Archive for May, 2008

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Here’s an Idea for your Newsletter…Have a Point!

May 27, 2008

As electronic emails multiply and multiply, it is harder to get your newsletter to stand out in a crowd.  With an unverified report of over 55 million newsletters out there whizzing back and forth to email boxes everywhere, it is harder and harder to stand out in a crowded email inbox. Many companies are utilizing newsletters to distribute their important news announcements, product releases, event announcements, etc. but it is all becoming a blur.

 

As something becomes commonplace, you have to strive to be uncommon.  You have to find a way to stand out in a crowd.  So what can you do? And more importantly how can you do it?  Here is an idea…have a point!  Have a purpose.  Have a specific reason for your newsletter above and beyond just having a newsletter.

 

Have a point to keep it concise:

Many newsletters are becoming part of the clutter because that is what they have become, even in the writing of them.  Many companies are jamming them so full of bits and pieces figuring they have to put everything out there, that newsletter’s purposes and messages have become scattered. Having a focused point can help keep the writing and topics concise.  A newsletter that promotes cutting fashion and design trends shouldn’t have an article about the recent golf outing that the executives went to (unless they were attired in cutting fashion, of course, and there are photos).

 

Have a point to keep it relevant:

The most cited reason for people to opt-out of a newsletter is a failure to find relevance in the material presented to them.  It doesn’t speak or resonate to them in any way.  If you can’t find the common denominator in your audience and speak to it, then you will not have much success.  A point or purpose can help nail that message.  We have recently launched newsletters for our clients and our own newsletter that speak to a relevant topic of interest to them.  We have a client that has a customer service/relations newsletter, with specifically crafted messages, tips, forums, and surveys to address customer issues and allow them to input back their feedback into the company to effect change.  We recently launched a targeted newsletter to our clients for the specific purpose of cross promoting and connecting them to allow for networking and business partnership opportunities.

 

Have a point to drive other media:

A final tip for today is that your newsletter should have a point to drive traffic consistently to other media.  Your newsletter, like any other communication tool should drive traffic to your other media and conversion points. A newsletter on point, with concise and relevant messaging will drive traffic and action to other conversion points.  Your newsletter is an opt-in communication tool which can drive traffic to conversion points (videos, landing pages, blogs, surveys, forms, etc) where you have the opportunity to further qualify your audience or build the relationship to a level where you can move them along in your relationship cycle.

 

Get the point? Good. I’d love to hear your ideas and ways you are making your newsletter rise above the buzz, so feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts.   

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Are Print Newsletters Still Relevant?

May 21, 2008

With the rush to email and online social media, is there still a place in this world for traditional print newsletters?  It depends on what you are using your newsletter for and the audience that is receiving it.  There are multiple reasons for going with an electronic newsletter (far too many to get into right now).  I wanted to discuss the reasons why you would still potentially want a print version, and more importantly, how to have yours rise above the buzz and get noticed by your audience.

We can all agree that more and more people have migrated to email and are able to get all of their communications online, yet there are many situations where this is not feasible.  Newsletters are the primary communications tool of choice for internal communications – getting the word out to employees while at work.  In industries where employees are not always on the same networks, or where they don’t have access to computers during their work day, it would be impossible to reach this audience with an electronic newsletter. So a print newsletter still is viable in these situations.

Print newsletters have gotten fairly “modern” in their own way these days.  With advances in digital printing and the reduction of costs in printing, newsletters are no longer just pushed out through the printer at work, and copied for all.  3M has a newsletter that is practically a custom magazine. It is beautifully printed in high-gloss paper, and bound as a magazine.  It has a regular readership of over 40,000 and has a team of freelance contributing writers that create content for their readers that provides value and benefit to their audience.  In an article about financial decisions, they brought in realtors, remodelers, and builders, to discuss the benefits of buying, building, or remodeling a home in these trying economic times.

The lesson learned here is that newsletters still have an overriding need to provide valuable content for their readership, in order to stand out amidst the other pieces of mail they have to sift through.  The magazine format also provides a newsletter that tends to be kept and reread by their audience.

This holds true for customers that aren’t able to reach their audience easily every day.  An Agricultural Machinery client must get their clients attention about new products, to a demographic that has traditionally purchased from dealers and catalogs.  They have found great success from producing a newsletter-product catalog that fits in a jean or coverall pocket.  Their customers can then carry it around with them, and glance at it when they have a moment in their day.

What are some of the successes you’ve found with print newsletters?  Comment or contact me with your success stories, I’d love to hear them.

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How to Make Your Company’s Newsletter Standout

May 17, 2008

Chameleon

I’m often asked to consult on newsletters as a communication tool to promote your business, and I’m frequently asked about whether or not they are still valid as a means to promote.  My answer to them is a resounding “you betcha!”

Newsletters are a unique breed of a communication tool.  It can easily and effectively live in a physical print format, and of all of the traditional tools, it has most easily made the transition to the electronic format, and is even now taking shape well as a Video format as well.  It is the chameleon of communication tools.

Newsletters are primarily the best communication tool for communicating on a regular basis to your installed customer base.  It is a way to get out news on your corporation, announcements, sales, product launches, new openings or offerings to your dedicated audience.

According to the PEW Internet Research site (www.pewinternet.org): in 2007 the amount of all internet users that subscribe to at least one online newsletter was 78% (up from 25% in 2005).   There are uncertified reports that there were over 55 million online newsletters in existence.  These numbers don’t include print newsletters.  Without having a certain number, it is safe to say that your newsletter, whether online or traditional has a lot of competition out there for the attention of an audience.

Join me in the next post to cover ways to make your newsletter rise above the buzz.

