Content marketing to be key in 2014

By Michelle Rash
There is growing buzz in the PR and advertising world about “content marketing,” or the use of company-created materials to educate, inform and potentially grow your customer base. At a time when many people simply fast forward through commercials on their favorite TV shows or have a growing distrust in the traditional news media, content marketing is viewed as an increasingly vital way to get your core message out to potential customers.
Content marketing is not advertising, in the traditional sense. Its emphasis is not, and should not be, simply on selling a product. Content marketing focuses on adding value to a product, on telling the story of the company and its customers or educating consumers on a topic that your company is an expert on.
RLF has used content marketing as part of our overall PR strategy with clients for many years and in a variety of ways – from writing blog posts and producing YouTube videos to developing microsites and creating downloadable guides. We see the value that such content has for building trust and awareness among potential customers and for establishing loyalty among existing customers.

Earlier this week, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Tar Heel chapter hosted Dan Dooley (pictured right), senior vice president of digital solutions for Pace Communications, which has been recognized nationally for its content creation work for a variety of national brands. Dooley spoke about content marketing and why it matters for companies and brands. As I listened to him speak, I found that many of his key points were good reminders of some of the best practices of content marketing.
Among Dooley’s key points:

  • Quality is key: With the surge of content being created, quality matters more than ever. Google uses the quality of a piece of content as one component of its search-ranking algorithm, as does Facebook. If you want your content to rank high on these sites – a necessity to help reach your target audience – you need to create content that is well written, liked and trusted and shared by others.
  • Expect failure: One of the most interesting things Dooley said was they expect about 20 percent of the content they create to fail – to generate little to no interest. But, he stressed, failure can be a good thing. It means they are being innovative and experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t, which will help them to create better, more effective content over time.
  • Make changes as you go: A side effect of expecting failure is that you need to be willing to make changes. While most people think of content as being static – once it’s done, it’s done – Dooley said it should be much more dynamic. Pace monitors the response to their client content in real time (for example, how many page views something is getting online). If something is underperforming, they are not afraid to change it, whether that means putting a new headline on it or repackaging the content in a different way.

The role of content marketing will continue to grow in an overall public relations strategy as companies continue to look for new ways to engage with customers. When it comes to educating and engaging customers, content really is king. As a PR tactic, it is starting to supplant advertising in terms of importance and investment. If done well, content marketing builds trust, conversation, engagement, advocacy and emotional connection with customers; those are important for any product or service wanting to avoid becoming a commodity.

Want to Attract Quality Interns? Here’s How.

By Adam Bowers
AdamIn agency life, interns are common. Internships are a win-win: Young public relations pros get much-needed experience and agencies get smart, young minds that are willing to do just about anything to get a foot in the industry door. Interns can be important assets to PR firms, especially small agencies.
So what are you doing to attract the best and brightest upcoming PR practitioners to your company? An ultra-trendy office and an impressive client list isn’t always enough to attract young talent. Here are three things that interns are really looking for in PR agencies (or any other internship).

1. Legitimate work

One of the biggest ticket items interns look for in comparing agencies is the type of work they will be assigned. Promote what type of work interns will be doing, not what work they won’t be doing. I can’t tell you how many internship postings I’ve seen that use the line, “You won’t be getting coffee in this internship!” That may seem like it would be attractive to potential interns, but internship standards have changed. No one really expects to get coffee for the office anymore. As college students become increasingly well-equipped and social media-savvy, they expect to be trusted to do legitimate work that will benefit client accounts. Interns now want to know things like, “Will I be stuck updating status reports, or will I also have a chance to write news releases, pitch stories and manage social media so I can add that work to my portfolio?”

2. Team integration

A close second to promoting the type of work you give interns is how you integrate them into your team. Interns want to work for firms where they feel like part of the team and not a part-time passerby. Do you invite your interns to internal meetings? Do you ask them to participate in brainstorming sessions? If not, you’re missing out on a valuable resource. Rather than grouping all the interns together into an “intern team,” make each one feel like an important part of the teams he or she works on by including them, as much as possible, in day-to-day account activity. Trust me, they will love accepting those Outlook meeting invitations.

3. Great people

We all want to work with people we like, but this is especially important for interns. Interns realize they will be doing at least some amount of mundane, less-than-glamorous work. But, if they know that they will be doing this alongside people that are fun to be around, they’re going to be drawn to your agency.  I became interested in RLF after meeting two employees at an information session at college. I could tell that they genuinely got along. Ultimately, I applied because of what their interaction showed me about the agency’s culture, not because of the agency’s client list, office location or prestige (though all of those things were great as well!).
If you’ve already got these three things, chances are that you have a strong internship program and even stronger candidates – and that’s good for business in the long-term. If interns have a good experience at your agency, they will tell their peers about their growth within PR and encourage friends to apply. Pretty soon, you’ll be up to your ears in resumes of ambitious young undergrads.

