Reverse Engineer Your Story-Telling

Reverse Engineer Your Story-Telling

A couple of years ago, a client of mine who launched a health IT startup, marveled at the number of healthcare entrepreneurs who came up with a cool idea and then went in search of a market for it. In most cases, he told me, this approach found them struggling to find a toe-hold. The smart play was to study the market first, identify and understand the core challenges of the market’s customers, then develop a solution to overcome those challenges.

This very same problem afflicts many health IT companies when pitching the media. A company’s marketer or PR pro will identify a story—about the company’s leadership, success with a client or the development of a new innovation—then set out to find a reporter to write it up and publish it.

More often than not, the results leave much to be desired.

For sustained PR success, your content needs to fit the contours of whatever narrative or story journalists and editors are focusing on—and that requires an ability to reverse-engineer those stories to match the priorities of the target journalist.

While you may believe that the story you want to tell is important, people outside of your organization probably don’t feel the same way—at least, not without some modifications. It’s a hard lesson to internalize, I know. I have been fortunate to work with clients who I really believe in, but the inherent risk of that positive sentiment is an inability to look at a story from outside the four walls of the organization that wants to tell it.

While it’s tempting to jump right into the pool with a pitch, it’s often tactical and short-sighted. Even if you do generate a few quality media hits, they’ll be quickly pushed aside by the next piece of content—and the one after that and the one after that.

When it comes to story-telling, I always start by asking my clients what results they want to achieve, then reverse-engineer a strategy to accomplish those goals. A friendly download will help set priorities and ensure that you are pursuing the right story-telling strategy.

For example, a company that wants to make a big splash at a massive conference like HIMSS should probably focus more on sponsored content buys for the main course, and use earned media as an extra side of gravy.

When earned media interviews and placements are the main prize, I like to start with a deeper, more granular narrative that aligns the client’s story with broader industry trends, research and compelling statistics and is collated into a pitch ‘bible.’ This resource contains the ‘main plot’ of the story the client wants to tell, but also includes a number of subplots and alternative narratives that allows me to cast my pitching net much wider.

It’s an extremely useful tool, because it allows you to quickly customize pitches based on a journalist’s priorities and beats. (You want to spend enough time on the front-end, so you can be quick and nimble on the back-end). It also allows you, as a marketer or PR pro, to see the forest for the trees; developing second and third wave pitching that will sustain over the course of weeks and months. This strategy also allows you to seamlessly align with other content developers, including marketers and social media managers for targeted outreach and creative amplification.

The writing of this broad narrative coincides with research into the target journalists and publications. What have they covered? Where are the logical places they will take their story-telling next? What specific hooks can I create that will convince them that my story is worth the time and effort to write?

Critically, how does all that research change they way I am telling my story—and do those alterations still align with the client’s desired results?

In today’s environment, it’s no longer enough to have a story. Health IT is one of the most hyper-competitive industries around. Sustaining traction, much less enjoying inbound inquiries, in an ever-shrinking media environment is a constant challenge for all but the most well-known tech brands.

By identifying the challenges and desires of the media, you can reverse-engineer a story to meet those challenges and find enduring media success.

Why Are You Reading This?

Why Are You Reading This?

News Flash: There is a lot of written content on the web. That means it is challenging to grab a reader’s attention and even more difficult to hold it. One study, from way back in 2014, found online readers generally click away after 15 seconds. Five years and billions of smartphones later, it’s probably closer to 12 or 11 seconds.

That’s why when creating PR or marketing content, we constantly need to consider the reader first. Certainly, companies have their own goals for every content piece they create, but the reader’s experience, what’s meaningful to them and their goals for reading your content must be the first priority.

Here’s how to grab a reader’s attention in written content and hold it to the last word.

Identify your reader

This is the most important question. Whether crafting a thought leadership article, email blast or white paper, it needs to be laser-focused on who the reader is because as soon as they sense a piece of content isn’t relevant to them, they’ll delete, click or scroll away to something else. It’s a tougher question than it appears. If you set your sights too narrow, you risk alienating a lot of prospects; if you aim too broad, you risk being ignored by everybody.

