InFLUence is Contagious says the Perception Engineer

It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be getting over a cold or the flu. Recently I came across a quote that Influence and influenza are the same root word because influence is contagious. I like the idea of your influence- your flu- being contagious.

That led me to think back to one of my favorite blog posts that I wrote back in 2011 as a guest blogger for one of my peers.  The assigned topic was “what is public relations.”  I thought I’d share it again so that you could take a look.  Here it is:

We’ve all sat around a room as 30 or more people introduce themselves and their professional titles one-by-one. Most people are comatose by the end, barely paying attention.

For fun, and to see who’s still awake, I occasionally introduce myself as a perception engineer.

After a long pregnant pause, a fellow PR flack in the room usually audibly chuckles or gives me a knowing glare.

Do you agree that the term perception engineer is an appropriate description of public relations? Ultimately, the goal in Public Relations is to influence what others think about a company, product, person or topic.

While the target audience may be unique, the overarching goal to influence what people think remains the same regardless of the tools we use (social media, pitching reporters, newsletters, etc.,). The effort to influence also remains the same regardless of the communication need (crisis, pro-active, reactive, internal, etc.).

Notice that I didn’t offer the term “influence peddler.” Being a perception engineer is significantly different. We engineer strategies and creatively implement how we will influence each target audience. Forget about thinking outside the box, we, as perception engineers, reshape the box. In contrast, an influence peddler simply pushes the same wallpaper messaging from the box to everyone in sight.

Perception engineers understand that there are 100 different ways to accomplish a PR goal, but that there are also a million ways to fail and hurt the intended beneficiary. It’s that personalization of the message and risk of failure that keeps public relations fun, challenging and vital.

The original posting of this was on HMAtime on May 4, 2011.

Going to a Trade Show? 8 Tips to Implement a Successful Trade Show PR Strategy

Trade Show Meaning World Fair And Purchase

Going to a Trade Show?  Don’t forget to implement an aggressive public relations plan.

Think about it… industry media from all over the world attend trade shows to learn the latest industry trends and meet with as many companies as possible. Trade shows represent a smorgasbord of story and product options with everything in one place.  It’s the ultimate story buffet for a journalist.

The mistake most companies make is not including an aggressive media and public relations component to their trade show strategy, and failing to implement that strategy several weeks and even months prior to the show.

Here are some tips that every trade show exhibitor should do – whether you’re a show regular or it’s your first time attending.

1: Ask for the Show’s Media List:

Most shows will give exhibitors a copy of attending media in advance, but only if you ask for it.  Once in a while you may have to pay for the list, but most of the time it’s free.  The list might not be the upcoming show’s list, because a lot of media sign up at the last minute.  Instead they may send you the list of media that attended the previous year. This is still extremely useful because industry media tend not to change. If a publication attended last year, there’s a good change they’re coming this year too.

2: Schedule Media Appointments in Advance:

Media don’t randomly walk the show doing interviews. Their schedules are meticulously planned out.  For the crazy big shows, I know reporters that literally schedule bathroom breaks and make sure around lunch time that they have meetings near the food stands before or after.  Others designate which aisles they plan to be in during which hours, refusing to double back later.

This matters because the earlier you start reaching out to media asking for interviews/meetings the better. Otherwise you may find their schedules filled.

3: Utilize the Press Room:

Big shows have a press room, which only media are allowed to enter past the reception desk. Think of it as a quiet room where reporters feel safe from being hounded by companies. Many shows allow companies to leave press materials for media to take at no extra cost.  Others allow you to hold press conferences or demos to introduce new products (this often comes for an extra cost and must be scheduled in advance).

4: Look at Badges as People Walk By the Booth:

Most shows have name badges with color codes. For example, media might have a red bar at the top, exhibitors might be orange, attendees green, etc.  Take advantage of the color codes and between scheduled interviews watch the badges of people walking by.  If they have a media badge, try to start a conversation and see if they stop.  If they do, try to turn it into an on-the-spot interview opportunity. If nothing else, try to get their business card.

5: Keep Good Notes:

What did the reporter say they were interested in?  Did they ask for additional information or to talk to a client?  Be sure to write down a recap of the meeting right after it happens, because after you get home the many meetings you had are all going to blend together.

