Archive for June, 2011
Jeff Vance has figured out PR is not the enemy.
He’s the guy behind Sandstorm Media, a service that straddles the line between journalism and content marketing.
As a contributor to publications ranging from Forbes.com to Network World, his database of PR contacts essentially serves as a tool for crowd sourcing story ideas and industry experts.
I thought his recent perspective on using Twitter to promote clients hit the mark.
While I still contend storytelling in 140 character chunks makes for erratic narrative, the techniques hold relevance.
With Jeff’s OK, here’s that perspective in guest post form.
A colleague of mine sent me a link to a story about finding business leads on Twitter. There is some value in the story, though it’s kind of simplistic. The gist is this: search for people looking for your services not only in Google but also on Twitter. Yes, someone got an entire article out of that pretty obvious thought. But, hey, those of us who create content for a living aren’t always going to hit home runs.
However, the story did get me thinking about how to effectively use Twitter. PR and marketing reps love Twitter. Many of you are way better (and more consistent) at using Twitter than I am.
However, even the best Twitterers often aren’t putting out compelling content when they Tweet. Often, when PR or marketing folks Tweet, they announce a product or some company news and simply link to a press release, and that’s about it.
What works on Twitter? Humor and gossip are two big ones. I follow OldHossRadbourn not for his old-timey baseball wisdom, but because the Tweets crack me up. I follow the Tech Gossip List because I want to stay up on acquisition rumors and such.
How does either of those things help you as you try to get the message out for your clients, though?
I’ll confess that I don’t use Twitter as much as I should. When I tweet, I use shortcuts. Nine times out of ten I’m simply tweeting an article of mine that published somewhere. Usually, it’s simply a matter of hitting the “retweet” button, and my tweet posts with a headline and a tiny URL.
The thing is, though, a headline is a pretty effective tweet. Headlines are written to grab your attention. They’re written to prompt questions in readers’ minds. They’re written to engage.
Do your Tweets do that?
Many of the PR-written tweets I see don’t grab your attention. “Company X and company Y formed a partnership. Read the release here.” “Check out our new blog post about our award from this or that trade show.” “Our Fancy New Startup just released its first product. Read more here.”
These are all actual tweets I read today, just with the company names stripped out.
As is, these tweets will only interest those directly involved with the companies because they have no hooks. They don’t grab your attention. They don’t raise a question that makes you want to read more to get an answer.
The easiest way to make your tweets more compelling is to write them as if they were headlines. Instead of “Our Fancy New Startup just released its first product,” how about focusing on the problem the product solves?
Let’s say the product offers some type of cloud security. Off the top of my head, a better headline would be something like “Worried about cloud security? Find out how to put those fears to rest.” Or “Don’t fear the cloud. Learn a surprising new way to secure cloud environments.”
Okay, those aren’t perfect, but you get the idea.
One final thought on Twitter and content. What should you link to? I’m not a big believer in press releases sent out as “content.” They serve a purpose, but the form is suited to reporters, not readers. Press releases are written so reporters on deadline can quickly grab some news, maybe lift a quote and have a story ready to go in 10 minutes or less.
Press releases don’t tend to read like stories, however. Before linking to the press release, think about instead writing a quick blog entry that is more conversation, more controversial and, ultimately, more readable.
In summary, unless you’re known by a single name – @Shaq enjoyed 3,978,677 followers at last count – use Twitter as an industry platform as opposed to self promotion.
And two, craft your tweets with a certain je ne sais quoi (all I have to show from high school French) that cuts though the noise.
If you’ve had success with a particular technique, please jump in.
The New York Times recently wrote about Bloomberg TV’s quest for a larger audience.
Trevor Fellows, an exec with Bloomberg Media Group, brashly stated:
“We want to be the most influential business television station there is.”
He goes on to say, “We’re fiercely independent, fiercely rational.”
Somehow, I don’t think this was a dig at Jerry Springer reruns.
To get the skinny from a communications perspective, let’s turn to Sheri Baer, who heads the Agency’s broadcast media practice.
After years of working with all of the national broadcast outlets, Sheri’s in the perfect position to share what’s taking place behind the Bloomberg TV curtain.
Q: The New York Times story notes that Bloomberg TV doesn’t want to just be the domain of traders and brokers. Do you agree?
A: I have definitely noticed a shift in Bloomberg TV programming – from purely financial/stock market news to more business news and trends coverage. Definitely higher production value as well. The studio sets are looking slicker.
Q: Sounds like they’re investing in the operation?
