If it sounds like it’s too good to be true….

National PublicityPicture this:  You have a relatively new business – one that has received some positive publicity.  But nothing has prepared you for a call from a television production company that wants to feature you on a national television show.  Wow – What luck!

You haven’t heard of this program, but the producer drops the name of a famous broadcaster and indicates that he or she is affiliated with the program.  You are impressed.  The producer sets up an interview day and time for you because they have to see if you are a “good fit” for the program.  During the interview, you are told that you will be responsible for paying $20,000 in production fees to produce your feature story.  Apparently, being a “good fit” means being willing to pay.

This month, one of our clients received two of these calls.  Our client refers all calls from the news media to our office, and we check out the media outlets and reporters with which we are unfamiliar to see if they are legitimate and, if so, what kind of stories they do.

These callers gave us pause.  For one thing, they didn’t want to talk to the public relations person; they only wanted to talk to the CEO.  That’s a red flag.  Most reporters or producers do not object to having their interview requests screened by a public relations person.

Second, in each case, the “producer” said he wanted to interview the CEO to see if the company would qualify for their program.  This is nonsense.  By the time reporters call for an interview, they already are interested in doing a story.

After investigating, we discovered that these programs were “pay for play” schemes.  Pay for Play in the media has been around for quite some time, but never promoted in such an underhanded way.  Many magazines – especially trade magazines – will tell you upfront that if you buy an ad you can get editorial space as well.  The same goes for infomercials – those paid-for time slots that promote products in a talk show setting.  But only in the past few years have we seen this type of deceptive approach.

How do you tell Pay for Play from the real thing?  You should immediately get off the phone if:

1.  You have never heard of the program, while the person on the phone is insisting it’s a big deal.  If you’ve never heard of it, it either doesn’t exist or isn’t worth your time.

2.  The person calling wants to interview the business owner or top executive to see if they “qualify” or are a “good fit” for their program.

3.  The caller is insistent about talking only to the business owner or top executive.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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In Your Expert Opinion: Contributing Articles for Publication

If your business provides a professional service, your marketing plan will no doubt revolve around showcasing your firm’s expertise. One of the best ways to do this is by writing an article that is published in an influential business or trade publication. When your article is published, you can make reprints to use for marketing purposes.  Recognition as an expert by the media enhances your credibility.

Not everyone is successful in getting these articles published, however.  Doing so requires more than just knowledge of the subject matter; it requires a basic understanding of what the editors of these publications are looking for.

Expert OpinionHere are five simple rules that will help you get published:

1.  Check out the publication and the type of articles it publishes.  Who reads the publication?  Are the articles technical or general in nature?  How many articles by outside contributors are published in each issue?  Are the articles mostly opinion, or are they factual reporting of research findings?  How long are the articles?

2.  Write about something specific.  This is not the time to share every bit of expertise you have accumulated over the years.  Stick to one topic, and save additional topics for other articles.

3.  Organize your article for an easy read.   The traditional advice for speech writing applies here as well:  Tell them what you plan to say; say it; tell them what you’ve said.

4.  Use conversational language.  Even people in your field won’t want to read an article full of technical jargon.  Keep it readable.

5.  Don’t promote your company in the article.  Doing so will guarantee rejection of your article.  Remember that you are writing to contribute valuable information or to share a point-of-view on current events.  You and your company will be mentioned at the end of the article.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Starting a Social Media Marketing Program for a Small Business

Social Media MarketingYou own a small business – maybe a retail shop or a professional services firm – and you keep hearing that social media marketing is the way to go to get and keep customers.  But you don’t know where to start.  With so many new social networking sites, it can be confusing.

Don’t give up!  Social media marketing was made for businesses like yours – businesses that want to connect with potential customers, engage them in a dialogue and build the kind of relationship that leads to long-term business success.

The important thing to remember is that, like any other public relations or marketing venture, you cannot dabble.  You have to commit for the long-term.  And it may be best to designate one person or an outside agency to manage your program because, if done correctly, managing social media sites will take many hours per week.

That said, you definitely need to get on board.  But which sites should you start with?  Let’s keep it simple and start with these three:

Facebook.  According to American gangster mythology, when asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton replied, “because that’s where the money is.”  Well, Facebook is where the people are.  It’s the top social site for referral traffic.  You can’t afford not to be on it if you are trying to reach potential customers.  But just having a Facebook page won’t get you anywhere.  You need to have a “call to action,” an opportunity to share, post photos and videos, and ask and answer questions.  Make your current and future customers feel as if they are a part of your business.

Twitter.    Got a sale coming up?  Have a special two-for-one pricing on meals or drinks?  Want to share a great tip on filing taxes?  Hear of a new trend?  Tweet all of the above – and more – in 140 characters or less.  Also, you can tweet relevant and interesting articles, start a poll, re-tweet customer comments, and on and on.  The important thing is to have an ongoing conversation with your customers.

Company Blog.  Your blog isn’t really a social networking site, but it is your voice to the world.  How is it promoting your brand?  Do you post regularly, or do visitors see outdated information there?  Are you linking back to your social networking sites and website, or does it just sit there – like an orphan?

Writing a blog is a real commitment, and it can become a chore, especially if you aren’t comfortable writing.  You can invite subscribers to post as well, but don’t count on that.  The important point here is that if you can’t keep it current by yourself, hire someone who can.

Posted by Margot Dimond

New Takes on Social Media Users

A couple of interesting news items on social media came across my desk today.  One was an article in a business journal about a social media contest the publication is sponsoring.  It noted that of the 32 entries it had received to-date, 28 were from small businesses.  Very few of the larger companies the writer contacted for the article were actively pursuing social media.  Of those who did, most reported using it to communicate with employees or existing customers.

Social MediaThis has been our experience as well.  Social media is a boon for smaller businesses, for whom traditional advertising and marketing can be cost-prohibitive.  It’s an inexpensive way to reach potential customers quickly and efficiently and, in many cases, it can lead to rapid increases in sales and profits.  It also works well for larger companies that sell directly to consumers.

For large business-to-business firms, social media is less likely to produce immediate results.  The hierarchical structure of most large companies can make them less flexible when it comes to communicating, and flexibility is the hallmark of social media messaging.

The second piece of news is a report on Facebook fan pages in PR Daily. Apparently, brand promotion through Facebook is a dud with millennials – those cherished consumers born between 1980 and 2000.  According to a recent survey of college students, while 86 percent of millennials visit Facebook every day, only 1 percent visit a brand page daily.  If they are fans on Facebook, it’s usually for an organization they are personally involved with, such as a nonprofit organization or a sorority.  This seems to be yet another example of social media tools being used to communicate with people who already know you.

Posted by Margot Dimond