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Amendola Communications Top 10 Blog Posts of 2018

Amendola Communications’ blog is designed to share our knowledge of public relations and marketing communications, but also to help other marketing professionals gain an understanding of how PR can and should be integrated into their campaigns. Based on our blog’s most-viewed posts of 2018, it appears readers are interested in a much broader variety of related topics, including trade show best practices, writing style tips and crisis communications.

Several of our most popular blog posts from 2018 were also re-posted on the Daily Dog site from Bulldog Reporter, which indicates that other respected PR pros thought our insights and best practices were helpful enough to share with their readers. Our most-viewed posts, however, were not all written last year. In fact, most of them were posted in 2017 and 2016. Not to get too “meta,” but that result in itself is a content marketing lesson: Valuable, relevant information never gets old.

With that, the following are the top 10 most-viewed blog posts for 2018.

10. Champing at the Bit over the Correct Use of Idioms: Its Just Good PR. For all intents and purposes, this blog post from 2016 explains the correct usage of common English-language idioms (like the one that began this sentence). Apparently, the post “piqued” a lot of readers’ interest and helped them “home in” on their key messages and “flesh out” their content… you get the idea.

9. Video Blog: 5 Elements of a Successful Media Relations Program. In this vlog, also from 2016, our Media Relations Director Joy Dinaro explains how to create a successful media relations program in less than two minutes, including tips for knowing the audience and understanding vendor neutrality. Valuable insight in very little time, so it’s no wonder this post was so popular.

8. What Can We Learn From United Airlines Flight 3411. No one in PR or marketing will forget the 2017 crisis communications debacle resulting from a viral phone video of a bloodied passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight. What’s worse is United’s CEO then publicly blamed the passenger, who did nothing but refuse to give up his paid seat so the airline could give it to its own employees. Clearly, it’s still a topic of interest because this post from 2017 – guest authored by James Foster, director of marketing at Amendola Communications’ client Vivify Health) – made the top 10 again.

7. The importance of feedback in PR – from media, to writing to client relationships. PR and marketing professionals are often so focused on daily tasks and client strategies that we often lack the time to request or contemplate feedback from the media, colleagues, or most importantly, clients. This most-viewed post from March describes different types of feedback in our profession and why it’s so important for improving service and results for our clients.

6. 6 Tips for Making Your Customer Success Stories More Compelling. Case studies are always effective B2B content because, in short, they’re real and they work. That’s why when a case study opportunity presents itself, some marketers don’t lay the groundwork to minimize the time and inconvenience for their customer while maximizing the amount relevant information captured during the research and interviewing. This post, written in 2017, gives readers a step-by-step guide to efficiently and effectively developing the perfect customer success story.

5. PR Pros: Beware of Busywork Masquerading as “Essential Skills”. Amendola Communications is a full-service integrated marketing communications and PR agency, which means our team members wear a lot of hats. However, as this blog post from May points out, PR and marketing professionals need to understand what their most valuable and creative skills are and apply them to serve clients. Other tasks can be delegated to another team member or outsourced. Trying to deliver too many services by yourself often just increases a PR professional’s stress and reduces quality, neither of which will help the bottom line.

4. Time to turn your trade show booth from salesroom to learning lab. We assume that HIMSS18 exhibitors were looking for last-minute booth tips due to the popularity of this post, which was posted just weeks before the health IT mega-conference. Although it may be a little too late for HIMSS19, the post lays out a great conference booth and content strategy that is sure to engage attendees and help your company stand out from others on the floor.

3. Simple Language and Communication Success. Healthcare IT can be complex, but the way we write about it doesn’t have to be. This post, written in 2017, reminds marketing and PR professionals the importance of concise writing and how we should use “fifty-cent words” even when the subject matter lends itself to a lot of “five-dollar words.”

