An Interview with an Internet Strategy Expert on PR

28 10 2008

Today I had the opportunity to interview co-founder and CMO of Newsforce, Dana Todd.  Dana is also the Chairman of SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, which is the largest independent trade organization serving the search marketing industry.  Dana earned her stripes in the internet marketing industry running a boutique interactive agency called SiteLab, which is known for its search marketing expertise and creative web development capabilities.  She has since turned her sights now to the general communications industry, which includes PR, to evangelize the incredible possibilities of the internet in communication strategy.  Dana says that she is going to “shake things up around here and evangelize some sexy new ideas and tactics for the fairly rigid world of corporate communications and public relations.”

Newsforce currently offers two services to their customers. Can you please briefly describe each of these services?

Newsforce has two main product lines right now. Most people know us for our SEO tool, but we’re totally excited about something we’ve just launched. Our new product is our “big story” that will ultimately change the way companies manage their online communications. It’s called the Newsforce Network, and it’s an always-on communication platform to give companies and agencies total control over their stories, their placement and their engagement strategy.

Newsforce is the first company to build a network to put ultimate power in the hands of communicators. We can take any kind of fresh, interesting content – whether it’s a press release, a mat release, a blog entry or a feature article – and place it directly onto prominent positions in premium news. We buy only the best positions on the page, typically a large ad unit above the fold on an article or a section index (we’ve even run on the home page of Newsweek!), and we replace the usual banners with much-more-interesting featured news slugs from our customers. When a reader clicks a Newsforce headline, they go to a beautiful and clean landing page that has multimedia and social media built in. We measure the engagement rates and actions on the article, and feed the data back to our customers so they can tweak their story to appeal more broadly to the viewing public. It’s evergreen, so it’s a living document companies can control as their story evolves.

We sell this service similar to how advertising is sold, on cost-per-thousand impressions (which translates to “views by actual people”. We throw in the social media news release template for free, and as a value-add you won’t lose its derivative SEO properties because we’ll keep hosting it even after we stop featuring it in our headline unit. We’re sort of mashing up PR, advertising, social media and SEO into one streamlined channel.

For people who are struggling with the SEO part of their PR strategy, we also sell an inexpensive tool for SEO, starting at just $20 per use. Our automatic press release optimization suite is an online service made just for PR people, to help them focus more on their writing skills than their technical skills. We have a version of it integrated into Business Wire’s EON offering, plus we sell it on our site http://www.newsforce.com.

How is the Premium News Network different than distribution channels such as PRWeb, PRLeap, and other similar sites?

We’re digital-only, for one thing. They’re paid inclusion, we’re paid placement – verified and guaranteed positions, turn coverage on and off at will. I think of standard wire and feed services as being parallel to how people use SEO in the marketing side of the world: it’s a great thing to do for casting a broad net and hoping your story is interesting enough for a quality pickup or a high-volume return. It’s low cost, typically, and it is great for “organic” distribution. What’s been missing, though, is a serious level of control for communicators in either the online or the offline space. In the online space, we finally have some options we never had before.

In the print and broadcast world, the journalists are the gatekeepers to the limited real estate they have – measured in pages or minutes. In the online space the engagement is 24/7, and the real estate is based on traffic of people, not time of day or numbers of pages. It’s unlimited and unending. So why are we still designing our communication strategies in “episodic” mode, moving from campaign to campaign or release to release? There is a steady stream of news readers hitting news channels online or on their phones, over 600 million page views worldwide every day! And it’s just getting bigger! In 5 years, most people in the developed world will access their news either on a computer or a handheld device. And just as the dayparts shifted for other types of media, it’s shifting for PR people too.

We think what we’re doing is evolutionary, but some people have called us revolutionary. I’ll take either compliment.

Where do you see the future of internet press releases heading?

If we have our way, it’s going to be less about “press releases” and more about “story telling” and ongoing optimization of your stories for maximum reader interest and support of your corporate goals over the long haul. I’d like to see a return to the value of a professional communication team as keepers of the corporate stories, using their creative powers in new channels to influence the public directly, in addition to continuing with evolving media relations.

Maybe that’s too radical (or just too much work)? If you’re still uncomfortable with the idea of being an always-on writer/story teller, you can still think on a release by release basis, but you’re going to probably want to write three different versions: one for journalists, one for the mass public, and one for search engines. Oh yeah, and a mobile version too! So that should keep PR people employed for a very long time, because someone’s got to figure out how to best use these different channels to meet communication goals.

