Category Archives: Guest Posts

One man’s austerity is another man’s opportunity

I’ve asked some of my favorite bloggers to guest blog and provide us with some of their favorite creative and affordable marketing tips.

In this post, Jay Morris takes a slightly different twist with advice on finding opportunities in adversity.

Opportunity

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” is a quote from Albert Einstein worth remembering. Image courtesy of scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

For most of my career as a public relations and marketing professional, I’ve worked for organizations with fairly small communications budgets. I’ve joked that if you can afford to give me a desk, a telephone and a computer, I can do my job. The truth is, some of the best PR and marketing is done on a shoestring.

Yes, sequestration, furloughs and the gloom of austerity have darkened our doors of late, and PR folks are once again dealing with tight budgets and cutbacks. But I ask you, when have PR and marketing departments ever been flush with money?

In good times and bad, the organizations I’ve worked for have tightened their belts, reorganized and right-sized in ways that have severely impacted PR and marketing. If you want to last in this business, you truly have to be a survivor. You have to be a PR ninja, a marketing guerrilla. You have to think strategically while executing nimbly.

So here are some lessons learned from the austerity trenches:

Let go of what isn’t working or worth doing. In the 1980s, I worked for a large D.C. trade association. We were told that $1 million had to be cut from the operating budget, a lot of money back then. But in hindsight, it wasn’t enough to force us to rethink our business model or make meaningful changes. Instead, we became contortionists in our attempt to maintain member services at a reduced cost. For example, a four-page, weekly newsletter I edited and mailed to 25,000 members was “cut” by going to eight pages every two weeks. Sure, we saved a bundle of money by chopping our mailings in half, but no thought was given to the threshold question of whether we needed to continue the newsletter, much less double its issue size.

About a decade later, I was at different trade association that was suffering from a precipitous decline in membership. The axe fell again, but this time it was severe and painful. Most of my colleagues in the PR department were let go. Only two of us survived. But in building a new department from the ashes of the old one, a funny thing happened: We scrapped what wasn’t working and only focused on the essentials. We had “permission” from management and our stakeholders to reinvent public relations, albeit at a reduced level. Some of our best work came out of this period.

Jim Collins has said for years that businesses need to simplify and concentrate on what they do best. Great business leaders know when to eliminate those things that aren’t working. Sometimes those decisions are painful, but they almost always result in greater success than sticking with the status quo. Collins wrote an article for USA Today a few years ago about his annual “stop doing” list. It’s a great read and will get you thinking about what you need to really focus on in your life and career.

Leverage the resources you have. One of the organizations I worked for was a federation of about 1,000 state and local associations. In creating a nationwide network of media relations and community outreach volunteers, we were able to accomplish much more than we ever could have done on our own—and at a fraction of the cost. Collaborative thinking, strong volunteer leadership and a unified purpose helped us forge cooperative alliances with our state and local affiliates.

We developed training materials, held workshops and provided numerous “best-practice” examples of good public relations. We also recognized outstanding PR and community service initiatives through a national awards program. The training and recognition ensured that our volunteers were singing from the same songbook. In fact, we wrote the songbook, so in that way we shaped the message all across the country!

Out of adversity comes opportunity. It’s a hard truth to accept, but setbacks can become crucibles for positive change and growth. Anything that disrupts your routine, forces you to reexamine your goals or makes you change course can be a good thing in the end. Early in my career, I was reorganized out of the PR department I loved and into the government relations department. At the time I was upset and fought the change. As it turns out, I had the opportunity to work for one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. In my new role, I learned the ways of Washington, spent time on Capitol Hill, wrote testimony and issue papers, and spoke to reporters about legislative and regulatory concerns. It was a great training ground for my later job as a public affairs director.

Believe in yourself. It often seems that everyone in an organization is a PR pro—except you. Accountants, attorneys, lobbyists and IT people are accorded expert status, but the lowly PR guy gets no respect. Everyone tells him how to do his job or fails to tell him what he needs to know to do his job. Once, when I was working day and night to execute a name and logo change for an organization, the head of IT came by to see me and sketched on a piece of scrap paper the logo that he felt was the perfect solution for us. While well intentioned, his visit reminded me that outsiders tend to view our work as easy or superfluous. This mentality, unfortunately, puts PR budgets and staff at higher risk for cuts. Some of this goes with the territory, but some of it can be prevented by believing in yourself and your capabilities, doing your homework and demonstrating that PR and marketing can make important contributions to the bottom line.

The one distinct advantage that PR and marketing people have (or should have) over everyone else is their creativity, their willingness to think outside the box. That’s huge, and it’s our saving grace when the meat cleaver of budget cuts falls unevenly or austerity comes knocking at our door.

Jay Morris is president of Jay Morris Communications LLC, an independent marketing and PR firm in Alexandria, Va. He blogs at wayward journey.com and tweets at @JayMorCom. He also serves on the boards of PRSA-NCC and the Independent Public Relations Alliance.

Spring Cleaning: 5 Fresh, Budget-Friendly PR and Marketing Tips

I’ve asked some of my favorite bloggers to guest blog and provide us with some of their favorite creative and affordable marketing tips. 

Check out what Karen Hendricks has to say about making the most of your social media platforms.

