Sustainability – Your customers care – what can marketers do?

The Climate Change movements are not just inspiring but incredibly moving and there seems to be a real chance that people will finally start to take steps to slow down the heating of the planet. The latest headlines about our wildlife are serious. This article isn’t about governments – it’s about what businesses and PR / Marketing people in particular – can do to play a part mitigating climate change and protecting the environment.

It’s a threat to some businesses. I’m thinking of the fast fashion chains and low-cost clothing that is very much part of our lifestyle currently. Interviewing a gentleman in the charity retail sector recently, I learned that the quality of modern clothing isn’t even good enough to recycle it through the charity shop route. This is a worrying trend. Some manufacturers need to rethink their products so that they won’t be left behind in the sustainability revolution. Plastic straws and petrol vehicles come to mind but it goes further than just consumer goods.

Mr Carney’s speech in March expressed his vision that the Financial Sector will be able to direct funds towards more sustainable investments and build  a low carbon economy.

Marketers also have a voice, and should be thinking to the future and trying to influence product innovation towards a sustainable path.  The markets want more products  of all kinds that contribute to solving the climate issues. There will be amazing opportunities for businesses that grasp this – hence the success of electric vehicles and the vegan sausage roll.

I want to make my own work as “sustainable” as possible and am wondering what else I can do? Being office-based, most of what I throw away is paper, packaging, print cartridges and spent plastic pens. I’m already re-cycling paper and cartridges. I can print on both sides of my paper and maybe I’ll switch to a fountain pen to avoid plastic pens. I need more information about how products are made to help me make these decisions. I want to do more, and co-incidentally I found inspiration in the breakfast cereal made by Alara.

Alara is using compostable packaging and won the Sustainability Pioneer Award at the 2019 Sustainable Food Awards. What I like about Alara is their optimism, and their belief that we can make a difference – besides their delicious healthy cereal. Marketers have sometimes been accused of “green-washing” their products, ie overstating their green credentials, but Alara seem to be genuinely trying harder than most businesses.

Packaging falls right in the Marketing area, and we should not waste time in using less plastic and more cardboard and trying new sustainable packaging materials. The Royal Horticultural Society is setting a good example – they have recently changed to compostable packaging for their magazine. All publishers should be moving this way.

Marketing and Public Relations people can influence corporate policies and should do what they can to promote sustainability in their companies and help the climate emergency. For example:

  • Look for packaging that is plastic-free, compostable or reusable
  • Provide details of the carbon footprint for your company or product, if you dare
  • Outlaw disposable coffee cups and single-use plastic bags, including the giveaway bags at trade shows
  • Use less air travel, forget Air Miles and use videoconferencing
  • Use public transport, walk more
  • Promote cycling
  • Vegetables – consume less meat, choose more vegetarian options, choose organic, home-grown or locally grown produce – key for businesses with catering
  • Use energy generated from sun, wind and water – a greener energy provider
  • Buy recycled and greener brands, for example, Ecover cleaning products
  • Plant trees
  • Have beehives on your roof or land
  • Support a charity that acts to promote sustainability

I am sure I have not thought of everything and I want more information!

What else can we do?

PR, Digital Marketing and a bit of history

I call myself a PR consultant working with technology businesses. However the work overlaps with Digital Marketing.

You will probably know that PR stands for Public Relations. That name is quite strange. In the field where I work, most companies who care about PR simply see it as part of their marketing communications.

The old school Public Relations profession was born after the Second World War when people from the Diplomatic Corps and Secret Services went back to Civvie Street and offered their skills to business.  Employers found their skills useful for wining and dining clients, public speaking and meeting and greeting VIPs.

Today most people think of PR in connection with a company’s reputation, and especially in connection with positive stories in the media. Media used to mean newspapers, magazines and  broadcast channels – today it includes online and social media as well. There are business and technical media for every market sector and niche you can think of, especially when you include the growing numbers of bloggers.

PR and Digital Marketing

We have reached a point where online media matter more than print media.  Readers are more aware of the environment and don’t want to throw paper away after a short life. It is often easier to read news online, and companies are thinking digitally for much of their marketing – their chief aim is to be visible online and rank high in search engines, and online articles play an important role here.

The relationship between PR and Digital Marketing is interesting. There was a period a few years ago when Digital Marketing seemed to sideline PR, because it promised quick measurable results which many business people found attractive. It also offered channels that are free of charge – the only cost is the resources used to create content and promote it. However Digital Marketing changes all the time and it is becoming more sophisticated. Now people want high quality well-written content delivered  to an editorial plan just like in the world of PR and publishing.  People want articles and blog posts that are of publishable standard and “a good read”.  In the context of online media, PR skills have become highly relevant again.

