How to win more new business pitches

For the decade that I’ve worked in PR, I can say with all honesty that my absolute favourite part of the job is, by far, working on new business pitches. I’ve been lucky enough to work on a wide variety of pitches, for huge global brands, exciting young start-ups and everything in between, but the challenge is always the same. You need to understand what the client wants, convince them that you’re the team to deliver results and, most of all, you absolutely have to show them that you’re going to be great people to work with.

It’s hard to say why I like working on new business pitches so much. I think it appeals to my slightly bipolar personality; there’s a lot of head-down research, creative thinking, focusing on the problem and creating a great looking presentation, which appeals to my largely introverted nature. But on the day of the pitch it’s all about putting on a brilliant performance, having the confidence to walk into a board-room, look them straight in the eye and tell them why they need to hire you.

You might not win them all, but as long as you walk out of the room knowing did the best job you could, a knock-back won’t feel too bad.

It’s an art and a science, no two pitches are the same and if you do a half-arsed job of your preparation then you’ll lose most of the time. I put together a simple template to follow when I’m working on a new business pitch, to make sure I do a thorough job – I use the acronym BRISTOL:

  • Brief – read through the client’s brief as a team, make sure you understand it, ask the client to clarify anything that doesn’t make sense. When you’ve created your pitch, work through the brief again to make sure you’ve addressed everything they asked for.
  • Research – research the client’s business and market, what are they doing, what are their competitors doing, what are the big trends and future challenges. Read the relevant press, find out whatever you can, share it all with the team.
  • Insight – what have you learned from all that research? Try to avoid obvious stuff that they’ll already know – look for patterns, connections and ideas that they might not have thought about.
  • Strategy – how does the insight guide an overarching strategy that you will use to address the client’s challenges?
  • Tactics – what are the brilliant tactical ideas that you will use to deliver on the strategy. Creativity is obviously important, but don’t ignore tried and tested tactics that you can execute brilliantly.
  • OMG – what’s the Oh My God moment in your pitch that will make the client say “Wow! Why didn’t we think of this?” If your pitch doesn’t have at least one moment of blinding inspiration, think harder and try again.
  • Logistics – boring but essential, demonstrate you’ve clearly thought through the nuts and bolts of how you’ll deliver everything and work with the client on a day to day basis.

Once you’ve created your pitch, it pays to rehearse a few times and test it out on some colleagues who are not involved in the process to get feedback. Don’t over-rehearse, you don’t want to sound like you’re reading a script, but make sure everybody knows which parts of the pitch they’ll be delivering and that they are comfortable talking about the topic. Be prepared to step in for colleagues if they get stage fright and forget what they’re supposed to be saying, but try not to talk over other people’s sections – let them have their moment to shine. At the same, chipping in a little on each other’s slides can really help demonstrate a positive team dynamic, showing that each of you understands the whole proposal and that you’ve worked together on it.

I tell junior colleagues not to be nervous of big pitches because at the end of the day, it’s just a conversation with some other business people. They’ve asked us to talk about some ideas, and they’re going to be genuinely interested in what you have to say. The performance element of a pitch is a lot of fun, but you’re not being judged and nobody’s going to give you a hard time if you trip over your words – showing a human side and making a connection with the client is just as important as giving them strong ideas.

Leaders should try to create a ‘no pressure’ environment for their team – it’s hard to do great work if you’re terrified of screwing up, so make everybody feel relaxed and comfortable about the pitch. They’ll do a much better job that way. You win or lose a pitch as a team.

How I learned the importance of backup, the hard way

When I left school my first job in 1991 was a Production Runner for a TV gameshow being filmed in northwest England. This role is TV’s equivalent of an office gopher, and you’re expected to help with whatever jobs the production team needs a spare pair of hands with.

Part of the job was to keep a file of all of the hundreds of people who’d applied to be contestants on the show, and my boss made me painstakingly fill in a paper form for each person and store it in a lever-arch file. This was far too laborious and old school for my 17 year old tastes, so I convinced the grizzled old producer that we should create a database on the office’s solitary PC, which would streamline the entire process.

He agreed, but insisted that I continue with filing the paper forms, which left me tearing my hair out. The stupid old duffer clearly didn’t understand the point of technology was to reduce work, and now I’d ended up adding extra work to an already painful job.

