Define your REACH strategy

It has been said that while traditional marketing talks at people, content marketing talks with them. Here, Newton PR principal Ken Newton explains the consultancy’s REACH strategy that helps focus content marketing actions on achieving business goals.

REACH for it: 5 steps for success
REACH for it: 5 steps for success

This is the era in which content – or engagement – marketing has truly come of age for generating growth in business-to-business as well as consumer facing sectors. For many, the business blog is becoming the engine room for driving engagement with customers and stakeholders, and ultimately leveraging sales.

Content marketing is defined as ‘the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with objective of driving profitable customer action.’¹

Create a REACH strategy

The key takeout from a recent major B2B content marketing survey² was, ‘B2B marketers who have a documented content marketing strategy get better results.’ Newton Public Relations helps businesses to do just that by using five steps, summarised by the word REACH.

1 Radical mission – Envision where you want your business to be in the next one, two or three years. It’s time to think beyond the current turmoil and lingering survivalist thinking of the recession. Define not only the numbers, but your compelling offer to customers, and picture who you ideally want to be doing business with and how you want to be doing it.

2 Engagement plan – Create a plan of engagement with customers and stakeholders that will build your profile as an expert in your field. Decide where your content ‘home base’ will be. This is increasingly the business blog, as it allows you to interact with customers in a more personable way than before. Develop an engagement grid, with target timing for blog posts and other content.

3 Action – This may seem obvious, but if you want to succeed in reaching your goals, you need to take action. Don’t wait to craft the perfect plan or the ultimate measurement system: put the plan into effect and count the results. Let’s get beyond the ploughing season and sow some seeds – the online content pieces – that will bear fruit.

4 Capture – Decide on your metrics and where you will record what you measure, whether it’s using a CRM system or simple spreadsheets and reports. Email apps, blog platforms and social media have built-in metrics which can help you identify which content outputs are working best, while Google Analytics can help track the effectiveness of each marketing activity.

5 Hone – Adjust your strategy and tactics, particularly in the light of what you learn at the capture stage. Effective content marketing requires a sustained, deliberate approach over time, with fine-tuning along the way, as the key to reaping the benefits.

For more news and advice on content marketing and PR, download our new Reach newsletter.

Those that embark on – or continue – the B2B content marketing journey now have an opportunity to gain a strong competitive edge.

10 content marketing spring-clean tips

The first signs of spring are in the air. At least they are in my mind’s eye in a still-windy west of Scotland. So a spring clean using a look at content marketing trends is now in order. If anything, it’s a challenge to myself to make sure I practice what I preach.

Time for a content marketing spring clean? shutterstock.com |new photo
Time for a content marketing spring clean?
shutterstock.com | new photo

1 The lines they are a blurring

With so much engagement now taking place online, the lines between PR and marketing communications are blurring. PR and marketing professionals alike need to be conversant with paid, owned and earned media channels and understand how to blend these depending on the niche markets and publics of their organisations.

2 Chewin’ the fat

So called ‘fat content’ is becoming more of a requirement for becoming recognised as an influencer and credible brand. For many this will mean authoring or delivering fresh and compelling content, from blog posts, webinars and ebooks to infographics and web video. Having mastered the ‘canaries’ of social engagement such as tweets, facebook updates and pins, it’s important to wheel out the ‘elephants’ – the larger executions that will have a longer shelf life and draw stakeholders to engage with you and your content.

3 Sustainable goals

One of the key challenges for brands is producing good quality, compelling content. Rather than setting unrealistic goals for frequency of publishing and posting, it is better to create valuable content pieces and at a sustainable frequency that takes account of the resources available to your business. With content planning, less can indeed be more.

4 Meaty posts

Blogging has already become the content marketing home base for many businesses, and works especially well for companies and their individual specialists that need to position themselves as expert advisers. In this medium – in keeping with the trend towards ‘fat content’ – meatier posts are especially important. Long-form blog content, albeit structured in easy-to-read, bite-size chunks, has the added plus-point of being search friendly.