This form of PR helps companies to become visible in their market AND contributes to search engine ranking. It can explain  complex marketing messages.  It can reach out beyond a company’s own customer list and database and touch new contacts. Today there are many marketing and digital channels to consider. PR has moved on a long way from wining and dining clients.

PR and Measuring Results

We used to measure PR coverage by a unit called AVE. AVE meant “advertising value equivalent”. We simply measured the size of the article and looked to see what it would cost to buy an advertisement of the same size. It was very simple.

This was OK up to a point, but it didn’t measure how helpful an article was. If an article is negative, it can be exactly the opposite of helpful!

So there was always debate about the value of PR. Some people felt it could not be measured. It was difficult to know whether an investment in PR had been worthwhile.

Also, all publications were treated the same – there was no comparison of their credibility.

This has completely changed. The latest digital reporting tools for PR are amazing. You can create reports that show exactly what has appeared and where. You can see an influencer score for each publication. You can also see how many readers it has, and the number of people it reached. The number reached will often be higher than the number of subscribers.

You can also see how many links have been added, from the articles to your own website. The links are important for two reasons. First, they can bring traffic to your website, as referrals. Second, they indicate that your website is an important site on the internet. This makes the links valuable in marketing – they help to bring a website to a higher position in search engines.

Reporting on a PR Campaign

I am using a very effective PR reporting tool. From this, I can see that the  campaign I worked on during January and February created very close to 100 articles. They reached around 300,000 people in the specialist electronics design markets. The campaign added 43 new back links to the company’s website. We can see pictures of the articles, showing the individual sites where each item appeared, and we can rank them in terms of their  credibility within their industry.

 

Black Friday, It’s great PR Strategy

Even in the high value markets where my clients tend to operate Black Friday is an event in the calendar, and in retail, it is huge. So can we learn anything from the Black Friday event? Is it just a case of big retailers trying to help hard-up consumers? Maybe, but it’s also a lesson in PR strategy.

With modern retail supply chain technology, there’s no reason for a retailer to have unsaleable stock on the rails at the end of the season, and we no longer see the massive retail clear-outs of the past.

Black Friday gives retailers a chance to kick-start the busy Christmas shopping period and maybe attract shoppers away from the websites and back to the stores. It may be a chance to divest some older stock and there’s no doubt an element of the loss leader principle – large discounts tempt shoppers in, but they may well buy the newest stock that’s arrived for the festive season.

My feeling is that Black Friday is a PR coup – PR strategy expertly executed. It grabs the headlines just before Christmas, with good news for everyone: amazing discounts for consumers, staggering business turnover figures, and stories of jammed websites for the technology audiences.

The huge transformation to online trading could perhaps be one of the drivers for the Black Friday event. An online retailer has no shop window, so outside its own customer base, it remains invisible. So online retailers of all kinds need to use the “traditional” advertising and PR routes to market – newspaper stories, tube ads and billboards – to advertise what they offer. They’ll be using digital channels and mobile apps too but it is advertising media that reaches the biggest audience. You may have noticed how well Uber grabs media space.

So why is it called Black Friday? Black Friday has its origins in American history, where maybe the first Black Friday was when the US gold market crashed on 24 Sept 1869 after two crooks bought all of the gold and created a financial bubble and then a crash that bankrupted all of the other investors.

Traditionally, Americans start their holiday shopping after Thanksgiving, and the streets became notoriously crowded. Was this the origin of the name? I prefer the modern explanation – that Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the day when retailers move into profit, after operating in the red for an entire year.

How to build a B2B PR Plan in six easy steps

This article goes right back to basics, and looks at how you might put together a plan for a Business to business PR campaign.

1. It is best to start by defining your audience as clearly and precisely as possible, in terms of their industry sector, their role and function within their organisation, but to go further than this, and consider their interests and likely concerns.

2. Next, I would suggest considering your marketing messages. How can you present the best of your company in clear terms – say one or two sentences – that your customers will relate to, and which will inspire them to want to find out more about your company, or even contact you?

3. What resources are available? – Besides starting with some funds to cover the incidental costs, a PR plan will need some other kinds of resources: “material” in terms of interesting, eye-catching stories, images, anecdotes, examples of customer applications and expert input. An exciting news item can make a press release – an ideal resource. Then, having identified some resources, it may be good to think how to use them to the best effect, bearing in mind that more in depth material is usually used an exclusive basis and news items are only topical for a short period. By now you may have an idea of how your PR campaign is going to look.

