Sorry PR People

About a year ago I got the first odd e-mail – that is, the first that caught my attention on this particular topic. It was a thinly disguised press release offered by a PR company to hype me on the idea of interviewing their client.

I wrote back and asked why they had sent this information to me. I was told that because I was an “influential blogger” they thought I might like to know about their client.

Frankly, I found the concept of creating publicity through other people’s blogs to be a much more interesting story, but alas, the PR person refused to waste any more time conversing with me about the specifics of his job.

It seemed somebody had thrown a switch.

Within days I was getting regular solicitations, and within a few weeks they made up half of the mail in my “in” box.

I don’t mind people submitting story ideas, or opportunities to interview, but I wish they had even a small understanding of the topics I write about.

In the last 48 hours I’ve received:

1. a press release about a search engine optimization book from an expert I’ve never heard of,

2. a notification that a well-known millionaire would be the keynote speaker at a blogging convention in Las Vegas,

3. the announcement of a new Internet radio network,

4. an invitation to an after-hours party in Nashville from a company I’ve never heard of. (The invitation gives me no idea of what this company does),

5. a press release that a well known corporate executive has joined the board of a little known charity,

6. a “preview” of the big announcement that a start-up company would now offer cell phone advertising,

7. an announcement that a company I’ve never heard of has just purchased another company I’ve never heard of. It took 9 paragraphs to explain what either company did. I still don’t know why I should care,

8. a press release about an upcoming conference which would explore the upside of blogging for business,

9. a self-serving piece that a large retail chain used to brag that a not-for-profit agency I’ve never heard of has presented the retailer with an award I’ve never heard of,

10. a well written story about the steps that pharmacists in Southern California were taking to help people displaced by the fires to get their prescriptions.

11. a nice “thank you” from the Southern California marketing group that I spoke before last week. (Thank you, Mary. I had a good time, too).

12. an e-mail from RosemaryT informing me that my website could use more traffic, and that she will create a free site report for me if I click on the link…

OK. That last one didn’t belong on the list.

It was pure spam. But, except for number 11 so were all of the rest. (Although I thought the news in number 10 was genuine news, I’m the wrong person to report it).

Its flattering to be an “influential blogger,” and to have people think your opinion matters. That flattery quickly appears insincere when the blogger finds out you’ve never read his blog.

Insincerity = hype = Overall negative impression of the sender.

People who don’t know any better will try the “stuff against the wall” theory of mass communications. PR professionals should know better.

When you’re sending the exact same release to hundreds of “influential bloggers,” you have just admitted to everyone that your content is not news. Its already been widely disseminated. Any blogger who writes about your release is ALREADY behind the times.

It may be important to YOU that I learn all about your company’s after hours party, but I can assure you, unless you can explain why I should care, I probably won’t. People looking for marketing information won’t either.

I write specifically about advertising, and in the somewhat larger context, marketing. I have a couple of hundred posts on these topics available to anyone who Googles my name. Why are you sending me “news” that your software firm has upgraded KeepMeBusy 3.5 to the new robust KeepMeBusy 3.5.1? I don’t care. The people who read my posts for marketing information don’t care.

You are, by definition, a spammer.

How Chris dealt with spammers.

So appreciate with me the step just taken by Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail. Chris has banned pointless press releases from his in box.

A few keystrokes, and poof! They’re consigned to computer hell.

Ain’t technology grand?

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Why "Professional" Ads Will Drain Your Budget Dry

People with limited advertising experience are naturally eager to appear to be professional. Unfortunately, they base their image of professionalism on how well their ads conform to the sameness of all of the other ads.

Advertising professionals will tell you that the message comes first. The presentation always comes second. Its sole purpose should be to reinforce the message. The choice of medium should come later, too – perhaps even last.

Good ads resonate in the minds and hearts of the buyers. Bad ads puff up the ego of the sellers. You will recognize a bad ad by the unmistakable sucking sound as dollars are flushed over and over every day.

