Category Archives: Content Marketing

Timeless Storytelling Tips from Former PR Newswire Features Editor Fred Ferguson

freddieEditor’s note:  The following piece is based upon an article published years ago by our then Features Editor, Fred Ferguson.  We were saddened to hear news this week of Fred’s passing.  A PR Newswire employee for more than 16 years, Fred left an indelible mark on the organization and instilled keen news sensibility in many of his colleagues.   In today’s age of content marketing, his advice on fashioning effective news pieces is more relevant and timely than ever.

A computer programmer develops a program to keep Internet pornography from the PC his son uses.

A retired schoolteacher produces a set of cards to teach his own children math and vocabulary faster.

And a dance teacher confined to a chair because of a broken leg creates a videotape teaching chair dancing.

These are the personal, dramatic stories that once hid in routine news releases, according to Fred Ferguson, the former manager of PR Newswire’s Feature News Service who passed away on August 22, 2014.

His advice, which encouraged organizations to incorporate feature news writing into their press releases and publicity campaigns, is still instructive today, and not just for PR pros penning press releases.  Marketers who want their content to resonate with audiences should pay heed to Ferguson’s words too.

“Organizations and companies who need publicity may get more exposure by doing a feature story rather than issuing a straight news releases,” said Ferguson, who was a longtime reporter, editor and executive with United Press International before joining PR Newswire.  “Unless you’re announcing something or have breaking news, tell your story in a feature that won’t bury the heart of it.”

Ferguson’s tips for creating a compelling feature story focused rigorously on putting the audience for the story first, and the brand second.

  • Hit editors with the story in the headline, which is all they see in selecting stories.
  • Tell the same story in first paragraph, which should never be cute, soft, a quote or a question. These leads obstruct getting to the story. People, editors included, don’t read deep;
  • Support the first paragraph with a second that backs it up and provides attribution. Bury the product and service name at the end of the second paragraph so it becomes less advertorial.
  • Try to keep all paragraphs under 30 words and to three lines. This curbs fulmination, is easier for editors to cut to fit available space, holds the reader’s attention and is attractive in most page layouts;
  • Do not excessively repeat the name of a product or service. Doing so is story desecration and the feature loses print and broadcast opportunities;
  • Forget superlatives. Forget techno babble. Forget buzz words. Tell why consumers care instead;
  • Never say anything is first or the best, express an opinion or make claims unless you directly attribute it to someone. Editors avoid anything not pinned to someone;
  • Avoid the self-serving laundry list of products or services. A better way to introduce a product or service is to have a spokesperson discussing it as a trend or advising how to use it;
  • Know that putting the corporate name in all capital letters violates style and will be rejected by many as advertorial and unsightly. Also beware trademark repetition.
  • Do not use the corporate identity statement. Instead, use the information throughout the story so that it will be used. If you must use the boilerplate, put it in note to editor so it won’t interfere with text.

Storytelling is all the rage today in marketing circles.  Fred knew the power of stories, and taught scores of communicators the ins and outs of storytelling.

Our thoughts are with Fred’s family and friends, and he has our everlasting thanks for his sharing of his knowledge and enthusiasm with his cohorts, cronies, colleagues and clients.

Content We Love: A Press Release for B2B Buyers

ContentWeLove

Intermedia CWL

Click to view the complete multimedia news release

A Forrester analysis of 30 b-to-b company websites found that 80% were primarily focused on themselves with little regard to the issues that customers might be facing. In other words, a majority of companies are still unsure of how to craft messages that resonate with their audiences, which may be one of the reasons why 51% of marketers told Forrester that their content marketing efforts are only somewhat effective. Laura Ramos, VP at Forrester, strongly emphasizes that “b-to-b businesses should speak about the business issues their buyers are facing, and what can be done to address those issues.”

Forrester’s research highlights the need for companies to channel the customer-focused strengths of PR to make greater headway in their content marketing efforts. A great example of how to combine both forces can be seen in Intermedia’s multimedia news release titled, “The ex-employee menace: 89% retain access to Salesforce, QuickBooks & other sensitive corporate apps.” From the headline to the final sentence, the message is primarily focused on the concerns of Intermedia’s b-to-b audience while establishing the brand’s expertise in information security.

