Tag Archives: public relations

Reality Check: Meeker’s Internet Trends Report & Notes for Communicators

Almost 20% of press release views on PR Newswire's web site  originate on a mobile device.

Almost 20% of press release views on PR Newswire’s web site originate on a mobile device.

Summary:  Mary Meeker’s most recent presentation on internet trends (given yesterday at the Re/Code Code Conference) emphasized the powerful growth of the mobile web. In this post we summarize key points from Meeker’s discussion in terms of impact for marketing and PR pros. 

As we approach the mid-year point for 2014, it’s worth taking a minute to consider trends in internet usage as we develop our PR and content marketing plans for the upcoming months.   Internet sage Mary Meeker gave a wide ranging view of internet trends yesterday at Re/Code’s Code Conference, and within her data are some findings that demand communicators’ attention.

The mobile web gathers strength

Growth in use of mobile devices – and thus, mobile internet use – is still extremely strong worldwide, but with just 30% of mobile users using smartphones, a lot of upside remains, which means the mobile web will only grow more pervasive – and important – in the months and years to come.

Even more stunning is the spectacular growth rate of tablet sales, which are growing far more quickly than PCs or laptops ever did.  The portability and intuitive design of tablets are fueling the demand for these devices.

The net effect of these trends in hardware sales is pretty profound: more and more individuals are accessing web-based content from smart phones and tablets. Meeker reported that 25% of web traffic originates from mobile devices today, up from 14% a year ago.

Changes in audience behavior

However, folks are not simply laying laptops aside and picking up their phablets instead.  Mobile devices have ushered in new behaviors, enabling people to use time on a train platform, bus or grocery store checkout line to continue following the news stories, researching the products or engaging in the conversations they were having at their desks. Certainly, there’s more competition for attention than ever, however, audiences are devoting hours of their days to online information and interaction, offering marketers new opportunities to connect.

Imperatives for communicators

Ensuring your organizations’ communications are clear and render well across a range of mobile devices is of indisputable importance today.  Rest assured, your audiences are reading your brand’s blog posts, perusing press releases and viewing videos from their phones and tablets. If the content your organization has published isn’t mobile friendly, audiences will go find content that is, taking with them valuable opportunities for your brand to inform, engage and connect with them.   Here’s a simple checklist to help ensure the content your brand is creating will resonate on the mobile web:

  • Use short, tight headlines (100 characters or so) to capture fast-moving reader attention.
  • When selecting visuals, be sure to use some that are simple and render well on small screens.  I.e. in addition to a large infographic, also include a snippet highlighting a key fact that will be easy to read on a smaller screen.
  • Have a chat with your vendors about their mobile capabilities. PR Newswire’s MediaRoom product, for example, is designed to deliver a consistent user experience for web site visitors, whether or not the client web site employs responsive design.  For sites that aren’t responsive, we’ll create a mobile-optimized MediaRoom, ensuring your PR content is usable on mobile devices (even if the brand web site isn’t.)

“Even if your organization’s website is not optimized for mobile or responsively designed, you still have options for creating an online newsroom that provides your growing mobile visitor audience with the best possible user experience,” noted Chris Antoline, our director of customer engagement and an expert in developing online press rooms.

  • Edit large files.  Create shorter (a minute or two) video clips, pull out excerpts from white papers, and break long PDFs into pieces to make it easy for mobile users to get to specific information.

So the next time you plan a campaign, think about your mobile audiences, and build content that works for them, too.  And don’t forget to include a discussion of reaching mobile audience when talking to various vendors, such as design firms, email providers or commercial newswire services, and when you prepare your 2015 budgets.  Developing communications that resonate with mobile audiences is fast becoming a cornerstone of successful communication strategies.

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

6 Keys to Using the New Twitter Design for PR

Actor Channing Tatum’s Twitter profile shows off the new format.

