“Pass the Heinz” Campaign Pours Out Earned Media Value

One of my favorite stories of late is Kraft Heinz’ intention to make a series of ads that Don Draper, of the fictional drama Mad Men, pitched on the show, which ended in 2015. The ads feature various shots of foods that are missing one element, Heinz ketchup. The tagline is, “Pass the Heinz.” Even with the news completely dominated by politics, major outlets devoted space to covering this instance of art-meets-reality. In The Washington Post, Allen Adamson, founder of BrandSimple Consulting, criticized Heinz for pursuing a billboard strategy in an era when people walk around stoop-necked looking at their phones:

Reproduced from AdWeek: goo.gl/hU7tBH

“While they were effective in the ‘Mad Men’ days, people don’t linger that much with print ads,” Adamson said. “Today, you need to hit them between the eyes with a two-by-four to get their attention.”

Adamson isn’t wrong, but he is missing part of the point. While advertising campaigns are sometimes given full article treatment, it is rare. Kraft Heinz may be getting limited bang-for-its-buck buying signs in the sky (Paid Media Value), but it is getting tremendous Earned Media Value through stories like the one quoting Adamson.

The most rudimentary way of calculating Earned Media Value is to compare the cost of running a print ad of the same size as an article in a print version of a newspaper. In general, and almost always with publications such as the New York Times and the Post, this cost is many multiples of what was spent by marketing and communications agencies to promote the content in question. Bottom line: Kraft Heinz’ Earned Media Value was likely many times its Paid Media Value – rendering Adamson’s critique moot.

Kraft Heinz in January had a similarly spectacular Earned Media Value moment when it announced that it was giving all of its salaried employees the day off after the Super Bowl. For a telecast with spots costing $5 million for 30 seconds, the company may have garnered more publicity with its move than with a pitch for snacks or condiments during the game.

“Gotta get that publicity anyway you can, right?” asked Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal in his final note after a quick segment on the move. Exactly.

Kraft Heinz’ costs in these initiatives are not zero. The company is buying billboards and it absorbed the cost of the day off for employees after the big game. But, for many professional services organizations, media mentions come at low cost. When an attorney, accountant or architect is quoted by the Associated Press, they often appear in a hundred different publications across many media markets. When they appear on TV, they are sometimes on screen for more time than the local car dealerships that pay dearly to reach us all. And, top-tier publications offer two major benefits: exposure to a concentrated audience and an air of credibility and visibility that enhances the success of future media outreach efforts.

Scoring high Earned Media Value is a process, with statistics that best rival baseball, where a hit in three-out-ten plate appearances is considered success. As public relations professionals, we strike out a lot. Sometimes a reporter keeps a contact in mind and circles back later. (Call this a walk.) Other times the topic and resources line up perfectly for great results. But, most of the time is spent building incrementally. Media lists expand and contacts are tapped regularly. Not the sexiest thing we do, but very important and a pathway to success with proven results.

A good PR campaign produces Earned Media Value well above its cost and often well above commensurate advertising campaign costs. For professional services companies, PR campaigns drive thought-leadership, foster corporate and individual brand awareness, and ultimately, influence business retention and development.

While Kraft Heinz’ moves are extreme examples of Earned Media Value, there are many similar – if smaller – success stories just waiting to happen. The key is to design a forward-thinking gameplan and assemble a good team. And, just like baseball (top of mind as Opening Day draws closer), anticipate a long season. It takes 162 games to get to the World Series.

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March 21, 2017 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

I Hope My Mom Doesn’t Like This Post

Building and maintaining an audience for content is a true challenge for professional services companies, especially given today’s dynamic where organizations are de facto publishers and marketers of their content. Part-and-parcel to this process is understanding what engagement looks like, with one measurement being “likes,” “retweets” or “favorites.”

It’s likely that employees, family members and service providers all – to varying degrees – are consumers of company marketing materials. This is all very reasonable and desirable. In fact, we recommend encouraging employees to like and follow corporate channels. What is to be avoided, however, is reflexive likes and repostings of content under the belief that doing so boosts the “viral” nature of a post.

It’s important that content be allowed to perform organically, and it is painfully transparent (and even gauche) to see random shares on Facebook of articles and posts that lack any explanation. When a random surgical supply ad is posted without context, its genesis is more likely a well-intentioned, if misdirected, share than a genuine endorsement.

