Nothing But Blue Skies Ahead — A Seasonal Update

Posted on April 28, 2015. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Much has happened since we last met, was it in January (that “month of empty pockets,” as Colette calls it).

Last week saw the last snowflakes of the season, so I ordain. (Not that the weather gods pay much heed to me. But still, it’s time for winter to take a breather.)

Revved Up About Transmissions

Although, speaking of winter, I did write up a white paper contrasting the mechanical and operating characteristics of the two main types of transmissions for snow blowers – the continuously variable transmission (CVT) and the friction-disk transmission.

CVTs emerged as the up-and-coming winner, but not just because my client produces them. They are a superior technology, as the white paper illustrated – and as proclaimed by one of the foremost industry bloggers, James Sikkema. (If you do anything in the outdoor power equipment space, you need to know Sikkema, a Wisconsin blogger whose influence rivals that of Consumer Reports.)

To get the white paper into the hands of consumers, I used a national newspaper syndication service as a primary media relations tool. The syndicated release generated a blizzard of placements in newspaper-related outlets across the country, even penetrating sun-drenched states like Texas and Florida. Good leisure-time reading for the snow birds down there!

Educating The Educators

I’ve also been busy on the education beat, producing and distributing a series of email marketing newsletters for educators in various states. Did you know there are 3.5 million teachers in the United States? My client hasn’t worked up the budget as yet to reach all of them via email, but it’s a goal. Working on this account has opened my eyes to the tremendous market that is education today, especially in edutech – an area of great activity in Minnesota.

I’ve rambled on about a few things I’ve been working on of late. The point I hope to make is that I’m still out here, available for project work and/or something more substantial should the need arise.

As always, I am here to serve. Contact me anytime at Doug Hovelson. Comments welcome too!

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Edtech Entrepreneurs Gather At Twin Cities Bootcamp.

Posted on October 18, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Change the business model, change the school.

Our challenge, which we readily accepted, was to change the college’s business model.

Make no small plans, said famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham.

Make no small changes to our school’s business model, decided we three initiates to the world of higher education administration.

Just Change It.

So, we bent to the task at hand: breaking the mold of an heretofore successful traditional four-year liberal arts college. Our intentions were good. All we wanted to do was make sure the college was fit to compete against the new uber-barbarians invading the collegiate space.

We got only so far down our chosen path before realizing that the future of western civilization rested in our hands.

We muffed it.

The Sponsored Education.

Call ours the corporate sponsorship approach to higher education management. The big idea was to sell not just naming rights but content rights to college courses – and even major areas of study – to the highest bidders. Big companies, we assumed, would jump at the chance to forge untrained students  into tailor-made corporate gladiators.

But how to  attract students to a school with such a Machiavellian bent? Easy. Ignore the students, and pursue the parents instead. Scare Mom and Dad into believing that without a degree from Corporate U, the kids were bound for dismal lives of career mediocrity.

Money does change many things. No more would our college cater to the student seeking a broad-based, liberal arts education. Theater majors, philosophy hounds and English Lit enthusiasts need not apply!

Giving The Boot to Western Civilization.

On that note, we understood how seriously off the rails our little exercise in collegiate reinvention had careened. For our model to succeed, western civilization needs must end.

The ghost of George Orwell was invoked at this point.

An Exercise In Business Redirection.

Fortunately, it was only an exercise – a game of business reinvention, played out in just 20 minutes. No colleges, universities or civilizations destroyed in the process. We, the players, were attendees of the recent Business Models In Education Bootcamp, organized by Educelerate Twin Cities and Education Startup and held in St. Paul. The goal of the exercise was to give us a hands-on feel for the work of strategically redesigning a business or institution. Working in groups of three, we tackled the job with the aid of a worksheet called the Business Model Canvas — a concept ably explained by Teresa Marchek, a Twin Cities business consultant and event co-facilitator.

The idea of the exercise, as boot camp co-facilitator Rajiv Tandon said, was to give us a crash course in leading business and institutional transformation. The bigger the change, the better for purposes of the exercise, Rajiv advised.

