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March 2, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Blogger outreach: the inside scoop on working with influencers

Working with bloggers is without a doubt one of my favorite parts of PR.

Blogger OutreachWith all the research that goes into pitching, you basically come out an expert on XYZ subject that you (most often) knew nothing about before.

Then, once you’ve secured interest and start working with a blogger, nine times out of 10 you’ll actually become professional friends, in a sense. Be it sharing funny content or just keeping up with life happenings, you thoroughly enjoy and look forward to your encounters.

And when you do blogger outreach the right way (cough, no spray and pray, cough), those feelings will be mutual.

But, instead of me sitting from my PR soapbox and preaching blogger outreach best practices, I’m bringing in the experts.

Meet Brad Sams, tech blogger at Neowin, and Dorothy Beal, running blogger at Mile Posts and creator of I Run This Body.

I’ve worked with Brad and Dorothy on separate projects, but both fit that “extremely-fun-to-work-with” definition. (Especially when Brad disses the Patriots, and they turn around and completely smoke the Bengals. That was pretty fun, right Brad?)

They’ve been kind enough to share the inside scoop on how PR pros can best work with blogger relations. And hint: mass pitching is not included in their tips.

Q1:   What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to PR?

Brad Sams of Neowin

Brad Sams of Neowin

Brad: Sending a wall-of-text PR blast. The first step in getting me to write up your information is reading the email. If I open the message and it looks like it will take 35 minutes to read, there’s a 99 percent chance I’ll delete it.

My favorite types of emails are ones that have the announcement broken into a few bullet points; all I want to know is the exact bit of info that is new.

I don’t care about the fluff part or how it’s revolutionary (it’s my job to decide if it is /isn’t). Simply say what’s new, and move on. (Click to tweet!)

Dorothy: I cannot stand when male PR pros reach out to me and the first line is about how their girlfriend suggested my blog to them.

The takeaway? Keep it short. Don’t add in unnecessary fluff or jargon, but do show that you – not a significant other – read the blog. This can be as simple as pitching the right information to the right person.

Q2:   How can PR pros get your attention?

Dorothy Beal of Mile Posts

Dorothy Beal of Mile Posts

Dorothy: It sets things off on the wrong food when a PR pro doesn’t take the time to make sure they have the correct spelling on my name and/or my blog name.

I realize PR pros send out lots of emails but if you can’t be bothered to spend two minutes making the email personal and only sending it to me, then I can’t be bothered to read it.

Brad: I know who you are. I’m significantly more likely to read your email if we have met previously or worked together in the past.

The takeaway? Double check your spelling. Don’t fake being a reader. And build those relationships, whether through Twitter, IRL coffees or another tactic.

Q3:  What advice would you give to PR pros reaching out to bloggers for the first time?

Brad: Brevity. Every writer is different. For me, it would be best to not start off with a pitch. A quick intro email asking the writer what they want to have sent to them is helpful. I get about 50 pitch emails a day, which means there is no time to write everything up.

My mental checklist when I look at a pitch is

  • Do I like the topic/is it in my general coverage area?
  • Do I have time to write it?
  • Has it already been covered by a million other sites? Any time I am given advance notice of a post (embargo), it means it automatically passes items two and three, so all it needs to do is align to part one to be covered.

Dorothy:  Know the blogging world and put an effort into establishing quality relationships with key bloggers. Then these bloggers will talk about your product even when they aren’t being compensated in any manner. Readers trust these brand-loyal relationships more than they do blog reviews.

I also think blog reviews are on the way out and a more natural form of marketing is taking its place. (Click to Tweet!) Don’t underestimate the value of an Instagram picture over a full blog post about a product.

You want to analyze the whole picture of a blogger, not just their blog stats they send over to you. A blog is so much more than just page views.

The takeaway? Keep it brief. Give the blogger what s/he wants quickly (the sooner you share news, the better site traffic s/he will have). Consider an embargo. Look beyond traffic numbers (I personally think engagement is one of the most important metrics), and be open to new, creative blogger collaboration tactics.

 —

The best blogger relations centers on, well, relationships. And relationships that don’t benefit both parties have little to no future.

Dorothy shared a smart reminder to help PR pros understand the relationship side of blogger relations, particularly how to think beyond clients and determine how you can best help the blogger, too.

“It seems so rude when companies write me and the email is all about what they want me to do for them. What about including what you are going to do for me?

It takes time to write posts and promote them. My blog is now part of my business so if you want me to take your business seriously then you have to take mine seriously.

I think brands also lose when companies go for quantity rather than quality when it comes to bloggers. If I see a product on 30 different blogs in the same week you can bet I won’t ever buy that product.”

A *huge* thanks to Brad and Dorothy for their help with this post! If you have any other blogger relations tips (or pet peeves), please share in the comments below. And please note: There will be no posts for the next two weeks, as I’ll be on vacation with my family (woohoo!).

This post originally appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.

February 22, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

How to explain PR to your friends

Samantha Jones and I have nothing in common.

