Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Self-Promotion Shameless?

Leslie Levine, the PR columnist at AllBusiness.com, interviewed me this week on (ahem) shameless self-promotion. Part 1 ran yesterday; part 2 will run tomorrow. (Skip all the "blah blah blah about Sandy" stuff at the top and jump down to the questions.)

I was glad she asked me to chat about the topic because it's one that the students in my book publicity e-course struggle with time after time -- particularly the women. I often spend just as much time helping them understand that it's about the book, not them, as I do teaching them how (and why) to position themselves as experts or how to create and send out a tip sheet.

If you're one of those who are uncomfortable promoting a product or service that you have a strong personal connection to, look around at some of the successful people you know or work with -- especially the men -- and see how easily self-promotion comes to these people. It is more natural for some -- have I mentioned men? -- than for others, but if you accept that your professional success depends on others knowing and understanding what you can contribute to the process or product, it will get easier.

Enjoy part 1...read part 2 tomorrow. And, of course, tell me what you think!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Are You Motivated by Negative Messages?

Today's snail mail included a postcard from a marketing company warning me that the economy isn't going to improve soon and, in fact, is just going to get worse. So, I'm told, if I just keep doing the same old, same old, I can expect to be massacred.

Shucks. I might as well just slit my wrists now and get it over with. Why hang in there any longer? Except...if I do...and if I sign up for their fabulous program that will make me wealthy...well then, there might just be hope for my survival after all!

These types of Chicken Little "the sky is falling" negative marketing messages don't motivate me. I avoid negative people in my day-to-day dealings, and will continue to avoid them as I make decisions about resources or services that will help me succeed in my business, so I dropped the postcard into the recycling.

But I'm wondering how you feel about this. Are you motivated by these types of messages? Will you buy a product or service because somebody tells you that you are doomed if you don't? Do you use these types of messages in your promotion or publicity materials? I'm not talking about a pitch that warns people about a public health risk or the dangers of not watching your kids when they're at the pool. I'm talking abut these more aggressive business messages. I'd like to hear what's working for you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Now I Really Don't Want Sawyer's Job

As a follow-up to today's earlier post below, we now know that the knucklehead was having an affair in Argentina. Looks like his staffers -- including Communications Director Joel Sawyer -- won't be riding his coattails into a higher office.

I Wouldn't Want Joel Sawyer's Job

As I read news reports about the mysterious and secretive five-day disappearance of South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford, I was glad I wasn't his spokesperson. As the state's legislative leaders discussed whether to declare a state of emergency so they could transfer power to somebody who would actually be available should there be a need for executive leadership, the governor's spokesman had no choice but to wing it. Joel Sawyer said the gov was taking some time off to recharge and "to work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside." Later, it was reported that Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail, which conflicted with his wife's comment that he was "writing."

Did Sawyer and others on the staff really know what Sanford was up to? Doubtful. His own wife didn't know. Maybe Sanford himself didn't even know what he planned to do when he left town to "recharge." He if didn't tell his staff where he would be, what he would be doing, or how long he would be gone, they had no choice but to make up what they thought would be a plausible explanation. Unfortunately, their loyalty to the governor wasn't enough. When Sanford returns, he will have some 'splainin' to do. As a professional communicator, I hope that he spends some time with his staff developing more plausible explanations in advance of his next disappearing act because I doubt this will be the last one.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

PRWeb Says It's Easier to Use Now

I like the results I get when I use PRWeb to distribute press releases so I recommend the service to others, but I have found the site difficult to use. It requires users to make too many guesses about what to do next.

Until now, they tell me. The company has announced that it has improved the site "to make it easier for customers to distribute their news and to educate them on how to raise their online visibility through their news." I'd like to hear what you think of it. If you're new to the service, use this link to create a free account and click around. If you've already got an account, just login and tell me what you think.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why It's a Good Time to Purchase Marketing Services

As I mentioned when speaking at the Self Publishers Online Conference last month, this is a great time to buy marketing services, whether you're looking to hire a publicist, buy ads, or print direct mail pieces. I was reminded of this yesterday when my heating/cooling contractor offered me a nice discount on duct cleaning because the company's duct specialist has nothing to do. (And I can see why: I could take a nice vacation with the cleaning fee, even with the discount.)

