One Question: HubSpot’s Rick Burnes

How can businesses use Twitter to drive leads? Rick Burnes of HubSpot shared his thoughts at the New York Capital Region American Marketing Association’s “Twitter for Business” workshop. I snagged Rick after the presentation to ask him this one question:

Two other good tips from Rick during the presentation:

  • Companies should create a page on their Web sites with a list and links to the Twitter handles of all their employees.
  • “Favoriting” positive mentions of your company on Twitter is a great way to assemble third-party endorsements. You can send the link to your favorites so that people can see what’s being said about you.

Check out Rick’s full presentation on SlideShare.

The Business Case for PR: according to whom?

Today PRSA rolled out its “Business Case for Public Relations” initiative, aimed at spit-shining the image of the PR industry and combating a lot of the misperceptions and negativity that surround the profession. The campaign includes a variety of features like resources to help articulate the value of PR to the C-suite, formation of a measurement task force to standardize measurement practices, and a newly organized collection of case studies.

I haven’t dug into all the materials yet. I’m sure there are many good tidbits in there. And frankly, as much as PR practitioners (myself included, on occasion) complain that other people “don’t get” PR or that we’re misrepresented via shows like Sex and the City that overemphasize the publicist role, at least PRSA is trying to do something about it.

But what caught my eye was the section on the Business Case section of PRSA’s Web site called “Industry Thought Leaders.” It profiles the nine individuals who were involved in the Business Case effort. Here’s what I immediately noticed about this list:

  • All are very accomplished PR professionals, with many years of experience in the field. The youngest is maybe 40-ish.
  • Seven of the nine are men.  Not exactly representative of the PR profession as a whole.
  • There’s no cultural diversity among the nine leaders (at least judging by the photos).
  • Seven of the nine are from PR agencies, most of them the big ones (H&K, Edelman, APCO, etc.). One is from corporate communication, one is from academia.

I’m sure that all nine of these people offered great insight and input into this initiative and I’m in no way knocking their individual qualifications or contributions to this effort. They have clearly differentiated themselves in the PR field. But essentially it’s a bunch of old(er) white guys from big agencies.

dartboardI would have loved to have seen a more diverse group of PR professionals involved in this effort. It would have  resonated with me more if I had looked at the list and seen more women, one or two early- or mid-career professionals, some practitioners from small boutique agencies, some non-profit and corporate communicators, and some practitioners from different ethnic backgrounds.

I don’t know how this advisory panel was chosen; whether it was self-nomination or invitation or some other process. I’m not saying that PRSA should have gone out with a pre-determined list of certain types of PR professionals and “ticked boxes” to create this group. But it causes me to wonder what else could have been included in this advocacy campaign had some more representative voices been included in the process.

Knowing and understanding your audience is one of the fundamentals of public relations. I feel like maybe PRSA missed that mark here.

What do you think?

Image via Flickr user Paul Peracchia

Tight on resources? Deputize your brand’s fans

Sometimes you just need more people. In January, Washington, D.C. deputized out-of-town security and police forces during the Obama inauguration. The city gave them the tools and authority to manage the massive crowds that had descended for the weekend. The size of the actual D.C. police force didn’t grow permanently, but it had the resources it needed to get through the event. Brands can achieve the same effect – a simulated growth in the size of its marketing resources – by deputizing their fans.

penzeysI am a huge fan of Penzey’s Spices. The company is based in Wisconsin and has a few dozen stores throughout the US and a mail-order catalog. Their products are amazing. Their cinnamon (all four varieties) is the best I’ve ever tasted. Penzey’s rubs and spice blends for meats and vegetables can make a good cook out of just about anyone. They offer adorable spice gift packages that I’ve often given at wedding showers and as holiday gifts. A few of my favorite recipes were discovered in their spice catalogs. I don’t ever plan on buying grocery-store spices again.

I will gladly sing Penzey’s praises to anyone who will listen (see above paragraph). But here’s the problem – I have very little at my disposal to aid in my Penzey’s evangelization. It doesn’t appear that the company has even dipped its toes into the social media waters yet. No Facebook fan page, no Twitter account, no company blog. That leaves me with only their Web site to direct people to after I tell them how absolutely delicious the Florida Seasoned Pepper or Northwoods Fire blend is.

