Two-Way Street

PR, social media, events and incentives – Collaboration & communication ideas for demanding businesses from The Castle Group's Mark O'Toole

Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Spring cleaning your communications tools

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 18, 2011

Spring isn’t officially here yet, but we’re impatient. Here in the beautiful Charlestown Navy Yard, it’s been a blustery, slippery, tough-to-navigate winter. So we’re thinking ahead to the springtime, and along with all the good things that implies, it also brings spring cleaning to mind.

Getting rid of old, stale, unused junk; sprucing up a somewhat tired area; turning a fresh eye to something that’s been sitting around. We’re not just talking about our work areas or homes — we’re talking about communications.

Here are 10 communications tools you can refresh with some spring cleaning:

  1. Crisis communications plan: Do you know where it is? Do you even have one? This is a good reminder to pull out your plan and do a refresh. If your plan was built even a couple of years ago, it’s likely out of date due to the fast-moving world of social and digital media. Contacts have probably changed. In fact, the world has changed, and your plan must change with it.
  2. LinkedIn profile: When did you first create your profile? Chances are your business description, job, professional affiliations (even your head shot) have changed at least slightly. Help your important contacts receive the right messages by putting the right information in there. And LinkedIn is constantly adding and evolving, so take a look at how you’re posting content, participating in groups, using your network to your advantage.
  3. Desk: Well, of course you need to unclutter your work area. Today, when so many of us are working from smart phones, iPads and virtual offices, your “home base” work area can get a bit neglected. We guarantee that if you dig through those papers on your desk, you will rediscover a great idea you put aside, or a business card that you meant to add to your database.
  4. Unscheduled meetings: We all have them — the appointments we keep meaning to schedule that somehow get postponed and then fall off the radar. Think about the handful of people you meant to have a lunch or coffee with. There was a good reason you wanted to connect. You still can. And should.
  5. Contracts: Our events clients, in particular, contract with numerous properties and vendors, and we negotiate on their behalf. We’ve seen contracts that they have used for years, and found ways to better leverage those contracts. Worth blowing off the dust and taking another look.
  6. Grammar: “Me” vs. “I.” That’s the one that really gets our goat. In honor of Strunk and White, we can all teach our teams, interns — even our kids — to clean up that grammar.
  7. Boilerplate: You use it all the time, in every news release. But do you ever look at it to make sure it reflects who you are today? Does it have links in it? Look it over and clean up that boilerplate.
  8. Website: We know as well as anybody, it is a LOT of work. Our new website is ALMOST done, and cleaning up a website (or in our case building a new one) is a massive task. But times have probably changed since you last took a good, hard look. There are more reasons to update your website than we can list here. But the best one: it is the first place your customers and clients will look, and it should reflect who you are.
  9. Facebook page: Facebook is constantly changing — maybe a little too much — but its latest refresh presents a very different page layout that will impact your organization’s page. To start, take a look at the photo strip that now sits atop your page and clean it up to reflect your brand.
  10. Email lists: You send out email blasts and receive those “undeliverable” notices. Take a few moments to scrub your contact lists. And be sure to add new prospects and clients to keep your database up-to-date and fresh.

Now once that’s all done, go home and start cleaning out the garage.

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BlogWorld observations

Posted by thecastlegroup on November 1, 2010

Castle VP Hilary Allard was a panelist at last month’s BlogWorld. Below are her observations from the event.

I was honored to be asked to present on a PR panel at last month’s BlogWorld event, a blogging and social media conference that attracts more than 3,500 people. There were many inspiring, thought-provoking and surprising insights shared about how the intersection of technology and communication has changed our world.

Here are a few observations from the event:

The impact that technology and social media has made on the lives of military members and their families is profound. In a video introduction, General Petraeus spoke of how the ability to communicate with their families via Facebook, email and Skype has helped military members through the challenges of their separation. A website,, provides troops with a place to share their look at Army life. Here’s a post on the site about the Army experience at BlogWorld.

While thought leaders have high-level discussions about social media and the future of communications, the fact is that many individuals – and organizations – don’t know what to do or where to start. The prospect of adding to already full to-do lists is daunting. (More on that in this space at another time.)