Scribbling down our thoughts on Post-It notes which we attached to the worksheet as a record of our journey, we tracked the effects of our ideas across nine different areas of strategic importance to the institution:

  • Customer segments
  • Customer relationships
  • Channels
  • Value Propositions
  • Key Activities
  • Key Resources
  • Key Partners
  • Cost Structure
  • Revenue Streams

Getting all those pieces to fit together takes some doing, obviously. Our brief plunge into the process did show us the value of the approach. Using the Business Model Canvas as our guide, we plotted out a rough outline for completely making over  our unnamed liberal arts college. That it would have been the sure ruin of a fine institution renowned for its instruction was beside the point. Working with the Business Model Canvas was the point – and a good one at that.

I’ve been to a few Educelerate Twin Cities events now. This was one of the best, not least because of the classroom-like activity. All Educelerate events are  an open window on the world of edtech entrepreneurship in the Twin Cities. Steve Wellvang, a partner at the Minneapolis law firm Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly, is one of the genial Educelerate organizers.

A recent article in Forbes Magazine hailed the Midwest as the nation’s new breadbasket for business startups. Medical and alternative energy were two sectors labeled attractive to venture capital investors; edtech from Minnesota belongs on the list as well. (See the Forbes article here: Forbes: Midwest Land of Opportunity.)

What’s your experience in edtech or business startups and innovation in general? I’d like to hear from you…

Download the Business Model Canvas here Model from the Business Model Foundry website.

Information on Educelerate Twin Cities is here: Educelerate.

Doug Hovelson, author of this blog post, is an experienced media relations and public relations professional working out of Minneapolis. Some might call him a media junkie, in a good way. He’s written and placed thousands of press releases and company stories in almost every media outlet known to humankind. He’s always delighted to talk media relations strategies with people who want to see if they can do more with their media relations efforts. He can be reached at 612-722-5501 or at doughovelson AT MSN Dot COM.

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Public Relations, Best Served With A Dash Of Magic.

Posted on May 23, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Time was when magicians were loath to reveal their trade secrets to anyone. To do so would be akin to Coca Cola giving away its secret recipe for its eponymous soft drink. There probably isn’t enough money in the world to entice Coke to publicly expose its secret soda recipe. But the lure of television dollars broke the brotherhood of magicians. Who hasn’t watched one of those hoary TV shows in which a professional magician takes you behind the scenes to see how the magic is actually made?

Not that I don’t believe in magic still. I do, just as I believe – against all the sputterings of the stern-faced naysayers – in the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs and in the theory that says Oswald didn’t do it by himself.

But most magicians are showmen and show-women, crowd pleasers who practice a learnable trade, it seems.

Let There Be Magic

Public relations people are often urged to go “do their magic” by clients. It’s a high compliment when someone – especially someone who’s footing the bill for your work – tells you that. It means they believe you as a PR person can move mountains of media coverage and publicity their way. That’s what PR people do, truth be told, especially if they’re on the agency or freelance side and must earn their way by performing magic on a routine basis.

But is there really magic involved? Public relations is certainly a learnable trade. It’s routinely taught in colleges and universities, alongside other disciplines such as accounting, public policy and law.
Sober-minded professionals will tell you that public relations is 99% hard work and 1% inspiration. Little room for magic there. But the wise public relations practitioner always keeps a little container of magic dust hidden about the office somewhere.

Because what clients, especially on the promotional side of things, want is real magic to take place. They want to see their story come to life through the media. They want to become more relevant with customers through social media. They want to see demand for their products and services soar. They believe in PR magic. And so should we, the PR practitioners. Because PR, when done well, does have an element of magic to it.

No Glory In Obscurity

How’s that, you say? (I won’t assume you’re a stern-faced naysayer if that’s what you say.)

