Two-Way Street

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

Posts Tagged ‘PR’

Promoted Tweets: Is it worth managing your reputation?

Posted by thecastlegroup on April 15, 2010

Twitter announced its initial advertising platform this week. Promoted Tweets give advertisers the capability to place ads over Tweets in real-time, based on key words; ads will hover over the Tweet to stand out.

The ad guy in me loves it. Real-time reminders and brand-building whenever someone mentions “coffee,” for instance. The PR/brand guy in me — well, he’s a little nervous.

Pundits and strategists are burning up the Internet talking about this new reputation management tool. Think of the possibilities, they say — what if Toyota could apologize via a Promoted Tweet to everyone who complained about a technical issue? That’s gold, right?

I’m not so sure. As media consumers, we will get used to advertising on social networks, and we will see additional creative platforms like this one from Twitter as these networks evolve.

As social consumers, we are even starting to welcome targeted advertising — if it’s relevant to my interests or my geography,  I’m cool with the sponsorship. Companies like Shortbord are even thinking of ways to pay me to act as a conduit for sponsors.

But who will drive the reputation management side of Promoted Tweets? The ad folks? Will we see a string of brand-reinforcing but otherwise empty messages in response to a crisis or other negative incident? Will the sponsor Tweets turn into viral fodder — in a bad way?

The issue will be how brands maintain authenticity through a sponsored Tweet in response to a reputation management issue. This opens a whole new path for the public relations world to operate in social media. PR most often is the marketing discipline behind reputation management and crisis communications. Communications firms are used to acting and responding in real-time.

This will be an interesting development to watch. Brands — be aware that your reputation cannot simply be wrapped up in a nice Twitter ad. The public wants some meat on that bone.

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Value of Online Editorial Coverage

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 31, 2010

A new survey shows that online users are more likely to click a link to a brand that’s mentioned in an article as opposed to brands using search ads, banners or other outright advertising.

This makes sense, of course. That’s why the PR industry succeeds – we put our clients in media settings that are favorable to them, such as the credible environment of a news story. In many ways, getting an online story – or at least a print story replicated online – is a better route than the former holy grail of simply a great print media piece.

Granted, a live link in a story does not guarantee an increase in business for our clients, but it can – and often does – drive traffic. All of this changes our jobs as PR professionals. Now, getting the story is part of the media relations job, not THE job.

We need to make sure the content we issue, whether to media or through channels that can reach online users, has live links and search-friendly terms. Those links need to point to home pages, custom landing pages, product pages, online stores – whatever makes the most sense to drive traffic to the right place. We need to know the search terms that draw traffic and those terms that our clients wish drew more traffic; we need to know what client competitors’ strong search terms are as well.

It’s good to hear that editorial, wherever it may live, still has the power to influence audiences and drive business opportunity. For the PR industry, online coverage represents one of the better measurement tools we’ve ever had, and makes our jobs more complex and more interesting. Let’s keep getting those (online) placements.

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The evolution of public relations

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 19, 2010

What’s different about PR today?

  • Fewer media outlets, fewer beat writers, fewer trades publications
  • Transition of “traditional” media to online media with varying degrees of success
  • Bloggers are media, though influence among individual bloggers varies
    • Aggregating blogger communities (e.g. Mom bloggers or elder bloggers) helps amplify a message to specific communities

 What’s the same?

  • Traditional media outlets remain the path the most exposure
  • Editorials, speaking, awards still remain viable publicity options
  • Smart experts, strong news hooks, great images still support and enhance story angles/pitches

 What else?

  • Search favorability is a critical factor to any content
  • Spectrum of social media tools and services must be factored into any news announcements or publicity efforts
  • Content dissemination tools and services (Publish Relations?) help spread news, stories and ideas without the need for traditional media involvement

What else do you see in this transition in the PR industry?

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How to get and keep a job in PR (or in any profession)

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 17, 2010

Do good work.

Be honest and ethical.

Find a need in the organization and fill/solve it.

Make sure you enjoy what you’re doing.

Learn to work with all personality types.

Recognize that work, like life, is not always fair. Don’t brood over perceived inequities, just push forward.

Learn to do more than just your job.

Study and emulate the habits of those you respect, and also learn from those who may have been poor mentors. Both help shape what type of professional you will become.

Ask for more responsibility.

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Land of the Free

Posted by thecastlegroup on January 5, 2010

PR firms have an abundance of free services to supplement, and sometimes replace, what have long been paid services.

HARO took ProfNet’s paid subscription model and made a free, ad-supported media leads service. 

Various wire services now exist to distribute news online at no charge.

Free media database services are emerging, like Journalisted in the UK.

What’s next in the land of the free? What services do PR agencies pay for, either for themselves or on behalf of clients, that are ripe for a free competitive offering? Will existing services evolve to offer tiered services?

I think 2010 may be a year where PR firms take a hard look at costly legacy services and move toward free or lower cost alternatives.

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Blogs: content, design and contact

Posted by thecastlegroup on August 10, 2009

We asked our summer PR intern, Emily Grund, to write a weekly column talking about her internship experience at The Castle Group. Please read Emily’s posts on Mondays to hear about her latest intern adventures. This week, Emily discusses her blog research projects. Is your blog PR-friendly?