4. Acquire a media list. Maybe you can assemble some contacts and make a list yourself, or maybe it’s better to take a short cut and get an instant press list by hiring a PR specialist who’s worked with the right contacts and can bring a media list ready made. The better you know the media – how they put their publications together, what they like to publish, and when – the more successful your campaign will be.

5. Consider timing and build some dates into your calendar. Certain dates may be fixed. You can plan media communications to work around industry events, trade shows and conferences, bearing in mind the dates you require for your product releases, and likely dates for news releases and company announcements. When these dates are pegged to the plan it’s possible to work backwards, and plan activities to hit the right dates and deadlines. It may be useful to think about the seasonality of the market, and whether to work around holiday periods, and also to dovetail with sales campaigns and other marketing plans.

6. Good management often means looking at results to see what lessons can be learned and feeding this in to the next stage of the plan. There are some neat tools on the market to help you see what has been published about your business and assess its likely reach and impact.

Having suggested that you take this kind of approach to make a PR plan, I would recommend allowing for some flexibility so that you can react to industry news as it unfolds.

PR Lessons from the headlines

The diversity of the news headlines struck me today.

The comms team in Downing street probably hoped that “Brexit Good News” would dominate the newsstands this morning, but they could not have known that they would be  competing with Britain “Colder than Moscow”, “The biggest breakthough in brain science for 50 years” (Huntingdon’s Disease) and tributes to the much loved broadcaster Keith Chegwin?

The diversity of these headlines shows certain truths about PR and the media.

Real news is impossible to predict. News is, by its very nature, unpredictable and the  element of surprise is one of the reasons why a story is new and interesting. This is not always good for PR departments, which usually plan their key media announcements quite a long way in advance. Even the best planned PR announcement can get pushed aside by an all-embracing news event such as Britain blanketed in snow and ice.

Today, more than ever, each publication knows its readership extremely well – their viewpoints, pet hates and interests – and their editors are dedicated to keeping their readers informed and entertained, and are careful to select the top stories that their readers care about most. This means that each editor is effectively creating their own version of the day’s news. Creating powerful headlines is an important part of the editors’ art, and editors are influential people because their headlines will be setting the scene for the conversations that many of us are having during the day.

Headlines sell newspapers and magazines and publications of all kinds are vying for our attention. Fewer people buy the same newspaper from the newsstands every day, so a paper with an eye-catching headline is more likely to sell out.

The same principles are true for trade publications and business titles, so we can apply these lessons to our PR stories for the trade and business media. We should remember that each publication has its own unique place in the market and we must never lose sight of the fact that editors can choose whether or not to publish our stories. We will be more successful if we also follow the main stories that the media are reporting day by day and week by week. We need to ensure that what we provide to editors is genuinely worthwhile, interesting, and of importance to their readers. If we can get this right, we will have a very effective and efficient PR operation.

No retainer for PR services?

Why is the traditional PR retainer being replaced by a project fee?

A retainer is a fee paid in advance to secure the first option on a service, and is the traditional fee structure used to employ a public relations consultancy. The agency is effectively on stand-by to assist the client company with work as it arises. If the work relates to news events – or possibly crisis management – the agency’s tasks are driven by external events and could be needed at any time. This means that the service can’t be planned into a calendar in the normal way. In these cases the retainer is probably the most appropriate way to structure the business relationship.

That was the traditional way to hire a PR consultancy, but today many companies are looking for a different kind of PR service which is more often a promotional communications service. It comes under the umbrella of Marketing and is closely allied with Content Marketing and Digital Marketing. For this kind of work, the client company will have a marketing communications plan that’s probably constructed around planned announcements, product launches and trade shows, and possibly a content plan as well. This can all be pre-arranged in detail, so the PR consultant’s work is mostly planned, and the work can be costed fairly accurately.

This is the reason why my own consultancy works on project fees, with no retainers, and why I have always worked this way.

While a freelance PR consultant is valued for the flexible service they offer, it is usually better if there is some continuity to the work. Working on an ad hoc basis, for example issuing a single press release, is not always efficient. There are several reasons for this. A consultant can work more effectively when he or she has a warm relationship with the editors who matter, can gain a deep understanding of the client’s company and  market, and is well acquainted with the senior executives in the client company.

Also, the best PR consultancies usually have ongoing commitments to their regular clients, and may not be willing to take on occasional tasks.

There is another, more subtle reason for preferring an ongoing client/consultancy relationship. This becomes obvious when you begin working with journalists. The relationship with editors and publications is not just a one-way street. We can send them our news material, but they may also contact us with requests when they need information. These requests will be outside your marketing plan, but if you have a regular  arrangement with your PR consultancy, you are likely to benefit from extra opportunities to provide interviews, case studies and images.