Nevertheless I pushed forward and created the database to demonstrate that it would be more efficient and useful than the paper system, and pretty soon we had a database of hundreds of applicants. The team were impressed to find that it was suddenly much easier to search through the applicants to find the ones with the attributes they were looking for – I took this as a small victory but was still pissed off that I had to keep doing the hand-written forms.

I sulked and complained and repeatedly told my boss it was a complete waste of time writing out the forms by hand when I was already entering them into the database much more quickly. But he was from a different generation and while he admitted that the database was useful, he’d feel more comfortable if we had paper copies of everything.

And then, one day, disaster struck. The team wanted me to help them search for some new contestants through the database of applicants, but somehow the 5.25inch floppy disk which stored the data had got corrupted and everything was lost. I was 17 and this was my first job, I’d never suffered a catastrophic loss of data before, so it had never occurred to me to create a backup. The disk worked and I had no reason to believe it would ever stop working. Nobody had taught me about the importance of backup, so I’d had to learn the hard way.

I felt utterly humiliated. I spent a whole week working late to re-enter the data, and sulkily admitted that my boss had been proved right all along – without the paper copies we would have been screwed. Could have saved myself a lot of trouble by spending ten minutes making a couple of copies of the database.

Cargo-cult brands in social media marketing

During WWI, islanders living in undeveloped communities in the Pacific were plunged into the middle of a conflict between advanced, industrialised nations they had never previously encountered. They saw troops arriving on their islands and, as the newcomers established their military bases, supplies were brought by air and sea.

When the war was over and the troops left, the supplies stopped, so the islanders, believing the goods were gifts from the gods, tried to emulate what they saw as the rituals the soldiers had used to win the god’s favours. They dressed in mock military uniforms, made fake rifles, marched around, built replicas of air-base control towers and airplanes, waved landing signals, all in the futile hope that this would encourage the gods to start sending supplies again.

These “cargo cults” have mostly faded away (although one still exists that worships Prince Philip as a living god) but we see a lot of the same thinking in the way some brands approach social media.

People read social media case studies, or blog posts in the digital marketing press, or they just look at what other brands are doing, and assume that if they just blindly copy what others are doing they will enjoy the same success. Some examples of this kind of thinking are:

  • “I read an article that says 3pm is the best time to post tweets for maximum engagement”
  • “All of our blog posts should be listicles, it works really well for [BRAND THAT IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT TO OURS]”
  • “We need lots of infographics and visual content – I read that’s what people share the most”

Of course, all of these ideas completely ignore context. 3pm might well be the best time to post tweets for the brand that wrote the case study, but that’s likely to be very specific to that brand’s audience and market. There’s absolutely no reason to think that the same thing will work for your brand, you need to experiment and find out what works best for your own audience.

Equally, because a specific type of content has performed well for one company, you simply cannot assume that you’ll benefit from doing the same thing.

The problem is that social and digital media is complex – much more complex than a lot of marketers are used to dealing with. To get it right, you need to invest time and resources into research and experimentation, and you need to have the stomach for a lot of trial and error, which in turn means having to get your head around tricky stuff like analytics. When you’re looking at a bunch of platforms, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs and whatever else, there’s a lot of different stuff to learn, and you need to work out how it all fits together.

It’s no surprise that a lot of businesses take the easy way out. Instead of treating case studies as sources of inspiration, they misinterpret them as best-practice bibles to be copied precisely in order to ensure digital success. Obviously, this path leads to failure for a lot of businesses. Like the Pacific island cargo cults, they’re left scratching their heads and wondering why, when they did all the right things, they didn’t get the results they expected.

The truth is that in social media you simply can’t rely on anybody else to show you how it’s done. You can take inspiration from what others have achieved and certainly try out their ideas, but the only way to make it work for your business is to keep experimenting and learning until you figure out the best approach for your own unique situation.

How to write brilliant long-form blog posts

Image credit: JM3/Flickr
Image credit: JM3/Flickr

If you work in PR or any kind of social media marketing, you probably need to write a lot of blog posts and I’ll bet that most of them are no longer than about 400-500 words. Conventional wisdom is that people don’t read long articles online and this kind of length is ideal for SEO purposes.

