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Friday, 31 July 2009

PHPR short-listed for a VIBES award

Awards are great for business. Many are free to enter and you get to call your business an award-winning enterprise for evermore. Entering is time-consuming, but the best offer expert judges' feedback, so that every entrant benefits.

We have won awards in the past, but I am particularly pleased to hear that PHPR is on the shortlist for the top Scottish environmental awards for business - VIBES. Are we the first Scottish PR agency to be shortlisted?

The VIBES application form process is designed to create a robust environmental policy, so being short-listed is really encouraging as we now know that we are on the right track.

Taking care of our environment is not just a PR exercise for us. We have reduced, re-used and recycled since 1986, so we must have spared a few trees by now. But we were short on measuring and documenting our evidence, as we found out by entering VIBES last year.

Like all the best awards, VIBES (it stands for Vision in Business for the Environment of Scotland) gives expert judge's feedback to every entrant. The idea of entering last year was to use the feedback to do better this year. It has worked.

The main focus is on providing supporting evidence and we addressed some of that in the application. We will be visited at our Edinburgh base and judged in September.

Fingers and toes crossed!

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Thursday, 30 July 2009

Is your online sales process losing customers?

I am indebted to Simon Allen at shopfitter.com, the pay-as-you-go e-commerce solution, for sending me a link to this article. It details a case study where the requirement to register resulted in an $300 million loss in online sales revenues.

http://www.uie.com:80/articles/three_hund_million_button/

I don't know about you, but I recognised myself in Jared M Spool's description of online behaviour when website users are confronted by a simple login/registration form involving just a email address and password, with login/register options and a forgotten password link.

We see this all the time, so we assume it's a well proven formula that will work if we copy it.

Yet how often do we arrive at a similar form and wonder whether we have registered or not with the site? It's fine if we use the site a lot, but a real pain if we don't. I buy from very few sites frequently enough to remember all the login details as I vary passwords from time to time and different sites have slightly different requirements. It seems I'm not the only one.

Just like the users they researched in the article, I put in an email address and stab way at a variety of the usual passwords. And if I've changed my email address, was it before or after I registered? No wonder they found some people had registered several times. Others (to the tune of some $300 million) gave up and either found another seller that was easier to buy from, or did without.

Most users resented the registration process. First-time buyers weren't sure whether they would be repeat customers so they had no interest in relationship building. They viewed the process as yet another spam generator. Most repeat customers couldn't remember whether they were new or not.

Yet how many marketing people bang on about collecting email addresses to create a permission-based list that will be your future gold dust? Yes, the ability to send well-timed and well-spaced offers and interesting information to customers will surely generate repeat sales. But it is counter-productive if the timing of the contact information collection gets in the way of the first sale. I suspect you need to analyse user-experience to determine the best point in your repeat sales cycle and make the process as easy as possible - every keystroke counts online.

Simon was making the point that this doesn't happen with web shops on the shopfitter.com platform, and it's a good point.

I remember being commissioned to write a series of case studies (one of our specialities) for an online payment provider that didn't require the payee to register. The first interviewee reported a 24% increase in revenues on the day they switched to this payment services provider. When I asked the others, none had noticed, but when they looked into it, all saw 20+% increases in sales as a result of a massive drop in failed carts (purchases abandoned during the sales process).

The next time I'm specifying or re-vamping a web site, I know I'll be looking at removing barriers to sales, not creating them. The memory of the $300 million invisible sales hurdle will live on in my memory.

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Monday, 13 July 2009

Insight from knock-backs

There's a great post by Adele Revella on her Buyer Persona blog here: http://ow.ly/gY5J. The piece shows how to delve behind sales knock-backs to gain great insight.

It reinforces what David Meerman Scott says in his seminal book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, about conversations with customers being crucial to doing good business.

I think Adele's post gives some great examples of how to do just that

I'm grateful to fellow PR Boutiques International member, Wendy Marx http://www.wendymarxpr.com for pointing me towards a link posted by Stephanie Tilton http://twitter.com/stephanietilton which led me to the Buyer Persona blog piece.

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There's marketing or marketing and PR!

Looking at some of the affiliate marketing schemes being pushed on Twitter or into your email inboxes, some sound quite convincing. Then you delve deeper.

The photo of the person on the Twitter account is clearly not the same person featured on the website or blog promo blurb. Either that, or they've aged 20 years and had a lot of really bad cosmetic surgery after making all that money!

Then there's the 'proof' of wealth. A badly scanned tax form with a company name not immediately obviously related to either the Tweeter or the person featured in the promo material. For all I know, it could be anyone's tax return or even a mock-up?

Then there is often a picture of a big house. Call me a cynic, but I think I could manage to take a picure of a very large house.

Plus all the other people who are sending messages that would appear to be pushing the same or a similar opportunity.

Often the pitch is a proven SEO or marketing system that runs on autopilot, so no experience is needed. At this point every fibre of my PR reputational management being is sounding a warning bell. Marketing without expertise? What sort of messages will be going out?