Everyone is willing to share. Just as I experienced during the TechMunch summer event in New York, media, brands and bloggers are all willing to share their experience, insights and challenges, putting the “social” in social media. It’s no longer “us against them,” it’s “we’re all in this together.”

Social media has given everyone a voice – and they’re not afraid to use it. Audience members politely yet aggressively (“Pardon me for saying so…”) challenged well-known speakers during one keynote session on politics. My favorite was an elderly woman who stood up and talked about her blogging and participation on Twitter. She clearly was energized by this aspect of her life and the new doors it had opened for her.

Are you involved in social media? If so, has it changed your life, personally or professionally? If not, what obstacles are in your way that are preventing you from engaging online?

Posted in Marketing, PR, Social Media (or the Digital Divide) | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How not to become a jaded employer

Posted by thecastlegroup on October 28, 2010

Todd Defren recently wrote about millenials and how that generation views employment and loyalty, and how we as employers can deal with generational differences.

Here are my thoughts on how not to become a jaded employer and start thinking every employee is a temporary one.


-People will leave. It’s the nature of the employee and the challenge of the employer.

-Finding and training new staff  is hard.

-Keeping good staff is great.

-Generational differences exist, though they are not universal — some staff will live by the new rules, others will resemble a more traditional pre-millenial employee.


-Sometimes it’s good to have turnover to re-energize a team and introduce new thinking.

-Often, those who leave were not cut out for the job, as much as we convince ourselves we are super smart about hiring.

-If you love something, set it free… I’ve had talented staff leave and generally have seen two results. 1) They keep the entrepreneurial spirit we helped them develop and have become leaders in new organizations or started their own ventures, or 2) I keep an eye on them, watch them grow and bring them back when it makes sense for them and us.

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Delivering on the Brand Promise…or Just Delivering, Period

Posted by thecastlegroup on October 20, 2010

Castle co-founder Sandy Lish draws a line from customer service to brand values in this Two-Way Street blog post.


A few weeks ago, I ordered a replacement part for my GPS. This was a relatively simple online transaction, from a brand that is synonymous with the GPS industry. A week went by, then two, and I realized that my item hadn’t arrived. Checked my bank account, and sure enough, the account had been charged the day after I placed my order. So I called the company, which required some heavy digging online as the phone number was somewhat buried. The customer service person looked up my order, looked at the shipping information in her record, and let me know that she had no idea where my item was, although it had been shipped two weeks ago. I asked her to look a little harder and figure out what was going on. The best she could tell me was that it was somewhere en route, and to check back in a few days if it still had not arrived.

As this was not the highest priority in my life, I decided to just give it a couple of days. Then it struck me: there’s significant irony in the fact that I bought a GPS item that the GPS company itself cannot even find. In a conversation a few days later with a client, we were talking about online shopping and I relayed this story. She immediately said, “They’re not delivering on their brand promise!”

Branding, as we know, is about much more than images and marketing materials. It carries through to the customer experience, which in this case completely contradicted the company’s brand promise. If your message is about positioning and tracking, it is unacceptable to ship a package you cannot locate.

A few phone calls and days later, I received a link to track my package, which said it should arrive three-to-five business days after leaving the warehouse (which it had done more than two weeks earlier). That ship had sailed. It had literally been in my town two weeks prior, then left and traveled to a variety of states, where it evidently kept being “missent.”

By the way, the package finally came over the weekend. My husband laughingly pointed out the sticker on the outside: “Fast Ship.”

I will never buy another item from this company. The brand itself may be spiffy, the product may be highly rated by consumers, but if they can’t deliver—literally or figuratively—they’ve lost me.

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Stay relevant, my friend – how PR agencies need to sell digital services

Posted by thecastlegroup on September 30, 2010

In the recent series of blog posts by the quartet of Todd Defren, Steve Farnsworth, Lou Hoffman and Paul Roberts, in what they have termed the 4/4/4/ series, discussion focused primarily on the changing scope of responsibilities for PR agencies. From digital tools to ethics considerations to social media, the posts made clear that public relations has a more prominent seat at the marketing table, and more opportunity to drive strategy for client brand messaging well beyond media relations.

