Category Archives: Public relations

Taking the dinner party approach to communication (or how to prepare not to fail)

Don’t know about you but if I’m having family or friends over for dinner, I like to do a bit of forward planning.

strategy-campaignI’ll consider the food my guests do and don’t like to work out a suitable menu. I’ll then refer to my recipe books and buy the ingredients I need.

If at all possible, I won’t wait to the last minute to look in my fridge and pantry and serve up whatever is there. Unless I’m a highly talented chef (which I’m not), I don’t think it would work out to be a successful dinner.

Now, this isn’t an article about cooking.  Although, its genesis is from a flyer I found in my letterbox that supplied a winter-warming soup recipe.

However, the flyer wasn’t about cooking either. Rather, it was from a local real estate agent. I thought, interesting, I’ll delve a bit deeper to see if it was part of some bigger and exciting PR and marketing concept.

I checked the agent’s web page. Nope, no more information there about the recipe or how it was part of their services.  No mention on social media sites either.*Sigh*

Disappointingly, I could only conclude this was someone’s ad hoc idea to maybe, hopefully, possibly get a potential client to hold on to their contact details. Unfortunately, ad hoc tactics rarely work.

The difference between communication success and failure is strategy.  

That’s to say, knowing what you want to achieve, who you are trying to target and what goals you are setting. From this strategy, you can develop campaigns targeting specific audiences to promote particular products or services. It’s not until you’ve understood all of that, can you conceive the tactics or ideas that will best resonate with your audience.

To put it another way, your strategy is the menu, your campaigns are the recipes and your tactics are the ingredients which help pull it together.

Therefore, what was I expecting from my real estate friends?

  • Maybe a campaign on how to make your house warm and cosy for a winter sale.
  • Possibly a hashtag to keep up-to-date with a series of helpful hints on social media.
  • More details on their website about how to present your house for a winter sale by enticing buyers with great aromas and a homely feel.
  • Then perhaps a Spring-themed campaign for those looking at selling later in the year.

That would have would have been much more fulfilling and memorable.

As Benjamin Franklin said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

I’m sure you wouldn’t want a dinner party to fail because of a lack of preparation. Ensure you invest similar effort into your communication ventures to reap better rewards.


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Stars or Black Holes: how the words of your website can impact its success

What comes first when creating a website: the words or the design?

Of course, the answer is the words. Every web developer will tell you, key words and phrases are crucial. Okay, article over you can all go read something else now.

BUT, wait a minute before you rush away. The written bits on your website aren’t just about getting to the top of the Google listings.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an enormous push for organisations of all sizes and shapes to have a web presence. Right now there are approximately 250 million active websites on the internet.1 In Australia, about 45 per cent of Small Businesses have a web presence.2 It really is a crowded space.

It’s no use having a great design if youSo Search Engine Optimisation (also known as SEO or ‘how to ensure people find you on Google’) is now a big thing. Without it, your website is only a small meteor amongst the galaxies of stars, planets and asteroids that, when combined, are known as the internet. Without SEO, your bit of galactic real estate will end up languishing in the outer reaches of this virtual universe where it will remain undiscovered.

Let’s stay with the space metaphor for a bit longer. Google (or any other search engine) is the Hubble Telescope of this data universe. It scans the blur of information to find interesting and relevant bits of content that connect with words or phrases people type into the search box, hence, the significance given to key words.

These words and phrases  send a message to the search engine: ‘Hey, we’re what you’re looking for!’ We’re advised to use keywords and phrases in blogs, news pages and regular updates to continue feeding Google’s insatiable hunger for discovering new content and give you that sought-after page one spot on  Google’s search results. Then – hopefully – it is just one click away and you have new visitor to your website.

The next step is you make sure your website looks appealing and gives a good first impression: nice colours; clean layout; easily navigable etc. So far, so good.

However, now we come to another internet term: bounce rate.

The bounce rate of your website is based on the percentage of people who click onto your site but then leave again without having a good look around. Therefore, a high bounce rate is bad and a low bounce rate is good.

A high bounce rate most likely means your website hasn’t met the expectations of the person looking at the site and the quality of the content is not up to scratch:

“On top of meeting the expectations of your users, you should make sure they understand who you are as a brand, what you stand for and what you’ve got to offer.” 3

Therefore, it’s not single words or standalone phrases that provide the true meaning for your site. Rather, it is how you pull those words together to ‘tell a story’ that resonates with the reader and entices them to keep exploring.

