Tips for an effective SMB PR program

Rather than bore everyone with a long and overly-complex blog about the dynamics of PR and how it helped long-term client Vivisimo get acquired by IBM last summer, I instead decided to post 8 suggestions that CEO’s of SMB operations should consider to significantly increase the value of their brand’s PR program. Remember, PR folks are the ones who are interacting most with third parties that have the most sway about your company. Developing a deeper and stronger relationship with your PR team will allow you to better understand what a variety of individuals (media, analysts, customers, consumers, partners, gov’t officials, etc.) truly think about the company you’re leading.

1)      Sign off on a PR plan that is rooted in fulfilling particular business objectives of your company so you can appreciate the value of the PR program.

2)      Allow PR practitioners to participate in sales and engineering meetings so that they can be better educated about your business and truly tailor the PR program to your company’s specific needs.

3)      Regard your PR practitioner or PR agency as your “press secretary.” When you view them in this manner, the benefits of them being involved in multiple aspects of your business will become clear.

4)      Encourage yourself to sit in on at least one weekly PR update meeting so that you can better understand how your budget is being used.

5)      Look at PR as a support system for your sales and marketing efforts and not just as a fancy program that builds up egos and brands. Managed correctly, PR can help your sales force improve sales cycles and provide your marketing team with better communications, events, and relationships.

6)      After a media interview, a good PR practitioner will immediately circle back with a real-time “audit” of the interview and communicate the highs and lows of the conversation. Take this advice to heart, as it can greatly improve your next  media interview.

7)      If you have a conversation or read material that you think would be pertinent to your PR team, share the information with them so they can effectively incorporate it into their strategies and/or tactics.

8)      From time to time meet with your PR practitioner so the both of you can understand each other better. Remember, PR folks are your brand ambassadors, too. They are tasked with creating your quotes in press releases to talking about you during conversations with the press. The more they know about you and your likes and dislikes means they’ll know how to better articulate who you are when having to represent you.

~David Splivalo, President

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911: The lost art of telephone pitching

SiliconValleyBack in the day I had a very habitual process that I followed: avoid the Silicon Valley morning rush hour by driving to work at 5:30 a.m.; start calling East Coast media (around 6:00 a.m.) for pitches I needed responses back on; and then head to my office building’s gym at about 6:45 a.m. Every morning I followed through on this routine and was able to get a hold of East Coast reporters. During those brief conversations with the media I was able to talk about a range of things including developing relationships, sharing ideas, talking through my pitch, to setting up interviews for my clients. All in all, telephone pitching was the reason why I became a god at media relations. My ability to connect with the press over the phone separated me from the thousands of email pitches my industry peers sent with reckless abandonment.

Blame Social Media?

One of the biggest hurdles I faced with my previous employees was getting them to actually pick up the phone and have a conversation with a reporter. For many of them, especially the account assistants who just graduated from college, the thought of picking up the phone was worse than taking a bus to work. It was down right evil! EvilPhoneThe thought of actually having an intelligent and strategic conversation with the media is by no means easy, but using alternative forms of communication such as social media (to exchange ideas about a pitch/proposed story) just simply can’t replace what verbal communications can achieve, whether it be in person, over the phone or online. So I squarely point the blame at PR professionals who don’t have the initiative and/or intelligence to have a meaningful conversation with the press. My message to PR practitioners is to stop hiding behind alternative forms of communication and use your detective skills to hunt down phone numbers for the media you’re pitching — and call them!

Tech journalists avoiding calls?

Nowadays the tech press, especially the tech blogs, rely more on one-dimensional pitching via email, social media and to some extent, texting. Have you ever tried just carrying on an important conversation with your boss over just email? Better yet, have you just relied on asking for a raise through exchanging direct Tweets with your manager? If you have, I pray for you. But for all of you that still rely on in-person meetings and phone calls for those important conversations I assume you realize why.

Verbal communications whether they’re expressed in-person, over the phone or via the Internet, allow for a much richer conversation and thus a more rewarding outcome. However, as younger people become journalists and PR practitioners they are purposely choosing to avoid these “richer conversations” by relying on more one-dimensional forms of communications.

