PR – A Great Thing, but Not a Miracle Worker

It’s a funny thing about PR…sometimes it’s viewed like other professions that people have a love/hate relationship with – like law enforcement, insurance providers, lawyers. Or like those that people expect magic from – beauticians, plastic surgeons, teachers.

Here’s the thing. Anything can be branded, marketed, promoted. Anything can get a first look. But public relations won’t make or break your business without a little help from you.

Stop making your PR department/firm/executive the scapegoat for your crappy products.

It’s not our job to convince people that your products are good when they aren’t. We don’t “dumb people down.” PR isn’t to blame if you can’t sell. PR isn’t to blame if your product doesn’t do what you promised – or told us to promise. Even Apple can’t pull that off.

I’m not being over sensitive. I’ve been in this business long enough – heading into my 15th year of owning my own firm – to recognize the unbelievable expectations that executives can have about PR. And I’ve seen many executives that don’t get PR at all – who have no idea that their CMOs are throwing money out the door jumping from agency to agency trying to find the right match.

I also know that PR agencies can seem like a dime a dozen. There’s one on every block like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. I know that it can be tough to find the right match – chemistry with the team – on your first try. But if you or your marketing head have gone through more than two agencies in 12 months, maybe it’s time to take a look inside.

Here’s a few things you can expect a good PR team to accomplish:

  • Get your products in front of the “right people” – those can vary, but for most companies it means reporters, bloggers, analysts and others who influence the buying decisions of your prospects.
  • Connect executives with these folks for personal meetings/briefings/interviews – beginning and helping to maintain a more personal relationship.
  • Get these influencers to listen – based on long standing relationships and/or the talent to understand what they want, how they want to be connected with, what they care about, etc.
  • Give you inside views on where to be (events, online and off) to connect with the right folks who can help you – whether it’s media, VCs, analysts, customer/prospects, partners – a good PR team can help with all of those, making sure your valuable time isn’t wasted, and that you’re not missing anything crucial.
  • Help you write, message, brand and promote what you want to say in a more eloquent manner.
  • Help “roll out the red carpet” for sales by spreading awareness of you, your company, your products consistently, and in the right places. Ideally, PR sets the stage so that when a sales executive walks into a deal, the prospect says, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of you – I see you guys everywhere.” That’s always a nice start.

Here’s you should not expect PR to do:

  • Get people to keep using your product if it’s not working right.
  • Cover up bad customer service – certainly we can try to help fix a crisis, but this shouldn’t be the ongoing plan.
  • Work in a black hole – share information with your PR team and trust them to help you come up with the best, most strategic plan on what information should be communicated, to who, how, where and when.
  • Make reporters personally like you.
  • Tell reporters what to write. We can give them facts, we can encourage certain angles. But they’re not puppets and we’re not puppet masters.
  • Be responsible for repeat buyers. That’s your job – through great customer service, good products, stellar relationship management. We’re matchmakers of sorts – we get people interested but it’s up to you to maintain the relationship.

Of course, good PR executives can help with more than these things – it’s just a quick list. We can help you maintain relationships to a certain degree. But we’re not miracle workers. If your product or service isn’t working right or your customer service team isn’t treating customers well, don’t blame PR. Understand – and manage – the difference between positioning communications and information, vs product development, customer service and executive management. Too often, PR is blamed when all three don’t come together well.

What do you expect from PR?

 

 

 

PerkettPR’s “Influencers Who Inspire” Series Continues with Jason Falls

This week’s “Influencer Who Inspires” is Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer.  We admire Jason for his honest approach to social media and we are avid readers of his very popular site, Social Media Explorer.  Jason, who resides in Louisville, KY,  is an author, keynote speaker and CEO of Social Media Explorer.  He continues to be a name that surfaces at or near the top of conversations and lists of thought leaders and top thinkers in the emerging world of social media marketing.

 

How would you describe what you do for a living?

I do one primary thing in about three different ways. SME Digital, my agency, helps companies develop digital and social marketing strategies, execute them and measure/optimize results to drive business (unit sales, revenue or costs). My information products add the other two components: Explore Events helps anyone who wants to attend a two-day, intensive digital marketing strategy event and The Conversation Report analyzes online conversations and reports insights around specific industries (or clients for custom reports) to help businesses make smarter decisions about their social marketing.  In a nutshell, – Agency – Events – Research – is what I do.

 

You recently tweeted to PR folks about how they approach you and that you are “one of them” – what prompted that and how do you handle being on both sides of the PR equation?

It was likely prompted by me being critical of public relations professionals, then having them attack me for it. Those that are easily put on the defensive about the PR craft tend to point fingers at me and infer that I don’t know PR, that I’m just a “social media consultant.” But I spent 20 years as a PR and journalism professional before social media marketing ever happened. So I was probably saying, “I am one. Thus, I’m qualified to point the finger a bit.” The way I handle it is by just trying to coach and teach and perhaps lead by example. ‘Lots of public relations professionals still assume that “spray and pray” and spamming people works best. I only hope to educate them that there might be a better way to approach outreach. Quality outreach is far better than quantity, and you can sleep at night knowing you’re not a spammer.