5 Relevant timing and context

Another factor that is affecting engagement with your content as the competition for online attention intensifies is relevance. Good old-fashioned ‘news hooks’ that every PR professional grew up with are coming more to the fore. What are the time-based hooks (like my slightly premature spring clean!) or current topics in your industry that you can hang your content on?

6 The online/offline balance

A business friend said to me today he’s telling his clients to write new business letters to prospects, as it’s the only way to get new work. I don’t fully agree, but believe he touches on an important point: online and offline need to work hand-in-hand. That can mean writing new business letters. And, yes, even sending them by snail mail.

7 Repurposing

From experience, many businesses struggle to come up with material for maintaining a content programme, but the answer is usually staring them in the face. Do a trawl of existing information resources held internally – reports, research, presentations, cases studies, customer feedback, white papers, videos, animations – and decide how these can be repurposed as online content. Some of the longer existing material could be sliced and diced into several content pieces.

8 Visual content

The old adage that a picture tells a thousand words has a ring of truth. But, as with balancing online and offline, it’s not an either/or proposition. Do both. For example, use long-form posts (still interspersed with shorter ones!) backed up with strong supporting images, whether still or moving.

9 Balancing content creation/content promotion

There can be a tendency (raising my right hand here!) to breathe a sigh of relief after completing a content piece and think ‘job done.’ Content creation needs at least the same effort again on content promotion to make sure that relevant stakeholders engage with your efforts – and with you. As well as trailing your latest post in your eNews and in social media updates, this could mean selectively using a paid-for channel such as an e-campaign via a reputable industry magazine’s opted-in list to boost click-through.

10 Measurement

In an influential survey¹, 60% of B2B marketers with documented content marketing strategy said they were effective versus 32% of those with a verbal strategy. Again, measurement, like realistic frequency of content output needs to be in keeping with your capacity for managing it. But having a document strategy, which sets measurable goals and tracks them meaningfully and sustainably, definitely works better than just having one in your head.

Above all, sow some planned, proactive and focused content marketing this spring, so you’ll have something to measure come the harvest that will have helped grow you business.

¹B2B Content Marketing 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, CMI and Marketing Profs.

Why content marketing needs elephants and canaries

In content marketing, communication pieces carry different levels of weight and impact. To be effective in the online ecosystem, marketing campaigns need a good blend of both heavy and light communications – what I call ‘elephants and canaries’.

Elephants and canaries: content marketing singing in harmony
Elephants and canaries: content marketing singing in harmony
Image © shutterstock.com | mattasbestos

See an elephant fly

Elephants are higher value content pieces which have a relatively long shelf life and potentially have a high degree of influence on buying or advocacy. Like their real-world counterparts, they are associated with long-term memory and longevity. That is, they stick in the mind and are made to last.

These executions include e-books, infographics, videos, animations, white papers, webinars and in-depth blog posts.

Recent research by the Marketing Leadership Council and Google among B2B companies found that purchasers are already 57% through their decision making process before they make contact with their potential suppliers’ sales people.

The report states:

“Potential customers are readily turning to their personal networks and publicly available information – increasingly through digital and social media channels – to self-diagnose problems and form opinions about solutions.”

Elephants help educate customers and stakeholders, and influence decisions both before and after would-be buyers get to the 57% stage. Elephants play a part in gaining you access into potential customers’ ‘purchasing funnels’ well before those same prospects make it into your sales funnel.

Canaries fly further

Canaries are lighter, more numerous and fast-turnaround pieces of content – the email and social media ‘spokes’ in the hub-and-spoke platform.

These feathered friends are the regular e-news issues, tweets, retweets and other social media updates, not to mention quick-fire blog posts.

They work interdependently with the elephants, often promoting the elephants and drawing customers and influencers towards them. The canaries effectively encourage interaction with the company, its brand and its media assets. The elephants meanwhile give the canaries something to sing about.

While the elephants often ‘live’ on the company’s website alone, the canaries help to spread their influence by flying further afield and attracting conversation and back links.

Baby elephant walk

Elephants beget baby elephants, derived sub-assets which can add leverage to the initial effort that went into creating a single, expensive media asset.