Just a few of the elements that content marketers should make note of:

  • It is without a doubt challenging to create a company website that both promotes products and services but does not appear to be self-promotional, but this branded multimedia news release works around the challenge by familiarizing readers with Intermedia’s visual identity and focusing on a single customer-centric message.
  • The headline of this release draws upon a compelling stat from Intermedia’s survey results to attract reader interest and optimize it for social sharing.
  • A call to action near the top of the release using a trackable link drives readers back to the company’s website and provides data that can help measure content marketing success rates.
  • Downloadable content offers including a video, an infographic, a checklist, and web report present key findings of the survey in different formats that are sharable and cater to the different audience preferences of consuming information.
  • US and UK versions of each content type target the message to regional audiences.

Remember, it’s not just the media that are reading press releases; b-to-b buyers are researching the solution sets that fit their needs far in advance of contacting a sales representative. Intermedia presents a use case of how to write a press release that caters specifically to buyers, which is made more discoverable by the audiences in search of this information through the power of multi-channel distribution.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to incorporate PR into your content marketing strategy, view our on-demand webinar: How to Drive Demand Generation with PR Tactics

ShannonAuthor Shannon Ramlochan is PR Newswire’s Content Marketing Coordinator. 

Using PR to Power Demand Generation

pr for demand gen

PR pros know that generating positive publicity and influencing public sentiment can have profound business benefits.  Measurement of public relations has always been a challenge, however, stymieing efforts to connect PR directly to a brand’s top line.  However, our audiences demand and consume greater quantities of digital content, the measurement problem is finding answers, and we’re developing a clear picture of the impact PR can have on specific brand initiatives.

Demand generation programs, which are designed to build specific awareness of and interest in a brand’s products or services, are at the beginning of the lead generation process.  Strongly aligned with content marketing, demand-gen programs can be significantly improved when integrated PR.  In addition to driving revenue, the PR/demand-gen integration also benefits PR: results are measurable and sustainable.

Aligning the PR & demand generation messages 

“We believe PR is vital and can help amplify the content strategy, but the content strategy also helps to achieve and amplify the PR strategy,” says Candyce Edelen, CEO of PropelGrowth, a New York area financial services content marketing firm and a strong advocate of aligning public relations with marketing efforts. “All of your marketing should be integrated. Everything should be integrated with the same message across channels, including PR. Clients and prospects will receive the same message and when they do, they’re more likely to remember it.”

Interested in learning more about how PR directly contributes sales? Register now for our free webinar “How to Drive Demand Generation with PR Tactics” 

Driving  Demand GenUsing key messages consistently across channels is crucial to using PR to drive measurable demand, Edelen says. “The talking points you want to see in press should also be included in every piece of related marketing content, in addition to press releases and executive interviews.”

The non-promotional content created for demand generation programs can also positively impact press coverage, Edelen notes. Thought leadership, research studies and  bylines can provide useful background information for busy reporters. It’s especially helpful if your demand generation content tells an interesting story.

Measuring PR’s effect on demand-gen

Driving the audience to act is one piece of the equation.  Measuring the effect PR has on demand-gen efforts is another.  According to Anthony Hardman, director of public relations for Access Advertising & PR, the information is out there, you just need to find it.

“The world has shifted and you have to understand the sales portion of it — that’s what exectives want to see,” he says.  For public relations professionals, this means building discipline around including measurable calls to action in messaging, to engage customers and prospects browsing the digital content the brand has published.

“For B2B, communicators need to use digital media convergence to drive traffic to landing pages around campaigns, and try to get a “microconversion” such as following a link, filling out a form or downloading a report,” he says. “B2Cs need to drive smart refferals.  Posting a photo without a link to your e-commerce site won’t be effective.”

Putting effective measurement tools in place is crucial for measuring PR’s effect on demand- and lead-generation.  Organizations using some form of marketing automation software, such as Marketo or Hubspot, will have an easier time with the task.

“If you’re using marketing automation, it’s easier,” Hardman notes. “You can track the referral traffic PR generates, and monitor visitor behavior.”

Web site analytics can show the subsequent behavior of the visitors your PR efforts drove to the company’s web site and landing pages, and in many cases, can enable PR teams to track visitor behavior all the way through to the purchase.  For smaller organizations, Hardman recommends that PR pros carve out time to understand Google Analytics.