This means that if you're in a position to buy, don't hesitate to negotiate. Newspapers and magazines are struggling, so a discounted ad is better than no ad at all. Consultants are trying to keep their doors open so again, a reduced fee will contribute more to the overhead than no fee at all. You might not always succeed at securing a temporary price reduction, but you won't know until you ask. And there has never been a better time to ask.

Are you offering temporarily discounted marketing services to small businesses, nonprofits, or authors? Post a note here and let people know!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why E-mail from Publicists Makes Me Smile

I love "What Not to Wear," the TLC TV show offering ambush fashion makeovers, so it's no surprise that I often read the publicist pitches in my inbox with an eye towards finding those "fixer uppers" that we can learn from here. They are blog fodder, giving me an opportunity to help others avoid the same goofy mistakes.

This week's mail brought me a pitch from a professional (vs. amateur) publicist announcing that his firm is now -- direct quote -- "pleased to represent the media relations for (insert poor client name here)." First, he doesn't know that my tea mug is imprinted with, "Do I look like I give a rat's a**?" Second, the language is awkward -- never a good sign.

He then offers three sentences with a few specifics about his client followed by, "We hope you will agree with us that (insert poor client name here) offers your readers a both compelling local and national story." Forget that I'm a freelancer working for many publications with varying readers. The point here is that he has told me how many years the company has been in business and provided some information about its growth rate, but has not given me a single article idea for my "readers."

He is, of course, looking forward to hearing from me about how we will work together on an article about his client.

I know he means well. Really, he does. He's trying to get some publicity for his client. But this isn't how to do it. There are a few lessons in this very brief pitch from this inexperienced and untrained fellow:
  1. Don't start by announcing that you have a new client. It's not attention-getting, it's not important, and honestly, nobody cares but you and your paycheck.
  2. Yes, I might profile your client, but tell me why I should. Why is this company profile-worthy? Don't force me to figure this out myself because I won't.
  3. Provide me with a few trend story ideas that would include your client (and others!) as information sources. This company might be on the leading edge of a trend but you have to not only tell me that, but prove it. Or maybe it's doing something innovative or imaginative. Tell me that, not how many employees it has.
When pitching journalists, focus less on what's in it for you and more on what's in it for them and their readers, viewers, or listeners. Your success rate will improve.

What's your most successful pitching technique? Please share it with us!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Social Media and Networking Demographics

I've just added content on social networking for authors to my "Book Publicity 101: How to Build Book Buzz" e-course and thought readers here might be interested in some of the demographic tidbits.

Because most of the adults I know who are new to social networking sites are starting with Facebook and clearly not venturing beyond that (based on the "I can't figure it out" comments I hear all. the. time), I was surprised to see that the majority of site users are on MySpace. Perhaps that will change, especially now that the fastest growing segment on Facebook is women 55+.

Here are some gems that might help you in your promotional activities; I've included source links, too:
  • Baby Boomers are the fastest growing segment of users of social networking sites
  • 65% of online teens use social networks, but the number of teens using them is fewer than the number of adults who do
  • Facebook has just pulled ahead of MySpace -- 70.3 million users for Facebook vs. 70.2 million for MySpace, according to comScore Media Matrix
  • Those on Facebook are better educated than those on MySpace
  • More Hispanics are on MySpace than Facebook
  • LinkedIn is predominantly male; household income is high
  • 53% of women participate in social networking activities weekly. That includes reading blogs, participating in message boards, updating their site status, etc.
I'm about to start exploring some of the cool tools that let us integrate all of our online personalities. Which ones do you use and what do you like about them?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is CTCA Too Good to Be True?

Most of us understand that good word of mouth does the most to promote our businesses but is often the hardest to generate. Unfortunately, people are more likely to complain about a bad experience than they are to share information about a good one.

That's why I want to write just a bit here about the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Ill. It has earned good word of mouth!

My oldest sister's cancer care has been managed by the doctors at CTCA in Zion for the past five years and for the past year and a half, I've been escorting her to her three-month checkups. I can say from firsthand experience that it is an exceptional facility staffed with valued employees who are empowered to make a difference, no matter what their job title or responsibility. From Hope, the cafeteria employee who pushes a cart through the returning patient waiting room while handing out snacks and singing a cheerful song, to Sue Jackson in patient relations, who will listen carefully and then fix the problem each and every time, they are all remarkable.

