Kluwe delays lawsuit against Vikings

Posted on July 24, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: |

Chris Kluwe and the Vikings, the story continues to evolve. Stay tuned.


Chris Kluwe was expected to file a lawsuit against the Minnesota Vikings today, but according to the Star Tribune, it isn’t happening.

Instead, Kluwe and his attorney Clayton Halunen will resume settlement talks with the Vikings. Halunen met Wednesday with Vikings lawyer Joe Anthony and both sides agreed to delay the lawsuit with hopes of settling things outside of court.

“We have not set a deadline so I can’t say there’s a deadline but I think both sides are interested in trying to determine whether or not our conversations are going to be a productive in a very short period,” Halunen said, according to the Pioneer Press. “I don’t expect it to be very long.

Halunen added that he hopes to come to an agreement with the Vikings within a few weeks.

Kluwe said Monday in an interview with KFAN radio that he is seeking “maximum damages,” somewhere…

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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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Pitching The Media, Channel Basics

Posted on April 3, 2014. Filed under: Media Commentary, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Reporters even today, in this most post-modern of post-modern worlds to date, prefer to get their pitches from PR people under cover of email. Or, get this, they’ll even take a story idea by telephone — yes that strange little talking device that pre-dates even the VCR, microwave ovens and the use of the designated hitter in baseball — over getting hit up with an idea by, say, a Tweet.

Not to say that all reporters, news producers and the like eschew the social media avenues for pitch contacts. TV reporters and program producers seem to get an abundance of their story ideas from social media sources, according to the 2014 Vocus State of the Media Report. This makes sense, since television news is particularly keen on reaching out to viewers for news tips and just generally more open to engaging with viewers via social media.

Best Bet – Email!

Email emerges as the favorite medium for story pitching for a number of reasons. One, it’s private. Two, it’s fast and also because people pay more attention to what’s happening in the email streams than they do to what’s being beamed at them on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and the like. Three, it’s easier to keep track of pitches sent via email versus the social media circuits.

Keeping things private, Edward Snowden aside, is pretty much a given when working with the news media. Some news people — outside the aforementioned local TV news realm — are receptive to receiving tips via openly public media such as Twitter. But putting a story idea up on a public Twitter feed also cues competitors in to what a reporter may be doing. It’s no way to pitch an exclusive story, that’s for sure. Most reporters that I know and work with seem to work under the assumption that whatever story they’re doing is their own private business — and they just don’t want other people outside their organization to know what they’re working on until they’re ready to reveal it themselves. This makes email a better choice than a public Tweet, especially if you’re pitching a particular story angle to a particular reporter. Using the private DM channel on Twitter to contact a reporter is a better approach – assuming you have that option – but again, there’s the chance that the reporter isn’t checking the Twitter feedline that often.

By Any Means Possible

A nice option is to use Twitter as a story-pitch alerter – signaling the reporter that you’ve got a newsy idea to discuss, with a note that you’ve sent an email – if that’s the case or left a voice-mail message if that’s the case. Use it as another tool for getting a news person’s attention, in other words.

Reporters often use Facebook and LinkedIn as means of tracking down sources. LinkedIn has its advantages with its built-in InMail feature, which allows users to send private emails to others in the LinkedIn system.

I find Twitter to be of immense use as a media relations tool, less for direct pitching of stories than for staying informed about specific media outlets and reporters. In fact, I often find myself browsing through my list of people I’m following on Twitter to find reporters and media outlets that might be interested in stories I’m currently pitching. The list changes all the time, depending on what I’m working on.

Personal Contact Is Essential

But for pitching story ideas – when you’re the pitcher – the best approach still seems to be a combination of email and followup telephone contact, perhaps supplemented by contacts on Twitter and other social media outlets where the news person maintains a presence. The unsettling thing about email is that you’re never sure if your pitch has been seen by a reporter who probably gets bombarded by email all day long. (There are unobtrusive email tracking systems that you can use to see if your emails are being opened; they just let you know if and when someone’s clicked open your email. (I’m not real familiar with the technology, although I’m interested in hearing from anyone who does know how effective such systems are and so forth.)

And yet, there are no absolutes — whatever works best with individual reporters and news people is the best approach.

Active media relations is very challenging work. The digital age has made it all the more complicated and demanding. People who do media relations work well tend to live and breathe the media world. Many are former journalists — more of them now than say 10 years ago. Now I’m speaking of media relations as the practice of reaching out to the media to generate coverage for clients. This goes beyond the idea of simply pumping out a press release, throwing it out on a paid distribution service, and sitting back to see what happens. Many companies do this for quick-fix SEO – search engine optimization reasons. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve got a good story to tell, one that you believe should be of interest to the media, then it’s worth taking the time to personally pitch the story to the media as well. The keys to great results, as the Vocus study shows, are persistence and using the appropriate means of contact.

Good Stories Buried With The Bad

Let me finish with a quote from a reporter at a national news media outlets in Southern California, as identified in the Vocus report. The reporter responds to the question of whether she is open to receiving pitches via social media. Her response appears to indicate that she isn’t currently receiving many pitches via social media.

“Yes, I think. It is hard to say what the long-term effect of my social media experience will be if my Facebook instant message or Twitter Direct Message box becomes packed with pitches like my email box is now. I routinely miss important emails as it is now because they are buried within the stack of “story ideas.” I think a more elegant solution is ahead of us, I just don’t know what it is yet.” – See more at: VOCUS State of the Media Report.

