Category Archives: marketing communications

When “Contact Us” Translates into “We Don’t Care”

It’s the simple stuff that kills us.

As communicators, we dive into the details of how to best communicate to key audiences. What’s more titillating than a comprehensive audience analysis, psychographics included? Our brains explode with ideas and tactics that integrate and initiate action and interest.

IMG_8715fThen we get slapped with the big hand of Stupid. The simple things that kill our ideas, energy … and workplace respect. Even when it’s not our fault. Hello.

I found this out during the last few weeks not as a communicator but as an everyday consumer. Actually, I was interested in getting more involved in something beyond my “self.” Volunteering for a non-profit was of interest so I outlined the organizations of interest, went to their websites and looked for key contacts. Most didn’t offer what seemed to be relevant contacts for volunteer opportunities, just a basic Contact Us online form. So I filled them out.

Tick, tock. Tick tock … tick …

It’s been weeks. And now? While I still respect the mission of the organizations I queried, I certainly don’t think as highly of them. As for volunteering for them, not likely. So what’s the issue here?

  • Option 1: Messages go into some black hole and are never checked.
  • Option 2: Messages go to a specific person who ignores the inbound correspondence (intentional or not)
  • Option 3: Messages go to several people so that “someone can handle it,” with each person assuming someone else will respond – or no one does.

Regardless, the system is flawed. And the organization is screwed. Volunteers get miffed. Donors get miffed. Anyone and everyone gets miffed. Guess what happens during the annual fundraising event? People remember.

4 Questions to Ask Yourself about Your “Contact Us”

  • What is my company saying when key contacts are not listed online—and only offers an impersonal form?
  • Have I filled out the Contact Us form to test the process in which responses are received and resolved?
  • Do I know who is solely responsible for receiving and responding to incoming inquiries, and are they shared with personnel that need to know, i.e., sales, product development, customer support, etc.?
  • What is the cost per sales lead at my company? Assuming one of three “contact us” inquiries are sales related, how much money is being lost when a response is not provided? Ouch.

Enough said. Go to your company website. Fill out the form. See what happens.

And make changes fast. It’s just good communications.

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Do Small Businesses Need a Marketing Communications Intervention?

Among small businesses, (500 employees or less), I find it rare that they much in the way of communicating with customers, prospects, suppliers, influencers, and even employees. Why? There are three primary reasons:

  1. Marketing is perceived as mysterious, and seems complicated.
  2. Sales is familiar and seems easy (I hire a sales guy, use Salesforce and dial for dollars).
  3. I’m too busy to think about it or do it (We’re developing products, ensuring service, hiring people, keeping people happy, fighting fires and meeting payroll, etc.).

When they meet communicators, they’re usually interested in what we have to say. We’re excited and more than willing to rattle off exactly what their business needs: “Social media is critical, public relations is essential and your website, sales materials and trade show stuff must be new, fresh, and compelling. And, of course, there’s the issue of your corporate brand and how all of this fits into an overall marketing communications strategy. So, let’s get started.”

The business owner is now catatonic. Eyes are glazed over. Is he or she breathing? Their business brains have gone straight to “oh my god”  and “there’s no way I can do all this—no time, no money, no people.”  We just assassinated our prospect.

Here’s how to slow down and showcase the role of marketing communications for small businesses in 7 simple steps:

  1. Break it down. No company can do everything all the time. Through a simple yet comprehensive planning session with the sales and executive team, we discover the business goals and efforts that are already planned. We align marketing efforts with business efforts. Business goals with marketing goals.
  2. Start small. If the business owner and the team are historically sales focused vs. marketing savvy, it’s critical to start small and get them comfortable with how marketing works—vs. sales. Starting small may mean implementing something as simple as a customer letter that is written, printed and mailed every quarterly. An easy First Step is a brief yet consistent e-mail “newsletter” to customers and prospects.
  3. Budget the basics. The same principle applies here. Don’t scope the marketing program so they have to put a lien on their building. Give them some practical perspectives, share a brief strategy/goals statement, and then break out the steps and tactics with hard numbers. Be precise and specific.
  4. Stay nearby and navigate with care. I find that entrepreneurs thrive amid chaos so keeping efforts focused, synced and timely are often the most difficult parts of the project. Pre-scheduled status meetings per week serve to remind everyone “who’s on first.” Keeping everyone committed, aware and engaged is 95 percent of the success factor.
  5. Make it easy. Do everything you can to eliminate redundancy, delays and to-dos. If it gets you what you need to accomplish the task, meet your client for a drink after hours or do a phone call after they tuck in their kids for bed. Accommodate them.
  6. Show progress. Don’t go silent and not correspond with the client for a week. Tune in, communicate and let them know something’s happening. I add calendar reminders called “Quick Touch/Client A” just so I reach out—even if there’s not a lot to say. Quick and easy.
  7. Step back. In our quest to act and generate results, we may forget the most important action required with clients: to listen. They are the experts in their business. We need to leverage that so we can improve and advance their cause—and ours.

When clients and communicators combine their competencies, long term, the outcome is extraordinary. There is strength in relationships and results.

Please follow me at http://www.twitter.com/practicalpr.

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How brands seized on the Super Bowl #bla

How brands seized on the Super Bowl #blackout http://ow.ly/hpFpA #pr #socialmedia

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When your company stuff is “dusty” and “ratchet”: My teen talks

Having several days away from the office and doing very little but hanging with a triple threat of my kids–teenagers (18, 14 and 10 — he thinks he’s one)–brought new revelation to this world we call communications, marketing, PR and social media. I just had no idea.

Cases in point:

  • Dad, that music is so dusty.
  • Really, Dad, the shirt is so ratchet.
  • Dad, don’t use the word stud, you obviously don’t know what it means.

Well then. I stand corrected and a bit baffled by my apparent ignorance — and command of the English language.

“Pray, tell me oh wonderful fruits of my loins, please share thy greatness and wisdom.”

And so they did.

  • First, “dusty” is the equivalent of “so yesterday.” I’d call that obsolete (Dad, that terms is so dus– …).
  • Ratchet. The shirt, it’s gross, ugly. Really downhill, outdated. Stupid. Ratchet. Thanks for the advice, and the kindness in which you shared.
  • Then there’s stud. What once was a genetically groomed horse with fantastic DNA is no more. It has something to do with bi-sexuals … I stopped their Wikopedia-ish insights. Who cares.

Later that same evening as I lamented my new “ratchet” shirt, I realized I had seen some pretty ratchet websites of late, most of which suffered an overdose of, u-m-m-m, dusty-ness.

uglyshirtIt’s 2013. Now is the time to evaluate your marketing collaterals, websites — and how you and your business are communicating to those who buy your products and services. For those companies that still have a Visitor Counter on the top of the webpage, ALERT! That’s dusty and ratchet.

If your color scheme mirrors the earth tones of the 70s, that’s another sign of problems. Have we mentioned animated gifs, Times Roman fonts and the stock photos you can find on almost any other website within your industry?

Time for a refresh? If your site hasn’t been polished in the last 18 to 24 months, take a look, navigate through it, read it and get the opinions of others (none of which report to you).

With a refresh in look, feel and message, there’s more to consider. What is your marketing mix? Have you been doing the same old ads and direct-mail that’s worked since Devo was the music rage? And if social media isn’t part of your mix, think why and why not. It may not be strategic for you. But it may.

Avoid Dusty. Run from Ratchet.

It’s painful to hear. Acknowledge. Accept.

Truly.

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The Unemployed Communicator

When you read headlines about newspapers on the decline, you rarely hear the more personal story: The fact that so many editors and writers are put on the street. Many have never worked anywhere but a news room. No corporate experience and no writing experience beyond news and news features. What do they do?

There’s another set of writers and creative types feeling the pain too: professional communicators at corporations and agencies that find themselves on the street. Agency clients have cut back; Companies are trying to salvage their bottom lines. Communicators are usually the first to go.