Like any relationship, there needs to be a connection. Your text should pique the curiosity of the reader and provide an indication of the personality and culture of your business. I’m not saying the average plumber should have a website worthy of a Miles Franklin Award but what is written needs to be clear and easy to follow. Importantly, the gist of the text needs to convey to the reader that the business will understand a potential customer’s needs and wants.

Unfortunately, many organisations still place the written copy of their website at the bottom of their budget priorities. For these businesses and organisations, the words on their website tend to be a ‘copy and paste job’ from their brochures, annual reports or flyers or someone will ‘put something together’.

This practice is creating a new problem that has been dubbed the content divide:

“Because it costs nothing but your time to distribute this content, it means that small businesses now can achieve an audience of radio station proportions at no financial outlay at all….What many e-business commentators neglect to grasp is that the words that fly off their fingertips to create this online content is something both scary and difficult for many of the world’s smaller business operators. Not everyone is a wordsmith or even that proficient at this kind of communication.”4

The big prediction is that small businesses will miss out once again as the large corporations grab the top spots using higher quality web copy.

Just as businesses are now realising they need professional web developers to design and create the technical aspects or their website, they need to also understand the written content has to be at a professional level. It’s no use having a great design if your web copy is boring and staid. It will lower the reader’s experience.

Google’s search programs are getting smarter at sorting through what is  and isn’t good quality content. There’s little doubt the content divide will eventually impact on website SEO. A few well-placed keywords or the odd blog article will no longer suffice. Good writing will be rewarded by Google. Poor web copy will be penalised and sent to the back of the queue.

Yes, the internet universe, like the real universe, is forever changing. The more we learn about it, the more challenges it presents. However, the challenges are surmountable. A good first step is to ensure your site is one of the internet’s shining stars by investing in well-written copy alongside good design.

Quick tips

  • Always write for the web. People read text differently on a screen to how they read printed materials.
  • Like a novel, your first (home page) needs to hook the reader and make them want to know more.
  • Be engaging. Answer potential questions and understand your audience and why they came looking for you.
  • Page titles and sections on your website must reflect your audience’s needs not your business or organisational priorities.
  • Always proofread. Typographical and spelling mistakes will damage your reputation.
  • If you are able, have your web copy professionally researched and written.

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics

3 How to lower your site’s bounce rate, by Elisha Hartwig, November 2013

Content creates a new digital divide for SMEs, by Craig Reardon, January 2014 

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Why media releases aren’t always good PR

media release blog 3I have to start this article with a clarification. Having worked as a journalist and a PR practitioner, I’ve been both the receiver and deliverer of media releases.  As such, I’ve gained a good understanding of what makes a media release successful or not.

As a journalist, media releases could be my saviour to a day of mediocre news. Or, they could be a boring read that went straight into the ‘round’ file.  Never did I consider they were part of someone’s wider communication strategy.

That changed when I passed through the ‘horn’d gates’ into the world of ‘PR dark arts’ (I’m sure that’s how some of my media colleagues saw it).

Now the media release was a beacon for free publicity for my employers’ activities, projects, ideas or events. However, I soon realised this icon of corporate communications shouldn’t have been put on such a pedestal.  I started to advise clients that while media releases are great for media relations (ie, if you need the media to understand a point-of-view or topic), they can be a poor choice if your point is to communicate with the wider community.

I’m not saying you should never use media releases as part of your strategy but they should be only a small part of it.  I’ll tell you why.

Your topic simply may not be newsworthy

Undoubtedly, your news is important to your target market but it may not be interesting enough for the media and your release will be quickly allocated to that ‘round file’.

Your announcement is newsworthy for all the wrong reasons

Yes, your release gets the journalist excited but they take on a completely different angle to the message you’re trying to convey. Your target market then receives a completely different story to the one you wrote.

Your target audience never sees or hears about the news article 

Yay, you got coverage in the media. BUT it was in the ‘briefs’ or buried down on page 32 and was never seen by the people with whom you’re trying to communicate because it was simply overlooked. Worse still, while it may have made it into the radio news or the printed paper, it simply wasn’t worthy enough for them to post on their websites.

What can you do instead?

Firstly, discover more about your intended audience before choosing the best means for communicating with them.

