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Don’t underestimate the importance of Research in your brand journalism strategy

Communication Planning

If you researched Cincinnati, you would learn about landmarks such as Fountain Square, the Carew Tower and Roebling Suspension Bridge. Research is the first step in the strategic planning process, as important in developing an effective communication plan as it is in deciding what to see on a trip to a new destination.

Imagine going on a trip to a new city. You might Google the city’s name, look on Wikipedia, browse through travel guides, talk to friends who had been there before… You might find out about the cool restaurants, landmarks and aspects that align with your interests. You might do some homework, some research before planning what you could want to do.

Or, let’s say you were the coach of a football team getting ready for your next game. You would probably watch video of your opponent from the matchup a year earlier and in games this season leading up to the contest. You would confer with scouts who had seen the competition. You would view media coverage. Etc. You would do your homework, your research, while developing a game plan.

It’s no different with planning a strategic brand journalism program!

If you are Accredited in Public Relations (APR), you know well that Research is the first step in the strategic process: Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation. And that there is Primary and Secondary Research.

Primary Research involves one-on-one interviews, surveys, focus groups and the like.

Secondary Research includes a review of articles and video about a topic, studying what others have done to solve the problem under consideration, conferring with professions in your networks, etc.

Both are very important, as you move on to the Planning phase.

Example — I feel extremely fortunate to have been involved in a foster parent recruitment campaign that was deeply researched. My role involved researching portions of the campaign that would help build buy-in from internal audiences. You would think that social workers would be very enthusiastic about a $1 million campaign designed to attract 200 badly needed foster parents. My research showed the opposite. Many of the workers expressed cynicism about the planned campaign. They didn’t support the strategy. They feared it would bring in “wide-eyed suburban do-gooders” not suited for the demanding (yet rewarding) role of foster parenting. They were bad-mouthing it!

So, we came up with a multi-faceted campaign that included a brief weekly e-mail with four key points for frontline managers to share with their teams. We asked frontline managers to address concerns and share them with us. We identified who the go-to team leaders and caseworkers were — those that most social workers trusted and admired, not necessarily those with high ranking on the org chart. We took the time to educate them and listened to their concerns, so they could serve as positive ambassadors for the campaign. We held an event, with food and a “sneak preview” of the TV commercials and print ads. When caseworkers complained that they wanted Whitney Houston music instead of Sarah McLachlan, we did focus groups with the target audience — which loved the music — and shared the findings with the social workers. We did surveys to see if social workers grasped key messages and were supportive. As the campaign generated results, we took environmental portraits of new foster parents for spotlighting in our newsletter, on our intranet and in a gallery in the cafeteria.

This was a campaign where we had the time and money to do it right. It went to the top of our priority list, and leadership supported us in putting secondary priorities on temporary hold. It won some awards… and, most importantly, met the goal of attracting 200 foster parents.

But, my point is, it all started with Research. Just like when you’re researching a trip to a cool place like Cincinnati!

 

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The future looks bright for PR, marketing, advertising, communications, social, digital….

#ThrowBackThursday photo from a decade ago. The future was so bright we needed to wear shades! For those of us in PR, marketing, communications and digital, the forecast remains sunny.

#ThrowBackThursday photo from a decade ago. The future was so bright we needed to wear shades! For those of us in PR, marketing, communications and digital, the forecast remains sunny.

Sonja Popp-Stahly of the PRSA National Board of Directors affirmed my optimism as she described the evolving role of the public relations professional and prospects for the future in an information-packed presentation at Cincinnati PRSA this week. Popp-Stahly, APR, is director of digital media communications at Eli Lilly and Company, a global pharmaceutical company headquartered in Indianapolis.

As she pointed out, this is a transformative time for the public relations profession. Social media has made a tremendous impact, greatly expanding the opportunity for two-way communication and increasing challenges such as rapidly responding to complaints.

It’s also a soft-of a confusing time, as the lines between public relations, marketing and advertising continue to blur. “Who owns social media?” Popp-Stahly asked. “All own it.”

She noted that PR pros need to think like reporters and publishers, as brand journalism becomes a vital tool in the communications toolkit. That was great news for the many ex-journalists like me in the room.

Popp-Stahly cited Department of Labor stats forecasting a 21-percent increase in employment in 2010-2020. Business leaders view strategic public relations as essential, she said. Public relations budgets are increasing.

She listed these competencies: (1) understanding business strategy, (2) multi-disciplinary leadership, (3) data analytics (“We have to do math,” she said with a smile, evoking laughter.), (4) social media, (5) earned, owned, shared and paid…. It can be daunting, as we are on-call like never before with social media and e-mail, and we’re expected to demonstrate ROI. We’re not just expected to have a seat a the leadership table, but to be among the outspoken leaders there. We need to drill down beyond reporting impressions to measuring influence on key audiences. Note: Social media metrics include mentions, retweets, replies, tone analysis, and how many targeted journalists follow your brand on Twitter. Other measures include message penetration (what percentage of messages are in news coverage).