A: Absolutely. I don’t think most people realize Bloomberg is the only business network that has fully converted to HD. If you’ve got a decent story backed by compelling B-Roll in HD format, that can be a door-opener.
Q: Is there one particular show that stands out as symbolizing this shift?
A: I’d say “Inside Track with Deirdre Bolton and Erik Schatzker” is clearly looking to explore broad trends and themes. Just our own discussions with the producer have ranged from supply chain issues from the Japan earthquake to the price of energy.
Q: Has Bloomberg TV caught up with CNBC?
A: Tough to say. While there is no way to compare viewership since Bloomberg doesn’t have Nielsen ratings, it’s safe to assume CNBC attracts more viewers. On the other hand, Bloomberg maximizes online exposure for video segments. They’re very savvy on the digital side. Typically, every interview is posted to Bloomberg’s website, YouTube channel and initially to its CEO Spotlight splash page. The airtime “hit” is always valuable, but I would argue the online longevity is a tremendous asset as well.
Q: What else is different about Bloomberg TV these days?
A: I was surprised The New York Times article only referenced the push to promote the morning programming. The afternoon block offers terrific opportunities too.
Q: Like “Bloomberg WEST?”
A: Exactly. This is a huge departure from traditional Bloomberg programming. The show airs from Bloomberg’s new West Coast studio in San Francisco. Although CNBC will do live in-studio segment interviews from its Silicon Valley bureau in San Jose, we’ve never had a full business network show actually based in the Bay Area. Plus, and this is a big one, “Bloomberg WEST” clearly defines itself as NOT a stock show. The show focuses on innovation, so it’s receptive to interesting startup and technology stories – not just news from public companies.
Q: Not easy pitching a tech story to national TV.
A: To say the least. Just based on exposure, East Coast producers can fall into the trap of defining technology as Apple, Google and Facebook. By virtue of being in Silicon Valley, “Bloomberg WEST” is going to have a much broader perspective.
Q: Any other Bloomberg TV shows catch your attention?
A: I also like the approach in “Taking Stock with Pimm Fox.” Don’t let the pun in the title fool you. Pimm likes to dive deeper than the numbers and really looks for the passion and personality behind a company. We’ve had numerous clients featured on this program. I love that he usually starts with, “Help us understand what your company does.”
Note: You can see an example of a segment with Pimm Fox interviewing Rick Hill, CEO for Novellus, here.
Q: What has your personal experience been like working with Bloomberg TV?
A: The folks we work with at Bloomberg TV have consistently been very professional and easy to work with. On a purely anecdotal level, we’ve also seen former CNBC and Fox Business contacts resurface at Bloomberg TV, so they must be seeing some incentive to make the jump. Lead contacts right now include Maryam Shahabi with “Taking Stock with Pimm Fox,” Kat Ricker with Bloomberg’s “Street Smart,” and Leslie Picker with Bloomberg’s “Inside Track.”
Q: Is there any single theme that cuts across all of these contacts?
A: Again, it comes down to advancing the story beyond stats and figures. They want to spotlight the leadership behind the company and get into the market drivers for the business. That’s how we’ve been successful in landing clients on these shows.
Q: Do you think Bloomberg TV’s new positioning will help make it more competitive when it comes to booking guests?
A: I definitely think so. Anyone who works with these networks knows that they’re all looking to book “first” broadcast exclusives. If it was strictly a numbers game, CNBC would win every time. But Bloomberg is doing a really good job touting the caliber of its audience. For example, bookers will cite that Bloomberg TV viewers have the highest median household income and the highest median net worth among cable news networks in the U.S.
That’s a wrap.
When it comes to writing that amuses, Christopher Buckley makes my top-10 list.
“Thank You For Smoking” should be required reading for anyone contemplating the communications profession. The scene when the PR guy for the tobacco industry turns the table on the senator from Wisconsin by spotlighting artery-clogging cheese is a classic.
Buckley’s review of the book ”On China by Henry Kissinger” doesn’t disappoint.
The same gift for language comes through starting with the sardonic lead:
Oh, warm and fuzzy China: torturing and jailing dissidents, hacking into Gmail, cozying up to the worst regimes on earth, refusing to float the renminbi, spewing fluorocarbons into the ozone, building up its navy, and stealing military secrets—all while enabling America’s fiscal incontinence by buying all those T-bills.
I’d say this sets the stage for the conundrum called China.