Headline and lead paragraphs are the most important

What did you think of the headline for this blog post? Did it pique your curiosity? If so, good, because that’s what headlines need to do. Readers typically decide to continue an article after the headline and first few lines, so these two introductory elements are perhaps the most important parts of the content in most writing.

Style matters

The type of content will often dictate what style you use for your headline and lead as well as for other writing choices. A blog post, like the one you’re reading, allows for a little more causal headline, lead and language, but regardless of the style, it needs to be relevant and easy to read. Longer pieces, like white papers, should also move the reader along, even if they are written in a more formal style.

Tell the reader why they should stick with you

There are many ways in those lead paragraphs to encourage the reader to keep reading. Options include presenting a common, pressing problem that they want to solve, asking a provocative question that they will want to answer, or enticing them with ROI. For example, in B2B (and even in B2C) dollar signs always grab readers’ attention. Obviously, if the content has no financial element, then that’s not feasible, but sharing quantifiable numbers automatically establishes interest and often relevance in the reader.

Make every paragraph meaningful

Keep the reader engaged through the entire content piece by putting information in every paragraph that they care about or include actionable data they can begin applying today. The overriding goal of PR and marketing content is, of course, to attract prospects, but writing about only your solution is a turn-off, even presented in a vendor-neutral fashion.

One size does not fit all

I was going to title this subhead: “keep it short,” but one study shows that a 1,600-word length for most pieces is ideal, even for blog posts. Other research contradicts that finding. For a white paper, eBook or byline, that length or longer seems appropriate, but with blog posts, we say keep them shorter and then drive the reader to download the longer content piece.

What nearly all the research says, however, is if it is quality content, the reader will stick with it, regardless of length. In healthcare B2B PR, which is where we at Amendola Communications live, quality content means relevance to the reader, their job or their business. Stay on that track and you’ll have them reading to the last word, which is what I hope you’re doing right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Spring Clean Your PR Strategy

Time to Spring Clean Your PR Strategy

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the flowers and trees are blooming. It’s that time of the year when I think about Spring cleaning, especially living in Atlanta where everything inside and out is covered in pollen. As I was dusting my entire house last weekend trying to rid it of the fine yellow dust covering EVERYTHING (the struggle is real y’all); I started thinking about how to spring clean your PR strategy and what would benefit the most from a little extra attention.

Media Lists

The media landscape is constantly in transition.  Journalists change positions, beats, contact information, etc. They might have altered their interest in specific topics. Throughout the year, we try to keep our press lists up-to-date, but spending some extra time going over your media list, updating the notes based on feedback from pitches and researching new media outlets can be a great use of time.

Messaging

This is a great opportunity to review your business’ messaging and assess if it needs updating. Perhaps you’ve announced new products in the last six months, or perhaps the industry has developed a new acronym for your niche, or maybe there is a new piece of healthcare legislation that is key to what your business does that should be mentioned in your messaging. Maybe you’ve learned more throughout the year about what your key audiences want to hear. Now is a great opportunity to take another look at your key messages to make sure they are conveying what you want them to and effectively reaching your target audiences.

PR Coverage

With a fresh look at your media lists and messaging, it would also be timely to review your coverage.  Where have you received the most placements? Are any angles played out at this point? What outlets have you not gotten coverage in that you want to be in? What angles do you need to push harder?  Are you actually reaching your target audiences with these outlets? A review of all of this will help you spring forward to make your coverage blossom even more.

Events

We PR people like to develop our annual plans generally at the beginning of each year.  But so many details for events such as conferences and tradeshows are updated throughout the year.  Determining which conferences you plan to attend, submit a speaker application to or want to include in your content strategy is a key component to any PR campaign. Take this time to update your events list with deadlines for speaking and any other promotional activities.