She sums up the crux of the matter, from a media relations perspective, very well when she says that a lot of important emails get buried under the stack of story ideas in her email box. That’s where good media relations people earn their keep – by finding ways to call pitch-saturated reporters’ and editors’ attention to their clients’ good story ideas. (Because a good story is a terrible thing to waste, damn it!)

Hats off to VOCUS for doing the report.

Got a media relations story to share, commentary on my commentary, etc? I’d love to hear from you.

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Now Hear This, Mom! Public Relations Makes Perfectly Good Sense.

Posted on March 13, 2014. Filed under: Family Life, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , |

Public relations was hard enough to define in lay terms  in the analog age. Imagine trying to describe to your mother what you did in PR back in the day when the word processor was a marvel of technical wizardry, laptop computers weighed umpteen pounds, and daily newspapers still had multi-page classified sections thick with want ads.

“I help companies get their messages out through the news media, Mom,” you might have said. That in lieu of going into a lengthy explanation about the need to identify key publics, slice and dice the demographic aspects of your target markets, develop a media platform by which to tell your story, align your efforts with overall corporate marketing and business strategies, and blah blah blah. Mom, meanwhile, has turned the page and is wondering whether she remembered to get  stamps yesterday so she can some household bills into the mail today.

Visuals Overcome Cultural Barriers

So you might try using pictures. We had a client, back in the good old days of actual cut-and-paste layout boards, that produced a children’s television show for PBS stations. The goal of the public relations campaign was to create national awareness for the new season of this show — a show which, by the way, earned several Daytime Emmys and was sponsored by one of the largest breakfast cereal companies in the world, one that features a noble beast of the jungle as a signature character. Anyway, we were charged with not only doing media relations but also station relations. So we storyboarded part of our presentation, including various poster concepts, newsletter concepts and some graphic slicks that could be dropped in as-is into print publications. Those visual materials were easily grasped by Mom, as they were by the client for that matter. Now Mom had some idea of what I did – promotional posters and colorful newsletters, of all things.

Fast forward to today. Now Mom, who’s relatively computer-averse, has an even harder time understanding what I — or most any PR-oriented individual — does. Besides getting people news and blogosphere coverage for all the many newsworthy and compelling stories that they have to tell, I have to talk about using social media channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn, blogs, brand journalism and Native advertising, and YouTube to “engage with key client audiences.”

Mom, meanwhile, is still sticking stamps on envelopes and using the U.S. Postal Service to pay her bills.

Back To The Marketplace

So I just say that I do a lot of copywriting for companies, come up with ideas to help them stand out in the marketplace and get their stories told in a lot of different venues — including the good old, but now quasi-analog media such as newspapers, television and radio — and give important people (such as customers and prospective customers) reasons to know about them, and like them well enough to do business with them.

If Mom wants to see pictures, all I have to do is get on the Internet and call up examples of my work.

Mom, of course, is computer-averse as mentioned earlier. She doesn’t like looking at stuff on computer screens. So there’s not much chance she’ll look at what I have to show online.

Mom, most likely, is dealing herself a hand of solitaire — one of her favorite pasttimes these days — while I finish up my spiel about what I do in my PR life. Being an analogist, Mom is playing with an actual deck of beat-up cards, Bicycle brand. I could tell her that I like to play solitaire to relax too — but now I play online. I wouldn’t even know how to deal a hand of solitaire these days. I’ve forgotten how. The computer does it for me. God help me if I ever get stranded on a deserted island with just a deck of cards for entertainment and no computer. I’d have to reinvent the whole damn world of solitaire all over again. Holy Hoyle!

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Social media: love is not enough for most businesses to live on

Posted on February 6, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , |

Strikes me that one of the hardest things for companies to do is to do social media properly from the inside of the company.

So natural to use the time/digital space to talk about the company and its wonderful culture, accomplishments, etc. But is that of real interest to the readers companies most want to attract?

Employees and their families, company “friendlies” – the “choir”  — naturally like to see that. If that’s the target audience, fine.

Detached observers, such as prospects, probably want to see something else – content that makes them think, entertains them, inspires them, informs them, hits them where they live.

Content such as journalists, and outsiders such as PR agencies and freelancers, produce.

It’s great to be loved by those who know you. Even better for businesses to be loved by strangers who may want to do business with you.

More on the subject here, from an MIT study: If You Like It They May Not Come.

I like to help people get the most for their marketing and PR money. If you think you could use some help making your social media strategies more effective, maybe we should talk. I’m almost a certified outsider, journalist, agency guy and freelancer all in one. I’m at Doug Hovelson or simply respond to this post.

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Email Pitches From Public Relations Agency Go Plunk, Plunk Plunk Into The Night

Posted on July 22, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , |

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a good reference piece about pitching stories into a highly competitive news media market Email pitches went unnoticed.

The writer – Alyson Shontell of Business Insider — indicates she deliberately ignored the 3 – count ’em, 3 – email pitches sent to inform her about a new Internet startup.

As it happened, the news about the launch of Rally.org would of interested Shontell. She might have written about the launch, had the PR firm — or more specifically, the “PR Lady” pitching the account for the firm — tailored its pitch to Shontell more adroitly.

Startups Clog The Email Pipeline

As Shontell tells it, she gets an “absurd amount” of email about startups daily. So to cut down on the information overload, she screens messages by looking first, to see if she knows the sender; secondly, by what’s in the title line; and thirdly, by what’s in the first sentence of the release as revealed by Gmail’s preview tool.

