I’ve been thinking this over for a couple of days, and I’ve put my finger on what was wrong with this year’s Academy Awards show, which aired on Sunday. It wasn’t Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance art on the red carpet or Billy Crystal’s surgically smoothed skin. What went wrong at the Oscars is this: the show and the people it honors ignored their customers.
Today, I can watch a film on my iPad, my laptop or even my phone. I can order a movie OnDemand. I can buy a DVD for 12 bucks and let everyone I know watch it. If I were a less scrupulous person, I could download a pirated copy of a movie from the Internet, and none of the people who made it would get a dime from me.
Hollywood had my attention (more or less) on Sunday night, and there were few compelling pitches to me – the customer – about why I should continue to invest in the experience of going to the movies.
“Nothing takes the sting out of these tough economic times like watching a bunch of millionaires giving golden statues to each other,” host Billy Crystal joked. But I’m betting that line was funnier in the theater than it was at home, where viewers might have appreciated more recognition that none of those statues would matter if we all stayed home and made popcorn in our kitchens.
I enjoy going to the movies. I shell out the money for tickets. I buy overpriced candy at the concession stand even though I was raised to smuggle in cheaper snacks in my coat pockets. I do all this because I love the experience of the theater, of getting lost in a great story in a way that can be hard when I’m watching it on a three-inch screen propped up on a treadmill at my gym. But fewer of Hollywood’s customers are making the same choices.
Oscar winners thanked each other on Sunday. They thanked adorable dogs and they thanked “the whole world,” which has a ring of the disingenuous to it. But few specifically mentioned their customers, who are essential to the success of the whole enterprise. For any prospect on the fence or any viewer who had walked away, Sunday night’s big sales pitch was a lost opportunity.
If I had a nickel for every time a client asked, “can you get me on CNN?” my piggy bank would never go hungry. It’s not that getting on a major broadcast network is out of the question; the question is, are you ready to be there? Does it fit into your overall public relations strategy? To make people care about your company, you have to be able to explain how it fits into a bigger story. Ask yourself the following:
- What is your company’s impact on the world?
- Can your story reasonably be linked with a hot topic?
- Do you have a unique point of view?
That sounds easy enough, right? Not so fast. Once you secure an interview, are you ready for your close up? Here are a few interview tips to consider:
- Know your key messages and get to the point quickly. Most broadcast interviews only last a few minutes, so use your time wisely.
- It’s okay to talk about your company and its products, but only when appropriate. If the story is about rising gas prices and you manufacture electric vehicles, focus on how your industry is making an impact rather than discussing the new model you just launched.
- Don’t lie or refer to stats you can’t support.
- Be sure to pause after each point to allow the interviewer to engage in the conversation.
- Know that everything you say is on the record and can be used in the interview. Avoid making statements that can be easily manipulated or taken out of context.
- Talk directly to the reporter, not to the camera.
- Use expression, but avoid nervous behaviors such as swaying, touching your face or blinking erratically. This can make you appear untrustworthy.
- Dress appropriately. Avoid bright colors and busy patterns that might be distracting.
Let’s say you find yourself in a room filled with startup companies, brilliant ideas and passionate people. Where are you? At an event with new and emerging entrepreneurs, who are showcasing their companies and products. A bright and shiny company booth catches your eye. You walk over and listen to the company’s pitch. To your dismay, the company representative seems disinterested in you and fails to ask if you want a demo. You walk away feeling disappointment and maybe even a little bit of irritation.
Last week I attended the NEXPO event at Northeastern University, where 20 or so companies showcased their million-dollar ideas. I observed several pitches and several missed opportunities like the one described above. How can an entrepreneur nail a pitch and avoid turning off potential customers? Follow these guidelines:
- Approach the prospect; don’t make her approach you. I found myself asking several company representatives, “So what is your company all about?” This should never happen. Proactively reach out to prospects with a smile and conversational questions like, “How are you? Are you interested in hearing about X?”