I am a reformed journalist-turned-marketer. Why did I change? Because I feel that ultimately the greatest opportunity to change people’s opinions, one person at a time, is through a multi-channel communication strategy. The power to create *action* is actually closer to the realm of marketing and PR than in traditional journalism, in many cases. While I loved writing news and working as a journalist, I truly found my calling when I wrote my first “advertorial” and realized how powerful a biased voice can be. That sounds like heresy, doesn’t it? And yet, if you think about it – as humans, we assume a certain amount of bias in any media we consume. Humans pride ourselves on being our own “filters” and making our own decisions, and we consume all types of information in context, whether it was produced by a journalist or an ad agency, in order to inform our decisions. So the biggest winners in communications are often the ones who are willing to take the most risk in terms of disclosure (transparency in your motivation) and creativity.

Do you think that all companies should be using internet press releases? Why or why not?

I guess it depends on the goals of your campaign, and what is an appropriate mix of channels to help you accomplish them. Bottom line: I think that all companies should tell great stories on the internet. If it happens to take the form of a news release, then yes, of course. People do actually read press releases – we have piles of cool research showing that they read press releases just like regular editorial news. But I think that if you’re writing a press release for internet distribution you should strongly consider the omigod-this-is-so-boring potential of corporate messaging to a broad reading public. If you wouldn’t click it yourself, then you should probably give the story angle a little more thought. The potential of the internet is that it gets you directly to the public. That’s both a good and a scary thing. Since we can now track reader engagement (or lack thereof) in real time, I predict it will ultimately teach us all to be better communicators.

What is your best recommendation for companies who want to start using internet press releases but not sure where to start?

We actually have a pretty great set of articles on the Newsforce site written by one of our founders, Greg Jarboe.  Greg didn’t invent the internet like Al Gore did, but he is often credited for “inventing” the advanced search optimization strategies for press releases and popularizing the tactics among internet marketing types. If you want to get some broad exposure to search marketing, the SEMPO Learning Center has piles of research, articles, glossaries and free webinars.

I always encourage people to keep a “keyword calendar” to go along with their editorial calendars for the year. If it’s part of your core strategy to have frequent pops in news search engines (so that you’re showing up in the fresh news results regularly), you will want to map a baseline of core keywords to target on a regular basis, plus a seasonal and/or opportunity set of keywords that you target based on the editorial “seasons” of your industry. Think of them as mini-topics to cover.

I guess with that in mind, one of the best skills a PR person can develop first is the art of keyword research. Internet outreach is just like any other communication strategy: it’s listening and responding. That is, “listening” to the keyword demand data and your social media buzz metrics, and then responding to threats and opportunities with various communication channels. The fact that we can literally see the words that people are using to describe all sorts of things, and the frequency and popularity of the terminology, is such a gift of insight. I’m honestly surprised that most PR people aren’t as freakishly obsessed with the information as search marketers are – maybe it’s because they haven’t learned to have fun with it yet. It’s very eye-opening!

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New to Social Media? Read this first!

17 10 2008

Today I had the opportunity to speak with Jason Falls.  Besides blogging over at the popular SocialMediaExplorer.com, Jason is Director of Social Media at Doe-Anderson, an in-demand national speaker on social media and public relations, and founder of Social Media Club Louisville.  With the extensive resume out of the way, Jason describes himself as being tall, dark and handsome, of course 🙂 .  Actually, he describes himself as a writer, thinker and web tinkerer, sports nut, dad, husband and swell guy to hang out and drink a beer or cocktail with. And not necessarily in that order.

What does a typical day look like for you with your commitments as Director of Social Media for a large agency, active blogger, involvement on social networks, etc?

The typical day is normally a handful of meetings, as much client work (strategic planning, writing and some execution via blog posts, community administration, etc.) as possible and the occasional new business pitch lunch or planning with every other available minute cleaning out the inbox, sharing good content with my friends online and keeping an eye on other top blogs in the industry. Honestly, I don’t have enough hours in the day to do all I need to do so the client work comes first and everything else falls in line in some priority. Almost all of it is so much fun I almost feel guilty getting paid to do it.

One of the biggest issues I hear in regards to social media is the time commitment to manage and be an active member on all of these networks.  What are some of your suggestions and how do you manage this time commitment?