One of the pitches failed because the title line indicated the attached news was embargoed until a certain release date and time. No no no, Nanette or whatever the PR Lady’s actual name is, this didn’t work because Shontell doesn’t want to be treated like a commodity. She wants exclusives, like every other reporter! (It’s actually refreshing to hear a reporter say that’s how the game is played.)

Another pitch failed because of a weak title line, something about some company named Rally.org — not yet on the national business radar screen — pointing out a flaw in rival Kickstarter’s formula for social fundraising via an Internet-based technology platform.  Fair enough. Subtlety is not a virtue when pitching stories into the national media maw.

Stranger In A Strange Email Inbox

All of the pitches had one strike against them with this reporter by virtue of the fact that the sender was unknown to her. That’s an absurdly common problem in PR, since most PR practitioners, especially in agencies, deal with a wide variety of companies and industries and can’t know everybody who’s anybody in the news business – else why have media list services? It’s also a bit of a canard, and good PR people know it’s ultimately the newsworthiness of the pitch that will make or break the selling of the story to a reporter and his or her news organization. Shontell actually acknowledges this, noting it was obvious that the PR Lady did not know her – meaning she didn’t know what made Shontell’s news detector screen go on full alert.

How so? Because the pitch was not well-tailored enough to grab Shontell’s attention. The news, the really interesting part of the news, as she notes, was buried in the news release somewhere (the really interesting news was that some big nationally known investors were backing this unknown company). Use of those names as calling cards in the title line of the email or at least in the lede sentence, would have piqued Shontell’s interest and caused her to read on — because she knew those investors’ names, had probably written about other investments they had made (something that the PR person could have discovered in advance) and so was inclined to grant the all-important credibility factor to any startup company backed by such financial luminaries.

Hold That Cursor, There’s More To The Story

Shontell seems to be just telling it like is is. As a reporter for a digitally based, breaking news-focused business news site, she probably has little time for idle chit-chat or investigating every little news release that comes  her way.

Exclusive angles, sharply written title lines in emails, powerful lead sentences, and an approach hand-tailored to each reporter and outlet – especially the majors, however that is defined on an individual client basis — all are important considerations. None of this is to say that Atomic PR failed its client, Rally.org, in getting news out about the startup. Shontell only thought to write about what went wrong with the pitches that the PR agency sent her way after seeing news about Rally.org elsewhere. Something must have gone right for the PR Lady.

More to the point, Shontell provides a warts-and-all look at what it takes to separate the wheat from the chaff in email pitching. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just about who the public relations practitioner knows in the media world but what the PR pro knows about crafting messages that attract media attention. Why warts-and-all? Shontell’s anatomy of why she missed the Rally.org story has a bit of a mea culpa feel to it as well. She did miss the Rally.org story, after all – while others got it.

A followup telephone call might have helped clarify things, but it’s not clear whether that’s even an option in this case.

PR people continually face the obstacle of getting past the various shields that people in the media put up to keep from becoming paralyzed by info overload. It’s a never-ending job. Every reporter is different. As Shontell suggests, it’s the PR person’s job to get to know them.

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Better Than A Panic Button: Event Remarketing

Posted on April 13, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , |

Lady Gaga performing at "the Bazaar"...

Lady Gaga performing at "the Bazaar", 654 Peachtree Street Atlanta, GA (next to the Fox Theatre) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Event marketing can be rife with stress.

Let’s say you’ve got a conference that you’re marketing, and you don’t have Lady Gaga performing. It’s just a conference, a business conference,  with some interesting speakers involved. You know who you’re marketing to, and you’ve done all the usual things such as getting information out early and often, running some advertising…and still, here it is a couple of weeks before the big event and attendance is lagging expectations.

Time to hit the panic button?

Maybe not.

Maybe it’s just time to get a bit more creative.

The panic button approach, often, is often a grim affair that involves near-rote telephone and email contacting and re-contacting of people within the target audience segment. “Are you aware of the event, and are you coming?” That’s often the panicky message of the last-minute. But there is another way — and that is to feature fresh content in your market efforts. Or in formal terms, “remarketing” efforts.

Releasing a new video, featuring a hot speaker who “just confirmed” for the event, on YouTube — with appropriate related marketing such as online advertising, a new news release, etc. is the way to go. Along with a fresh and exciting website landing page, created just to give the undecideds a new reason to consider attending your event.

It’s a cool idea, and one that probably should be budgeted for upfront. Unless you’re absolutely sure that your event is a guaranteed sold-out affair. Which it might be if you’ve got Lady Gaga or George Clooney on the bill. But if you need that extra, last-minute turbo boost of energy to drive up the attendance numbers, a “remarketing” effort complete with fresh and creatively produced content sounds like a good idea to me.

Thanks to Vincent Neve and his article “Remarketing for Conversion” on the SearchEngineLand website for the inspiration.

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Run It By The PR People

Posted on February 25, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Society | Tags: , , , , , |

Title page of the first German translation of ...

First German Translation Of Koran, 1772, Wikipedia

Public relations is often belittled as a high-gloss, no-substance operation. But that’s a mistake. Public relations is a make-or-break deal for any organization today.

Case in point: the disaster in Afghanistan following the burning — “inadvertent,” as the President says — of the Korans in Afghanistan by U.S. military personnel.

There is absolutely nothing amusing about this incident. Deadly consequences are occurring due to what was apparently a routine garbage disposal operation by the military — burning a few unwanted books. In a country where certain books are deemed sacred and inviolable.