2. Advice for Journalists Considering a Career in Public Relations. Because we tend to do a lot of writing, interviewing, editing, researching, Amendola Communications has a lot of former journalists on staff. Making the switch from reporter or editor to PR professional isn’t always seamless. It’s a different mindset and culture, which this blog post written by a former journalist deftly explains.

1. Going in AP Style. Most consumer and trade publications adhere to the rules of the Associated Press (AP) Style Manual. For a PR professional, using AP style demonstrates that you are a journalism insider, which is crucial when pitching a byline article, press release, or other content that needs to be reviewed and approved by an editor. The AP style guide has quirks that many business writers aren’t familiar with if they don’t have a journalism or PR background. The most-viewed Amendola Communications blog post from 2018 covers many of the most common AP-style errors – even the seemingly arbitrary way it abbreviates state names. What could be a very dry topic is actually a fun, lighthearted, engaging read, which is likely another reason why it’s the most viewed post of last year.

That’s our top 10 from 2018. In all, it’s a diverse collection of posts reflecting the broad range of integrated services offered by PR and marketing professionals today, including here at Amendola Communications. We expect to see some of these posts again on next year’s top 10 list, but we will nonetheless continue to supply new enlightening and engaging PR and marketing communications insight to this page every week. Stay tuned.

Have a great 2019!

 

Keeping Up with Changes to the AP Stylebook

The writing “Bible” for public relations is the AP stylebook. Anytime a PR professional (or anyone writing for media publication for that matter) is unsure of what to do, such as whether to capitalize an executive’s title in a press release, a quick glance at the print or online version will provide the correct answer. (For the record, the answer is “no” as this blog post points out.)

This reliance on the AP stylebook can lead one to think that its rules are all set in stone. But one would be wrong, as the post, “10 Recent AP Stylebook Changes and Reminders You Should Know About,” from Cision points out.

Whether you are debating whether the correct spelling for a particular type of wine is syrah or shiraz, wondering whether someone who uses the emergency department a lot should be labeled a frequent flyer or frequent flier (the former is correct), or how to use a number in a headline (use numerals for all, even though in the body you write out one through nine and then go to numerals from 10 on), the AP stylebook has the answers. And it’s continually being adjusted, so don’t assume!

To make sure you’re on top of your AP stylebook game, be sure to check out the full post here.

6 Common Pitching Errors to Avoid

6 Common Pitching Errors to Avoid

Pitching stories is one of the essential skills of a PR professional. Yet it is surprising how many PR people neglect the basics of how to pitch what to whom. In most cases, a little thought and preparation can help PR pros avoid these kinds of mistakes. Yet they continue to be made on a regular basis, as any working journalist or editor can attest. Here are some common pitching errors and how to prevent them.