The first thing I would do is determine which ones you get the most value from and which ones you can give the most value to and focus on those. Sure, I have profiles on 20 or more social networks, but I really only use two everyday – Twitter and Facebook. LinkedIn is a third that is almost required because the mainstream folks (potential clients) are most comfortable there since it’s a professional/resume-driven site. But I don’t get inherent value other than friendship connections out of MySpace, so I don’t spend much time there.

The second thing I would recommend is finding utilities that make it easier. For instance, sharing content and bookmarking are important facets of what social media folks do. Mahalo allows you to bookmark and submit material to their community-driven search engine, but also has a utility that allows you to share the same content on StumbleUpon, Twitter, Delicious, Facebook and other social networks all with the single submission. So, I bookmark one article in three or four places, providing value to those networks as well. I don’t browse to or through StumbleUpon everyday, but I still share great content there, so my StumbleUpon influence is still actively being maintained.

Finally, you have to embrace and master RSS. I subscribe to content from over 200 websites but can browse most of that content, deeply reading what looks interesting, skimming some and just headline browsing the rest, in about 30 minutes each day. I don’t miss much and when I see something interesting, I take the time to share it, comment on it, bookmark it or all of the above. RSS changes the way you consume content online and makes your time commitment to do so much more manageable.

What do you see for the future of social media?

Social media is not some purple elephant that will revolutionize the world. It’s one channel in an assortment of communications options. It will get past the shiny new object stage in the next couple of years and become another spoke on the communications wheel, along with PR, CRM, advertising, packaging, direct mail and so on. I’m a believer that it most closely aligns with public relations as a discipline, so I’m hopeful PR professionals will get better (and fast) at understanding and owning at least the responsibility of managing social media within the organizational structure. Social media is something that, if done right, isn’t silo-ed into one department, but PR is the most suitable to take the lead on it. It’s not a fad, but it’s not the second coming, either. It’ll settle into a nice place in the marketing and communications world if it hasn’t already.

What is the biggest mistake that businesses make when getting into social media?

Not coming to bat with a strategic position. Like web development, most people say, “I want one. Let’s build it.” I heard a great analogy to illustrate this problem from Ron Baumgarner at Bitwise Solutions. He said, “If your architect showed up on you property with a backhoe, would you be nervous?” Social media isn’t wall paper or a coat of paint. You have to think it through just like you would an advertising campaign or a direct mail piece.

Who is the audience? Why are you communicating with them? What do you want them to do as a result? How are you going to use the communication to build a relationship with them? What value can you provide? These are the questions that need to be answered before you even start. Put the backhoe away and draw up some plans for the structure, get all your permits lined out, make sure the property can withstand the size and scope of the building then hire the right people to do each of the tasks that come together to make the structure whole. And don’t forget that once it’s built, it needs to be cleaned, maintained, repaired and occasionally remodeled to ensure the residents stay happy.

What advice do you give to someone who is new to the social media world?

Know that if you can’t or don’t provide value to the communities and networks you are apart of, even if that value is just your opinion, you won’t be successful. You have to give to get in social media. Those that give meaningfully earn respect, then over time trust. Having trust breeds influence and gets you where you are a respected member of the community. And all that is true for brands as well as individuals.

Doe-Anderson is a brand-building agency, which closely resembles an advertising agency. They have an approach to building brands using brand enthusiasm as a platform to ignite passion points in people enabling them to spread the good word about the brand and build a community around it. Doe’s Maker’s Mark Ambassadors program is often called the “Gold Standard” word of mouth marketing program.

Social Media Explorer is Jason’s personal blog that he uses as an educational, informational and thought leadership tool to offer up reviews, insights and opinions about social media, public relations, marketing and other forms of communications.

Jason loves meeting new people so find him over on Twitter if you’re not already following him.





An Interview on PR 2.0 with Deirdre Breakenridge

2 09 2008

After a few days off to enjoy the holiday with my family, I’m back with a new and exciting interview.  I recently had the opportunity to interview PR 2.0 expert Deirdre Breakenridge.  Deirdre is President and Director of Communications at PFS Marketwyse as well as an accomplished author with her 4th book due on bookshelves in early 2009.  Deirdre’s 3rd book, published in April 2008, titled, PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences, helps communications professionals to understand the exciting changes that are occurring in the PR industry, and how using social media tools we can build better relationships.

Your most recent book is titled PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences.  What are some of the key differences between PR 1.0 and PR 2.0?