I recently copy-edited a 5-minute animation on wound care for a client targeting international healthcare markets. This primary ‘elephant’ asset contains enough material to give birth to ‘babies’ such as spin-off infographics, blog posts, a medical poster and a viral video, not to mention a whole aviary of canaries.

As the New Year approaches now is a good time to be devising the elephants which, allied to your brand objectives, will best contribute to your online narrative in the first three to six months of 2014. You’ll find they will deliver offspring in the form of smaller content pieces and provide a flight deck for your – and your network’s – e-news and social updating ‘canaries’.

How to get your blogger outreach buzzing

For some marketeers and PR types, finding one’s way around the blogosphere is probably a bit like an outsider trying to carve a route across central Edinburgh through the various tramworks-induced traffic diversions.

Creating a buzz: new inkybee tracking tool finds bloggers and brings back the pollen Image istockphoto.com/hkraty
Creating a buzz: new inkybee tracking tool finds bloggers and brings back the pollen
Image istockphoto.com/hkraty

I speak from personal experience. A couple of weeks ago, after wending my way in and out of two dead ends in said city’s St Andrew Square, I was rewarded for my perseverance by a CIPR-hosted presentation from Forth Metrics on their new blog-seeking missile, inkybee.

Purposeful

Inkybee – http://www.inkybee.com – is a clever, web-based blog search and tracking tool, designed to simplify blogger outreach – the encouraging of bloggers and their followers to engage with your brand or issue. The neat inkybee brand mark is a bee in full flight with a purposeful expression – another reminder of me and no doubt sundry hapless tourists, delivery drivers and newbie tramworks subbies doggedly circumnavigating the city centre road closures.

Why the name? Well, apparently, the inky bit is about writing and the bee part is about buzzing around the web.

Engagement, engagement, engagement

Forth Metrics director, Hugh Anderson, rightly stressed that high levels of online engagement are SEO-friendly. Google increasingly favours meaningful content and interaction – whether blogger outreach, blogging or social media engagement.

The supreme search engine has got wise to old hat approaches like ‘black hatting’ – stuffing the top of a web page with hidden keywords to grab higher search rankings, and penalises sites accordingly. The future smiles on those with good content and interactivity – which should be second nature to good PR practitioners.

Finding the ‘magic middle’

The importance of finding the right receptive influencers was emphasised. Key among these are what digital analyst Brain Solis – @briansolis – calls the ‘magic middle.’ These are the mid-tier bloggers, dedicated to niche specialisms and with followings ranging from the mid-hundreds into the thousands.

Other pointers included the sound advice to ‘behave like a friend’ towards your target bloggers. Read their blog, comment sensibly on their site from time to time and follow and retweet them on twitter.

How it works

The blog tool helps simplify these four stages of blogger outreach:

  1. Discover: inkybee’s search algorithms find relevant blogs by target audience
  2. Research: rank lists of blogs by the reach and engagement metrics that inkybee captures
  3. Track: follow the progress of outreach efforts and produce reports on the time invested
  4. Measure: create reports to demonstrate campaign success based on objective metrics.

Competitive introductory pricing ranges from $19 to $119 per  month, dependent on the number of users, campaigns per month and analytics required, and a free 30-day trail period is offered.

Practising what they preach, Forth Metrics have also produced an excellent e-book – 8 Reasons Why Blogger Relations Are Essential To Your PR Strategy – available to download free at http://www.forthmetrics.com.

Worth making a beeline to.

A 6-second guide to twitter’s new vine app

SAMSUNG

1.  Vine is the new mobile service that lets you shoot short video loops 6 seconds long and share them on your twitter account. Here’s a (clean) example/review from ex-Microsoft man @CraigFifield.

2.   Vine is currently available free via www.vine.co for iPhone and iPod touch. After installing vine on your device, you sign up using an email address or sign in with your twitter account.

3.  To create a 6-second vine:

  • Click the camera icon on the top right of the home page. This takes you to a separate page with a camera view, a status bar at the top, and an X to exit
  • Hold your finger on the screen to start recording, A green line appears on status bar (right) showing how much of your 6 seconds is left
  • Remove your finger to stop recording.

