Category Archives: Social Media

How to Cheat Clients and The Value of Your Company

We were told we needed to brainstorm ideas for a client. Can we stop what we’re doing and go to the conference room. We all piled into the room, sat in our chairs and waited for the company pariah to enter. And share his ideas. We’d pretend to brainstorm, then parrot the incredibly creative ideas from Mr. Pariah. His ideas were the best, so the ideas were written down, and we all moved on. Another wasted hour sitting in a room and sucking up.

Now let’s move to a different time and place. The agency needs to quickly create a leave-behind for a client. One agency employee—a writer—suggests brainstorming ideas. He’s told he’s a writer in a different group. Ideas and concepts are the job of the creative design team. Uh. OK.

Another shot across the career spectrum. There’s a call for a brainstorming session. This time, the room is outfitted for comfort. There’s food, drinks, a whiteboard, notepads on easels, markers, paper. Even crayons. The focus: What ideas can we muster up for the agency itself? How can we best showcase the agency strengths and communicate them consistently. Ideas were shared, no matter how crazy. And were written down. No idea evaluation or criticisms. Just ideas.

I can’t think of a word or exercise that is more overused and misused than “brainstorming.”  The sad reality is that those who should know the value of collective creativity—putting crazy creative types in a room together—can yield brilliance, clarity and wham-bang ideas (and some craziness too). It’s all good. As professional communicators, it’s our jobs to collaboratively develop the best ideas for our clients–and to foster an environment for brainstorming.

The best ideas come from best practices. Yep, one best practice is brainstorming, working together and seeing value in every individual, no matter their title, department or perceived strengths or weaknesses. Anything short of this is is milk toast and gray matter, and certainly far from excellence.

So why is it so hard for creative types – usually graphic designers, copywriters and marketing strategists – to hole up in a room and share ideas? Smart ideas. Stupid ones. Funny ones. Why?

Based on my experience, here are the top 5 reasons why
brainstorming is busted
:

1. The Temperaments. Sometimes personalities clash. So we avoid contact. A designer once told me, “The only people who are more temperamental than writers are designers.” I’ve been in sessions where both types gather and the duel for control begins. It ruins all the creative energy and fuels more battles. I’ve been there and learned myself. Guilty as charged.

2. The Territories. I’ve heard these statements from real people: “I’m creative, you are not.”I’m in the Creative Arts department, are you?”  and “Why do we need a copywriter to sit in on a ;graphic design’ concept meeting?” Wow. Wrong mentality, attitude and approach. If someone thinks they’re more creative—or the only creative—that’s a problem.

3. The Threat & Inferiority. A creative director or team that feels threatened by others—and other ideas—struggle with inferiority. They feel threatened and fear  others who may be  “more creative than me.” I’ve learned that great creative comes from great people, and to recognize them for their talent. There’s enough glory to go around.

4. The Time.  Who’s got time for another freakin’ meeting? Let me do my real job. No wonder that’s the prevalent attitude. Brainstorming is too often a torturous exercise in futility.

5. The Working Wounded. If someone absolutely runs from a brainstorming session, it’s likely they’ve been wounded at some point. They were embarrassed or criticized. Or both. Great brainstorming includes NO evaluation or opinions about others’ ideas.

Here’s the bottom line: Improper, impotent brainstorming yields nothing. Worse, it’s the best way to cheat our clients and the valuable services we offer as communicators. Shame on us.

What is your opinion or war story? Please share.

Our next post offers advice for effective brainstorming.

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*Pang* *Flash* G is For ….

Anyone who knows me will immediately think of one G word … “Go.” Yeah, high speed and lots of curves. I thrive at full throttle with steep climbs and sharp curves.

That’s not the G word that matters.IMG_8715f

Others will say it’s got to be God. Well, that’s a big one. Capital G. Still not there though. Perhaps it’s greatness or goodness, or the flip side: grumpy, goofy, gauche … Regardless, these attributes, relevant or not, aren’t that important.

The G word that keeps flashing through my dreams and thoughts is sobering. And a struggle.

Grace.

Is it a noun or a verb? Growing up Christian, I heard it and learned it frequently: man is inherently sinful. God freely gives me grace and erases all the gunk, gook, idiocy, mouthiness and moments of madness from my life. Through Christ his son.
But I can’t help but think that grace extends beyond pulpits and prayer clubs. Grace is act of individual will. It extends unmerited favor from one to another.

