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.

The National Restaurant Association Show 2014 Planning Starts Today

The biggest industry tradeshow of the year – regardless of industry – serves as a measuring stick for a company. The big show – the National Restaurant Association Show – for one of our biggest industries – foodservice – is just wrapping up in Chicago. According to the Chicago Tribune, there were 33 companies at NRA hoping to get your iced tea business. So how do those 33 iced tea brands measure up to one another?

It boils down to honesty. Certainly each of those companies took a little bit of time to stroll past the other companies’ booths and assess how they’re marketing their brands. Each brand needs to be honest with itself about marketing.

  • How is the brand positioning itself?  What’s the differentiator?  What’s your differentiator?
  • How big is the booth?  What does it say to attendees compared to your booth?
  • Did my competitors’ booths have more traffic than my booth?
  • Were they offering strategic giveaways?
  • Did my booth get enough targeted traffic? 
  • What about product itself? Price point? Promotion? Distribution?
  • Am I well positioned to convert my show leads into qualified prospects once the show is over?
  • Did my competitors have more innovative products?

These questions may not specifically apply to your brand. The point is there is a lot of competition out there. I like iced tea as much as the next guy, and the U. S. restaurant and foodservice markets are substantial, but I don’t think there’s enough demand for 33 iced tea companies to thrive. You could substitute china companies, refrigeration companies, point-of-sale system providers, or many other manufacturer categories for iced tea companies and the same questions and lessons would apply. The smartest, well-positioned brands will rise to the top.

My challenge to all brands after the NRA Show or any big trade show is to jot down some clear goals for the rest of the year and for next year. In the case of the NRA Show, you – and your competitors – have seven months left in 2013 to improve your marketing. What clearly defined tactics did you learn from NRA that your brand can improve? You can be prepared to make your move as one of the leading brands at NRA 2014. With a little honest and strategic action, everyone will be taking notice of what you’re doing at the next trade show.

Brand Story. WWPD – What Would Pixar Do?

You don’t create a brand. Your brand already exists. Your job is to extract the essence of your brand and then tell its story. Easier said than done. So where to start? Let’s turn to one of today’s premier storytellers, Pixar Animation Studios. Pixar has won 27 Academy Awards. Its first feature film? Toy Story. Pixar’s rules to create Toy Story will also work to help you create your Brand Story.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, former Story Artist at Pixar. In the spirit of Pixar’s Rule #5, I have simplified and focused, selecting and slightly editing half of the rules most helpful to craft a compelling brand story.

2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to the audience of your brand, not what’s important to you. They can be very different.

5. Simplify. Focus. Combine. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

6. What is your brand good at? Throw the polar opposite at it. Challenge your brand. How does it hold up?

9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what your brand does not represent. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

10. Pull apart branding campaigns you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

14. Why must you tell THIS brand story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a branding campaign you dislike. How do you rearrange them into what you DO like?

21. You gotta identify with your target audience. What would make YOU act?

22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

People recognize and react to strong stories whether they are sitting in a movie theater or strolling down a supermarket aisle. Pixar’s rules that guided the creation of Toy Story will help create your Brand Story, as well as Ad Story, Campaign Story, Sales Meeting Story and more.

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.

Make hay while the sun shines.

NAFEM 2013 exhibited very positive vibes. The mood was as sunny inside as the bright Orlando day outside. Although the aisles were not jammed with attendees, an overwhelming majority of the exhibitors with whom I spoke were quite pleased with the results. This was an improvement over NAFEM 2011, which was cautiously optimistic. And quite a contrast to the bleak emptiness of NAFEM 2009. (IHMRS in November was also upbeat, although that show is a shadow of its former self.)

At the end of February, the NRA Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) reported net positive same-store sales for the 20th consecutive month. A week later, the CRFA Show in Toronto set new attendance records. On March 21 a WSJ headline reported, “Existing-Home Sales Hit Highest Point Since 2009.” Is this a happy coincidence or a sustained trend?

In fact, the 18-month contraction of the last business cycle ended in June, 2009. It took another 15 months, until September 20, 2010, for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) to announce that the contraction ended the year before. The NBER has calculated that the average length of expansion in the 11 business cycles since 1945, the end of World War II, is 59 months.

Now, 30 months into this business expansion – halfway through the average duration – some operators see the light.