That’s not really true anymore. SEO experts largely agree that long-form articles perform better in search engines and, while there are no hard and fast rules, broadly speaking you should be writing at least 1,000 words per blog post to get better results. For more serious, in depth reports, you should be thinking about word counts closer to the order of 3,000.

The idea that people don’t read long-form articles online is also outdated. This thinking harks back to a time long before smartphones and tablets, when people only accessed the web on their PCs. It made sense that nobody wanted to read long articles on their PC screen, but these days people are much more likely to read a long article on a tablet or phone, away from their desk.

The truth is that any idiot can churn out 400 words on almost any topic (although plenty of people still do a terrible job of it). That’s why the internet is full of low-value, spammy content, and the public relations industry is especially guilty of this. We charge by the hour, and good quality content takes time. We give junior execs tight deadlines to write about complex topics which they don’t understand in order to meet targets, and the end results are flimsy blog posts that nobody wants to read.

Writing good quality articles of any reasonable length is a lot harder, you’ll need to go into a lot more detail about the topic and any gaps in your knowledge will become painfully obvious. And that’s really the point here; long form articles tend to be higher quality, not just because they have more words, but by virtue of the fact that in order to write those extra words the author has probably had to do a lot more research, has a better knowledge of the topic, and is most likely simply a better writer.

How PR people get long form articles wrong

Most public relations people approach blog posts in the same way as press releases, which follow the time honoured ‘news pyramid’ format. This starts with a concise, pithy headline, then all of the most important facts about the story in the first paragraph or two, followed by an increasing amount of supporting information, quotes and extra context as we get further into the article.

The problem with this style of writing is that while it works well for news stories, it’s not so good for long form articles. When you get most of the ‘story’ across in the first few lines, it’s easy to run out of things to say and you’ll find yourself padding out the article with pointless filler, desperately trying to hit the wordcount.

A good way to approach long form articles is to turn the news pyramid on its head. Start by outlining the topic, what are the major issues, what’s the background, who does it impact, how is it likely to be relevant to the reader? Flesh out your main points with plenty of context – is there any independent research with statistics and facts you can cite to support your arguments? What have other people said about the same issue? Add in relevant quotes from prominent commentators, experts, and journalists, and consider how their viewpoints could be used to add additional detail to your article. Alternative, conflicting opinions are great sources of additional material and will add balance to your article.

The important point about all of this is that nothing you add to your article needs to be padding – you can always find something else to add value, a little extra information that helps paint a picture or make a point without resorting to unnecessary verbiage. But think again about that inverted news pyramid. As you construct your article you should be moving down from the broad scene-setting and context-adding towards the fundamental point that you want to make.

Planning is essential

When you’re writing longer articles it’s not enough to simply brain dump your thoughts onto the page and then tidy the copy up afterwards, you need to plan the piece out. People in the PR industry talk a lot about ‘storytelling’ and this is where you really need to put that skill into practice.

To start with write down bullet point versions of all the areas you want to cover, then try to arrange them into a logical structure. Does each point flow naturally onto the next, towards the articles ultimate conclusion? Are there any glaring gaps in the flow? If there are any areas where one part of the discussion does not seem to move seamlessly from one point to the next, this is a good sign that there are some missing pieces in your story which need to be filled in, and this will help you add more to it.

Next take a look at all those bullet points and flesh them out with supporting notes. Think about what you’ll need to cover in each of those sections to tell the full story and explain each point clearly. Again, during this process you’re likely to notice things that are missing or don’t entirely make sense, and this will help you to not only get your word count up, but also write a better blog post.

Now that you’ve done the hard work of thinking out the structure and overall content of your post, actually writing the copy should be relatively straight forward. It’s always harder to start with a blank page, after all.

Once the first draft is complete, hopefully you’ll find that you’ve got both a well written article that flows well, and also a high enough word count without the need for any pointless filler material. Read it through, check again if anything’s missing, fill in the gaps. But it’s equally important to remove any fluff that doesn’t need to be there – you might not want to reduce the word count, but let’s not lose sight of the aim, to produce a great article. A higher word count might help with SEO, but consistent writing great articles that are a pleasure to read will help even more. If you have to choose between quality and quantity, the former should win every time.