But Penzey’s Web site is relatively bland – it’s set up essentially as a no-frills eCommerce site. There’s no way for me to interact with the brand and share it with my friends. Bill Penzey, the company founder, writes a folksy customer letter in each catalog and it’s posted on the Web site. But I can’t share it via Facebook, Delicious or Twitter. The catalog is essentially on the site in .pdf format – making it difficult to share. The recipes from the catalog are also posted to the Web site. But again, I can’t bookmark them, post them to a profile, or even “e-mail this page to a friend.”

What Penzey’s perhaps doesn’t realize is that I, and I’m sure many of their other fans, would do a heck of a lot of free marketing for them if we only had tools and content at our disposal. People are already talking about the brand online: a Google blog search for Penzey’s returns more than 14,000 results. On Facebook, a loyal Penzey’s fan created a group that has almost 400 members and there are three others with a couple dozen members. It doesn’t appear that anyone from Penzey’s participates in these groups.

If Penzey’s fans were deputized – armed and equipped with social tools to take to our friends and networks – we could spread our love for Penzey’s at an exponential rate. Imagine if Penzey’s had a Facebook fan page that featured recipes, images, coupons, gift ideas or cooking tips. Or if they created a YouTube channel or Flickr account where their fans could post photos or videos of the meals they created using Penzey’s spices. Penzey’s doesn’t necessarily need to dive in to a full-fledged social media campaign, but creating some social outposts could go a long way toward allowing their fans to interact with the brand (and with each other) and easily share Penzey’s information with their social networks.

Many smaller businesses are afraid of moving into social media because they think it will take too much time. But if your customers like your brand enough and you give them the necessary tools, they will spend their own time to tout your brand among their friends. So give ’em a badge.

Image via Flickr user amymengel (yeah, I took that one)

No to Carrots, Yes to Pomegranates

Shannon Paul, at her excellent and Very Official Blog, wrote earlier this week about a situation where a company tried to pitch her via a comment on one of her blog posts. The product had nothing to do with the topic she’d written about (using her grandma’s carrot cake recipe as a metaphor for sharing great content) and the pitch itself, for skincare products from a company called Yes-to-Carrots, came off as a “free billboard” advertisement. The story has somewhat of a happy ending, as the offending commenter later called Shannon to apologize. But trying to pitch via public comments shows a pretty incomplete understanding of effective blogger relations on the part of Yes-to-Carrots.

Pomegranates, however, are a different story. A few weeks ago, in my post about the changes to US Airway’s inflight magazine, I mentioned that part of the magazine included an excerpt from the new book Rubies in the Orchard, which is Lynda Resnick’s story of the founding and marketing of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice. I said I had read the chapter excerpt in the magazine and was likely to read the whole book at some point. It was merely a mention in a post that wasn’t really about the book at all, but two days later I received the following e-mail:


I enjoyed your post, Blogs on Paper at 35,000 feet. Did you pick up the Rubies in the Orchard book yet? I’d be happy to send you some POM juice to enjoy while you’re reading.

Send me your contact info and I’ll get you some juice within a week or so.


I sent them my address, more to see what happened than anything else. Today, I received a package in the mail with a case of POM Wonderful juice, a personalized letter, and a fact sheet about pomegranates and their health benefits. I didn’t intend to blog about their outreach, as it’s really nothing new and bloggers are frequently targeted and pitched. But POM Wonderful’s efforts were in such stark contrast to what I read about on Shannon’s blog that in the end, I did end up writing about them again (although I’m sure they’re sad to learn that my blog’s audience is about 15 readers, including my dad). Perhaps most importantly for them, however, is that they’ve gained a customer: I really did like the juice and will probably buy it.

I’m sure Yes-to-Carrots and POM Wonderful both ended up at Shannon’s and my blogs, respectively, via a Google alert on a certain keyword (although Shannon’s follow-up post seems to indicate that her commenter may have been a regular reader). But what separates the carrots from the pomegranates was what they did with that info. POM Wonderful used it as an opportunity to send me a private e-mail. Yes-to-Carrots inappropriately posted a public comment to Shannon’s blog. As Shannon noted in her own comment, “I can’t think of an example where it would be a good idea to pitch someone in the comments.”

Even though Yes-to-Carrots did the right thing by calling Shannon to offer an apology and trying to start a dialogue with her, she stated that she might now be hesitant to buy a product that she already knew of and liked. Yes-to-Carrots potentially lost a customer because of botched blogger outreach. POM Wonderful gained a customer because they did a good job. Sometimes being a little seedy is a good thing.

