Archive for category Marketing

16 Tips for hopeful PR practitioners

I was recently interviewed by a budding PR practitioner for a college class. The conversation made me think about the pros and cons of the business, and what I wish someone had told me in the early years.

Thumbs Up

  • A great variety of tasks ensures you’ll never be bored — from writing to photography to media relations.
  • You get to do a lot of fun things. Top of my list? Taking courtside photos at a Boston Celtics game. I’ve also done aerial photography and handled media relations for an event that featured former Secretary of State George Mitchell as the keynote speaker.
  • You learn a lot. About a lot of things.
  • And get to hang with interesting people — celebrities, authors, elected officials, company leaders, and national media. One of my favorites was working at a Leon Redbone concert, and being in the Green Room after the show.
  • The CEO knows your name and returns your emails.
  • PR people have a seat at the table, whether in a leadership meeting or a crisis response.

Thumbs Down

  • Along with the variety comes a high degree of unpredictability. Issues and projects have an interesting way of popping up at the wrong time.
  • You’ll run across people who think they know your job and — often well-intentioned — tell you how to do it.
  • Pressure. PR has been listed among the most stressful jobs.
  • Lack of control – you can do everything correct and still not have the outcome you desire: rain washes out your outdoor event; a significant event bounces your story off the news, etc.
  • 24/7 – Lots of things happen off work hours, from customer events to a middle-of-the-night crisis.
    Your mistakes are often public.

Doing the Job

  • Ask questions – If something confuses you, it likely has the same effect on your audience.
  • Show common sense – Be the person who says, “This doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”
  • Know numbers – A good business sense helps you understand your organization and boosts your credibility.
  • Be quick – The clock is often ticking, so learn to write and think quickly.
  • Act with integrity – It’s the right thing to do and you’re asking for trouble if you veer off course.

Your turn, PR people. What advice would you share with a hopeful practitioner?


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Being humble makes you a better communicator

During a live shot on the news this week, a local reporter caught my attention when she used the word “I” three times in a sentence. Sure, it’s conversational and brings the reporter into the story, but at the same time, use of that pronoun takes away from the subject of the story.

Know your audience
Communicators often talk about identifying your audience. If you’re selling fishing flies, you want to target people who fish. Manufacturing a new soda? Aim for kids and teens.

That’s pretty basic stuff, but writing to your target audience is where many messages fall short.

My favorite example is the typical, annual benefits enrollment announcement that you see at many companies: “Benefit enrollment packets will be mailed to eligible employees beginning November 1.”
In this message, you’re talking at employees, not to them. Contrast the above example with, “Look for your benefits enrollment packets, coming in the mail in early November.”

The second version rises above the first because it 1) carries a friendly, more conversational tone; and 2) speaks to the reader, not from the company.  It’s a subtle adjustment, but a very effective technique to improve your writing.

What’s the secret? Be humble, and put readers ahead of you and your organization.  Think about what they want to read. It’s human nature to be proud of your accomplishments or your company, but remember that you’re writing for your readers, and the message should focus on them.

Another example
Company focused: XYZ Company, the nation’s leading developer of pain-relieving medications, announced a new, over-the-counter medication that extensive studies show significantly reduce pain caused by arthritis.”

Audience focused: Relief is on the way for arthritis sufferers, thanks to a new over-the-counter medication that studies show significantly reduces joint pain. The medication, Pain Away, was developed by researchers at XYZ Company, the nation’s leading …”

While the company was bumped from the first sentence to the second, your message is more likely to be read and remembered because it addresses an issues many readers have (arthritis pain). And that’s what matters.

Being humble does pay off.


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More than ever, good customer service stands out

I’ve received some great customer service this year (and some mediocre, but let’s not dwell on those).

They’re a good reminder that taking care of your customers pays dividends in the long run. That’s particularly critical in this challenging economy, as this great service 1) brings me back; and 2) has me telling my friends.

What makes me — a customer — happy with service? Here’s a quick list:

Some time ago, I was looking for a watch to wear when swimming laps. I picked one that seemed perfect. The salesperson offered an alternative that was considerably cheaper. I’ve always remembered and appreciated his honesty. And I still have the watch.

A simple “thank you” goes a long way. Enough said. By the way, thanks for reading.

The customer service team at my bank is incredible. If I call with a rare question they can’t immediately answer, I know that they’ll check and call me back promptly. And they always apologize for the delay. It makes me feel like I’m the only customer they have.

I’ve done a fair amount of business  this year with a local nursery. Prices are great (value), plants are healthy (quality), and the owner listens and remember our conversations from week-to-week. She asks questions to understand what I want, and can really hone in on the right plants for my yard.

Customer-first philosphy
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, good people and organizations put the customer at the center of their work. They have a very “can-do” attitude and make the experience almost fun.

Your turn. What do you think makes good customer service?

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Times change, but skills remain key

Think about the changes an 80-year-old has seen. Growing up, the family’s primary sources of news and events were likely the daily newspaper and word-of-mouth from family and friends. Then came the telephone, radio, and television. That generation witnessed a shift in the methods and speed of communication greater than any group prior.

Now we have the internet, email, social media, smart phones, tablets, and apps that will do everything from paying bills to creating a talking Santa cartoon.

Staying in touch has never been easier — while being an effective communicator has become increasingly difficult.

The following tips will help increase the odds your audience will pay attention to your message:

Be clear and concise
Regardless of your field or message, your writing (or speaking) should be direct and to-the-point. If your readers have to look for key message, you’ve likely lost them. Make your point without lengthy introductions, then follow-up with details.

This is particularly critical when targeting younger generations that are accustomed to more direct communication.

Consider your audience
A NASA engineer speaking to her peers would likely use very different language than when addressing a group of high school students on the same topic. Ask yourself what you audience knows about the topic, how much detail is appropriate, and if they’ll understand terminology associated with the subject. If’ I’m chatting with another photographer, I might mention shooting an image with my 135mm at f2. However, if speaking my aunt, I’d simply say I adjusted the camera to blur the background out of focus.

Be objective
Passion is a double-edge sword. It’s what makes you good at your job, but also makes effectively communicating about it much more challenging.

I’ll explain. You want to tell people about a project, and assume they’ll share your excitement. You begin to tell them the specifics of your work, and before you can know it, they’ve lost interest, either because they can’t follow the details or the story ran too long.

A programmer friend once told me a story about a project she was working on. As much as I tried to follow along, I was lost within 3 minutes. The story continued, with me struggling to keep up. It’s became jokingly known as the “Flat File Story.”

Be timely and time sensitive
Readers are incredibly busy, so you have to reach them where they want to hear the news, and then present it in a way that they’ll want to read/hear.

In my early years, we often drafted newsletter articles or messages from executives that were fairly long, and people seemed to read them. Now there’s great competition for readers’ attention, and you run the risk of losing them with a message that’s too jam-packed. And given the speed at which news travels, by the time you craft your detailed message, it might be old or outdated.

Follow Twitter’s lead
Twitter, with its 140 character limit, provides a great exercise in good writing. It forces you to be direct, clear, and concise. Give it a try.

Your turn. How do you reach your audience?

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The cream rises to the top during the holidays

Ah, the holiday season, a time that people frantically search for the perfect gift at the right price, while retailers hope a solid season puts them into the black for the year.

Although retailers may describe the shopping blitz as hectic, overwhelming, and stressful, it’s also a time to shine and earn customer loyalty. Just as the best athletes respond to pressure situations, leading companies excel during the holiday season.

My shopping is almost done and most presents have been shipped or delivered. These are unchartered waters for me, and that’s due largely to the outstanding service provided by several retail and mail order companies.

On the other hand, not all the companies I purchased from were as responsive, and that’s the nature of business. But going forward, I’ll simply shift my business from the underachievers to those that set the bar high.

Those outstanding organizations know several important things about shoppers:
Time is precious
People want an efficient shopping experience, whether it’s picking up a few things at the store or navigating a website for gifts.

Speed matters
Most of my online delivers came within a few days — and with free shipping. The stores I’ve visited in person have enough employees to provide quick checkouts.

Be clear
One email confirmation I received included only item numbers, with no names. When part of the shipment was cancelled, I had to dig to find out which item.

Ask what the customer wants 
I receive daily emails from two companies, and the information seems pretty much the same from day-to-day. As a result, I delete most of them. A couple a week would be fine and more likely to be read.

Be on Santa’s Nice List
I’ve encountered some of the nicest, most patient customer service people this year.  Good organizations undertand their value on the bottom line.