Twitter’s new design – mirroring Facebook’s layout and emphasizing visuals – reinforces the importance of using multimedia elements in communications. However, the new layout offers more opportunity for brands than initially meets the eye.  (See related: Coming soon from Twitter)

Surfacing granular content (& winning attention)

The brands that do it best know that Twitter is about granular information. The short format requires brevity, and forces tweet authors to get straight to the point. Best practices for tweeting links are straightforward:

  • On Twitter, your tweet is your headline. Its role is to arrest the reader’s attention and get them to take a next step, such as clicking on the link or re-tweeting the message.  lil tweetAvoid generalizations. Instead, carefully craft your tweet to give followers insight into what the link contains (and incentive to click!)
  • Include visuals that are strongly related to and illustrative of the content you’re sharing. Pictures and videos stand out in the newsfeed and command attention, and they convey messages in their own right.
  • Use relevant hashtags. While hashtags can be used to convey side commentary or emotion, for brands, hashtags are also how content is found. Scan your own Twitter feeds for relevant hashtags, and also use the Twitter search function for research. Don’t use a hashtag without first looking at the related tweet stream. You want to make sure your messaging is in relevant and appropriate company.

Drill into the angles
You can surface (and illustrate!) a variety of themes and elements for the story you’re promoting. In most cases, the stories we create –whether in the form of a press release about a new product, a blog post about an industry trend or pitches about an important development at the companies we represent – contain multiple hooks and angles and elements. Every tweet is another opportunity to engage your audience, and sharing different story angles increases the message’s appeal.

So for PR pros whose brands have cultivated strong presences on Twitter, some new tactics are in order:

  • Don’t get in the habit of tweeting the headline and calling it a day. Instead, create a series of tweets highlighting different elements of the story.
  • Share individual visual elements. And when sharing large infographics, consider having your designer create image snippets that illustrate one key fact. A simpler image will render better in the Twitter feed.
  • Don’t be afraid of tweeting multiple messages about one piece of content. One white paper or press release could reasonably offer a host of tweeting angles – quotes from people mentioned, a host of key findings, a variety of charts and graphs. Stagger the tweets over a few days (or even longer) to maximize visibility.

One final note: as Twitter rolls out the new design, we all need to be mining our image files for visuals that will fill the new space. Larger profile pictures and a Facebook cover-style banner are key features of the new look, and offer brands the opportunity showcase their visual identities.

Learn more about using visuals in B2B campaigns by viewing the on-demand webinar: Powering B2B Content with Multimedia.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.



5 PR Tactics for Internal Communications

Internal Collaboration
With the proliferation of social media channels, employees have become 24/7 brand ambassadors for their companies and the lines between internal and external communications are continuously blurring. Therefore, employers have as much of a responsibility to engage and inspire their internal staff as they do with external audiences.

The tactics discussed at Business Development Institute’s Internal Communications and Collaboration Leadership Forum closely mirrored the new school PR and marketing tactics that organizations are employing to drive action from their consumers. After all, employees are simultaneously consuming the information they produce and should therefore believe in the same brand promises they make to the public. The following tactics illustrate how you can improve your employee experience using similar tactics used to engage external audiences

Create useful content

Treat the initiatives happening around your company as important breaking news. Editorial content such as blog posts and articles help amplify positive growth around the company and keep teams across the organization informed about the overall mission and business strategy.

Senior leaders as chief communicators

According to a survey conducted by Brilliant Ink, 80% of employees feel more engaged when they receive inspiring communications from senior leaders. Quotes from executive leadership establish trust and humanizes the brand from both an employee and consumer standpoint.

Utilize multimedia 

Video messages and teleconferencing are other ways to humanize the organization by bringing communications to a personal level and are far more engaging than a text only email. Below is a video used by AIG that motivated their employees to “bring on tomorrow.”

Use internal social media with purpose

The social channels used by consumers such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn meet different needs of their audiences, and enterprise social channels are no different. Your internal communication channels need a thoughtful strategy behind them to keep people engaged and understand the value of communicating on that space. Ultimately it is best to minimize the number of places that people have to go for communications.

Communicate the value or benefit of an employee’s labor

PR and marketing professionals are ultimately trying to communicate why their product or service is important to consumers. Employees need to feel the same sense of importance when it comes to their work. Research by AIG reports that 70% or more of strategic and change programs fail without effective manager communications. Connecting the dots between daily work and the overall company strategy is vital to maintaining productivity and helping an employee understand where they fit in.

It is widely understood that there is a direct and positive relationship between employee engagement and overall company growth; organizations that invest in creating a more unified work environment experience more productivity and financial growth than those that do not. Plan your internal communications strategies with the same attention and care as you do externally in order to drive inspiration and action from employees.

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

PR is 80% more effective than content marketing.

Source: InPowered & Neilsen

Source: InPowered & Nielsen

According to a recent study sponsored by InPowered and conducted by Nielsen, content marketing is 88% less effective than public relations, due in large part to the outsize influence earned media wields over the public.    According to the study, earned media – defined as content created by credible third party experts – consistently provided more benefit to brands than did user generated or branded content.

