaier of SA Busy Kids have built strong regional blogs and each has their niche, even though both address elements of family life. Within hours of our presentation, one of them got a pitch that was so far off the mark from what they would consider appropriate for their blogs, it reinforces my second point.

The second thing to do before you start a blogger outreach program is to research your targets. This key element is often forgotten or ignored by many brands when dealing with bloggers.  You need to find out who they are, what they are interested in and make sure they are a ‘love match’ with your brand.

The third thing an organization should do before incorporating bloggers into their marketing plan is PLAN.  Bloggers are different from reporters in that sometimes they do it for love and sometimes they do it for money. But they almost always have built their blog presence in addition to something else they do.  A cursory phone call to the blogger a day or two before the event is not considered advance planning. Spending time on their blog, reading their posts and finding out what interests them is more relevant research.

Integration, research and planning. If you do these three things before you begin a blogger outreach program, your program is destined to be successful.

Retail Fails but Travel Wins: 3 Stories about Customer Experience

Are your customers having good, bad or GREAT experiences? I recently had 3 different service experiences in each of these categories which really surprised me, and not always in a good way.  Let’s start with the bad surprise.

Retail Fail

When trying to make a purchase at a large department store, I found that the employee in that section was too busy chatting with another employee to notice that I circled her department 5 times.  I was ready to purchase; she was not ready to help me. I left without spending any money there and posted about it on my Facebook page.  (see picture below).  The irony of this bad service story is that I have been a customer at this store for more than 10 years.  Now I doubt I will go back.  It’s not the only department store in my city.  I have choices.

facebookfailpost

Good Restaurant Service

Last week, I traveled with my husband to Dallas for a business meeting.  We were staying at the Marriott in Irving, near the DFW airport.  I had breakfast alone in the restaurant and was immediately treated well by my waiter, David.  He asked if I was visiting Dallas, what brought me here, what my plans were for the day.  I asked for shopping recommendations and he gave me three suggestions. Then, he went and got a map from the front desk and marked the suggestions on it for me. I sent the Marriott Corporate Offices an e-mail about David.

Great Hotel Fix

IMG_1382Two weeks ago, I attended a conference and in the frantic preparation to get ready to leave town, I threw all my clean, but wrinkled clothes into my bag and decided I would press them all when I got there.  After I checked into the Omni Bayfront in Corpus Christi, I got out the iron and ironing board to get the pressing out of the way.  The sole plate on the iron was burned and I did not want to use it on my white suit jacket.  I wish I could remember the name of the young man on the desk who took my call. He assured me that he would find a replacement. Then called 10 minutes later to say they were still looking. (I told him I was not in THAT much of a hurry, just needed to press the clothes sometime that day).  When he called again, he couldn’t believe that there were no spare irons.  What he said next made the experience GREAT.  “I’m sending up someone from Housekeeping — just give her your clothes and we will iron them for you and return them to your room later this evening.”  And he did, as you can see from the picture of my beautifully ironed jacket with the offending iron.

What’s the difference between these experiences?

The first difference is awareness.  The department store employee did NOT have it and the hotel and restaurant employees DID.

The second difference is industry approach.  I do not want to denigrate the retail industry, but I have had more bad experiences in retail settings than travel settings.  I can make my entire retail transaction without ever interacting with someone and often do that — by purchasing things online. In travel, you can make all the plans online, but eventually, you are going somewhere and you will interact with people at hotels, attractions and restaurants.  Maybe travel people try harder to make a good impression because industry success depends on it.

The third difference is expectation. Today’s consumer expects good service and more than ever, smart businesses are noticing that investing in their customer’s happiness pays big dividends.  But are businesses sharing that expectation with front line service staff like the employee in the department store, the restaurant waiter or the ticket taker?

Businesses who invest in their front line staff are winning. That’s the simple difference between bad experiences and great ones.

What are your customer experiences in retail and travel?

 

 

Marketing Plans: Dust Collector or Useful Tools?

