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To avoid taunts of “fake news,” allow me to clarify. I’ve dusted off the post from a year ago that commemorated the publishing of my 1,000th post. The odometer now reads 1,087.

Yet, the post has even more relevance today as companies navigate the Coronavirus era, making judgment calls on what to communicate to the outside world. If there were ever a time to seize some semblance of control over your narrative, now’s that time.

And that’s the beauty of owned media, and specifically, a blog.

While what’s shared below covers my own journey and elevating the Agency’s brand, you could apply the same concepts to any B2B company.

Take a read.

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Writing feeds my soul, so producing 1,000 blog posts on public relations, storytelling and everything in between hasn’t exactly been combat duty.

Still, there’s something about a round number with three zeroes that causes one to pause, to consider what went into this corporate blogging journey. Even though the destination was unknown, my anxiety was eased knowing that that every post would earn at least one click (thanks, Mom). Soon after I was on a roll with a guarantee of two clicks (thanks, Heather).

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First Ishmael's Corner Blog Post repurposed into image with numbers "1,000"

 

I figure developing each blog post takes around two and a half hours, so I’ve devoted roughly 2,500 hours to the blog. If we assume a 50-hour work week — perhaps conservative by Silicon Valley standards — I’ve spent a year on the blog with two weeks of vacation thrown in. I’m lucky there’s no one chirping in my ear to allocate more time to billable client work. I don’t believe there’s a PR consultancy on the planet that would pay me a year’s salary to blog, satirizing the communications that emanate from the White House, explaining how adjectives can be the enemy and lamenting how the vice-like grip of Procurement puts sumo wrestlers to shame.

 

The ROI for Corporate Bloging in PR

Of course this begs the questions — Has the company blog delivered ROI for the Agency? Have there been tangible benefits beyond nourishing my soul?

Naturally, I think the answer is yes. Still, I acknowledge that it’s not an easy one to quantify. Do companies pound on our door exclaiming, “I just read Lou’s blog post on ‘Conversational Language as a Differentiator’ and want to hire you for a campaign?”

Not exactly.

I do think the blog shows we’re one of the few public relations consultancies in which the cobbler’s kids do actually have shoes. The same coaching that goes to clients on thought leadership — they call it thought leadership, not thought followship — is reflected in the blog. To borrow from talk radio, we do have a take. You might not agree. You might question the supporting rationale. But the blog is expressing fresh viewpoints meant to advance the communications profession, find beauty in language and take the reader to undiscovered places.

The corporate blog also performs double duty as a laboratory with me playing the mad scientist. For example, we got the SEO religion back in 2010, bundling together several blog posts on the Toyota PR crisis involving a bungled recall. We married this content with stories already in the public domain and then experimented with the various SEO “dials.” It blew us away how quickly our little site landed on Page 1 ahead of major media titles.

The Holmes Report started an In2 SABRE award in 2015 for SEO/Content Distribution that recognizes the reach of PR writing. We’ve won this category four out of the five years with the latest recognition coming last month for a site we built and optimized for the City of Fremont (www.ThinkSiliconValley.com). I don’t understand how the PR industry is still MIA when it comes to the synergy between earned media and owned media, particularly when it comes to corporate blogs. The chart below shows the magic of a B2B blog when the target audience cares about the content and you add the SEO booster rocket.

 

Graph showing thought leadership for a shipping software company

 

As a second example, the laboratory has helped us hone our visual storytelling chops, typically a weak point in PR agencies where talent comes from the world of words and majors in English, mass communications or journalism. Thanks to the lab, we discovered the wonders of illustration where anything is possible … literally. An illustrator based in Argentina, Rodrigo Nahum, created the artwork for this post. I value how the blog and social media puts me in the path of so many talented people who otherwise would be invisible.

It’s worth mentioning that the blog has played a role in expanding the Agency’s public profile. Publications periodically republish posts like PR Daily and this treatise on how to torpedo international PR.

And the company blog dropped the breadcrumbs that led me to Peter Lewis, previously a journalist at Fortune and The New York Times, and a collaboration that generated the initial curriculum for our first storytelling workshop delivered to PayPal. Today, we have trainers in Europe and Asia as well as the U.S. and a curriculum that comes in four different flavors: internal communicators, owned media, executives and general employees.

So back the question on whether the blog has delivered tangible benefits to the Agency; the evidence suggests yes. For the record, I agree with the evidence.