The biggest challenge of SEO

How SEO and content marketing work togetherA large part of my job involves helping clients make sure their websites are well represented in search engine results, what’s usually referred to as SEO (although, truth be told, I don’t like the term because it has spammy undertones). The main problem I have with this is convincing people of how simple it really is.

To most in the PR and marketing world, SEO seems like a dark art that involves all kind of arcane technical voodoo, and that’s largely thanks to many years of the industry doing a fine job of deliberately obfuscating its practices. So now it’s easy to look like you don’t know what you’re talking about if you try to explain that most of the stuff people think they know about SEO is smoke and mirrors bullshit. Especially if other SEO ‘experts’ have done a good job of blinding the client with pseudo-science.

The simple truth is, if you want to build a website that consistently appears highly in the search engine results for the kind of search queries that are relevant to your business, you only really need to do two things:

1 – Publish great, on-topic content

Forget about flimsy 300-400 word blog posts that don’t really say anything – these have been a staple for low-rent keyword-focused SEO for too long, but they just don’t work anymore. Invest resource in producing well written, in-depth articles that offer the audience genuinely useful insight around topics that are closely related to your offering.

Written content should form the core of this, but support it liberally with infographics, imagery, video, interactive tools and any other material that you think your audience will find valuable. Forget all the crap you’ve heard about keyword density and ideal article lengths, just produce strong, well-written articles of whatever word-count is necessary to do the job.

There’s an argument that people don’t read long-form content online, which is nonsense. In the world of tablets and smartphones, people are more than happy to read lengthy articles, so long as the content is compelling. Ask yourself, what’s more valuable to the average human being: 400 words of fluff, stuffed with keywords and designed purely to appeal to search engines, or a 2,000 word, well researched, in-depth article that explains a topic properly?

As well as being what people actually want to read, a good long-form article will also give search engine spiders plenty of content to work with when they’re figuring out what topics your site is focused on.

2 – Get other websites to link to your content

If content tell the search engines what your site is about, links tell them how important your site is. The more links that point to a website, the better that website is likely to perform in search engines.  A link is a vote, and the more votes a website has, the more important it is considered to be. But not all links are created equal. Links from high quality, well respected sites (like the BBC, Wikipedia, government or academic sites) will usually have a lot more value than links from small, low end sites that nobody has ever heard of.

Nevertheless, for the most part all links to your own site have some degree of value although a simple rule of thumb is that the hard it is to get a link, the more value it will have for you. There are a wide variety of tactics for persuading people to link to your site, but the simplest thing to do is publish great content and share it with people. By and large, good content attracts links and bad content does not.

Sharing your articles on social media channels is a good start. If you’ve created something truly informative, useful or entertaining, other people will soon start to share it too. You can share links to your content with webmasters of relevant websites in your sector, the media (this is how public relations can play a key role in SEO), discussion forums, and any number of places where people will see value in it.

Acquiring links to your site is not always easy – people need a good reason to link to your site. But the best way to convince people to give you a link is by building content that they’ll love.

Accepting the simple answers

Those two things are really all you need to do if you want a site to do well in search engines. Before SEO specialists start screaming for my head on a pike, I’m not discounting the importance of proper site structure and on-page factors, but we all know that strong content and inbound links are 90% of the job, everything else is just fine-tuning.

But marketing people often aren’t prepared to accept that answer and I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, although the overall principle sounds simple, it’s actually very hard and resource intensive to consistently produce high quality content and build links to it. Few businesses have the stomach for that.

Secondly, it just doesn’t sound as complicated as they want it too. When you talk about SEO to non-digital people, it’s almost as if they want it to be technical and difficult to understand – they’re often unwilling to accept a simple explanation because it doesn’t seem plausible after they’ve spent so long believing that this stuff is supposed to be a dark art.

Another reason that few people are willing to believe SEO is this simple, is that if you accept it’s all about creating great content and then promoting that content to the right audiences, then you also have to accept that it can largely be done by the public relations team. Those are precisely the kind of skills the PR specialise in. A lot of old-school SEO consultants are not happy about that and will work hard to convince clients that it’s not the case.

It’s not always easy to win them over, but for what it’s worth I find the best way to illustrate the point is to pick a few search terms that are relevant to the client’s business and then analyse the sites that perform well for those queries. Show the client what kind of content those sites have, how many backlinks they’ve got and where those backlinks come from. This usually provides a clear demonstration of what really works – whether or not the client chooses to believe it is a different question.