Put the customer first

Edelen and Hardman both agree that ultimately, the customer’s interests have to be served by the messaging.

“We should be aligned around how the customer talks about the problem,” notes Edelyn.

“You have to create content that is useful and interesting to the people you’re trying to reach,” adds Hardman.

The awareness and visibility public relations generates can be measured today in terms of inbound web traffic, lead scores and conversion rates, as well as in the adoption and use of specific language on social channels and search behavior.   To learn more about how PR can power demand generation programs, and how to measure the results, tune into our upcoming webinar:

How to Drive Demand Generation with PR Tactics
Date: August 13, 2014
Time: 1:00 pm EST
Register: prn.to/1uiMWUr

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

 

The Long Click – An Important Measure for Communicators

long click

Long clicks are powerful indicators of quality content.

An indicator of content quality, the “long click” reveals whether or not audiences are truly engaging with your content. lil tweet bird

Digital communications are incredibly measurable.  Marketers know which websites refer the highest quality traffic to their own sites, and they know which pages on their websites do better job of converting visitors into customers. Many details about the behavior of visitor behavior before, during and after a website visit can be captured.  But the marketing team isn’t the only group keeping an eye on how audiences interact with a website.  Search engine spiders are paying attention, too.

Keeping the measurability of digital content in mind, let’s think about the new PR reality – the public relations team as publisher and story crafters, not simply spin doctors called upon to manage crises or crank out releases.

Developing a stream of quality, useful content that your audience uses is one of the most effective ways to build search rank for a web site, improve audience engagement and fill the organization’s pipeline with prospects.

Within all of these considerations is a golden opportunity for PR to produce a measurable and meaningful business impact from the content the organization is already publishing.

The “long click” – a golden opportunity for PR
Generally speaking, two things happen when a person visits a webpage: they either take a quick look and then immediately leave, or they stay for a good long time consuming the content on the page and possibly even clicking on some of the links on the page and further interacting with the website.

In web parlance, the former is a bounce, and it’s bad.  What’s the use in attracting visitors to your content, only to have them immediately leave? In reality, this kind of traffic can be damaging to a website’s overall rankings, because search engines consider bounces as a strong indicator of the presence of poor quality content on the site.

The opposite scenario is called a “long click.” If the content you publish is attracting people to your website stay on the page and read the press releases and watch the videos and click on the links, that’s good for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, people who are spending that much time on your website are obviously consuming your messaging.  They are more likely to actually turn into customers, and along the way, they may take additional steps such as bookmarking or sharing content on your website or interacting with the brand successful media presences, developing further traction.

All of these behaviors are also positive signals that search engines notice indicating that the website is serving up high quality content that site visitors value.

Outcomes PR can measure 

Web analytics programs such as Site Catalyst and Google Analytics measure the time visitors spend on a page.  Additionally, it’s entirely possible to measure the traffic coming for specific sources (such as press releases, your online media room, etc.) and make some assumptions about the quality of those visitors by looking at their time on page data.  If it’s going up, generally, that’s a pretty good sign.

Digital PR teams that are publishing distributed content can embed short URLs within press releases, blog posts, articles and other content to measure traffic back to the destination page on your company website, providing a good measure of the traffic referred directly from the PR message. However, you can take it a step further by then asking the web team to analyze the time on page data for visitors to that page. In some cases, your analytics team may be able to even isolate visitors driven to the page by specific pieces of your content, and compare the time the PR-referred visitors spend on the page, compared to that spent by visitors from other sources.

This enables the PR team to establish a benchmark that they can use to measure this success in future campaigns, and also for setting overall objectives for the department.  Moving the needle on long clicks is actually reasonable PR outcome but more organizations should be adopting and measure.

Want more ideas for new ways to measure the business impact of your public relations campaigns?   This on-demand webinar archive offers first-hand examples on connecting  (and measuring!) PR to business outcomes.  Here’s the link: http://prn.to/1o4qblS 

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Content We Love: Visual Storytelling Is the New Black

ContentWeLove

Click here to view the complete press release

Click here to view the complete press release

Did you know that an Emmy award exists for ads? For communicators who are still not convinced by the power visual storytelling, Budweiser is setting the record straight. The beer giant is proving the impact that branded videos are having on the mainstream after earning two Emmy nominations in the “Outstanding Commercial” category for their ads “Puppy Love” and “Hero’s Welcome.” The popularity of these videos skyrocketed after the massive exposure garnered from this year’s Super Bowl. To keep the momentum going, Budweiser announced the huge honor in a press release titled “Budweiser Super Bowl Ads Score Two Emmy Nominations.” It is currently among the most popular press releases viewed on PRNewswire.com.