Update: Jeremy Epstein, who posted the original Yes-to-Carrots pitch on Shannon’s blog, posted a “learn from my mistake” post at his own blog. Check it out – very impressive and goes a long way toward undoing the “damage” from the initial comment, in my opinion. Kudos to Jeremy!

Answer Honestly: Communications conundrums

At my recent ski trip out to Lake Tahoe with good pals, we ended up with a case of Molson Canadian beer one night. The bottles contained labels with the phrase “Answer Honestly” and then presented an either/or question: Would you prefer to be rich or good looking; would you prefer to be a vampire or a werewolf; etc. It led to some pretty heated debates among some slightly tipsy people about the relative merits and ethical implications of flying vs. being invisible, for example.

Last week Steve Crescenzo even asked his own “Answer Honestly” –  tweet:


Communicators are often faced with situations that feature unappealing options and we have to make the best decision we can based on our constraints, resources, and the needs of our organizations or clients. We don’t have a choice –  we are called upon to handle whatever situation lies before us. But wouldn’t it be fun to pick and choose? Here’s a communicator’s version of “Answer Honestly” :

Answer Honestly: Would you rather have to communicate a layoff of 10 percent of your workforce or a 20 percent pay cut for all of your workforce?

This one’s tough, and both of these scenarios are happening at a lot of companies today. On the one hand, a pay cut seems to appear more equitable: everyone takes a little bit of pain to save the jobs of some of their co-workers. But it also means that everyone’s left unhappy. A layoff affects fewer people more profoundly. From a communications standpoint, a layoff is more of an “event” that happens and is over relatively quickly. I know there’s plenty of research about “survivor’s guilt” among remaining workers, and communicators need to be extremely sensitive to how the news is delivered not only to departing employees but also remaining ones. How will their jobs change now that staff reductions have been made? How will the organization continue to meet its goals with fewer people? Is this all or will there be more layoffs to come? But I still think I’d rather have to communicate a lay off than across-the-board pay cuts. The pay cuts mean that everyone remains in the organization, but everyone now has something to complain about. And they will complain – here is some pretty solid evidence of that. While across-the-board pay cuts are often communicated with a “we’re all in this together” mentality, it’s tough to get people to focus on the needs of group/organization versus their own personal situation. It depends so much on the culture of the organization and its leadership.

Answer Honestly: Would you rather have to communicate a product recall or a financial/ethical scandal?

Hmm. Both of these scenarios can be red flags for endemic corruption within an organization. A product recall can be difficult if the source or reason hasn’t been identified. But at least in that situation there’s a chance it was an accident or honest mistake that led to the quality issues. There are plenty of great examples known throughout communications-land as best practices for how to handle this type of event: Lexus, Tylenol = good, Ford/Firestone, Peanut Butter = not so good. If handled correctly, the damage to an organization’s reputation can be minimal, and in some cases it’s an opportunity to provide outstanding customer service. With a financial or ethical scandal, however, the root of the problem is usually shady people doing shady things. There’s not much you can do to overcome that, and it typically indicates that a culture existed within an organization that allowed it to happen – management either participated, encouraged, or looked the other way (do I even need to say Enron? Didn’t think so). There’s typically great distrust of an organization after a scandal, and often attempts to repair the reputation are immediately labeled as disingenuous spin. I’d have to go for a product recall here (and hope that the recall is not due to some sort of deliberate malicious behavior – which I guess would make it an ethical scandal, right?).

Answer Honestly: Would you rather duke it out with Human Resources or Legal over your communications strategies and wording?

Shoot me now. Obviously communicators have to work with all involved stakeholders when communicating internally or externally. There are certainly laws regarding employee privacy, forward-looking financial statements, and competitive/proprietary information. But a communicator’s quest for transparency is often foiled by one or both of these functions. They are business partners, however, and deserve the same respect that we seek as communicators. Working with them is not optional and often these functions to provide a different viewpoint that can enhance communications. If I could choose to only work with one, though, I’d have to go with HR. Often times the run-ins I’ve had with legal come down to, “It’s the law. We can’t say it your way. End of story.” With HR, there can be a little more wiggle-room and with some good supporting arguments, you can often win them over– or at least meet in the middle.

Answer Honestly – what would you choose?