Six Degrees of Media Relations

It’s been well documented that the mainstream media have become increasingly fragmented with fewer resources to do their jobs. However, a curious thing is happening, the highly specialized bloggers and online publishers that contributed to the shrinking, traditional newsroom are slowly becoming allies.

Case in point: our client’s product recently appeared on the Today Show and the Dr. Oz Show. In the old days, we would have achieved this through direct interaction with the show’s producers, pitching the story angle, providing product and, at times, even a spokesperson. Now, mind you, for products and brands with huge audiences or newsworthy announcements (think new iPhone, for example), this approach hasn’t gone away, but for niche products with little new to report, this is nearly impossible.

So how did we get these placements? In both cases, we won inclusion in these coveted segments through the relationships we’ve built with niche online publications and bloggers. By offering information and resources of value to this audience we are, by extension, reaching their contacts as well. In the case of the Today Show placement, one of the contacts we pitched about our client’s product wrote about it on her Web site. When she was invited to the Today Show to do a segment on Fourth of July treats, the product was a perfect fit.

Top-notch specialty publications and bloggers have gained significant clout. They typically focus on a fairly narrow topic and possess substantial expertise in that topic. In that sense they are functioning in the media universe very much like the editors and beat reporters for large media organizations did in the past.

Media relations has long been about cultivating relationships. In other words, who you know matters. In the changing media landscape of today, who your contacts know might matter just as much.

Celebrate Your Customers’ Victories

As a young man, I saw in an email from LinkedIn that one of my connections had earned a significant promotion. I knew her as a friend of friends from college. We weren’t close, but we were both living in the same city at the time. I called her to congratulate her. In my mind it was a small, sincere gesture and nothing more.

To her, it was more significant. It turns out that I was the first and one of few to do so, even counting her closest friends and family. She was grateful for the recognition. I believe it played a role in her marrying me four years later.

In the daily onslaught of doing business we often forget the humanity of what we’re doing. Behind every element of our industry are people, people with all the ups and downs that life brings and all the sensitivities of being human.

Look for opportunities to acknowledge that and celebrate the victories the people around you achieve.

In this week’s issue of Nation’s Restaurant News, Robin Lee Allen calls out consumers’ favorite restaurant chains. This is significant because it is not a shareholder driven poll with favorites chosen based on robust portfolios and healthy bottom lines. These are the chains that have won the favor of the people they serve.

Many of these chains may be your customers or you may want them to be your customers. Take a minute to write a simple, sincere note of congratulations to the people at these chains. It doesn’t matter if you even get a response, the mark you leave will be indelible and you never know where it may lead.

Are you Cinderella or the evil stepsister?


Cinderella and her fairy godmother

Businesses often suffer from a self-awareness problem. Whether your business is like Cinderella or one of the evil stepsisters, your problem is the same. Your company self-image is inaccurate.  

Let’s start with the stepsisters. In the fairy tale, despite glaring flaws, each stepsister fancied herself filled with enough charm, smarts and good looks to win over the prince – in each girl’s estimation, the only real competition she faced came from her sister.

Then there’s poor Cinderella. The king’s proclamation clearly stated that all maidens were eligible to submit an RFP for the prince’s love, but what could she possibly offer. She was too busy taking care of everyone else to make herself presentable.

Of course, every child who hears the story can plainly see all the stepsisters’ flaws and all of Cinderella’s charms. The same is true about your company for your customers and prospects.

Most businesses, however, are rarely as clearly defined as the characters in the fairy tale. In fact, most business are part Cinderella and part evil stepsister. Improving your business begins with figuring out which parts are which.

Your customers, your colleagues within the company and you already have the answers.

BUT, you and your colleagues cannot extract the answers. You and they are simply too close, too invested and too knowledgeable about the inner workings of your company to be honest and objective.

You also cannot directly ask your customers. Too many of them will temper their answers to be polite.

A skilled partner – a fairy godmother, if you will – contributes objectivity and methodology to uncover your company’s inner Cinderella and evil stepsister.

It begins with external customer research, generally qualitative, surveying a representative number and diversity of customers. Your customers know you, but they also see a broader swath of the market up and down the supply chain, including your competitors..

It includes internal exploration of what you and other employees know with an impartial moderator systematically uncovering and documenting the information.

The resulting analysis gives you a clear picture of your company and brand, a path to celebrate and promote what’s unique about it along with an outline to fix what you didn’t know or couldn’t see before.