This announcement serves as an additional content component of Budweiser’s major marketing campaign and leverages the targeting capabilities of press release distribution to seed awareness among new audiences. For example, this release becomes relevant to a number of industries with related interests including beers, wines and spirits, food & beverages, entertainment, television, and awards.

Highlights from the content of this release include:

  • Images that capture the most emotionally compelling moments of the ads attracts reader attention
  • High-quality copy written in the “inverted pyramid” style traditionally employed by journalists, the release leads with the most newsworthy information first, followed by supporting details, and closing with general information. Budweiser has essentially written the story that they want the media to tell.
  • A call-to-action to spark further social engagement around the ad campaign, and triggers increased visibility in search engines.  “Puppy Love’s” adorable canine star became so popular that he even has his own Twitter handle, hyperlinked mid-release.
  • Quotes from  executive leaders humanize the brand and further establishes Budweiser as a leader in creative communications.

Even with the ad campaign’s commercial success, Budweiser employs a multi-channel distribution effort including television, social media, and the wire to keep their story top of mind. Pay close attention marketers, now with the booming popularity of original programming streamed by sites such as Netflix and Hulu which are also earning Emmy nods, who knows if there is a potential opportunity for the branded videos being shared online to have a shot at earning a golden statue. A multi-channel distribution gives your content the additional visibility needed to drive discovery and continued awareness. Wouldn’t you like to be the first to break this barrier?

Congrats to Budweiser on their well-deserved Emmy nominations and on a great release!

ShannonAuthor Shannon Ramlochan is the Content Marketing Coordinator at PR Newswire. 

Copy Quality: New Imperatives for Communicators

New copy quality guidelines from PR Newswire to help improve press release content quality.

New copy quality guidelines from PR Newswire to help improve press release content quality.

How does one determine whether or not a piece of content is low quality?

Since we added copy quality to the guidelines against which we assess press releases and other content prior to distribution, we’ve counseled a number of clients on steps they can take to improve the value of their content for their audiences.

Understanding how to build/create quality content is a mandate for all communicators creating digital content.  Google started raising the bar on web content quality in early 2011, when the first Panda algorithm update was deployed.  Taking aim at link farms and websites created to propagate links and manipulate search rank but which offer little to no real use to human beings, the goal of the Panda update is to improve the relevance of the search results Google returned to internet searchers.

The new rules of content quality

Google has kept the pedal to the metal, rolling out changes and updates to its algorithms in an ongoing effort to improve the utility of its search engine by returning better and better results to users, and it’s safe to assume that this won’t change in the future.  Communicators of all stripes publishing digital content and seeking visibility in search engines will have to play by the rules.

So let’s look at those rules.  In a blog post on their Webmaster Central blog, Google offered insights into how, when building the Panda algorithm, they determined whether or not content was quality.

“Below are some questions that one could use to assess the “quality” of a page or an article. These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves as we write algorithms that attempt to assess site quality. Think of it as our take at encoding what we think our users want.  

Would you trust the information presented in this article?

Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?

Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?

Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?

Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?

 Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?

Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?

How much quality control is done on content?

Does the article describe both sides of a story?

Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?

Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?

Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?

For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?

Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?

Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?

Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

 Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?

Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?

Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?

Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?

Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?

Would users complain when they see pages from this site?”

- Google Webmaster Central, More guidance on building high-quality sites

Evaluating the content your brand produces through the lens of these questions will reveal with stark clarity whether or not the content makes the cut in Google’s eyes.   And even if the press releases you submit to PR Newswire adhere to the copy quality guidelines we’ve published, you can tighten the screws on your content by keeping this larger set of quality indicators from Google firmly in mind.