Building relationships with bloggers is vital for PR professionals as readers turn to trusted bloggers for news and information. One of my regular duties as an intern at The Castle Group is to search for bloggers that might be relevant to Castle’s clients.

From mom blogs to finance blogs to travel blogs, I have scanned hundreds over the past couple of months. Below, I discuss my perspective of criteria the PR world should consider when determining to which blogs to interact with, and how bloggers can appeal to the PR community.

Content: Like researching any other publication, it is important to make sure the content of the blog is relevant for a PR pitch. Even within a category of blogs, such as mom blogs, topics range immensely. For example, some moms write about family development, while others write product reviews or money-saving tips. Reaching out to the right people is vital, as bloggers communicate with each other and will let others know whom to trust and to ignore.

And if bloggers are looking for suggestions to be more PR-friendly, keeping your blog focused on a specific topic will help you get relevant information as well as steady readers. For instance, if you’re a travel blogger, instead of covering the vast amount of information there is to cover about travel, pick a topic you are interested and knowledgeable in, such as finding good travel deals. Of course some bloggers are very successful at juggling a range of different subjects, which leads me to the importance of design.

Design:Finding blogs that are easy to navigate can say a lot about the blogger running the site. Knowing that they take the time to update frequently and keep their information organized is a good sign. Generally, blogs with thoughtful designs have more readers, so even if their readership numbers aren’t available there’s a good chance they have loyal fans.

Separating blog posts into different categories makes it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for. For example, if you’re a finance blogger that focuses on credit cards, break your blog down into categories such as interest rates, credit scores and payment tips. Or if you’re a finance blogger that writes about a range of diverse topics, break it down to investing, taxes and insurance. Without categories, readers need to search through pages of content to find a specific topic.

Another issue I’ve noticed is page length, both for blog posts and the actual page itself. Blog posts, I’ve learned, should usually be no longer than 1,000 words. Even that’s pushing it. Blogs need to be spaced well, and bullets and bold points are good ways to keep readers focused. Some sites I’ve seen have a large scroll bar and keep many posts on the front page. This is distracting and should generally be no more than four blog posts long.

One important factor about design brings me to my last point: If you want to be contacted with new ideas make sure your contact information is accessible!

Contact:Reaching out to bloggers, just like you would reporters, is the best way to begin to build a relationship. Contacting a specific person is always better than writing to a general inquiry form since you can deliver a personalized message to start a conversation.

The most common obstacle I have found when searching blogs is trying to get in touch with the blogger. Some have contact forms, but those are not ideal. If you’re a blogger that wants contact with PR professionals, create a place on your blog that has your name and e-mail, plus grant permission to contact to the PR community. Some bloggers have this information but it is so hidden it takes a lot of digging to find it. Going back to design, having a section that discusses what you’d like to be contacted about and how gives you a better chance of getting the information and contacts you want.

Doing these searches for blogs has exposed me to all kinds of content, designs and bloggers. It is easier for me to pick out blogs that work for Castle and those that do not, and why. In some cases it is easy to tell whether or not the blogger wants contact from PR but in other cases it’s vague. For those that want relationships with PR professionals but don’t know how to acquire them, the tips above may help you get what you want.

Posted in PR | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The customer is always right

Posted by thecastlegroup on May 28, 2009

The Castle Group’s co-founder, Sandy Lish, weighs in today with a post on customer service and social media.

The customer is always right. An old adage, but one social media is making a harsh reality for many companies. Some, like Comcast, JetBlue and Zappos, have embraced social media as an outlet to resolve complaints, share information and interact with customers.

And while some consumer-facing companies are encouraging social media participation, others are ignoring its utility. But when it comes to customer service, social media is merely another avenue. The real interaction should happen at the point-of-sale, e.g. in your stores and showrooms. Below are two anecdotes that illustrate this movement.

customer service

Thanks Hyundai

“These days when you buy a Hyundai, you tell everyone – by email, text or tweet. You call it social networking, we call it good PR.”

Yes! This was how a Hyundai commercial I saw last night started. But I could not have said it better. It caught my ear because of the reference to “good PR” – not something you hear often in ads. In some circles, PR is still equated with “stunts” and “publicists” and “spin” – and nothing else. We know better. Social networking is PR – whether comments on social networks are good, bad or indifferent, it’s critical to listen and, when relevant, respond. Thanks, Hyundai for pointing that out.

I applaud Hyundai on its willingness to encourage customer interaction. I would recommend that they load their television ads onto their own site, though. If you run an ad encouraging social networking, shouldn’t that ad embody that spirit as well?

Has anyone recently purchased a Hyundai? If so, did the showroom customer service meet the “tell everyone” status boasted in the ad?

 customer service 2

Customer Service: Act Now or Pay Later?

The other day I was in a department store, and observed an irate customer trying to resolve a problem with a return. I overheard her, on her cell phone, calling the retailer’s corporate office to complain about the service she was getting, saying she had already spent 45 minutes trying to resolve the issue with the manager – to no avail.