- Explain your company in simple, non-technical language. Explain your idea similarly to how you would explain it to your grandmother. If you want prospects to remember your company, connect with relatable examples or scenarios. Have your elevator pitch ready.
- If applicable, provide the prospect with a demo. If a prospect can see how your product operates, she is more likely to purchase your offering. While giving the demo, point out the differentiators that make your company unique and explain how your prospect can benefit.
- Carry business cards. I was really impressed with one company at the Northeastern event, and I asked for the rep.’s business card. The response: “We don’t have business cards.” For most folks, exchanging business cards is still commonplace. When prospects attend trade shows or events, they are bombarded with hundreds of companies, concepts and products. If they like what you have to say, they will most likely ask for your card so they can follow up.
How do you successfully pitch your company?
Like Facebook, where people post statuses or details on what they are doing, LinkedIn allows individuals to post updates, as well. Companies can post status updates, too.
LinkedIn company pages must be more than just static pages – the set-it-and-forget-about-it approach. Users need to maintain updated, targeted pages and engage with LinkedIn followers. Updates are THE way to engage with your business’ community. Companies can post their news, opinions on industry topics, and event information (complete with links) on their LinkedIn pages. Updates are shared automatically in each follower’s news feed and in a prominent position at the top of the company page.
And the best part is that LinkedIn organically tracks the number of impressions or views your news receives, as well as the level of engagement from your LinkedIn followers who share, click, like or comment on your update. Additionally, these news postings may serve as the basis for an interactive community discussion. Individuals may like your comment, comment on your post, or share it with their network and friends. Very similar to how Facebook works, right?
If your company wants to grow its number of LinkedIn followers and engage with them, company updates are a relatively simple method for doing that.
If I had to make a guess, I’d say you have a Facebook page. You like your friends’ posts, enter status updates, and upload photos or even videos. But you might not know how Facebook chooses what to show you first. The company uses a little-known algorithm called EdgeRank.
Now, think about it from a company’s point of view: say your company created a Facebook page and occasionally updates it, but wants to build its influence and following on Facebook. The way to do this is to create compelling, interesting content. EdgeRank takes it from there by assigning a score to each piece of content you create. The higher the score, the higher the chance it appears in a follower’s newsfeed. If the user sees your post, the better the chance that user will interact on your company’s Facebook page.
So how does your company increase its EdgeRank?
- Get your followers to interact. The more interactions your company page hosts, the higher its score. So, by increasing the number of people who like your page or comment on it, you increase your EdgeRank score.
- Fresh content is key. If your company only posts every few months, your score will be low.
- Focus on the kinds of content that promote interaction to boost your score. People are more apt to click on a photo or a video, so be sure to include these in your feed.
Getting more value from your Facebook presence requires compelling content and interaction with followers. Ask for their opinions and draw them into conversations. By crafting interesting updates and posting pictures and videos that show the human side of your company, you’ll increase engagement. Once users are engaged, they comment. Once people comment, their friends know. And ultimately, your user base grows.
Do you have a plan to create compelling content to engage your Facebook followers? How can your company make a goal to increase its EdgeRank metric?
Marketing expert David Meerman Scott released his latest book on the subject of what he terms “newsjacking.” What is newsjacking, you ask? It is essentially piggybacking on a breaking news item and inserting your company’s expert opinion on the subject. When a story breaks, reporters need to get the “why” part of their story, often from an expert source whom they can quote. Ideally, this source will differ from those quoted in already-published articles. If newsjacking is done correctly, it can generate a boatload of press coverage.
Says Scott, “It is about taking advantage of opportunities that pop up for a fleeting moment, then disappear.” For PR executives who are already closely following their beat reporters and understand their clients’ markets, this process is nothing new. For others, it’s more important than ever that they figure out how to do what Scott has dubbed “newsjacking.” (Here at Metis we call it “issues response.”)
Here are a few ways you can get into timely news stories:
1) Pitch your subject-matter experts and your data – Journalists want trusted sources and proven data points. Capitalize on the news trend but provide more value to the story. Don’t pitch the journalist on your product or solution; pitch him on your meaningful analysis.