At some point the admittedly well-written text crunches some numbers. One I looked at suggested by reaching c2 million people, you could expect 400+ sales and take a slice of the action. And of course, the person offering you this wonderful opportunity to spam the other c1,999,550 people takes a small slice too. You run the risk of being blocked by the c1,999,550 people. OK, you can use a throw-away email address and set up a disposable Twitter account, but is that any way to run a business?

In the current economic climate, obviously quite a few people are going for it. If they are desperate, I wish them well. I hope they become rich and that these opportunities don't involve a scam.

But this numbers approach does highlight the marketing mindset taken to extremes. I think it illustrates why PR and marketing don't always see eye to eye. Marketing likes branding, and crunching the numbers and counting the sales. PR is about building influence, raising profile and safe-guarding business reputation, creating trust so that the marketing and sales efforts work well.

The truth is, sales, marketing and PR each bring a lot of advantages to the table, but by combining them you get a balanced approach and much greater long term business benefits. Not short term 'experts' with a little social media experience.

Would you rather be sending stuff to peopke who don't want it. Or walking into a pitch with well crafted marketing materials and a great company reputation backed by a clutch of on and offline cuttings from reputable sources? Plus some great metrics and feedback to inform your sales pitch? That's how PR, marketing and sales work together to build a long term business proposition that provide livlihoods for the many people who don't want to go it alone as freelancers or entrepreneurs, or spammers.

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Sunday, 12 July 2009

Blogging or lifestreaming for business?

There’s been a bit of a stushi over the last month with a key figure in the blogosphere, Steve Rubel, announcing he was quitting blogging for lifestreaming (posting snippets on micro media like Twitter).

I’m not ready to stop blogging, but I do love http://Twitter.com. I’ve found some of the more influential (rated by numbers of followers) tweeters on PR using http://wefollow.com and its tag search facility. You can use it to find good tweeters on any subject you want.

Interestingly, the tweeter with most followers (heading for 3 million at the time of writing) http://twitter.com/aplusk is not one of the many celebrity tweeters, but an entrepreneur. Although I guess he’s become a celebrity with that following.

By following the top PR tweeters, I’ve picked up great snippets of information with little effort as the 140 character posts are so succinct. And there’s a lot less spam on the direct messaging than my emails carry. That may change, but I can always turn direct messages off, because they give me control over the information I choose to receive.

Of course, many tweeters punctuate their nuggets of gold with trivia that only their best mate, their mum and partner would be interested in, and even that might be stretching it a bit. But you can stop following them, or hang in there for the odd nugget: the choice is yours. And the best build up a following by being interesting.

Stephen Fry’s tweets are often fascinating. But few can write like that. Or have the magnetic persona to rise above the trivial.

A persona largely forged by offline media.

It’s the interaction of the on and offline that is so powerful because we can make so much more impact by using different channels. Even when PR was largely offline, I wrote the DIY PR book (pub. Batsford 1998, now out of print but second hand copies are on Amazon if you want offline PR info) outlining 30 low cost ways to communicate, encouraging people to use a mix to meet personal information preferences.

The beauty of online media is that you can link them all up (services like tweetdeck (http://tweetdeck.com/beta/) allow you to manage posts to Twitter and Face-book and you can put your twit-stream up on your Face Book for example. Posterous (http://posterous.com/) enables you to post to all your favourite media sites in one go. Their site looks ridiculously cool and I’m starting to play with that.

I’m sure there will be lots of other interesting tools coming down the line and we’ll all be off onto the next big thing. But they are all tools allowing you to connect with people that are interested in your key topics and interests. Hopefully you are working at the things you love. That makes the publicity and communicating that passion very easy. Now you can interact with those people, if they want to, but more importantly, how they want to.

Steve Rubel is probably right in the long run. More people are accessing info via phones with relatively titchy screens so the trend is for succinct comms. Twitter is good training for that.

But meanwhile, there’s plenty of people searching on Google and landing on web sites and blogs because the extended content they carry lends itself to being searched. And most business tweets carry a link to a website of blog anyway.

I think of online media like a menu. A tweet is the starter to whet the appetite, full media sites like websites, blogs and Face Book are the main courses with lots of rich content on the plate. The proof of the pudding is the interaction you stimulate and whether you can translate that into sales for your business without putting people off with hard sell tactics.

That’s why I think PR and journalism skills will be in the online media mix long-term. Because we were trained to get stories past much fiercer gatekeepers than any online registration process. We were trained to make stories interesting enough for editors select for their audience and invest in the paper, ink, or bandwidth to carry the story. Nowadays anyone can be a publisher, but the acid test is whether they build an audience.

See you at http://twitter.com/PennyHaywood

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Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Find Tweeters worth Following on Twitter with wefollow

It's a good idea to keep an eye out on social media when you're in PR. Quite often you can spot trends or potential problems. Early reaction to a trend can catch great media coverage. And early reaction to a problem brewing can often be enough to resolve the issue.

