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Bowling for Business: Confessions of a Professional Spinster

All effective public relations is based firmly on the truth.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 28, 2010

While I was growing up, my best friend, Lori, and I used to play in the woods near her home in a small rural suburb of Denver. We would leave her house in the morning and stay out all day, trying to make it back home before dark. But sometimes, our vivid imaginations would carry us away, causing us to lose track of our play-time curfew. On such occasions, when we finally arrived at Lori’s house, we were greeted by her very unhappy mother, who had quite a set of lungs for a woman of such an advanced age. (Everyone seems old when you’re in grade school. At the time, Judy was all of 28.)

To try to ward off the lectures, Lori and I manufactured elaborate cover stories on our way back to her house. On one such occasion, we told her mom that we had been kidnapped by factory workers at the abandoned DuPont factory in Louviers. An impressive sleuth, Judy somehow saw through our tall tale and promptly called my mom to ask her to pick me up. Lori and I learned a valuable lesson that day. No matter how creative the spin, a lie is a lie.

As a public relations practitioner, I try to disassociate myself with unscrupulous folks in my field who have yet to learn the message. Popular culture portrays us in shades of gray, with television shows like Spin City and SPINdustry and movies like Thank You for Smoking and The Hoax. The prejudice can probably be traced to our predecessor P.T. Barnum who had a knack for finding and exhibiting people, animals and a range of oddities, many of which were hoaxes, such as the infamous Feejee Mermaid.

But leaders in our field know that the only way to successfully pitch anything is to make sure all promotions are based firmly on the truth. Wikipedia defines Public relations (PR) as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics, which gains an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that provide a third-party endorsement.

What sets PR pros apart is our knack at taking any given company or individual’s reputation, activities or incidents, and reinterpreting them from the Point of View (POV) of the client to the POV of the intended target market. A timely case study of this is the recent public relations’ nightmare faced by SeaWorld Orlando. Global news coverage started shortly after the attack when an animal trainer drowned after being dragged underwater by a 12,000-pound killer whale during a show called (of all things) Dine with Shamu.

Further complicating the incident is the fact that Shamu is the name generically used for the killer whales at the theme park, according to Steve Baker, president of a theme park consulting and management company called Baker Leisure Group.

Shamu is the SeaWorld icon. Shamu is SeaWorld.

So how do you convince potential park guests that Shamu won’t dine on them? I believe the order of the day for SeaWorld is honesty. Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, Inc., a management consulting firm, concurs,

The big task (for SeaWorld professionals) is to be honest with the public and the media as they conduct their forensic study on why the accident happened, because that will determine how SeaWorld is perceived in the future.

If I were on the public relations team for SeaWorld, the first order of the day would be the prompt removal of the tagline currently posted on the Dine with Shamu section of the theme park website. “It’s exclusive. Intimate. And unforgettable.” no longer seems appropriate. It will be interesting to watch the actual SeaWorld PR team in the weeks to come. No doubt they’ll be pulling out all the stops to get SeaWorld back on track. Tools at their disposal include the same ones your company or non-profit group can employ.

For Free—

Dust off your phone book and call an editor to introduce yourself. If you take time to get to know their editorial needs (without wasting their time in the process), they might give you an idea or two for potential coverage. The most important advice I can give you about press relations is to learn to be a resource instead of a pain in the neck.

And, on June 15, the Public Relations Society of America’s-Inland Empire Chapter, is hosting a free event, Speed Consulting at the Speedway, for businessmen and women in need of pro-bono PR.

On a Limited Budget—

Hire a freelancer to write a press release about a new product or event you want to promote. Then, subscribe to a free or low-cost electronic press release service such as E-Releases, I-Newswire, BusinessWire, PR Log or PR Newswire. The social media releases we post get clicked an average 215 times. Those clicks lead to valuable press coverage.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Hire an agency. Only a trained public relations professional will be able to skillfully speak on your behalf, work with the media, handle crisis communications, manage social media and oversee effective employee communication. And that’s not spin.
Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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Bowling for Business: Getting My Tweet Wet

This column first appeared on 9-21-09 at RIMOFTHEWORLD.net

Twitter bird announceWhen it comes to games of chance, I’ve never been particularly lucky. In fact, I can probably count the number of times I’ve won contests on one hand. So it isn’t difficult recalling the win that meant the most.