Why Did The Chicken Cross the Road, A Marketing Mystery

It is perhaps a universally known children’s riddle: Why did the chicken cross the road? The standard response is, of course, (SPOILER ALERT) to get to the other side.

Every marketer should think like the chicken.

  1. The chicken had a clear goal: get to the other side,
  2. She identified a strategy to achieve that goal: cross the road
  3. And she achieved her goal.

What is not revealed in the riddle is how the chicken crossed the road. As children, we assume that she walked across the road, but nowhere in the riddle does it say that. In fact, it is the least important detail.

Too often, we get caught up in the how, the tactics, before we’ve clearly defined the why.


What was in the chicken's head?


Walk                       Advertising
Run   PR
Skip   Social Media
Fly   Events
Roll   Research
Dance   Direct Marketing
Drive   Point of Sale

I have been both victim and perpetrator of starting with “How.” Have you ever said or been told, “We need to get on Facebook!” or “We need a brochure!”?

Next time this happens, repeat this simple response: Why?

“Why” is the only appropriate response until you define what you want to achieve – independent of the favored tactic. Forget about the how for a minute and think about:

  • What is your objective? Sales? Brand exposure? Reseller development? Stifle competition?
  • Who are you trying to reach? Describe them in as much detail as possible.
  • What will success look like?
  • How much time do you have to achieve success, or progress toward success?
  • How much can you afford to spend on the pursuit of your objective?
  • Is it important that the “how” directly and measurably contribute to success?

Once you have a clear understanding of the “why,” only then can you begin to consider the “how.”

You can start using it during your annual program review. For each of your marketing activities, ask, “Why are we doing this?” Compare the answer to the result you’re achieving and rethink any tactic that doesn’t align with the stated objectives.



Will Google+ become THE communication hub?

This was the question Sage Lewis put in my head today at a Cleveland Web Association event.

The thing is I’m not yet on Google+. Doesn’t exactly qualify me to blog about it, does it? Not in specifics, but as a person who has a need to communicate and receive relevant communication from other people, I think it does qualify me.

Like everyone else, I receive and communicate thousands of messages everyday. “Good morning” to my wife (personal face-to-face communication), quick update on the “news” courtesy of Matt Lauer (broadcast communication), “grande decaf, room for milk” to the Starbucks barista (transactional face-to-face communication), email review, check Twitter, staff meeting, return client call, etc., etc., etc.

Most of these interactions are so ingrained, I’ve never contemplated them being conducted digitally. The fact is, even the commonly conducted digital communications, email, blogging, Tweeting, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. seem like related but separate activities to me.

So here’s the question: would you eschew other “online communications” avenues and even some traditionally analog ones and concentrate all that activity in Google+?

Is that just feeding the potential for creating an evil (or eviler, depending on your views) Google empire? Something on an even bigger scale than Microsoft enjoyed for decades (and still does to a great extent in desktop computing)?

Or does it make sense? You’re going to conduct these communications either way. They’re online somewhere and don’t belong to you anymore as it is. Wouldn’t it be more convenient to consolidate them? Then you would have more time for leisure (oh yeah, that old myth again!)

I don’t know what will ultimately come of Google+ — I’m not even registered for Google+, after all — but as improbable as it may seem right now, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch. If it’s well executed. All the risks aside, I think people are willing to sacrifice some control and (lots) of privacy to make their lives easier.

Not only do I think it’s possible, I think it’s inevitable. Maybe not on Google+. Maybe it will happen on Facebook or some other network we haven’t even seen yet. It’s happening in other aspects of life: subscription services (phone, internet, TV), city services (regional collaboration between police, fire, sanitary, etc.)

The most recent proof I can point to is the smartphone. “Experts” talked about convergence for a long time before it happened. At any point, did you think it was silly to attach a low-quality camera to your phone? I remember saying, “why in the world do I need the internet on my phone?” And, in the beginning, we were right, those things were stupid. My actual camera was much better than my phone and the time it took to type out a URL on my phone wasn’t worth the trouble. So what changed?

The execution got better. Sure, my actual camera still takes better pictures, but they’re not so much better and my camera can’t upload those pictures to the cloud, my Flickr account and send them to my wife with a few presses and swipes. My iPhone can though.

So, Sage Lewis, my answer is (conditionally) yes, I believe Google+ if it’s well executed will become a communication hub for people. (can’t wait to read this again in 5 years…)

What do you think?

Why didn’t I think of that?

At the NRA Show (National Restaurant Association) a couple weeks ago, I was struck by several really smart, really simple ideas I saw on display.

