Spring Cleaning: 5 Fresh, Budget-Friendly PR & Marketing Tips

Photo Credit: (c) 123RFStockPhotos.com

Photo Credit: (c) 123RFStockPhotos.com

By Karen Hendricks

Spring cleaning isn’t limited to dust bunnies under the bed. Did you know… you may have virtual dust bunnies lurking in your social media and marketing accounts? This is the perfect time of year to freshen up your marketing strategy, evaluate and consider adding a few new marketing tools—all with a budget-friendly approach. Here are five ways to put a little springtime sparkle into your marketing mix:

1. Facebook Facelift: Give your business or organization a fresh look on Facebook by uploading a new top image. This is a great rule of thumb to follow at least once per quarter or season. This instantly sets the tone on your account as a current, relevant source of information. According to a study by Vocus, Facebook fans are a brand’s most valuable customers, with 79% of your fans more likely to purchase your products/services as compared to non-Facebook fans… so give them a fresh “face” atop your latest content. Remember the dimensions for Facebook’s cover image are 851×315 pixels.

2. Blogging Bling: When is the last time you updated your company’s or organization’s blog? According to Blogging.org, 60% of all businesses have a blog, but a whopping 65% haven’t updated it within the past year.  A blog is the perfect example of content marketing at its best—especially if you take advantage of a free, easy-as-pie WordPress account. The only investment is your time spent writing and adding effective images—a key component to higher engagement rates.

3. LinkedIn Luster: It’s been about a year and a half since the professional networking site LinkedIn unveiled its Company Pages feature. Since then, 2.6 million companies have developed company pages, including all Fortune 500 companies. Many small businesses and non-profits have yet to take advantage of this free marketing tool, with valuable access to the 200 million professionals currently on LinkedIn. When you create a Company Page, invite your customers to provide endorsements, share your business news, and begin creating a buzz on a professional level. You can even advertise jobs or scout for potential new hires. For inspiration, check this post on the LinkedIn blog, with tips from the top 10 best company pages of 2012.

4. Add Polish with Pinterest:  Last summer, Mashable reported that Pinterest users were following more brands than Facebook or Twitter users. I think the main reason why, boils down to Pinterest’s focus on images. It’s easier to “see” what you like rather than “read” about your favorite brands, causes or businesses. If you haven’t yet created a Pinterest account for your business or organization—or if you haven’t added new content recently—polish your image with a free Pinterest account. Make sure plenty of your pins link back to your core marketing presence, your website, to ultimately drive traffic to your doorstep.

5. Add email marketing muscle: Don’t discount good old fashioned email marketing! It’s still a wonderfully viable way to engage with and grow your core customer base.  See the Inbound Marketing blog for their recent “23 Tweetable Stats on Email Marketing Trends” and it’s bound to put some spring into your marketing step. 

If you aren’t currently using an email marketing service, consider the following: One of the gold standards in the industry, Constant Contact offers a free 60-day trial period that’s especially helpful for small businesses since the initial free contact list is limited to 100 or fewer contacts. Otherwise, paid accounts on Constant Contact will not break your bottom line, and non-profits receive a 15% discount.  Additional budget-friendly options include Vertical Response, which has a free option for all 501 (c)(3) organizations, and Mad Mimi which offers a free base email program for up to 2,500 contacts and up to 12,500 emails per month. Make sure to dust off your writing skills as well—64% of email recipients say they open an email because of the subject line.

This post was originally written for and published by our friends at Fletcher Prince, a top-ranked DC area boutique public relations firm. Many thanks to Mary Fletcher Jones!

 

 

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5 Tips for Business Blogs

By Karen Hendricks

Photo Credit: http://www.123rf.com Stock Images

Photo Credit: http://www.123rf.com Stock Images

Utilized as a marketing tool, blogging is one of the easiest, user-friendly and cost-effective options. It’s not just for large or Forture 500 companies either; small businesses and organizations can reap giant benefits by including a blog within the nuts and bolts of a marketing plan. I’ve had the opportunity to speak about blogging as a marketing tool several times recently and two questions keep popping up: What should I blog about? And how is my blog different from other forms of marketing outreach?