Popp-Stahly shared insights from an infographic The Re-Imagining of PR. For one, bloggers have joined reporters in importance. The days of in-person media relations have dwindled, as reporters rely heavily on e-mail to manage their rapid news cycles.

Some constants remain, as we move ahead: thought leadership, credibility, authenticity, relationships, storytelling…. and active participation in PRSA helps with all of those. Popp-Stahly encouraged us to get involved in PRSA. Take advantage of its sections, such as employee communication and healthcare. Attend a conference: Washington, D.C., in October; Atlanta in 2015; Indianapolis in 2016. Get your APR. Volunteer at the local, regional or national level.

Let’s embrace the change and pull together as we embrace the opportunities and tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

Think outside of the Facebook box

FacebookA blog post by Forbes contributor Ewan Spence this week confirmed what I’ve been hearing — and experiencing — as the administrator of Facebook business pages: They are becoming a paid marketing and public relations channel. The days of “free” organic reach on this massive social network are dwindling with each passing year.

Citing research by Social@Ogilvy, Spence noted: “From 16% of followers of a brand page being shown a piece of content in 2012, the percentage of organic reach has dropped to roughly 6% in February 2014 for an average page, and just 2% for large pages with more than 500,000 likes.”

He adds: “And the unofficial advice from Facebook sources to community managers noted in the report? Expect it to approach zero in the foreseeable future.”

This confirms a belief of mine: You need an integrated approach to social media marketing. Don’t get overly dependent on Facebook, especially if you have a limited budget.

Strongly consider channels such as blogs, YouTube, Pinterest. LinkedIn. Twitter, Instagram… and, dare I say, Google+ when researching and planning your strategic public relations and marketing plans. Think outside the Facebook box.

You may have noticed that I used the terms “public relations” and “marketing” in the previous sentence. I find this excerpt from the excellent new book Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek very helpful:

“The concepts of marketing and public relations are often used interchangeably, even by those who are involved in the field. There are many definitions of both terms, but simply, ‘marketing’ is a multidisciplinary process by which a company or institution actively promotes, sells, or distributes a product, idea, or service to potential customers. ‘Public relations,’ on the other hand, is a process (an aspect of marketing, in fact), by which a company or an institution tries to encourage broad, public understanding and acceptance of an idea, product, or service among its various potential audiences.”

Any thoughts on the changing role of Facebook in your marketing and public communications strategies? Please comment.

 

 

Good PR is a process, not an event

Lately, I’ve been reminding myself of some of the basics that have served me well in my role as a communicator. Thought I’d share a few here. Hope you find them beneficial.

* Repetition. Someone shared a study with me years ago that has proved to be a truism — you must repeat a message seven times to just build top-of-mind awareness. People are busy and their attention is distracted by bombardment with competing messages. You can’t expect to just say something one time — in one venue — and have them “get it.” A helpful slogan is “it takes repetition to achieve penetration.”

* Patience. Another key learning was about the diffusion process — the steps such as awareness, interest, research online, discussion with friends, trying out mentally, test-driving… You need to help people go through the process to achieve your ultimate goal.

* Process. Guess this ties into patience, but I read something recently that described the Diffusion of Innovations by Tungsten. It shared these percentages of the population when it comes to diffusion of innovation — Innovators (2.5%), Early Adopters (13.5%), Early Majority (34%), Late Majority (34%), Laggarts (16%). I’m usually in the Early Adopters crowd and get frustrated at times with the Late Majority and Laggarts. It’s helpful to remember that it takes time for a good percentage of the population to move ahead with innovations.

In this time of real-time, I-want-it-now communication, it’s good to pause and remember to be strategic, plan, take things one step at a time, and keep moving ahead.

 

A helpful book for social media leaders at large organizations

If you lead social media strategy for a large organization, here’s a must-read: The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out by Christopher Barger. Lots of great best practices and lessons learned from a seasoned pro who has guided successful programs at IBM and GM.

Barger does an excellent job of spelling out the internal structures and processes needed to transform an organization into a social business. For example, he talks in detail about two key players and their roles — the executive champion and the social media evangelist.  He explains the advantages and disadvantages of various departments owning social media. He talks about forging relationships with functions such as Legal to move an organization ahead. Areas such as social media policy, ROI and measurement and training are covered.

As Barger points out, these may not be the glamorous parts of the job — nearly as much fun as interacting with a blogger, giving a “rock star” presentation at a conference, or executing an exciting campaign — but they are critical.

As the social media evangelist at Catholic Health Partners, I find myself often doing the behind-the-scenes stuff that Barger describes. It was excellent to have him affirm some of what I’ve learned — and to pick up ideas based on the experiences he shares in the books.

Here are a few nuggets that I highlighted:

* “The true goal when building a brand’s social media program is to embed social media expertise and practice deep into the organizational DNA, as much a part of the brand as traditional marketing, advertising, or PR.”

* “…while you can’t control online conversations, you can influence them… they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt… Plus, your responses end up showing up in searches on the topic; if you’re not out there to counter unfair or inaccurate statements about your brand, the only thing Google or Bing will turn up is your critics.”

* “(Dell) ascribes (very few turf wars) to the culture of the company adopting social media as a business tool applicable across the entire organization rather than as a marketing tool, communications tool, or customer service tool.”