While the theme of relevance pervades many of these posts, the “relevance” is focused mostly on awareness and usage of the tools and managing the issues that come with deeper immersion into client business. But, like my newest TV hero, the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World (who is the coolest TV guy since Thomas Magnum re-upped), staying relevant also means staying thirsty.

Consuming all the emerging tools, participating in social media, introducing new measurement concepts to clients and creating content that has a long shelf life online are musts for any PR practitioner today. But is the thirst there to sell these services correctly? Learning all of the above is just step one — staying relevant and really thirsty needs to manifest itself in the way we sell our services.

The thirsty agency embraces these selling concepts:

  • The retainer is dead. Maybe not for all clients, but PR firms must look to new ways to bill for services. Smaller firms especially have opportunity to reconfigure pricing to account for content creation, brand monitoring, social media strategy and more. Client needs, and the systems and tools to help meet them, are changing too fast for fixed price relationships.
  • There is a lot more money to be made. Client needs are growing more complex. Their content needs are growing, and the PR firm is one of many creative agencies vying for business. The firms best positioned to tackle the most complex client issues will earn the highest rewards.
  • Specialists are needed. Building an offering that includes everything discussed in the 4/4/4 series is daunting. The full-service agency era is taking a backseat (for now) to a more specialized approach. Clients are using separate firms for search, creative, communications, advertising, media buying. There’s an argument to be made that the next great agency model embraces all these disciplines in an integrated way (some firms certainly offer all of these now but typically in a “silo” format), but for now specialists are need. What’s your sweet spot?
  • Communicate your expertise. That’s what PR firms do on behalf of clients, right? The “cobbler’s children” metaphor stopped working once the cobbler got an iPad. It’s not about how slick your website is (but look for a really slick new Castle site shortly) or how much animation your PowerPoint has. For PR firms, it’s never been about us, which is why clients trust us with communicating their brands. We need to tell prospects and existing clients about the digital landscape and how they need to immerse themselves. Companies are looking for direction. The winners will be the ones that provide it.

Marketers, what are you looking for? What impacts your buying decisions? How thirsty are you?

Posted in Marketing, PR, Social Media (or the Digital Divide) | 2 Comments »

2nd BWP Odd Pairing Experiment

Posted by thecastlegroup on September 22, 2010

Sick of the same old events? Boston World Partnerships, an economic driver that I am proudly part of, is hosting its 2nd Odd Pairing Experiment. The first was a great mix of very different speakers, tons of meaningful attendees and an awesome venue. 

This next one promises the same. Here are details. 

Join Boston World Partnerships’ Connectors for our 2nd Odd Pairing Experiment.  Panelists will lead an interactive discussion on the topic of how organizations tell their stories. 

Damon Jones, Global Communications Director, Procter & Gamble, and former Director of Press Relations for the 2008 Democratic National Committee

Howard Anderson, Distinguished Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan, Founder of The Yankee Group, and Co-Founder of Battery Ventures

Chris Colbert, Founder of the marketing agency Holland Mark, and sherpa of FutureM

Susan Rodgerson, Founder and Executive/Artistic Director of Artists For Humanity

Peter Brown, Chief of Staff to the President & CEO of Partners Healthcare, Former News Director at WBZ-TV 


Dave McLaughlin, Executive Director of Boston World Partnerships and award-winning filmmaker 

When: Wednesday – October 6, 2010 

Where: Artists for Humanity EpiCenter
100 W 2nd St.
Boston, MA 02127 

Time: Registration: 6:00pm -6:30pm
Speaking Program: 6:30pm – 7:30pm
Networking Reception: 7:30pm – 9:00pm 

Fee: $55 early bird & BWP Connectors
$75 General Admission 

To buy tickets, please visit:

Posted in Castle News, Events & Incentives, fun stuff and more, Marketing, PR, Social Media (or the Digital Divide) | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Techmunch thoughts

Posted by thecastlegroup on July 12, 2010

Castle consumer PR VP Hilary Allard was a panelist on the recent Techmunch conference in New York. Below are her thoughts from the show.

I was excited to speak on the PR panel at the recent Techmunch event during Internet Week in New York.  This one-day seminar is intended to provide food bloggers with advice and information on how to build their personal brands and market their blogs.