I can’t presume to know what was going through the minds of the people who put the books out for burning. But here are some thoughts:

  • Americans live in a world flush with books, none of which are deemed irreplaceable. No book, not the Bible, not the Koran, not the Tibetan Book of the Dead, no book is seen as worthy of dying for in the U.S. — nor in the rest of the secular Western world to my knowledge. Not today, although that was certainly not the case in the past. William Tyndale was burnt at the stake in Belgium in 1596 for the heresy of publishing the Bible. Tyndale broke the rules by making the Bible accessible to the masses.
  •  But in a world where books are as readily available as corn flakes, and sold and consumed in much the same fashion — and in this I speak of printed material, not of the e-books which float in their own universe through the cyber clouds — where’s the harm in chucking a few copies into the trash? It happens every day. Although Tom Warth, founder of Books for Africa Books For Africa website has set up an entire charitable enterprise based on the idea that the Western world’s discarded books are food for thought (literally) for book-starved African schoolchildren.
  • So it isn’t much of a stretch to surmise that for the American Koran burners in Afghanistan, it was just no big deal to burn a few books. But it turned out to be a terrible mistake. One that has ended up costing the lives of both Americans and Afghans. This is now considered a horrible public relations problem for America — a PR nightmare, as is the clichéd saying.
  • And it is, a true PR nightmare.
  • Like many PR nightmares, it didn’t have to happen. Not if someone in charge had any good PR sense — or had the sense to run it by the military public affairs people to see if there weren’t any problems in the offing if books such as the Koran (the holiest of holy books in Islam, come on! How dense can you be not to understand that after all these years of ground troop involvement in the Islāmic world?) were thrown into the fire.
  • But this kind of thing happens with regularity in the ordinary world of business, politics, media…in the western world. Corporate executives ram themselves into the merciless maw of the Internet by posting an un-PR-approved message on their blog (think Netflix). Fortunately the consequences for corporate PR disasters are never so severe as what is taking place in Afghanistan now due to the ham-handed handling of the Koran burning there.
  • But there is a lesson to be learned here, and it is really a bitter one, and that is that public relations is more than just a “nicety,” more than just a slick Madison Avenue-type trickery for pulling the wool over people’s eyes, more than just biased flackery.
  • In this case, in Afghanistan, a good public relations position on the wisdom of burning Korans — “extremist literature” is what the military called it, taken from prison libraries — would have been this: don’t do it. At least, don’t do it within sight of any Afghan nationals. Bundle them up, put them on an airplane, ship them the hell out of the country, incinerate them in some backyard barbecue pit at Langley, but for God’s sake — the God of western life, so routinely invoked in daily conversation, a figure of emphatic speech — don’t pitch them into the fire in front of the local help! In so doing, you invite the fiery wrath of the Islāmic faithful. What a disaster.
  • And yet, here is the rub: public relations in this case would have been of a preventive nature. Scoffed at, perhaps, as the province of the overly sensitive, the instinctively politically correct. Who knows? Useless to speculate from afar on people’s decisions in a world far different from that of the civilized west. And yet, it’s easy to see — in hindsight, of course — what one small ounce of sound, public relations prevention could have accomplished in the battle to win the hearts and minds of at least some in the Islāmic world.
  • Hindsight. One of the most important functions of good public relations, deployed in a timely fashion, is to cut the risk of looking back in sorrow at actions taken. That, it seems to me, makes PR more of a necessity, less of a luxurious nicety.


Culture Wars: Burning of the Korans

Barack Obama Apology to Afghanistan

Afghans Vent Fury Over Koran Burning

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Loppet or Leave it

Posted on February 7, 2011. Filed under: Public Relations, Sporting life, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , , |

Minneapolis Loppet street banner

Minneapolis Loppet - a celebration of winter's wonders


What’s in a name? A plethora of wobble-legged snow cruisers, in the case of the world-famous City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis. When a California friend asked me what a loppet was, I was forced to admit I didn’t know. This in spite of living and working in Minneapolis all these years, with some ongoing exposure to the cultural life of the city. In my ignorance, I suggested to my SoCal friend that a “loppet” might indeed be some kind of a rabbit – a notion derived via a mental association of the word with the lop-eared rabbit of lore.

Visions of rabbit-stormed streets dashed

But I was wrong. It turned out there were no armies of ski-borne rabbits slipping noiselessly through the streets of Minneapolis during the recent loppet weekend (Minneapolis Star Tribune loppet recap).

No these were just ordinary two-legged cross-country skiers of the human kind, now assembled en masse in one spot for a weekend of slippery snow-sliding fun and friendly, democratic competition.

Nordic roots

As I discovered in doing due loppet diligence on-line:

“The word ‘loppet’ has its origins in Scandinavian culture and commonly refers to a mass participation cross-country ski event which includes longer, marathon length distances and both recreational and competitive elements. Some definitions refer to a loppet as a ‘citizen’s race,’” according to Sleeping Giant Loppet – a site promoting the March 5, 2011 loppet to be held in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

So it was that, once again, the value of a name was driven home to me.

Selling loppets to Californians

Loppet is assuredly a curious name for an event held in the United States – and on the same weekend as the superlatively named Super Bowl, of all things – and one that commands attention if only by begging for further explanation.