AustinPowersThink I’m making this up? If so, please tell me where on Earth I can find the phone numbers for the reporters that work at TechCrunch, Mashable, The Next Web, ReadWriteWeb or VentureBeat.

911: We have an emergency

The phone is a critical component to both the PR practitioner and the journalist. If we (PR pros and media) don’t start gravitating back to verbal communications then news reporting will be adversely affected. So much is lost in translation in an email, Tweet and text that we’re relying on a new communication medium that isn’t ideally suited for “Grade A” news reporting. Let’s avoid making “911” the last phone number we remember and rekindle the verbal conversations and banter we use to enjoy as comrades that were focused on producing a solid product: great storytelling!

By: David Splivalo

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Back to the Future: PR style

ImageIn today’s hyper-fast paced world of public relations and marketing campaigns, so many practitioners working for tech brands are bent on what they’re competition is doing presently that they don’t consider going back 20, 30, maybe 40 years to see how their “brick and mortar” counterparts achieved successful launches. Case in point, when I helped launch Dwolla (the mobile cash payment startup), from a two-man operation into an overnight sensation I had little time to consider how the credit card industry launched their “plastic.” As some of you may know, Dwolla is an alternative payment option to using credit cards. Yes, credit cards were at one point a technology breakthrough, allowing average consumers for the first time to pay for products without cash. Just imagine the marketing, ImagePR and advertising elements that went into helping publicize and educate the general public about what “plastic” was all about. Something apparently clicked with that messaging and positioning from 1972 since it seems like everyone who is an adult today also has a credit card.

This past weekend I was rummaging through a book my mom prepared about my parents’ wedding, not the wedding book per se, but a different type of book that included the events leading up to and after the wedding itself. At the end of the book, she included several stories about their wedding and one just happened to catch my immediate attention. On the flip side of their wedding announcement in the newspaper there was a story, dated January 26, 1972, with the headline, “Cashless Society Predicted by Credit Card Use.” ImageWow, it was the same language I used in Dwolla’s launch: ‘A cashless society.’ Who knew that my words were actually archaic; a reporter used the same messaging I did to explain credit cards 40 years ago. The story goes on to talk about how credit cards were now being extended to everyday people, (whereas before only the privileged had it) and how the industry hired lovely female brand ambassadors to explain to consumers how the “technology” worked.

Yes, credit cards today are a no brainer, everyone gets it, but just imagine the undertaking it required to help sell the idea to the general public 40 years ago when there was no Internet or mobile phone or other type of similar product to help make it more understandable! If anything, these stories from days gone by can be a great resource for PR practitioners who are responsible for launching a new product, service or brand. ImageAgreed, researching these stories can be #oldschool (and very time consuming), but uncovering these bygone stories can still nonetheless be an invaluable asset when trying to differentiate your product and/or discover a new strategy to approach your target audience(s). In Dwolla’s case, after reading that article from 1972, we really did go back to the future since we used some of the same verbiage today as what was used 40 years ago.

By: David Splivalo

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Declassified client story: The PR “Backdoor”

Reconsidering How to Approach Your Target Audience with PR

Today more than ever, C-level executives and entrepreneurs are using a combination of technology platforms and traditional sales and marketing teams to help drive new business. The goal, as it always has been, is to get in front of the target audience in order to drive sales. While this process has always worked, little thought has been put into how businesses (both startups and established brands) can enhance this sales model through non-traditional means such as PR. But why PR? PR practitioners and PR programs are capable of reaching target audiences in different ways than sales and marketing teams, primarily as a result of PR’s capacity to help produce non-biased media coverage. When you consider how advertising and marketing efforts are aimed at direct audiences (customers), strategically planned PR efforts can aim for “backdoor” customers via media coverage.

What do you define as a backdoor?

