Category Archives: Content PR & Marketing

Content PR and content marketing are redefining how brands communicate with audiences. Inbound tactics featuring content that answers audience needs attract attention and create gravitational pull for a brand.

When a Campaign Goes Viral: #AmtrakResidency Garners 21,000 Mentions in Six Days

Amtrak has opened up a new can of worms, and it appears the fish are biting.

By now, you’ve likely heard of the #AmtrakResidency program the company plans to offer writers.

In case you missed this story, it began Dec. 23 on the PEN America site.  Author Alexander Chee casually mentioned his favorite place to write was on the train. He said he wished “Amtrak had residencies for writers.”

That’s all it took.  The conversation landed on Twitter, and Amtrak captured it.

In fact, #AmtrakResidency garnered 21,000 mentions in just six days. To put that into perspective, Amtrak typically sees 25,000 to 30,000 mentions within a 90-day period. Also as a result, Amtrak’s Twitter following grew 10 percent.

“Every brand is looking for the next viral campaign,” said Julia Quinn, Amtrak director of social media and head of the #AmtrakResidency program. “This was born through social media. The number of people who raised their hands to participate was huge. It would be writing powered by Amtrak, and hopefully it will be an inspirational experience to get their creative juices flowing.”

Amtrak has been working fast to formalize the program: What it will look like, who gets to ride, and how writers are selected.

But Amtrak recognizes that while it’s uniquely cut out to do something special here, it must tread lightly in these waters. Officials there don’t want to cause ethical conflicts between a journalist and his/her employer or cross pay-for-play lines. To that end, there’s no required number of tweets or shares about Amtrak and no contract to participate.

Any mentions of Amtrak quite literally will come from organic buzz, turning this opportunity into an advocacy program for the brand.

“This is a program that could become a staple at Amtrak,” Quinn said. “We’ll monitor as we go. The sky’s the limit right now, but we don’t want to get lost in the excitement. We want to make sure we’re still making good decisions for our brand.”

Coincidentally, as #AmtrakResidency carved its conversation into Twitter, Amtrak already was planning its first-ever #AmtrakLive event, hosting more than 30 digital leaders and innovators to live tweet and blog on the Texas Eagle from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas in early this month. Social media influencers shared updates via Twitter and Instagram.

Christine Cube is a media relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. Follow her @cpcube or give her a shout on PR Newswire’s Google+.

Exploring the Convergence of Marketing and Communications

CommsRTBlog

Business Development Institute and PR Newswire co-hosted the final communications roundtable of 2013 featuring Bloomberg’s Head of Marketing Communications, Deirdre Bigley, as the guest of honor. Moderated by PR Newswire’s CEO, Ninan Chacko, the conversation explored how blurred lines between PR and marketing are impacting communications and what it means for the future of business. Ms. Bigley shared some of the ways that Bloomberg has sustained a successful brand by embracing the current convergence.

PR, marketing, and social media work together as a team

Bloomberg’s marketing department has existed for only four years, but quickly adapted to the new era of communications. Instead of differentiating between departments, PR, marketing, and social media have formed a committee that focuses on building an infrastructure for lesser-known Bloomberg subsidiaries. While the desire to take ownership of a campaign’s success can be a challenge, it is ultimately understood that overlapping expertise between units is the committee’s greatest strength.

View content from a journalist’s perspective

The Bloomberg communications committee has taken a unique approach to content by viewing themselves as publishers instead of marketers. To enhance this method, the committee enlists the expertise of freelance reporters to help create focused content. “You’re not producing content for all the same audience,” says Ms. Bigley, “it’s important to understand your segment and who wants to follow you on this topic.” Journalists can apply their deep understanding of industry topics to find storytelling opportunities for the brand.

Use analytics to support a content strategy

Ms. Bigley acknowledges that analytics is a coveted skillset at Bloomberg because it plays a key role in helping content stand out amongst the crowd. Monitoring the type of media coverage a major story has earned as well as the influencers sharing it on social channels are some of the metrics used to develop their communications strategy.  The goal of using analytics is to identify patterns among segmented groups and discover niche markets to inspire new and relevant content.