Credibility is the key

The stat is interesting for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the simple fact that marketers are very good at measuring outcomes, something that PR has continued struggle with. The fact that Nielsen has identified the potent effect of credible third-party mentions has upon potential customers across the various stages of the buying cycle should make PR measurement mavens sit up and take note.

With all the conversation about, investment in and discussion of content marketing over the last few years, one has to wonder exactly what makes PR efforts so much more valuable in terms of driving business than content marketing campaigns.

The answer is credibility.  It’s devilishly hard to produce branded content that is truly credible.  The content brands publish (even this little blog post!) all have underlying agendas, and sometimes, those agendas aren’t too thinly veiled.

Earned media & influence 

Earned media, on the other hand, is widely perceived as being more credible and authentic.  Therein are the keys to its influence – and that’s where public relations can really shine. PR practitioners understand influence, how it accrues and from where it flows. PR pros understand the subtleties of the story and how to wrap information in context that makes sense to an audience.

It’s little wonder that PR is behind the blockbuster headlines, viral videos and other content that fills our newsfeeds and floats to the top of search engine results.

Marketing tactics PR should steal 

All that said, as a content marketer myself, I do believe that there are opportunities for PR to steal some important tactics from the content marketing toolbox.  Digital marketers test and refine messages continually, and have developed a range of best practices for developing web-based cntent that works, and other communicators can borrow those tactics to improve their own campaigns.

Designing press releases and other content with reader actions in mind is one such recommendation.  Think of it this way: every piece of content your brand issues online- press releases, blog posts, articles, backgrounders, etc. — becomes a web page. That specific web page can be seen in search engines and  shared on social networks. When that page captures the fleeting attention of a visitor, your organization has the opportunity to communicate powerfully and personally with that person. Within that moment, you have their attention and with it, the opportunity to channel their next actions.

Marketers obsess over this opportunity to drive audience action: they test different scenarios and obsessively tweak language and layout to determine what works best. While it’s not reasonable to think that we have the opportunity to send 25 different versions of the same press release to see which generates the best results, we can definitely take some broad best practices from digital markers and apply them to our messages.

Those tactics are detailed in the recent blog post titled “Extreme Makover: Press Release Edition,” and the slide deck embedded above.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

[Webinar] How Newsrooms are Adapting to the Changing Digital Media Environment

As the digital age transforms how people find, consume, and share information, media outlets are being challenged to retool their newsrooms and evolve their coverage. Despite limited resources, news organizations are investing heavily on people and technology to deliver stories that satisfy audience appetites for rich visuals, mobile-friendly design, and up-to-the minute reporting.

The panelists include:

Ellyn Angelotti, senior faculty, the Poynter Institute 

Follow her on Twitter at @ellynangelotti 

Theodore Kim, mobile/tablet editor, the Washington Post Follow him on Twitter at @TheoTypes 


David Cohn, news editor, Circa 

Follow him on Twitter at @Digidave

Join us for what promises to be a fast-moving conversation on how today’s media is evolving as journalists adapt to a faster news cycle.

The panel discussion will cover:

  • The changing roles of journalists and bloggers
  • How news media are adapting news to new formats and mediums
  • Tips for how PR pros can provide more value to today’s news media

View the on-demand webinar

What is PR & How Does it Relate to Marketing & Social?

What is PR?  This question cropped up on a webinar last week, and it got me thinking.

Traditionally PR has been about managing public opinion; however the organization one represents defines their various publics.   It starts with building awareness, and then through the deployment of messaging or experiences, the emotional responses are elicited, opinions are shaped and reputations formed. At that point, one can start measuring the ensuing actions of the audience, whether those outcomes are measured in terms of votes or purchases or some other behavior.

new school cover

This free ebook offers a slew of new press release tactics designed to win more attention for your messages.

At its core, PR today hasn’t changed – it’s still about influencing opinion and behavior.  However, the mechanisms for building awareness and influencing opinions have changed dramatically.lil tweet

So as I think about what PR is today, I find my answer is multifaceted.

PR is mutable.  It’s changing and changing again, and then yet again.  The tactics have to keep pace with the audience, and audiences are fragmenting and coming together again on a variety of digital channels.  It’s imperative that PR pros understand and embrace the channels where their audiences live.