Or are they? Well, if you believe the Public Relations Society of America’s fact sheet, you get the following “rosy” picture:

  • 60 percent of participating firms added U.S. headcount in 2010, and nearly two-thirds of Council members anticipate an increase in hiring in Q1 2011 vs. the same quarter last year.
  • Nine out of 10 firms are currently hiring, while the most sought-after talent are at the account executive to account supervisor levels.

The data may be valid, but what’s it really mean? Does it mean there was mass exodus and layoffs in 2009 at firms that participated in the survey? Why do respondents anticipate hiring increases (yes, we’re past 2011, so I wonder what really happened)?

My experience in Dallas-Fort Worth (dubbed one of the strongest local economies nationwide) doesn’t compare positively to the survey results. I know many communicators on the street, especially older men and women who have been corporate and agency communicators for 15 to 20 years. They’ve been hunting jobs for months, some more than a year. Those who have found jobs are grateful to be working, but acknowledge they are making 20 percent to 30 percent less than they did before being laid off.

For news reporters and editors, the picture seems gloomier. Most I know are hanging their own shingles as freelance writers. I’m sure it must be a strange process to go from a news reporter that can demand answers and espouse their opinions more so than they can in a corporate setting. Yeah, it could become a barn-burner in a heartbeat.

Lastly, I think of those up-and-coming men and women, those who’ve recently graduated college as journalism majors. Editor & Publisher reports that “the unemployment rate for B.A. journalism degree holders remained at 16 percent, nearly double what it was four years ago, with broadcast majors suffering the highest rate of unemployment.” What do they do? Where do they go? The good news? They are naturally more adept at social media than most of us old-timers. This gives them a competitive edge.

Regardless, young or old, corporate or agency, underemployed or unemployed, this communicator is thinking of you, wishing you the best and hoping that the future is bright, vigorous and fruitful. That’s your future. Our future. The future of America.

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Brainstorming Part 2: The Brain & Drain, Team & Triumph

Creation doesn’t necessary require blue skies and fields of dreams.Nor does creating ideas. It can be the stalest of conference rooms or a session room at a hotel.

Creating ideas often requires brainstorming, a gathering of folks who spill their brains and hearts to deliver a barreful of ideas. From that barrel often comes The Big Idea. The Best Idea.

The most ineffective approach to brainstorming? See our last post, but it often involves prima donnas and temperaments. As one BusinessWeek article says,”… it is total nonsense to conclude that if you want creativity, you ought to keep your people in solitary confinement where they can’t ‘waste time’ listening to and building on the ideas of others.”

This time, we’re talking effective brainstorming and how to deliver the best ideas for yourself and your clients.

My favorite—and my mantra on brainstorming:

Follow the rules, or don’t call it a brainstorm. I can’t say it any better than this: … “Alex Osborn’s original four (rules) still work: 1) Don’t allow criticism; 2) Encourage wild ideas; 3) Go for quantity; 4) Combine and/or improve on others’ ideas, plus I’d add “One conversation at a time” and ‘Stay focused on the topics’ as both help save groups from dissolving into disorder.

Claire Allison at the GetSmarter site, shares 10 top brainstorming tips. All 10 aren’t here, but the ones that are particularly important:

Have a moderator. It’s important for someone to be assigned to guide the brainstorming session and to keep track of ideas.

Write everything down. Every idea is valuable. Visual brainstorming is an effective tool that can assist with illustrating perceptions and points of view of different ideas, making room for new ideas.

Bring in an outsider. Bringing in someone who is completely unrelated to the project will give an injection of fresh ideas, which could prove very valuable.

Evaluate the solutions. Stepping back and looking at ideas in their entirety can help identify the best and most workable solution. The most important aspect of brainstorming, in my opinion, is the “understanding that the purpose is to build on and extend the ideas of others” and to bring together the various skills and mindsets of your staff to gather ideas and build on them.  By keeping the session non-competitive, encouraging all ideas, no matter how outlandish, and resisting the urge to impose your own agenda, the group brainstorm can be an effective way to elicit creativity and discover innovation.”

Could it be said better than that?

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