How I tried and failed to set up my own PR agency

After three (mostly) happy years as the head of digital at Text 100 UK I was lured away to a competing agency to do a similar job, for similar clients, for a lot more money at the beginning of 2013. For one reason or another things didn’t really work out and after four months I was politely given the boot. They were decent enough about the situation, but it was hard not to be frustrated – I thought I was good at my job, things had gone pretty well at all the other agencies I’d worked for, but this time it just didn’t click.

My confidence took a bit of a kick in the balls and for a while I wasn’t sure about what to do next, but pretty quickly I decided to have a crack at setting up my own digital PR shop:

image

My plan was this: I’d charge low rates and deliver great results, rather than pouring a lot of resources into conventional media relations campaigns, I’d use social media and digital technologies to help my clients make a splash without relying on mainstream media. I’d do bold, edgy work that only required creativity and brave clients to succeed.

So I did a bit of networking and landed a few clients, and that’s where it all started to go wrong. Typically clients would buy into my proposition, but once the work got started they would really just want me to deliver traditional PR activity – which wasn’t really what I wanted my business to be about. Although I will admit to a giddy rush of excitement when I landed one of my clients in the Telegraph.

I had hoped to do alternative, edgy work to get clients noticed, but that’s asking them to take risks they might not be ready for. One of my first clients was a datacentre and cloud services business – we agreed that churning out the same old dry thought leadership pieces wouldn’t be particularly useful, because companies with bigger budgets would win every time. So I agreed with the marketing manager that we’d try a different angle, and I wrote a bunch of articles about how a decent cloud-based backup strategy could have saved the Death Star, or what Breaking Bad can teach you about rolling out new IT infrastructure projects

I felt confident that the IT press would lap this stuff up because it was different and it was funny, and the client told me that it was the first time she’d laughed while reading about enterprise backup – so clearly it was going to be a winner. Only, once the client took this stuff to her boss for approval, it immediately got shot down, because this isn’t the kind of tone that serious IT companies should use.

So it wasn’t as easy to convince clients to take creative risks as I’d hoped. The other big problem was that my plan needed clients to understand that while they paid low rates, they would get a limited amount of my time. That would be fine if I was doing the kind of agile, guerrilla style work that I wanted to deliver – but since I was being forced into doing more conventional comms activity, it was taking up more time than it should.

I was losing motivation, the clients I had were eating up all of my time but barely paying enough to keep the wolf from the door. I couldn’t find time to win any new business, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have the time to service any new clients.

At the same time I got a little distracted by learning how to code so I could build apps myself – I found this much more interesting than my day job, so I’d make excuses to spend more time coding than working on my business. I started building [http://www.influential-blogs.co.uk](http://www.influential-blogs.co.uk/) and convinced myself I could turn it into a profitable service if I spent enough time developing it.

By the end of 2013 I’d all but lost interest in running my own agency, and my bank balance started to look a bit grim, so I decided to throw in the towel and go back to full time employment. Fortunately for me, my old Text 100 colleague, Kirsty Leighton, invited me to join her at Hudson Sandler almost as soon as I put myself back on the market, and four months in that move looks to be working out beautifully, so everything’s turned out fairly well.

While I’m a little embarrassed that I couldn’t make a success of my business, there are a few positives:

  • I got to spend the best part of a year working at home and that meant I was able to see much more of my two young boys during the early part of their lives, which I wouldn’t otherwise have done.
  • I pretty much broke even financially, so I didn’t lose anything.
  • I learned to code, which I’ve wanted to do for years but never found the time.
  • For the first time in my life I felt like a proper grown up every time I wrote an email to my accountant.
  • I’m really enjoying Hudson Sandler, and I wouldn’t have ended up working there if none of this had happened.

So I’m in the process of wrapping up Disruptive Communications, but I’ll keep it as a dormant company, just in case inspiration strikes in the future, and for now I’ll use this domain as my personal blog because I quite like the name.

 

An update on Disruptive Communications

As of February 2014 I have joined the Hudson Sandler as Head of Digital, working with MD Kirsty Leighton who I previously worked with at Text100. Disruptive Communications will continue to exist as the holding company for my side-project Influential Blogs UK – a tool designed to make it really simple for PR, SEO and marketing professionals to find the best British bloggers to work with.