Last week, I facilitated a session by the same name at the Texas Travel Industry Summit in Corpus Christi.  It was a “shirtsleeves” session designed to help travel professionals talk about their successes and challenges and draw sessionphoto1from the collective group to find solutions or ideas they could take back to their organizations.

Our panel of experts included Beth West of Meredith Corporation, Daryl Whitworth of Madden Media and Shanna Smith of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.  Each panelist brought a different point of view and had past experience creating marketing plans for different types of travel organizations or clients.  Prior to our session, the team curated a list of resources for travel organizations on building marketing plans. You can see the list here: http://bit.ly/mktplansrock.

Here are some of the best practices we discussed.

Make your Plan Relevant

It’s a key challenge to make sure your plan is relevant to your current marketing challenges and the audiences you are trying to reach. To be relevant, your plan should include a variety of disciplines including public relations, social media, advertising, sales and stakeholder outreach.

Give Your Plan Context

This is the starting point for a marketing plan.  It should include your mission and vision or statement of purpose as well as an assessment of where you are. That might be a SWOT Analysis or assessment of how last years’ plan turned out.  This sets the stage for your new ideas to follow in terms of creating goals and objectives.

Do Some Research

Before writing next years’ plan, reflect on what happened this year.  Which stakeholder groups are up or down? Which events had better attendance? Can you attribute success to a particular channel or campaign? What happened in similar destinations? What research findings from US Travel Association and TTIA are relevant to your plan? This should form an entire section in the early part of the plan.

Create a Timeline

Many travel organizations traditionally plan one year out.  While some use a calendar year, others are forced into a fiscal calendar which begins in October and spans one year.  Rapid changes in technology make this timeline challenging. Many tech companies only plan one quarter at a time. Since that’s not an option with travel organizations, the timeline is tough.

Build Flexibility Into Your Plan

Having a plan with flexibility is one way a travel organization can beat the timeline crunch.  One destination manager shared her agreement with a governing board which allows for discretionary spending on a percentage of the annual budget.

Integrate Your Plan

Media Spending is NOT a marketing plan.  Media spending should be PART of your marketing plan.  Integrating all the functions of your marketing team makes your plan richer and sets up your organization for success.  It also minimizes the possibility of missing a consumer touchpoint, too.

Have a Contingency

Contingencies are a great way to leverage a last minute opportunity.  They are also necessary for travel organizations in the event of a disaster.  Most travel organizations have a small spending contingency, we had no consensus as to what that level should be.

Engage Your Partners

Destinations have specific partners which they must engage for a successful marketing plan.  One new destination group shared that they have a day-long  workshop with their hotels and attractions to talk about the successes and challenges of the year and begin planning for the next year. This early buy-in from their partners guarantees that everyone is happy with the final result.

Be Visible to Your Stakeholders

One destination at the session shared that they meet with their stakeholders monthly to take a pulse on attendance and revenue. This goes a long way to informing the key elements of next years’ plan.

Incorporating one or more of these themes into your next marketing plan should take your travel organizations’ marketing plan from dust collector to useful tool.  Do you have best practices in your travel organizations’ marketing plan that you can share?

Be More Productive

This week I led a session for the Texas Travel Industry Association on productivity tools and apps for small travel organizations.  It was fun to talk about some of the tools I use to increase my efficiency and simplify the day-to-day functions of my business.

At the beginning of the session, I polled the group about the pain points in their business and the participants weren’t shy about their challenges. Some of the challenges they shared included information overload, keeping up with technology, getting organized and learning to delegate.

Sound familiar? Most small business owners have felt at least one of these pain points.  The presentation offered some suggestions on tools for work productivity, project management, accounting and other small business needs. The tools and links to them are included below.

 

It’s easy to tie a perceived level of efficiency to the tools you use. Even more important than the actual tools, though, is to THINK productively.  That’s when the tools you choose will change your working habits. So before you run out and adopt a bunch of tools, you need to think productively. Here’s a few ways to get started:

Principle No. 1: Test it, Don’t Get Married to it

There are so many new tools out there, use the 30 day trial to see if this is the right tool for you. If it doesn’t live up to your expectations, move on. Chances are you can find something similar that does work for you.