If a Californian has to ask, “what’s a loppet?” then there’s obviously a case to be made for a more forceful public relations effort in behalf of the world-famous Minneapolis Loppet. Something for Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak – the chief proponent of the Minneapolis Loppet – to consider as he basks in the afterglow of this past weekend’s very successful event. And one in which the Mayor himself was very much involved, as denoted from his breathless Sunday afternoon Tweets charting his own progress over the snow-covered course.

If the loppet of Minneapolis is indeed a cross-country ski celebration, as it most certainly is, it perhaps should have a mascot – and a lop-eared Finnish rabbit from Lapland would be a good one, in my humble opinion.

Randomly Noted:

Cost to make a child’s wish come true: “about $6,000,” according to Tom McKinney, executive director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota. (See “Clawback Incorporated” in Twin Cities Business Monthly for details.)

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PR Prose: Once More, With Feeling

Posted on January 24, 2011. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public relations practices | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

“The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to their dream.” Joan Didion
How good are you at getting readers to listen in on your business dreams?

Good writing is good PR and good marketing, whether it’s a 140-character Tweet, a  Facebook post, a press release, website copy, a blog, a brochure, a presentation…

Annoyance Avoidance

Advertising Age writer Bob Knorpp recently riffed about the often lamentable state of “PR prose,” as he termed it:

“I promote myself every bit as much as the worst spammy PR offender on Twitter…,” Knorpp wrote in his blog, The BeanCast. “Yet time and again, I’m specifically called out by people saying ‘You do it right.’ How so, he asked – and people said, “You aren’t as annoying.”

His secret: he looks for the interesting angle.

Shock alert!

He writes to be read, in other words.

Give ‘Em A Reason To Read

Not such an earth-shaking revelation. Really, it’s J-School 101 stuff, and yet — here it is, 2011, well into the information age, and what have we?  Knorpp, a respected writer, certainly one on the receiving end of untold number of fuzzily focused PR pitches and abysmally written press releases, needs to remind PR people that their first duty to their reader is to be interesting.

So, we’re not talking about fancy writing. We’re talking about writing that people actually want to read, writing that they can understand and absorb. Writing that will motivate them to do something that corresponds to your underlying reason for communicating with them in the first place. To visit your store or website, for example. Buy your book or call you to discuss a new project. Hire your firm to handle their business.

Write with care, write with the needs of the audience in mind. When in doubt, rewrite. Consult the AP Stylebook. Good writing – part of that all-important “content” equation — is always a good business investment.

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For Immediate Release: Death Of Press Release Disputed

Posted on January 18, 2011. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , |

Edward Bernays was the self-appointed Father o...

Edward Bernays, PR pioneer, press release pro

All this talk about the press release being dead, it’s just talk. And what is talk if not cheap?

Granted the press release, ever malleable, gets used in ways never imagined by early PR superheroes such as Edward Bernays or Ivy Lee.

It’s certainly true that a press release can be issued on Twitter, 140 characters, maybe less, directly on message and without further ado – such as links to backgrounders, bios, calendars, visuals, etc.

Reliable, Always In Demand

If so, so what? What is a press release but a tool, more like a pair of pliers or a screwdriver than an air pressure gauge – that is more of a generalist than a specialist – and so adaptable to whatever purpose is at hand.

The press release is just a handy device, really, something that can be created readily enough by a seasoned pro, easy to use, informative and always there when someone such as a media person asks, “What have you got in writing?”

A Social Media Workhorse

I don’t know what could be simpler than that. Sure, we’ll go ahead and add in all the social media bells and whistles, the links, the graphics, the interactive pieces, the embedded video, the boldly concise writing style, all the wizardry of the digital age. It’s still a press release, requiring some effort by someone, usually a PR person, to organize information in such a way as to communicate a message about something.

So no, I don’t think the press release is going away anytime soon. (Although we could all do with a lot less of the PR-speak that seeps into a lot of press releases, giving them a written-by-a-lobotomized-robot feel.)

Not all press releases are created equally. A simple new-hire release needs to be short and to the point. It’s going to get boiled down to a line or two in the trades anyway. But a new product release, or a release announcing a new study, survey, initiative, new use for an existing product, those are the kinds of releases that can use some creative flair and persuasive language.  Something out of the ordinary. News! Real news! Make the most of it. Write up a fireball of a press release.

Pay By The Press Release? If Only…

But as all of us in PR know, we don’t get paid by the press release. We get paid for results.

Maybe what the press release needs is its own advocacy campaign, sponsored by some organization such as The Society For The Preservation Of The Press Release (SPPR). Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Maybe I’ll send out a press release asking for contributors to the cause.

[Note: the author owns no stock in any press release manufacturing organization other than his own PR agency at the time of this writing.]

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Links Noted: PR, Social Media And More

Posted on November 25, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , |

Social media and public relations, sometimes an uneasy alliance. A brave new world for journalists. Nonprofits slow to see the payoff in social networks, and a church where story-telling is used to share the gospel online.

Stop dumping social media on your PR | The Wallblog/UK
The journalist of the future: 7 – 0r 8 – archetypes | Media Standards Trust/UK
Nonprofits still see the potential in social networks — but so far aren’t seeing many results | The San Francisco Business Times
Share Your Story | Northland Church

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Digging Digital Daily Diary

Posted on November 19, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Danica Patrick at the SEMA Show 2007 - Las Vegas.