* “First and foremost, you should start not with an action but with a mind-set: by seeing social media as tools for the entire business, not just a marketing, PR or customer service tool.”

* “Before beginning a social media program and trying to measure its success, there are four fundamental questions to ask:

“1. What data will we be collecting? (Which metrics do we believe are the most important?)

“2. How will we be collecting it? (Which tools do we believe or find to be most effective in acquiring the data we’ve chosen?)

“3. What kind of analysis will we apply to it? (Will we report just raw numbers? What kind of insights are we hoping to get from the data once it’s collected, and how will we derive them from this data?)

“4. How will we report it? (Through what mechanisms will we distribute what we learn to the rest of the organization?)

I highlighted lots of other helpful info, too. If you’re in the same line of work as me, pick up the book and see what ends up in yellow on your pages.

 

New book gives the method behind the social media marketing madness

January 14, 2012 4 comments

I consider myself one of the New Age, tree-hugging hippies mentioned in the above book, but I’m also grounded in my upbringing as the son of an electrical lineman and school teacher in small-town Ohio. I believe in the spiritual principles of giving and receiving as I incorporate social media into my personal and professional lives, but I’m also big on the strategic process — research, planning, implementation and evaluation. There’s got to be a method behind the madness!

That’s why I really liked No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing by Jason Falls and Erik Deckers. Unlike the books written several years back selling people on the value of social media marketing as a concept, this writing gives specific methods and tools for getting the job done. It provides case studies — solid examples you can wrap your mind around.

Falls and Deckers dive deeply into the seven things social media marketing does for your business:

* Enhance branding and awareness
* Protect brand reputation
* Enhance public relations
* Build community
* Enhance customer service
* Facilitate research and development
* Drive leads and sales

This paragraph on the jacket gives a great summary: “Stop hiding from social media — or treating it as if it’s a playground. Start using it strategically. Identify specific, actionable goals. Apply business discipline and proven best practices. Stop fearing risks. Start mitigating them. Measure performance. Get results. You can. This book shows you how.”

OK, now time for my tree-hugger, hippie side. I found this book through a set of circumstances I couldn’t have planned.

A friend gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, so the family went to a bookstore for the first time in a while. (We’re Amazon people now, especially since I got a Fire.) I intended to get a book about innovation or perhaps travel — in advance of a trip planned to Oregon and Washington next summer — but this one caught my eye, as well as another on a similar topic.

I brought both to the cafe area and began to recall that Falls attended my first Cincinnati Social Media breakfast and had blogged about social media at the government social services agency where I used to work. I thought about how I like following Deckers on Twitter. I recalled that both live near Cincinnati — Falls in Louisville and Deckers in Indianapolis… So I bought their book.

Perfect timing. Right when I’m trying to figure out how to improve measurement and evaluation of social media marketing.

Guess I can hug a tree and saw away at strategic communication at the same time!

Some tips for driving change initiatives within organizations

Over the years, I have experienced the satisfactions — and stresses and frustrations — of driving change within several organizations. Among those efforts were re-establishing a proactive media relations program with the computer trade press, creating and implementing an extensive internal communication system, and developing and carrying out a strategic social media marketing plan.

A webinar this week by a hospital public relations executive about implementing an unsupported (at first) social media plan reminded me of some of the practices that have helped me lead change efforts. Here are some things I’ve found helpful:

* Have passion for your cause. Really believe in what you are doing. That’s probably been my No. 1 asset. I can see the possibilities and opportunities. My enthusiasm rubs off on early adopters and change agents.

* Connect with others who have driven (or are driving) similar changes. You can support each other and share ideas. It’s very helpful to have moral support — and to offer backing to someone as they push through negativity.

* Stay abreast of the latest statistics and data that support your cause — and share with key audiences. For example, I have been getting great data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project about how Americans use the Internet for healthcare information and decision-making. I share relevant stats with others on a frequent basis.

* Study what your competitors and leaders in your industry are doing — and report to decision-makers. Give them a good idea of what’s out there. Tell them that you want to be ahead of your competitors and among the leaders in your industry — and that this is possible. If there is a will, there is a way.

* Once you begin to implement, track and share regular statistical reports spiced with real-life examples. This is essential. I have found that doing a monthly report with bar charts and stories of how changes have helped achieve a strategic business goal open many doors. It’s part of the strategic process — Research, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation.

* Give presentations about your program both within and outside of your organization. Incorporate stats, stories, video. You need to repeat a message seven times to just achieve awareness. This is a great way to move toward that standard.

* Listen to what supporters and naysayers are communicating. Build upon the support, and address the concerns. It’s great to have an answer in advance to every conceivable “what if.”

* Post quotes from industry leaders in your workspace. I know this sounds silly, but it has helped me reinforce key messages and generate positive discussions in the past. For example, I love this one from Lisa Baron: “Ignoring social media makes you mute, not invisible.” I put it in a Word document, printed out, and put on the wall in my office.

Those are just a few thoughts that come to mind during my weekly blogging time slot! Please feel free to share any more in the comments.