There are so many key differences between PR 1.0 and PR 2.0.  To start, PR 1.0 was a time of web functionality.  PR professionals were able to use the Internet to produce better research, build stronger relationships with third party endorsers including the media and use the Web to get their news releases distributed more efficiently and in a timely manner.  During that time, new and improved services were born so that professionals could access incredible information and market research that helped them produce targeted communications and PR campaigns with greater coverage.  The functionality of the PR 1.0 made PR professionals feel comfortable and successful in their communications.

However, today, through Web 2.0 applications and social media tools, we have a new PR approach labeled PR 2.0.  PR 2.0 is an exciting time for PR people.  Yet, it poses many challenges.  Suddenly, PR people are feeling a little less comfortable with social media tools, which allow companies to speak directly to markets.  They can reach out to their customers, engage in conversations and even hear what their customers are saying to each other.  In many instances, PR people and their brands no longer have to go through traditional third party influencers such as the media.  Instead there are new influencers including bloggers and customers themselves who are sharing information in web communities.  For so long, communications professionals controlled the brand message and in PR 2.0, you can no longer control what’s being said and by whom.  The best part about PR 2.0 is that it allows companies to listen carefully and engage in meaningful conversations with stakeholders.  Although very different, I believe that the convergence of PR 1.0 and PR 2.0 will lead to the best communication and stronger relationships for brands.

How do PR agencies have to change their strategies and methods of execution to be successful in this PR 2.0 world?

It’s a whole new manner of thinking for PR people.  Of course, we know that there are traditional PR practices to reach media and analysts that will still be a part of how we roll out with our product launches and campaigns.  However, we have to open up our frame of reference to learn a new process of relationship building.  When it comes to PR 2.0, communications professionals can’t really think about messages, audiences and the “pitch” anymore.  That’s not the way to reach people in web communities.  Everyone is different, and they all want to gather, organize and share information in a meaningful way.  First and foremost, when you interact through social media you take off your marketing hat, whether it’s communications with A-List bloggers, customers or citizen journalists.  You are peers who are engaging in dialog to share valuable information.  The strategy is no longer the broadcast message, but really tailored information to help someone make an informed decision.

The process has even changed from how we observe communities to the new rules of breaking news.  This new process includes how you have to be respectful of interactions with bloggers.  Now, you have to think about blogger relations, similar to how you handled media relations of the past.  There are so many different considerations in the PR 2.0 realm, from the way you form relationships to the social media tools that you select to reach people.  In PR 2.0 you are not marketing to them or speaking at them, rather you are talking with them and sharing the information that they need.

Part of PR 2.0 is utilizing social media/internet press releases.  What do you see as being the benefits of using social media press releases as compared to traditional press releases?

The Social Media Release (SMR) is a valuable tool that allows journalists and bloggers to build their stories quickly and with more resources.   However, the SRM is also a direct to consumer tool that helps people who are interested in your product or services to make informed decision or purchase.  The SMR is very interactive and depending on the template allows companies to really tell their story in a meaningful and compelling way through video, podcasts, outside links and resources, bookmarking, etc.  They are free from the BS, hype, jargon and canned quotes of traditional news releases.  I think that the information in the SMR is better organized to provide more interactive material and resources than a traditional release.  The SMR is a great tool and the templates will continue to improve to provide a company’s stakeholders with valuable information more quickly and efficiently, much more than the traditional news release of the past.

You are someone who is active on various social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. There have been plenty of articles written about the zap on productivity that is caused by social networks.  However, a lot of people I talk to in PR can’t say enough about the benefits of these networks.  What benefit would you say these networks have for a company or business professional that isn’t actively using them?

There are tremendous benefits to using social networks.  I would never look at Facebook, Twitter, MyRagan, PitchEngine or any other one of my social networks as something that zaps productivity.  On the contrary, if anything, these networks lead to incredible first hand research, excellent conversations that allow you to make decisions personally and professionally, business opportunities including leads, real world networking (where you actually meet your followers or friends offline) and connections to like-minded people who you would never have the opportunity to speak with before.

Businesses especially can benefit from the market research that is available on social networks, so that they can place the feedback whether positive or negative back into product development.  The ability to be a part of the conversation and to interact first hand is tremendously important. After all markets are conversations and in order to truly know what customers are saying, you have to participate or at least observe those conversations.

You are currently writing a new book.  Can you provide some information about it including title, release date and what it’ll be about?