Broom,_sponge_and_towelSpring cleaning isn’t limited to dust bunnies under the bed. Did you know… you may have virtual dust bunnies lurking in your social media and marketing accounts? This is the perfect time of year to freshen up your marketing strategy, evaluate and consider adding a few new marketing tools—all with a budget-friendly approach. Here are five ways to put a little springtime sparkle into your marketing mix:

1. Facebook Facelift: Give your business or organization a fresh look on Facebook by uploading a new top image. This is a great rule of thumb to follow at least once per quarter or season. This instantly sets the tone on your account as a current, relevant source of information. According to a study by Vocus, Facebook fans are a brand’s most valuable customers, with 79% of your fans more likely to purchase your products/services as compared to non-Facebook fans… so give them a fresh “face” atop your latest content. Remember the dimensions for Facebook’s cover image are 851 x 315 pixels.

2. Blogging Bling: When is the last time you updated your company’s or organization’s blog? According to Blogging.org, 60% of all businesses have a blog, but a whopping 65% haven’t updated it within the past year.  A blog is the perfect example of content marketing at its best—especially if you take advantage of a free, easy-as-pie WordPress account. The only investment is your time spent writing and adding effective images—a key component to higher engagement rates.

3. LinkedIn Luster: It’s been about a year and a half since the professional networking site LinkedIn unveiled its Company Pages feature. Since then, 2.6 million companies have developed company pages, including all Fortune 500 companies. Many small businesses and non-profits have yet to take advantage of this free marketing tool, with valuable access to the 200 million professionals currently on LinkedIn. When you create a Company Page, invite your customers to provide endorsements, share your business news, and begin creating a buzz on a professional level. You can even advertise jobs or scout for potential new hires. For inspiration, check this post on the LinkedIn blog, with tips from the top 10 best company pages of 2012.

4. Add Polish with Pinterest:  Last summer, Mashable reported that Pinterest users were following more brands than Facebook or Twitter users. I think the main reason why boils down to Pinterest’s focus on images. It’s easier to “see” what you like rather than “read” about your favorite brands, causes or businesses. If you haven’t yet created a Pinterest account for your business or organization—or if you haven’t added new content recently, polish your image with a free Pinterest account. Make sure plenty of your pins link back to your core marketing presence, your website, to ultimately drive traffic to your doorstep.

5. Add email marketing muscle: Don’t discount good old fashioned email marketing! It’s still a wonderfully viable way to engage with and grow your core customer base.  See the Inbound Marketing blog for their recent “23 Tweetable Stats on Email Marketing Trends” and it’s bound to put some spring into your marketing step.

If you aren’t currently using an email marketing service, consider the following: one of the gold standards in the industry, Constant Contact offers a free 60-day trial period that’s especially helpful for small businesses since the initial free contact list is limited to 100 or fewer contacts. Otherwise, paid accounts on Constant Contact will not break your bottom line, and non-profits receive a 15% discount Additional budget-friendly options include Vertical Response, which has a free option for all 501 (c)(3) organizations, and Mad Mimi which offers a free base email program for up to 2,500 contacts and up to 12,500 emails per month. Make sure to dust off your writing skills as well — 64% of email recipients say they open an email because of the subject line.

Karen Hendricks, Hendricks Communications

Karen Hendricks, Hendricks Communications

Karen Hendricks, President/Owner of Hendricks Communications, focuses on public relations, marketing and freelance writing/photography. Learn more at HendricksCommunications.com and follow her on Twitter @karenhendricks9.

A great business card is a powerful budget marketing tactic

Business cards on bulletin boardI’ve asked some of my favorite bloggers to guest blog and provide us with some of their favorite creative and affordable marketing tips. 

Check out what Deborah Brody has to say about making the most of your business cards.

In this age of smart phone bumps and cloud-based contact lists, it may seem a bit old-fashioned to advocate for the business card.  But the business card should be the ace player in your budget marketing arsenal.  A business card is cheap (relatively speaking), portable and useful. It gets your information right into the hands (and hopefully, databases) of the people you connect with. Done well, a business card keeps you connected with your prospects and brings you business.

However, not any old business card will do. You should spend time (and money) to get this little piece of marketing real estate done right. If someone picks up your business card from a pile of cards, it should be immediately obvious who you are and what you do. Following are some tips to make the most of your business cards.

Spend the money to get professional graphic design. You could do this as part of a letterhead and/or logo package, if you are just starting out. You aren’t like everybody else, so why have a non-customized card? Make sure to use your colors, logo and maybe even an image.

Print your cards professionally, on good paper stock. Nothing says unprofessional more than flimsy cards printed on your ink jet printer. There are many online, digital printers that will do your cards for a fraction of the price you would pay a traditional offset printer, while making them look spectacular.

Make the best use of the space you have. This means using the back of the card, perhaps to list your services, provide your bio, offer a discount code or even have a version of your card in a different language.

Include as much information as possible, thinking of what would be relevant to someone looking to do business with you.

Information that must be on the business card includes:

  • Your name and title
  • Organization or business name
  • Website
  • Email address
  • Phone/Mobile
  • Address
  • Tagline and/or short description of what your organization does (if not obvious from the name)

Other items you may consider adding:

  • Twitter handle
  • LinkedIn information
  • Testimonials from clients
  • Skype information

Finally, a word about design: Some folks get uber creative with their business cards, and in some cases, that helps to bolster their brand or show off their design chops. However, weird card shapes may be a conversation starter or be more memorable, but they are less likely to fit in conventional card holders or card scanners. Keep that in mind. Same goes for the layout. I prefer a horizontal layout, since that is how most cards are read.

Deborah Brody, principal of Deborah Brody Marketing Communications, is a marketing writer and consultant. Read more at www.deborahbrody.com and follow her on Twitter at @DBMC .

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