Here’s an interesting tool to guarantee bad advertising.

This is a parody of a useful tool. Use it. If you find ANY of these phrases in your advertising copy, fire your copywriter. If you’re the copywriter, hire someone who can say something your potential customers want to hear.

My only regret is that its focus is on-line copy. There’s a massive amount of bad off-line copy, too.

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An Interactive Budgeting Tool

In Disc Jockeys and Business Budgeting I referred you to an excellent article on the “how to’s” of preparing a marketing budget.

If the math is deterring you, may I recommend this Ad Budget Calculator, built by Wizard of Ads ® Partner, Dave Young.

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Disc Jockeys and Business Budgeting

Years ago, while I was working in radio, a young man came up to me at a public event and asked what he had to do to become a disc jockey. I told him to get a bachelors degree – not in communications, but rather in business. Take all of the history and political science classes available. Volunteer with some local service groups, and join Toastmasters, or some similar organization.

He asked, “Is that what you did?”

I said, “No, but then I didn’t ask anyone for advice on how to become a disc jockey.”

I did it differently. Much differently. I had other resources and additional knowledge, and was applying for a specific job with a specific radio station. All of those factors should have influenced my get the job strategy. That I did it differently didn’t invalidate the good advice I gave the young man.

I remembered that conversation earlier today when I was asked, “How much should I spend on advertising?”

I will gladly explain the calculations. In the process you’ll get solid advice that will be effective ninety-five percent of the time.

The other five percent?

In that case you’ll budget an ineffective amount, because your competitor has other resources and additional knowledge. The services of a marketing consultant, for example, that will apply his knowledge for a specific result with a specific company in a specific market.

You see, the generic advice any consultant would give in order to be useful at all would have to use averages and percentages. But it makes no sense for retailers to have the same guidelines as service companies, for professionals with different goals and different competitive situations and trends to spend the same percentages on marketing.

One size can’t possibly fit all – at least, not an excellent fit. And yet, for ninety-five percent of the businesses who ask this question, the averages will do just fine. And I’m a major supporter of the do-it-yourself ethic.

With that in mind, my partner, Roy H. Williams has already given an excellent step-by-step in his Entrepreneur article, Calculating Your Ad Budget. I doubt that I could explain it any better.

But I will add a few variables to the basic calculations.

Roy’s explanation works excellently for relational businesses. Many transactional businesses are highly seasonal, and should take seasonality into account. (And don’t make the budget curve match the sales curve, have it lead the curve by the length of time a typical customer is in a buying cycle).

New businesses usually need more exposure to achieve the same awareness level in the marketplace that established businesses do. They’ll need to spend more.

If your business has been losing share, you’ll need substantially more to turn the sales curve around.

Any average projection assumes average growth. If you wish greater growth, you’ll need to budget more.

Sometimes you just don’t have the cash your new budget will require. A good rule of thumb is to allocate the first half of the budget to be expended before you see any incremental growth. If you can’t sustain these spending levels, you’ll have to scale back your growth plans.

And finally, if you’re reluctant to “spend” any large numbers of dollars building your business through marketing, don’t implement the plan. Not spending enough is like buying a ticket three-quarters of the way to London. If you’re not going to follow through, you’re better off not wasting any dollars and still not reaching your goal.

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Surprise and Delight

My first post-high school employment was with Howard’s TV Repair. Howard had a pretty good understanding of human psychology. He insisted that we clean the outside of each television set repaired in his shop before it was returned to the owner.

It never took long. Less than 60 seconds to Windex the front of the picture tube, and maybe another three minutes to wipe the dust and fingerprints off the rest of the set. (It always amazes me, even today, how much dust, cigarette smoke, and other schmutz accumulates on the ‘tube and dims the picture).

When we’d fire it up for the owner, the usual comment was, “Wow. That looks good!

Why am I thinking of Howard today?

Because I just received a postcard from the shop that did extensive repairs on my truck. It was a nice “thank you,” and it arrived within 48 hours of the work being completed.

