The Role of PR in the Marketing Mix

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the words: “PR”? For some it’s Press Release. For others it’s Public Relations. But for all companies, PR is a Marketing necessity.

Consider what PR can deliver for you that advertising can’t.

  1. Credibility: That’s right. I don’t mean that you should go hog-wild and issue press releases every other day. What I mean is that, done properly, the relations you build with journalists, bloggers, editors and analysts can ultimately propel your brand/company/product to the front lines. Nothing says credibility like a good review, a headline in a newspaper, or a positive nod from a blogger
  2. Messaging: PR people spend more time working with words than just about anyone. Well, I’m not counting the folks who write documentation, or legal contracts. I’m talking about the words that get into the public eye. Who better to help finesse your messaging than the folks whose livelihood it is to get the attention of the media?
  3. Media and Analyst relations: PR folks are known for their rolodexes and for their ability to network, schmooze, and develop the right relationships with the right people. They can quickly ascertain who you need to be in front of, and how to make it happen.
  4. Pitching: I’m not talking about baseballs. I’m talking about pitching tightly crafted article outlines (know as abstracts) to a target list of media, journalists, bloggers and analysts. The result is INK. That is what you want: ink on paper (or pixels on a screen). You want someone to write an article, comment on a press release, ask for an interview and basically put your name in front of the world.
  5. Media Database: This ties into #3 & #4. Your PR team/person will develop a database of the publications and contacts relevant to your target market and product/service. This becomes your go-to resource for pitching media and analysts.
  6. Editorial Calendar: Think of all the publications in which you would love to be published. Well, the majority publish an annual calendar of topics being covered. Your PR person will take all the calendars, decide which articles are relevant, which abstracts meet the criteria, marry that to the proper media contact and pitch away. If they’re successful, you get ink, which enhances your credibility and increases brand awareness. You see, it all comes full circle.

So, before you dismiss PR as “just a press release”, take a step back and look at the whole cycle.

Print vs Email – Leverage both for a compelling ROI

The most important facet of any direct marketing campaign, whether it be print or online, is getting the reader to open it up. Now I’m not talking about bills and statements. These fall under a completely different category and the rules are changing daily as to how they are used for marketing purposes. What I’m talking about is good, old-fashioned direct mail.

When it comes to email marketing, you must have a compelling subject line. When it comes to print, you have to get the envelope opened. But then what? You’ve either gone to all the trouble of crafting the perfect subject line, one that is not blacklisted, has just the right amount of words, and is compelling and catchy, even on a smartphone. Or you’ve designed a stellar envelope, with an engaging creative element that grabs attention and entices the recipient to open it and see what’s inside.

Once you’ve captured someone’s attention you need a reaction. You need them to ACT. But how? Are you sending your prospect to a PURL (their own personalized webpage)? Do you want them to contact you via email or phone? Are they downloading content? Are they signing up for an event? Are they participating in a contest? Are they scanning a QR code or filling out a form?

The choices are endless but the objectives are the same: Generate interest and turn a prospect into an opportunity.

There are people out there who will say that print is dead. There are also people out there who will profess that people’s inboxes are saturated and messages are being lost and ignored.

I agree with both statements. And, to that point, I believe that there is a place for both tactics in your direct marketing arsenal.

Clearly there are pros and cons for each. First off, email is relatively cheap. There are no printing costs, no postage costs, it is very simple to test a variety of messages and measuring results is almost instantaneous. Plus, you can schedule your email down to the minute and day that it is sent. On the other hand, print is tangible, so you can touch it and hold it.  It is relatively simple to cultivate an address database since you don’t need personal email addresses, and it has staying power. There are endless varieties of envelopes, colours, sizes, and formats at your disposal and most printers are only too happy to work with you to develop the optimal printed piece. However, in many cases print can be cost-prohibitive, time consuming, and nearly impossible to track open rates.  So why use print?

Because it works. When executed properly, print is the perfect complement to email. Is it the be-all and end-all? Of course not. But as I mentioned, people’s inboxes are inundated with offers, newsletters, spam, contests, jokes, etc. It’s getting more and more difficult to cut through the noise. But print, that’s different. I’ve run simultaneous campaigns, where the creative, the messaging, and the call-to-action were identical between print and email. And you know what? The response to the print campaign was significantly higher to that of the email.

Yes it was in a colourful envelope and mailed during the holiday season, when folks are expecting to receive mail. But I ran the same campaign again, when it wasn’t the holidays, and it still outperformed its email counterpart.

Results vary between industries, geographies and target audience, and you need to be diligent with your testing and tracking. But if you’re not using print as one of your direct marketing tactics, you could very well be undermining your efforts and missing out on opportunities.

What happens when you don’t KISS?

So Tim Horton’s is adding a new size to its cup lineup (http://www.timhortons.com/ca/en/about/new-cup-sizes.html). But here’s the funny thing; while they are introducing a new larger 24oz cup, they’re still calling it XL! Huh? Instead of taking this new larger cup and calling it XXL, they have instead decided to rename ALL of their other sizes. small becomes XS, medium becomes small, etc. If you look at the actual graphic they provide (http://dam-img.rfdcontent.com/cms/323/323_original.jpg) they go ahead and explain the following: “…a large double-double is now a medium double-double”. Again…Huh?

Let me get this straight. You pull up to the drive through and order your standard, large coffee double-double. But in reality, a large is now the old XL. What does that do to the cream/sugar ratio? And what about the poor sucker who orders an XL and gets this new monstrosity?

Why am I going on and on about this? Personally I drink my coffee black so it doesn’t affect me as it will others. But believe me, it will affect others. On one hand, everyone has to now remember their old size and convert it to the new size (to some that might be as confusing as converting pounds to grams). Then factor in the whole cream/sugar thing. But the thing that irks me the most is the motivation behind it all.

Is it a ploy to raise prices? Again, Tim Horton’s states that the new sizes won’t affect the prices…but what does that mean exactly? Is an XS (an old small) less expensive…or is it the same price as what a small was? Is a large the same price as a large or the old XL? This is all making  my head hurt.

Now…back to the point at hand. Why am I lamenting this so much? Because I see this sort of confusion all the time on websites, landing pages, marketing collateral, etc.

I was introduced to a book several years ago called: “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug.  It has become my go-to resource. Basically, if you give someone too many choices, they get confused and eventually abandon your site. If you want them to go to a specific page then send them there. Don’t make them wade through pages and pages of your content…it will only piss them off. 3 clicks should be the MOST that it takes to get someone to their desired location. And if they don’t know why they’re on your site and what’s in it for them….HELP them. Direct them very smoothly to the page you want them to visit. The page that will get you the most bang for your buck.

But for many that is a difficult and daunting task. I’ve sat through many messaging sessions and website reviews. How can you succinctly convert your core message into a one or two-sentence overview, that explains why what you do is important to to your customer? Everyone is so focused on how it works. Who their repertoire of customers is. What awards they’ve won. The “buzzwords” they love.

But is that going to get your potential customers to click? To download more information? To attend a webinar? To “follow” or “like” you?

Nobody wants to admit this, but at the end of the day, the customer doesn’t give a rat’s ass about how you are the number one provider of state-of-the-art technology that will revolutionize the way they do business. Because EVERYONE says that!

Take a step back. Decide who you’re talking to. Determine their biggest challenges. And then, clearly state how you can help them beat those challenges. Don’t make them think; rather help them realize that what you offer is what they need.

As for coffee? Maybe I’ll go to McDonald’s McCafe. The coffee’s actually quite good and I don’t have to think about what size I’m going to get when I place my order.

How do IT Professionals use Social Media?

I’ve been tasked with an interesting project. Truthfully, it’s not all that different from what I’ve done the last 5 years but, what is interesting, is my initial reaction. I actually said “I don’t think social media will work”! Can you imagine that?

I have been preaching the benefits of using social media since I attended my first #MESHmarketing conference in 2006. I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t blog. But I got it. I knew that I was bearing witness to a changing tide in Marketing.

So I began to learn. I attended online Social Media summits. I started following key influencers. I got a Twitter account and began to tread the waters. I installed Tweetdeck and learned ways to leverage hashtags and lists. And I began to implement a social media program at the company where I worked.

And I learned. And I’m still learning.

Social Media is a strange beast. In its simplest form, it is merely one more tactic in a marketer’s toolbox. But it is rarely looked upon in its simplest form. Because it has become very personal.

Social Media is about community. Social Media puts you smack in the middle of everything. It enables you to communicate with peers, express your opinion, research products, socialize globally with like-minded individuals and yes, even follow celebrities.

But for many businesses, especially public companies, Social Media is daunting. It is a new territory of criticisms, unhappy customers, and an arena where you can’t control the content.

Social Media represents a new era. An era where, instead of giving people the information you want to receive, you must learn to share the information they want to get. The whole sense of community is a foreign concept, and not one easily embraced.

But the tides are shifting and businesses are starting to realize the value. Not all businesses, mind you, but many more B2B organizations are incorporating Social Media into their marketing mix than they were 5 years ago.