Principle No. 2: Listen and Learn

Learn to monitor your brand and your industry to stay on top of trends and see what people are saying about YOU and about your brand.

Principle No. 3: Learn to Say No

Create reasonable boundaries for trying new technologies. You don’t have the time to try every new social network or cool tool out there. So pick a few, master them and add more as time and resources allow.

Principle No. 4: Invest to Simplify

Ask yourself: If I invest in this, what will I gain? If you invest 2 hours digitizing your business receipts which will save you at least 4 hours at tax time, that’s an investment worth considering. Sometimes thinking long term about adopting a tool or app is a better way to evaluate that tool.

Ready to be more productive? I’d love to hear how you made changes to your work habits in the comments.

Many thanks to the team at Texas Travel Industry Association for inviting me to share this information and for all the great work they do in Texas to help regional tourism organizations succeed.

Three Biggest Style Mistakes in PR Writing

I’ve written and edited hundreds of press releases, blog posts and other media materials throughout my career. And I’ve coached writing students on the basics of newswriting. There are three errors in applying Associated Press style that I see the most in writing.

Using Commas in a Series

If the series is simple, then lose the comma before the last element. More complex series which include phrases have a whole different approach. My favorite example to illustrate this point:

The flag is red, white and blue.

Titles

Titles can get tricky, especially when you must describe military, courtesy and legislative titles. That’s when you keep the Associated Press Stylebook on your desk. But, for the simple act of identifying someone for a piece of journalistic writing, it’s clear. A Title used BEFORE a name in a sentence is capitalized. AFTER a name, lowercase.  Here’s the simplest example ever.

President Obama signed the bill into law.

Barack Obama, president of the United States, signed the bill into law.

Months of the Year

Little months are always written out in press material. If there are 5 or less letters in its name, the month is never abbreviated. It helps that it’s most of the spring and summer months.

This means: March, April, May, June and July are written out, while the remainder of the months are presented this way:  Jan., Feb., Aug., and etc.

Next time you are working on a piece for a client, take a moment to proofread one more time with these three mistakes in mind. Bet you’ll find at least one!

Read More About Style Here

What Style Are You Using in Your Public Relations Writing?

Picture of writing stylebooks

For public relations practitioners, writing style can be boring and dry. But style is important in good writing. It sets standards and formats that give uniformity to writing. Surprisingly, many in the profession are unaware of style types and how they can bolster your writing efforts.

Applying a style to your writing puts an end to questions like “when should I capitalize that?’ and “where does this comma go?” and enables individual pieces of writing to look like they belong together.   For large projects, like web site rewrites, press kits or backgrounders, style can unify the voice of many writers.

But not all style guides are the same.

First, let’s eliminate the style types you will NOT use in public relations writing. These are the academic styles of writing you used in school.  Chances are you used one of these in college:

APA –American Psychological Association, the nations’ largest scientific and professional organization representing the field of psychology. Their style has been adopted by numerous professions.

MLA- Modern Language Association Members are comprised mainly of English and foreign language teachers. The style they’ve adopted is usually the first one you learn in high school and is often used in language and literature writing.

Chicago-This style method, developed by the University of Chicago Press is among the oldest and began to be used in the early 1900s.  Today it’s largely used in historical and legal writing.

Forget them! What you really need is a style which encompasses the types of writing you do every day.  If you are writing press releases, blog posts, brochures, web copy or any other type of writing that doesn’t need the academic touch, then you need to look to two types of stylebooks: traditional and digital.

Traditional Stylebooks Still Rock

The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual

This is my go-to guide. It was developed to create unity in early newspaper reporting and is updated annually. It is always on my desk (or on the floor next to my desk) but I recently fell in love with their iPhone app. It’s easier to carry around and it’s updated frequently. This stylebook focuses on elements of writing, but has important sections on style specifics for sports, financial and web writing.