How else to explain the sudden explosion of news coverage that occurs after a well-timed media event or well-crafted and disseminated news announcement? Yesterday, you weren’t even on the news media’s agenda. You were Mr. or Ms. News Nobody. Today, you’re in the news everywhere – or at least in all the news media outlets that mean something to you and your business. It’s a new day for you and your company. You feel good, like you just knocked in a 40-foot putt on the 18th hole at Augusta to beat a gape-faced competitor by one stroke.

Later in the week or month, as the case may be, after the excitement has died down some, you get to thinking: that was great, but what’s next? Is there any magic left in our story? How do we keep the momentum up, going forward!

Glad you asked.

This is where good PR people really earn their keep, by coming up with creative ways to keep their clients in focus with customers and prospective customers. We do it by recommending strategies and tactics that will engage and motivate customers to choose you over the competition. The selection of tools to use may vary, depending on a host of client-specific variables. Newsletters, social media, media briefings, feature story placements, new events, celebrity tie-ins, games – the PR toolbox is bigger than ever today.

The public relations world is bristling with opportunity for companies that are willing to open themselves up to it. Not all good PR ideas, it’s true, come from the outside PR experts. But a good many of them do, precisely because of that “outsider” point of view. That’s why it’s so important for clients – in my opinion – to engage with public relations agencies and freelancers (the aforesaid “outside experts”) not just on a one-time, gimme your best shot type of thing but for a longer-term engagement.

Inspiration Is Good Magic

Good PR people deliver outstanding value. There is a kind of magic in that. It’s a hard-won magic – public relations is the kind of profession where experience really counts, along with a near-rabid belief in one’s ability to make a difference in the world. Therein lies the true source of magic.

No good comes from trying to dispel the sense of magic that informs the world of public relations and marketing. True, they’re both disciplines, and in this age of big data driven marketing systems, it might seem that the scientific approach is dispelling any sense of magic that a PR practitioner might bring to the table. Can’t argue with the facts. Big data is impressive. Fixed up with a little PR magic and you might be surprised at just how impressive it can be!

So, to recap, PR is 99% hard work, 1% inspiration, leavened occasionally by a slight sprinkling of magic dust – some might call that mightily inspired thinking – by the PR practitioner who knows when and how to apply it. It all comes down to knowing what you want, knowing how to attain what you want, and then having the willingness to expend the time, effort and resources to achieve the goal.

The idea of magic might be off-putting to some. And yet, consider the Cubs and their Billy Goat problem. The last time they won a World Series was in 1908. They haven’t even been in a World Series since 1945. What’s really amazing is that Cubs fans still flock to Wrigley Field in droves, acting as if they believe every year that someone is going to wave a magic wand over the Northsiders and turn them into world-beaters.

What about you? Has the magical muse of public relations ever touched your life? Are you interested in making some PR magic for your own business endeavors? Feel free to leave comments, ask questions, even contact me directly and we could have good conversation about what type of PR magic might work best for your business.

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About Me – the author of the PRStar blog – professional version.

Posted on April 21, 2014. Filed under: About Me, Creative Marketing, Public Relations, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Long overdue, if I do say so myself.

Here’s a biographical sketch of the author of this blog:

My name is Doug Hovelson. I’m based out of Minneapolis, working as an independent public relations consultant and writer.