2) Take a first-mover approach – Because this is such a real-time process, it’s not effective if you need multiple levels of approvals or corporate scripting. Jump on the story and be prepared to talk about it. Journalists don’t have time to sit around and wait; they want to get their stories out first.
3) Act as a conduit – You may not be the focal point of the issues response, but if you know someone or have a partner that can shed some light on the issue, quickly offer that person as a resource. Journalists don’t forget who got them the right information at the right time.
4) Provide a counterpoint – If you think a story is only focusing on one perspective, then offer another angle. Even if the reporter is unable to use your information, she might keep you on file in case something else opens up.
We highly recommend this book for all companies and individuals that want media exposure. Issues response (or newsjacking) is a great way to capitalize on breaking events and, in turn, get great PR results.
Since its recent launch, the social scrapbooking site Pinterest has witnessed explosive growth in terms of the number of users and the amount of referring traffic. (And, keep in mind that new members can only join by invitation.) If you’re one of the few people who haven’t yet heard about Pinterest, the site is basically an online pin board where users can pin images and videos of interest to share with other users. The site has a large female user base, and much of the content focuses on decorating, fashion and food. But don’t let that deter you if your business fits into another market.
Companies – no matter their industry – can use the site to promote a lifestyle associated with their brands. Smart brands are creating a curation of images of their products, quotes that align with their core values, behind-the-scenes office tours or representations of employee interests.
Now’s the time for marketers to develop a presence on Pinterest, so we’ve pulled together a list of the best resources to get started:
While you’re at it, check out some brands making the most of Pinterest:
SEO experts make loads of promises to get your company to the top of Google search results. But can they really deliver the help you need? Dan Zarella, HubSpot's “social media scientist,” hosted a SEO-focused webinar detailing the results and implications derived from a HubSpot survey on the topic. The survey polled several hundred people on key questions related to SEO, and the findings show that content is the real driver in improving SEO.
Here are some of the takeaways from the survey:
- Search influences purchasing decisions.
Seventy percent of respondents said they turn to search engines to find supporting information for purchasing decisions. People also use social media and blogs as resources, but overall, social media, is not as prominent as search engines.
- Garner trust from users.
Slightly more than half of those surveyed said they believed a higher page result ranking equated with higher trustworthiness. When separated by age, those under 30 years old were less likely to make this assumption. Survey results showed organic results are far more trusted than paid-per-click (PPC) results.Furthermore, about 35 percent of people reported clicking on PPC ads less than once a month, which, when compared to other data, shows that people don’t admit to clicking on PPC ads.
- Email traffic builds search traffic.
There is a noticeable effect of email traffic on search traffic, so email can be a great tool to increase traffic for your site. On days emails were sent, companies reported a much higher volume of search traffic.
- Write for humans, not Google.
People said titles and descriptions are what ultimately tell them if the results are relevant to their searches, so make sure you write for humans, not search engine bots.
- Inbound links improve SEO.
There is no correlation between the number of comments and links on a blog, which means the conversation you spark will not help you rank. What will help is inbound links. Content is most important in getting inbound links. Studies show you will get more links on a Sunday or Monday and early in the morning because the people who are linking work early. Make sure your content is there for them to find.
When it comes down to it, it is better to have a content producer than an SEO expert.
As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” The entrepreneurial community is a tight-knit group of individuals willing to share lessons learned with the hope that no one will make the same mistake twice.
The recent Boston event “Smart Mistakes” at the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology featured new and established entrepreneurs from across the country. The day was filled with panel and keynote speakers sharing their challenges, mistakes and lessons that helped steer their careers in a successful direction.
If you weren’t able to attend the event, below are a few moments you missed:
- “Don’t count on money until it’s in the bank,” said Michael Levit, managing partner at Founders Den, in his keynote speech. Michael noted that one of his biggest mistakes as a young entrepreneur was assuming that his deals and businesses would always come through.