I paid $437 for repairs to the steering linkage. (Well, more correctly, $420 for the steering linkage, and $17 to replace the windshield wipers).

I picked the truck up at 5:30 pm, and drove it home into the setting sun, squinting through the dirty windshield. Now, granted, it was that dirty when I delivered the truck at 7:00 that morning. But, still, they paid enough attention to note the rubber was shot on my blades, and completely missed the filthy glass on which that rubber sat.

To the best of my knowledge, Howard never repaired any vehicle other than his own. However, I have no doubt that under his supervision no vehicle would be returned before the mats were vacuumed, the dash wiped down, and the glass cleaned.

And here I sit looking at this postcard.

The shop did good work. I’m not upset with their price. And yet, it would have been so easy for them to delight me with four minutes of extra, unexpected attention to the little things.

I don’t know what you sell, or what services you offer, but isn’t there some nicety you could do for your customers to surprise and delight them? I’m not talking about discount coupons or loyalty cards or even a free gift with purchase. I’m talking about just doing something nice. Something that could generate incredible word of mouth.

Something like:

  • The complementary hand sanitizer at the checkout of Mi Tierra Mexican Restaurant in Southaven, Mississippi.
  • Behive Music in Fargo loaning an amplifier for that night’s gig to a guitarist who’s amp was in their shop.
  • As one of California’s major fires worked it’s way up the Cajone Pass, the daily phone call to out-of-town owners of rental homes managed by Blue Star Properties of Victorville. (With evacuation on everyone’s mind, Ben Lamson’s crew minimized every owner’s worry by providing the latest information, and showing they were on top of the situation).
  • The Cincinnati O’Charlie’s Restaurant waitress who, slammed by the after church crowd, still noticed a lady with a walker coming around the side of the building, opened the side door, and found her a seat immediately.
  • The cleansing wipes provided by the Kroger Grocery in Portsmouth, Ohio so that shoppers can wipe down the handles of the shopping carts.
  • The taxi owned by El Torrito Restaurant in Evansville, Illinois, painted with their logo, that the restaurant parked by the street during the day and used in the evening to take home customers home who had spent too much time in the cantina.
  • The U.S. Postal Service repackaging my magazine when the cover tore, in order that it arrive without additional damage.
  • The complementary coffee served to those customers waiting to be seated at the Bob Evans Restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina.
  • The customer service representative of Chase Bank in Huntington, West Virginia who called the new customer with the name of a blues band looking for a bass player that his new-to-town customer had asked about the day before.

Do you have any personal examples of delightful customer service?

If you don’t mind, hit the “comment” button and tell us what the business did for you, how it made you feel, and roughly how many people you told about it.

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Investing in Your Ads

I’ve long said that advertising is an investment, and should be treated like other investments.

When you expect high return quickly, there is high risk. When you expect slow, consistent growth the risk is minimized.

So I found this quote particularly interesting:

Fact #1: From 1984 through 1995 the average stock mutual fund posted a yearly return of 12.3 percent, while the average bond mutual fund returned 9.7 percent a year.

Fact #2: From 1984 through 1995 the average investor in a stock mutual fund earned 6.3 percent, while the average investor in a bond mutual fund earned 8 percent.

Gary Belsky & Thomas Gilovich explain how funds can earn more than the people who own them in Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them:

Rather than investing in a few well-researched mutual (ideally index) funds and holding on to them for a very long time through thick and thin – the classic “buy and hold” strategy – most people flit in and out of a whole passel of funds in an effort to maximize their returns.

Of course, if they got into better performing funds this observation would be pointless. Apparently, the odds go down the more often the investor changes strategy.

So, back to my comparison to advertising. Much like investors in stock funds get bored with the performance of their funds and believe changing will improve their returns, investors in advertising get bored with the performance of their advertising and believe changing strategies will improve their responses.

In both cases, they’re usually wrong.

Imagine how much better a good strategy could work were it given time to impact all of those people who haven’t yet been persuaded to do business with you.