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Pitching to Bloggers versus PR Spam

May 11, 2008

I was part of an interesting conversation the other night (I found out about it on Twitter – where else) that motivated me to formulate some sort of response.  The discussion was hosted by a tech blogger and co-hosted by others (A Mom-blogger and Robert Scoble himself).  The topic of discussion was a bemoaning of “PR hacks” that were, in-essence, spamming them with pitches with no regards to if they were indeed even people that accepted pitches, let alone covered the products being pitched.  Since that night, the topic has escalated.  There are bloggers blacklisting PR professionals and agencies out of hand for “spamming” them with press releases.  There have been some fairly vile and hostile remarks made on both sides, but several PR professionals even issued open letters of apologies to bloggers.

I can’t defend my species (PR) as a whole.  We have good and bad eggs just like everyone else out there.  I don’t think the bloggers blacklisting PR companies en masse is beneficial to anyone, including themselves.

I do want to share a viewpoint with the bloggers that may not be crystal clear out there.  Bloggers as a title confuses us!  Blogging may or may not be your primary vocation, for instance, I am a PR professional that blogs.  There are many bloggers who are also journalists working for a “traditional” media outlet as well as the blogs.  There are bloggers (many of the mommy-bloggers fall into this category) are simply that, moms that are blogging to share tips, experiences, and the like.  There are personal blogs, corporate blogs, team blogs, ad infinitum.

In PR 101, were taught that the golden rule is to secure as large of an audience as possible for the story we have from our clients.  Bloggers, you now resemble that remark.  You may not be, nor do you consider yourself to be a “journalist” or “media outlet”, but by the sheer number of readers or followers you may have, by default, you are.  For example, in compiling a list of media outlets to approach about a new product a client has to offer new parents.  In this neck of the woods, I of course am going to include MN Parent magazine, yet there are over 80, yep 80 blogs out there with more readership than the print version of this magazine.  Granted, not all of them are actually journalists, nor do they desire to be, but my point is that you have a value to PR as a source to get a story to in order to gain our client exposure to a large audience (one that you have access to). 

For our part (and I can only verify that this is done by our firm) is that we attempt to make contact with bloggers first, by either contacting them through their blog, contact info they provide, or through other communication tools if they are using them.  By doing so, we hope we are able to determine their interest, or desire to receive news, build a relationship that hopefully gets us to stand out from the other emails (buzz) in their inbox.  Besides, if we can cut down on the list, and only focus on the outlets that are actually looking for the stories we have to get out,  it’s all the better for us and our clients.

My wife, (who also blogs at http://prmoxie.wordpress.com) came from the Media world, as a former television producer, she is extremely conscientious of the media outlets we are communicating with, and has instilled that mandate throughout our firm.  While we are extremely proud of the testimonials we garner from our clients, we take even more pride in the testimonials we have garnered from journalists, reporters, editors, producers, and other media outlets.  We are now working hard to earn those same testimonials from bloggers.

 

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Customer Service – The second most important use for Twitter

May 1, 2008

By now you are aware of Twitter’s potential for promotion (if not, feel free to scroll down to get a few ideas…go ahead, I’ll wait…).  I believe Twitter can have an even more relevant and practical purpose for your business – customer service.  Twitter’s basic premise is that it’s tighter premise of micro-blogging (sending out your stream of thought in 140 characters or less) should be broadcasting trends and pulses of activity through the internet and across cellphones at the speed of light.  If you plug in and listen to that stream, you should be able to take the pulse of the twittersphere, quicker than it will spread to the traditional media outposts.  If your job is customer service that can allow you to diffuse situations before it becomes one.

Before I get into that, let’s take one step back and set the rest of the stage. Twitter forces the participants to actually be someone where there is an opportunity to form a personal relationship.  If a Twitterer (user) is merely a retweeter (auto-forwards news, stories, songs, links, etc,) of press releases, headlines, or favorite links, without personality, it basically defeats the purpose and becomes a one-way RSS feed.  Developing a personality that customers can relate to on a one-on-one level is something that not only the customers enjoy, but large companies struggle with creating no matter how hard they try.  It gives a perception that you are open and accessible to your customer base.  You will also give of the perception that you are acting quickly (if you respond in a timely manner), since the Tweets (messages) are delivered either via cellphone or online to two of the most popular and oft-used tools for communication.

Several companies have taken the leap into Twitter and a few are even delving into Customer Service.  Comcast (@Comcastcares) and Dell (@RichardatDell) both have a Twitter account to field issues, answer questions, arrange for service and solve problems.  Both of these companies have had major problems with their reputation on the internet (bloggers and others are quick to vocalize complaints).  Both companies are now trying to make sure they have their own voice on the web.  I would encourage business owners and those on positions to decide to do this, to make sure that whoever takes on this role has the following attributes:  great communication skills, customer service training, social media proficiency in the tools they are using, and are empowered to take the action necessary to solve the issues that will arise. Customers are savvy and can smell a corporate spokesperson a million clicks away.

Another use for Twitter that is closely related to Customer Service when there are issues is that Twitter can be used as an online information desk as well.  H & R Block (@hrblock) and Jet Blue (@jetblue) are two great examples of this function in use.  Both companies monitor the Twitstream for mentions of their companies or questions, and form responses back to these people.  This again puts a more personal face on your company, and allows for me (and several more of your customers) to avoid one of my biggest pet peeves, the automated phone systems.

At Sterling Cross Communications we are assisting clients is setting up services like these and would love to see how we can help you with any questions or initiatives you may have with Twitter.  You can reach me via Twitter @MrChristopherL) or at our website: www.sterlingcrossgroup.com.  Feel free to tweet anytime!

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