  • If you can access a list of names and addresses for key audience members, contact them directly. Send them a fact sheet or newsletter and give them a chance to respond and ask questions.
  • Post articles on the internet. Don’t just focus on your own website but submit articles to other relevant sites.
  • Hold meetings and invite your target market along to hear from you in person.  A meeting will also give your audience a chance to talk to you and ask questions.
  • And, yes you can take out an ad if it is something that important that it needs to be included in the mainstream or specialist media.

It’s very likely by taking a more thoughtful approach, you’ll gain a greater understanding of your audience.  Better still, you may discover a newsworthy angle to your project or program that actually gets the media excited.

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Why Movember, social media and cause marketing = perfect public relations success (and how others can learn from it)

mo blogAh, November has arrived. The shops are being draped in tinsel, summer is around the corner and my social media news feeds will be filled with ‘selfies’ of (mostly) men at various stages of facial hair growth.

While the calendar on my wall still spells the 11th month of the year with an ‘N’, everywhere else it has become Movember as many of us clamber to be part of one of the most successful fundraising campaigns in recent memory.

Now in its eleventh year, Movember has so far raised $440 million for men’s health around the world. Its own PR campaign is creative, updated yearly and makes the most of all popular online and social media channels to get its message across.

But what is also worth acknowledging is the campaign’s advantageous use of ‘cause marketing’.

For many corporates, cause marketing is a fundamental part of the PR toolbox. Cause marketing uses philanthropy for publicity, creating PR opportunities for businesses wanting to present themselves as active community contributors. By establishing partnerships with charities, businesses have the potential to reach new markets and may even be able to break through the news media barrier.

I’ve no doubt the team behind Movember are well aware of this concept. Just look at their website. Under the ‘Get involved’ section are choices for how workplaces can become involved and options for industry challenges, leaving no mystery about how the commercial sector can jump on the hairy wave of success.

But a lot of this success would not be so without social media and the opportunities it presents for participants. Throughout the month we will see regularly updated photos of friends, colleagues and others that we follow at various stages of their mo growth.  Some of us that do not have the ability to grow mo’s may even share these photos with our other connections, creating a potential reach that would never have existed before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. We love photos and we love to share.

If you are a business, it is manna from heaven. You can get a team of managers and employees together and frequently post photos of them for the entertainment of your customers, peers and others that ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ your business accounts. If you’re lucky, a photo or video may even go viral (hopefully for the right reasons) giving your company even greater ‘free’ publicity.

So what are the lessons that can be learnt from this perfect triple match?

For other not-for-profits

Make it fun and make it visual:

  • Make sure that any ideas for fundraising campaigns are a good fit with your organisation’s mission and values.
  • Ensure participant activities are easy to undertake and don’t require elaborate set-ups.
  • Encourage participants to take photos that can be posted on their social media timelines with reference to the cause they are supporting.

For businesses

Cause marketing is a great way to raise awareness but don’t overdo it:

  • Choose a cause that is well-matched to your business or its employees.
  • Don’t update your followers too often so that it starts being viewed as spam.
  • Never try to piggyback on the cause to overtly promote your own products or services unless it has been agreed to with your chosen charity beforehand.


Filed under Cause marketing, Public relations, Social media

Is social media driving the demise of the corporate newsletter?

For many years, the corporate newsletter has been a cornerstone of organisational communication strategies. Typically sent out quarterly or monthly, it’s used to let your constituents, clients or stakeholders know what you’ve been up to and what you can offer them.

However, the advent of social media means your stakeholders or ‘followers’ can find out in real time what you’re doing, what you’re planning and what is important to you. This is great but do you need to continue churning out your periodic newsletter? Has your newsletter lost its relevance and should it to be relegated to the communication archives?

No, though, you do need to rethink the purpose and content of your newsletter to ensure it remains important, interesting and accessible to your audience.

Social media is not a communication panacea

Social media and the internet are valuable additions to the communication toolbox but they should complement rather than replace traditional means of communication.

Relying on the internet and social media for your communications can be risky. Consider this:

  • 20% of people in Australia’s regional communities don’t access the internet
  • 40% of Australians over 65 don’t use the internet
  • 35% of Australians who use the internet don’t use social media.1

Access to the internet is strong and social media usage is growing. However, they are yet to become universally used. Therefore, tools such as a newsletter can still have a role as long as you make adjustments to retain their relevance.