Well, assuming that you’re already maintaining a few marketing essentials, here’s how a blog fits into the mix:

  • Website: Your core marketing presence, your company website is stocked with essential information on your business or services, and links to all other marketing channels. Your website can be thought of as “home base.”
  • Newsletters: Enewsletters and printed newsletters come directly to your inbox or mailbox and contain timely news and offers through call-to-action campaigns. Subscription links should appear on the website homepage; newsletters can be housed under one of your website’s tabs.
  • Social Media: Whether you have a business page on Facebook or a company Twitter account, I describe social media as short and sweet bursts of information that keep your customers current and engaged in your day-to-day happenings. Feeds or sign-up links should appear on the website homepage.
  • Blog: Like social media, your company blog should be current. But unlike social media, it’s not limited to 140 characters or thereabouts. Not that it should be lengthy, but it’s the perfect medium for a more in-depth conversation. Yes, blogs are conversations, because they create interaction via comments and responses from your readers. But before the word “reader” scares you, let me assure you that you don’t have to be a prolific writer. In fact, photos are essential to a blog’s success. And a blog can flow right into a page or even the homepage of your company website, enhancing all other content. It’s a vital piece of the puzzle.

Ok, so now let’s address blog subjects. Here are five basic ideas to keep your company blog rolling:

1. Go behind-the-scenes with your business.  Photographs or videos are critical! Use them to demonstrate how your products are made or feature your employees. This “insider’s view” will help your customers gain a deeper appreciation for your business.

2. Inform/educate. Share tips and how-to guides, highlight partner businesses or explain services you provide. Be careful to balance information with a light, conversational tone. This gives your customers a well-rounded view of your business and all it entails and portrays you as an expert in your field.

 3. Share “success stories” through the eyes of your customers.  Accompanied by photos, feature customers using your products/services or showcase customers who’ve provided glowing testimonials. What better way to thank your core customers and create buzz at the same time!

4. Vary the point of view. Allowing different writers to contribute to the company blog will keep it fresh and provide a variety of input from all angles. This is a great way for your customers to get to know the people behind your business as well.

5. Have fun! Don’t forget to add a dash of entertainment once in a while too. Feature a YouTube video related to your business or share photos of your employees or customers enjoying a light-hearted moment. Smiles and laughter are invaluable!

Recommended Blog Links:

Handmade in PA is a blog run by the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen and includes a wonderful diversity of posts, all focused on the arts in PA, by more than 15 contributors (and I’m proud to say I am one of them!).

Whole Foods features a blog that does a great job of going behind-the-scenes with growers around the world and “feeds” readers a steady stream of nutritious news.

Robyn Graham Photography features a blog I check several times a week for inspiration. Graham showcases her work by combining beautiful images and poetry.

Habitat for Humanity and the Red Cross both weave engaging stories about their organizations’ missions through their blogs. 

For fun, I’ve been engaged in a blog project, Off the Merry-Go-Round, that combines the writing talents of six women. Blogging together, we share tips and stories on family life, but in the process, we’ve also forged fabulous friendships!

Diagnosis; Sharing the Story

By Karen Hendricks

If you would have told me last week that being a doctor was a lot like being a PR practitioner, I would have laughed.

But this week I learned that it’s actually the truth, because it all comes down to “the story.”

Former CBS News Producer-turned-MD Lisa Sanders helped me arrive at this revelation, as I had the pleasure of hearing her speak earlier this week.  Author of the New York Times Magazine “Diagnosis” column, Sanders provided the inspiration for the wildly popular and offbeat TV show House.  Dr. Gregory House, aka Hugh Laurie, solves medical mysteries by using his instincts and clues, often gathered through unconventional means.  His demeanor doesn’t exactly encourage his patients to talk to him and tell their “stories.”

As a former journalist, “stories” have always been at the heart of Sanders’ work, even when she made the transition to the medical field.  One of three Technical Advisors to House, Sanders dreams up the shows’ fascinating medical storylines.  Her latest book Every Patient Tells a Story describes “Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis.”  It all comes down to patients who communicate their stories accurately and doctors truly taking the time to listen to their patients’ stories.  Between 70 to 90 percent of all medical diagnoses are made, not based upon physical exams or specialized tests, but upon patients’ stories.But Sanders’ use of “the story” doesn’t end there.  She contends, one of the most powerful gifts a doctor can give to his/her patient, is the communication of a diagnosis.  How the doctor relays this information, explains a disease or shares information, is the first step to helping a patient heal.  Sanders writes, “A story that can help a patient make sense of even a devastating illness is a story that can heal.”