4.  Find people you know through your device’s address book, people you follow on twitter, or your facebook friends. You can also search for people on vine, or invite them via text or email.

5.  An ‘explore’ section lets you find videos from the vine community. Use ‘explore’ to check out popular posts and hashtags, editor’s picks, and the most recent posts from around the globe.

6.  Profiles and videos on vine are public, and anyone on the service can view them. If you use vine to create a video and you choose not to share it, the video will be accessible only through the camera roll on your device.

OK, that took you longer than 6 seconds to read. But in fairness, my sentences were about 6 seconds apiece.

Apparently, the hot phrase of the moment is: ‘Quiet for 6 seconds, you guys, I’m vine-ing!’

The seven steps to better campaigns

Campaigns based on great creative ideas may lack purpose or good execution. Conversely, you can have fantastic purposes and processes but could still be missing that vital spark to inspire your brand supporters.

Image by courtesy of http://www.istockphoto.com/Shenki

 

Here are seven simple steps that will help you harness both pzazz and process in your PR or marketing campaign:

1          Mission

The first question to ask is: ‘what do we want to do?’ Or if we already have a great idea, we need to ask: ‘why would we do this?’ Some campaigns can rush into action too quickly, a bit like the army captain who shouts: ‘ fire, aim, get ready!’

2          Magic

This is what we used to call the Big Idea. It’s the creative crux of the campaign. Like the premise and plot in the screenwriter’s pitch to film producers, if it’s not compelling it will not sell. No matter how slick your planning and evaluation systems are.

3          Messages

It was in 1984 that Grunig and Hunt sang the praises of the two-way model of organisational communication as being top-of-the-tree PR practice.

So two-way is not a social media age invention. The social web just makes the need for mutuality with our would-be brand supporters unavoidable. We can’t just spray them with top-down, one–way messages and hope some will stick.

Yes, we still need core messages. But, especially in digital communications, we need to be able to sustain a conversation over time with our audience.

4          Market

Be clear on the ‘who’ as well as the ‘why’ behind your campaign. Are you trying to reach 22-35 year old professionals in London or early-adopter gadget enthusiasts across Europe? The more than you can pin down your niches, the more likely you are to strike a chord with people who need what you have to offer.

5          Media

In the social media gold rush it’s tempting to thrust our pans into all the social streams. We can have unrealistic expectations that those nuggets of customers will leap instantly into them and stay there. The reality for most organisations is that a cross-media approach is needed, embracing traditional and digital media.

6          Methods

These are the tools and techniques of the campaign. It is crucial to weave together all of the various strands with consistency of brand and content. Whether you’re including online banner ads, a twitter hashtag campaign, magazine editorials or product sampling, think carefully about the call to action in each case. What is the desired next step you want the target market to take?

7          Measurement

Customer engagement specialist Peter Smith –http://bit.ly/RdxVk6 – tells of a B2B marketing director he knows who pays a digital agency £10,000 a month to optimise its website and promote LinkedIn conversations. The company hasn’t generated a single lead in a year in return and is in fact losing business at above-average rates.

He rightly suggests that the company should invest in measuring customer satisfaction to find out what’s going wrong and adjust its strategy.

If they follow Peter’s advice, maybe the evidence will show that some of the above steps were missing in the campaign strategy.

 

Question: How do we get the right balance between the creative and process-driven aspects of campaigns?

Which Dad’s Army character are you in a crisis?

Watching some of the re-runs of the BBC’s immortal WWII comedy series, Dad’s Army, reminds me of the character types we can encounter (or, worse still, become!) in PR crises.

Photo courtesy of Dad’s Army Appreciation Society
www.dadsarmy.co.uk

See if you can recognise any of the following Home Guard types from your own crisis management experience:

The Panic Merchant – Lance Corporal Jones

When the captain made Jones, the local butcher, Lance Corporal, he said: “his experience will stand us in good steak, er… stead.” His most memorable catchphrase is: “Don’t panic, don’t panic.” But at the onset of calamity he loses the plot himself. He’s got the right idea, but he doesn’t quite exude the calming influence that he’s trying to promote.