I’m very excited about the new book.  Although I can’t release the title quite yet, it’s going to dig deeper into the area of PR 2.0 and social media.  Communications professionals will benefit from this book as they learn that web communities are small societies in and of themselves, based on culture and rules of engagement. Suddenly PR people need to be more understanding and focused on the social sciences.  The book also discusses many changes in PR and the customer service processes, including how to handle the socialization of communication and service.   There are so many exciting topics, including how to best use micromedia and what’s the approach for breaking news when you’re dealing with bloggers.  There are also many challenges brought to the surface with discussion and examples to provide PR people with information allowing them to become PR champions for their companies.  I believe that my book highlights topics that will ultimately advance the PR industry, so that, once again, it is recognized as a valuable resource within any organization.

Deirdre Breakenridge has been involved in marketing in public relations for 20 years.  Deirdre is currently President and Director of Communications at PFS Marketwyse, a traditional and new media marketing and public relations firm located in Totowa, New Jersey.  Besides her responsibilities at PFS, Deirdre is an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey.  She is an instructor for the University’s GBM program and  she focuses on teaching undergraduate students the latest real world business strategies in PR and interactive marketing.

Deirdre has also been an author for Pearson Education since 1999.  During that time she has published three books and is currently working on a fourth title, which is due out in early 2009.  When not busy at PFS, teaching or writing, Deirdre also spends a great deal of time speaking to different groups on the topic of PR, PR 2.0, social media, branding and interactive marketing.

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An Interview with a Marketing Eggspert

5 08 2008

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to interview Susan Payton.   Susan Payton is the blogger behind The Marketing Eggspert Blog and the owner of Egg Marketing & Public Relations. She helps clients use internet marketing to grow sales and boost web traffic.   Susan will also be teaching a course on how to write press releases on September 16th.

How has the use of the internet as a marketing tool changed the way marketing and public relations firms communicate their clients’ messages?

It’s made our jobs easier. We no longer print and physically mail press releases, wasting postage. Press releases and news can reach an audience within seconds. We can reach a larger audience by including bloggers and future customers and no longer relying on a journalist deciding to cover our news.

What are your thoughts on using search-engine-optimized press releases that are distributed on the web versus traditionally distributed press releases?

I’m laughing because for me (a GenXer) SEO releases are “traditionally distributed!” I still send releases directly to targeted editors I think have interest in the release, but I sell the SEO factor to my clients. Even if Oprah doesn’t call you to be on her show (and I’m telling you, don’t hold your breath), you’ll be all over the internet and increase your ranking on search engines with a press release distributed on the web.

How do you think companies should be using social media/networks such as Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, YouTube, etc.?

1. Carefully. Just like everyone, I jumped into all social media sites without knowing what I was doing. Choose the ones that work for you (or that others refer you to).

2. Designate a person to handle this aspect if you have someone to put on it, or specify a limited time to work on it each day/week.

3. Consider your audience. If you don’t sell cute t-shirts or rock bands, MySpace might not be your audience.

4. Plurk? There’s one I don’t know. Great. Another one I have to join!

How important is it for a company to be visible on the internet?

Absolutely necessary. If you don’t have a website, I don’t want to use you (as a consumer) or help you (as a marketing/PR firm…unless we can first design your website!). Being online shows that you at least respect technology, even if you don’t understand it. As a consumer that tells me you’ve invested in reaching me as someone who searches for your company online.

In what ways does your firm help companies to become visible on the internet?

Egg Marketing & Public Relations uses a slew of online marketing tools to increase traffic to our clients’ websites. We use press releases, email marketing, SEO, blog/forum commenting and online advertising. We look to who our clients’ ideal customers are and tailor a solution that fits the way they receive messages.

What do you see in the future for marketing/public relations firms?

Who we work with to spread the word about our clients will keep shifting away from the editors who hold the keys to publishing and popularity. Now we have hundreds of bloggers in a given niche who are clamoring for content. In product marketing, these are the people that readers listen to. They’re the ones giving the thumbs up or down. They’re the one that consumers believe. Consumers don’t want to be advertised to on television, newspaper or billboards. They want to be entertained while having the option to accept advertising messages. Marketing and PR industries have to completely embrace this. It’s starting to happen now, but “old school” marketing is still dominating a lot of areas.

[Disclosure: That’s Great PR! utilizes Payton’s firm for some of our email marketing services.]

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