Jim Stickley, CTO of TraceSecurity

Going directly to the individual responsible for making decisions has always produced results, but the high cost of making that happen and the amount of competition vying for that individuals attention can often lead to unsatisfactory results. Several years ago I learned an important lesson when my client, Baton Rouge-based TraceSecurity, gave us a green light to go “elephant hunting.” TraceSecurity is a security compliance firm targeting financial institutions and so when we secured a segment with the NBC Today Show on the company’s young co-founder and CTO, many employees began to question why dollars were being spent hunting down a segment with a pure consumer media outlet. And the fact of the matter was they were right, but also wrong. 99% of the time the TODAY Show is the wrong media outlet for an enterprise B2B company, but that remaining 1% is pure gold if played correctly.

In TraceSecurity’s eyes the target customer is a manager to C-Level executive in the financial services industry; someone of stature, experience, and decision making authority. So naturally a PR program focuses on these user groups, but what if there was another group that had just as much sway as those employees did? Have I got you thinking about who this group could be? Good!

These managers and C-level executives could have spouses and family members that may watch the NBC TODAY show even if they don’t themselves. See where I’m going with this? As it turns out, the 5 minute and 48 second segment (on Jim Stickley and TraceSecurity) that appeared on the most watched NBC TODAY Show broadcast of the year (turns out is the day after New Year’s) was being watched by the wife of the CEO of one of the largest banks on the East Coast. She recorded the segment for her husband and when he came home he watched the entire piece. The story on Jim and his company would later compel the bank CEO and his board to approve one of TraceSecurity’s largest business deals, all because of a TODAY Show segment geared towards consumers, not the decision makers running a B2B operation.

Don’t Copy; Create!

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

While most of my peers are busy working on designing and implementing plans aimed squarely at their target audience, pause should be given on other “backdoor” strategies to pursue the same goal. As is often is the case in PR, there are too many copycats and too few “artists” who truly look at PR as an art form. I like to think of PR as a painting; always looking for creative ways to enhance my clients’ PR “picture” based on original ideas and concepts rather than borrowed from some blog written by one of my peers.

To watch the segment that led to the deal, please click on the following URL:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fH30gyEjXk

– David Splivalo, President

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Is Your Client Linked into the Blogosphere?

In today’s digital age, it’s evident how powerful bloggers can be. Evolving from digital diaries to a new popular medium of news and information, influential bloggers have been known to sway political, religious, and personal beliefs. Though it has taken society a while to gain the trust of the validity behind the blog, PR professionals have figured out that credible bloggers can create a certain type of viral, word of mouth attention that is difficult to generate from traditional media.

Blogs are a great way to reach a client’s niche audience directly. Regardless of the skepticism bloggers have gotten over the years about their credibility, people find themselves turning to blogs time and time again for reviews and opinions of products or services. With posts full of personality, wittiness, and often brutal honesty, certain blogs have won over the respect of the masses through a transparency that is rarely found in newspapers and magazine articles.

Working with multiple startup and technology blogs for our client Tikly, including being recently featured on KillerStartups and Tech.li, I’ve learned that connecting with bloggers is a great way to get a different angle of your client covered than what is usually found in a magazine or newspaper feature. Without the confines of formal style or page limits, bloggers have the creative leeway to take a unique approach on your client. With the specificity of blogs and their narrow audiences, bloggers do not have the pressure of appealing to everyone, like the mainstream media does. Straying away from the standard reporter questions, bloggers drop the formality and ask questions that appeal directly to a specific demographic. In turn, they can take a simple pitch and turn it into a raving review.

For startups, it is very important to utilize blog space not only for consumer awareness, but to peak the interest of investors as well. Blogs have the advantage of easy accessibility to viewers from all over the world without costing a subscription fee. With multimedia capabilities, blogs are an ideal solution for showcasing a client’s capabilities in multiple formats including video, image slideshows, and podcasts. Providing the depth of a magazine feature with the timeliness of a newspaper article, blogs offer the best of both worlds when it comes to well-rounded media coverage.