 

 

Case studies – ten ways to use them

Here’s a quick article to suggest some more ways to use those valuable customer stories. Ideally you would make a case study for every market sector you sell to. First, collect the details of the story and have it written up as a case study, to make a marketing document that can be used as a sales tool. Then..

Case studies for marketing

  1. Number one on my list has to be Content Marketing because it has become so important. There are a few different ways of doing this, but the principle is simply to display a brief version of the story on your website, and collect the email addresses of the visitors downloading the story.
  2. Use the customer story in a PR campaign. Interesting stories about well-known organisations and forays into new technology are very often suitable for editorial news and features.
  3. Email marketing – refer to the customer story in an email marketing message, and  use a link to track “opens”. Many companies are now using a marketing automation system such as Hubspot to streamline this process.
  4. Share the case study with existing customers. A new case study is a great topic for a company newsletter or a presentation to a user group.
  5. A ground-breaking case study is a brilliant topic for a conference presentation.
  6. Do something different and present the story in other ways – for example it’s no trouble to use a smartphone to make a video for posting and sharing.
  7. I have seen detailed technical case studies being used very successfully for training sales people and distributors overseas.
  8. Why not enter a customer success story for an industry award?
  9. Add case studies to tender submissions to build credibility and strengthen a bid for a major contract.
  10. Finally, this is one to make your internal team feel connected with customers, even if they are not in customer-facing roles. Use glossy pictures of customers using your products to brighten up your offices. It’s also good to have them in reception and meeting rooms. Of course, this only works for certain kinds of products and services!

With so many ways to use a customer case study, I believe it is well worth taking the trouble to put a story together and have it written in the right style and format for your business. The first customer in a new market sector could be an ideal candidate for a case study, as their story will help to gain a foothold and build credibility in the new market area.  Ideally your case study library will contain examples from every sector of your customer base. Depending upon how you plan to use your case study, you may need anything from 500 to 1,500 words of text, but the average length for a business case study is usually between 800 and 1,000 words. That’s long enough to convey a lot of detail, but still short enough to be an easy read.

 

Integrated PR and Marketing

Good PR and marketing should help to generate sales. They help a company to find new sales prospects, and help the sales conversion process in numerous ways. However, this can be easier in smaller technology firms than in larger businesses. In small firms, very often the same individual is responsible for directing sales and marketing, whilst in larger companies, the roles are split between large sales forces and marketing departments with a number of specialists, all working in a more complex corporate hierarchy. In technical businesses, it may also be the case that technical product management will take the lead in PR and marketing.

This means that it can be far easier to align marketing, PR and sales in a small company, and respond tactically to market events, because the strategy is simply decided by one person. In slightly larger organisations,  good integration can depend on the personalities and how well the sales and marketing people are aligned as a team. The largest businesses will use formal structures and leadership to ensure that sales and marketing are working in tandem.

PR and marketing messages

A marketing plan, PR plan and sales campaign should all be geared to helping and supporting the sales effort needed to achieve a company’s financial goals, and all should be promoting the same messages about the company and its products or services.

Besides the obvious product features and USPs, your brand, reputation, credibility, track record, technical expertise, accreditations, support services and future outlook can all be factors in winning a sale in a competitive situation. This means that your PR and marketing messages should focus on those areas where they can make the greatest positive impact on sales. It can be an interesting exercise to conduct an internal workshop to brainstorm marketing messages and listen to suggestions from all parts of the business.

Technology vendors – PR to target SMEs

Targeting PR campaigns to SMEs is not easy, yet this is a market that some of  my technology clients are aiming for. SMEs are the companies that typically have any number of people up to about 200.

Thinking about PR and media for this audience, it is difficult to find a media channel that reaches them all, because they  include so many different kinds of companies. They could be retailers, manufacturers, service providers, professional services, or providers of food, drink or hospitality, and they have very little in common except that they are businesses that fit a certain size bracket.

I believe that to conduct a successful promotion, you need to know your customers better than this. There will be groups of customers in different sectors and some may stand out as being more attractive than others. It’s also likely that the clients in different sectors may use your products or services in varying ways, and for different reasons. So it may be helpful to break that SME sector down into vertical markets which will have their own trade media, exhibitions, newsletters and forums.

It can be a very interesting exercise to conduct a Straw Poll and see what media, magazines and websites the customers actually read, and where they would look for new suppliers. There’s a lifestyle factor too. For example, people who travel a lot by car may listen to radio, and people who travel by air may prefer to use laptops and tablet computers and of course, online news services and discussion groups that go to particular groups are great for reaching particular sectors.