PR is measurable.  It’s time to bury vague numbers like ad equivalency values and impressions, and start quantifying the top line impact of PR.  This means measuring outcomes, not output. The good news is that digital channels and media are spectacularly measurable.  Awareness can be gauged by volumes of conversation sparked by the content we produce and the media we earn.  Ensuing interaction can be tracked with social data and web site referral information.  Outcomes can be counted and correlated directly to PR activities.

PR is multifaceted.  The conversations we spark and content we publish can earn media, generate social proof and influence search rank.  The results of these outcomes are larger, better qualified and well engaged audiences.  Influentials can be found anywhere – in discussion groups, curating social content, authoring blogs, hanging out on forums and (of course) writing for media outlets.   Developing messaging and content to target and serve the array of influencers and their respective audiences is the purview of today’s PR pro.

It’s multimedia, multi-channel, multi-platform.  It’s difficult to win attention for a message without a visual.  Facebook gives a visibility edge to posts that include multiple visuals.  Entire social networks like Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube (which is also the second largest search engine in the world) are built on visual content.  In addition to garnering attention, good digital content can develop a long life span and continue to accrue audience long after it’s issued.  PR pros need to be thinking visually, and building message and content strategies to reach audiences on different channels with the media mix that’s right for each.

PR is everywhere.   Audiences see our brands and organizations through the internet lens.  Online reviews, social interactions and third party blog posts roll up into reputation and are part of the PR equation.  The reality is this: public relations isn’t just the domain of the communications department anymore. Integration across departments is crucial, as many efforts, such as social campaigns or market research, may be initiated in Marketing or a community team that may not be fully aware of the opportunity to earn additional media and social proof their content.  PR needs to be aware of all outbound communications, not for purposes of message control but for message amplification.

So there’s my answer to the question, “What is PR?”  I’m curious to know whether or not you agree.  Please weigh in with a comment!

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebooks Driving Content Discovery and  New School Press Release Tactics.  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Real Time Reactions & Timely Tweets From #Chiberia

I live in the Chicago suburbs, and we’re freezing our tailfeathers off tonight as the polar vortex makes another swing through the Midwest. As I write this post, the temperature is -4 F.  However, the fun is just starting.  We’re going to hit -20 tonight.

At this point, most of us have pretty much had it with the weather, but let’s face it. It is what it is.  Complaining will get you nowhere.   And nowhere is that sentiment evidenced more clearly than on the #chiberia hashtag on Twitter, where local brands and their fans are not hunkering down.   Here are some great examples of timely, topical tweets from local media and brands that are generating positive exposure and conversation on this coldest-of-cold days.

The folks at Crain’s Chicago Business are (wisely) crowd-sourcing photos of the frozen locale, and they’re generating a fantastic (and beautiful) response. 

The team at Today’s Chicago Woman magazine know that many potential readers out there are stuck somewhere, and are offering empathy, and a suggestion to alleviate the boredom:

The Sun-Times is dishing secrets for staying warm from TV reporters – specifically, the intrepid souls who do live traffic spots at 4 a.m. on bridges above expressways:

The intrepid souls at Fleet Feet Chicago aren’t letting the cold deter them from encouraging and interacting with their audience.  Enjoy those runs, folks, wave as you go by.

The folks at LA Valet services are capitalizing in a very timely way by offering their snow-plowing services under the #chiberia hashtag.  It  may not be the most interesting tweet, but given the high winds we’ve been having, coupled the copious snow and frigid temperatures, there are probably more than a few people out there who are ready to seek professional help for snow removal.

The lesson here for brands?  Stay warm, and stay engaged. Follow trending hashtags, gauge the audience spirit and go with it.  The brand tweets I shared are very consistent with the resilient (albeit resigned) tone of the #chiberia tweets.  Spirits are pretty positive.  Heck, we’re even joking about the Cubs. 

Keep on top of hashtags, influencers and social conversations with the Agility platform. You can even research media, build targeted lists and distribute content while you’re at it – it’s easy and fast.  Learn more about Agility here: http://www.prnewswire.com/products-services/agility/ 
Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebooks Driving Content Discovery and  New School Press Release Tactics.  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

MEDIA News: Media Moves at U.S. News & World Report, Bloomberg News, Sports Illustrated, People and More

http://prnbloggers.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/agility-logo.png?w=127&h=125&h=125PR Newswire’s Audience Research Department makes thousands of updates to the  database of journalists and bloggers that underpins our Agility media targeting and distribution platform.  Below is a sampling of recent media moves and news from the research team.  Learn more about Agility media targeting here.

