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A word about press releases December 12, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Although it’s a common misconception, PR does not stand for “press release.”

I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, but as PR professionals know, there is a significant number of people who question the value of hiring an agency (or in-house PR practitioner) because “I can write a press release myself.” I can almost hear the PR people out there nodding their heads in agreement.

PR is, in fact, public relations — a component of which is media relations, but it’s not by any means synonymous. If an activity has anything to do with actively relating with your audience, the public, investors, customers or anyone else: It’s PR. Customer service? Part of it is definitely PR. Social media? PR. Working with analysts? PR. I could go on.

But for the purpose of this article, let’s actually go there and talk about press releases… because even those who know a bit more about marketing and PR — enough to be dangerous, one could say — often believe that all news should be heralded by press release. And these same people will be disappointed when each release is not met with widespread coverage and a splashy above-the-fold article in the WSJ.

This is what I tell my clients: Press releases, while a perfectly useful PR tactic, are not always the best way to disseminate news. They don’t guarantee coverage and are not the perfect tool for every situation.

The absolute best public relations strategy is to determine the most effective strategy to reach people. Right? Most often, this means integrated campaigns as part of an ongoing communications process that includes social media, blogs, email, speaking engagements, webinars and podcasts, websites, conference activity, whitepaper placement, personal outreach and pitching to media, bylined articles — and yes, occasional press releases.

I use several criteria when considering issuing a press release to the media:

  • How newsworthy do we believe this announcement is? Do we believe it stands a fighting chance of being the one release — out of the hundred a journalist or analyst will receive any given day — of being spared the recycling bin?
  • What other announcements have we recently made or are planning to do in the near future? Less is more; releasing too-frequent announcements over a short period can detract from our PR program’s overall impact, even erode credibility.
  • Is a release appropriate for the kind of announcement we are making? What are we trying to accomplish with a release that can’t be accomplished another way?
  • Do the journalists/bloggers/analysts we are targeting for this story respond to press releases? There are also cultural norms that pertain to PR that vary around the world that we must take into account when releasing different news stories.
  • Is a media pickup critical for this kind of news? Can we reach our audience more directly and more effectively another way?

The bottom line is that each organization has its share of important and exciting developments to announce, and each deserves its own considered plan based on available resources. Each announcement you make should be optimized for maximum reach. And if that plan includes a release, then great. But don’t feel too bad if your latest piece of news doesn’t make it into a release. It only means that there are better ways to get it out to the public.

It is, after all, called public relations!

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Infographic: Why organizations should use social media to reach journalists December 6, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Why should PR practitioners use social media? It’s not just for direct B2B or B2C communications; many journalists use social media and use it to enhance their own research and reach.

To follow is my first self-generated infographic; clearly I’m no designer, but imagine how this would look if I had some graphic assistance! 😉

The great enemy of clear language… (or, why your PR should use narrative and lose the technobabble) December 5, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Today I came across a release on the wire. Here’s its lede:

“The new AXM-75 is a multi-function I/O extension module that adds A/D, D/A, and digital I/O signal processing functions to a FPGA processor board. Acromag’s extension I/O modules plug directly onto their PMC and XMC reconfigurable FPGA cards equipped with an AXM mezzanine connector…” 

Snore.

Here in the Bay Area with its preponderance of tech companies, I see releases such as this frequently enough: They’re ostensibly written in English but not really in what we might call language. The argument organizations use when they put out such news is that their core audiences will know what this technobabble means. But they forget that if they’re sending out over the wire  they’re hoping it will get picked up by journalists and bloggers — not engineers. Journalists, whatever their medium, are looking for a story to tell so they can engage their readers. Has this release, and others like it, helped them do it? Will it speak to them? Did it speak to you?

Even tech PR can be written in plain, understandable English. Better, it can tell you right away what the takeaway is; what the news means to customers and the industry. And best, it can be told in a way that helps people understand the ideas and value that often get hidden behind the jargon. Think about it: If your product or service underscores your company’s creativity or problem solving abilities, wouldn’t you put your news into that context, making it engaging, likable and actionable?

In PR — whether it’s press releases, web copy, social media posts or video — whoever tells it best can cut through the clutter of people’s lives and really reach them. This doesn’t mean manipulation, or hard sell, or making things up. It means knowing what your value is and being able to convey it in a manner that people (and not only engineers) will be receptive to. And this means narratives, told in accessible language, accompanied by or made up with relevant and interesting images.

This is common sense, but there’s a deeper reason for it.

“The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.” — Donald Calne, neurologist

As much as we’d like to think that we make decisions rationally and logically, it’s really our unconscious mind that drives most purchase decisions, and our unconscious responds to — and remembers — narratives. Those of us also in advertising pretty much know this already, but PR has been slower to adopt this attitude.

In the end it’s easy and even mindless to put out a release that mirrors exactly what your engineers think you should say. But we as PR professionals need to generate content that puts news into context and encourages emotion that allows our audiences to relate to our company, product or service. But: Only if you really want to reach humans!