Engage with social audiences

When social networking emerged there was an initial resistance at Bloomberg to actively engage.  It wasn’t until popular demand urged Bloomberg to combine their Twitter feed with their traditional news feed that the company realized the potential of social media.  According to Ms. Bigley, Bloomberg’s social audience viewing videos online is three times larger than its television audience. This astonishing figure is influencing the company’s future communications plans, with Ms. Bigley declaring that “The future of Bloomberg is video.”

The convergence of PR and marketing has shifted the traditional talent structure of organizations from one that differentiates skill sets, to another that unifies them. The new wave of collaborative communications leverages the strengths of both PR and marketing to develop inventive strategies for reaching target audiences. Future communicators should focus on building skills such as analytics, marketing automation, and producing multimedia to further develop the PR and marketing relationship.

To learn more about the convergence of marketing and communications, you can access our free, on-demand webinar “Alignment for Engagement: Unifying Marketing and PR Departments for Content Marketing Success.”

Shannon Ramlochan is the Content Marketing Coordinator at PR Newswire. Follow her on Twitter: @sramloch

Content We Love: A Feel-Great Story Gets a Boost

ContentWeLove

Have you seen the WestJet “Real Time Giving” video yet?  If you have, I know you want to watch it again.  If you haven’t, you really must. Either way, here it is:

As of this writing, the video has been viewed more than 19 million times since its release earlier this week, and I think it’s safe to say that this is just a start.

As totally lovable as the video is, however, it’s not the subject of my adoration this week.   That honor is reserved for the press release the WestJet team used to promote the video, seeding the media coverage and social visibility that triggered viral sharing. lil tweet

WestJet Today

Like the kid who circles everything in the catalog, the West Jet had the waterfront covered, creating a variety of visual assets, and wrapping them into a fully loaded press release.

A press release about promotional video?  Yes. The team deftly used paid media to promote their owned media, resulting in an earned media avalanche, with pick up in USA Today, the Today Show, Mashable, Huffington Post and Forbes, to name just a handful of outlets running the story.

westjet mashablePromoting content via a newswire service like PR Newswire (or, in this case, our sister company up north, Canada Newswire,) to promote owned content may strike some PR people as strange.  However, it’s a tactic that has proven to work well for the content marketing crowd, who don’t blanch at the idea of marketing their marketing.

Using a newswire to promote content delivers a variety of benefits, including:

  • Reaching a larger audience.  When you distribute content online via PR Newswire, for example, it is re-posted on thousands of web sites, exposing the message instantly to new audiences.
  • Seeding social interactions.  Search engines weigh social interactions heavily in their algorithms, and sparking a spate of tweets or a bevy of +1s can give content a significant boost in search rankings — as well as reaching an expanding audience and setting the stage for viral growth.
  • Capitalizing on the opportunity to earn some media, while you’re at it.  The WestJet video is a great case in point.  The video itself isn’t terribly newsworthy, however, its popularity is.  WestJet was beautifully prepared for that possibility, distributing related images and several other videos, including a blooper reel and a more serious interview with Richard Bartrem, the company’s vice president of communications and community relations, in which he spoke  about the inspiration and logistics behind the airline’s second annual holiday surprise video.

westjet usatoday

According to Todd Wheatland’s Content Marketing World presentation earlier this year, most viral videos have been given a big leg up through paid promotion.  If you want your video to go viral, Wheatland said, first you need to be certain that it is fantastic.  The next step? Buying some promotion. And distribution of the content via PR Newswire is a fast, efficient and cost-effective mechanism for driving the content into new audiences and seeding social visibility – the foundations of viral spread of content.

So kudos to the WestJet team on job very well done, and thanks for brightening our day.  This is truly content we love!