But there is one group of individuals who, in my opinion, are still not convinced. And if you’re a B2B marketer in the tech space (of which I am one), then you may find yourself wondering what to do next?

You see, most IT professionals and developpers scoff at the notion of Social Media. There. I said it. They hate it. They see no value in it. They don’t “do twitter”. If they use Facebook at all, it’s for purely personal reasons. Same for LinkedIn.

So I ask you, as marketers, how do you include these individuals in your community? How can you reach out to them and share your carefully-crafted IT content? You know, the whitepapers that you struggled to ensure don’t smell like marketing collateral. The webinars you know they would attend if they knew about them.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some very smart people over the years. And as far as I know, their “social media”, their “community”, consists of forums and groups. Yes, the same communities that they’ve participated in for years. Long before social media was the cool new buzzword. But I wonder if that is beginning to change. Are IT people starting to embrace traditional social media venues? Are they on twitter? If so, what hashtags are they using? #ITpro and #ITprofessional seemed to be fairly active, but there wasn’t a lot of meat behind the tweets.

We are all trying to reach this elusive group. And they know it. My question is, is this why they stay away? I certainly hope not. Because that would be unfortunate.

If you’re an IT Professional who is embracing social media please share your thoughts. And if you’re not, please tell me why.

Want me to answer the phone? Read on

Call it cold-calling; call it telemarketing; call it sales; telesales; call it lead nurturing. At the end of the day one thing remains common: you want to connect with the person at the other end of the line and sell them something.

Now I’m in a unique position as a marketing professional. Not only do I have the pleasure of working with “inside sales” and developing programs, scripts, etc., I also have the pleasure of receiving many of these “cold calls”. And although I am not the typical persona to whom my company markets, I still feel a kinship, heck even empathy, for those folks who are on the other end of the line/email when it seemingly appears out of the blue.

I have made it a personal rule over the years that if I don’t recognize the incoming phone number, it goes to voice mail. If I do happen to pick up the phone, in a momentary lapse of judgement, you’d better be on the ball. I can promise you, no matter what time it is, I DON’T have a few minutes to spare right now. Offer to book a time and send me some information in advance.

If you REALLY want to talk to me then I need to see the value in it. How will you make my job easier, my day better or my campaigns more successful? Know who you’re talking to, both from a business perspective and a persona perspective. Understand my challenges and offer a differentiating alternative.

On the other hand, I do tend to sympathize more than others, since I too am measured on the success of outbound marketing and lead conversion. This means that yes, I may fill out your survey, I might listen to your pitch, I will review (skim) the material you send me and I will probably visit your website.

I’m sure everyone has their own checklist of sorts, but here is my list of do’s and don’ts if you’re trying to elicit a response from me:

  1. Do speak slowly and clearly. Spell you name and/or company name if you have to. And for goodness sakes don’t whiz through your phone number!
  2. Do tell me why you’re calling.
  3. Do send me a proper calendar invite when I agree to a call. Make sure your contact details are included should I need to reschedule.
  4. Do spell-check your email and any attachments you send me.
  5. Do have a compelling subject line for your email and make sure the 1st paragraph supports it.
  6. Do make sure you know my name and the name of my company. I understand that Xenos may have been “different”, but Actuate is not a difficult name.  Yet I’ve heard it called Activate, Acutate, and even Acutane. C’mon people!
  7. Don’t leave a voice mail that says you want to discuss an “opportunity” without giving me some clue as to what it’s about.
  8. Don’t leave your whole pitch in a voice mail. If 10 seconds has passed and you’re still droning on, I will hang up.
  9. Don’t tell me you have done work with IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, etc. Apparently everyone has. It doesn’t differentiate you.

What’s on your list?

The blurry line between Marketing, Customer Support and Sales

This blog was supposed to be about leads. That is top of mind for most marketers, particularly this time of year when we are planning programs and finalizing budgets for the coming year. However I have chosen to save that for another day. Mostly because of what I have been through as a Marketer, and mother, over the last 48 hours. Instead, today I will focus on what happens to the customer AFTER they have transitioned from lead, to prospect, to customer.

Tis the season. For snow. For colds. For holiday gift giving. And for winter break. Now I don’t know about you, but figuring out what to do with 3 boys over the Winter break when the temps outside are currently hovering aroun -25 C can be daunting. Luckily for my family, we celebrate Chanukah; and this year it fell very early in December. In fact…it’s done. The presents have been opened, the candles have been lit and the food (oh the food!) has been consumed. My boys were very fortunate to have received the latest Guitar Hero game as a gift (not from me I might add) and I admit that I have become somewhat addicted to it as well.