Look for Big George
Former heavyweight champ George Forman served as spokesperson for Meineke mufflers, ending each commercial with the phrase “I guarantee it.”  Standing behind your products goes a long way. Are you more likely to shop at a store that cheerfully refunds your money, or one that tells you, “Sorry, this has been opened …”?

Your turn. What have you observed during this holiday season?

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In search of quality

Last week, I decided to repaint the inside of my home. Walls, trim, doors — the whole shebang. The original paint job was very poorly done (by a “professional” painter), and 3 years of looking at all the blemishes finally took its toll.

As I was applying a coat of semi-gloss to my dining room window trim this morning, the topic of quality kept popping into my head. Is good quality work harder to find because people don’t have the skills or commitment of generations past, or have we lowered our standards to accept mediocrity in exchange for discount pricing?

Quality still matters
The answer is probably a little of both. Still, boosting the quality of your product or service can give you a valuable edge and help you stand out from the crowd.

The U.S. government recognized this when it established The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the 1980s. Its goal, to promote the importance of excellence in an ever-competitive global marketplace, stresses that quality is a necessity, not an option.

Past recipients of the Baldrige Award include Boeing, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Cadillac, IBM, Federal Express, Motorola, and the City of Irving, Texas. Pretty good company.

Personal Quality
Producing good quality benefits individuals, too, both on the job and in our personal lives. Your boss will quickly learn to rely on you to produce quality work, while family and friends certainly notice a well-kept lawn, clean car, and home-made meals.

Easier said than done? Maybe. But start with making a commitment to quality and see where that leads. I suspect you’ll catch yourself paying more attention to your work and taking a bit more time to get something just right. People will notice, and you’ll feel a sense of pride.

As for my painting, I have a second coat waiting to be done.

Your thoughts on the topic?

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9 things L.L. Bean taught me

I spent nearly 15 years of my career at L.L. Bean, and consider myself fortunate to have worked a good chunk of my career at such a terrific organization. I began to reminisce on a recent visit to its Freeport, Me., campus, and decided to pen the top lessons I learned during my days as a “Beaner.”

Customer Focus
The company has many stakeholder groups, from employees to vendors, but the customer comes first. Leon Leonwood Bean’s customer service philosophy begins, “A customer is the most important person ever in this company – in person or by mail.”

Stand behind your products
L.L.’s guarantee, established in 1912, remains the gold standard today. Few companies support their products or services so strongly. Customers notice.

Do the right thing
I can’t count the number of times I heard a leader say “We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. Integrity was part of the Bean way well before it became vogue. And when leaders model the behavior, employees notice. Soon it becomes part of the culture.

Offer quality and value
You can buy lesser quality merchandise for the lowest price — and that works for many people. While L.L. Bean products may cost more than others, customers know they’ll last longer. L.L.’s Golden Rule: “Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings and they will always come back for more.”

Be humble
Despite its long history of success, the company culture remained humble. Boasting was frowned upon, and success was shared. Good work was recognized by others, and teamwork was a way of doing business.

Embrace change, but be thoughtful about it
The company was very thoughtful about course changes, whether that meant a new product line or store expansion. Leaders understood the importance of prioritization and tackling the most important items first.

Everyone chips in
During a long-ago visit to the Flagship Store, I spotted the store’s director on the floor, sorting hats into the correct size bin. A busy customer day had left the display a bit messy, and he wanted it right.

Treat employees well
Happy employees tend to be better employees. It seems obvious, but I think a lot of companies miss this one. As an employee, I enjoyed good benefits and a generous discount. Plus, treating people well is the right thing to do (see number 3).

Be a good neighbor
Bean gives back to its community in many ways, ranging from free summer concerts and fireworks on Independence Day, to a Road Race and countless sponsorship, particularly when it comes to the environment.


Apple gets it right, again and again

The much-anticipated iPhone 5 has arrived, sending a flurry of shoppers to stores, and those who preordered the upgrade are anxiously checking their mailbox.

It’s difficult to think of a product line that generates the buzz of Apple’s, and the company does it over and over again. iPhones, iPads, Macs — whatever the release, Apple has a very loyal and large following ready to scoop it up.

What’s Apple’s secret? Putting customers first. It’s an old cliché, but Apple does it better than anyone.

Clearly, the customer is at the center of any upgrade or redesign. Apple seems to know what we want before we do. It creates products that are innovative and cool, and we use them because they work, and they make us feel hip.