– Emily Perry, Account Assistant

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8 Tips to Make the Most of Your SMB PR Program

Rather than bore everyone with a long and overly-complex blog about the dynamics of PR and how it helped long-term client Vivisimo get acquired by IBM, I instead decided to post 8 suggestions that CEO’s of SMB operations should consider to significantly increase the value of their brand’s PR program. Remember, PR folks are the ones who are interacting most with third parties that have the most sway about your company. Developing a deeper and stronger relationship with your PR team will allow you to better understand what a variety of individuals (media, analysts, customers, consumers, partners, gov’t officials, etc.) truly think about the company you’re leading.

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The Freestyle boardroom set up for a meeting with clients

1)      Sign off on a PR plan that is rooted in fulfilling particular business objectives of your company so you can appreciate the value of the PR program.

2)      Allow PR practitioners to participate in sales and engineering meetings so that they can be better educated about your business and truly tailor the PR program to your company’s specific needs.

3)      Regard your PR practitioner or PR agency as your “press secretary.” When you view them in this manner, the benefits of them being involved in multiple aspects of your business will become clear.

4)      Encourage yourself to sit in on at least one weekly PR update meeting so that you can better understand how your budget is being used.

5)      Look at PR as a support system for your sales and marketing efforts and not just as a fancy program that builds up egos and brands. Managed correctly, PR can help your sales force improve sales cycles and provide your marketing team with better communications, events, and relationships.

6)      After a media interview, a good PR practitioner will immediately circle back with a real-time “audit” of the interview and communicate the highs and lows of the conversation. Take this advice to heart, as it can greatly improve your next  media interview.

Image

Account manager Wendy Parish chats with a client over the phone

7)      If you have a conversation or read material that you think would be pertinent to your PR team, share the information with them so they can effectively incorporate it into their strategies and/or tactics.

8)      From time to time meet with your PR practitioner so the both of you can understand each other better. Remember, PR folks are your brand ambassadors, too. They are tasked with creating your quotes in press releases to talking about you during conversations with the press. The more they know about you and your likes and dislikes means they’ll know how to better articulate who you are when having to represent you.

~David Splivalo, President

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My First Week as a Freestyle Intern

Reflecting back on my first week interning here at Freestyle, it is crazy how much I’ve already picked up on the industry, clients, and on the company itself! Completing many tasks that are relevant to PR (not coffee-fetching or pencil-pushing), I already feel like less of an intern and more like one of the team. Though I still have a lot to look forward to learning with this internship, I’ve already keyed into a few important aspects that sets a PR agency up for success.

The first trick-of-the-trade that I’ve picked up on is the power of Google. With many of my assignments dealing with research and looking things up, I honestly cannot imagine what PR would be like without search engines and the Internet. Whether it is to look up the name of a reporter or to find a blog to pitch to, I’ve found myself having a separate Google window always popped up on my computer. Don’t get me started about how attached our industry is to the convenience of Google Docs and Google Calendar.

Another criteria of PR that I quickly picked up on is how the little things count. From a simple task such as typing a client’s name into a search engine to more daunting, time-consuming tasks, there is never a dull moment at the Freestyle office! It’s fun to get the behind-the-scene scoop of all the work that goes into creating a company’s public image. You would never imagine all the small components that go into the big picture. The good thing about this internship is that I can see the value of each task, no matter how small, in the grand scope of Freestyle’s efforts. I’m never wondering if something is merely “busywork.”

The last tidbit that I’ve noted is a motto that PR professionals everywhere should pick up on: “When in doubt, ping-pong!” Though I haven’t gotten a chance to challenge anyone to a quick game, it’s clear that Freestyle offers just the right amount of distractions to clear your head when stuck on a task. Though the only ping-pong skills I have are the ones I’ve gained from playing against my grandpa (and let’s just say he always let me win), I’m excited to see those skills develop along with my writing, pitching, and other PR techniques.

I can’t wait to continue with this internship and anticipate only great things coming from this experience. I hope to get a chance to blog a bit more about my internship periodically, and can’t wait to share (and use) more of the knowledge that I pick up along the way.


– Emily Perry, Account Assistant

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Why outsource PR in Silicon Prairie?