 

From a Corporate Blog Post on Condiment Wars to Becoming the PR Ombudsman for Journalism

My first post on July 10, 2008 rang in at 207 words:

Businesspeople tend to associate storytelling with fiction.

Yet, the same elements that make a book such as “Moby Dick” a compelling read — good versus evil, care for the characters, humor, etc. — have a place in the business world. Whether it’s a potential customer evaluating your product or a journalist probing your latest news, communicating information in a more entertaining fashion increases your likeability quotient.

And customers, journalists, job candidates and even gadflies gravitate toward companies they like.

Unfortunately, this concept around storytelling is counterintuitive to many business executives, particularly those coming from engineering orientations where science rules the day. I’m not suggesting you need to lose an appendage to a large mammal before anyone will notice you, but the ability to build some drama in business communications is a means to capture attention.

That’s the idea behind this blog: To look at the art of storytelling through a business prism.

No doubt, most blog postings will draw from the media world — defining media as any from journalists to an individual with a virtual soapbox since the words are right there in the public domain to scrutinize. But this blog will strive to tackle the bigger challenge of communicating to the outside world in a more entertaining fashion.
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Not bad for a first missive.

Unfortunately, I didn’t sustain the quality in the early days. A few corporate blog posts hit the mark. Some were OK. Others were dreadful. I can hear my high school English teacher, Mr. Harper, in his Southern drawl saying, “Mister Hoffman — two beats — what were you thinking?” More than eight years after writing “Condiment War Unleashes Unsavory Diatribe” about Mustard Day in the City of Middleton, I still can’t answer Mr. Harper’s question.

The quality improved and I found my voice — along with $1.36 in change under a couch cushion — once I expanded the subject matter from storytelling to anything intersecting with this wacky profession called communications. With more turf to navigate, I took on the unofficial role of PR ombudsman for journalism (now there’s a weird phrase). Given the slings and arrows that journalists shoot at the PR profession — “Dear PR Lady, Here’s Why I Didn’t Open Any of Your Email Pitches” — it’s a community service to reassure fellow communicators that journalists aren’t perfect either and even write lame stories on occasion.

Like the blog post that took The Wall Street Journal to the “word shed” for trying to channel BuzzFeed with a slide gallery called, “Top 8 Ways Humans Spend Their Time as Illustrated by Other Species.” The Columbia Journalism Review republished part of the post, not a common landing spot for PR blogs.

 

Passage from blog post "Top 8 Ways Humans Spend Their Time, as Illustrated by Other Species" republished in Columbia Journalism Review

 

Sure, I could have done without the “tech flack” reference.

With that said, I believe that journalists are the best non-fiction storytellers on the planet. Communicators can learn from journalists. I try to do my part, periodically reverse-engineering articles to expose the individual components that in aggregate keep the reader reading.

 

Celebrities from the World of Words and Images Doing Their Own PR

The blog has had a few brushes with fame. I’ve conducted interviews with the likes of the top slang lexicographer in English, Jonathon GreenJohn Pitts who leads the marketing and public relations efforts for John Grisham’s novels and the best-selling New York Times author Ella Frances Sanders who illustrated a piece of artwork for the occasion.

 

Artwork from author Ella Frances Sanders, whose work has appeared in the Ishmael's Corner blog on occasion

 

And after writing about the essay “Block That Adjective” by another best-selling author, novelist Alexander McCall Smith, he dropped by the neighborhood and handed me a get-out-of-jail-free card for my use of adjectives.

 

Message from Alexander McCall Smith on Ishmael's Corner blog post on adjectives

 

If My Blog Could Talk, It Would Say “Thank You”

 

Building a readership for a PR blog is hard work. The periodic sense of toiling alone begat the line: “If a post falls in the forest and no one is around to read it, does it make a sound?”

Earlier I mentioned that expanding the subject matter to business communications in general improved the blog. At some point, I also figured out that writing with the primary objective of increasing readership was not working. There’s something beautifully ruthless about the Google Analytics console. My mentality changed to writing for an audience of one: me. Before you characterize me as self-indulgent (or worse), hear me out. I figured that if I offered a perspective that I found revealing or counterintuitive or amusing or fun or a combination, others might too.

I recognize the most precious commodity in the universe is one’s attention. The answer to how many rubber bands does it take to explode a watermelon is only a click away.

I appreciate everyone who has spent time on the blog. I feel lucky to have an audience today that expands beyond my Mom and the Wife.

Where do I go from here? I’m not sure. That’s the fun of it.

 

 


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