Archive | March, 2009

Time to sharpen your online skills

13 Mar

The bad news for print continues to pour in. New research from Pew indicates that many Americans do not consider having a local newspaper important.  It is as if management knows this. McClatchy, the owner of the Miami Herald and other newspapers, just announced personnel cuts this week. The bottom line is that newspapers are hurting and many people don’t care. Why? Because many people get their news online or from TV.

Recently, I read how a PR guy was lamenting the downfall of trade publications. I read this on his BLOG. He, like many PR folk, schooled in the “old” days, learned that to do media relations you reached out to print journalists.  A nice, print piece in a trade magazine was truly a prize for the client. I also learned to do PR this way. And nothing was more exciting than seeing your client’s name in the newspaper, especially on the front page. But the reality has shifted. More and more, the news is being reported on and broken online. Many people do not read the newspaper, and during the day, certainly do not watch TV. What these people do however, is access the Internet. Many offices allow unlimited Internet access, and certain folk, do their work ON the Internet.  In any case, it is time for PR people, and advertising people, and in fact, all communications people, to accept this reality.

Instead of lamenting that blogs now are main sources of  information, and that no one is reading trade publications, you must ADAPT to the new realities. Of course, newspapers are not quite dead yet, but teach yourself how to use the online world. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Are there influential blogs in your area of expertise? Find out and follow. Not every blog is created equal. The PR guy I mentioned before made the blanket statement that blogs are unreliable. How wrong he is.  Very few people would call The Huffington Post or Politico or the Daily Beast unreliable. Yes, they contain opinion, but it is LEADING opinion.

2) Learn where your potential clients/customers/target audience goes to get their news AND entertainment. After all, the Web is not just about information. Lots of people play games on the Internet, listen to music and find out about their hobbies.

3) Enhance your web writing skills. Writing for the web is not the same as writing for print. You have to be more concise. You have to be more choppy. People read differently online than in print.

4) Explore multimedia. People are more visual on the web. And the web allows for video/audio in addition to text.

In sum, stay ahead of the game. Nothing is to be gained from wringing our hands and lamenting the end of print. Instead, find new opportunities. I am sure in the late 1940s, PR people everywhere were concerned about the box in everyone’s livingroom. By now, most PR agencies are experts at B-roll and media training. Right?

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Overuse syndrome

10 Mar

You’ve probably seen or heard some words or phrases  in ads/commercials  so much that they have become meaningless. They do nothing to bring you in or tell you anything about the product or service.  Yet, you will continue seeing and hearing  them. Why? Because copywriters and in certain cases the advertising manager is enamored of the word or words and can’t think of others.

At the top of my list of most overused words in advertising (and thus most meaningless) is the word unique.  You’ve heard things  like “a unique product,” “unique way,” etc. BTW, this is also overused in PR.  Very few things in this world are unique, and then ad folk decide that some things are not only unique, but truly unique. Truly? (as opposed to fakely?).  Other words/phrases  that are overused as to become meaningless are:  special, best, time of your life, out of the box, outside the lines, and so on.

If you find yourself about to use an overused phrase, think to yourself, is this a cliche? What other thing can be highlighted about my product? What is its USP–and that can’t be that it is unique, but what MAKES it unique. No, it is not easy, and that is why we see these words and phrases used over and over. But if you want your materials to communicate the essence of what you are trying to sell, then you will benefit from being unique in avoiding this word.

What are your most overused words?

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Going online and staying on message

6 Mar

Two separate items caught my attention this morning on Yahoo! News.

First, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer may become an online-only newspaper. Its owner, Hearst, has been unable to find a buyer and had threatened to close  down the paper completely. Read the story here.

The second item has to do with President Obama. Apparently, he NEVER gives any speech, to large or small audiences, without using a teleprompter.  According tothe article  (found on Yahoo! but originally from Politico.com), he wanted to wean himself off this habit during the campaign, but when he has given a speech without the help of  visual aids, he has stumbled. His aides say it is especially important during this time to not mess up.  I find it interesting that everyone compliments Obama’s oratory, but the truth is he only gives good speeches when he can read them (they are canned). He has shown what happens when he ad-libs:  he screws up. A few weeks ago I wrote about him speaking off the cuff, and now I know he truly has a problem being casual.

So, the moral of these stories is simple. The future of print is online and it is important to stay on message.

Everything Must Go!