The flashes and pangs of grace-mindedness are daily for me. They hit like a combo punch from Rocky Balboa and Clubber Lang, usually when I:

  • Drive behind a moron driving 55 mph in the fast lane on Central Expressway
  • Stand in the grocery line behind a lady oblivious to the rest of the galaxy, slowing reading and debating the value of the 25 coupons she just handed the cashier
  • Work with others who deliver little more than excuses or blame, yet lord over others with self-importance and arrogance
  • Perceive an issue as “petty” while another may not, and continues to chatter, chant, rave and rant, ad nauseum

In each of these real-life cases, I felt a very real pang at the moment I begin my criticism and judgment. “…What about grace, Roy, remember?”

And so I breathe and realize that it’s OK. The slow driver may be new and nervous; the lady in line may be facing the financial crisis of a lifetime; the worker may be ill equipped or in the midst of some crisis that is fragmenting their work performance. And yes, what’s petty to me is irrelevant. If it’s important, then it’s important.

Now blow this up. The world is increasingly anti-grace. We have a conservative pundit attacking an American doctor for being a Christian and a missionary; we have zero-tolerance rules that put teenagers in prison for life—for weed in their cars. We have grandmas and granddads being beaten to death for food, cars and money.

And in the PR profession?Helloooo. We have prima donnas treating junior employees like dogs, interns not being paid for their work and a workplace that’s often cold, harsh and impersonal.

Where is the grace? Where is my grace? The flashes and pangs are reminding me. Helping me. Even encouraging me. They actually rattle me into remembering the countless times I’ve experienced unmerited favor from parents, friends, bosses, colleagues, neighbors and strangers. And God. I can think of at least three times in my life when I did not deserve unmerited favor from someone. If they had chosen zero tolerance, I could have lost everything. Everything.

Grace. Can you find it, face it and pay it forward?

Even now, there’s a circumstance where I’m resisting grace. “They deserve my contempt and wrath …” Yeah. *Pang* *Flash*

OK.

Let’s go to work. See the faces. Think grace.

Go home. See the wife. See the kids. Think grace.

Drive to the store. Think grace.

Then do it.

Grace is a verb.

 

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Where is God’s marketing team? Survey sucks, so does church marketing

My curiosity is certainly well intentioned. I just wanted to know.

I’ve always seen churches as spiritual havens. And as businesses. They are organizations that face the same struggles and successes that others have, especially when it comes to cash flow, and building and retaining “customers.”

So, how do churches market themselves? Beyond a great “product” and “relational selling,” what are their marketing communications approaches and how much do they spend?

I didn’t find my answers online. So, I figured, why not ask them. So I did.

I sent 100 e-mail notes to various church leaders that spanned the country; Some were mega-churches and some were itsy bitsy. Most of them were Protestant and evangelical churches. I gave them two weeks to respond to the online survey. On deadline day, I checked the survey results. I was disappointed. I garnered a 6 percent response rate. Based on the experts, an online survey will often generate a 20 percent to 30 percent response (that sounds high to me, but …)

I wasn’t ready to give up, so I reviewed the findings.  Here is a “snipshot” of results—not even a snapshot. Here we go:

  •  Respondents of this survey were both male and female; Churches varied in size, from 146 members, to 455. Four of the six respondents provided their names instead of titles when asked, with one responding with the title of “Mobilizer,” another as “Senior Pastor.” Five of the six respondents are Texas churches, one is in Ohio.
  • Among marketing communications tools—listed as brochures, phone calls, Website, e-mail and social media–40 percent of church respondents say social media is their most used marketing communications tool. The least used tool is direct mail (postcards and letters).
  • Respondents ranked the following as most used to least used marketing communications tools:

1. Social media

2. Website

3. Email

4. Phone calls

5. Direct mail (letters or postcards)

6. Brochures

  •  84 percent of respondents say they spend between one percent and 5 percent of their annual operating budget on marketing communications. The remaining 15 percent said less than 1 percent.
  • The majority of respondents (actually at 50 percent) say the primary purpose of their marketing communications is to promote an event. The remaining 50 percent was evenly split among “introducing the church to the community,” a special sermon series, children’s, youth, women’s, men’s and social services ministries.”
  • 67 percent of respondents say the quality of their marketing communications is average, 16.7 percent said good, and 16.7 percent said below average.
  • When asked who they primarily targeted with their marketing communications. 50 percent of respondents said members; another 50 percent said non-members.