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A Marketing Lession with Jack and Magic Beans

Jack was a poor boy who, since his father ran off with a search engine optimization specialist, only wanted to promote his family information business. Jack’s widowed mother sent him to market with their last remaining possession – an option on cattle futures. “Cash this in, Jack,” she instructed, “then we can buy another two million gross exposures for our infoproduct.

But along the way jack met a stranger who convinced him to trade his cow futures for a new software product called “Magic Beans.”

Its a brilliant product,” said the stranger. “Instead of paying for legitimate advertising, the Magic Beans product takes your sales letter, and cleverly replaces the verbs, then the adverbs, then the pronouns, and generates another sales letter that basically says the same thing. You embed the same keywords, link to your main site, and get fabulous search positioning.

Thrilled at the prospect of something for nothing, or, in this case, something in exchange for his last remaining asset, Jack made the deal, and proudly went home to show his mother.

Alas, his mother was less than thrilled. She stomped off into her room as Jack installed the Magic Beans program in his desktop.

And I, your faithful storyteller, was able to watch Jack at work. His output magically appeared on my laptop’s screen. Would you like to see how the Magic Beans did?

Here is part of the unedited output of the program:

According to United States today article, Advertisers Forced to Think Manner Outside the Box, engineering is giving sellers a tally for their money. From radio devices to iPods to digital picture recording equipments (DVRs), time-pressed consumers have got many more than picks and control over what they melody up in or tune out. Even though advertizers increased disbursement 10% to $140 billion last twelvemonth as reported by Tennessees Media Intelligence, that onslaught may just be turning all selling messages into a clump of agitation that ranges no one.

Jerry Dyas*, President of Trade Only Design Library, Inc., have been saying for old age that in today’s concern human race an enterpriser have to force the envelope with his selling message if he desires to stand up out from the competition. Dyas, a nationally recognized gross sales and selling strategian with an impressive history of drive grosses through “out-of-the-box” marketing schemes states people are hesitating to take chances.

“Most people look to see how others marketplace and make the same,” said Dyas. “Most selling is deadening and acquires mediocre consequences so you have got to be different. Being different volition pique some people but your occupation is not to do others happy.” Throughout Dyas’ career, his empirical observation is that if selling doesn’t stand up out, only poor consequences ensue.

But Dyas doesn’t intend to travel out of your manner to purposely antagonise people. So, what makes he intend by” pique people”? “Just make something that others wouldn’t do,” Dyas says.

Take Measurable Solutions, a Florida-based physical therapy consulting house for illustration – one that made the Entrepreneur Hot 100 List in 2005 as one of the fastest-growing newest concerns in the nation. Their selling message that helped them hit the big-time was Get New Patients Out the Wazoo! ‘Wazoo’ may have got offended a few people, but it was one of their most successful direct mail postal cards to date.

How do you feel about this company’s ability to deliver? Would you buy from them? Would anyone?

Remember the words of my dear, sweet, saintly old Grandmother Fanny McKay, who once said “If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably another case of magic beans.”

Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who focuses on professional practices and owner operated businesses. Questions about legitimate advertising strategies for small business may be directed to [email protected].

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Advertising Can’t Create Demand

I don’t know which is sillier. The general public who believe that advertising can convince people to buy things they don’t need, or advertisers who endlessly search for the magic message to drive more demand for the things they’re selling.

Each somehow believes that ads condition people to consume.

They’re both wrong.

Advertising doesn’t do that. Life does.

What’s the single biggest reason that a shopper will buy barbecue sauce?

Running out of barbecue sauce.

Advertising will never convince someone who hates barbecue to love it. It can, however help someone in a grocery store to notice your bottle and say “Hey… I’ve been hearing about this. I think I’ll try it.

Which means no matter how many gross ratings points you purchase this week, only a small percentage of barbecue lovers will also be purchasing this week. Your mission is to make ’em think of your brand the next time they go shopping.