Each one did just one thing, each one was simple in its construction and each one solved a problem that restaurant operators have accepted as normal for decades.

That last part, “accepted as normal,” is really important.

Too often, we let the customer, the market, the situation, etc., define the problem, then we go about solving the problem they’ve defined. We learn to ignore things that at first seem illogical, incomplete or inconvenient.

To be truly effective, sometimes we need to step back and forget a little bit – or a lot – of what we accept as normal and take an unbiased look to idenfity the problem.

Without knowing then how well it would serve me in business, I learned the best way to do this in my college newswriting class. The professor drilled into us the basic reporting questions also know as the “5 Ws”: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

By systematically answering each of these questions, I’m forced to first acknowledge, then either accept or reject existing assumptions, either mine or someone else’s. For example, let’s say a client or prospect says, “I need a new Web site.”

In this scenario, The 5 Ws must be applied at several levels. First, they must explore whether a Web site is even the right approach. Then, what kind of Web site: informational? Transactional? Social? Then, how will the Web site differentiate itself? And so on.

The entire nature of this approach is on first identifying the problem. The solution and the steps needed to implement the solution are secondary and reveal themselves along the way. Together with the client, we begin better equipped to truly solve a problem and produce value.

That is what impressed me so much about the smart, simple ideas I saw at the NRA Show. Each one is an elegant solution, but more importantly, each one solves a problem everyone else either didn’t see or chose to ignore. Check them out here:

Flat Table leveler identifies and solves the problem of unlevel, rocking dining tables in restaurants:

Instant-Off Water Saver identifies and solves the problem of needing to turn on/off faucets in environments that require frequent hand washing:

Stove Shoes identify and solve the problem of moving heavy kitchen equipment:


Become a smarter marketer

When I sat down to write this inaugural post for the Benghiat blog, I debated about its topic. It is the first post, should it be about that? About our blog and the work we put into creating it? Or, should I get right into it and make this a post about marketing (and more specifically, SmartMarketing™)?

It only took me a second to realize that it should be the latter.

Why? Because I believe the Benghiat blog should make you a smarter marketer.

Now more than ever, people –including you and your prospects – are consuming huge amounts of information. But, the shape of that consumption has changed. The curve is broad and shallow, not narrow and deep.

That means your customers are juggling small bits of information about many things. So what small bits of information are your customers and prospects retaining about you? (Hint: they’re retaining information that is going to: make them money, save them money, save them time, make their lives easier, etc.)

It shouldn’t be too hard to define the 1 or 2 things that set you apart, should it?

You would be surprised.

When we conduct a Brand Building Workshop for a customer, our primary mission is to distill a Unique Selling Proposition about and for their business. Even though we are simply looking for the 1 or 2 things that truly differentiate the company (or a product), it takes hours of structured discourse to arrive at that Unique Selling Proposition.

Why is that?

It’s because all of us invest so much of ourselves into our work. We know every intimate detail of every product, project and campaign. They are like our children, and like proud parents, every one of them and their accomplishments seems special and unique. It’s hard for us to boil something so special down to a sound bite.

I was guilty of this last weekend.

I’m a home theater hobbyist. My mom and dad came over to babysit and my dad picked up the remote control and asked, “How does this work?”

So, I told him.

“Well, Dad, I programmed the remote with my computer so it knows all the commands for each piece of equipment, then I programmed activities, so if I press a certain button, it turns on the needed equipment and switches it to the proper settings. The signal is sent through a receiver in the wall to infrared transmitters. These buttons here control…”

That’s when he interrupted me and asked, “No, I mean, what do I press to watch TV?”

I hadn’t bothered to really hear his question. Like my explanation to my dad, so much marketing doesn’t really answer the right question, which is, “What does it do for me?”

To be effective marketers, we need to step back and view our work as if it was not our own child but someone else’s. It’s human nature to view the world from the inside out. Effective marketers view the world from the outside in.

How many times have you read a brochure/ad/catalog/etc. filled with features and specifications – “made from 18-gauge steel” “roller bearing mechanism” “hand-picked?” If the marketing piece doesn’t first – and quickly – answer the question, “What does it do for me?” the rest of it is worthless.

That’s how your customers and prospects process information about your company and your products. Don’t try to fight it. Exploit it. Make it easy for them. Put it in simple terms. Not everyone is your prospect, but if you communicate well, those who are will embrace you.

So, what does putting it in simple terms sound like? Here’s an example:

The Benghiat Blog will make you a smarter marketer.