Why a Niche Blog Is Essential for Ad Agency PR

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear “public relations” is publicity in the form of radio, TV or print media coverage. That still is an important part of ad agency PR, but with so many media outlets either shrinking or going out of business—and the increasing influence of content marketing and social media—a niche blog that showcases your agency’s expertise is essential.

Here’s why. When you have an immediate need (i.e. a “problem to solve”), chances are your first step is to begin searching on the Internet for a solution. If you’re like me, you don’t appreciate the spam emails, junk mail and unsolicited sales calls that interrupt me on a daily basis for products or services that don’t interest me.

Outbound marketing—which involves cold calling, direct mail and other forms of chasing business—is becoming less and less effective, and agencies that rely on it for new business are more likely to be perceived as an annoyance than an expert. To put it bluntly, salespeople selling ad agency services smack of desperation. They also put the emphasis on your agency rather than providing value to a prospect.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, draws customers to your agency by providing them with valuable content.

You want to attract clients who need and can afford your services, and the best way for that to happen is for them to find you when they are looking for a solution.

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A niche blog positions your agency as a subject matter expert in a particular area, and makes you easier to be found by prospective clients searching for the solutions and expertise you offer. When done right, your blog will become a magnet for search engines.

The entire conversation changes when a prospect approaches you rather than you approaching the prospect, who may or may not be interested in what your agency has to offer at the time of the contact.

One of the most important reasons for having a blog is to establish or enhance your ad agency as an expert in a particular niche. Being seen as a credible, trustworthy and knowledgeable thought leader that provides useful (as opposed to self-serving) content can have big payoffs down the road.

Once you reach expert status in a niche, the news media covering that niche will come to you for insight and commentary—and your target audience will see you that way as well.

A niche blog gives your agency continuous opportunities to demonstrate that it:

  • Communicates effectively
  • Has the ability to solve problems
  • Is well connected within your industry niche
  • Knows about important industry developments and trends

Just as publicity tends to beget publicity, as your blog becomes a repository of relevant content, it will rise in search engine rankings and draw targeted readers to your doorstep, making your agency increasingly “discoverable” by decision makers you could only dream of reaching through sales calls.

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Decline in Traditional and Social Media: What’s a PR Person to Do?

The news for traditional news media outlets continues to get worse. According to U.S. Labor Department data, jobs in the newspaper sector have declined nearly 60% since 1990. That is a staggering statistic, especially when one considers how the local paper used to be a routine part of everyday life.

Magazines lost 36 percent of their jobs during the same period, with radio employment down 27%.

Internet broadcasting and publishing employment, on the other hand, has grown from about 30,000 to nearly 198,000, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

None of this is terribly surprising, given that these trends have been going on for some time now. But what’s noteworthy is that a new study involving nine countries found that people are spending less time on social media apps.

Instagram and Twitter were both down nearly 24%; Snapchat use declined by about 16%; and Facebook by 8%. In the U.S., only Facebook fared better (though slightly)—it was down only 6.7% here.

News media outlets are declining, and so is the use of social media. What are the implications for public relations? Some perspective may be helpful.

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First, people are not communicating less, but rather in different ways.

Texting, for example, likely accounts for some of the drop in social media usage. Plus, new mobile apps are constantly being created, giving users additional options for making connections in new ways.

Second, while people aren’t reading newspapers and magazines like they used to, the exponential growth in Internet broadcasting and publishing jobs demonstrates that they are still interested in news and features, it’s just that many are getting them online.

As I noted in a July 2015 post, social media has become an essential part of journalistic practice, with 94% of journalists saying they use it daily, primarily to find sources and network. That percentage is probably even higher today. So, while use of social media apps may be down among general users, it’s still an important for organizations and individuals to be “discoverable” for journalists seeking sources.

Social media will remain an important way for companies and agencies to interact with customers and prospects, even if some of the apps used to reach them evolve.

Finding new ways to communication is the new norm for PR professionals. Knowing your audiences, and how they prefer to receive information and communicate with you, is vital to PR success, as is staying on top of trends.

There will always be an audience for people with expertise in a particular niche who are willing to share helpful information and tips, regardless of the medium used. And in spite of all the changes taking place in media, getting the right message to the right person at the right time is still the best path to PR success.