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the newly-published ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

A sampling of the media coverage:

NPR: Must Cry Video? Watch WestJet Airline’s ‘Christmas Miracle’

Forbes: The Real ‘Christmas Miracle’ of WestJet’s Viral Video: Millions in Free Advertising 

New York Daily News: WestJet Airlines Surprises Passengers With Gifts After They Touch Down From Flights 

Buzzfeed: This WestJet Christmas Miracle Will Make Your Day 

Huffington Post:  WestJet Finds Out What Passengers Want For Christmas, Leaves Presents at Baggage Claim

 

3 Ways Digital Communications Can Build Trust in Financial Services

Greg Matusky discusses the "5 C's of Trusted Content" at BDI's Future of Financial Services Communications event

Greg Matusky discusses the “5 C’s of Trusted Content”

The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer reports that financial service is globally considered the least trustworthy industry. While the industry’s reputation is still in recovery from the 2008 economic crisis, digital communication is creating new opportunities for building credibility and authenticity. Business Development Institute’s recent event “The Future of Financial Services Communications” presented case studies from emerging financial leaders that prove the effectiveness of using technology to strengthen customer relationships. The discussions offered several communications tactics that financial institutions can incorporate to build trust and loyalty among existing and potential clients.

Employ social media as a targeting tool

A case study by Actiance Inc. found that LinkedIn is now the #1 sales pitching tool among top sales reps. Actively participating in social media gives sales reps a higher competitive advantage than those who don’t due to the high engagement levels and greater reach on these channels. The ability to leverage connections, research prospects, and participate in relevant group discussions has evolved the traditional “cold call” pitch and enforces customer loyalty. Social media engagement also humanizes the brand in a genuine way.

Build a sense of community between the business and clients

“Finance should be viewed more as a community than a commodity” says CommonBond Co-Founder David Klein, “what will distinguish the winners from the losers is not necessarily building a community, but a community people want to belong to.” Commonbond’s unique approach to student lending has made education more accessible to those who wish to pursue an MBA degree without the fear of loans with high interest rates. During a time when students are facing enormous debt, the company has established trust with their clients by providing attentive customer service and hosting professional networking events.

Noah Breslow, CEO at OnDeck, explains how embracing cutting edge technology helped OnDeck improve the relationship small business owners have with their lenders.  Traditional lending models that require customers to acquire a loan in person do not cater to business owners in remote geographic locations. OnDeck’s mobile and electronic payment system is revolutionizing the industry by providing access, convenience, speed and service to clients in all locations. While some customers still feel skeptical about electronic transactions, the company has built trust by creating an open dialogue with their audience’s preferred social networks, such as Yelp. Customer testimonials on these channels resonate more effectively than typical marketing tactics because as Breslow says, “Small business owners trust other small business owners more than you.”

Share consistent and relevant content

“Content bridges the digital divide between businesses and consumers” says Greg Matusky, President and Founder of Gregory FCA. Establishing the brand as a thought leader in financial services will build credibility among customers. In addition to credibility, Matusky’s “5 C’s of Trusted Content” also include compassion, creativity, contemporary, and compliance.

When it comes to digital communications, financial service providers face the unique struggle of maintaining relevant conversations while abiding by compliance laws. The lengthy approval process required for every tweet is incompatible with today’s demand for instant news. While it will take some time for financial services to adjust their approach to compliance, a more viable solution is to generate earned media as a method for creating trust with stakeholders. Developing high-quality resources that are shareable will accumulate audience attention over time and continuously spark conversation, thus building a community around your content and earning further credibility for your brand.

To learn more about developing content to build credibility among target audiences, check out the blog post “Creating an Effective Brand Experience on Social Networks.”

Shannon Ramlochan is PR Newswire’s Content Marketing Coordinator. Follow her on Twitter @sramloch.

Ditch the Press Release? Not So Fast.

who readsIs it time to ditch the press release? That’s the question posted in a blog post titled, “Five Ways to Ditch the Press Release and Actually Reach Your Audience,” published earlier this week on Social Media Explorer.

Unsurprisingly, the short answer in my mind is “No.”   Of course, you’d expect me to say that – after all, I’m a newswire veteran, and am in the marketing department here at PR Newswire, the industry’s largest newswire service.   But before you dismiss me as being entirely self-interested, consider these facts:

  • Press releases on PRNewswire.com garner millions of reads each month, and more than 60% of those find the content directly via search engines;
  • Journalists registered for PR Newswire for Journalists tally more than one million news release reads each month
  • Press releases are shared multiple times a minute on social networks.
  • More than 10,000 web sites worldwide repost news releases issued by PR Newswire.