Image via Wikipedia, Danica Patrick at the SEMA Show, 2007

Friday, November 19, 2010
Who’s making news, what’s working now, items netted from the inscrutable ether-cloud, all about PR in the digital age:
  • The IZOD IndyCar folks jumpstart the 2011 auto racing season, announcing that Lotus will supply racing engines for the series beginning next year — giving existing suppliers Chevy and Honda a run for their money. On hand for the press conference — YouTubed at IndyCar/Lotus presser — was legendary driver Parnelli Jones, who raced a Lotus engine at Indy in the mid-1960s. Nothing else really special about the video from the press conference except for the news content — certain to electrify IndyCar racing fans. Straightforward, just the facts, running as posted for about 6 1/2 minutes. Lotus engines, long absent from the IndyCar scene, will bring a new level of competition to a series struggling to recapture the hearts and minds of racing fans. Particularly in  the U.S., where IndyCars were relegated in popularity to virtual club-level racing status over the past 25 years. Danica Patrick, the only household name in IndyCar racing of this current era, is slidestepping her way into NASCAR. Lotus (Team Lotus) will add much-needed excitment to the series.
  • Too good to be true? PR executive Beth Monaghan is choosing nowness over the constant pitter-patter of email alerts, at least during business meetings. So she says in an article she penned for Business Insider. Citing a confluence of signs emanating from the infinite mind of the universe, most notably her 22-month-old daughter’s incredible aptitude for demanding one’s undivided attention, Monaghan says she also pledged to blot out intrusive email signals while tending to her child. Sounds risky, but maybe it will take hold.
  • On the subject of ambulatory messaging, we were in the midst of soaking up the atmosphere at a press conference at the Minnesota state capitol the other day when, lo and behold, a message from beyond — a maddeningly long riff from a popular song — erupted from someone’s breast pocket. This despite the warning posted at the door against such frivolous intrusions. Naturally the shame-faced culprit scrambled for some few seconds — it only seemed like a short eternity — to trap the offending device and extinguish its voice. The distinguished speaker of the moment — a member of the state legislature, for cripe’s sake — hit pause himself until the device was adequately subdued. “At least it was a nice song,” he allowed, as an appropriately respectful hush descended once again on the room.
  • Speaking of missed opportunities, I was unable to attend the IamMPLS creative extravaganza at the FineLine Music Cafe in downtown Minneapolis Thursday night. I could say I was there in spirit, but that’s a pretty lame sentiment, and untrue in any case. It sounded like a lot of fun, and for a good cause, to celebrate the creative spirit of the city. Not a bad idea to get the creative class together for a night out in these increasingly cold, dark times. Sponsors were, I believe, City Pages, 89.3 The Current and Thrifty Hipster.com.
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Print Is Dead, Except It Isn’t

Posted on November 15, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Print Media Academy, Office and Seminar Buildi...

Image via Wikipedia

Rob Cox, a columnist at Reuters.com, notes that “old media” still play an outsized role in the court of public opinion, mainly because of the age of those in charge.

Speaking primarily of print media, Cox says it’s the print media dinosaurs such as Newsweek and Forbes that still get read — and even more importantly, taken seriously — by the pre-digital generations. Since they tend to be the ones in power today, and consequently have the most money, their fealty to the print cause is of major interest to advertisers. Even so grievously wounded a dinosaur as Newsweek is still a force to be reckoned with simply because of this demographic reality, he says.

But as the younger generations, with their pronounced digital biases, move to the forefront of society, true print journalism will disappear. In that scenario, newspapers and magazines have perhaps 10 more years of life left in them. Then not only will trees and the people who love them breathe easier, but the digital takeover of journalism and mass media will be complete.

It’s a most likely scenario, and one I agree with.

Print, The Next Generation: A Custom Job

However, I don’t think it means the end of print media as we know it but rather a morphing into a new era of special interest print publications in which the medium is used to call special attention to issues and other matters of importance to people. Because if there is one thing the digital world is not, it’s unified. And in the end, those with the most money will have the ability to deliver the most message for the buck, meaning they’ll be able to claim digital attention in this new hyper-fragmented world ahead.

<p.Print with its ability to focus attention — if something’s in your face or hand, it’s hard to ignore — will continue to play a role albeit in a more custom-created way.

Here’s a link to Cox’s Reuters column: Print is dead: long live old media.

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Sponsored Content Is Here To Stay

Posted on November 10, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , |


Image via Wikipedia

Will ForbesAdVoice Be The Model – PRSA Chief Says No

Old media lions sure don’t lack for chutzpah.

Case in point: Forbes magazine.

Forbes, it seems, is jumping into the online sponsored content game with both feet (or is that with both hands open and outstretched?).

The venerable business bi-weekly magazine is running an online section called “ForbesAdVoice”. Sponsors pay for the privilege (and what price, privilege?) of having their self-penned content nicely laid out on a page that bears a striking resemblance to the general editorial production of the magazine.

The copy is clearly labelled, at the top, as being a ForbesAdvoice section.

Even at first glance, it seems obvious this is purchased space. Nothing unusual about that, except that the section is so cleverly designed that it could, stress could, fool the unassuming reader into thinking it was real journalism they were looking at.

Unassuming Reader, Beware

Happily, my first encounter with the suspected offender was anything but unassuming. A column in Advertising Age, written by Public Relations Society of America Chairman and CEO Gary McCormick, had alerted me to the dangers ahead. McCormick had gone so far as to call this a “nefarious” endeavor.

I as a reader was on my guard, determined to not only spot the fraud but expose it on the spot, via my Twitter button if need be.

A Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing?