DISAPPOINTMENT, PART II

Confession. My disappointment extends from the survey’s lack of response. It was more than that. The people in the know – the church leaders, consultants, speakers and influencers with strong voices and opinions, did not respond. I’m not talking they declined. I’m talking, no response. I approached Tim Schrader at www.churchmarketingsucks.com for comment. Nothing. I emailed contacts for Chuck Swindoll and Stonebriar. Nothing.  There were a few more. Still nada. That’s the real disappointment. I understand busy schedules and priorities and hold no contempt for any of them. Just disappointed.

ANALYSIS

The snipshot tells me that churches remain cash strapped, despite what appears to be luxurious, evangelical churches “bring home the bacon.” These perception may be an actual aberration; I’m betting that most churches struggle month to month to pay bills. That’s why social media is so popular. It’s virtually free, as is e-mail. Even Websites are low-cost, with many already established and costing nothing but hosting. Not using brochures and direct mail is surely related to their hard costs for design, writing and printing—and the fast-paced ubiquity of online communications. And phone calls? They require real people and real commitment. The struggle for committed volunteers is constant for any non-profit organization.

The only real surprise is that churches—respondents—say they spend most of their marcom dollars on special events vs. other ministry opportunities. I’m betting these dollars pay for events that draw community participation and potential new members, i.e., free Easter egg hunts with face painting, bounce houses and more. There is nothing wrong with that, although I question spending the majority of a marketing budget on one event . Could it more effective with a consistent marketing campaign to key audiences? That’s where  metrics and evaluation enter the picture.

Lastly, the results show that churches—ministries as whole, I’d bet–do not have professional marketing experts planning, executing or measuring their marketing communications efforts. It’s mostly “what can be done” by “anybody” at “any time.” Perhaps that’s why the majority of respondents  say their communications efforts are average or below average.

Bottom line, it’s the bottom line. Budgets and resources.

THERE’S HOPE … HELP OUT

Help church leaders not fret, or burn out by being everything to everybody, all the time. Be a volunteer. And for communicators out there, use your brain and creative capabilities to support your local churches. Help them understand and apply strategic communications.

One final note. Churches should not be intimidated or ashamed of the word “marketing.” In a world where churches sit on every corner, marketing is required. How is your church distinct from my church, and why should you be at “my church” vs. “that” church? Marketing shares those messages and helps churches grow as a distinct body of believers.

Tell me your stories and thoughts. Comment below or send me a note. I want to know.

The PRactical PR Guy

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More Power to the Press Release, or Not?

The press release is to public relations what cows are to hamburgers. The press release takes raw information and grinds it up (re-formulated sounds nicer) to share a story that has news value to readers of the media.

News releases follow a specific style and approach that editors and reporters expect. They tell a story with facts and quotes, and avoid exaggeration, clichés and corporate baloney. The press release is the ever-loyal, ever-useful news-sharing tool. It is a Deity in PR.

But the world is a’changin. So what is the news release in today’s world? Increasingly, they are more concise and have an uber-immediacy to them.

So is the press release an ol’ tired dog? I think not. It’s adapting and still alerting the media. But there are other ways—better ways—to share your story, even when it’s not hard-breaking news. One source says Business Wire and PR Newswire send out 1,000 news releases every day. PRWeb? It shows 300 per day, according to the source. Essentially you’re in a knife fight for a reporter’s attention.

Share Your Story in Other Ways

The Story Idea. So what exactly is the story and “news,” and will it pass muster with a reporter or editor? That’s where PR practitioners must do the tough work and talk tough with clients. For example, is it news when a company receives an award? Should a news release be written and distributed to media? Probably not, unless it’s the Nobel or Baldridge Award. What can make this award a relevant and compelling story? Can a story be formulated that broadens the story into a trend, with the award a sub-fact that serves to qualify your client as an innovator? Is there a story direction that delivers valuable insights about how a company–or companies–demonstrate quantifiable excellence and innovation?

The Story Idea–a written and/or verbal pitch–is the PR professional’s primary skill (quality writing and a “news nose.”)  We build the story with key players and potential trends, then back them up with interesting elements and/or hard data. The story will be best with multiple story sources, such as your client, an industry expert and at least one other (a customer).  A solid pitch in writing or in a call with a reporter is often worth more than 100 news releases.