Is this a tactic worth ditching?  No.

In truth, I agree in principle with just about everything author Maggie Patterson suggests – regular readers will know that tactics such as surfacing and sharing specific key messages,  utilizing a variety of multimedia elements to illustrate (and enliven) a story and making copious use of supporting blog posts are all tactics  we denizens of PR Newswire advocate.

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What’s the goal of the press release?  Media coverage? Or …?  

A problem does crop up, however, with the post’s assertion, “The goal of a press releases is to secure media coverage.”   In reality, organizations today send press releases for myriad reasons, in addition to securing media coverage, including: 

  • Increasing traffic to a web site or landing page;
  • Promoting direct audience actions, such as event registration, downloads of an app or white paper and product purchases ;
  • Seed the social web with key messaging ;
  • Positioning the organization or one of its experts as a thought leader or industry source; and
  • Distributing or driving attention to marketing content, such as infographics, blog posts and videos.

My colleague Sandra Azzollini, who oversees PR Newswire’s web site as our vice president of online communities, reminds us of the crucial connection between the press release, and measurable results for the organization issuing the news.

“What is the purpose of a press release?  It’s not to get people to read the press release,” she notes. “It’s ultimately to sell a product, stock or image.  A press release is a vehicle to complete that transaction, whatever your campaign goal is.”

Press releases, once an exclusive means of communicating with professional media, are also the domain of the public who seek out, trust and share news content.    And therein is an imperative for communicators:  the content we produce – including news releases – needs to be written with the audience in mind, and designed to appeal to them.  The messages need to be clear, focused and provide a compelling call to action for readers.  Before one ditches this tried-and-true tactic, the content that the organization has published warrants a close look. In reality, publishing boring content that appeals to no one is the tactic that should fall by the wayside.

Learn more about how to use press releases and other tactics to drive discovery of your company’s messages and the content you’ve worked to hard to publish on our free webinar  Tuesday, Nov. 19. REGISTER

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the newly-published ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Refresh your press releases with these new school press release tactics — this free ebook has lots of  ideas and examples that inspire.   eBook: New School PR Tactics 

Content We Love: A Press Release Built for Action

ContentWeLove

This week’s standout press release isn’t loaded with multimedia, but it caught my attention nonetheless due to excellent presentation of text elements.  Issued by Edcite and titled, “Edcite Puts Teachers in Control of Common Core Practice,” this press release is designed to both tell the story to interested media and bloggers, and encourage direct action from the audience. lil tweet

There are quite a few things I like about this story, including:

  • The snappy headline captures initial attention, and the subhead keeps the momentum going, providing incentive to keep reading with a strong news hook.
  • An ultra-streamlined lead paragraph surfaces key messages using bullet points, rather than burying them in subsequent paragraphs.  This tactic increases the likelihood that a reader will stay on the page, rather than bouncing away.
  • The streamlined lead is immediately followed by a call to action in the form of a link readers can follow.
  • A quote from a teacher involved in the development of Common Core curricula adds another dimension of interest and credibility.   Even better, it reads like a mini-story, highlighting a problem the Edcite solution solves.
  • The quote is followed by a video link, offering yet another call to action, and encouraging additional engagement and reader interaction.

As I read through this release, I was struck by how deliberately the author used different elements to maintain reader attention.   The entire message is tight and focused, while still very readable and relatable.     A text-only press release can be a rich and engaging experience for readers, as this message from Edcite clearly proves.   My compliments to the authors on a job well done. 
Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the newly-published ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

The Future of Sponsored Content: 3 Scenarios for Success

According to this study, audiences are as likely to read sponsored content as they are to read editorial content.

According to this study, audiences are as likely to read sponsored content as they are to read editorial content.

Sponsored content appears to be undergoing a renaissance. Called native advertising, brand journalism, or whatever, it is back in the conversation for marketers and PR professionals.