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2015 Fuel Lines New Business Conference Was Loaded with Helpful Ideas and Insights

Michael Gass speaking at the conference

Michael Gass organized the inaugural Fuel Lines New Business Conference in Nashville

I’m still unpacking all I heard at last week’s inaugural Fuel Lines New Business Conference for advertising, digital, media and PR agencies. The conference, which drew people from more than 60 cities—including a few from outside the U.S.—was held at Nashville’s snazzy new Music City Center. It was organized by my friend and colleague Michael Gass.

Because there were concurrent breakout sessions, it wasn’t possible to attend everything over the two-day period. But, I learned plenty from the sessions I was able to make. Here are 10 observations that struck me as particularly noteworthy from some of the thought leaders who spoke (though they only scratch the surface):

  • Nothing is more powerful than a human insight (Peter Levitan)
  • Chemistry is the key factor in new business presentations (Peter Levitan)
  • Create personas of prospective clients to prepare customized new business presentations (Bob Sanders)
  • We have grossly exaggerated the importance of brands to consumers; most of what we call brand loyalty comes from habit and convenience (Bob Hoffman)
  • The key factors for international agency business are trust, proximity, special skills/expertise, process and global reach (Julian Boulding)
  • Don’t be afraid to specialize in what you do best (Stephanie Holland)
  • Write RFPs with simple words and phrases, and eliminate unnecessary words; a confused mind always say no (Jody Sutter)
  • Give RFP prospects something extra of value (Jody Sutter)
  • Pick a niche and own it; don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities outside your niche (John Sonnhalter)
  • Positioning is foundational for new business; an agency should have a specific target and strong point of differentiation (Michael Gass)

In my breakout session, “How to Craft an Agency PR plan that Drives New Business,” I discussed the building blocks of creating a performance-based public relations plan for one’s agency. I also explained how the strategic use of PR can enhance awareness and credibility; distinguish an agency from competitors; and make it easier for agencies to be found by decision makers.

Don Beehler speaking at the conference

Speaking about ad agency PR at the Fuel Lines New Biz Conference

My three most important points:

  • Consistency is vital for successful agency PR
  • Becoming a trusted source is the quickest way to increase awareness and gain credibility
  • A successful PR plan is strategic with a clear focus, target and purpose

I sure hope Michael will have a second annual conference next year. This not only was a great learning and networking experience, but also a lot of fun.

Study Finds Bloggers More Trusted Than Journalists

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As I have noted in previous posts, agency blogs can be a very effective way to build one’s reputation as a subject matter expert in a particular niche. However, lack of focus, purpose and/or providing content that does not resonate with the target audience more often than not is a waste of everyone’s time.

If done well and strategically, blogs be can incredible tools for ad agencies and other entities to generate awareness, credibility, influence and a loyal following—all of which enhance new business endeavors.

Now there’s a new study that provides further evidence of the power of blogging.

An independent UK survey of consumers by affilinet found that bloggers have more influence than journalists, celebrities, politicians or brands, coming in third place behind family and friends.

Bloggers who cover a specialized area fared particularly well among those surveyed.

“What is encouraging…is the role that bloggers and social media play within consumer trust,” said Helen Southgate, UK managing director of affilinet. “Working with niche specialist bloggers using adverts or content tailored to their audience, will become an important part of the acquisition strategy for advertisers, [as] they strive to improve the level of trust in their brand from consumers.”

According to a press release about the study issued by affilinet, “Consumers were asked whether they trusted the opinions of mainstream media outlets (magazines, newspapers, and online titles tied to a publisher), or independent bloggers/vloggers more, when it came to purchasing decisions, and the bloggers came out on top; 57% vs 43%.”

While the study is UK-specific, it’s clear that consumers there are increasing turning to niche bloggers for what they consider to be credible, trustworthy and reliable information.

That is consistent with Technorati’s 2013 Digital Influence Report, which found that blogs rank high when it comes to trust and influence: “When making overall purchase decisions, for consumers, blogs trail only behind retail and brand sites. With regard to overall sources for information on the internet, blogs rank among the top five ‘most trustworthy’ sources.” 

(If you don’t have time to read the full report, Social Media Examiner’s Patricia Redsicker has a good overview of its findings.)

Whether your blog is designed to reach consumers, businesses or other audiences, having a niche with fresh insights, useful tips and compelling content will bring value to your readers and success to your organization.

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Cleveland’s “Communicator of the Year” Learns Brutal PR Lesson

Newspaper headline with sobering job statsOn any given day I usually get a number of emails from various PR/communications news and information sources. And truthfully, more times than not, I glance at the subject lines and usually don’t take the time to read them unless something really stands out.

But yesterday, when I ran across this subject line, I had to stop and take a look for myself: “Brutal emails to employment seekers.”

What sort of person would write a brutal email to someone looking for a job, I wondered? Then I was introduced to Kelly Blazek, manager of a Cleveland-area job bank and principle of Gemba Communications, LLC. Oh, and she also was Cleveland’s “2013 IABC Communicator of the Year.”

So now I was even more intrigued – a person who is expected to have good people skills and manners, and a certain level of social media savvy, was replying to some job seekers in what can only be described as rude, demeaning, “How-dare-someone-like-you-contact-someone-like-me” language.

She actually seemed to enjoy belittling people who were seeking help, which is why I think this story resonated so strongly with people when they heard the details.

You can read some of what this little sweetheart from northeast Ohio had to say to folks seeking to network with her or be part of her job bank in this PR Daily article and in Cleveland.com, which as of a few minutes ago had 431 comments, most of which were not very favorable toward her. This afternoon, CNN picked up the story with the headline “Nasty LinkedIn rejection goes viral.” Uh oh.

Apparently Ms. Blazek hadn’t considered the possibility of some on the receiving end of her vitriolic responses taking to social media to expose her nastiness, which is pretty stunning when you think about it.

What communications professional in this day and age isn’t aware that anything one puts in writing to an individual – particularly through a platform like LinkedIn – can be made public via the Internet for the world to see?

Not surprisingly, Ms. Blazek is getting raked over the coals in Cleveland and throughout the PR community.

She apologized for her rudeness – which is all well and good – but really, what else could she do when this blew up in her face? Is she truly sorry for her behavior or just sorry that she got caught? Only she knows, but I found this comment on the Cleveland.com site revealing, if true:

“I know Kelly quite well, and she’s only kind and gracious when it benefits her. To those she deems beneath her, well, she can be quite sadistic. This is Long Time Coming and Just Desserts in my opinion.”

So what lessons can be learned from all this?

For one thing, character really does count and how we relate to others really does matter, regardless of their “level” or what they can “do” for us.  The Gold Rule – treating others as you would like to be treated – is the best policy for personal and professional success.

A second lesson is that apologizing isn’t always some magic bullet to make things better. For sure, this whole sorry matter would have been worse had she not apologized, but the fact that Ms. Blazek went to some lengths to write these demeaning replies to multiple people tells me she enjoyed all this, which really says something about this lady’s psyche. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do business with her.

But even giving Ms. Blazek the benefit of the doubt that her apology was sincere, what’s most troubling to me is the glee she seemed to take in kicking people who may already be down emotionally.

At one time or another most people have had to look for a job, and it can tough – especially in today’s market. They face a lot rejection. So the last thing someone needs when trying to network with someone running a job bank is to get a demeaning “you’re a worm” response from a person who should be supportive and encouraging of others.

To this day I remember very clearly people who, early in my career, took time to speak with me and helped me network when I was job hunting. And I remember some who wouldn’t give me the time of day, but thankfully I never got the sort of awful treatment this lady dished out.

If people are such a pain to her, she really ought to get out of the communications business.

Third, even if someone you don’t know requests help or an endorsement, be polite in declining the request. Sure there are job hunters who are presumptuous, annoying or clueless, but you never know what a person has been through on a particular day. Some of them might be desperate, and the way you respond to them might make or break them. I’ve been fortunate to have some good mentors, and one thing they taught me was to show dignity and respect to all people.

Fourth, this incident clearly demonstrates how quickly a crisis can develop and then spiral out of control. Once one of her responses went public and was discussed on a local radio show, others who had received similar correspondence began to surface. And I wouldn’t be surprised if more followed.

Will Ms. Blazek be able to recover and resume her communications and job-bank businesses? Time will tell but if I were her, I’d hang on to those job-bank contacts because she may be needing them soon.

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14 Ways to Generate Great Content in 2014

New Years Fireworks

It seems as though every week or so I run across an article, post or e-mail trumpeting the benefits of great content. But creating content that stands out from the pack isn’t easy to do, and sometimes even trying to define what constitutes excellent content can be a challenge.

For some time now Google has been the big dog on the Internet when it comes to deciding whose content is noteworthy. The right keywords are important to help your content get found, but increasingly Google is looking to social signals from consumers – in the form of shares and links, as well as traffic to the site – to identify stellar content.

So, what sort of content do people like so much that they want to share it? There probably are a number of opinions about that subject. Here’s mine.

First and foremost, great content is enjoyable to read. It’s well written, relevant, timely and to the point, without a lot of extraneous fluff and stuff. It’s not a disguised sales pitch, a headline that promises one thing but delivers another, or a recycled version of conventional wisdom that really doesn’t offer anything new.

Below are my suggestions for 14 ways to generate great content in 2014.

Of course, you won’t use all of these suggestions with each piece you write, but keeping them in mind will help you develop copy that is fresh, lively and on target for your audience:

  1. Offer new insights
  2. Provide new information
  3. Be practical and relevant
  4. Converse in an easy-to-understand manner
  5. Offer guidance for solving a problem
  6. Tackle a tough or controversial subject
  7. Offer thoughtful analysis
  8. Discuss a trend and its implications
  9. Make a prediction
  10. Take a counter viewpoint – or at least a different slant – to conventional wisdom on a particular topic
  11. Offer tips and advice that are actionable
  12. Answer questions
  13. Tell a story
  14. Make an emotional connect

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Showing vs. Telling: How Content Marketing Sets You Apart

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One of the hottest topics in marketing circles these days is content marketing—the creation and sharing of information so that it attracts and retains customers. Content marketing includes blogs, website, case studies, white papers, videos, infographics, etc., but regardless of the form it takes, the material is compelling, relevant and useful.

The emphasis is on using high quality, engaging content to market a brand, acquire customers and develop their trust rather than using aggressive sales and advertising tactics that can annoy or disrupt them.

As Robert Rose, chief strategist of the Content Marketing Institute, put it, “Traditional marketing and advertising is telling the world you’re a rock star. Content marketing is showing the world that you are one.”

Showing or telling – which are you doing? Probably some of both. The future, though, is clearly brighter for organizations that are moving away from telling and are consistently providing helpful information that showcases their expertise in a particular area.

One of the great things about content marketing is that companies and agencies of virtually any size can compete effectively – if they have something worthwhile to say.

According to The Inbound Writer Blog, “90% of consumers find custom content useful, and 78% believe that organizations providing custom content are interested in building good relationships with them.” Another stat worth noting: “Interesting content is a top 3 reason people follow brands on social media.”

As more and more companies engage in content marketing – striving to show the world their brand’s rock-star status – the challenges to being heard above the noise are increasing as well.

It’s easy to talk about producing high-quality, engaging content, but it’s another thing to actually do so on a consistent basis.

Pinched for time or lacking creative writing skills, many places are hiring journalists to put their writing skills to work in crafting messages that engage customers and promote a brand through a variety of social media channels, without coming across as disguised advertisements. Ad agencies in particular can find it difficult to balance meeting client needs and regularly creating content that attracts new business.

It’s not surprising, then that 62% of companies outsource their content marketing (Inbound Writer, citing the news source Mashable). Expect that outsourcing percentage to grow, and traditional advertising to decline, in the coming years.

Finding a niche; having interesting, useful things to say about it; and providing regularly updated, substantive and entertaining content can gain your agency and its clients a loyal following. Creative PR writers and journalists are well positioned to provide valuable assistance to organizations that lack in-house capabilities for content marketing, helping them attract new customers and enhance the loyalty of existing ones.

If you’re just getting started with blogging, firstsiteguide.com has some very helpful advice titled, “How to Write and Create Great Blog Content.” 

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