Washington Post Deskbook on Style

The post developed their own stylebook over the years, but recently added online digital publishing guidelines which cover issues like citing sources, social media and use of third party information – all important issues to public relations pros.

The New York Times

I do not use their Style and Use Guide. But, I have recently discovered a NY Times Blog called After Deadline which is run by Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards—the guy in charge of The Times’s style manual. What I like about this blog is that Corbett uses real examples from the paper.  It’s reassuring to know that even journalists are responsible for the occasional dangling modifier.

Digital Stylebooks: A New Genre

A handful of digital stylebooks have appeared in recent years, with a broader focus than the examples above. These style guides are embracing topics like information architecture, usability guidelines and page design.  While many PR Pros may not THINK they need a guide like this, they are easy to access and use online and force you to think about how the information you are presenting will LOOK in its finished state. Here are several  I’ve recently discovered:

Yahoo

I bought the printed version of the Yahoo Style Guide a few years ago and used it occasionally. Now that it is indexed and searchable online, I use it far more often. I especially like its section on presenting numbers.

Web Style Guide

I came across this site by accident. I particularly like their section on usability and designing for usability.  As communicators, we need to make sure that we are thinking universally about how people will use what we write. The credentials of its authors are pretty impressive.

Media-Specific Guidelines

Many news organizations are developing their own guidelines and standards.  Two which are of interest are the BBC News Guidelines http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/ and CNN’s iReport Toolkit.

These resources should help you and your organization adopt a style based on your particular writing needs. You might even be inspired to develop your own house style. I am sure there are many more. Do you have favorite style resources?

You can browse all these resources by going to my writing style resources list on Diigo.

Speaking Out – For the Very First Time

Are you Speaking Out for the Very First Time?

Are you Speaking Out for the Very First Time?

If you watch television news, you probably hear this phrase at least once or twice a week. It’s used frequently by news anchors or television hosts in the introduction to an interview. It’s another annoying media trend I wish would stop and here’s why.

Several weeks ago it was used on NBC’s Today Show to introduce a new voice, or thread, in a national news story. The way in which anchors do this implies that we have been waiting to hear from Person X for a very long time, so that what they have to say is very, very important. In this case, it was just one more person or angle in an overly examined topic and no new information was conveyed.

Last week, my local news used the same phrase. The problem is that the “victim” was speaking out about a crime that happened the day before, so the phrase “speaking out for the very first time” portrayed the victim as if they had long been a hold-out, loathe to tell their story in the public spotlight. But it’s really just a way to grab your attention back to yesterday’s story.

I am no grammarian but the way this phrase is used over and over in television bothers me. Have we really been waiting to hear these people? Or are the news media trying to extend the value of a story that has little value by making us believe we have been waiting for this particular point of view?

How many times have you turned to the news media to add a long-awaited point of view to a news mystery? I can think of only one in my entire lifetime.

Deep Throat. The Watergate scandal informant who helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein unravel the trails which led to the undoing of the Nixon administration in the 1970s. Deep Throat was featured in the book, All the President’s Men, followed by the movie of the same name a year later. Deep Throat’s identity was a long-held secret and we really did want to hear who he was and what he would say if he was “speaking out for the very first time.”

He finally did – in 2005, thirty years later. You can read about it here, on the Washington Post website.

That’s what I call “speaking out for the very first time.”

What media catchphrase bothers you?

What Does Your Facebook Insight Chart Say About You?

You are, of course, looking deeply at your Facebook insights to see how your fans are interacting with your organization, and analyzing what content resonates with your community. But you can make some instant observations by looking at that little chart which is nestled just above the cover photo and between the “New Likes” and “Page Tips” section.

If you are managing more than one page, this is a quick benchmark to see how your pages stack up against one another.

As a refresher, the purple circles along the bottom of the chart represents posting frequency by the page owner.  The green trend line above it represents actions taken by fans. This includes liking the page, or a post on the page, sharing something from the page or commenting on the page. The blue trend line above that is what Facebook calls Reach.  It’s a complicated Facebook formula but basically take your fans and multiply it by how many people they are connected with or have “friended” on Facebook and you get a sense of the magnitude.