5 Mar

As I was driving up Wisconsin Avenue,  fairly congested and busy road here in Bethesda, I saw those yellow signs plastered in the windows of two stores: Store Closing! Going Out of Business! Everything Must Go! It got me thinking about what message that sends us. On the one hand, the bargain hunter in us always goes into alert mode when we see those blaring signs. Perhaps we can get a great deal. And that is the main reason those signs go up, and are so prominent. But, if we are not shopping say, for Oriental rugs, then what do we think when we see those signs? I, for one, see them as the tangible signs of the economic recession. And I think that it adds to the burdens of the troubling economic news we see every day.  It adds to the perception that business is buckling completely under the strain of the economic downturn.  It also makes you feel it is everywhere. Another bad sign (sorry for the inevitable play on words) is all the For Lease signs in now empty store windows. Restaurants and retailers are closing their doors and all the landlords can do is post signs. But if you see too many For Lease signs on one block or area, what do you think?

What do you think about this? Should businesses blare that they are closing?

Update:  On Reuters I found a story on what a town in England is doing about empty shop windows: displaying art. I tried to link here but could not.

Happy Grammar Day!

4 Mar

I love this! Check out the National Grammar Day website.  I especially like the Top Ten Grammar Tips. CRUCIAL reading for anyone who writes for a living (or just writes).

Thanks to Kristen King for tweeting and blogging about this.

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It’s all in the details

3 Mar

Print ads need to work hard for you. They must grab your attention and then they must tell you something interesting. Lastly, they should motivate action. Generally speaking, this is the AIDA model (attention, interest, desire, action).  It is not always easy to do all this within the constraints of a small space. If you are a small business, chances are you can’t afford a full page, or even a half page. So you have to pack it in to small ads. The smaller the ad the more you have to think about what you write.

I came across an ad for a ballet studio in a local women’s magazine.  The headline says: “4 Week Introductory Sessions $30.”  That left me thinking–does this mean  four  weeks for $30? How many classes per week? Does the introductory session last four weeks? Already not clear.

The body copy goes like this:

Teen & Adult Classes

Jazz,Ballet, Pilates, Zumba, Musical Theater

Just for you!This wonderful program will ignite your passion for dance and exercise. Our extraordinary teachers will guide you every step of the way with a specialized curriculum in our lovely studios. Join us in class! (Telephone number and email address follow).

OK. What is missing here? LOCATION! From the phone, I know it is located in Maryland, but that could be anywhere in a 30-mile radius. No website either–I can figure it out from the email. Basically, missing key details.

What about the copy? Well, its like someone looked up adjectives and strung them all together in a sentence: wonderful, extraordinary, lovely, specialized.  Those meaningless (and overused) words take up valuable real estate. Also,  the copy refers to a (single) program, yet they tell me they offer at least five different types of classes.

My conclusion is that this ad does not work.  If you are a small business, and you are going to spend money on advertising, think about what you want to accomplish. Of course, a professional can help you with this, but using some common sense is always helpful.

UPDATE:  I checked out the studio’s website,  and it turns out they have multiple locations. However, the website was not updated to reflect the aforementioned classes. If you are going to start running advertising, you better have information to back it up. Don’t make potential customers work so hard to find out!!!!

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The death of newspapers

1 Mar

We’ve spoken about it before on this blog, and the bad news for newspapers continues to come in.  As you probably know, the Rocky Mountain News, Colorado’s oldest newspaper, ceased publication as of Friday (Feb. 27). Add to that, the continual bad news concerning all print media, and you know that the outlook for newspapers in particular, and print media in general, is not good.  The reasons boil down to: 1) fewer advertisers/less ad dollars; 2) the Internet and 3) the environment (and perhaps not in that order).  We’ve seen the print news industry has been battered by reductions in advertising, and also, in reductions in people buying the print edition since they can get most content for free online. And some people are not buying paper because of the environmental consequences. So there you have it– we know the reasons why print media is going to be gone sooner rather than later.  But how will we get our news if there are no newspapers?

In today’s Washington Post there are two articles I’d like to bring to your attention. In one, Howard Kurtz, the Post’s media commentator, discusses this phenomenon in detail. And another, by Marc Fisher, has to do with the lack of reporters covering Washington news. Indeed, this is the problem. If there are no newspapers, there are no reporters. With no reporters, there is no news.

Of course,  part of the answer is adaptation. Newspapers will have to figure out a revenue stream from the online versions of their products and they will have to adapt what was essential reporting for print to reporting for the Internet age.  However, the issue of advertising and paying for content will be just as relevant for the online versions of newspapers. If advertisers are cutting back, they are cutting back across the board. And if people are watching their pennies, they will also not pay for content.

Well, time will tell. In the meantime, I will continue to read my print newspaper as long as it continues to exist. And I will also read it and other newspapers online (after all, I am a news junkie). What will you do?

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