You don't have to spend a fortune on monitoring your business reputation online. Ferret out comment mentioning your business name or key search terms on websites, forums and in the news using Google plus their news alerts service.

But finding the most influential tweeters on Twitter was a bit of a hit or miss using apps like Twollow. Not any longer. Have just discovered wefollow on Twitter and I like it.

It is a directory and you can use it to find entrepreneurs, celebs etc.

But use it on a keyword search and it will dig out the people who are tweeting in your sector. The results come back ranking Tweeters numerically according to the number of followers they have attracted, which gives a fair indication of their influence.

And helps you see where you are in the pecking order too. You do have to register to be placed, so it's not totally comprehensive, but I suspect most people wanting to be seen as a heavyweight in a subject area will be seriously tempted to sign up once their following builds.

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Monday, 6 July 2009

No laws for free information

If you want all your news free of charge, can you retain quality news outlets?

Several UK media have seen their offline circulation plummet as more people access content online. But despite higher online readerships, many media are reportedly struggling to make money online as content users blank out a lot of online advertising. And that means shedding writers and relying more on standard fare from news agencies and press hand-outs from PR.


Does it matter?


Well, yes, if you want to generate high quality media coverage sitting alongside material people actually want to read. Material that packs the editorial endorsement factor that is a powerfull recommendation of your company to thousands and sometimes millions of others.

Yes, it matters if you want an editorial endorsement that you can wear like a badge of honour for the next squillion years: "as seen on BBC TV" or "as seen in the FT", with links to the coverage or a hotlink to a quote from it.

Yes it matters if you want a media recommendation your business can be proud of, because someone has to pay editorial staff to create the content that you are proud to be seen in, and edit the publication to maintain its reputation for credibility.

A media recommendation where anyone can get a look in is no recommendation at all, regardless of whether the news source is on or offline.

So it matters when an influential author like Chris Anderson writes a new book, called “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” arguing that there is a law dictating that anything made of ideas, like information, gravitates inexorably to being free - that it 'wants' to be free. And he doesn't mean unfettered free speech. He is talking about free of charge.

Now free of charge, when it comes to information usually translates into a vastly reduced budget to invest in good writers. You would think that PR people would welcome that as it might open doors for news releases to be used almost wholesale. But I know I am not alone in being more concerned with the bigger picture. Sure, getting news releases taken up is one thing, but a swing towards accepting unrestricted content reduces the impact of coverage on the site to the point that it would be worthless from a PR point of view.

Anderson is editor of the popular Wired magazine and author of the best-selling book, The Long Tail: How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand. In that book he argued the Internet offers everything to everyone, and trailing in the wake of success, a tail of endless near misses can now have a market. That never convinced me entirely. I can see that there is more of a long tail than before the Internet, when physical shop space limited the choice on offer. But I've always thought that assuming an upward graph line will continue forever is just that: an assumption. So I couldn't see how the tail of unlimited demand would continue indefinitely. Surely the near misses would start drifting further off the mark and become irrelevant?

In today's issue of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell reviews Anderson's latest book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price and finds similar holes in the idea that a tendency towards free information is the only force affecting pricing online. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/07/06/090706crbo_books_gladwell?currentPage=all

Gladwell is no stranger to big ideas. He was named one of the top 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2005 and his books: The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers have all been international best-sellers.


Gladwell takes Anderson's examples of how we all rush to free services, so they cost a bomb to handle the demand, like YouTube, forcing owners to retreat from the abundance thinking model that propels free information. Universal free information is often of such questionable quality that even YouTube pays for professional content provide from TV stations and film production companies for quality content to keep users happy and deliver audiences for advertisers.

Gladwell says there are plenty of models where information is running in just the opposite direction from free - in drug companies, for example where the high costs of trialling to meet regulations need to be recouped. Or where both models are used: the New York Times puts its content up free on the Web site, but the Wall Street Journal has over a million subscribers paying for online access to its content.

Gladwell predicts Apple could make more from selling iPhone downloads than from the iPhone itself and may one day offer the phone free to boost download sales (yes, please!). Or give away downloads to boost the phone sales. Or carry on charging for both.

He concludes that the only law is that "the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws".

And that's good news for those who want quality journalism to continue, because quality comes from an editing process to sort the wheat from the chaff. Plus sources to provide information and run around getting pictures set up and arranging interviews (PR people). Plus someone to write it up and place the information in context - and that understanding of context comes with in-depth experience in a sector.

All that means skilled intelligent human intervention - and with humans come minor factors like a liking for food, a need for clothes and a roof over their heads, plus obligations to care for family members and spending money.

In short: great media needs to be paid for somewhere down the line.

And great media is an inspiration and a challenge to PR people to come up with issues-led ideas and spokespeople that can stretch to fit the news agenda, add to the debate and showcase their company's talent. And when they do, they get all the conferred credit that editorial endorsement can bring.

Used well (and I've seen an astonishing number of businesses fail to capitalise on good quality coverage of their businesses) good editorial endorsement is like a prestigious award and can be referred to almost indefinitely thereafter.

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