A World of Public Relations and Marketing Terminology

By Monty Hagler
As RLF’s clients increasingly engage in campaigns and business relationships in every corner of theglobe, they count on RLF to create effective, localized and culturally appropriate public relations and marketing campaigns. That’s a key reason why RLF joined the Worldcom partnership composed of 109 independent agencies across six continents, and why we’re delighted to have participated in the creation of an e-glossary of public relations and marketing terms from around the globe.glossary-cover
Many of these terms will undoubtedly be familiar, but there are hidden gems on every page that provide insights on how public relations and communications are viewed in different countries and regions. Our partner in Cape Town, South Africa offers us “Blegging,” the practice of asking bloggers for free assistance.  Our partner in Indonesia captures the importance of reaching rural markets through “Community Audio Towers” that narrowcast information about agriculture, health and nutrition. Our partner in Japan offers us “Kizuna,” a term to describe a common hardship that unites people.
The nearly 400 entries in this e-glossary include terms that are playing an important role in the evolving nature of our business. For example, we have long lived in world of “Paid Media” (advertising) or “Earned Media” (media relations). But communication and persuasion are increasingly impacted by “Shared Media” (online and social media sites where many voices compete for attention and relevance), “Promoted Media” (paying to push content to a much larger audience than would access it organically) and “Owned Media” (companiesorganizations creating and promoting content via channels they control such as their websites, e-newsletters and blogs).
In the coming months, I will travel to Peru and South Korea for meetings and strategy sessions with my Worldcom partners. I’m looking forward to getting more immersed in how campaigns can be adapted and enhanced in global markets, and bringing back best practices to our team.
You can download the glossary from the Worldcom site.

Helping Those in Need Help Themselves

By Bart Trotman
About a year ago, I started to hear whispers around town about a small revolution. Not an uprising or a coup, but something radical nonetheless.
When it comes to homelessness and poverty, there are no easy solutions. But these issues aren’t going away. Ignoring the problems and the people affected hurts society as a whole. So, we should be thankful for people like Liz Seymour, who took it upon herself to address these issues locally.
For 12 years Liz worked behind the scenes to improve the lives of Greensboro’s impoverished residents. And what does she have to show for it? Greensboro’s Interactive Resource Center (IRC), a community center that takes a logistical holistic approach to solving problems associated with homelessness.
The IRC has done an amazing job of asking a simple question: What stops someone struggling with homelessness from changing his or her situation? From a logistical standpoint, something like having a place to receive mail or phone calls is a no-brainer. How can you get a job if you can’t get a phone call?
The IRC is not a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. There are no beds. Instead, there is a computer lab with workshops to help people create resumes, find jobs and apply for them. There is also a wardrobe of professional attire that clients can borrow for job interviews. There is a barbershop, an art room and, most importantly, case workers.
To raise awareness about the organization’s work, Liz approached me and Blake Faucette, of All Aces Media, to produce a collection of short videos highlighting some of the IRC’s success stories. As a pro-bono project, we sat down separately with five individuals and asked each what specific resources at the IRC had made the biggest difference in their lives.

The most impressive story we heard was Sam’s (above). With help from the IRC, the formerly homeless man started a landscaping business and a program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
As someone who has never faced homelessness, this was an eye opening experience for me. It is easy for those of us who aren’t struggling to forget how great a resource our community can be.
To hear more first-hand accounts of how the IRC has make a difference in the lives of local Greensboro residents, check out the rest of the videos:
Support for the Homeless: Interactive Resource Center of Greensboro
Art Gallery for the Homeless: Interactive Resource Center of Greensboro
Helping Homeless Help Themselves: Interactive Resource Center of Greensboro
Jobs for the Homeless: Interactive Resource Center of Greensboro