6: Dealing with No-Shows:

Every show there are reporters that simply don’t show up for scheduled appointments.  Some can’t find the booth while others forget or simply never attend the conference for whatever reason. When scheduling before the show, try to get cell phone numbers and call or text them to see if they still plan to come to the booth or to reschedule.  Even still, there will be a reporter or two that never responds.  Don’t overthink it – just accept it.

7: Have Realistic Expectations:

Some media might run stories right away, but most of the time the meeting is simply a “get-to-know-you” opportunity.  Schedule meetings in 30 minute blocks, but most meetings will only last 15-20 minutes.  You’re truly just trying to make an impression to be remembered after the show ends.  Think about it… the reporters are meeting with dozens and dozens of companies.  Not every company will get a story, you just want to be remembered.  The real long-term benefits will come after the show, when you send future press releases and you can reference having met them at the show.  If they remember you, the odds of your story getting covered go up significantly.

8: Don’t Forget to Follow-up:

When you get home, send a thank you note to every interview or chance media meeting you held.  Remember, your goal is to build relationships long-term.  Milk it by offering a follow-up interview and make sure that the contact is added to your media list for future releases.

And finally, don’t forget to have fun… and wear comfortable shoes!  Seriously.

7 Tips for Better Business Storytelling

Every business has a story. As the owner of a small public relations firm, it’s our job to first recognize that story, and then help you share it.

It’s human nature that people love hearing stories, and they’re more likely to remember a story. So the better your business story, the more successful and memorable your company or organization is likely to be.

Here are seven strategy tips we use when helping a business share their story.

  1. Put the person before the numbers. Stats and numbers are great, but a story focused on an individual and why those stats and numbers matter is always going to make a better story angle.
  2. Start your story in the middle. It’s easy to lose your audience in the lead up to the action, so jump ahead a few pages and start with the really interesting part of the story. Then you can quickly go back and give the necessary context before explaining the result.
  3. Keep them hanging on every word. If it’s not imperative to your story, don’t include it. You need to keep interest from start to finish.
  4. Highlight obstacles and how you got past them. If it were easy, everyone would have already done it and they wouldn’t need you or your solution. Be honest about the obstacles you faced and how you got around them.  People love hearing how you overcame a problem, especially one that they themselves have faced.
  5. Identify the hero. Is the hero someone at your company or the product or service itself? It needs to be the star of your story that people remember and refer to later.
  6. Less braggy more huggy. If you want your audience to embrace your company or solution, you can’t be untouchable.
  7. Be bold but be realistic. Not every story is a best-seller and that’s okay.  Tell each story as best you can but don’t oversell it as Pulitzer-worthy.  Even simple stories should be told as it will help you build into a bigger story in the future.

In short, every business has a story.  It simply comes down to recognizing it and finding an interesting way to share it. It’s why I love my job and the challenge of first identifying a story opportunity and then coming up with a memorable way to tell the world about it.

What should you look for in a PR partner?

Public Relations isn’t one-size fits all solution. You need to find the right fit and the right personality for your company. A great PR firm for one company might be a nightmare for another. Just, frankly, as a company or its staff might be a nightmare client for the PR firm.

Here are eight tips to help you find the right PR partner for your company.

Tip #1: Define what you consider success before you start talking to a PR firm. If you don’t know what you want to achieve, how can you identify which firm can succeed in accomplishing your goal? By defining your goal in advance, you set yourself (and your new partner) up for success.

Tip #2: Decide if your PR need is long-term or short-term. Are you looking to achieve a long-term goal of increased overall awareness of your company, or are you only looking for temporary help on a specific project? Some firms are better at short-term projects while others excel at creating and implementing long-term strategies.

Tip #3: What size PR firm is right for you? There are some excellent big firms out there, just as there are some talented small firms. It comes down to what’s important to you. Would you rather be the big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a lake? A large firm might have a monthly minimum of $10,000 or $15,000 a month, yet you’d still be viewed as one of their smaller clients. Compare that to a smaller firm where you’d be consider one of the larger clients at even half the larger firm’s retainer amount. Another consideration of who you’ll be working with on a daily basis. At a small firm, you’re likely to be working with the company’s top talent but a large firm may assign your small account to less experienced staff.

Tip #4: Find the right chemistry. Not only do you need to trust your PR firm for their professional recommendations, but you need to personally like the people you’ll be working with. Sometimes the strategy is right, but the personalities aren’t. If that’s the case, save everyone the headache and look elsewhere. The key here is to spend as much time vetting the interaction with your prospective PR teams as you do their portfolio and services.

Tip #5: Make sure you’re excited to get started. Did the PR firm capture your imagination and are you excited to get started? If so, that’s a great sign you’ve identified the right firm.

Tip #6: Have realistic expectations. If you expect every story pitched to get media attention or you expect to be on the front page or if you think that you’re going to become a regular on the Today Show, then you’re destined for disappointment. If you’re not sure what is realistic, ask. A good public relations partner will help you understand what to expect.

Tip #7: How will you measure success? Make sure both the company and the firm are judging success the same way. Nothing derails a partnership quicker than disagreeing on how successful a PR campaign is going.

Tip #8: Who will be your point-person? Decide your company’s primary contact for the public relations firm early and invite them be part of the hiring process. Your point person must be someone who is engaged in the process. By having them involved in the beginning, you make sure they have a voice in the selection process and the strategy, which creates a great foundation for your new partnership.

Finally, It’s also worth noting that a good PR firm follows the same process we’ve just outlined when meeting with prospective clients. If a client isn’t the right fit for our strengths and if we’re concerned we won’t meet or exceed the client’s expectations, we’re upfront about it and turn down the opportunity.

Choose Your Own Adventure Story

What stories are you paying attention to? Is it the upcoming Presidential election? How about the Cubs/Indians World Series? Maybe it’s the national anthem protests or the latest Kardashian gossip.

There’s no one correct answer. Whatever your personal interest, that story is going to appear bigger than most others and you’ll be able to recite more facts or updates than any other current news story.

The challenge for any business is to figure out which story will get noticed by the intended audience.

A story about weight loss usually isn’t going to be of interest someone that isn’t trying to lose weight. However, a story about how to help a friend or family member lose weight might draw attention.

People pay attention to different stories or advertising because it fits with their individual life or interests – professional or personal.

Not sure you believe me yet? Answer this: How many signs did you see on your commute from home to your place of work? The answer depends on you. For example, if you’re looking for a new home, you’ll notice “For Sale” signs everywhere. If you’re not looking to move, you likely didn’t see many home for sale signs outside your immediate neighborhood. You only noticed the homes for sale in your neighborhood because you have a vested interest in your own home’s worth and who might become your new neighbor.

It’s subconscious, but when you accept this reality you can take advantage of it. That’s what we do for our clients. We don’t want to talk to everyone, just the right people. It starts with understanding your primary target audience, then decipher where they get their news, and what type of news they want to see. We share your story where it will have the most direct impact.

After telling those stories, look for the people one step outside your primary target audience that can still influence the decision makers, followed by taking two steps back, and so on. Returning to the weight loss example stated earlier, it’s reaching out to friends and family of someone looking to lose weight in hopes that they can influence the person actually trying to shed a few pounds.

In a professional setting, the equivalent may be a broader case-study type story about how a competitor to your target company benefited from using your 3rd party service or product. The company Executive who may not be as interested in all the details and specifics of your product or service, but they may like the overall result. That Executive may share or mention the story to a subordinate/the appropriate department head that you’ve had trouble reaching directly. When the boss tells an employee to look into something, they usually do. So now you have the opportunity to share the details and specifics with your true primary target client, the person making the final decision or recommendation back to the Executive.

Ultimately, it’s about getting your story heard and noticed by the people most likely to already be interested in it. The more targeted and focused you make your story, the more likely it will have the intended impact.

Wording Can Make Your Idea a Winner or a Loser

The message you convey when naming a company, a campaign or an issue can be the difference between success or failure. Let me share a few examples – and excuse me if some are political.

In Arizona this November, voters will decide if recreational marijuana should be legal in the state (similar to Colorado). The campaign committee in favor calls itself: The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

The campaign’s name does an excellent job re-positioning the argument beyond the traditional drug debate. If all voters begin referring to the issue as a vote on whether marijuana should be regulated like alcohol, my bet is it’s likely to pass.

Here’s another example – the long-running political debate over abortion. The issue of abortion in this country is divided and has been for years, but I would argue that part of the reason it’s so divisive is the wording we use. “Pro-choice” is a positive impression and self-description. So is “pro-life”. It’s not like a debate between “pro-choice” versus “pro-dictating what others can’t do”. It’s not “pro-life” versus “pro-death”. Based on the self-descriptions, there’s no winner or loser between “pro-life” and “pro-choice”.

By comparison, a couple decades ago when “pro-choice” supporters began using and repeating the language “Partial Birth Abortion” during debates and conversations with others, that issue was for the most part politically lost.  Leading to a wave of states passing laws forbidding abortions after a certain number of weeks which is still a resulting issue today thanks to the original language.

Finally, let’s share an example of something as simple as a company name – like the name of my company, 10 to 1 Public Relations. Coming up with a company or product name is a lot harder than most people realize. One reason is that most names are already taken and finding something with a good URL domain is tough. 10 to 1 by itself isn’t memorable, but in context it is unforgettable.  10 to 1 is named after the notion that it takes 10 good things to be said about your company to make up for 1 bad. Since it’s inevitable that a negative story (legitimate or false) will occur, it’s essential to build up a “good will bank” to protect your image.  As soon as I tell anyone the meaning they understand and can recall our approach.

The lesson:  Descriptive wording matters. When you or your company is trying to consolidate support on a divisive issue, or to demonstrate how your product helps solve a problem, you have a much better chance of success if all parties use your chosen words to discuss it.

The case for cookie-cutter style PR campaigns

Many companies think they need to avoid cookie-cutter style public relations strategies. I’ve even been told by clients that one of the things they like most about us is that we don’t do cookie-cutter campaigns.

This might surprise you, but I love cookie cutters and we use them all the time.  Cookie cutters give media stories structure and shape, making it easier for reporters to share your story.

It’s not the cookie cutter that makes your company stand out.   It’s the cookie’s ingredients or the frosting on top of the cookie which make media opportunities unique and memorable.

Let me share a couple examples.

Planning a ribbon cutting event for a new store location is easiest when it follows a cookie-cutter format.  The structure ensures consistency for the brand, and makes it easier for staff from a planning standpoint.  Think of the personalization for the event as the cookie’s frosting.  Partnering on the event with the local chamber of commerce and inviting local dignitaries are what make the event more memorable and newsworthy.

Another example would be if your company hosts special event or training session where it flies in winners, resellers or employees from different parts of the country.  Create a template, or cookie-cutter style announcement about the event.   Take a picture of each attendee standing with the President of the company.  In the background of the photo have a logo or some local imagery (an example of local imagery would be the HQ building for the company or if the event is in Arizona do it outside with cactus or other local images in the background).   Send that photo to the hometown newspapers of each attendee stating that: employee X of CITY attended a special meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona where they met with the company President.

You can send that same cookie-cutter style announcement to 100 different small town newspapers and each one would have a chance of being picked up as a news story.  Local media won’t care or realize that the cookie-cutter was used 100 times. They only notice the ingredients and frosting— someone from their hometown earned a free trip out of town and received special training. Plus it’s a lot easier than trying to write 100 unique news releases!

The fact is, cookie cutters work.  And I’m more than happy to use them if they get my clients positive media attention that helps them achieve their goals.

Focus Helps You Hit the Bullseye

How many “things” does your company offer?  How many different customers are you targeting right now?  Chances are, it may be too many.

The more niche and focused a business can be, the more successful that business is likely to become. After “owning” that niche, it is significantly easier for a company to add on to its expertise and offer even more. Think of Amazon, which started as an online way to buy books. Only after it began to “own” that industry, winning a huge market share, did it expand into offering other products.

I also share similar advice to our clients. The more focused your services and the more identifiable your potential customer, the more likely you are to grow.  Think about it… if you’re trying to sell to every business in the U.S., that’s more than 28 million businesses (according to stats from the SBA in 2010). Alternatively, if you’re only trying to sell to law firms, there were only 47,563 law firms serving the U.S. in the year 2000 (according to the American Bar Foundation).