Side note: both groups of silly people (general public and uninformed advertisers) believe advertising works, but only on other people. Never on them.

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Learning the Hard Way

Over the years I’ve watched various clients experience hard drive failure complicated by lack of data backup. Its an ugly thing to watch as a business owner discovers that his most valuable assett, his client records, are gone.

To make sure that doesn’t happen to me, I backup everything to an external drive that can plug into any USB port on any other computer. Unfortunately, I’ve also given in to the temptation to “do it tomorrow.”

This afternoon, while reaching for the phone, I spilled half a cup of coffee into the keyboard of my laptop, which promptly stopped working. I’m embarrassed to admit that my most recent backup was two weeks ago.

I spent the afternoon learning about data recovery, and thanks to my new friends at a local computer repair facility I have all of the files I’ve been working on this week restored to my external drive and accessible from older computer I keep for emergencies.

I was lucky. This could have been ugly. I’m implementing a daily backup regimen.

How about you? Are you backing up daily? Weekly? Whenever you think what you’re working on is important? Whenever you have the time?

Got any hard drive failure horror stories to share?

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That Will Never Work Here

Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.”

Dr. Lee De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube and father of television.

The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”

A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.

People in this community just won’t support local business.”

The anonymous president of a local service business, explaining why his P&L failed to match his projections.

That won’t work here.”

For a number of years I was involved in local radio sales training in markets as large as Orlando, Florida, and as small as Mineral Wells, Texas. In nearly every case at least one of the local sales people (and never one of the top billers) would speak up to explain why the training wouldn’t work.

  • “My customers won’t make appointments. They want me to just drop by when I’m in the neighborhood.”
  • “My customers won’t plan for several months at a time. They just want to know if I have any good deals today.”
  • “My customers will never pay that much.”
  • Without fail, those same customers did prefer the next sales rep to stop dropping in unannounced, and preferred to work from appointments. They appreciated multiple month plans. And, when presented with the advantages, they frequently opted for the more expensive advertising programs.

    Expectations determine outcomes.

    In Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson’s 1968 Pygmalion Study, elementary school teachers were told that some of their students were academically gifted and could be expected to perform well, even though they had not previously shown any signs. The teachers were given the names of the “academic spurters,” who in truth had been selected completely at random.

    At the end of the school year the “academic spurters” showed an average increase of twelve IQ points. Some showed an IQ increase of as much as 20 points. And the teachers also reported these students were better behaved, more intellectually curious, were friendlier, and had greater chances for success.

    Rosenthal and Jacobson concluded the teachers had subtly encouraged the performance they expected to see. They spent more time with the special students, were more enthusiastic teaching them and showed more warmth to them than to the other students.

    This was unconscious on the part of the teachers, but was acknowledged by Rosenthal and Jacobson as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” – a false definition of a situation evoking a new behavior which in turn makes the originally false conception come true.

    Expectations determine outcomes.

    The negative version of a self-fulfilling prophecy is sometimes called the “Not Invented Here,” syndrome – a pejorative that usually indicates someone would rather fail than to admit someone else has found a workable solution.

    We see it evidenced by the “People in this community just won’t support local business” company president or the “My customers won’t make appointments” salespeople. They have a vested interest in proving their conclusions to be correct. If someone from outside came in and demonstrated a better way of operating, they’ll be forced to admit their own failures.

    Consultants know to expect a certain number of these people in any organization, and to expect them to push back when presented with new solutions to the existing problems.

    Sometimes a few will see the advantage in the new solution. More often they are so committed to proving their own view to be valid that the organization can’t grow until they’re replaced.

    Replacing a salesperson is fairly straightforward. Replacing the company president is not.

    Expectations determine outcomes.

    So, here’s the challenge, especially if you’re the company president. Assume from this point forward that every problem has a solution, and you just haven’t found it, yet.

    Stop insisting “This won’t work.”

    Stop asking “Will this work?”

    Instead, ask “How can we make this work?” Then keep asking until you find a solution that does.

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