I was just five years old. My favorite television show was a local children’s program called Noel & Andy. Noel was a talented artist; Andy, her puppet counterpart.

I got up early every weekday morning to watch Noel & Andy because, as a kindergartner, my social calendar was pretty light. What’s more, this was long before the days of cable or satellite. Thus, there were only four shows to choose from at any given time.

So I was eager to enter a contest to win an invitation to Andy’s televised birthday party. The morning Noel randomly chose my entry, I ran to the kitchen to tell my mom the great news. In my world, Noel & Andy were bona fide stars. This was the big time.

The day of the taping, I was anxious to meet my television idols. But I never got the opportunity. Twenty other lucky Denver-area schoolchildren and I met the producers, who led us into an empty studio. They told us to have fun, eat cake, and smile at the cameras. Noel & Andy couldn’t be there, they explained. But they would want us to celebrate. Then, they turned us loose. The result was cacophony.

When the birthday party aired, it looked like a scene out of Plant of the Apes. Unlimited sugar and lack of supervision had turned otherwise mild-mannered five-year-old kids into an angry mob. At one point, I was standing on a table, singing and waving at the camera.

To this day, I’ll never understand why Andy didn’t attend his own birthday party. But the event reminds me of my journey on Twitter…full of promise, chaos, and opportunities to rub shoulders with important people and puppets.

Twitter Promise

I first heard about Twitter at a seminar sponsored by the Inland Empire Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Speakers Brian Solis and Sally Falkow, recognized thought-leaders in my field, invited us to follow their tweets. It sounded exclusive and, admittedly, a bit odd.

But I was curious. Imagine having access to valuable industry tidbits, in real time?  With this kind of connection, we wouldn’t have to wait for the next professional development luncheon for inside information.

So, like many of my peers, I rushed back to the office to boot up my computer and join the conversation. Mind you, this was before resources like The TwitterBook and TwitterPower hit the market. So I didn’t know that it is better to set up an account with your actual name instead of a pseudonym. That’s why you won’t find my tweets if you do a search for Kathy Bowling.

Twitter Chaos

As @bowlingirl, I searched for @briansolis and @sallyfalkow and followed them. But I didn’t know what I was doing. Millions of disorganized people seemed to be yelling into the Twittersphere, much like my wild Noel & Andy party-going friends. One user posed a question,

“How can I syndicate my blog?”

But instead of an answer appearing next, random, un-related comments streamed by.

“I hate Wednesday mornings. Hump day should be abolished.”

“State politics blocks budget. It is playground politics.”

“We cannot do great things – only small things with great love- Mother Teresa.”

I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what was going on.

This is Wikipedia’s definition,

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website or external applications.

In other words, Twitter is controlled chaos. It’s a place for people to share their philosophies, sell their wares, deliver news, develop a fan base, and converse…all at the same time.

Twitter Opportunities

At Mountain Marketing Group, we encourage our PR clients to dive right in by setting up a free Twitter account. The next thing we advise is that they take time to listen. In the same way you wouldn’t walk up to a group of people who are chatting and interrupt them all by loudly announcing that you want them to buy your product, it is not considered polite to tweet first and listen, later.

As noted by one of the most influential Tweeps today, @joelcomm,

“Twitter is a two-way communication tool—and that’s very important.”

In his book, twitter power, he observes,

“Twitter provides instant access to smart people 24/7.”

By listening and getting a feel for the flow, you will understand what, if anything, you have to contribute. In this age where Internet users actively search for the information they want instead of being force-fed (pull instead of push-technology), providing valuable content is tantamount to establishing a credible voice in Cyberspace. You can’t play if you don’t bring anything to the game.