U.S. News U.S. News & World Report (Washington, DC): Gary Emerling (@gcemerling) is the new Senior News Editor and Alan Neuhauser (@alneuhauser) is a new Reporter at @usnews.

Bloomberg News Bloomberg News – Washington Bureau (Washington, DC): Former Politico White House Reporter Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) joins @BloombergNews to cover the same beat

Sports Illustrated Sports Illustrated (New York, NY): Former Oregonian Sportswriter Lindsay Schnell (@LindsayRae19), former Denver Post football scribe Joan Niesen (@JoanNiesen) and New York Times Sports Writer Greg Bishop (@nytbishop) have all joined SI (@SInow) as Sports Reporters.

People magazine People Magazine (New York, NY): Entertainment Weekly Managing Editor Jess Cagle (@JessCagleEW) will succeed Larry Hackett as Managing Editor.

SELF Magazine Self Magazine (New York, NY): Adina Steiman (@adinasteiman) is the new Features Director.

O The Oprah Magazine O, The Oprah Magazine (New York, NY): Megan Deem (@MeganDeem) is the new Executive Beauty Editor @O_Magazine.

Crain's New York Crains New York (New York, NY): Emily Laermer (elaermer@crainsnewyork.com) (@elaermer) has been promoted to News Producer.

Wall Street Journal  The Wall Street Journal (New York, NY): Adam Auriemma (@adamauriemma) is the new Deputy Bureau Chief for the Management and Careers Bureau.

NYT Magazine The New York Times Magazine (New York, NY): Jim Rutenberg @jimrutenberg), 13-year veteran of The New York Times, has left the newspaper to join the magazine. He has been named Chief Political Correspondent.

Bloomberg View Bloomberg View (New York, NY): Former Huffington Post Reporter Kavitha Davidson (@kavithadavidson) joins @BloombergView as a Sports Columnist.


AOL AOL (New York, NY): AOL (@AOL) has relinquished its controlling interest in Patch (@PatchTweet). All sites are said to remain operational as Hale Media takes majority control of the local news outlet.

CBS Newspath CBS Newspath  (Dallas, TX); Omar Villafranca (@OmarVillafranca) is the News Correspondent for the Dallas’s CBS NewsPath television news service.

TechCrunch TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) (tips@techcrunch.com): Co-Editor Eric Eldon (@Eldon) has left.

InStyle InStyle Magazine (New York, NY): Diana Tsui (@Chupsterette) is the new Senior Editor at InStyle Magazine.

Curbed Chicago Curbed (@Curbed): Ian Spula is no longer Editor at Curbed Chicago (@CurbedChicago).

Greatist Greatist (@Greatist): Abby Lerner (@LiveandLerner) is now Editorial Director at this fitness site.

Detroit Metro Times Metro Times (Detroit, MI): Vince Grzegorek @vincethepolack) has been named interim Editor of the alternative newsweekly (@metrotimes), replacing Bryan Gottlieb. He will continue to serve as Editor and Web Editor of Cleveland Scene Magazine (@Cleveland_Scene).

The Boston Globe Boston Globe (Boston, MA): Beginning in February, Senior Correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter John Allen (@JohnLAllenJr) will join the Boston Globe

Houston Chronicle Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX): Ryan Holeywell (@RyanHoleywell) leaves Governing (@GOVERNING) to join the Chronicle (@HoustonChron) as an Energy Reporter.

Pioneer Press St. Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, MN): Sports Editor Mike Bass (@MikeBassPP) has left the newspaper after a decade plus of service. And Tad Reeve (@TadReeve) has been promoted from Deputy Sports Editor to Sports Editor @PioneerPress.

Los Angeles Times Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA): The Los Angeles Times Media Group (@LATimes) has launched a new online retail shopping website called District West (@DistrictWest).

Hollywood Reporter The Hollywood Reporter (Los Angeles, CA): Hugo Lundgren (@hugolundgren) moves from New York to serve as Acting Editor for @Hollywoodreporter.

Ladies Home Journal (New York, NY): Hilary Merzbacher (@hmerzbacher) is no longer Assistant Food Editor.

Scott Monroe Kennebec Journal (Augusta, ME)/Morning Sentinel (Waterville, ME): Scott Monroe (@ScottDMonroe) is the new Managing Editor for both papers.

