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

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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Introducing PitchEngine: A New Take on Social Media PR

5 09 2008

Today I interviewed Jason Kintzler, founder of PitchEngine.  Jason has been a journalist, television anchor, PR guy and is now the founder of his first web startup.  PitchEngine was created out of Jason’s passion for media and a desire to close the technology gap between media, PR pros and business in general.  PitchEngine is something that I’m very excited about and think that anyone who is involved in PR should give serious consideration to using.

Why do you think PR and social media fit together so well?

One of the biggest pieces of social media (that often gets over looked) is the technology aspect. Social media isn’t just about the conversation, it’s about sharing content like videos, photos, comments and more. That part alone is a natural for PR pros who are interested in delivering media PR assets. It replaces the need for a printed press kit and saves them time and money on image CDs, folders, etc.,

I also think from a business marketing perspective that PR people are critical to engaging consumers. Marketers tend to “push” brand content out to consumers, where (good) PR pros are more likely to engage with them and develop relationships with consumers – similar to that of media.  Either way social media certainly blurs the lines of marketing and PR – something everyone is very excited about.

How would you describe a social media release to someone who has never heard of it before?

That’s easy, it happens all the time!  Traditional press releases are limited in functionality and flexibility – A rigid Word document with type. Maybe an embedded, low-resolution image or a few links are included.  PR pros must find ways of providing high-res images, video, logos and other content to media contacts and then figure out how to deliver it – email attachment, press kit by mail, image CDs, etc., Sounds pretty frustrating doesn’t it? Add to the fact that no one does it consistently, which makes media crazy.

The social media release is like a micro-website that allows PR pros to include all of the assets in one nice little package. It can be tracked, archived and is living – since it’s comment enabled media can add comments and questions at any time, while PR pros can make changes whenever they want- unlike a printed and circulated traditional press release.

Why should a business who has always distributed traditional print press releases consider creating and distributing a social media release?

It’s no secret that I don’t believe the current methods of PR distribution are flawed. You take rigid Word docs and pay to send them out to as much media as possible. Seems like all those flyers you get in your mailbox at the Post Office, doesn’t it? With an SMR like PitchEngine’s, users not only learn how to engage in social media, they also become better PR people delivering more concise pitches in a clean, web-enabled format. I do think the transition will be gradual, so the two formats can certainly live together for the time being.

How is PitchEngine different from other internet PR services that are available?

The big PR services out there all involve distribution via wire services. There are a couple services that provide ways to include web-enabled content for distribution through those services.  Unlike those services, PitchEngine wasn’t designed to accommodate traditional distribution services, it was designed as a tool for PR and media, that’s a big difference. It’s far more social, and hands-down the easiest of all those services to use- that’s not coming from me, it’s coming from the great feedback we’ve been receiving since our alpha launch last month.

What does the future hold for PitchEngine?

Well, I have to hold some stuff in reserve, but I can tell you it’s incredibly exciting. Getting off the ground is the first step, and making sure the users are getting everything they want is key. We’re working on partnerships with other innovative social media applications and finding more ways to change the game entirely. PitchEngine lends itself very well to an international user base – I think you’ll be seeing some rapid growth there very soon.

I’m not afraid to challenge tradition. I don’t answer to board members, share holders or web “experts” and I believe that will allow PitchEngine to remain innovative.  Users will ultimately decide the future, and from the response so far, they’re hungry for it. It’s wide open, and that’s very exciting.

PitchEngine makes it possible for PR pros, brands, and agencies to build and share digital, social media releases (SMRs) with their contacts for free. The SMR takes the press release to the next level, eliminating the need for antiquated email attachments, word documents, image CDs, and more. PitchEngine SMRs can then be delivered by email or via integrated social apps like Twitter or FriendFeed. Users and media recipients can also post them to Facebook, Digg and other bookmarking/news sites.  PR pros can upgrade to a customized Newsroom for their brand or client where we’ll host and archive all of their SMRs. The media side of PitchEngine (coming soon) will offer media the ability to filter press content and even approve or deny pitches from PR pros.

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Want Press? Check Your Inbox

27 08 2008

Are you an expert at something?  We all are, right?  Have you ever wondered how you could be that expert that’s featured in various news stories across the country?  Some choose to start a blog to showcase this expertise.  But, what if you could have a list of queries from reporters emailed to you every day which you could skim though and pick ones that are in your expertise to respond to?  Sound too good to be true?  Well, it’s real and available to you for free!

The service I’m talking about is called Help A Reporter Out which is the creation of Peter Shankman, founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc., a marketing and PR agency in New York City.  The service is free and only takes a few seconds to sign up for.  After signing up and confirming your email address you will begin to receive up to three emails per day with a list of stories which reporters are seeking help on.  The only rule of the service is that you only respond to the journalist query if and only if you think that you can really help that reporter out.

About a month ago I had read about the service from Tiffany Monhollon.  I found it interesting but quickly forgot about it with a rush of pressing tasks that needed to get done.  A few days ago I remembered that I wanted to check it out and decided to sign up.  A couple hours later I received my first email query.  I anxiously scrolled through to see what this was going to be like.  Guess what?  I found a story to respond to!  I emailed the reporter, set up a time to talk the following day and viola….she is going to use some of that conversation in her article. 🙂

Everyone won’t have the same initial experience that I did of course but I encourage you to sign up.  This is a great way to help you gain some traditional media exposure and further develop yourself as an expert in your field!

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Newsforce Gives Your PR Access to a Premium News Network

18 08 2008

Recently, Newsforce released a new product which is a paid placement network for press releases.  The new service, being called the Premium News Network, takes your press release and guarantees placement on major news sites.

To accomplish this, Newsforce purchases ad spots on the major news media sites and then displays their clients’ press releases within that advertisement space.  When a visitor clicks on the PR it brings them to a hosted article page which can include videos, photos, links, etc.  The Newsforce team then sends you weekly reports showing you how the PR is doing and allows you to tweak your headline or content whenever you want.  Each PR runs for 30 days at which time it can be renewed or you can submit a new press release.  Their pricing structure is based on the number of headline impressions you are targeting for your campaign.

Newsforce has already partnered with several media sites such as: Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Boston Herald, and a bunch more.  They also continue to add more partners each week.

What interests me about this service is that it’s not like anything that’s out there right now, at least not that I’m aware of.  Internet PR distribution companies typically take your press release and push it out through the news-wires and other services and then rely on these sites to pick up on the release.  Newsforce is taking this same press release and placing it onto the major news sites.  As you can see from the example on the right, Newsforce had purchased the top advertising block on the Los Angeles Times Health section and had 3 press releases displaying along with a short description of each and a link back to the full release.

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Interview with a PressRelease-o-maniac

8 08 2008

Today I interviewed engineer-turned-marketer, David Butler creator and owner of PressRelease-o-maniac, a London-based press release distribution site.  PressRelease-o-maniac is only a few months old but is already getting an increasing number of PRs submitted on a daily basis and shows a lot of future growth potential.

Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

Sure, it might surprise you but I’m not a marketer!  I come from an engineering background – graduated from Cambridge University six years ago. I then worked in a start-up company developing graphics software for simulators until the start of 2008 when I decided to start working with a small team of web ninjas in the online business. Haven’t looked back since! and (beta) are among our creations.

How did an engineer decide to venture into the PR world?

PressRelease-o-maniac came about from the realization that the old adage, “if you make it they will come” simply wasn’t true.  As an engineer I was interested in making products and services of value.  Coming up with a good idea, investing time and money creating it was hard enough, but I soon found out that marketing to a wider audience was actually harder.  A trickle of users actively searching the web might stumble across the product or service, however, the masses are left in the dark.

After a few mentions in the press (both online and printed) we noticed major spikes in our web traffic and learned that journalists wielded awesome power!  I did know that press releases were a way that journalists found stories, however, a quick trawl through the main press release submission sites showed that issuing releases was expensive!  In addition, I felt that they could be improved and given some of the “web 2.0” treatment.  So, I thought, why not create a PR site?  When there’s something we want to present to the world, It would become our virtual megaphone.

What are your thoughts on the importance of incorporating internet press releases into a company’s marketing strategy?

Predictably I’m going to say very important!  But it’s true. The first thing about the internet is that it’s here to stay and it’s only going to get bigger. It’s also a great tool that has the ability to provide quality feedback. Quantifiable stats such as how many people have seen your release, when and where they came from can be gathered. Marketing is a science and with the help of this data, lessons can be learned so that future campaigns become more successful.  The internet is still new and it’s relatively easy to carve a niche within it. Presumably your business is already is a niche of some description, otherwise it wouldn’t be profitable! So dominate your space online as well!

Just a note here about the engineering – I’d like to make a point using the Apple brand as an illustration. The iPhone would probably be able to market itself, being really very cool. But I bet Apple didn’t consider reducing their advertising budget because their product was good! There’s a multiplier effect at work. Apple can actually be criticized for letting marketing have more influence than the engineering department. Make your engineering dept of the highest possible standard and also empower it, because the better the service/product, the easier it’ll be to market.

How does a company utilize internet press releases to enhance their visibility on the web?

According to Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, most sentences we speak have never been uttered before in the history of the planet. So choose your words carefully, perhaps deliberately make them more similar to what might be queried in a search engine.  Also, be “remarkable” i.e. have a story that people want to talk about with their colleagues around the water cooler the next day. Those in the blogosphere happen to like a good story and that just means more links to your website.  Nothing increases search engines rankings better than quality inbound links.