Messages that are useful and interesting to audiences generate results beyond search engine visibility.  They garner mentions, earn media and inspire social sharing – activities which drive brand messaging into new audiences and powering improved campaign results.    Some organizations will be challenged by this new reality but ultimately, overall marketing and communications objectives are well served by more engaging content.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

How HuffPo Creates Value With Communities

HuffPost Code recently hosted an event featuring HuffPo’s Director of Community, Tim McDonald, and a discussion of how to develop and maintain communities, offering brands valuable insight into one of the web’s most enthusiastic communities.

The Meaning Behind Community

It is not about what is a community, but more about who is community. Community is about people and having relationships with these people.

McDonald wants his community to be a bunch of “little monsters” that are passionate about his brand and what he does. If he is going to spend his time engaging with this community, then he wants them talking to their friends and their community about his brand. McDonald goes on to say that community management is about being a magnet. You want to draw in your community members and have them be stuck, and you don’t want them to leave once they get there.

Community is very emotional, because people have an emotional connection to your brand. On the other hand, marketing is very transactional — it is a like, a click, a retweet. Those people are not fans, but they are the crowd. Don’t spend your time talking to the crowd, but spend your time talking to your community. Loyalty is about having an emotional bond to something. It is not about getting a discount or frequent flyer card, but it about being a firm supporter of a brand that you don’t work for. But you need to remember to give that supporter something — never forget that. You need to make it about them before you make it about you.

You also need to have a community that is exclusive, which can be as specific as providing an email address, or filling out a survey, or needing people to take the initiative of asking to be part of the community. The exclusivity will depend on the different levels of different objectives.

Case Study One: Exclusive Community

Murph, a Huffington Post member, who frequently comments on the site provides a lot of value because of the way he interacts with other commenters on the site. Murph was given the status of Community Pundit, which allows his comments to be longer and get text formatting. This member really likes it, because nobody else has it.

Murph is very valuable to McDonald, especially, when the change on Huffington Post occured to Facebook verified identies to comment. Before this change occurred, McDonald took the time to let Murph know. Even though Murph wasn’t happy about it, he understand why it was being done. Murph was then going on to other sites where people were bashing Huffington Post and would explain to people why they should give Huffington Post a chance. This isn’t something you can buy or do alone as a brand.

Case Study Two: Connecting With Community Members

When they started HuffPost Live, McDonald met a woman named Tash through customer feedback. In a polite way, Tash asked why they don’t have a search function on HuffPost Live, so she could be alerted to the shows that she wanted to watch instead of needing to tune in and not know when the episodes would show. This search capability exists now, but back then it didn’t, so McDonald emailed her back. He didn’t use the standard email, but he wrote an email thanking her, apologizing to her about her frustration and explaining to her that he doesn’t have a timeline on it but wants to try to make it happen. He ended by saying that if she has any other questions or if he can help her get involved in any other way, to please let me him know, and he provided his phone number and email.

Tash emailed McDonald back. They got in a Google+ Hangout and started talking about what she does and her passions. He was very helpful and interested in her, and at the end of the conversation she asked what she could do for McDonald. Since HuffPost Live just launched, they didn’t have a huge existing database of guests they could call on. Right after that Hangout, Tash introduced McDonald to two or three people, and then the next day she introduced him to more people, etc. Most of the people she introduced him to ended up being guests on HuffPost Live. Tash also gave McDonald the idea to start a small private Facebook group where he could invite some of these guests in and tell them when the shows would come up, and then they could suggest guests for them and McDonald could give these suggestions to the producers.

Experiment

McDonald suggests to always be experimental, because he has realized that if he isn’t failing then he isn’t trying hard enough. Most of us start thinking that we don’t have the finances, resources, or time to do something, but those are all just excuses. He explains that you don’t need to build a huge project where you get everyone to sign off to experiment. McDonald has three rules for testing things: 1) He doesn’t have to ask for anybody’s permission. 2) He doesn’t have to ask for any budget. 3) He won’t get fired for it. He also thinks it may be helpful to find one of the stakeholders that you might be helping and tell them what you’re doing, and make sure they think it is a good idea.

Final Thoughts

McDonald mentions that many people forgot about one amazing tool out there: the telephone. It has helped him connect with many community members in a deeper way than ever before by them hearing his tone, and by him being able respond to questions in an immediate manner. Of course, he says, you don’t need to get on the phone with every single person, but with the people that are valuable to your community — that small group of passionate, raving fans.

 Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.