By: David Splivalo

In 2005 the CEO of Iowa based Palisade Systems, Kurt Shedenhelm, was lead to Silicon Valley following a careful analysis of local PR talent and agencies. Palisade was entering a new market, called Data Loss & Prevention or DLP and needed to position itself as one of the industry leaders. None of the local talent had any meaningful relationships with high-tech press and their rolodex of results for high-tech firms, both startups and established brands, was little to none. Shedenhelm traveled to the Valley in 2005 where I would later serve as his account manager for an agency he decided to contract the work to. What Shedenhelm wanted was the “Wow” factor and felt that the Silicon Valley PR firm I worked for at the time would deliver those types of results.

After less than a year working on Palisade’s account, my boss at the time encouraged me to open my own PR practice, where Palisade would eventually follow me and become one of my first clients. But why did Palisade decide to follow me? It was mainly due to the consistent results I was achieving and the need for a high-tech PR agency (or practitioner) to be serving it (Palisade). Prior to my start, Palisade’s prior PR program, to put it politely, was treading water. From 2002 to 2004, Palisade secured just 19 stories, with most of those articles just being mentions of the company.

From 2005 to 2008 (under Freestyle’s direction), Palisade’s media relations results skyrocketed, boasting over 120 stories (with over half being standalone feature stories on the Iowa startup). My firm also resurrected Palisade’s analyst relations program (which to this day Freestyle is still the only PR agency to offer services in Silicon Prairie), speaking and awards program, government relations program and finally its editorial program. All these programs are considered components of a full-service PR program. The work was so good that Palisade was included as the lead for some of the first industry stories to acknowledge the new DLP market space.

Silicon Prairie needs to understand that if it wants its startup community to grow and flourish that it needs to find outside PR help. Using local talent alone isn’t going to cut it unless they’ve been immersed in a high-tech PR setting for several years. One of the most critical failures of startups is PR and marketing, and this is because it’s the one piece of the puzzle the founders (and sometimes the investors) don’t have experience in. Companies like Dwolla, Alliance Technologies, Caleris, ISU Research Park and many other Silicon Prairie tech brands have turned to my firm to help them correctly and strategically publicize their brand to their target audiences.

Yes, this blog may come across as very promotional, but what would you rather have me say? That Silicon Prairie has better PR folks than Silicon Valley? That local PR practitioners have a better rolodex and history of working with startups to correctly market and publicize their brand, product line and service offerings than compared to their counterparts in the Valley? It’s time for Silicon Prairie startups to wake up to the realization that if they truly want a stellar marcom program then they have to consider outsourcing that specialty to experts that have a successful history of securing the “Wow” factor in multiple markets.`

Disclaimer: Freestyle PR is a shareholder of Palisade Systems, Inc.

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Why they say “Des Moinz”

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Ever been on a call with a customer service representative when they butchered the name of Iowa’s capitol? Well, I have, and it sucks. More often than not, people from out-of-state can’t pronounce the name of Des Moines correctly. A number of reasons can be attributed to this problem, but one in particular can be tied to the state’s business and socio-economic culture and that is; public relations, which is known more affectionately as “PR.” Yes, I can attest this might be a pet peeve of mine, but ultimately the issue of pronouncing the city’s name correctly is a tell-tale sign of something much bigger than my own personal tastes.

Iowans and Iowa businesses aren’t known for publicizing themselves, in fact, it’s almost frowned upon. Putting oneself on a pedestal is akin to cruising in the fast lane on I-280, you shouldn’t do it. As a result, Iowans and their businesses do a pretty darn good job at trying not to toot their own horn, which I feel is very noble, but in hindsight it’s caused the other 49 states and their populations to develop their own views, and in this case, pronunciations of Des Moines.

So is this problem fixable? Absolutely, but it will require not just public organizations making a better attempt at getting our state and city’s name out there, but also private industry’s role at better marketing their brand, products and services to external target audiences outside Iowa. One can argue, as I’m doing now, that the pronunciation of Des Moines goes hand in hand with very few Iowa and Des Moines’ based businesses maintaining an effective marketing communications program. Yes, I realize that the city of Des Moines isn’t exactly the easiest name to pronounce, but are we as Iowans going to use that as an excuse to allow outsiders to mispronounce Des Moines’ name? Surely not!