Amazing! We have an activity that we can all do together while we’re on break. But this is where the saga begins. 6 days after opening the gift, the guitar malfunctioned. The strummer started acting up, and skipping. If you’ve never played before what this means is that even if you hit the notes, it doesn’t register. It means you get booed off the stage. So I decided that I would simply return the defective guitar back to EB Games (where it was purchased) and they could replace it with a new one. Sound simple? Ahhhhh…..not so much.

Sunday I called the location where the game was purchased just to make sure I could do the exchange at any EB Games/GameStop location (I was going to a different mall and really didn’t feel like driving around the whole city…especially this time of year). To my surprise, I was told that “you can’t return defective merchandise”. I would have to deal directly with the manufacturer, Activision. You see, Activision was experiencing inconsistencies with various retailers’ exchange policies so they decided to lay down the law. They recently issued a Canada-wide memo stating that ALL customer support issues had to be handled through Activision.com/support.

So I went out shopping with my kids and decided I’d deal with the whole mess when I got back. While at the mall I stopped into a GameStop location just to see if the story held up and, as I suspected, it did. They verified that indeed, there had been a recent memo and I would have to deal directly with activision.

When I got home I went online and contacted customer support. Now bear in mind; I’m in Marketing. My job is to help make sure that the customer has a GOOD brand experience. Now granted I am in B2B but I would think that this would be even MORE the case in B2C?

And here is where the fun REALLY begins. I will try not to pontificate and sum it up in some key points:

  1. I could barely hear, let alone understand the customer support rep.
  2. It was determined that I needed a replacement guitar
  3. There are 2 shipping options: Normal – I send back the defective one and upon receipt they send me a replacement; or Enhanced – I provide my credit card, they ship me the replacement, provide me with a shipping label via email, and I return the defective unit within 28 days (after 28 days my credit card gets dinged)
  4. Although I didn’t like the idea of providing my credit card, I also didn’t relish the thought of my kids whining for what would likely turn out to be a 2-month ordeal
  5. I was told I would receive an email in a couple of days and the guitar in about 2 weeks time
  6. It’s a couple of days and no email (remember…I have 28 days before my credit card gets charged)
  7. I contact customer support again. I question why this is even occurring. Why can’t I simply return the unit to the place where it was purchased and have THEM deal with the process.
  8. I am transferred to Tier2 customer support
  9. I tell the whole story again. Brent (very helpful btw…and I could understand him!) was surprised. According to him there is no policy that stipulates that the customer cannot do returns/get replacements at the retail level

HUH???!!!!!

So…by this point I have also tweeted my story and posted it to the Facebook page for customer support (group name: Activision Assist). After all, I am in marketing. Surely that’s gotta count for something!

Round and round this goes. Activision insists that no such policy exists. I am the ping pong ball stuck between them and EB Games. So…I contact EB Games (again) and speak to Adam, the manager at the location from where the game was purchased. Now Adam was also very helpful and insisted that there was, indeed, a Canada-wide memo issued. He then contacted his District Manager. Now while THIS was going on I received a response to my Facebook post (nothing yet on Twitter). Activision is very sorry for my inconvenience and wants to help me out.

In the end, Adam’s district manager ok’d the replacement and I will be bringing the defective guitar back to EB Games tomorrow for a replacement. Now for some, this would be the end and a very satisfactory resolution. For me, this raises a whole bunch of questions:

  1. Clearly there is a complete lack of communication regarding policy between Activision (the manufacturer) and EB Games (the retailer)
  2. Why was I, the customer, put in the middle? Why did I have to spend my time dealing with this disaster? My call to Activision and/or EB Games should have resulted in one of them contacting the other, figuring out what the heck was going on, and coming up with a solution that would not only make me happy, but ensure my loyalty. After 6 days there should have been no question whatsoever about my returning the item for a replacement.
  3. What about other people who aren’t “social media” savvy? Not everyone has the power of Twitter and Facebook and WordPress at their disposal.
  4. Not once was I asked how this would impact my future plans to purchase and/or recommend this product and store

The bottom line: I am still not 100% satisfied. Sure I’m getting the guitar replaced. But so what, that’s what should have happened 2 days ago. What have they done to rectify the sour taste that’s been left in my mouth? What have they done to ensure my loyalty (and future dollars)?

You see, at the end of the day the customer should not be the victim for this gross breakdown in communication. But who should? Does this merit a call to their PR and or Marketing Dept? Or is it Customer Support who should be taking the ball and running with this? And what about Sales? Surely the reps for EB Games and Gamestop would want to know what’s going on?

Have you had a similar experience with a retailer? What did it take for it to be resolved? And most importantly: Are you still a customer?