 

What’s next in PR now that social media is a given?

I think PR is the new journalism. With all the noise out there in the media world and declining numbers in usage and revenues in traditional mediums, public relations professionals (and current journalists who will become them) have the opportunity to become the media. Those that do so in compelling ways will have better public relations programs because they’ll become a direct conduit to their publics.

 

What’s the best social media campaign you’ve seen (besides your own) in 2012?

H&R Block’s Stache Act is by far the most compelling. To have a stoic, conservative brand like H&R Block get behind a silly tax incentive for mustached Americans and stage a Million Mustache March on Washington, etc., just gave the brand personality and showed that they could reach beyond the tried and true “Let us do your taxes” messaging, in order to reach a new audience.

That, and Charmin‘s Twitter account. Holy cripes, they’re funny.

 

How did you initially get your “feet wet” in social media?

I spent 8-10 years blogging and exploring social networks and forums for personal entertainment. My old humor blog actually gained a bit of traction when I moved it to MySpace in about 2003. I learned how to build an audience, promote my content and connect influencers to what I was doing. Then in 2006, I started from scratch with an arsenal of experience in the business segment rather than the one focused on telling dirty jokes and made up tales of drunken debauchery. Heh.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your book “No Bullshit Social Media” and why someone would want to purchase it?

Aside from the crafty title, the book’s real appeal is that it’s a blueprint for social media strategy. We walk you through the seven reasons (goals) your business might implement social media tactics and coach you through the process of developing a sound, strategic approach to using social that will drive measurable results.

 

As the Founder and CEO of Social Media Explorer, your approach with SME Digital involves Full Frontal ROI methodolgy, can you explain how this is unique to the industry?

The Full Frontal ROI methodology, which was developed by my partner, Nichole Kelly, essentially places social media marketing squarely in the crosshairs of business strategy. Everything we do is focused on real business metrics — unit sales, revenues and costs — rather than soft metrics. Sure, we can help you drive more fans and followers, but we know we’re ultimately judged on your bottom line and how social media and digital marketing contribute to it. So that’s what we focus on. It’s unique to the industry because most other social media agencies or digital marketing shops focus on the fluff metrics and Kumbaya of social media. We know it’s about business or it’s a hobby. And how many business owners out there consider what they spend time and money on to be a hobby?

 

What is next for you for the remainder of the year heading into 2013?

Two more Explore events (Orange County, Calif., this week; Portland (Ore.) in November), another The Conversation Report, this one on the restaurant industry, and continuing to help our clients kick ass. And I fully expect 2013 will be much of the same. That’s what we do.

 

Persuasive Picks for week of 10/15/12

The key to being a good consultant of any kind is to ask the right questions, writes Michael Teitelbaum in a recent post at Marketing Trenches, and provides a list of 5 Questions Marketers Need to Ask Prospective Clients to get to the heart of a prospect’s challenges and aspirations – via MarketingProfs.

Visual networks are now changing the rules of engagement and agencies and brands need to find the best ways to measure and understand their customers cultures. Laurent Francois of SocialMediaToday explains How Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr are Blasting Social Media Monitoring tools because there’s a fantastic bias supposing that people express themselves only through words, sentences and syntax.

LinkedIn has rapidly become the number one B2B social networking tool with over 175 million users from around the globe. So why would someone in your target audience choose to do business with you in LinkedIn? Online Marketing veteran and ClickZ contributor Jasmine Sandler says it’s not as easy as one-two-three, but provides some helpful tips on Creating Solid Business Relationships Through LinkedIn.

First impressions matter! Blog readers generally pay attention to the title and the first two paragraphs of any given post, and then decide whether to read the rest. Lydia Di Francesco gives content marketing tips to bring more attention to your posts in 6 Easy Ways To Write Headlines That Get More Clicks on Business2Community.

Persuasive Picks for week of 9/3/12

The balance of power in B2B public relations has shifted. No longer does the media hold all the cards, although they are still important influencers. Fast Company writer Wendy Marx provides some Best Practices In B2B PR to consider as the B2B public relations ecosystem continus to evolve.

B2B marketers have one of the most difficult and underappreciated jobs on the planet. Their mission is to create memorable brands out of some downright “unsexy” products. How do they do it? MarketingProfs‘ Russell Glass explains that the best B2B marketers are successful because they start with building a brand in How the Best B2B Marketers Think Like B2C Marketers: Five Strategies to Emulate.

Using social media correctly is like putting your Rolodex on steroids. Perhaps the best thing about using social media is that it allows you to communicate with all of your contacts at once through status updates. But Melinda F. Emerson at The New York Times warns there are some important lessons to learn and gives some insights on How Not to Pitch Your Business in Social Media.

Are you one of the many marketers who launch their social media programs because they feel they need to and then scramble to understand both how they will make these work and how they will be managed? Online marketing veteran Jasmine Sandler urges you to stop chasing your tail and start Your Social Media Marketing Plan in 5 Easy Steps via ClickZ.

“Effective Executives” Series with Bill Piwonka, Janrain’s VP of Marketing

This week’s “Effective Executives” interview is with Janrain‘s VP of Marketing, Bill Piwonka. Bill’s background is firmly rooted in B2B marketing operations. Over the past 20 years he has led marketing teams and initiatives spanning strategy, product marketing, product management, demand generation, marketing communications and business development. Prior to joining Janrain, Bill was the vice president of marketing at EthicsPoint. He has also held marketing management positions at Centennial Software, Serena Software, MeasureCast, WebTrends, Intel and Oracle. Bill earned a Master of Business Administration from The Wharton School at the The University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts in quantitative economics from Stanford University.

We caught up with Bill and asked him about his leadership style, how marketing has adapted to the changing economy and what is next for Janrain for the remainder of 2012.

Can you tell us a little bit about Janrain and your role?

Janrain is a leader in providing User Management solutions for the Social Web.  You’ve probably encountered our technology many times without even realizing it.  You have, if you’ve ever been offered the opportunity to login or register on a website using an existing identity from a social network such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo!, LinkedIn, etc. – rather than fill out an onerous registration form.  Not only does offering social login help business by increasing registration conversion rates, decreasing cart abandonment on eCommerce sites, improving data quality of the user database and reducing support costs from not having to respond to lost username/password requests, it also can significantly improve efficacy of marketing programs.  That’s because when a user logs in using a social identity, the business has the opportunity to ask for access to a rich set of profile characteristics, such as interests (e.g. music, sports, movies…), location, friends, birthdays and more.  This data can then be used to more finely segment customers and deliver richer online experiences and targeted promotions and offers.

At Janrain, I am responsible for overseeing our marketing efforts, including driving demand for our solutions, preparing our sales team for success and launching new products, services and solutions.

What kind of data do you use to make marketing decisions? Analytics apps, etc.?

We are very much a data-driven organization, even though we are still relatively small.  As an organization, we use Salesforce.com for CRM, Act-On Software for Marketing Automation, and Google Analytics for web traffic.  From these solutions, I monitor which campaigns are driving the highest quality leads, the health of our sales pipeline, our sales cycle length, average sales price, win/loss percentage, cost per lead, sales funnel conversion rates and a host of other metrics.  I encourage my team to take risks and try new things, but I want to know if those efforts succeed or fail, and have a common barometer for making those assessments.

Favorite CMO-type media outlets you follow?

I actually don’t follow CMO-specific sites as much as I do Analysts (Altimeter Group, Forrester, Gartner, etc.), industry specific news (GigaOm, News.com) and general business sites and email groups (All Things D/WSJ, McKinsey, Wharton, Harvard Business Review, Marketwatch.com, etc.).  I also try to follow interesting, insightful people on Twitter, where I get access to articles and research that they find compelling.

What do you see as your chief role? What’s your leadership style?

I see my role as setting direction and strategy and providing the tools and environment necessary for my team to succeed.  I tend to be very collaborative, seeking input from both my team and peers within the company to help guide my thinking.  I also am not a micro-manager.  I want to hire the best and the brightest people I can find – even if they don’t have direct role-specific experience – and give them the freedom to deliver outstanding results.  We set quarterly objectives that are tied to our overarching corporate goals, and identify how we will measure whether those objectives are met.  Then I’m available to review progress, suggest approaches, edit written content, and roll up my sleeves to help when needed.  But I want my team to feel empowered to do what it takes to be successful – not be afraid to take risks or make mistakes, and know that they are developing skills and experience that will help them progress in their own careers.

How has marketing changed with the economy’s twists and turns?

I don’t know that it really has.  Of course I’m held to my budget and am always looking for ways to drive costs down while improving results, but that’s always been the case.  And while technology has changed the way we can interact with our prospects and consumers, the fundamentals still hold.  You need to have a product or solution that solves a specific pain point, communicate that message simply and elegantly and be the type of organization with which customers want to do business.

How much do you weigh social media in marketing goals?

Social media provides a great way to interact with customers, communicate your company’s personality, culture and values and developer higher brand advocacy and loyalty (when done right).  All of those things are important to me; thus social media is an important part of our overall strategy.

If you had to make a pie chart of your marketing goals, how would you divide?

Ideally, it would be split into three equal wedges – Drive Demand, Enable Sales and Launch Products.

What is next for Janrain for the remainder of 2012?

The biggest challenge we have moving forward is managing our growth.  We just about tripled in size in 2011, and are on a path for similar results in 2012.  That has meant additional headcount, the implementation of appropriately scaled processes and a never ending list of deliverables to support this growth.  It’s a really challenging environment, but one that is super fun – I can’t wait to see where we take it!