Journalists, established bloggers and marketers all participated, covering a broad range of topics such as SEO tips, leveraging traditional media and building community.

Two powerful lessons emerged from the conference:

Take online relationships off-line: Like any relationship, ultimately, the best ones have plenty of face time – think of those clients with whom you meet on a regular basis or the time you spend talking at the family dinner table. 

Techmunch provided me with the opportunity to make new friends, meet people I had only connected with via Twitter, and to see people with whom I communicate off-line on a regular basis. 

Social media allows us to connect to people we might never meet otherwise, but it’s up to us to solidify those relationships and take them to the next level.

Share and share alike:  We all know that people can fall victim to online “oversharing,” but it struck me at Techmunch that journalists, bloggers and marketers were sitting at the same table and telling their stories with candor – the difficulties of marketing budgets in today’s economy, the challenges for journalists managing career transitions, the struggles of finding one’s way from being a hobbyist to full-time blogger.

Five years ago, I would never have imagined that.  But the elements of social media that level the playing field, create connections and open possibilities, combined with our collective economic hopes and fears stirred up by the last two years, have created an attitude of collaboration among previously disparate “tribes.”  Being united by a common love of food and blogging doesn’t hurt, either.

To learn more about the panelists at Techmunch, visit

To learn more about event sponsor Bakespace, a social networking site for food lovers, visit

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Innovation in Boston

Posted by thecastlegroup on July 2, 2010

I’m a Connector for Boston World Partnerships (BWP). Read below for more detail on this great organization and how your company can get involved — and why it should.

The cities that succeed in the years ahead are the ones that redefine how they think about essential infrastructure – the same is true for businesses.  Learn how BWP is redefining the power of human networks and helping companies stay on the leading edge of their industry.

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Web video: Show customers what they want and why

Posted by thecastlegroup on June 15, 2010

Companies are embracing the age of online video. A product or service described with mere text and images might give the consumer an idea of what you’re offering, but it leaves much to the imagination. Words in text can be misunderstood, still images of products can be stale, and, frankly, the combination tends to be unexciting.  

Consumers are turning to online videos as the more effective (and interesting!) method of learning about potential products. In fact, research has found a 40 percent increase in product video viewership.*

This potential often transforms into purchasing behavior, as products featured in web videos result in a 46 percent higher conversion rate than products featured with only text and images, according to a recent Treepodia study. One reason is that consumers view products in web videos as higher-quality items.**

This creates a perceived level of confidence in the product, and by extension, a similar confidence in the consumer. Pete Bell, co-founder of MK3 client Endeca, states that “Visitors to our website who watch a video fill out registration forms at five times the rate of non-viewers.”

Leave all the text and pictures for a magazine. Take advantage of internet capabilities, and show customers what they want and why. Learn exactly what it takes to make these videos such a profitable tool. View specific case studies of online video success.

*eMarketer survey ’07-’08

** ’10

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Unboring Billboards

Posted by thecastlegroup on May 26, 2010

The new digital billboards are taking the medium out of marketing’s dark ages by acting as a source of information and entertainment in line with today’s electronic age.

There are two digital billboards I pass on my way to and from work. While sitting in traffic, they are a minimal form of entertainment, with idle drivers waiting to see what’s next.

The boards are being used in two different ways. One is a steady rotation of ads for local businesses, interspersed with messages about local charities. It provides a way to get information on a wide range of topics in a short period – the fundraising walk is next weekend, the Beacon Grille is serving brunch on Mother’s Day, etc.

The other currently acts as a brand channel for Coke – messages about new products, deals, contests and cause marketing campaigns provide a mix of messages and show the broad scope of the company’s products and its CSR commitments. Here’s a snack bundle deal at a retailer, here are the new Coke mini cans, here’s how we’re supporting a charity.

Nicely designed, the Coke channel is engaging, has personality and adds another dimension to the marketing of one our most ubiquitous brands.

What applications will digital billboards have in the future? News headlines, live video feeds from breaking stories, stock quotes, weather updates, maybe even Twitter streams. What do you think?

Posted in Marketing | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »