When I look at how P.R. companies come to me with product information during these hard economic times, I’m often left scratching my head, because what I’m being sent is information that’s not helping me to help them. And then it occurs to me that they, too, must be scratching their heads, because everything is changing so fast these days that any industry standard that held steady in the past is just gone, gone, gone —- we are, all of us, scratching our heads.
How different is it now? Smaller newspapers all over the nation are closing down. The Washington Post has announced it will stop using freelancers. Newsweek has reported it’s worth is 70% less than what it used to be. Even the New York Times is struggling to keep its head above water. All print publications have been forced to cut back on their page count, because the public is buying less, the advertisers have stopped purchasing, and the money just isn’t there.
What’s a P.R. company to do?
- Keep up with social networking. Take advantage of Twitter. If you ignore Twitter right now, you are walking away from excellent, free marketing. The question is, how do you incorporate Twitter into a company when your to-do list is already overwhelming? Tap into the workaholics. Or divvy up the posts, equally. But make sure you tap into this resource. How to use Twitter? The very best way: communicate with your followers, as if you were at a cocktail party. Don’t corner them with a hard sell. Give them a compliment. Quote them. Send them to other sites that might be of interest to them. Ask them how their day went. Then, from time to time, talk about your product. It’s really that easy. Twitter is not a place for branding. It’s a place for communicating. (twitter.com)The same holds true for Facebook. The difference is you can start a Facebook Fan page and a Facebook Group page and have a more professional branding slant. See how your competitors have used them. See who is the most successful with their fan pages and groups and copy, copy, copy that technique. (facebook.com)
LinkedIn is important, too. Journalists who are looking for media contacts will often use LinkedIn as a resource. (linkedin.com)
Tip: Don’t forget that with all of these social networking tools, your company will come across as more professional if it creates a unique looking page (don’t use the default look). Creating a unique look is not costly at all. Grab someone from the team who understands simple HTML and Photoshop.
An important disclaimer — everything regarding social networking that is written in this article or any article you read about the Internet right now should be readdressed in 6 months. The Internet is changing too rapidly for anyone to be able to stand back and say, “This is what works for me,” or “I’ve always done it this way.” The only constant in the Internet business right now is this: there is no such thing as a person with a long background of expertise. There are only experts of the moment.
- Understand journalists. Many print journalists are still only print-centric. They don’t get the Internet yet. In fact, many resent the Internet, put their face in their hands, and hake their heads at the mere mention of “working the Internet.” While they stand in the corner with their arms crossed, refusing to jump on the bandwagon, they are being left behind. The companies that push them to learn the Internet are not being cruel — these companies are doing what it takes to thrive in this economy, to help keep the journalist in a job, and they are doing their journalists a favor. Nobody knows where print is going, but one thing is sure: the Internet is where the money and readers are right now, and journalists need to step up to the plate or, just as businesses who refuse to acknowledge the Internet, they won’t thrive. This doesn’t mean you don’t continue to tap into print journalists. Having a product spotlighted in print is still the highest priority; no medium has more authority. In the meantime, though, place your day-to-day focus on the cross-breed journalists who write for both print and the web.
- Understand cross-breed journalists. Journalists who write for both print and web are your real gold mines. Focus on them. They have to write a lot more for the web than for print, e.g., they need more product information. Also, if they like a product enough to review it on the web, the product has a bigger shot at being incorporated into their print publication later. However, understand that most cross-breed journalists are finding themselves doing way too many things at once. With so much happening — and dire consequences occurring if these new things are ignored — cross-breed journalists have a hard time focusing. So helping cross-breed journalists to get the correct information about your product will go a long way into getting your product noticed.
- Send affiliate information with your product information. If the product has an affiliate link, send the affiliate company link along with the product information. What does this mean? Most websites now do “reviews” of products, and if a reader clicks on those reviews and is taken to an online store, and the reader then purchases the product, the site that wrote that review gets commission. You know all those sites on the web that talk about beauty products? That’s how they make their money. Searching for affiliate links is time consuming. Consider beauty: other than the rare exception, most products are comparable, so it’s easy to go to the old-faithfuls to look for links (Sephora, Link Share, Commission Junction, Amazon) — which makes it crazy to write about a product that doesn’t have an affiliate link and brings the journalist’s company no money. Cross-breed journalists have to keep an eye on monetizing their company. If your client doesn’t have an affiliate link for their product, suggest they get one. Also, if a journalist is getting ready to write an article or review on a product and doesn’t have to search for the affiliate company because you’ve been wise enough to zip it over to them in email– that journalist is going to be more inclined to write about that product. Disclaimer: no good journalist will write about a product that they don’t respect, but for good writing and reviews to continue to be produced, freelance journalists and corporate journalists must keep an eye on bringing in dollars. Why write about product “a” that is just as good as product “b”, when product “b” can be monetized? There is nothing wrong with journalists creating income when they can, as long as they remain faithful to journalistic standards.
- Build an online media library. Don’t make journalists ask for photos. The library should have high resolution photos for print, and low resolution photos for web. The link to your online media library should be in your email signature, always.
- Give non-press release details. Write up 5-10 unique details about the product. We all love details. Press releases can be so dull to read. Start your press releases with The Top Five Cool Things To Know About This Product… and then make those details interesting. Using beauty as an example: so and so celebrity wears this; secret – we used this in-house and everyone was talking about how big the foam grew!; a little info and history on why lemon grass is good for the skin; yeah, you’re probably right about wearing yellow eye shadow, but here’s the trick to pull it off; how not to use this product – sparingly, because it’s a product that will make you feel happy!
- Give more than one unique angle on a product. With so much info overload and the need for blogs and sites to be updated daily, unique angles are always going to be of interest to a journalist. You may have only a few products to push, but journalists can be writing up to 365 plus product reviews a year. Help them with a fresh angle — this can go a long way into sparking an “aha” moment for a cross-breed journalist. One example: You’re pushing an eyeshadow, and Twitterers have been Tweeting about it… send those tweets to the journalist along with the product.
- Consider video. You can do quick video presentations talking about the product. These in-house videos don’t have to be filmed by a professional company. The video just needs you giving good information about the product. For journalists who don’t have the time to read all the overly-wordy print info they receive, a quick video of you explaining the product can go a long way in helping to get this product spotlighted. Also, video is so much better for the environment than paper, and much more economical for your business.
- Help local and regional magazines with store info. If you know you’re writing to a local or regional magazine, let the journalists know where the product is sold in their area. Big print hint for you: if the product can be purchased at a local boutique, chances are that local boutique is an advertiser (or future advertiser), and the magazine will be more interested in spotlighting the product. If you leave out this info, the journalist won’t have time to look this up. You might have just lost a spotlight.
- Be personable – become an “online” friend.
Send some non-press communication. Journalists remember when you write to them personally to thank them or to find out how they’re doing; and for the journalists who have proven to pay attention and write for you, send them an item out of the blue to try. And, from time to time, just send them a little candle or something. Journalists don’t forget these human touches.
Sarah Gilbert Fox is a novelist, journalist, travel writer and a senior editor for Style magazine. She also spends inordinate amounts of time each day keeping herself up to date with the Internet, in hopes of being on the cutting edge team that finds a way to help print publications thrive.