The Montana Standard The Montana Standard (Butte, MT): Al Balderas (@sportsphann) is the new Sports Editor at the Standard (@mtsbrk).

ChieftainNews Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, CO): Randy Rickman has been hired as the new General Manager at the paper. He most recently served as Regional Publisher for the Independent Record in Helena, MO and the Montana Standard in Butte, MO.

Maintenance Tech Lubrication Management & Technology (Chicago, IL): The trade outlet has ceased its independent publication. The print edition has merged with sister publication Maintenance Technology (@MTMagazine). Jane Alexander will serve as Editor for the new combined title. For additional information, go to http://www.mt-online.com.

NYCandG New York Cottages & Gardens (New York, NY): Former Country Living Assistant Market Editor Paige Alexus is the new Associate Editor @NYCandG and Hamptons Cottages & Gardens (@HCandG).

MEDIAware’s full weekly version can be found at:www.prnewswire.com/knowledge-center/medi…

PR Newswire’s Audience Research Department provides daily updates on Twitter (twitter.com/PRNmedia).

Detailed outlet and contact information is available at Agility (agility.prnewswire.com).

Transparent Business Drives Great PR

A trip to the mechanic for a simple car repair delivers a lesson for our blogger in the PR ramifications of  how the availability of digital information can impact a business.  Conclusion: Transparent business practices are an important driver of great public relations. lil tweet bird

My coffee maker was on the fritz and the thermometer read -9 degrees Fahrenheit last Friday morning when I arrived – under caffeinated and frankly pretty grumpy — on the doorstep of the auto dealer I’ve used to service my car for the last few years.  One of my headlamps had burnt out, and while replacing the bulbs is usually a pretty quick fix and one I’ve handled myself previously, I decided to seek professional help due to the freezing weather.

What I ended up getting was an object lesson in how today’s age of radical transparency and the availability of digital information can impact a business.

As Tony, the service consultant at the dealer, pulled up my records and started the paperwork, he mentioned that replacing the bulbs in my headlights would cost almost $200.

“$200? How much do the parts cost?” I asked him.   That number sounded really high.

He told me the lamps cost between $20 -$25 each, but the labor involved was considerable, given the fact that the wheels and parts of the fender needed to be removed in order to change the bulbs.   He made it sound like A Very Big Deal.

But it also sounded fishy to me.  The daughter of an auto parts dealer, I know enough to be a little dangerous.  One of my most satisfying life moments was this exchange with a sales manager who was who was trying to sell a fluffy-haired 22 year-old me an over-priced extended care package on my first new car.

Him: “You know, if your carburetor goes kaput in five years, you’re covered.”

Me: “It’s fuel-injected.  It doesn’t have a carburetor.”

Back to my story.  The point is this: I’ve changed the bulbs on almost every car I’ve owned.   And I can assure you, I didn’t have to remove the wheels to get the job done.  EVER. 

Enter the connected customer

So I did what any connected consumer would do. I whipped out my iPhone and Googled “how to change headlight bulb 2009 Subaru Forester,” and within a second was watching a video of how it’s done.  It looked pretty simple, and I held my phone up so Tony could see.  He shrugged, saying they took the wheels off to change the bulbs.

By now, I was getting pretty angry.  I may be blond, female and (at the time of this incident) suffering from woefully low levels of coffee, but I wasn’t impaired enough to buy the story he was feeding me.   I killed the video, consulted Google again, and called another Subaru dealer, located a few suburbs away.

As a few other interested women wandered in from the adjacent waiting room to hear what was going on, I got connected with Johnny from the other dealer’s service department.

“I have a 2009 Forester XLT, and one of the headlamps has burnt out.  I’ve replaced bulbs in other cars, but not in this one,” I explained, staring levelly at Tony, who was starting to squirm a bit. “I’m trying to figure out if it’s something I can handle on my own, or if I should bring into the shop.”

“You can do it yourself, but we charge $15.61 for the labor to change a bulb, so you might just want to bring it in,” Johnny told me. “It’s a quick and easy job for us.”

Fifteen dollars and sixty-one cents? At that point, part of my brain short circuited.

“Johnny, let me level with you,” I said, reeling a bit from the huge disparity in potential charges.   “I’m standing here in the service department of another dealer, and they’re telling me they have to take the wheels and part of the front end off to change the bulbs, and it’s going to cost me almost $200. What gives?”