The Bylined Article. The monthly issue of Banana Growers Today magazine is published. Go to page 12 to see Abe Gorilla’s photo next to a headline and page header named “Opinion.” Abe is your client. He’s a banana grower and he’s addressing the issue of “Green & Yellow Bananas: Too Ripe for Consumers?” You placed the story, wrote it for Abe, had him review and tweak, then you submitted it to the publication. They like it. And now it’s published. Now Abe can use that story to promote the company to prospects, customers, even employees. The bylined article turns company executives into subject-matter experts.

The Editorial Calendar. Why write a press release that may get marginal coverage (or none at all), depending on news value, media deadlines, breaking news and more? An alternative approach that often yields results is to identify the most relevant publications read by a client’s target market, then review each publication’s editorial calendar, a document that tells exactly what subjects are being covered by a publication. They are usually listed by month or issue date.  This generally gives the client a bigger presence and a stronger story.

Blog Posting and Bloggers. Reaching out to bloggers isn’t secndary anymore. They are as influential–even more so–than traditional media. Whether they are “citizen journalists” with expertise, or personalities from newspapers or analyst firms, they can draw interest to your client’s expertise, insights and announcements. In addition, make sure the client is using social media effectively as well. They can propagate their presence among prospects, customers, employees and suppliers by reaching out to them online.

Customer Braggarts. What’s better than someone tooting your horn? It’s sure more tasty for a reporter to hear how great you are from external sources than hearing you or your paid PR person to brag about you. Get customers involved in your PR efforts. Write case studies. Even consider writing a news release, story pitch or other means that come directly from them to the media. You do the work. They get the glory. And so does your client.

So, is the press release still the Lord of the Corporate World? Just how potent or impotent is it today? Our opinion: It’s overused and often a waste of money and resources. But dead? Not so much.

The PRactical PR Guy

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The PR Agency: Results or Ring-Around-The-Rosy? Part 1

When it comes to PR agencies, you hear one of two things: “We got burned,” or “This agency is better than baked bread.” The question for any organization seeking a PR agency is to start with realistic expectations, then pursue the agency that’s right for you. One of the first questions every potential clients asks is, “Just how many press clippings should we expect—and get—for the money we pay?”

We also hear:

  • How many hours are you working per month? How do we know?
  • What kind of account service should we expect and receive?
  • And, candidly, how do we know how to pick a quality PR agency that fits our organization, people and goals for business and communications?

So how do you know if your agency is working hard, or just playing ring-around-the-rosy with your money and company? The quandary rests on both sides of the fence, for client and agency. Clients must gain some return on their investment, yet PR benchmarks are largely qualitative and rarely quantitative. PR News reports, “Executives expect PR professionals to provide measurement illustrating the impact of their work on business outcomes. However, many are hindered by the high cost of measurement tools and lack of resources, according to a 2011 measurement and practice survey.” In more than 25 years of doing public relations and working with hundreds or organizations, large and small, I’ve rarely had a client want, expect or desire to pay for quantitative metrics, i.e., messaging evaluation, competitive positioning, quality and rank of publications, perception analysis and more.

DISCLAIMER: Granted, most of my experience is working with privately held small businesses. Most clients are happy with press clippings–story “tonnage” that shows progress in getting the news out to the right audiences, publications and online influencers. This seems just fine by small businesses.

So, what’s the magic formula and number for press clippings? Well, besides working smart, working hard and knowing the art of “polite persistence” with reporters, I know of none. Sorry to disappoint. The real-world question is, “How can a PR agency promise press clippings when they have absolutely no control over the story, a reporter’s interest in the story, or the editor’s decision to run the story or not? I’ve had great, strong news stories bumped because “hard news” erupts and has to be covered. I’ve had absolutely worthless “news” (in my humble opinion) picked up and put on page one. It’s an insane world, this PR gig. But always interesting and surprising.

Back in yesteryear—the 1990s—one agency boss expected each account executive or supervisor to secure a minimum of four placed stories a month per client. Period. It was a great expectation, motivator and accountability factor. Today, I wonder if this is still relevant as print publications dwindle and online sites grow (but with different editorial opportunities). It’s a good debate.

—The PRactical PR Guy, Dallas

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