- Candice Cabe, CEO and founder of Day2Night offered this advice: “If you need VC funding, setup as many appointments as possible, not just one.” She also offered up advice on the production side of entrepreneurship. “If you have an idea, go to someone who knows how to help you develop the product.” When she first created her Day2Night shoe concept, she hired numerous engineer interns who didn’t know anything about actual production. (Candice also announced that her Day2Night shoes will be featured in the 2012 Grammy “grab bags” for all the celebrities.)
- “Be proud of what you do and don’t do it unless you want to put your name on it,” said Dave McLaughlin, CEO and co-founder of Vsnap, reflecting on his first embarrassing entrepreneur movement, the movie Southie.
- Rhonda Kallman, co-creator of Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) noted, “What do you call an entrepreneur who has failed? Experienced.” She noted that as time evolves, each entrepreneur learns how to produce her next venture to be more successful than the previous.
- John Landry, managing director at Lead Dog Ventures offered an interesting idea: “Each startup should be comprised of a chief technology officer and a chief executive officer; that’s all you need to get started.”
- Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor ended his entrepreneur story with a Daniel Boone quote. “I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.” Entrepreneurs always know what they want; it’s just a question of how they will get there.
Are you an entrepreneur? What advice can you offer the Boston startup community?
Conversation about your brand is happening 24/7 on digital and traditional platforms. The idea of brandstreaming, or the two-way flow of content from brand to constituent, is a real-time, always-happening occurrence.
So how can you effectively and proactively manage these discussions, and how can you lead conversations to reflect your brand identity? Sarah Skerik of PR Newswire and Tom Stein of Stein + Partners Brand Activation shared their insights and offered a few tips during a webinar on this topic.
Skerik and Stein noted that because Americans now spend 50 percent of their time online on social sites, earned media has changed: both the audience and platforms. Earned media’s evolution has given way to new patterns of influence. There are no more episodic campaign cycles, meaning campaigns are continual and there is no definite endpoint.
PR professionals need to capitalize on real-time stories and news items; there is no longer any such thing as waiting for the next print edition to be published. Smart, digitally literate brands can use these news items to interact and converse with their audience in real-time.
Successful, agile engagement consists of the following steps:
- Listen, analyze and strategize: Pull in all relevant and available information.
- Create, curate and customize content: This includes multiple forms of content to engage various audiences.
- Target: Determine whom you are targeting, which content fits which audiences, and which platforms you will use.
- Distribute: Distribute content across multiple channels for widespread success.
- Measure: Analyze which strategies were successful and strategize for next time.
By staying on top of current news and staying responsive, you’ll be able to create a smart strategy for audience engagement.
The way consumers shop has drastically changed in the last few years as people turn to the Internet to research product options before purchasing. In turn, marketers have altered their strategies, and savvy marketers are finding new tactics to stay on top of the industry. Instead of pushing your message out to your audience, it is all about finding ways to get found. Ideally, your audience will be able to easily find your company through Google results, in the blogosphere, on social media platforms and more. This is exactly what Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot discuss in their book, Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs.
Inbound marketing gives small companies that typically have small marketing budgets the same opportunities as major corporations that spend billions of dollars on marketing. Small companies and startups would do well to use this to their advantage from the beginning. Developing a content-rich site creates huge opportunities for visibility and lead generation that wouldn’t be achievable otherwise.
Step one to being a successful inbound marketer is developing content. Without good content – keyword-rich, targeted to your audience and beneficial to readers -- you have little hope of increasing your chances of getting found online. Once you have the content, it can be optimized for multiple platforms: a company blog post, a contributed article, a Facebook post or a YouTube video. Distributing this content across multiple channels helps boost your search engine ranking, but be warned; this takes work and won’t happen overnight.
Inbound marketing is an ongoing process, and it requires time and dedication. However, it is well worth the benefits you will reap. If you can be found across multiple platforms, leads will increase and your sales team can turn those leads into paying customers. You will appreciate the effort when your prospects are finding you before they find your competitors.