I shopped around for at least 25 minutes, passed by her again, and overheard her on the phone, escalating her problem, but still not resolving it.

So at least 70 minutes spent (I left without knowing if she found resolution) – precious time she can’t get back. Now if she told everyone she knew – “by email, text or tweet” to use Hyundai’s language – complained on the retailer’s blog and posted negative comments on consumer blogs, she would likely have set off a far more viral process that attracted those with similarly poor experiences. She would have had the power that was once limited to consumer advocates working for traditional media companies to spread the word and influence others.

I’m sure many people are tweeting about their new Hyundai or forgoing customer service for customer action. PR is clearly in the hands of anyone with a mobile device or a laptop, and it is important for merchants to recognize the power of the consumer.

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Global business needs global PR

Posted by thecastlegroup on May 28, 2009

PRGN, our international network of outstanding independent PR firms just got a little bigger (see below). Our network now has 43 members around the world, which is beginning to feel more and more like an international virtual firm, as the number of queries, information requests, new business opportunities and suggestions increases every day.

In the last 24 hours, I have been in contact with members from Singapore, Poland, Spain, Atlanta, San Francisco, South Africa, Ireland and India. Last month, the group’s agency principals met in Sao Paolo, in November we convene in NYC, and next spring it’s Brussels. I never did a semester abroad when I was in college, but I feel like I am making up for that now.  

Every day I learn about not just what is happening in PR in other vital cities, but about how those cities are being affected by the global economy, digital and social media, sporting events, weather and even the swine flu. This insight is helpful to my clients and to my staff, and is a daily reminder of how things are both different and the same in other cultures.  

If we accept that PR is about reaching audiences, there is no better eye-opener than hearing about how different methods and approaches work in different cultures. The European members tend to be more collaborative, as different countries obviously have their own languages and cultures to contend with; in the US there is less client collaboration, as the agencies don’t typically have those barriers when representing national clients. Although it is fun to work collectively on clients that have local market needs, we learn that what works in Atlanta might not work in Boston, and vice versa. I admit I’m slightly jealous that in London it is still acceptable for journalists and PR people to discuss their pitches over drinks. 


Joining the ranks of PRGN are:

CooperKatz & Company (New York)

Ground Floor Media (Denver)

The Harrell Group (Dallas)

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Castle is a Stevie Award finalist for best PR agency in America!

Posted by thecastlegroup on May 22, 2009

We’ll be making more noise about this, but we are thrilled to make the finalist list as PR Agency of the Year for the Stevie Awards. We’re in the company of some other significant agencies. Our placement here is testament to our great team, terrific clients, strong work for Boston-area companies and also our national and international clients, our growing social media presence and activities, and the quality of our work.

You like us, you really like us.

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Posted by thecastlegroup on May 13, 2009

We are a communications firm, so we love the media. But let’s face it, online, offline, in print or on the airwaves, we are bombarded with dire reports: “Swine flu is creating a panic! We’re in a recession!” If this wasn’t enough, we keep hearing about the endangered local media, most notably, the imminent demise of The Boston Globe and how that is going to forever change the way we run our business and service our clients. Since we’re in the business of making sure messages are accurately conveyed, this month, we’re using this space to do some “fact-checking” of our own.
Myth #1: If The Globe shuts down, Boston PR firms are in trouble.
If The Boston Globe were to shut down–which thankfully seems less likely today–it will indeed be a sad day for the entire region. We grew up reading it, we love opening it each morning, it is an important institution and we have great friends at The Globe. As citizens and communications professionals, we want Boston to be a vibrant, two-paper city.
We hope and trust that The Globe will emerge from this difficult time refocused and refinanced, but regional media relations and press coverage is just one element of the work we do for our clients: social media, vertical marketing, brand management, enrollment marketing, national and international public relations, relationship marketing and event marketing are equally, if not more, important to what we do every day at Castle; our success stems from a deep understanding of trends and cycles, as well as our ability to anticipate change and maximize opportunities for our clients in emerging communications channels.
Myth #2: Business people are not traveling.
Contrary to the common misconception, we are finding that corporations are not significantly cutting back on their corporate event agendas: they are responding positively to President Obama’s very public call for continued support of corporate events and business travel. What we do see, and what we support, is a trend away from extravagance and toward greater attention on corporate events as efficient vehicles for brand enhancement, strategic messaging and for incenting sales channels. This has always been our focus at Castle, and what has differentiated our approach from the beginning.
When we say that we are not “party planners,” but rather a marketing and messaging company, we mean that our objective is designing and delivering multi-tiered corporate events, which effectively and efficiently position the brand and support strategic marketing objectives. In the past few months we have managed events in Boston, as well as in Italy, Costa Rica, Napa, Portugal and yes, Mexico (without incident). With clear messaging, specific goals and responsible budgeting, there is still no better way to directly reach your audience. Incentive travel programs, done properly, help companies achieve ROI and are measurable, quantifiable motivators for success.    

We hope that the worst has passed, but if it hasn’t, if recessionary factors linger longer, we remain committed to working hard everyday to bring tangible, measurable value to our clients.

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