Here are some samples from client pages I have managed with some observations I used to examine next steps with the client.

On a Roll

This chart shows an organization with frequent FB contributions

This organization is doing well with creating frequent posts and interacting with their fan base.  Their fan base is engaged.

Hiccup

Chart Showing Glitch in Facebook Activity

This organization may have been on a roll, but recently had some kind of hiccup with their content strategy. Go back to the date to see what suddenly changed and see if it can inform better decision-making in the future.

Abandoned

This chart shows that a page has been abandoned

Someone gave up on this page. It happens to many organizations. Usually it means the page owner got reassigned or too busy to keep the home fires burning.

Smokin’ Hot

This chart shows an organization that is doing powerful FB content

This organization is burning up the charts with strong content and continuous growth.

Burnout

This chart shows a FB page with infrequent postings

This little chart shows how easy it is to reverse the “on a roll” trend.

 

Have you seen a page like one of these? Did it help you make new decisions? I use this short exercise once or twice a month to see where I need to look next for insight.

Coping in a Crisis: What to do the First Hour

How you respond in a crisis largely depends on what you do in the first hour after you become aware that something bad has happened in your organization.

The suggestions given here are to supplement the crisis communication plan you are already using and should help with work flow in the first hour.

Clear Your Desk

Figuratively and literally.  Get rid of anything that is not germane to this one problem.  You can pick up on the rest when things return to normal.

Be the Hunter and Gatherer

Before you can start to communicate FOR your organization, you need people to communicate TO you from within the organization. Have your phone list and alternate contacts list on your desk.  Work the list, gather the team and their collective knowledge.

Stay on Top of Customer Contact

Some companies go off the rails during a crisis because they miss the little things.  Get anyone who can help answer phones, watch for news coverage, monitor social channels, and otherwise see what’s happening on the “outside” and arm them with a run sheet to keep track of the calls.  At the end of this post, there’s a sample which you can download and adapt for your organization. While this sounds old school, the most routine crises involve power outages from weather incidents, so you may not have access to your monitoring service and desktop computer.

When I was in corporate communications, every person on the team had 10 of these blank forms in their Crisis folder. We also made sure that the receptionist and call center team had them too. When the crisis was unfolding, they pulled them out of their desk and were ready to go. They are also a powerful way to take the pulse in a crisis.

Use Time Codes

As you receive information from the field or your crisis team, write down the time you received it.  I remember a crisis where a directive from the fire department which was given at a specific time changed the outcome of our response significantly.  Writing these “on the board” can be helpful later on.

Use a Bridging Response

While you are simultaneously gathering information, checking your customer contact sheets, you can also start drafting a bridging response which will get you through the first hour.

Set the right tone during the first hour of your crisis.  It is a good investment.

Here is a template to create your own Crisis Communication Run Sheet. Feel free to adapt for your organization:
Step in Crisis Template

 

Myths about Digital Natives-On My Mind

Blogging discussion in class on the Day of Archaeology
I hear it at least once a week.  A grandiose statement about how savvy twenty-somethings are and that they are the experts in exploring and using technology. I interact with that generation every week at the college level, and see a different type of native. In the past two years, I have had students who:

  • Did not know how to upload a document into an online dropbox;
  • Have never read a blog
  • Have only used Facebook, Reddit and YouTube
  • Are afraid to use an online learning system or take an online class

I don’t want to make a similar grandiose statement to say that all twenty-somethings are digitally averse, but it’s clear to me that we should not make assumptions either way and use every opportunity to share the rush that comes from learning something new in the digital universe.

Conversely, my students have also taught me about what’s important to them in their digital lives.

This has broad implications for school systems, for employers AND for students.  It’s not about your age. It’s not about whether you are a Boomer or Gen whatever, it’s about teaching the next generation to learn by exploring.

Photo by Anthro 136k on Flickr. Published under Creative Commons license.