Review and Set New Goals

With a fresh perspective on where you’ve been and what you have to work with, it is also a great time to review the progress you’ve made in achieving your goals and updating them or maybe upgrading them. Utilize the S.M.A.R.T. goal format as a best practice.

Some of these recommendations take some ongoing maintenance but think of this time as a chance to really dust off what you are doing with your PR campaign and apply a fresh strategic approach to it. So, before you grab a vacuum, go grab a pen and review your PR strategy to help your business make the most of its PR activities.

 

It’s not you. It’s your brand. Is brand ambiguity stunting your sales growth?

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve participated in more corporate messaging workshops than can be counted. Inevitably, at a certain point during the workshop, the facilitator will ask the collective group: “Who ARE we?” Typically, the marketing leaders are quick to reiterate the company’s vision or mission statement, while sales leaders rattle verbiage from their elevator pitches, and executives state messages similar to those they give investors on analyst calls. Turns out, answering “Who ARE we?” is not that simple of a question after all.

Is your brand suffering from a bit of ambiguity? Try this simple experiment the next time you’re riding up the elevator with colleagues. Ask the folks standing beside you, “Who is {insert your company name here}?”

I’m not a gambler, but I’d wage a bet you’d get limited overlap in responses. Why? Perhaps because your organization hasn’t fully invested the time and effort into crystalizing their brand positioning and brand purpose for all employees, customers and stakeholders.

No longer reserved for consumer-facing brands, it has become essential for business-to-business organizations to not only create and develop a brand but also define their position and purpose. Why?

Not only will it separate your brand from a sea of sameness among competition, but it can elevate your position in the market. If we as marketers can prevent our sales team from being asked “So who are you, again?” we’ve done part of our job.

I’ve worked on branding and rebranding initiatives for companies of all sizes – and what do they all have in common? An aligned purpose to create a great brand.

But what does it take to go from good to great? Well, good brands merely fulfill a need. They provide a service, or a product, based upon an expressed need.

But a great brand? A great brand anticipates. How? By truly understanding their customers. Talking to them. Asking questions. Reading about them in the news. Thinking about their current and future needs.

And while it may be unpleasant, or downright excruciating, asking your customers where your brand falls short can be one of the first steps towards creating a brand people trust. After all, people want partners, not vendors.

Sometimes the most important part of creating and maintaining a successful brand is simply realizing that just because something isn’t broken doesn’t mean it’s working. In the last year alone, we’ve seen notable brands take inventory of their brand presence and come to the ultimate realization that their current identity is no longer aligned with their future state. Let’s look at three notable examples:

  1. Dunkin Donuts ditched the donuts and debuted a short name – Dunkin – along with a modernized look and feel to test stores around the country earlier this year. The company is investing $100 millionto update their stores and “better meet the evolving tastes” of their customers, which will include new equipment and dedicated drive-through lanes so people who order drinks on their phones (hello, Starbucks!) can pick them up easily. They realized the market demanded more than coffee and donuts to stay competitive, and they’re putting their money where their mouth is.
  2. Unlike Dunkin’, Slack kept their name but instead chose to revamp their original (dare I say iconic?)logo. This move caused an onset of conversation around the decision to ditch the beloved hashtag in favor of a simpler visual identity. Why? They felt it was time to evolve. Beyond the unexpected logo swap, Slack’s rebrand came in advance of a direct public offering expected later this year.
  3. Earlier this year, WeWork announced their rebrand, informing the market that they will now be known as We Company. This strategy was likely designed for both investors and customers in order to broaden their aspirations from places to people. The announcement also came with a sweet perk – to the tune of $2 billion in investment from SoftBank Group.

Taking inventory of your current brand and determining whether it aligns with your future growth is no easy feat. In part two of this post, we’ll review the main drivers that help indicate when a logo refresh is needed, a repositioning workshop will do, or when a full rebrand makes the most sense.

We’ll walk through logical next steps, including how to get it done. Using your brand as a springboard to add colorful depth to your offerings can easily change the conversation and help your sales team create meaningful relationships to not just power the sales cycle but build the funnel at the same time.