But here’s the ‘graph worthy of a 3M sticker:
A country that has endured 4,000 years of uncounted wars and upheavals, through the Taiping Rebellion of the 1850s (tens of millions killed), and man-made calamities such as Mao’s Great Leap Forward (an additional 20 million) and the Cultural Revolution, is nothing if not resilient. Sun Tzu coined a term shi, which roughly translates to “the art of understanding matters in flux.” Writes Kissinger: “A turbulent history has taught Chinese leaders that not every problem has a solution.” In other words, shi happens.
If this doesn’t cause you to crack a smile, then you my friend are “smile challenged.”
One final comment -
I expected a photo or two to accompany the review showing Mr. Kissinger in China.
Instead, Businessweek gives us shots of Henry with famous women based on this stretch: “In between talks with Beijing, the eternal diplomat got around.”
It’s downright weird to see this forced glamour contrasted with Buckley’s intelligent narrative.
Observing the spate of recent public debacles has caused me to revisit what makes for the most effective outbound communications.
At the 10K-foot level, it requires the management of a company and the communications function to be on the same page.
I’m not talking about being in sync with regards to the pristine messages in a news release.
Instead, I’m suggesting management and communications need to be in alignment when it comes to the overall operation of the company.
In other words, PR actually has a say in how a company behaves.
Before going further, let’s take a look at the definition of utopia:
An imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.
Of course, shades of gray shadow PR, so I’m asking you to suspend belief as I continue down this path.
In my “perfect world,” PR serves as the conscious of the company, making sure decisions and actions align with the organization’s aspirations and core values.
The gap between actions and conscious often goes on public display during a crisis. It causes companies to deploy words as the lead pin to diffuse the situation.
I think they call this spin.
For exhibit A, rewind the clock to last March when Toyota’s lawyers seemed in charge, leaving the PR function with the dubious honor of communicating the recall decisions to the outside world.
Look at Facebook’s recent self-inflicted poke.
There’s no way Facebook’s PR function had a say in the decision to deposition Google on the issue of privacy without divulging Facebook’s name. If they did, as the conscious of the company they would have pointed out:
“Fellas, our brand stands for openness and transparency. Call me crazy, but it’s probably a good idea if we let the media know we’re behind this communication in the spirit of, right, openness and transparency.”
One final example -
The actions of FIFA, the worldwide governing body of soccer, conjure the image of the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup.” Zany works in a movie but it’s not exactly the desired description of an enterprise that now tops $1 billion in revenue.
Seth Blatter’s answer to the latest bribery scandal was to assemble a “council of wisdom” consisting of Placido Domingo, Henry Kissinger, and Johan Cruyff.
A tenor, a statesman coming up on 90 years of age, and a former soccer player.
Again, the PR function – you’d be hard-pressed to find a PR contact on the FIFA website, which I suppose reflects the organization’s mentality – might have pointed out to Prince Blatter the words “council of wisdom” will lead to parody. And, oh, by the way, if the objective is to clean up the organization, then doesn’t it make sense to select people with track records in “cleaning up” and give them a modicum of autonomy?
Which brings us back to the PR profession’s never-ending lament:
We need a seat at the table.
Perhaps this quest misses the point.
It could be some (most?) companies prefer communications without the dot-connecting guidance.
Don Ranley taught at the Missouri School of Journalism for 32 years.
He has conducted more than 1,000 writing, editing and publishing seminars.
And let’s not forget he reported for the “The Catholic Herald Citizen” (weekly, circ. 180,000) in Milwaukee from 1966-1967.
In short, here’s a guy who’s knows a thing or two about storytelling.
I connected with Don last week after he delivered the session, “Let’s Tell a Story!” at the IABC conference. He was kind enough to answer a few questions with an economy of words.
Q: Do you think storytelling in terms of what resonates with people has changed since you’ve been teaching?
A: No, Lou, I don’t think anything has really changed in writing the story itself. Depending on the medium and the audience, you might argue for a shorter story. But everyone loves a good story.
Q: Are there one or two storytelling techniques that you find to be underutilized?
A: Good similes and metaphors are still too rare. Also, sometimes writers quote for the sake of quoting rather than wait for the great quote. Lively, colorful quotations spice up copy. That means you have to find people who can give them to you.
Q: Is there one particular journalist that stands out as a gifted storytelling?
A: For a working journalist, David Casstevens of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is as good as I’ve seen.
If you’re looking for extraordinary storytelling in the media, Evelyn Lee, one of our account directors in Asia, flagged The Atlantic list, “Nearly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism.” That’s a wrap.
If you’re looking for extraordinary storytelling in the media, Evelyn Lee, one of our account directors in Asia, flagged The Atlantic list, “Nearly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism.”
That’s a wrap.