  1. Doesn’t know the publication. When a busy editor gets a pitch from a PR person who doesn’t know his or her publication, it’s an immediate turnoff. The pitch might be for a consumer story when it’s a business or trade publication, or the story might concern a sector of the industry other than the one that the magazine or website covers. In either case, the editor is unlikely to consider the pitch and will probably delete future emails from that publicist. To prevent this error, all you have to do is read sample articles in the publication or just glance at its home page.
  2. Doesn’t know the publication’s editorial policies. Even among trade publications, there is a wide range of different policies on how guest columns and news stories should be written. Some publications will not allow any mention of a client’s name or products. Others actively solicit promotional pieces (usually in exchange for ads), and there are variations in between those poles. The publications that take a strict stance against product promotion are more desirable for thought leadership, but some clients may want placement in publications that allow a mention of how their products helped their customers. The important thing is to know a publication’s editorial policies before pitching its editors. Usually, those policies are on its website. A PR firm should also ensure its writers follow these rules; if not, the publication may reject the piece.
  3. Doesn’t understand the publication’s slant. Depending on its audience, a publication might be looking for very specific kinds of stories and opinion pieces that cater to its readers’ interests. For example, a publication for CISOs will be receptive to pieces that focus narrowly on security but not on topics of general interest to CIOs, even though CIOs are also concerned about security. The editor will also look for trendy topics in that field, such as blockchain’s potential use in security. But if the publication has covered something frequently in the recent past, such as how to foil ransomware attacks, it may not be interested in that. To prepare for this possibility, do a keyword search in the publication’s archives or on Google.
  4. Doesn’t keep up with changes in direction. Some publications change their editorial direction, either because of a change in leadership or in response to market forces. Publicists should not assume that because a publication accepted certain kinds of pitches in the past, they will in the future. Keep up with what’s happening with key publications by reading them regularly, and also take note of personnel changes. When a new editor or journalist joins the publication, introduce yourself and ask what kinds of stories that person is looking for.
  5. Doesn’t pitch stories in a timely way. In the competitive field of journalism, timing is extremely important. If you pitch a news-related story too late, it will be rejected because no one is interested in that topic anymore. If a client has an important news story, it’s always a good idea to give key editors the news just ahead of its release on an embargoed basis. But don’t provide the release to just one editor, or the others will feel slighted and will remember that the next time you pitch them.
  6. Fails to present the pitch concisely and intelligibly. Any PR professional should know how to write a good pitch, but it is surprising how many emailed pitches fail that test. In some cases, they go on interminably before getting to the point. Other pitches are so poorly written that they’re difficult to understand. You should always remember that editors’ time is limited and that they may have to read hundreds of emails each day. Just as in a published article, a catchy headline and a cogent lead will go a long way toward getting an editor’s or journalist’s attention.

None of these mistakes are difficult to correct. With a fairly minimal effort, publicists can learn what publications want and how to deliver it. By doing so, they can vastly increase their chances of having their pitches accepted and of placing articles in sought-after publications.

PR Pros: Beware of Busywork Masquerading as “Essential Skills”

PR Pros: Beware of Busywork Masquerading as “Essential Skills”

Some hard truths on the PR skills we really should be developing—for our clients and our own professional development.

A well-known public relations trade site recently ran a “listicle” of so-called essential PR skills for our modern technology-driven era. Included in the list were graphic design, analytics, and even some light HTML coding.

My first reaction was moderate panic. Analytics, I totally get. But today’s PR professionals should now be expected to design collateral, tweak the coding for HTML email blasts and websites, in addition to establish a media presence, build brand awareness and help generate leads for our clients?

Well, being the people-pleasing, “I can take that on!” person so many of us in PR are, I was on the verge of heading over to Coursera when, thankfully, a second reaction kicked in: revolt.

Here’s the reality. Most of us, whether we work in an agency or in-house, already spend way too much time pecking away at keyboards on any number of non-creative tasks, much of it on the administrative end of managing public relations. Add to this an interminable stream of emails to write and respond to, and collectively, these tasks suck up more of our work week than we’d ever want to admit.

Meanwhile, on the in-house side, marketing and PR are increasingly a “catchall” destination for other departments that want to pretty up a presentation, proofread a legal document, properly format a PDF, mail merge an email, and other “this should just take a few minutes” requests that create a lot of job creep and regularly push pressing marketing and PR projects to the back burners.

People, God HELP us if we add coding and graphic design to our never-ending “I can do that!” lists. And heaven help our clients, whether in-house or on the agency side. As we continue to get mired down in busywork, fresh ideas for PR and marketing either won’t get thought of, or will lose their potential in poorly executed campaigns.

Besides, the world is full of poorly designed marketing collateral and glitchy apps. Perhaps because we’re getting what we pay for? Let’s pay for highly skilled professionals who specialize in the high skilled work of graphic design and coding. Not pass it on to a PR or marketing professional who can do just enough to get the job done, but not very creatively.

That way, we can stay focused on continuously improving the following marketing and PR skills.