The Smoothie – Sergeant Wilson

His laid back demeanor and impeccable manners may make him seem like a safe bet to put up for interview, but the media and the public may wonder if he’s a bit too relaxed about the whole affair. He perhaps doesn’t show enough concern or urgency about lessening the impact of the product recall on customers or the community affected by the chemical leak.

The Harbinger of Doom – Private Frazer

Meet the purveyor of doom and gloom, who always paints the worst case scenario. In crisis management it’s wise to anticipate what could go almost unthinkably wrong, but he crosses a line by practically willing disaster into reality. He’s definitely not the much-needed ray of hope in the team when chins are hitting the floor.

The Spiv – Private Walker

He’s the wartime black-marketeer who can lay his hands on anything from whisky to nylons. Ironically, he’s among the cleverest in the platoon and others turn to him for answers in tricky situations. He’s best kept well away from the media, though, as he will duck and dive to try and impress journalists and sell your business down the river.

The Born Leader – Captain Mainwaring

Here’s a great respecter of authority – mainly his own. He won’t admit he maybe got it wrong and is likely to put what he would call ‘those spotty faced reporters’ in their place if they ask ‘insolent questions’ – the ones that the PR pro warned him about in the first draft of the Q & A list.

The Ingénu – Private Pike

This guy is so wet behind the ears he needs to wear a swimming cap to keep the water from leaking out. When the investigation into the cause of the crisis begins, he may well be a prime suspect because of his famed carelessness. When a crisis recovery plan kicks in, he’ll probably treat it like a bit of a game.

In answering my opening question in the headline, I know that you can safely answer: ‘none of the following.’ All the characters are comic extremes, but maybe they hint at a few genuine tendencies to avoid in a crisis situation when the heat’s on.

What Dad’s Army type situations, if any, have you encountered in real-life crisis PR situations?

If you aren’t familiar with Dad’s Army, you can check out a few clips here – http://bbc.in/TB6YoJ

How not to be a social media trainspotter

Are we, in the PR and marketing professions, becoming more obsessed by the minutiae of social media than we are with the possibilities of where they can take our businesses and clients?

In an episode of Michael Portillo’s excellent Great British Railway Journeys (am I an anorak in the making?), he recalled the early days of the rail networks. In the Victorian era, people could now breakfast in Brighton in the morning, travel up to the Ascot races in the afternoon and be home the same day.

It occurred to me how there were probably people who were fascinated by – and talked a lot about – the physical aspects of the rail networks. They perhaps enthused over the gauge of track laid, the signal boxes, level crossings and the trains themselves, rather than the possibilities the new connections opened up.

I think it was Peter Shankman who drew the distinction recently between those who talked about being social media experts and social media marketing experts. He likened the first to the guys who knows how to put the bread in and out of the oven and the second to those who know how to create a satisfying meal.

A few questions to give you further food for thought and, who knows, help expel the trainspotter within:

  1. What do our own twitter feeds, blog posts and LinkedIn updates say about our own social realm focus?
  2. Do we bamboozle ourselves too much with the techie side and the minutiae of social media? I don’t talk very much about how printing presses or multimedia production work, but that doesn’t hold me back from creating a great annual report or presentation.
  3. Can we serve up more social media ‘creative cookery’ that satisfies clients and their businesses, while keeping the ovens and bread paddles consigned to the kitchen?
  4. How can we focus more on how social media offer delivery channels to fit it with the bigger picture of integrated campaigns and business and communications goals?

If we can shift the focus away from the trainspotting on social media matters and look to the destinations they can take us to, then I believe we stand a chance of being ‘at the races in the afternoon’ as professionals as digital PR and marketing mature.

Five steps to reputational recovery post-crisis

Solomon once said that ‘from the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.’ In crisis recovery, this means that what you say (and how you say it) is just as important as what you do.

Most organisations have a crisis plan for dealing with a serious incident – RBS’s Stephen Hester was commendably quick off his mark when the bank’s recent IT glitch struck. But few have an effective plan for repairing reputation progressively after the event.