Disruptive will not, however, take on any additional comms or PR work for clients, and over the coming months I will wind that part of the business down once current commitments are concluded. If you would like to discuss any potential digital comms requirements, I will be happy to do so in my capacity as a Hudson Sandler consultant.

A big thank you to everybody who supported my fledgling business over the past year.

Big Data and PR explained simply enough for your granny understand

big data in PR
Big Data lives here, in data centres, not on a digital-PR guru’s iPad.

Almost everything that happens in the developed world is tracked by computers these days.

Businesses record very detailed information about how, what, where and when their customers buy from them, how well their staff perform, how their supply chain works, what products get returned the most, which special offers work best on different days of the week, and so on. Everything that happens in that business, no matter how trivial, gets recorded on a computer somewhere.

The same is true of the public sector: national government, local government, law enforcement, military, healthcare, education – everything that happens within those organisations is tracked digitally.*

All of this tracking, monitoring and measuring creates a vast ocean of information, which is what we call Big Data.

Most of the Big Data in the world doesn’t even come from tracking human behaviour in this way, it’s ‘machine generated’. Think about smart-meters used to monitor your energy or water consumption sending data to the utility provider’s computers, or all of the machines in a factory reporting their performance data to a central computer. There are thousands of different situations in which machines generate and record data about their activities.

So what?

Because we now have so much data about the many different ways the world around us works, we can analyse that data to look for interesting patterns. Businesses can find hidden patterns which will help them spot opportunities to save money or sell more; the data might reveal previously unnoticed patterns in the way people buy certain products, or inefficiencies in the way the rest of the business operates.

Likewise, in the public sector Big Data can be used to find better ways to manage traffic, cut crime or allocate healthcare resources by spotting hidden patterns in the information that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious.

Big data can mean big money, businesses are investing a lot in the technology and skills required to store and analyse their ever increasing data-sets, to discover the potentially valuable hidden patterns. But it’s not easy, Big Data requires high end hardware and software, so you need people who have the skills to manage that side of things, but you also need people who understand how to properly analyse it all, and these ‘data scientists’ are in high demand.

How does PR fit into all of this?

It kind of doesn’t. In PR circles “Big Data” isn’t really much more than a buzzword that a lot of agencies are using to make themselves sound more innovative. But in truth, very few PR people have access to their client’s Big Data sets, much less have the ability to do anything with them – we’re talking about a highly specialised and quite expensive area that is beyond the reach of most PR people.

Within large businesses that are investing in Big Data, it’s usually going to be happening quite far up the marketing food-chain, and PR involvement is likely to be minimal at this stage.

There is, potentially, some mileage in using Big Data insights to inform PR campaigns, but the cost involved in obtaining those insights would far outweigh the kind of budgets typically found in the PR world. More likely that the high-level marketing function will develop strategies based on Big Data insights, and call upon PR to execute elements of those strategies.

For now, at least, the simple truth is that PR has no real claim on Big Data, and most of the claims floating around the industry are little more than smoke and mirrors.

 

*Many western governments now make a lot of that information public – this is called Open Data.

The ultimate guide to editing Wikipedia pages for PR execs

PR editing wikipediaDon’t do it, don’t do it, for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t do it.

Wikipedia is not a place for  brand messages, it is a fact-based encyclopedia. PR has no business messing with it.

But, I just wanted to…

No! No! No! What the hell is wrong with you? Just leave Wikipedia alone – write a blog post or something instead.

But…

NO! Wikipedia has very clear guidelines about this – as a PR person you have a conflict of interest, you are not allowed to edit pages on behalf of a client. Even if you’re smart enough to do it in secret and mask your IP behind a proxy server (which, let’s face it, you’re not) you still shouldn’t be doing it – there are plenty of channels for you to pimp your client’s brand, but Wikipedia is not one of them.

Not even if…

Look, the rules are very clear. You are allowed to correct factual errors and to provide links to reputable independent sources which support the facts presented in a page, but let’s be honest, you can’t do that because you’ve been indoctrinated into the PR machine and it’s now impossible for you to objectively write anything that isn’t on message,  you just can’t help putting a spin on things.