Last week we attended the Center's annual Celebrate Life event for five-year survivors. It was a very special occasion for my sister. She could attend this milestone event because CTCA is different. In addition to treating the whole person, not just the disease -- and that's why she travels to Zion from her home in the Southern Tier of New York State -- CTCA also offers her treatments that might not be available elsewhere. The parent organization even funds cancer research at competitive cancer facilities, hoping to use the outcome in its own four regional centers.

I know that when people see the CTCA commercials on TV, they think, "Really? Is it REALLY that good?" or "Those aren't real patients offering testimonials, are they? They're actors." It IS that good and those are REAL people. We sat next to one of them last Thursday night at dinner. When Roger Stump, one of the new TV commercial "stars," was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer more than five years ago, his doctor told him he had six months to live. Roger moved his care to CTCA in Zion and his cancer is now in remission.

Some doctors say to their patients, "Don't go to CTCA. They do things differently there." Yes, they do, and for that, I am grateful. Different isn't always bad, you know. Different can be good, too. And at CTCA, "different" isn't alternative, hokey, or whoo-whoo. It's surgery, chemo, radiation, and all the traditional forms of cancer treatment people receive elsewhere. But it's with better equipment, newer drugs, and incredibly skilled health care providers.

So back to the title question: Is CTCA too good to be true? No. It isn't. Not everybody can survive cancer, but you'll get your best shot at it at CTCA.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Should You Be Blogging?

I interviewed medical blogger Kevin Pho, MD, this week for an article assignment and was impressed not only by his blog, but by how he has used it to create a platform for his opinions.

Pho started blogging several years ago to add a doctor's voice to the medical information showcased in the mass media. Without interpretation or context, he says, people can be confused or misled by what they learn about health care topics in the press. (And people get a lot of their health care information from the news.) Since then, he has also started commenting on topics related to the country's upcoming health care reform, hoping to inform the public about key issues. His thinking is that the public might influence politicians. I suspect that he is influencing policymakers directly, as well.

Thanks in large part to his ability to communicate well, Pho has been interviewed by The New York Times and the CBS Evening News, among other outlets. He's on USA Today's board of contributors and hosts an XM Radio show. These opportunities vastly expand his reach beyond his impressive 25,000 blog subscribers, allowing him to share his opinions in ways he can't with the blog alone. I will be very surprised if he doesn't hear from a literary agent or a book publisher soon.

His experience reminds me of some of the better business reasons for blogging -- to build a platform, to establish credibility and expertise, to connect with people interested in your topic, or to become a better communicator. There are others, of course, but whether you should be blogging for business communications purposes depends on your goals. Give it some thought. It has worked for Kevin Pho -- he writes what is probably the most widely-read doctor's blog -- and it might work for you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Leveraging Celebrity Secrets

A cooking segment on The Today Show this week mentioned that Al Roker's daughter needs her food to be gluten-free. I do, too, so this caught my attention on both a personal and professional level. I found myself wishing I had authored a book on gluten-free living so I could jump on this somehow!

I can't take advantage of it, but maybe I can help you do it! Reviewing how to leverage this particular tidbit of information can help you see how you can take advantage of similar bits of celebrity information you might uncover that relate to your business, too. So...while this posting addresses businesses with a connection to gluten-free diets, the thought process applies to other situations, too.

Here are suggestions:
  • If you manufacture, sell, or write about gluten-free foods or products or if you advise people who need them, do some research to find out what you can about the Roker situation so you have facts. (Which daughter is it?)
  • Set a reasonable goal. Is it realistic for you or your product to appear with Roker on The Today Show? Or should you identify other ways to use this information to your advantage? For example, the author of a forthcoming gluten-free cookbook might start by requesting a testimonial for the cookbook. The executive director of a national celiac disease support organization might approach Ms. Roker about being a spokesperson for the group.
  • Develop a promotional plan that helps your business leverage this celebrity "secret." For example, if you're a manufacturer, send samples of your most popular products and follow-up to explore testimonial or spokesperson opportunities. If you're a local health foods store with a solid gluten-free selection, pitch the local media on a feature explaining that the gluten-free food category is one of the fastest growing in the food industry and that "even Al Roker needs to shop for these foods for his family."

Remember: When it comes to leveraging this kind of informational tidbit, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Be realistic, but don't be so pessimistic that you don't even give it a try.

Have you had success doing this before? Please share your story here!