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So how can private industry and public organizations based in Iowa help reduce the “name-calling” of Iowa’s largest city? Below is list of helpful ideas both private and public industry can consider employing.

1)      If your business or public institution needs to effectively reach constituencies outside Iowa consider employing a marketing and communications (marcom) program that encompasses both marketing and PR.

2)      Become a storyteller. Media outlets, citizen journalists, bloggers, even social “medialites” are great sources to approach to share your story or news.

3)      Des Moines and Iowa are repeated offenders of top 5 and top 10 placements for civic and industry awards. Use that information to support why Des Moines or why Iowa is a great place for your business.

4)      Only when necessary, but consider distributing press releases when there’s relevant and timely news to share. The more news announcements that comes across the wire from Iowa and Des Moines based brands and organizations means and an improved chance at Des Moines’ name being accurately pronounced.

5)      Know the history of Des Moines, that way when you talk with a reporter or other third party outside Iowa you can give them a rich story that will implant in their mind and help them recall how to say they city’s name.

~David Splivalo, President

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What have you REALLY achieved through social media?

What have you REALLY achieved through social media?

Social media, you sassy thang! You swooped into our personal lives like a flash of communicative light, tweeting and booking us right in the face!  We loved it! And don’t forget all the more creative ways we can break up with our significant others!

In the professional world, social media has crept in more slowly, but it has certainly taken hold. PR professionals have been eager to adopt social media because it is easy for us to see the value. There are so many great things about social media; the interwebs are crammed full of PR people talking about outreach, interaction, building a base, branding and all those other intangibles. I’m not knocking those things, they are important, but what has social media REALLY done for you lately?

(Raises hand) Ooo, ooo, I have a story!!

One of our clients, Caleris, has a great back-story about insourcing jobs to the rural Midwest versus sending jobs overseas. You’ve probably left your house or turned on a TV/computer in the last few years, so you know this is a huge political topic as it ties into the economy. Caleris is a business process outsourcer (BPO) provider, with locations in rural Iowa, which means companies outsource technical and back end processes to Caleris.Working with Caleris saves companies money while simultaneously creating U.S. jobs and preventing overseas outsourcing.

President Obama recently held an “Insourcing Forum” at the White House to speak with executives at U.S. companies about insourcing jobs to the US versus outsourcing them overseas. As any good PR practitioner would do, I started reading what reporters were writing on the topic to see if Caleris could fit in. A producer at CNBC tweeted (Twitter talk for posted) a link to her story on the forum, so I checked it out. I knew the topic was super timely and that she could benefit from talking to Caleris, but I couldn’t’ find her email or phone number anywhere so I just flat out sent her a tweet with a link to a press release on Caleris (@Caleris).

Almost immediately, I had secured the interest of one of the top producers at one of the top stations in the U.S. This initial Twitter exchange opened the line of communication and were able to secure an interview with the co-founders of Caleris and the producer. Once the producer was able to speak with the co-founders, she had an even better understanding of what a great model Caleris is for companies to keep and grow jobs within the U.S.

The interview resulted in a story that ran on the same day as the State of the Union address, which spent considerable time focusing on the need to insource jobs to rural America and decrease the outsourcing of jobs overseas. Tweet-a-lee-di, that’s good coverage!

Read the CNBC story here: Heading the President Call for Job Creation

Now to be fair, this isn’t something that happens a lot. I’m sure a lot of my peers out there are saying, “so what? We tweet reporters all time. You just got lucky.” I disagree. It wasn’t Twitter that got us the coverage, it was timing and content. Twitter just gave me the medium to reach the reporter. If you don’t have the staples in place like a great press release/story idea and the know-how to utilize current events to your advantage, you can tweet all the live long day and never get a response.

Ultimately, social media is a great way to get the ball rollin’, as they say.

What has social media done for YOU lately?

 

-Wendy Parish, Account Specialist

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