What’s the future hold for PressRelease-o-maniac as far as site enhancements, additional offerings, etc.?

First of all, I think it’s interesting to compare the traditional newswire with social networking sites such as Digg and Reddit that are very big today. They’re not that different – they present lists of stories, only Digg and Reddit allow voting, such that seemingly more interesting stories float to the top. Today, journalists still seem to stick to the newswire. I suspect this is because stories are still usually found there first, then propagated to social sites. Journos also don’t want to be spoon-fed! That’s not to mention the bias towards sensational items of interest to the 15-30 year old male demographic.

Indeed there are changes coming to PressRelease-o-maniac… fairly imminently in fact, but the good news is that we’re going to remain free.  Submission quality will however have to be maintained with a more stringent filtering process – unlike Google’s somewhat lame “don’t be evil” we believe in “actively be good”, so releases that are “unhelpful” we would be inclined to ignore… So if say a large gaming complex was to open in some corner of Nevada, we probably wouldn’t bother publishing that.

The site’s minimalist appearance will probably stay, such that the focus is on the content! Guess we’re like Craigslist that way…

Each release will be categorized. Already you see the Google Map of stories and that releases from a particular country can be isolated, but sections like one on sport, health, finance etc will be added, tags too. Improving our distribution is another major challenge. After all, that’s what it’s all about. We’re going to work on growing our list of subscribers and get all those stories out there, 50K so far and counting…

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Old School vs New School PR in a Web 2.0 World

16 07 2008

It amazes me how many companies still do not harness all that the Web 2.0 world has to offer when distributing press releases and creating industry buzz.  Let’s take a look at the old school vs new school approaches to distributing press releases.

The old way of marketing – Traditionally marketing teams would put together a press release and send it to a handful of newspapers, magazines and radio stations.  The press release might be mentioned/written about and those audiences who subscribe to the newspaper/magazine or who listen to that radio station would be exposed to the content of the PR.  If the company hires a reputable marketing firm, they may guarantee that their PR will receive more exposure due to the reputation and network of that firm.  But, how would they reach all of the other possible interested folks who weren’t part of one of those groups mentioned above? Simply put: they wouldn’t.  This translates to lost opportunities for the company in developing prospective customers and helping the company to push their brand to a mass-audience.

The new way of marketing – Nowadays companies who embrace Web 2.0 have so many other available tools besides the traditional vehicles for reaching prospective customers.  Now companies can have a website, blog, social networking pages such as MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and also reach audiences into the millions with their PR campaign – if they know how to properly target that PR for the internet.

Besides becoming diversified on the World Wide Web, companies have to debunk the old myth that you only publish press releases when you have BIG news such as a new product release, corporate merger or acquisition, etc.  Companies should publish press releases about anything that they have going on.  The more press releases you get distributed, the more your company (and brand) will stay at the tops of the major search engines when prospective customers search for your company and/or products.

David Meerman Scott, in his book The New Rules of Marketing & PR suggests writing a PR about anything from your CEO speaking at a conference to winning an award or publishing a white paper.  Whatever the subject, the goal is to keep your company in front of prospective and current customers.

Resources on becoming a new school PR expert:

  • I highly recommend purchasing The New Rules of Marketing & PR.
  • While waiting for the book to arrive, download and read the condensed ebook which focuses on web-based press releases with suggestions on how to properly optimize your PRs for the web.
  • Brian Solis’ PR Tips for Startups is an excellent resource for an overview on the history of PR and where we are today in the Web (PR) 2.0 world.  Solis provides thought-provoking and actionable tips for the reader to implement.
  • Another resource from David Meerman Scott is his Gobbledygook Manifesto which will help you to analyze your corporate marketing and PR materials, remove meaningless catch-phrases, and communicate with your prospective and current customers in way which they will understand.

Becoming proficient at maximizing social media, web-based PR and marketing, and understanding all of the available tools to you will not happen overnight.  It will take time to build these networks and is a space that is ever-changing to meet the speed of technology.  But, don’t be afraid of it, embrace it and utilize these resources to help you start understanding the Web (PR) 2.0 world.

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A Report Card for Your Press Release

11 07 2008

I was looking through the Web Ink Now archives tonight and came across a great new tool in helping you publish the best PR possible.  Whether you’re brand new at writing press releases or an experienced professional, HubSpot’s PressRelease Grader can help you improve your PR copy.  The tool will provide you with a “marketing effectiveness score” after analyzing the language, links, “search engine optimization characteristics” and content of your copy.

The best part is it’s FREE and simple to use!  Just copy and paste your PR into the system, add some other basic information such as company name and email, and you’re immediately provided with your score and suggestions on how to improve your copy.

Though not hard to use, the team over at HubSpot have even created a how-to video for their new tool:

Head over to PressRelease Grader now and see how your latest press release scores.

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