Imagine my surprise when I saw nothing more squalid than a banner ad from SAP advising me to run my business better (damned good idea there) and a by-lined column (AKA a blog post) from a SAP executive disputing the notion that business software was dead. Below that, links to more SAP-sponsored AdVoice bloggings, links to SAP web pages, and an assortment of links to various technology-related stories authored by real Forbes journalists.

McCormick makes an excellent point in his Ad Age piece about the need for “transparent PR.”

Sponsored Content: It’s A PR Thing

Sponsored content is one of the fastest growing segments in online marketing and communications, so it stands to reason that many PR people will be involved in writing and influencing such material. Publishers such as Forbes, have a responsibility to be up front with readers about what’s legitimate journalism and what’s a commercial product paid for by an outside source. Ultimately it’s in their best interest to be above-board with readers. That’s especially true with a publication like Forbes with its large following within the investment community, a group most susceptible to being both duped and able to spot the main chance.

People don’t like to feel like they’re being duped.

Nothing To Tweet About

But I’m not so worried that the readers of Forbes will be duped by the AdVoice section. Even though the labelling doesn’t scream that this is sponsored content, it’s still hard to miss. And you might expect Forbes readers to be a somewhat media savvy lot to begin with. (A telling point: only two readers had Tweeted the SAP-authored article when I visited the page on Wednesday morning, Nov. 10, which isn’t a lot of traction in the Twitterverse.)

What McCormick seems to be most worried about – and this is a very legitimate point – is what will happen If publishers start to push the envelope with even more cleverly disguised sponsored content features. If that happens – and given that it’s the Internet, it undoubtedly will happen – then I expect we could see some blowback in the form of more government regulation. That’s not a happy thought, however. Let’s hope the publishing world, especially those with reputable leanings, musters up the resolve to police itself.

In the meantime, I may go and try to dig up that cat-shaped mousey electronic device that Forbes dropped on me as a loyal subscriber sometime back in the early years of the dot-com age. I never did use it as it was intended, mostly because I couldn’t figure out what it was actually intended to be used for. I seem to recall putting it in a corner of the basement where in hopes of entertaining a few real mice.

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A Brand Is A Wonderful Thing For A Small Business To Grow

Posted on November 8, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

George Orwell: no Orwellian tactics needed to achieve effective branding strategies

Image via Wikipedia

You’ve got a brand.

If you’re in business, you’ve got a brand.

How you interact with your audience says a lot about your brand.

Money In The Bank — Under Someone Else’s Name

A brand is earned equity. It’s what others think of you, your product, your company. Think of it as the capital that you’ve built up with your market – or are in the process of building up.

Because a brand exists in the minds of others, it’s essential that PR be involved in the brand development process. Why is that? People want stories, they want credible information, they want answers to questions about companies, such as:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What makes you unique?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • How do I know I can trust you?

In terms of products, people want to know things like:

  • What does it do?
  • Can I trust it/rely on it?
  • Why is it better for me than what’s already available?
  • Why do I need this particular product?

Even more, today, people want to be able to engage with the brands in their lives, both work and personal. They don’t want to just be sold stuff. In fact, people simply won’t sit still for corporate monologists who only want to harangue them with their sales pitch until they buy, buy, buy. From them, of course.

Enter The New Normal Brand Conversation

People have choices. Their first choice, especially in this Great Recession-born “new normal” environment, is often not to buy. Unless they have convincing evidence, drawn from a variety of trusted sources, that what they are about to put their hard-earned money into is indeed a fair trade. Money for a product that delivers what the buyer expects. And if it does that, people may in fact be willing to continue to do business with you.

Building out the infrastructure of “trusted information sources,” that’s a role that PR can play in
your ongoing brand development process. Note the phrase “brand development process.” Brands are never static; think of them as being under continual development, in the minds of your customers. You don’t have to be an expert in mind control — like some marketer manque from George Orwell‘s dystopian novel, 1984 — to be an integral part of the process.

Fortunately you as the owner of, and steward of, the brand, can deploy your resources on the marketing and communications side to influence your customers’ brand perceptions. In fact, it is incumbent upon you as the brand producer, to respond to your market’s needs for information. The customer, after all, has a certain vested interest, in your brand as well. It’s up to you, the marketer, to nurture and grow that interest in ways that are harmonious for you and your customers alike.

– 30 –
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Cash Call On The Holidays

Posted on November 7, 2010. Filed under: Economic Trends, Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Cover of "Surviving Christmas"

Cover of Surviving Christmas

Twin Cities malls are booked up with tenants, and brimming with good feelings about the holiday shopping season, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Sunday, Nov. 7).

Psstt…Don’t Tell The Pickpockets!

USAA, in a very cleverly conceived press release, reports that the new normal still holds true for this holiday season.  Ninety percent of the public plans to use cash when shopping for holiday items, according to USAA’s second annual holiday spending survey. (Let’s hope this news doesn’t get widely circulated among the nation’s pickpockets.)

Cash is the enemy of the plastic industry, of course: and indeed credit card issuers will be feeling the pinch if shoppers remain committed to leave the plastic at home. Only 41% of shoppers plan to use credit cards for their purchases, the survey says.

“The survey findings indicate that adopting better money habits as a result of the Great Recession isn’t a fad, but more of a long-term trend,” said Joseph Montanaro, a financial planner with USAA.