Oh.

Yes, oh. Your best bet, if you really, really truly believe that you’ve got an objective, salient fact that will genuinely improve the quality of a particular Wikipedia page (and we all know you haven’t, but let’s just roll with this for the sake of argument) is to create an account and add a comment to the ‘talk page’ of the article – be transparent about who you are and lay the facts out with supporting citations. If the Wikipedia things you have a good point, an independent editor will eventually update the page. But probably not, because you’re really just looking for an excuse to add a link to that positive piece of coverage you got.

 

How B2B brands can think more like publishers – 4 tips

publisherTo succeed at social media and content marketing brands are always being told that they need to think more like publishers in order to capture the hearts and minds of their audience. But what does that actually mean? And how can B2B brands learn be good at it?

Publishers are, of course, in the content business. Their stock in trade is editorial material that is so good that people will happily pay for it, or at least good enough to attract such a large audience that selling adverts to support it is a viable business model.

Most B2B brands are not in the business of selling content or trying to make advertising revenue. For them the purpose of publishing content is to capture the attention of an audience which might also be interested in doing business with them. It’s a simple enough proposition – this blog post itself is a piece of content marketing. My goal is to write an article that is relevant and interesting to my target audience (in this case marketing professionals at B2B companies) and hopefully, if enough of them find it and read it, at some point in the future a small number of those people might think about me when they’re looking for an agency.

But one blog post won’t cut it, I can’t expect a single piece of content to generate many leads, if any at all. I need to create a lot of content and I need to keep doing it consistently over a long period of time in order to increase my chances of attracting the attention of, and building a relationship with, potential future clients.

And that’s what publishers are traditionally good at – consistently and regularly creating great content. So that’s what we mean when we say brands need to think like publishers. But how?

Publishing is a business like any other and consequently has well-worn processes and best practices for doing what it does. Great content doesn’t just happen, it takes work.

1) Planning is everything

The most common mistake made by brands in content marketing is failure to plan. You can’t expect to come up with a great idea for a blog post or a video off the cuff every week. You need to build an editorial calendar so you know what content you’re going to produce this week, next week, and every week for the next three months at least.

Use an editorial calendar template, like this one, and spend some time with your team filling in as many content ideas as you can come up with. Work out when would be the best time to publish them, who needs to write them, which subject matter experts should be consulted and how the content should be shared on your social channels. Set deadlines and assign responsibilities.

Keep the calendar up to date. Every month have a brainstorm session to come up with another month’s worth of content ideas to add to your calendar.

2) Respect the process

Don’t expect content development to just happen by itself. Make people responsible and accountable for it, make it part of their job. All of the content should have hard deadlines, and people should understand how long it takes to create the content and when they need to get started. If there isn’t a clear process in place, your content development programme will fall by the wayside and get ignored.

If you are serious about content marketing, put your money where your mouth is and dedicate resources to it, don’t expect people to do it as a sideline to their main job. Creating great content that people want to read and share takes time and talent, if you don’t respect that you won’t succeed at it.

3) Exercise quality control

Publishers invest a lot of resources into quality control, and so should you. Firstly, pay a lot of attention to the actual content, regardless of what format it takes (blog post, bylined article, video) – does it stack up, is it something you’d be proud for people to see? Or is it just a piece of tat that’s been hastily cobbled together under a looming deadline. Content is only content if it’s something that people would willing spend time consuming and recommend to their peers, otherwise it’s just marketing guff.

Once you’re happy with the actual content, then make sure it’s properly checked for spelling errors, typos, and factual inaccuracies. Again, implement a process for quality control. Nothing should be published unless it’s been rigorously sense checked and proof-read.

4) Make your content work hard for you

Publishers know that content is their main asset, so they find as many different ways to get value from it as possible. Running a round-table event? Think about how you can get as much content out of it as possible – can you write up a white paper from the event, spin that out into a few blog posts, create different versions of those posts to use as contributed articles for the trade media? Is there any opportunity to create video content at the event? How can you use Twitter and your other social channels?

Every original content idea can be extended into different formats and used in different ways across your channels. Once you’ve got a strong topic, think about how to get the most value from it. Even a simply blog post can easily be made into a piece of video content by asking the author to talk around a few key bullet points in front of a camera.