If you are proud of a family member or genuinely in admiration of a post, add a note explaining why you are promoting the content. “Just read a great article by my nephew who works at an accounting firm in town and has some great thoughts for tax season.”

As an employee, be judicious about sharing content. If you are the author of a piece, or featured in a photo, share away – provided you add narrative context. But, don’t be like a bot, regenerating company content without comment or connection. (There are surely more effective ways to curry favor with the powers that be.)

Engagement, measured in likes and shares, should not be a primary focus or concern for professional services companies. Content from these organizations tends to be quite nuanced and a challenge when engaging given the limited feedback options offered on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Does one give a thumbs-up to an update on white-collar crime? An angry face to new tax rules? Zero reactions is OK, really.

Building a library of insightful content and chronicling the good news (such as charitable involvement) happening at an organization is beneficial in many ways, but it’s a long game.

When a prospective client or referral source wants to learn more, they check out your channels. When a client is scrolling through news and pictures on Facebook and even just sees that you posted, that is beneficial. And, when recruiting talents, a well-polished and dynamic image is critical. However, all of these individuals are unlikely to provide immediate feedback through the like button. But, if they do, it is genuine.

We’ve previously discussed the fruitless obsession with raw clicks, and chasing “likes” is in the same boat. Don’t be like the teenager on Instagram, devastated when a post pulls only a few likes. And, please ask mom to stop re-posting your content. When two kids crash your live media interview, that is the stuff a viral post is made of. An update on the estate tax, not so much.

March 15, 2017 at 3:24 pm Leave a comment

Political Discourse and Professionalism

We’ve been part of numerous professional services client discussions where the question asked is, “Can I discuss politics on social media?” The answer we generally give is, “No,” as one always risks losing favor from the opposite side of the spectrum given the nearly even political divide in the country. With the new Trump administration, there is now really no easy answer. Decisions being made in these early days have elicited passionate responses and activism at levels not seen in decades. How does one navigate these tricky reputational waters?

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Maintain Professionalism – Aim to frame issues intelligently. For example, “I wanted to share with you my thoughts on X, Y, Z, and why I support or am opposed…” Ignore snarky comments, or, as a last resort, delete them entirely. And, if a true troll emerges, block, unfriend or mute them.

Understand What is “News” and What “Isn’t” – News literacy emerged as a major issue post-election. Spreading misleading information can impact your professional image and reputation. Here is a quick set of guidelines to consider when vetting a story for promotion.

Use a Filter – Developments often impact on both a professional and personal level. When speaking on behalf of your company, stick to the impact on its clients. When personally posting, focus on the personal and avoid statements like, “I know my clients feel….”

Proceed Cautiously – Before posting anything public, pause to consider potential positive and negative feedback. Picture a, “Do you really want to post this?” button that needs to be pressed each time.

Do a Privacy Audit – Many people operate under the belief that personal Twitter and Facebook accounts are private. This simply isn’t so. Log out and Google yourself to see what non-followers and friends can see. Then, consider implementing more restrictive privacy settings.

Choose Your Network – A call-to-action political post may be better suited for Facebook, a site stocked with friends and family, rather than sharing it with your business connections on LinkedIn.

We are certainly living, for better or worse, in interesting times. Freedom of speech and expression are vital parts of a democracy. Doing so in a smart, considered manner protects these freedoms while preserving one’s professional image.

Michael Bond

January 31, 2017 at 8:11 pm Leave a comment

Five Ways to Be a Better Blogger

It can be intimidating to stare at a blinking cursor trying to figure out how to start a blog post. Let’s say you made a resolution to really start blogging in 2017. Now the time has come to get going. If you are at a loss for words, or even ideas, fear not! Here are a few quick tips that will help launch you off your writer’s block.

1. Make a Vertical File – If you remember your days in the school library, you were likely introduced to an organizational item called the “vertical file.” This is generally a folder with noteworthy newspaper and magazine articles, information worth saving. As you read through news and work on client matters, consider setting up a similar system. Bookmark articles and clip them out of publications. Then, when you are searching for ideas, refer to your file. You will likely find it a great source of inspiration.

2. Talk it Out – Walk down to a colleague’s office and chat about an idea you are considering for a blog post. Explain your thought process and solicit feedback. As you converse, jot down notes. You will likely find that either your idea isn’t really workable or that there are numerous dimensions you hadn’t even considered. You may also find you are now interested in a completely different topic that popped up in the course of your dialogue.

3. Translate to English, Please – Writing is all about connecting with one’s audience. This means that industry-speak, for the lawyers reading – legalese, often is indiscernible to the lay person. If you aren’t sure if your writing is accessible to your core audience – most likely, not fellow industry members – tap a spouse of family member to review your draft. Then, ask if they understood it. If not, break down what you are saying and consider recording yourself when you do. (There is a handy recorder app built into most smartphones.) The goal is to write in a conversational tone that is easily understood and can be consumed along with one’s beverage of choice at the end of a trying day.

4. Highlight the Bottom Line – One of my favorite publications is Bloomberg Businessweek. They have several sections with quick-take articles and each ends with a one-to-two sentence summation of the preceding text. Your main point needs to be featured at the start and reinforced at the end.

5. Update – Developing stories make for great blog post fodder and ideal opportunities for follow-ups. Keep your reader engaged and informed and remember that previous posts can have key clarifications and updates added into the text. When you say, “We’ll continue to monitor this situation,” actually do so!

BONUS Keep it Short – Blog posts, like the one you are reading, are best when they are simple, straightforward and short. Use an editor or edit yourself to cut words and get straight to the essence. Just because we CAN publish limitless items online doesn’t mean we SHOULD. You want to avoid the dreaded “TLDR” designation – too long, didn’t read.

Let’s get to blogging!

Michael Bond

January 24, 2017 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

Just Say “No” to Social Media Automation

I’m a big fan of automation. When I met my now-wife, she was writing out checks each month for various bills – a time consuming process that could easily be accomplished with auto-bill pay. In no time, that’s just what she did. No more checks, and no more stamps. Routine tasks should be automated. What should not be put on auto-pilot is content creation and promotion, particularly with respect to social media.

The world of professional services PR has changed rapidly, even in the relatively short time I have called it my career. Intense cost-cutting has reshaped publications ranging from national to local on both the general consumer and professional trade sides. B2B companies – such as architecture, accounting and law firms – have gradually come to embrace content creation (robust, well-maintained blogs and byline articles) and content promotion (especially social media, such as LinkedIn and Twitter) as a key part of their promotional and thought-leadership strategies. With this dynamic, the temptation to take time-saving shortcuts, such as automation, is great.

The issues with “set-it-and-forget-it” content promotion strategies are multiple:

  1. One Size Doesn’t Fit All – Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook all offer different promotional tools and reach audiences in different ways and at different points in their day. Twitter’s character restriction has made it the birthplace of many social media posts, with companies dropping the same skinny content into LinkedIn and Facebook. Alternately, Facebook’s truly awful option of posting to Twitter simply redirects viewers to Facebook, forcing them to leave a platform where they are actively engaged. If asked, do you want to link your LinkedIn to Facebook or your Twitter to LinkedIn, just firmly answer, “No.”
  1. The Perils of Scheduled Promotions – One of the core functions of an engaged communications team is to offer companies constant assessments of both the media landscape and how current events – locally, nationally and internationally – can affect messaging. A company does not want to be posting a jovial tweet when a serious international tragedy hits. Timing matters (in real time).
  1. You Can’t Sell the Steak Without the Sizzle – Basic social media posts follow the old Dragnet saying, “Just the facts, ma’am” – post title and URL generally. This means that the opportunity to tag authors, publications mentioned (especially if promoting a media mention) and add hashtags are lost. READ: “Steak.” By engaging communications teams to craft bespoke, platform-specific promotions, the reader is far more likely to be engaged. READ: “Delicious, Kobe beef steak served with garlic mashed potatoes and a truffle demi-glaze.” Communicators are adept at pulling out and highlighting salient passages and creating eye-catching headlines.
  1. Unappetizing Leftovers – The “set-it-and-forget-it” options also mean that repeat promotions are all the same and all quite vanilla. Rather than highlighting an alternate part of the content in question, they basically churn out a generic invitation. If your automation strategy turned your beautiful grass-fed steak into a hardened piece of shoe leather, you are unlikely to entice any more diners with the next “promotion.”
  1. Automation = Disengagement – Personally and professionally, social media proficiency takes work. We are gradually transitioning from heavy  professional services rejection of these platforms as too juvenile/opaque/avant garde to more (somewhat begrudging) acknowledgement of their importance. As such, many companies are at the point where they know they need to have a presence, but don’t quite know how to go about doing so. One option is to pursue the automation strategy. But, in addition to the aforementioned deficits associated with this path, it often hampers organizational social media understanding. Accounts are basically rooms that no one goes into and checks for engagement. Retweets, likes and interactions with clients and members of the community – all image- and brand-enhancing – go ignored.

Great content deserves great, creative and considered promotional campaigns. For professional services companies, where the key differentiators in the marketplace aren’t tangible, physical attributes, creating, packaging and promoting content to clients, potential clients and referral sources is impactful and thought-leadership is essential. Pay your cable bill automatically. Don’t automate your content.

Michael Bond

December 20, 2016 at 3:47 pm Leave a comment

The Dos and Don’ts of Blogging with a Purpose

Think of blogs as TV shows. Viewers intentionally decide to watch programs like The Big Bang Theory or Brooklyn 99. What they rarely do is say, “I’m just going to watch whatever is on CBS or FOX.” There are just too many options. The same holds for professional services blogs. Those with a purpose are far more attractive than those without. There could be some really great content on CBS, but if they marketed a block of programming as “CBS: Entertainment Shows,” one would be hard-pressed to know what was actually airing. A corollary for professional services companies is, “Why do so many blogs sound generic?” “XYZ’s IP Blog” or “JKL’s Architecture Digest” sound like the vanilla-of-vanilla-ice-cream.

Let’s examine some elements of style and success for blogs:

  • Do Create a Brand – A company’s own brand and image can often have a positive impact on a blog’s perception. For instance, Proctor and Gamble makes oodles of well-respected consumer products – including Tide detergent and Pampers diapers. And, while it does do company-wide branding (see U.S. women’s gymnastics), it also carefully cultivates and promotes brands for each of its products. “Laundry Detergent by P&G” would fall flat with consumers – even if superior in performance – in a world filled with “Cheer,” “Purex” and “All.”

Ideally, a blog’s brand reflects its editorial focus or is a clever turn of phrase (e.g. “Intellectual Property Matter,” “Outside the Beltway,” etc…).

  • Do Secure Virtual Real Estate – URL, Twitter handle(s) and Facebook page.
  • Don’t Tuck Your Blog Into Your Website – Blogs are media properties and should stand-apart from a professional service company’s corporate website. This helps with search and reduces the number of steps a reader needs to take to view content.
  • Do Create a Culture of Writing – Often, at places like law firms, new attorneys join with experience having written for their law school’s law review. Fast-forward five years and they have barely written any non-client work content. By setting – on day one – and reiterating in performance reviews an expectation of writing, blogs will see more interest and activity.
  • Don’t Play All Rookies – To create a warehouse of engaging content, professional services companies need a top-down commitment to blogging. C-suite, or equivalent, executives need to read and contribute to properties. After all, would you send a Class A baseball team out to play against a big league club? Not only would you very likely lose, but viewers would be left wondering where the stars were.
  • Don’t Be All Things To All People – If you have ever heard of “Dr. Bronner’s” natural soap, you may know that it claims to have “18-in-1” uses. From the company’s website:

You can use Dr. Bronner’s soaps for washing your face, body, hands and hair, for bathing, shaving, brushing your teeth, rinsing fruit, aromatherapy, washing dishes by hand, doing laundry, mopping floors, all-purpose cleaning, washing windows, scrubbing toilets, washing dogs, controlling dust mites, and killing ants and aphids. Now, that’s eighteen uses right there, but customers have told us over time about many more uses they have found for our soaps.

In reality, most people use the soap for what soap generally does, cleaning one’s body. Sometimes professional services blogs start out far too broad. Each practice area generally has numerous sub-areas. A blog’s focus should be pinpointed on one area so as to avoid content suffering or the reader struggling to find posts relevant to their needs.

  • Don’t be Afraid to Cancel a Series – Sometimes, due to writer’s leaving the firm or shifting marketing priorities, blogs go into deep sleeps where content is not posted for months. When new posts finally appear, much of the core audience has disappeared. Set internal expectations – for instance, a minimum of three posts per month – and if they are not met, sunset the channel. Much like TV shows, blogs “Jump the Shark” at times.
  • Do Embrace Fixed-Length – The notion that a blog must continue on forever is not grounded in any compelling logic. With time-specific events (trials, elections, holidays) or specific deep dives (a six-part look at certain regulations), there will only be so much content – and, that’s OK! Keep the URL and keep the property up. You have essentially created a mini-series or a single issue of a magazine.

And finally:

  • Do Put Blogs at the Forefront of Your Content Creation and Media Efforts – While, third-party publications – particularly trade, newswire and dailies – continue to offer ways to reach high-value audiences and credential company officials as knowledge-leaders, restrictive freelance agreements and content paywalls impede the reach of content. In addition, muscular blogs provide a one-to-one reflection of firm branding and messaging. Placing greater value on blog posts is a forward-thinking move as the media landscape faces difficult economic times, threatening some publications (and their archives) and leading to generational shifts in the perception (and prestige and value) of publishers. The goal should always be to first own and control your content and then look to leverage it across social media and in outside outlets.

Creating a “hit” blog takes work, but is a most worthwhile pursuit as it not only sharpens the editorial and writing skills of a company’s professionals, it also serves as engaging, subtle advertising and brand messaging and informs media outreach, helping to create “go-to” commentary sources.

Michael Bond

November 1, 2016 at 5:49 pm Leave a comment

What the NFL’s Ratings Swoon Says to Professional Services Marketers

If you ever doubted that the media landscape is shifting, you only need to look at the reports that the NFL, the mightiest-of-mighty media properties, is experiencing a large dip in viewership. Through the first five weeks of play, The Washington Post reported that ratings dipped 15 percent. This news may either be a blip or the surest sign that audience fragmentation is fundamentally changing how valuable media properties are to advertisers and their abilities to draw in truly mass audiences. There are also real takeaways for professional services companies:

  1. Raw views are less and less important. – No content creation vehicle should have its success based solely on “clicks.” Consider “click-bait,” the weed of the internet. Click-bait gets lots and lots of “clicks,” but is like a flat can of soda – nutritionally devoid and ultimately unsatisfying. When a blog is launched and the metric on which its author focuses is the most clicks, content suffers. This is when one sees headlines that mention Taylor Swift, but have no connection – popular names and terms peppered in for the sake of SEO. This turns off long-term readers, especially important in B2B as the end goal is far more complex than “see a product, buy a product.”
  1. Find new metrics. – Raw views should still be monitored, not with a long-term goal of ever-increasing numbers, but of building and maintaining a core audience. In addition, client intake forms should both ask if content channels factored into the decision-making process and ask if clients would like to sign up for feeds. Client satisfaction surveys should include questions about blogs and other content vehicles. The NFL may lose viewership, but teams are ensuring that the truly passionate fans are tracked and targeted with offers, as this Bloomberg Businessweek article details. The same level of analysis should a goal for professional services companies.
  1. Embrace new platforms and free your content. Realizing that “cord cutting” and “cord nevers” are a genuine threat to the NFL’s lucrative broadcast rights, the league has taken steps to bring the game to new channels. Last year Yahoo! streamed a game for free on its website, and this past offseason, the NFL partnered with Twitter to stream games to users of this social media network. And, if you have a Verizon phone, you can stream local broadcasts for free through the league’s app. Professional services companies should embrace cross-posting content on social media (personal and professional), firm web properties and in third-party publications that offer high-visibility and do well in terms of SEO.
  1. Understand generational shifts. – Massive shifts in how we see and interact with the world mean that many traditional tactics and assumptions are no more. Just as the NFL seemingly can no longer assume its viewership is immune from technologies, such as streaming and social media eating into mind-share, professional services companies need to really consider whether the content they are creating is adding to the conversation or just repeating what has already been said. If the latter, readers will simply change the channel or not tune in at all. And, blog writing should not be the exclusive domain of an understudy whose goal is to say, at annual review time, “I wrote X posts!” It needs to be a company-wide priority, with executive voices and client-relationship keepers regularly heard.

The NFL will remain wildly popular for years to come, especially given its cherished status as part of American tribalism. However, it, along with all content, needs to compete for our attention and stand out in a world where we can effortlessly create a custom stream of news and entertainment.

Given this dynamic, professional services companies – more than ever – must embrace their role as content creators while, at the same time, setting aside long-held assumptions about what defines “success” for content.

Michael Bond

October 18, 2016 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

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