Consumer Sentiments Measured By Movie Relativity

Still 46% of consumers said that the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” is how they feel about their plans for holiday spending. But “Surviving Christmas” is the movie that best matches the budgetary concerns of 28% of families. The National Retail Federation projects a 2.9% increase in retail spending this year; that will mean a total holiday cash haul for retailers in the range of $447 billion, according to the NRF forecast. (By comparison, retailers rang up $435.6 billion in holiday sales in 2005, another year when consumers were coming out of a recessionary shell.)

It doesn’t take much for retailers to wax optimistic, of course. But in Minnesota at least, it looks as if the early November giddiness may be justified. For one thing, the state unemployment rate is just 6.6%, well below the national average. The Mall of America is 100% leased for the first time in 18 years, according to the Pioneer Press article.

Then there’s the Minnesota Vikings factor, a heretofore unreported prediction of increased Twin Cities mall traffic on Sundays if the Vikings’ continue to beat themselves out of playoff contention. Nothing like a little festive holiday shopping to ward off those collapsing football team blues after all.

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New Journalism 101: Slanted Coverage Is Us?

Posted on November 5, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

NBC News Washington

Image via Wikipedia

What about this new journalism that eschews objectivity? It’s not real journalism say some. Journalism is becoming more and more something that is what it is in the eye of the beholder it seems.

The shrill cries against the mainstream media (MSM) — emanating from the farther reaches of all sides of the political spectrum, including the apolitical anarchists — echo throughout the land. People I know on both the left and right are convinced, absolutely convinced, that the so-called mainstream media are comprehensively biased one way or the other.

Even Davy Crockett Knew How To Play The Game

Being in public relations, I can understand their frustrations. Getting your voice heard through the din of the media marketplace is a big problem. But it’s been like that since, what, the invention of the mass media? Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier, had a PR agent. The early Ottoman emperors employed their own scribes to write their accounts of their reigns.

More recently, I’ve worked with clients who were absolutely convinced that they could never get a fair shake in the MSM because of A) their political/religious bent; B) their lack of a powerful advertising budget; C) their ethnicity. In all cases, it wasn’t that the MSM was fundamentally opposed to their side of the story. It was that they needed to first figure out what their story was, and then package it properly and pitch it to the appropriate reporters and editors etc. in a timely fashion. And yes, there was an element of “let’s hope for the best,” as there always is when you’re asking someone to do something for you.

I’m not saying that the MSM isn’t ever biased. That’s just not realistic. But in general, if you’ve got a good story to tell, there’s usually a way to get it told through the news media.

Dogs Do It, Editorialists Do It…

Look, it feels good to have a platform to air your views, the bigger the better as Keith Olbermann and every other media commentator with a license to be opinionated knows. (I’m reminded of my pup days in journalism, when one of the newspaper’s grand old editors advised me to keep in mind that writing an editorial was a lot like a dog pissing on its hind legs, it felt so good to the dog that it didn’t care what kind of mess it created.)

But most reporters, and most editors, are still looking for the good story first and foremost within the constraints of whatever particular outlet they happen to be working for at the time. Not to say that bias doesn’t happen. But persistence and some degree of knowing how to package a story, as well as cultivate the media’s attention, still goes a long way in getting information through the gate and into the promised land of MSM news coverage.

And no, the odds are that the media are not going to do a free ad for you. You’ve really got to have news, or at least one heck of a good angle.

– 30 –

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On ‘Repositioning’

Posted on November 2, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , |

Actually reading Jack Trout’s latest book on repositioning — called, aptly enough, Repositioning. Looking to cull some client-worthy some ideas from him.

Seems like he’s kind of been saying the same thing for a long time but he updates it and he’s got some good points about how companies need to make PR more central to their repositioning efforts.

Sometimes I think Dick’s whole career has been focused on him trying his damndest not to have to actually work for one of these giant companies he advises. He doesn’t much like bigness in corporations; the obvious point being that the CEOs get out of touch with what’s actually happening on the front lines. Point well-proven in the financial services sector in recent years.

Book’s highly stimulating and thought-provoking and short enough to read in a few hours.

Brevity in business writing is a wondrous thing to behold. Here’s Trout and co-author Steve Rivkin on management books: “To us, how to be an effective leader isn’t worth a whole book. Peter Drucker gets it into a few sentences.”

You’ll have to read the book to see how it turns out with Drucker on management. It’s definitely worth the read if you’re at all interested in marketing.

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Triumph Of The Smart Marketers

Posted on October 13, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , |

Small businesses need to really look closely at the social media tools at their disposal to grow their businesses.

Foursquare is one such tool, along with Twitter, Facebook and the ever-growing array of new media initiatives that innovative developers are producing

As The Wall Street Journal notes in today’s (October 13, 2010) issue:

“To get noticed, businesses ‘don’t necessarily have to outspend their competition any more. They can outsmart them,’ says Dan Zarrella, social media scientist at marketing-software firm HubSpot Inc.”

In other words, you don’t have to spend buckets of hard-earned money on expensive traditional media channels in order to launch an effective business expansion plan.

I may not be a “social media scientist” such as the above-quoted Dan Zarella, but I’m both an avid student and practitioners of all forms of marketing-driven public relations, especially of the “we can’t outspend them so let’s out-smart them” variety.

We small business owners all pride ourselves on being smarter than the average competitor. Today, more than ever, we can prove it through the use of creatively inspired smart marketing programs.

If you’re a small business owner with a desire to market smarter, let me know. I’d love to talk about where PR can fit into a smarter marketing campaign.

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