Sponsored content is decades old, it’s just the tactics that are changing. lil tweet In the past, sponsored content may have taken the form of advertising sections in newspapers, infomercials on TV or custom publishing.  But with new names, new advocates and new tactics, we are going to see and hear a lot more about sponsored content in the near future. Will it stick? Will it become an increasingly important part of marketing? Or will it go the way of banner ads, a bandwagon everyone jumped on then decided it didn’t work?

At the heart of the issue is how marketing and advertising transitions from traditional outlets to digital outlets. While that migration, from print and broadcast to the Web happened, it didn’t happen at the revenue level the media wanted and it didn’t produce the response the advertiser wanted. Though one may question whether the widespread perception that the value of traditional forms of marketing and advertising has declined is a really a function of better measurement tools. Has the value declined or has it been meager all along and we just needed better visibility to realize it?

Native advertising is the latest handshake agreement between publishers, who need money, and content providers, who need visibility. The publisher offers access to its audience, the content provider pays for it and they both agree that the stuff won’t look too bad, won’t be blatantly commercial and will somehow fit with the other content. The party that is not privy to this handshake, though, is the reader and it is the audience that eventually will decide whether the sponsored content is welcome, whether they want to see it, or whether it is too blatantly commercial.

Publishers pursuing this path tend to be a little queasy about it. So you see pronouncements about how vigilant they are going to be in labeling sponsored content as just that. But in fact there is a prevailing air of deception about many forms of sponsored content. Ask for a definition of native advertising and you’ll usually hear something about how it is commercial content that looks like the “native” content of the outlet where it is published. What really matters though is not the look but whether the sponsored content is of the same level of interest to the outlet’s reader as its own originated content.

What sponsored content and display have in common is that they are both dependent on what I referred to in a previous blog post as “diverted eyeballs.” The reader isn’t looking for your content, he or she is looking for something else and by placing your content (or display ad) next to that something else, you are hoping that the readers’ eyeball get diverted to your content. I think this is an approach which is on the decline as most media properties are seeing their traffic coming more from search or social referrals rather than visitors browsing their site as a destination.

So who will be successful with the new wave of sponsored content and how do you put yourself among the winners? The simple answer, oft repeated as it is, is to create great content and put it on great sites. Sounds good but, sorry Google, the Web is full of great content on great sites that nobody ever sees.

Here are the three scenarios which I see as potentially successful for sponsored content.

  1.  As with all communications activity there will be an elite group that produces excellent content and buys space for it on premium properties. They will be the role models that all the advocates for sponsored content will point to. But as role models they will be deceptive because they will most likely represent a brand whose status and visibility is well beyond that of most and they will also likely have made an investment in the production and placement of content that is beyond the means of the average brand. If Apple for example could achieve success by placing content on the Wall Street Journal that’s all well and nice but doesn’t mean a thing for the rest of  us.
  2.  I think there is a real opportunity for sponsored content to be successful on niche media properties that have cultivated a very specialized audience. For example, you are likely to find a much, much larger audience on a consumer travel site than you are on a trade site about utilities. But how many travel sites are there? Tens of thousands? The utility news site might be lightly trafficked but it also might be the go to resource for the very limited audience that is interested. That audience will likely include individuals at utilities who make buying decisions so if you happen to be in that business, that’s your customers. Good content about changing technology in energy generation or the impact of government regulation is going to play really well on the site.
  3. Content providers who are experts at marketing their content, using search, social, distribution and media to drive traffic to the content. These folks may not really need to buy placement to drive an audience to their content but there are some advantages to the third party placement that will supplement the content providers own promotion efforts. For one thing, the media site that the content is placed on may have a better search ranking than the provider’s owned media properties, thus may bring in more search traffic. The domain name of the publication may be an advantage since it is likely to be perceived as a more authoritative source. And the media property may supplement your content marketing with its own efforts to drive traffic to its site. (Related reading:  Driving Content Discovery)

Sponsored content is not going to be the savior of media outlets trying to recover lost revenue. Nor will it to any large extent retire more traditional marketing and advertising activities. But under the right circumstances, it can be a pretty successful tactic.

Follow author Ken Dowell on Twitter at @kdowell.