There was an uncomfortable silence, then Johnny replied, “Well, it *is* easier if you put the car in the air – that’s what we do.  We take the wheels off too, and go up from underneath.  But as I said, it’s an easy job for us and takes just a few minutes.  We charge $15.61 labor for each bulb replacement.  I think your dealer is charging too much.”

I thanked Johnny, told him I’d be there in about an hour, hung up, and told Tony I wanted my car brought back up.  It would be well worth my time to drive 15 miles to save over a hundred bucks.

Implications for brands

As I waited for my car, I thought about how transparency burned this particular dealer.   Brands simply can’t charge unreasonable prices, or make unreasonable claims in today’s networked information environment.  Information, examples and copious feedback are available via the smartphones in our pockets.

Assuming that your customers are uninformed and that you’ll get away with it is a recipe for disaster.   There are apps that provide instant access to reviews and can suggest the best repair shops for your make and model of car, which I suspect are going to problematic for my old dealer.

For businesses that have used information asymmetry to their advantage, the transparency evolution will be a particularly rude awakening.  Simply put, times are changing, and you can’t bet that your customers are clueless.  (Related:  App-Armed and YouTube-Educated, Taking Care of My Baby.)  In fact, some brands are using information to empower their customers, creating advocates and gaining efficiencies.

Bad service = bad search rank

However, before we even get into the big data argument, there’s another reason why organizations need to abandon models that capitalize upon their customers’ ignorance – these practices are risky, and can result in bad PR, detrimental online reviews and negative buzz.  Google has a history of cracking down on bad merchants, sinking their search rankings, and promised last year that they’ll continue to bury bad actors.

Transparency is good PR

Folks in the SEO space have been saying things like “The best SEO is great customer service,” for years now.  Their counter parts in social media have a similar corollary: “Want viral social buzz? Start with a great product!”   I’m going to create a maxim for PR:  “Transparent business practices drive great PR.”

Transparency ensures your front-line staff will never be hamstrung between mission statements that purport to put the customer first, and business practices that do anything but.  Operating under the assumption that everything about your organization’s practices can be discovered at any given time by any person effectively insulates the company from unwelcome surprised, whether it’s the ticked off customer or rogue ex-employee.  If there’s no fuel, there can be no fire.

As social and search become inextricably entwined, it’s crucial for brands to evaluate their business practices and ask themselves whether their practices can stand the test of transparency, and the PR team should be the catalyst. It’s good for business, and it’s good for PR.

Stay in on top of what people are saying about your brand with our MEDIAvantage media monitoring suite.  

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

The Top 10 Blog Posts of 2013

For the first time this year, tablets and smartphones surpassed desktop usage for shopping and social networking, marking 2013 as “the year we all went mobile.” The influx of new communication tools inspired PR and marketing pros to rethink traditional tactics in order to better accommodate the needs of their audiences. Beyond PR’s top blog posts of 2013 offered tips on competing for audience attention by targeting consumers with unique content, raising awareness through press releases, and maintaining engagement on social media. Here are the top 10 posts in descending order along with their key takeaways:

1)      Top 10 Best Practices for Social Media

Use social media to provide friendly and knowledgeable customer service on a consistent basis

2)      The Difference Between Social Media News Releases & Traditional Press Releases

Social-friendly formatting makes it easy for readers to share your content

3)      An Emerging PR Trend: Content PR Strategy & Tactics

Create content that represents your brand’s point of view within the timelines of a person’s search for information or buying process

4)      Generate Awareness, Not Links, With Press Releases

Press releases seed discovery among relevant audiences

5)      Do Press Releases Help SEO?

Human interaction with press releases boosts search engine rankings

6)      SXSW: Forget Stories. Your Brand Needs a Narrative

Build a narrative around your brand to encourage active long-term participation from the audience

7)      Content We Love: The Press Release Behind the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” Campaign

Sharing multimedia elements offers interesting insights behind the message of your campaign

8)      The Top Ten Reasons to Send a Press Release

Use a press release to establish your organization as a thought-leader within your industry  

9)      SEO is Dead, Now Lets Optimize!

Maximize the reach of your content by distributing on multiple channels

10)   Marie Claire Magazine: Pitching Tips & Overview from Editor-In-Chief Trish Halpin

Research the interests of key demographics and target your pitch accordingly

Thank you for reading our blog throughout the year and participating in the conversation. We wish you a very happy new year and look forward to facing exciting new challenges with you in 2014.