The tailing off of media interest post-crisis is not an accurate measure of communications success as stakeholders can often be left with a damaging impression of your organisation or brand.

1                     Intent

It’s good practice to start a crisis plan – and recovery plan – with a strategic intent for how you will emerge from the crisis, both operationally and reputationally. This could be: ‘Our business operations will be restored to normal, our staff and customers protected and reputation upheld.” Your recovery work on the ground and communications tactics should flow from this.

 2                     Issues

During and soon after the crisis, issues will emerge that need addressing to correct any false impressions created or remedy real problems and communicate the remedial action. These could include mismatches between reality and reporting in the media and social media buzz. Map these issues out and decide what needs communicating or correcting right away and what messages need rolling out over time during the recovery period.

3                     Interested parties

Stakeholders apart from customers and journalists will be interested in your incident and how you’re recovering from it. Who are your key influencers that have a bearing on your reputation? Politicians, for example, will base their impression of your business on what they last read in the media in the absence of other sources. Draw up a plan to communicate with each audience directly, where practical, appropriate and commensurate to the scale of your incident. But be careful in written material to say only what you’d be happy to see appearing in the press.

4                     Initiative

During the crisis much of your communications will have been be reactive. Particularly if your operation is high profile, you will be inundated with media calls and bombarded with questions and interview requests. When the dust settles a few days or weeks after ‘C-Day’ it’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and say “well that’s that out of the way,” but lingering stakeholder perceptions could paint a different picture.

In the wake of RBS’s computer system failings over the past fortnight, which it continues to troubleshoot, the bank will need to look a few months ahead as to how it can proactively restore customers’ confidence in its reliability. This may include placing stories with angles reinforcing its ‘robustness’ in business and IT media, as well as finding ways rapidly to step up ‘nice touches’ in customer service. It will want to consider the likely impacts of unpopular moves in the pipeline such as interest rate hikes, and readjust to avoid alienating customers even further.

5                     Indicators

The media, in the event of major crises, will often use time hooks such as and ‘one month on’ to revisit your incident to assess the impact. Rather than reacting to these defensively, could you turn them into opportunities to indicate proactively the progress made, lessons learned and outlook for the future?

The above five points are really a starting point in recovery process. It’s vital to take professional advice from a seasoned crisis practitioner who can come alongside you to help you map out your recovery plan. As the wise man also said: ‘Do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you – better a neighbour nearby than a brother far away.’ 

WWWWAAAA! The 8-step news release

In these days of posts, likes and tweets, it’s easy to overlook some of the old fundamentals of PR – such as the humble news release.

I was prompted to write this, er, post, after a new LinkedIn contact asked me for pointers on drafting a news release for a national newspaper.

It was the late Frank Jefkins, Rentokil’s former PR chief, who invented the SOLAADS outline for the model news release – subject, organisation, location, advantages, application, detail and source.

Since I could never quite recall this I decided a few years back to coin my own mnemonic.  My eight-point outline echoed my frustrated yell as I wrote releases, and possibly that of some recipients: WWWWAAAA!

This mixes some of Frank’s trusted formula with the open-ended questions that journalists are trained to ask. So what does it stand for? Let’s use the ‘announcement’ of the mnemonic itself to illustrate:

1          WHAT is the story? ‘Time-saving news release formula announced,’ or similar.

2          WHO is the story about? It’s announced by yours truly and aimed at busy PR practitioners or anyone who wants to write their own release.

3          WHERE is the location? This could include the venue of the announcement, the company’s base or the market’s geography, or possibly all three. 

4          WHEN did it happen? This is the timing of the announcement or ‘happening.’

5          ADVANTAGES? The release model helps save time and makes sure the story includes all the essential points.

6          APPLICATION? The model can be used day-to-day by practitioners, or included in media relations courses and induction packs.

7          ADDITIONAL INFO? Add more details here, such as the   downloadable WWWWAAAA! template or the iPad app (neither of which exists!) Tell readers where to get more info on the aide memoire and the company behind it.

8          ASK? Immediately after the release, add the details of the contact that journalists should approach for more info.

Oh, and: Ends.