Tiger Woods: More Stagecraft Than Sincerity February 19, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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A few thoughts after watching today’s Tiger Woods “press conference”:

There’s no point in holding a press conference on marital infidelity to reveal no new information, refuse to take questions, or to call attention to his wife being nowhere in attendance.

All in all, a PR stunt gone wrong. And it’s not like anyone couldn’t see it coming. Who is the publicist who OK’d this unnecessary, public self-flagellation? All it accomplished was to:

  • Annoy reporters who, inexplicably, like to ask questions
  • Open the door for two of his former mistresses to have their own press conferences
  • Put Woods in the spotlight again for his personal life, which was probably not a good idea. Already the twitterscape is rife with new Tiger jokes.

What it did not do:

  • Improve his professional reputation
  • Give his supporters and sponsors any idea of when he would be back playing the game of golf
  • Convince anyone that he was sorry for anything more than just being caught.

Personally, I would have advised him not to have made a statement at all — after all, really no new information was introduced, other than his insistence that wife Elin did not, in fact, work him over with his own golf clubs, and that he made a mistake (read: conscious decision). Woods really didn’t need to cater to the public’s salacious need to see him further humbled over what is really a private matter.

Get a new publicist, Tiger. Then close your mouth, apologize to your family again, and get back in the game.

Facebook’s Communications: Fail February 10, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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It’s amazing how Facebook has managed to become the heavyweight in social media, considering its patent disregard for its 400 million or so active users.

Facebook has established a well-earned reputation for not communicating with the public or its users. A simple blog post will be the only notification most users will get from the company when it makes major policy or user interface changes — which it does on a quarterly basis. The unchecked rumor mill is constantly churning with charges that the company will begin charging for its now-free service. Privacy scandals break out regularly over what information is being shared with advertisers, who owns content, or what user information is made public — and Facebook weighs in, it seems, as little as possible. In fact, when the media covers Facebook and its various scandals, the company has appeared fairly dismissive of its many critics.

Over the past week, Facebook rolled out major changes to its user interface, which many users have complained are counter-intuitive and difficult to use. On top of that, technical issues have plagued the service, resulting in delayed news feeds, disappearing posts and the like. The only acknowledgement Facebook has made in the ensuing firestorm of dissatisfaction was an hour ago, when it notified users that some bugs have been fixed and that the news feeds will gradually return to normal.

The user-interface changes doubtless were in anticipation of yesterday’s debut of Google Buzz. But With Google Buzz aching to go up against Facebook, it will be interesting to see how users react. Are they too invested in Facebook to make a meaningful change in their social media behaviors? Or will Facebook’s lack of commitment toward user satisfaction and acknowledgement of user feedback be its eventual undoing?

Impressive statistics released by Facebook this week in celebration of its sixth anniversary (timed nicely to combat Google Buzz) revealed one interestingly buried fact: On the whole, a notable percentage of Facebook’s users are less engaged with the site than they used to be. Could it be that Facebook’s poor public relations strategy has eroded its core, leaving it vulnerable for other social media leaders such as Google to scoop up its disenfranchised users?

Not only does Facebook have no core principle of what the site should be, but it has also demonstrated repeatedly that it doesn’t care what users think and can’t be bothered by their needs, desires or privacy concerns. Will I stop using it? I haven’t decided yet, but one thing’s for sure: Facebook had better be worried.

A Cautionary PR Tale February 8, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, took decades to build its platinum reputation. It took just two weeks to topple it, in what will go down in the history books as one of the biggest corporate PR debacles ever.

Clearly, Toyota’s handling and response to its sudden-acceleration and breaking-system woes should be a cautionary tale to crisis communicators everywhere.

The slow and inexorable drip, drip, drip of news, recalls and possible solutions has dried up business at Toyota car dealerships, created shortages for rental car agencies, worried and inconvenienced its customers and made the company the global butt of jokes even as its market value has severely plummeted. You know things have gone very wrong for Toyota when suddenly Detroit automakers are looking really good to consumers.

Companies need to realize that crisis is nearly inevitable and be prepared. Design fails, recalls happen, bad press will follow. But Toyota took the Tiger Woods route: Initially ignoring the growing scandal, avoiding public statements as the crisis grew, finally admitting parts of the problem but only after others had made their damning accusations, then — eventually — putting a recall and repair plan into place, albeit with mixed messages and too many unanswered questions.

Toyota is now throwing itself on its sword in mea culpa ads, and company executives are offering themselves up as whipping boys on national TV news magazines. But had the company addressed the problem head-on weeks ago, it would not have needed to atone so spectacularly.

A solid crisis communications plan, carried out competently and courageously — and most of all, immediately — could have saved Toyota. Think Tylenol or David Letterman. In the Google/Twitter/Facebook era of today, crisis execution is measured in hours, if not minutes. That it took weeks for Toyota to formulate a plan speaks to its internal problems and lack of accountability. Its deplorable response will almost certainly translate into heightened paranoia about its end product by consumers.

Toyota finally seems to be finding its course and communicating with the public, although the recalls continue. The question now becomes whether the company will be able to repair its tattered reputation enough to find its way back near the top of the heap; and if so, how long it will take.

All for the lack of a crisis communications plan.

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