Ok so what does this have to do with PR and marketing?

Just as doctors search for diagnoses, PR and marketing professionals seek “diagnoses” for their clients.  The messages and stories that form the backbone of a PR or marketing campaign are often found, not by examining the number of website page views or other diagnostic numbers, but simply by listening to clients’ stories and employing them directly into the heart of the campaign.  Compelling, stories, emotional, human and fascinating, translate into a more effective PR or marketing campaign.  Take the time to find out why or how your client is unique (I know—over-used word but it fits) through their stories.

I once interviewed an artist who had an unusual, but beautiful, perspective on landscapes that seemed to stretch on and on in layers.  As one of dozens of artists I interviewed for an arts festival’s PR campaign, he explained that he preferred painting from high mountaintops, as high an elevation as he could reach, for a birds-eye perspective.   I asked a series of questions about his background and it turned out that his early artistic ambitions had been put on hold for a stint in the U.S. Air Force.  Perhaps that experience provided the training ground for his unique approach to landscape painting?  What an interesting twist to “his story” that provided a “diagnosis” of sorts.

While I’m listening and focused on a client’s stories, I always take the time to capture quotes.  They inject color and emotion into press releases or marketing materials!  I recently worked with a young political candidate who projected such enthusiasm and passion through his quotes and interviews, while demonstrating a firm grasp of issues at hand, that he attracted attention and was elected to office.  He communicated his story and connected to his constituency well!

Everyone has a story to tell, medically or otherwise.  Are you taking the time to listen?  And are you retelling the story and sharing it?

House: often closes the door on communication

P.S. Many thanks to Lisa Sanders for the great book inscription!

Communicate in 8

By Karen Hendricks

The average person’s attention span is 8 seconds long, according to statistics compiled by the Associated Press in 2012.  Compare that to the average attention span in 2000 which was a whopping 12 seconds.  Or better yet, compare that to the average attention span of a goldfish at 9 seconds.  (How is that determined?!)

The simple truth is that communicating is more challenging today than ever before.  So what does it take, to capture someone’s attention span for 8 seconds or more and convey a compelling message?  Here are a few tips, gleaned from 20+ years in the communications field, used regularly at Hendricks Communications:

1.  Tell Personal Stories:  Good public relations and marketing campaigns are transformed into great campaigns when they’re based upon captivating, real-life experiences.  People are fascinating!  Taking the time to understand and tell a client’s story, highlighted with anecdotes or quotes, injects an element of emotion.

2.  Use A Hook:  Think of a hook as something that draws you in and compels you to read further, listen longer, click on a link or turn a page.  The hook can take any number of angles–clever writing, an attention-grabbing quote or a shocking statistic but it grabs your attention instantly and piques your curiousity.

3.  Know the Facts and Stats:  Don’t overwhelm your reader, but strengthen your writing with a handful of carefully-researched and selected facts and figures.  Statistics add a powerful punch.

4.  Use Words that Wow:  Using a rich variety of language, including attention-grabbing vocabulary, engages a reader or listener.  Ten dollar words aren’t necessarily needed; quick and clever words with zing are just as effective, if not more so.  Spice up your vocabulary with playful prose or strong speech to suit the tone and subject.

5.  Be Brief:  Stick to the point, weave the story with colorful quotes, lanuage or facts where needed and come to a compelling conclusion.  Remember your audience has an average attention span of 8 seconds; if you hold their attention any longer, it can be considered a victory.

6.  Remember Appearance Counts:  Good design, clean fonts and a touch of color encourage the reader to actually read your text.  Make it easy to read; not complicated or requiring a road map.  A similar piece of advice works for the spoken word:  make your presentation easy to understand so that main points are clearly defined.

7.  Feature Photos:  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so use one (or more!) to enhance your writing.  Photographs convey mood, tone and expression so much more effectively, and quickly, than text.

8. Check the 5 Ws and 1 H:  The foundation of good journalism depends on asking the right questions and then making sure you’ve “covered all the bases” in your writing.  Who, what, where, when, why and how:  All of these questions should be answered or you’re bound to have gaps in your writing.  Once a reader discovers a gap, he or she tunes your message out.

Remember your audience may only be with you for 8 seconds–coincidentally the same amount of time that a rodeo rider must stay atop a bull in order to be awarded a score and win.