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.

A PR Confession

Excuse me if this comes out wrong, but I have a confession.

For nearly 20 years, I’ve worked in public relations. I’ve seen a ton, and I’ve done a ton.  Over the years I must have placed hundreds, even thousands of news stories for clients.   Yet every time a client story runs… I still get excited.  Sometimes more excited than the client.

You know the saying about how the sausage tastes good until you see how it’s made?  Reverse the process and that’s what it feels like when I read some of the stories that we’ve helped place.

The process is the hard part.  Some people get scared by it, but it’s my favorite part of the job.  How do you help make a clearly negative story less threatening to a company’s future?  How do you get what started as a small yet positive mention into a larger feature that will be re-shared for years?

It’s one of the reasons I love my job so much.  The story’s end result doesn’t always showcase the strategy, time and energy put in behind the scenes.  It’s why some of my favorite stories aren’t necessary the same favorites that my clients may cite. It’s also why a client sometimes can’t understand why I get more excited about some stories compared to others.  But maybe I’ll just keep that secret to myself.

Which Legacy Do You Choose to Forget?

What legacy do you choose to forget, or simply to ignore?  As I write this, Kobe is playing his last basketball game as a pro. Media are praising his career. There are lots of celebrity tribute videos and he’s taking his victory lap of interviews in closing his 20-year career.

But do you remember Kobe’s original story?  The one created June 30, 2003? 

As a 19-year-old new player in the league with a wife and six-month-old child, Kobe Bryant arrived at the Cordillera Lodge and Spa in Edwards, Colorado where he allegedly raped a hotel worker.  He admits to adultery with a female hotel worker but denies the woman’s claim saying it was consensual.  After Kobe’s attorneys attacked and blamed the victim, she ultimately stopped cooperating with prosecutors and the charges were dropped.  She settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

So how did we get to today’s version of the story where everyone is praising him?   How does a person or a company repair and move past the early pages of a tarnished legacy?

An important component comes down to unswerving, ongoing public relations.  Rebuilding legacy and changing a story doesn’t happen quickly, it happens through consistency.

Part one is taking a public position and standing your ground. Kobe acknowledged being unfaithful to his wife, but always insisted it was consensual. Instead he let his lawyers do the attacking and talking.  Since he said nothing new, it limited the number of stories on the subject.

Equally important, in the months and years that followed, no new public allegations were made.  Think of it this way. I heard a story about a person trying to recover from an addiction.  The first time someone leaves rehab, their friends will often support and stand by them.  But if they relapse many of those same friends won’t be supportive the second time around.

As far as we know, Kobe didn’t relapse.  In the years that followed he didn’t give the media any excuse to bring back the Denver accusation to remind the public.  And of course, he kept winning and championships were on the line so no one wanted to rock the boat.  Now, an entire generation has no idea the rape allegation ever occurred.

All that said, in today’s media climate I’m not sure he’d be able to escape the initial media onslaught, never giving him the time or opportunity to recreate his legacy.   The NBA did little or nothing at the time, but in 2016 it would be hard for the NBA to not take a hard stance at the onset.  Just ask the NFL in light of the many assault incidents such as Ray Rice and others.

Ironically, I’m also currently watching the Golden State Warriors win their 73rd regular season game—a new record.  During the same game, their MVP Steph Curry surpassed 400 three-pointers in a single season. Shattering his own impressive record from last year which was just under 300 three-pointers.

By all accounts, Curry is obviously a great player and has that good-guy on and off the court image.  I would expect his legacy of today will remain his legacy tomorrow.  Ultimately it will depend on his future performance, but also his on and off the court actions and how he’s perceived for those actions.  Just ask O.J. Simpson, Lance Armstrong or Bill Cosby what it’s like going from “hero” legacy to “villain” legacy.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… Kobe scored 60 in his last game and the media can’t stop gushing and praising him.

Swim or Sink

When it comes to public relations, a lot of companies have good intentions.  They say they are going to put out two or three positive message press releases each month.  Everything starts out great, but they get busy and deadlines start to slip.  Three releases a month becomes one, or even none. The slip isn’t planned, but it also isn’t punished.

It’s a lot like exercising.  Some people love exercising and working out.  They plan their schedules around their work out times.  I’m not one of those people that love working out, but I do swim laps three days each week.  I’m not fast, but I’m consistent.  For the last four years I have swam the exact same distance, the exact same way.  I swim one mile non-stop, which is 33 laps there-and-back (66 lengths).   While that distance may seem impressive to some, it’s really not significant to a lot of swimmers.   A swim team, for example, does several miles in a daily practice.

Unless I’m travelling for more than a couple days (which is rare), there are zero exceptions to my three times per week rule. Why?  Because the first time I make an excuse like it’s too cold, or it’s raining or I have somewhere else I’d rather be, I’ll use an excuse every time I don’t feel like swimming—which is pretty much every day.

This past December I swam on a Thursday night around 7:30pm.  I swim outside (I live in Arizona) and even though the pool is heated it can still get cold, especially after the sun goes down.  The temperature was in the 40s and there was a fog as heat came off the pool into the air. I often use the swim time to think about my day or come up with ideas for my client.

But on this day, as I was counting down the laps until I could go home, I began wonder how many miles I’ve swum.  Based on 3 days per week for at least 50 weeks each year, that’s an estimated 150 miles each year.

I’m not saying that to brag—like I said, I’m not fast and to other swimmers a mile isn’t impressive.  I know that.  But I couldn’t help feeling proud of the cumulative total.  I also couldn’t help but to recognize that my swimming approach mirrored my PR approach.  A consistent and steady effort can lead to big results over time.

One mile isn’t going to get you in shape, just as one press release isn’t going to earn you a reputation as a go-to expert resource to a reporter.  Only as those miles, or press releases, add up will they pay off. And they only add up if you don’t take days off.

Companies Shouldn’t Be Rewarded For Purposely Offending People

Companies Shouldn’t Be Rewarded For Purposely Offending People


One of my favorite quotes is “the only bad press is an obit.”  Not surprisingly it’s credited to Dennis Rodman.  I do think there’s some public relations validity to the statement depending on your goals.  But I’m disgusted by the fact that some companies purposely and strategically are trying to offend people to use that bad press as a way to grow their brand or create buzz.

On the day I write this, a certain clothing company ( I don’t want to write by name in fear that it provides them free buzz) successfully pulled a stunt that resulted in countless news stories and was a social media trending story.  They decided to sell a Kent State University throwback sweatshirt with red splatters that appear to be fake blood.  They soon claimed that they didn’t intend for it to be interpreted to May 4, 1970 when four college kids were killed by national guardsmen while protesting the Vietnam War and stopped selling the sweatshirt.

Bullcrap.

As a graduate of Kent State, I concede that I may be more annoyed by this than most.  I was born after the shootings occurred, but I walked by the May 4th Memorial daily on the way to class.  I was a student during the 25th anniversary events.

This isn’t the first time that the COMPANY has created a controversy about itself. Rather, it appears that they made a calculated decision to purposely offend people to generate buzz.  They likely did the math and figured Kent State was a safe controversy, as that generation of Americans that vividly remember the events at Kent State likely don’t shop for clothes at their stores which are geared towards younger audiences.

Can you imagine if they pulled the same stunt using more recent school shooting tragedy?  Like a Virginia Tech sweatshirt, or one from a high school like Chardon High School or even Columbine?  If they had, it would have upset their current customers, resulting in lost revenue—hence why they’re unlikely to make that “mistake”.

Which brings be back to the Dennis Rodman quote.  For many, there’s still validity to the statement.  Just ask Paris Hilton or the Kardashians.  Sadly, their bad press directly promotes their success- or at least their fame which earns them more money.  Personally, I find them revolting and I do my best to ignore them.  Still I don’t blame them for purposely trying to offend me or others just to help themselves make more money.

What bothers me is that we seem to be entering a time where companies are making strategic decisions knowing that they will offend people just to create buzz.  I hope just that their “success” doesn’t encourage other companies to try similar stunts.

When should you respond to online comments or negative posts?

Air Force Blog Assessment Chart

There are a lot of trolls out there.  Trolls are people that anonymously post incendiary comments to online articles and blogs just for the sake of picking a fight.  Mixed in with these agitators are real people who are frustrated and genuinely upset with the company that deserve a response.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when you should respond to a comment, or when to simply to ignore it and not take the bait.

One way to decide is to do what the Air Force does.   And no, I’m not suggesting adoption of a scorched Earth policy. 

Several years ago, the Air Force created a Blog Assessment chart for its spokespeople advising when and how to respond, or ignore, to blogs and comments. The image (shown here) is still an excellent flow chart that works today for blogs and social media.

In addition to this flow chart, there are lots of online guides of how to respond to comments or complaints via social media.  The most important thing you need to remember is that your job is to promote your organization in a positive light. You’re there to defuse a negative situation, not to make it worse your actions (or lack of actions).  Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Don’t delete negative comments.  All it does is make people angrier—the person who posted the comment and the people who noticed what the poster said.
  • Ignore the Instigators.  If the comment is clearly an attack solely designed to pick a fight, ignore it.  Readers will see past the bully and will appreciate that you’re focused on responding to legitimate comments.  The bullies will get bored and look for someone else willing to engage in a back-and-forth war of words.
  • Block When Warranted. If someone posts racist, derogatory or pornographic comments about your company or staff, that commenter should be blocked so that they can’t comment on future posts.
  • Keep Calm.  Any response you give will be read not only by the poster, but by other readers/followers including potentially the media. You want to always appear positive, helpful, and level headed in any response.
  • Respond Quickly.  The faster your response, the more people believe that you genuinely want to do what’s right to fix any concerns. We’re talking within an hour when possible, not days.  The longer it takes you to respond the less engaged and interested you seem.
  • Respond to Negative Comments So That Everyone Can See that You Responded.  Within public view, acknowledge the comment and then try to take conversations off-line.  A simple message such as “Thanks for bringing this to our attention.  Would you email me directly so that I can learn more?”  After you resolve the problem off-line, return to public view and say something like “Thanks for connecting with me off-line.  Hopefully we were successful in resolving your concerns.”
  • Acknowledge Positive Comments So That Everyone Can See You Responded.  A simple thank you for a compliment or stating that you’ll pass the comment on to co-workers goes a long way towards encouraging more positive comments to be posted.
  • Save a Copy.  Occasionally social media discussions become part of legal disagreements.  If you think a legal issue or accusation may arise, alert your legal counsel immediately and take a screen shot and save a copy of incendiary remarks before they can delete or modify their posts or comments.  If the incident becomes a legal matter, you may want to have a paper trail before it’s lost from view.

Think of it this way.  If someone called your office to complain, you’d try to fix their problem.  When someone posts their problem online, you still need to fix the problem.  Only now there’s lots of people watching to see how you fix it.  Approach the solution in a way that makes you look genuine and honest, and it’ll win you more customers and support.

How to get media coverage at an industry trade show and other conference and exhibitor tips

IMG_0006

It’s amazing how many companies fail to properly take full advantage of media opportunities that trade shows and conferences provide.

National or industry trade shows create an excellent opportunity to meet with key industry reporters since most national industry publications send reporters or editors to bigger conferences.  Since the reporters are spread out across the nation, you’ll likely never have another opportunity to meet many of these reporters/editors outside of a conference setting.  A short face-to-face meeting, even if it doesn’t result in an immediate story, will make all future story pitches significantly easier.

But here’s the catch— reporters don’t roam the show floor deciding what booth to stop at and interview the company.  Reporters start scheduling all their appointments 30-60 days before the conference even begins.  By the time the show begins, they are completely booked up.  At big shows, reporters schedule 15 minutes blocks– even scheduling bathroom breaks.  At the biggest shows, they even coordinate times and aisles so that they don’t have to walk from one side of the exhibit hall to the other constantly.

Here’s the key—as an exhibitor you need to ask your conference sales rep for the attending media list.  You also need to ask for last year’s attendee list since some media formally sign-up late even though they know they are attending.

Two months before the conference, send an email to all the attending reporters (even last year’s attendees) requesting to schedule a short demo or conversation at your booth with the company owner.  You’ll likely also need to call each reporter several times over a couple weeks to schedule.  If a reporter from the previous year’s attendee list says they aren’t attending this year, ask who from their publication will be attending.  That said, a lot of reporters attend the same conferences year-after-year.

You also need to ask if there’s a press room at the trade show.  The press room usually isn’t publicized or open to the public, as it’s a refuge for media only.  That said, you can leave press releases in the press room.  You may also be able to schedule a press conference or demo in the press room.

If you have a new product or next version upcoming, you should also consider launching at the trade show.  You can put out press releases prior to the event, or even do some paid advertising at the show or send postcards to conference attendees to promote the launch.  The trade show gives you an opportunity to create some extra buzz.  Plus it gives media an excuse to consider meeting with you at the conference or include you in planned show stories.

Don’t forget, use your social media to promote your booth before and during the event—and always include your booth number so people can find you.

You should approach local trade shows, like those hosted by a local Chamber of Commerce, very differently.  These shows are great for generating leads and building your brand, but there aren’t a lot of media opportunities at a local community trade show outside of the media that you can and should do every day.

General tips for Exhibiting:

Once you are exhibiting, here are some tips.  Stand in front of the table, not behind it.  As people walk buy make eye contact and say hello.  Strike up a conversation when possible, but your goal should be lots of short conversations.

As you collect cards, write an “A, B or C” on the back once the person walks away.  An “A” is for a hot lead, “B” for warm, and “C” is for an unlikely client.  For “A’s” and “B’s” write a reminder of the conversation.  Did you talk about sports, a specific business problem they are facing, etc.

Within 24-48 hours, send a personalized email thanking them for stopping by your booth.  Your “C” cards can get a generic email and include a request that if they have friends or know of anyone that needs your service, to please refer you.

For “A’s” and “B’s” send a slightly more personalized email mentioning the discussion you had (the note you left on the card will remind you of the conversation).   For “A’s” ask for a follow-up conversation by phone or in person to continue the conversation.

If you’re exhibiting at a trade show, you better get all you can out of it!

How to keep year-after-year events interesting

In preparing for my  wedding anniversary this month, one of my  tasks was to pick out a card at the store.  Staring at the shelves there were lots of card options, yet many of them seemed familiar.  I found myself trying to make sure that I didn’t purchase a card that I had already given her previously.

From a work perspective, it’s similar to pitching an event to media on an annual basis.  It’s okay to do the same successful media event year-after-year, just like it is okay to give an anniversary card to your spouse every year.   You simply don’t want to always give the exact same card.

Let me share an example.  Years ago I was the Public Information Officer for an ambulance service provider.  Every year in May, the industry celebrates national EMS Week where Paramedics and EMTs are acknowledged and thanked by the company and the public.

We were able to receive excellent media coverage by hosting an event where reporters and videographers got to drive an ambulance on a closed course.  We had a bunch of drills like serpentine through cones, tire spotting, etc. for them to complete.   During the driving demonstrations, we had the opportunity to talk about our amazing employees and to explain the extensive training each EMT driver completed before they were allowed to drive the ambulance on real roads and in emergency situations.

The media loved it, and several stations did stories.  Some did multiple segments throughout the morning newscasts live.  All the coverage talked about thanking employees during EMS Week and that driving an ambulance is harder than it appears and requires a lot of training.

The next year we wanted to offer ambulance driving event again, but we were worried about doing the exact same story.  So we made a minor change.  This time instead of media driving the ambulances, we invited Mayors and elected officials.  We even had an informal contest between some of the municipalities.  The elected officials loved it.  Media loved it too, as the elected officials driving gave them excellent visuals and each interviewed politician thanked our crews on camera for all that we do for their local community and its residents.

The third year we came up with yet another variation, inviting sports team mascots to drive the ambulances.  Media enjoyed this too, even though most mascots literally couldn’t fit behind the wheel. Instead we had to make up an obstacle course and different types of games for them to do and interact.  Reporters loved it—especially as the mascots wrapped up the reporter in gauze and other medical supplies on camera as part of their reporting.

My point is that it’s okay to do the same basic thing every year when it’s a crowd pleaser that gets the desired result.  The key is making a slight tweak to the annual plan to keep it fresh and fun.  It’s the thought that counts.