Playing By the Rules Changes the Game

By Monty Hagler

On these long, hot summer days, my family has been playing numerous games on the porch at our lake house. Nothing involving computers or video games – we’re old school addicts for cards, checkers, Scrabble and Monopoly.
I’ve been playing Monopoly for decades, so I was deeply surprised when Peyton, my 9-year-old daughter, announced that we were not “playing by the rules.” She’d spent some time actually reading the small print Monopoly rules, and she was determined to start enforcing them. Some rules were not a big deal. There is no pot of money for whoever lands on “Free Parking.” But other rules fundamentally changed the way I had always played the game.
For example, I had understood that you can only buy a piece of property when you land on it. But that is not the rule. Any player can bid on a piece of property if the person who lands on it declines to purchase it. That dramatically alters the pace, flow and strategy of the game. It is less dependent upon luck – i.e. where the dice take you – and much more dependent upon fundamental strategies to buy, hold and sell real estate.
Let’s just say that under the new system – the legal way of playing the game – I got slaughtered by not only my 9-year-old, but my 11-year-old daughter as well. My mind couldn’t grasp the new approach, and my ability to compete under the real rules was seriously compromised!
I have thought about that lesson a lot as current events have unfolded in business and sports. When organizations ignore the rules, don’t learn the rules or deliberately bend the rules, it changes the playing field for everyone involved. It creates consequences for those who play by the rules, often to their detriment, until it’s exposed that violations are taking place.
Ten years ago, the telecommunications world was being roiled by an upstart company called Worldcom (no relation to the global public relations partnership that RLF is a part of). Worldcom was grabbing market share, offering unbelievable prices on services and hastening the demise of traditional telephone companies. I heard many stories from friends and professional colleagues of their bosses who were pounding the table asking their teams, “Why can’t we compete with Worldcom on price?” The answer was simple:  Worldcom was not playing by the rules. The Worldcom CEO is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for a $100 million accounting fraud, but the damage was done before he was ever convicted.
The list goes on – Enron, Madoff and now the Barclays LIBOR scandal. Even the Penn State scandal is reflective of an organization that benefited by not playing by the rules. Reporting the sexual abuse by a member of the coaching staff would have created negative publicity detrimental to the football program, so the rules of reporting illegal, unethical and immoral activities were ignored. That created an unfair playing field for the colleges and universities that competed with Penn State for players and coaches, and now the consequences of not playing by the rules are far more severe and damaging than if the issues had been addressed in the beginning. More importantly, it allowed the unconscionable abuse of young boys to continue.
It’s the job of communications professionals – whether in-house or agency consultants – to consistently advocate for organizations to understand, interpret and play by the rules. There is still plenty of room for flexibility and creativity. It would be boring, and career threatening, if we lived in a world that gave us no options in defining the meaning of things. But if companies have to play by the rules, the world looks very different. It is more transparent and rewarding of merit, hard work and skill. It operates more efficiently, sustainably and fairly. Perhaps it’s my Boy Scout training talking, but that is the kind of world I enjoy competing in.
Photo courtesy of PT Money’s Flickr photostream.

Quirky additions to Fortune 1000 list show desire for customized products and services

By AK Brinson
Last month, Fortune magazine released its annual Fortune 1000 list. In addition to the expected oil giants, commercial banks and big-box retailers, this year’s list features an eclectic group of newcomers that do everything from brewing coffee to baking bread to helping you be healthier.
What do they have in common? They’ve invested in – and profited from – figuring out how to personalize and customize their offerings for individuals.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (No. 766 and probably best known as the owners of Keurig) saw sales nearly double from 2010 to 2011. They deliver value in single-cup serving machines that bring the coffee-house variety into your kitchen. You and your spouse no longer have to agree on the type of coffee you want to drink in the morning.

Panera Bread (No. 971) offers the “You Pick Two” option (as shown in the picture on the right), which allows customers to select from hundreds of combinations of soups, salads and sandwiches.
Weight Watchers (which weighed in at No. 973) gives its customers daily personalized “PointsPlus programs that allow individuals to tailor a weight loss/meal plan to their needs. In response to consumer feedback, Weight Watchers overhauled its Points system in 2010 and now offers more flexibility with PointsPlus.
The success of these personalization-centric companies demonstrates the billion-dollar impact that customization can have.
There are many ways companies can, and should, personalize their public relations and marketing communications. Here are five suggestions:
Customize pitches to journalists and bloggers. The days of “spray and pray” mass pitches are (thankfully) coming to an end. Now, proper pitching includes researching what individuals have written about recently, what they’re saying publicly on social media networks such as Twitter, and the requests for sources they put out on email lists such as HARO and Profnet. Technology and social media make it easier than ever to write stronger, more targeted pitches.
Personally thank customers for their business. According to Forbes, only 21 percent of stores personalize thank-you notes after an online purchase and only 5 percent personalize thank-yous after an in-store purchase.
Monitor social media and online forums for user feedback and respond to each user for better quality customer service. Social media allows companies to identify and solve customer service problems early in the process. A speedy response can turn a negative into a positive.
Design websites to be phone and tablet-friendly. Not only are people likely looking at your website on a smaller screen via a potentially slower cellular connection, they’re making judgments and taking action (or not taking action) based on what they see. So, websites coded to be just as accessible and user-friendly on a small screen are now a necessity.
Create targeted website content and LinkedIn company pages. LinkedIn has a targeting feature that will allow the information on a company page to target individual audiences (here’s how). Develop websites with special pages geared towards individual audiences.
What are some of your favorite tips for helping customers personally connect with your company?
Photo courtesy of Shannon Abigail Simbulan’s Flickr photostream.

Reframing perceptions

That is what my wife, daughters and I kept saying last night as we watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. It was a visual and musical feast of color, precision, costumes, pageantry and surprises.
Much has been made about the desire of China to use the Olympic Games to help transform their image on the world stage. It’s working. For my young daughters, the predominant imprint of China in their minds will be a country that blends magic, beauty and technology. And the sheer size of the spectacle – from the number of synchronized performers to the successive waves of fireworks – conveyed the message that China is not looking to arrive on the world stage; China is here.
Companies and organizations can take a lesson here. China has shown us both style and substance; powerful forces in transforming the way that people talk, think, believe and act towards their country.
The Olympics will not whitewash away the many troubling issues that China must deal with – human rights, environmental pollution, unfair trade practices. But China set out to proactively and deliberately reframe and broaden the world’s view of their country and their people. It took a tremendous investment of time, money, resources and faith to make it  happen, but they didn’t back down from the challenges that led up to the opening of the games.