Background Facts

  • Former newspaper reporter, editor, photographer.
  • Freelance public relations professional in the transition from newspapers to PR. (My take at the time: Holy cow! You mean there’s real money to be made as a writer?)
  • Account executive work at a small but very aggressive Minneapolis agency, Brum & Anderson Public Relations.
  • Public relations account executive to partner, Bozell Worldwide, Minneapolis office over a span of 15 years. (I’ve got the commemorative 15-year anniversary watch to prove it. Still works. Good watch.)
  • It was a major agency battleship,Bozell, part of a network that eventually reached beyond the Midwest into  New York City and then morphed into True North – which in turn gave birth to the global advertising and communications holding company,Interpublic,orIPG as it’s now known. Big accounts lent themselves to big opportunities to grow and do great work for clients in industries such as bookselling, retailing, consumer electronics, consumer finance, healthcare, packaged goods, commodities and food, travel and tourism. Learned along the way – the compelling value of great writing and creativity as key components to successful public relations programs, campaigns – and even one-off projects. Combining public relations with advertising and other communicationsdisciplinesdeliversmaximum value for the client – that was a lesson well learned at the agency.
    • When we introduced the Pork: The Other White Meat campaign, for example, we led with advertising and then used public relations to explain the startling and true facts behind the campaign (that pork was an actual healthful white meat, akin to chicken and turkey and in fact superior to those two fowl-born products in many ways).
    •  For Reading Rainbow, an Emmy Award-winning children’s TV show, public relations was the entire show – we garnered attention for the show with a national media relations campaign highlighted by coverage in such august media outlets as the New York Times, Washington Post, Good Morning, America, Today Show, CBS News, TV Guide and more. We also created posters, brochures, contests, and other promotional type materials and activities for distribution and implementation by individual PBS stations throughout the country.
    • Media relations led the way when we introduced the era of digital satellite TV to America via client USSB/Hubbard Broadcasting. From the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to press conference settings in New York, Los Angeles and many other US cities, we dished out the news about this new way of obtaining basic and premium television programming via a small satellite dish that could be easily installed and enjoyed in homes across the country.
    • Those are just three of many examples that come to mind of the types of client challenges I dealt with while working at Bozell. The experience gained in working for large national accounts, often in tandem with advertising, direct marketing, market research and other forms of marketing disciplines helped me develop a very deep understanding of how to help clients successfully market their products and services with public relations strategies and tactics.
    • Big Thunder Public Relations, a boutique public relations agency – well, a solo PR firm with panache – owned and operated by yours truly. After working at a high profile place like Bozell, it sometimes feels like I’ve disappeared into the witness protection program as a solo entrepreneur. To combat that perception – and, frankly, to win more business and provide more and better services to clients – I’ve recently begun working on developing more strategic partnerships with other advertising and marketing agencies. And why not? The world is full of opportunities for agile, quick-thinking, creatively focused agency teams that can provide the right types of services for clients on a just-in-time or agency-of-record basis. I still leverage my background in journalism by emphasizing such specialties as great writing and content production, media relations in all of its contemporary permutations, and creative problem solving. In this latter capacity as a creative problem solver I often function as something of a general marketing advisor and promulgator of effective solutions, the goal being to advance the needle by whatever means work best. I’m not alone in this – some of the biggest public relations firms in the country have taken to calling themselves centers of client creativity of late – and I certainly believe that I and my style – and my strategic partners – fit that mode.

The Big Thunder Years – Client Experience By Type

Client experience in the Big Thunder realm includes:

  • • Healthcare technology – clinical management software
    • Conference and seminar marketing
    • Event marketing
    • Manufacturing
    • Outdoor power equipment industry
    • Consumer products – new product introductions
    • Automotive component manufacturing, US and international
    • Faith-based organizations
    • Non-profit organizations
    • Commercial real estate
    • Residential real estate
    • Professional services – law firms
    • Media
    • Food/specialty foods
    • Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise

Say Goodbye For Now

That’s about it for now. If you’ve a need for a fresh start with public relations for your business or organization – or simply want to talk with someone with an objective perspective on public relations and marketing – I hope you’ll think of me and Big Thunder. And don’t think that just because I’m located in the Twin Cities that my perspective is limited to the immediate area – the type of work I do and the level of expertise I can deliver can be of benefit to any company anywhere. In any case, I’d be happy to talk with you!

Contact information: doughovelson AT MSN Dot COM or 612-722-5501 in these United States, add the +1 in front of the number for international callers.

Interested in:

  • Queries from business people interested in upgrading their public relations approach for improved results
  • Simple introductory discussions with business people – including those who may be considering whether a public relations strategy is right for their business needs
  • Project work, including writing assignments of all kinds – PR, journalistic, promotional, research reports, etc.
  • Helping out any way I can – contacts, ideas, brainstorming, etc.

(more…)

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