#1: More persuasively make the case for bold creativity. It’s the only kind of messaging that breaks through, yet it remains difficult to convince clients—even sometimes our own account teams—to take a risk with provocative messaging and concepts. This is something learned over time and with practice, but here are a few pointers: have examples at the ready of successful campaigns that used unusual or daring messaging; bring the client in on the creative process; and—particularly for B2b PR and marketing–don’t be afraid to challenge the conventional thinking that B2b buyers are a conservative market who just want the facts.  These people respond to humor and provocative messaging just like the rest of us humans.

It also helps to foster creativity among your team or—even better—as a company value. Check out this collection of tips from an article I once wrote about inspiring creativity in the attractions and entertainment industries–where regularly unleashing the “wow factor” is a mandate.

#2: Out-argue the lawyers. While legal expertise is needed in many companies, it is often applied to marketing and PR projects with massive overkill. Time after time I’ve seen press releases, bylines, reports, and other copy utterly diluted of any potential impact after a single legal marketing review.

I’m also convinced it was the lawyers at United who advised the CEO to refer to a bloodied, brutalized passenger being dragged off the plane as being “re-accommodated.” No self-respecting PR pro would have greenlighted this horrendous understatement. They also would have predicted that any financial settlement would be a fraction of the billions of dollars in market value lost in the wake of such a dreadful response. A hard lesson learned for United, but one PR departments everywhere can have on hand to bring up in any future debates with legal.

#3: Client relations. Investing in PR isn’t cheap, whether working with an agency or hiring an in-house team. Company leaders are often nervous about what to expect and how they will measure results. Often this is driven by anxiety over a business objective they are directly responsible for achieving. And all clients are different—with their own working and communication styles, and criteria for success. We must be able to put ourselves in many different pairs of shoes.

I can’t overstate how important regular communication with clients is to achieve this state of empathetic nirvana. It is the only way to keep a pulse on our clients’ current concerns and long term needs, both of which good PR people should always have a read on. Busywork can suck us away from these needed conversations. Don’t let it.

#4: Setting the stage for a story. I have blatantly ripped this off from a Wired article about one of the most powerful PR pros in Silicon Valley—whose chief skill is not coding or graphic design. It is, as the article noted, creating a memorable scene for a story. So think. The next time we’re pitching, what is the perfect analogy or metaphor to help explain our angle? If a meeting with a journalist will be in-person, what might be a memorable location that underscores what we want to convey?

Again, mired down in busywork takes away the needed time to conceptualize and create such settings. Which costs us dearly in unforgettable media coverage.

#5: Write better headlines. It doesn’t have to be clickbait, but the opposite end of the spectrum is just as obnoxious–those plodding, painful headlines that make use of tired corporates-peak like “ensure” and “leverage” and “enhance.” Shooting for brevity can help alleviate these tendencies, so keep press release titles to 10 words or less, email subject lines to 4 words or less.

#6: Figure out what makes buyers tick. And when. We must insist on having the time to create (or the money to hire someone to create) buyer personas and buyer journeys, to conduct customer interviews, and whatever it takes to know our clients’ target customer audiences inside and out. It is the difference in good versus scant PR results. And so here I will freely admit that yes, basic analytics is an essential skill, unless you have a department that does this for you. Many of us don’t, alas.

#7: Demand generation. We all know by now that most buyers of big ticket items have made up their minds on who they’re buying from before they reach out to a vendor. So it remains critical to get the right information to them at the right time. Demand generation, content marketing, whatever you want to call it – we do need to understand the basics, even if we hire outside firms to put together the logistics for our demand generation/content marketing programs.

#8: Measure results. PR continues to be difficult to link to sales, but there are metrics we should follow and get versed in that help us better connect the dots. Really partner with your client on this, or if you work in-house, with your marketing analytics people. One of my clients has built a special analytics dashboard that shows website traffic by customizable time frames, and where the traffic comes from. I’m able to easily correlate press release and published bylines with spikes in traffic, plus show traffic increase comparisons year over year or month-by-month.

If you don’t have all of the above skills down cold, don’t panic—neither do most of us. But getting rid of unproductive goals will make sure we have more time to become experts in these and other skills that matter most.