On the one hand, FE&S observes, “… operators are holding on to their equipment longer than before, as our studies show they continue to repair rather than replace.” Yet, the NRA RPI reports, “Restaurant operators are also more bullish in their plans for capital spending in the months ahead. Fifty-nine percent of restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, up from 50 percent who reported similarly last month.”

Two and one half years into the current expansion, operators are shifting from the low cost, quick fix to investing in equipment that delivers longer term value of energy efficiency, productivity improvement and quality consistency.
Now is the perfect time to launch new products, beef up your marketing campaigns and sell smarter and harder. If not now, when?

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.

Rows of pizza, ice cream and foodservice technology

My colleague and I recently attended the North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show  (NAPICS) in Columbus, Ohio to get a read on the latest trends affecting that segment of the foodservice industry. Beyond the seemingly endless delicious ice cream and pizza samples were similarly endless POS and technology company booths.

As we met with exhibitors to discuss their technology offerings, I couldn’t help but ponder how a small business owner – be it a pizza shop or frozen yogurt store – would shuffle through the options and determine what’s best for her business. She may have just opened her first store or perhaps the first store is doing well and she’s ready to open her second location.

It’s the tech company’s job to stand out from the clutter.

Some pitched the latest technology.

Others touted free software.

The latest social media integration.

Tablet and smartphone compatibility.

No doubt these are all impressive features. But the number one benefit to a small restaurant owner is how technology is going to affect the bottom line.

Can the latest technology increase customer orders?

Will the monthly charges that come with the free software decrease profit margin?

Do I have enough time to manage new social channels?

Will purchasing tablets and smartphones for my store and employees do more than just make my store look trendy?

It’s fair to say that the small business owners that consider – and the tech companies that answer – these questions will be the ones that survive and thrive. As one exhibitor correctly stated, “it’s still about keeping ice cream cold and heating up pizzas. And that technology hasn’t changed that much in the past 50 years.” The challenge for foodservice equipment and ingredient manufacturers is to focus on their products’ cost-effective means to greater productivity and profit. Make it clear your products promote busier Thursday dinner crowds, increase check averages and create more loyal customers.





You have to master Marketing 101 before you write your thesis

Imagine a 3D puzzle with pieces that continually change size and shape as you try to put it together. One piece launches into the stratosphere and becomes huge while another piece is a mere sliver compared to what it was five minutes ago. I’m not talking about the next Christopher Nolan thriller, but the marketing sphere of 2013.

Format that press release for the Web, no, wait, make that mobile.

We’re launching a huge contest on Facebook! Scratch that – put it on Pinterest.

Just when you think you have one platform or metric mastered, it could be old news. The beauty of marketing, however, is that no matter the venue the basics remain the same.

One campaign for a food client recently proved this theory.

  1. We executed market research to learn our target audience’s preferences.
  2. We distributed a PR alert based on its preferences.
  3. Bloggers responded to the alert with interest in writing a post.
  4. Blog goes live based on target audience preferences and topical content theme.
  5. Blog is so on point based on preferences and theme it’s not only well received it goes viral within the niche audience.
  6. Social media enables the niche audience to spread the content to its audiences.

These six steps show data from market research being converted into public relations. Public relations translated into content marketing. Content marketing spread through social media to become word-of-mouth marketing, which happens to be the oldest form of marketing on the planet.

As important as it is to stay up on trends in the marketing world (and with ever-evolving technology, it will always be important), the pillars of marketing prevent the puzzle from becoming unconquerable. 

Planning your marketing campaign? SmartMarketing™ Checklist helps you quickly prioritize tactics.

How best to allocate your marketing budget to produce meaningful results? One of the tools we developed to guide the planning process is a focused, tactical checklist. You will increase planning efficiency – and save boatloads of time – when you use our SmartMarketing™ Checklist.

The SmartMarketing™ Checklist works whether your approach to planning is a top-down, strategy driven process or a bottom-up tactical approach. It works whether you are facing tough challenges or if you’re looking to extend your winning streak.

Just follow three simple steps to review and prioritize marketing tactics organized into 15 strategies. You will quickly isolate your “must have” marketing tactics. View checklist.

Now you can make significant planning progress in a short time with our SmartMarketing Checklist.

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.