While some organizations will add a feature “to enhance the end user’s experience,” Apple seems to ask, “Wouldn’t it be cool if our phone could talk and respond to verbal commands, or if our tablet could take photos?”

I also suspect you don’t often hear “That can’t be done,” at Apple offices.

Imagine life if more companies had Apple’s laser-beam focus on customers. Wouldn’t that be fun?

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Red Sox and Yankees know marketing baseball is more than just a game

Baseball fans from Beantown and the Big Apple are catching their breath after a three-day, four game series between the Red Sox and Yankees. Some call it the greatest rivalry in sports. Perhaps it is.

Regardless of which team you support, it’s clear that both clubs know how to build their fanbase.

The long and storied histories of these two teams are evident to even the most casual fan. The Yankees, winners of 27 World Series, are one of the most success sports franchises; Boston fans are still basking in the glow of their 2004 and 2007 titles.

But these days, the fan experience goes well beyond wins and losses. Many years ago, writing a Master’s thesis on sports marketing, I found that while a winning team boosts attendance, adding to the fan experience goes a long way, too. And that’s something — in addition to fielding competitive teams year after year — the Sox and Yankees do well.

Give a nod to tradition
Few teams in professional sports have a history and tradition that can match these two, and that’s something people want to be part of:

  • The “B” and “NY” logos are simple, recognizable, and can be found in every state and many countries. Any attempt to change either would likely bring a groundswell of opposition.
  • Boston’s Fenway Park marks its 100th anniversary this year, and the team is pulling out all the stops in a year-long celebration: Fenway 100 hats, multiple books on the park, a dedicated website, and a celebration that brought back hundreds of former players.
  • Yankee Stadium was built next to the predecessor it was modeled after, the original Yankee Stadium, the “House that Ruth Built.” Fans in New York begin each game with a Roll Call, chanting the name of every player on the field until he acknowledges the crowd.

Thanks for the memories
These two teams list some of the game’s greatest players, as well as many of the sport’s most memorable moments: Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 1975 World Series, Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech, Yogi Berra embracing Don Larsen after the latter tossed a perfect game in the 1956 Series, etc. These and other great moments are etched in the memory of fans from Eastport, Maine, to Northport, Long Island, and for those too young to remember, they can be seen in television promotions, on the big screen at the game, even on YouTube.

Recalling great moments is a powerful tool, and both of these teams do that well.

Legends played here
In 1941, Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games. That same year, Ted Williams finished the season with a .406 batting average. No player has come close to either mark in the 71 years since. A late boss of mine often spoke of boyhood fights that resulted from the Williams vs. DiMaggio debate. And that was before the arrival of Mickey Mantle.

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, 23 players whose primary team was the Yankees are in the Hall, including Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest ever to play the game. The Red Sox have 10 former players in the Hall, led by Williams, considered by many to the best hitter of all time.

Both clubs look to add to those numbers with their current and future stars. The banner atop the Yankees website reads “Heroes Remembered. Legends Born,” connecting the past to the present.

First class
Outfielder Darnell McDonald, recently released by the Sox, signed a contract with New York a few days later. In addition to his wardrobe change into Yankee pinstripes, McDonald got a haircut. Appearance matters to the Yankees, and the team has a policy against long hair.

The player most aware of perception may have been the great DiMaggio, who was said to have guarded his image carefully. He was once asked why he played so hard, even when hurt. To paraphrase his reply, “because someone may be seeing me for the first time.”

Think outside the box
As part of an effort to increase the attendance capacity at tiny Fenway Park, Boston’s owners committed an act that was considered sacrilege at the time — putting seats atop the Green Monster, the 37-foot left field wall. Guess what? They’re the hottest seat in the park and among the most difficult to obtain. The Sox added a similar section overlooking right field. Yeah, these seats aren’t cheap, but they are very, very cool.

Me at Fenway Park’s “Fisk Pole.”

Fan friendly
Speaking of Fenway, the Sox offer tours of the park, for just $12. I went on a cold November afternoon. My group, one of many that day, had well over 100 people. The current owners, more than any in my lifetime, have made the experience fun for fans, with player meet and greets, opportunities to walk on the field, a seat upgrade contest on Twitter, and much more.

When the Yankees moved into the new Stadium, they brought Monument Park, a museum that pays tribute to the greats who have worn pinstripes (another tradition). The Park is open prior to games, but arrive early — the line is very long, and many people (including me) are turned away.


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