When trying to focus your sales team, 47,563 is a much more approachable number than 28 million.  In addition to focusing your sales team, it also allows you to focus your R&D teams on products and improvements that best fit the legal industry. As you build a reputation within the legal industry, you’ll find that potential customers will soon seek you out as well because of your specialty.

But once you “own” the legal industry with your product, think of all the other markets that follow the similar business model that can be your next target audiences, such as accounting firms or insurance agencies.

So if you want your business to grow, follow Amazon’s book by starting off focused on being the best in your vertical and expand from there.

The Cleveland sports curse is over! What now?

I grew up in Cleveland and went to college at Kent State in Northeast Ohio.  I still have family who live there and I’m a steadfast defender of the City and loyal Cleveland sports team fan (along with the Arizona teams where I’ve lived for the last 16 years).  You can imagine what I’m going through as the Cavaliers won the NBA championship in dramatic fashion. It’s the first championship of any major sport for the City in 52 years—my entire lifetime plus!  Reading the social media from childhood friends of their excitement brought smiles to my face, but those smiles turned to awe as I watched more than 1 million Cavs fans take over downtown for a celebratory parade and rally.

Back in May of 2014 I wrote a blog titled: Confessions of a Cleveland sports fan and how it relates to your business. In it I talked about the importance of not reinforcing a negative impression despite the comfort it might represent.

Here’s the thing…. once the excitement fades, what is a Cleveland supporter supposed to do now?!?!  How do we write the next chapter of our story?  Uncomfortable?  Yes.  But man, I’m so glad we have no choice but to start re-writing our Cleveland sports narrative.

How to generate media coverage when hosting your own customer conference or training event

Celeste Gwyn - Anna-Melissa Tribune TX (3)

Back in July of 2014 I wrote a blog titled: How to get media coverage at an industry trade show and other conference and exhibitor tips.   That was for when your company attends or exhibits at a conference hosted by someone else.  But what if you’re in charge of the conference, hosting it for your users or customers? Earning some media coverage is likely easier than you realize, but it helps if you view your conference as several mini-events rather than one big one.   Allow me to share an example from just last week.

Last week I attended a convention 100% coordinated and hosted by one of our clients.  Held in Las Vegas, it was attended by nearly 12,000 home-based independent resellers. Yes, you read the number correctly.  There would have been more attendees, but they sold out two months early and there was literally no way to fit in more people.

Let’s get into how to generate media coverage.  The easiest mistake is to put all your focus on getting local media to attend your event or putting out one press release expecting everyone to care about your event.  Let’s be honest… Las Vegas reporters aren’t going to care as they see conferences all the time.  Even if they did cover it, the local Las Vegas TV audience wasn’t our target market.

Yes, of course, you should distribute a press release about your conference and send it to your target media outlets.  But if you treat it like every other press release it will get covered like every other press release.  If the conference is a super-big deal to your company, can you distribute more than one release to make sure those same reporters realize something big is happening?  For example, maybe you can do a general release about the event right before it starts, and a day or two later you can do another release highlighting that you introduced a new product at the conference, or a special guest presenter or event that occurred during the convention.  Include a photo from the event whenever possible.

What most companies forget is that they can also generate media coverage by focusing on your individual attendees.

If it’s a training conference, it’s a good bet that you have attendees coming from numerous cities. It’s also likely that your training session presenters come from different cities across the country.

Take photos of your individual presenters while they speak to your attendees, and send the photo with a caption to the newspapers in their hometown.  The recommended caption should highlight the presenter… something like Joe Schmo of Cleveland led a training session about underwater basket weaving at the national conference for COMPANY in Scottsdale.  COMPANY is the leading provider of waterproof yarn and Schmo is a regular user of the products.

You’ll be shocked how many of the small-town newspapers will run the picture and caption of a hometown individual being recognized as a leader.

For the client convention last week, we literally distributed three Corporate press release, and more than 40 individual presenter photo caption releases.    Some of the photo releases were delivered to the hometown papers before the presenter even left the stage (sorry for bragging… we are pretty proud of that one).  The client is already seeing coverage from the effort, and the presenters are thrilled for the free publicity in their hometown papers.  An added bonus is that those same presenters are going back to the company to thank them for getting them in their local newspapers.  It’s a win-win for everyone.