After you observe, find people to follow who have something to offer. I follow PR and marketing influencers like @mashable and @chrisbrogan so I can distill relevant information to share it with my friends, family and clients with a direct quote, retweet or link. Evangelizing is something I’ve done my entire career. But now, I am able to share what I learn with a wider audience.

Joining the conversation on Twitter has broadened my horizons, which makes me more valuable to my target market. More importantly, by underlining the biblical instruction to be quick to hear and slow to speak, it has made me a better person. And that’s the best win of all.

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: The Internet Imperative

Using the Internet to Advertise is Imperative

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on August 31, 2009

My first experience as an entrepreneur dates back to 1974, when my best friend, Lori, and I opened a lemonade stand. Typical, I know. But our approach was not. You see; we lived on a pretty quiet street in Englewood, Colorado. After our first two days in business, we realized that the only regular traffic was the mailman and my father.

Not content to wait for customers to come to us, on day three, Lori and I took a more aggressive approach. We decided to sell lemonade door-to-door. You might be surprised at the relative success of our new strategy. Since this was 35 years ago, admittedly a much simpler time, not only did most people answer the door and take pity on us by forking over 10 cents a glass, most of them probably actually drank the beverages they purchased.

Ever since, I’ve been a staunch proponent for assertively pursuing market share. I guess that’s why I went into advertising. It’s also probably the reason I was so quick to jump on the Internet bandwagon. No matter whether Al Gore helped invent it or not, I believe Cyberspace to be the single most important invention for business since the coffee break.

While it was once necessary to set up a physical shop in order to be taken seriously in business, the “must have for business” in 2009 is an Internet presence. Not yet convinced? Consider the following:

According to the World Internet Usage Statistics website—

  • 251,735,500 Americans (73.9% of the population) have access to the Internet.

According to a report released by Nielsen Research

  • Among Internet users in the United States, 94% have shopped online.
  • Globally, 875 million people have made at least one online purchase.
  • Two-thirds of the world Internet population participates in social networking or blogging sites.

According to an article posted in the April 2009 issue of NZ Business—

  • Today more than two thirds of new business enquiries begin online.

Remarkably, at our Lake Arrowhead marketing and public relations’ agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we still spend a considerable amount of time trying to convince our clients that their business success is closely tied to the presence they allow us to help them establish online. And Lake Arrowhead is no Mayberry RFD.

I think the reluctance to embark on an Internet marketing campaign is tied to fear.

  • Several wonder about the potential Return on Investment.
  • Some worry that they will lose touch with their existing customer-base if they start courting buyers online.
  • Many are intimidated by the sheer number of electronic advertising and social networking platforms that are available.
  • A few are still waiting, maybe even hoping, that the Internet craze will pass.

With this column, I hope to alleviate these fears by shedding light on how easy, effective, and necessary it is for business owners and non-profit directors to get busy online. Not just for beginners, we’ll also highlight industry tips and trends designed to improve Internet performance for seasoned Internet pros.

This week, let me assure you that, like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. So why not embrace it? Learn about it? Exploit it? If the thought of setting up your own website is daunting, consider taking advantage of the plethora of free platforms waiting for you to enter a unique username and password. Even if you’ve hosted your own interactive website for years, these sites offer valuable back link opportunities, which drive Search Engine Optimization. We’ll cover back links and SEO in the weeks ahead.

Far less time-consuming to create than an original website or even a blog, these free directory listings help define your organization’s online persona because they are credible, established accounts. So even new businesses and non-profits included on them are immune from what’s known as the Google Sandbox, an otherwise unavoidable waiting period every new site must endure before Meta Crawlers recognize their existence on the Internet.

There are dozens of available free, directory sites. But these are the ones I recommend:

Google Directory

MerchantCircle

Rim of the World

Wikipedia AboutUs.org

Yellow Pages.com

Invest a little time online today to list your company, business service or non-profit in the free directories, above. As some unaccredited author once wrote, “A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.”

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business