Focus on your audience

Firstly, identify what your audience wants to know about you. Why are they interested in what you do and what impact does it have on them. Newsletters are too often written from the point of view of what your organisation wants to say not what your audience wants to know.

Secondly, investigate how your audience discovers news and updates: where do they go either online or in the physical world to get information. This knowledge can help determine the best way to distribute both the electronic and print versions of your newsletter.

Thirdly, ensure your newsletter does more than just recapitulate your recent online announcements. Freshen it up by including in-depth analysis of issues or programs and have regular features or columns.

Quick Tips

  • Consider producing an amended print version of your electronic newsletter. If most of your online audience has been already updated via social media or blogs, then provide them with something new via your electronic newsletter. If your target market includes people who don’t interact with you online, prepare an amended version for them that includes your recent online updates plus what you cover in the electronic version.
  • Encourage your audience to be part of the newsletter. Include case studies in your newsletter or invite stakeholders to contribute relevant advice or articles.
  • Keep your newsletter easy-to-read and understand. Avoid busy designs and make sure your copy can be scanned whether it is read on screen or in print. That way the reader can quickly identify what is important or of interest to them.

2013 Yellow™ Social Media Report, released by Sensis, May 2013

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When words are not needed – the power of an image

Typically, good communication means choosing the right words and phrases so your message is easy to understand. However, the most memorable examples of good communication may not be what we read or hear. An image can be a more powerful – and effective – means for getting a message across and invoking an emotional or behavioural response from your audience.

I’m going to refer to this as visual PR. But I’m not talking about a photo opportunity with an oversized cheque and a beaming CEO. Rather, it’s using innovative visual ideas to get into the hearts and minds of your audience. In turn, it helps to educate, inform, persuade or challenge their views, beliefs or behaviour.

This is important because visual communication is more memorable. According to developmental molecular biologist and author of Brain Rules, Dr John Medina:

“We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%. Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time. ”

So a picture is worth a thousand words. However, not only pictures but any visual event or display we witness either first hand or via print, television or the internet can be interesting or moving enough to stake a claim in our memory banks. Obviously, just remembering an event or image doesn’t necessarily count as a successful campaign in PR terms. However, it is the first step in the process and one from which your campaign can be built.

A place to remember - TACThe Victorian Transport Accident Commission’s A Place to Remember display was an effective example of this visual approach. The campaign centred on a 67 metre long table surrounded by 262 empty chairs placed in a busy thoroughfare in central Melbourne in December 2012. Each place at the table represented a person who lost their life on Victorian roads that year. (Unfortunately, a further six chairs were added to the table during the course of the campaign.) As an added touch, passers-by could leave messages of hope and safety at the table which were then posted shared on social media, enabling the message to be spread even further afield.

Sea of hands - ANTARThe first Sea of Hands campaign used the idea of a petition but made it much more interesting and impressive.  In October 1997, thousands of plastic hands in the colours of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were placed in front of Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra. Each hand was signed by people who supported native title rights and reconciliation. The power of the campaign was the sheer enormity of the installation and its placement in front of Parliament House. The campaign, created by the group Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, clearly targeted Australian politicians. Not a single Federal politician of the time could have missed seeing the display.

JFK oval office

Cecil Stoughton, White House / John F. Kennedy Library

A fascinating or thought-provoking photo can also offer opportunities for good visual PR. Among the first politicians to recognise the power of an image was John F Kennedy. Soon after becoming US president, Kennedy installed Cecil Stoughton as a photographer within the White House. Stoughton had unprecedented access to Kennedy and his family and many of his photos are now among the most iconic images of the time. Among the most memorable is that of the president in the oval office with his two young children playing in front of him. Stoughton took the photo on October 10, 1962 and, in a 2004 interview with National Geographic highlighted its media reach:

“One day I was just sitting outside the President’s office and I heard all this noise and he waved me in. The children were dancing in the Oval Office and the President was clapping—he was doing fatherly things and the children [were] cavorting and competing for his attention. I snapped 12 frames. That afternoon the President flipped through the pictures and chose one to send to the press—it showed up in every metropolitan daily in the U.S. and around the world.”

Of course, the examples I’ve discussed here are neither the only nor necessarily the most innovative. However, they are the images that have stuck in my memory. I am sure there are many more good examples of visual PR that you can recall and share with us.

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