I don’t own a Fendi bag or bright-pink work suit. I don’t plan parties for celebrities, and I definitely don’t walk the red carpet on a Saturday night.

Unlike Samantha, I’m a public relations professional.

I build comprehensive PR plans. I crunch website analytics numbers. I develop creative initiatives to engage consumers across legacy and digital platforms.

But ask any person on the street what public relations is, and nine times out of 10 you’ll get some form of party planning or spin (or just complete confusion).

Thanks, Sex and the City. You really did us a solid.

So how should we explain PR to non-industry friends?

PRSA suggests the following:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

But if your friends are anything like mine, that won’t cut it. I can already see the yawns forming.

So this is my jargon-free, less formal approach.

Media relations: I get my clients on TV, in the papers and featured on blogs to share company news and initiatives.

Yes, our media relations is targeted and strategic, pitching the right story to the right audience at the right time, but that’s industry speak. It’s not something my medical-industry friends really care to learn about. So I keep it simple.

To better explain, I tell them to think about a recent TV news show.

  • Did the anchor share news about a local event? A PR pro sent that information.
  • Was there a company spokesperson sharing tips on air? A PR pro arranged that.
  • Was there a business leader responding to a crisis? A PR pro shaped that messaging.

If there’s a piece of information about a company on any media outlet, a PR pro almost always had a hand in it. When I explain it that way, it starts to sink in.

Social media: I tweet, post and pin helpful information, articles, new products and promotions on behalf of clients. I also make sure customers’ questions get answered.

Oh, us PR pros know it’s not that easy by a long shot. Social media takes time, planning and constant measurement, among other tasks. But, with simplicity in mind, this is a more relatable approach.

This is also the category that I usually uncover the most helpful, honest feedback.

When explaining, I ask friends to think about the brands they interact with or see on social media. Frequently, those recollections bring up something along the lines of:

  • “Ugh, I hate when I see updates from companies I don’t know or care about,” or
  • “Are you the person who puts ads in my news feed? Those are the worst.”

Sure, it’s not fun to hear that, but it’s also the perfect chance to learn from non-PR people about what they want from brands on social. This part of the conversation often turns into my own little focus group, and I love it.

Too often we have our focus-group-of-one mentality, and think about how we like brands to act on social media. But we’re PR pros – our opinions are biased. Find out what your non-PR friends think about PR initiatives, and you’re sure to uncover some hidden gems.

Content marketing: I write blog posts, website copy and other things to help clients share news and information with customers.

Obviously SEO is a major part of that equation, and of course, developing brand voice is critical. But again, that gets too lingo-y for a quick PR overview.

This is also a good time to remind your friends that yes, you write, but you’re not a journalist. I’ve had a number of people ask if (or infer that) I write for our local paper. How did this start? No idea. But I’m quick to correct before yet another misconception gets spread.

So, did I leave anything out about the industry? Um, yes. A lot. And it’s kind of painful.

But, if we’re getting down to PR 101 for non-industry friends and family, we have to follow our own advice and K.I.S.S. Otherwise our words will go in one ear and out the other, leading to a lifetime of:

“So you plan parties and play on social media? Now isn’t that nice.”

This post was originally published on PR State of Mind (https://stephanievermillion.com/a-pr-state-of-mind).

February 16, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Should you join every new social network?

In the battle between night owls and early risers, I’m definitely #teamearlyriser.

Should you join every social network-I find those extra morning hours are the perfect time for eating breakfast (who knew?) and binge reading industry news. It’s a daily routine, and this week was no different.

I woke up early, brewed my coffee, and read my daily blog list. But this Friday, I noticed something interesting.

I had five new social accounts under my name.

Five new accounts. Within five days. Yikes.

Whenever I read about a new social media app or platform, I sign up to see what it’s all about. But five in one week? That’s a record for me. And this record got me thinking:

As PR pros, should we sign up for every new social network?

I vote yes, but only if it’s a personal account.

Sure, this can get out of control quickly (who wants 800 emails from 800 social sites?), but being personally on top of the latest sites with the greatest brand potential increases your value to clients.

It makes you the expert, not some source you’re quoting.

I sign up when I read or hear about a new network from a credible source. This keeps the number of accounts I join slightly more manageable, and it keeps my sanity somewhat in check.

After opening the account, I spend about five minutes sifting through to see what the site’s all about, then determine if it’s worth sharing with a client as an FYI.

Now, usually you should sit and watch before devoting a company’s time and resources to an account. But if you do see potential, reserve your client’s desired username early on to avoid that unpleasant Twittergänger situation.

If you don’t see a social network’s potential in five minutes, keep the site bookmarked for future reference (just in case), but leave it at that. Otherwise, your sanity will be nonexistent.

Quick disclaimer: I’m not, by any means, perfect at this. I’m sure there are a lot of social sites I miss. But, I do still sign up for about 95 percent of new sites I read about, and I’m working on bumping that up another 5 percent, so if you have any good ones, send them my way!

So that’s a brief look into the ridiculousness that is my personal social networking philosophy.

But what about brands?

Should they sign up for every new social network?

One word: No. (And if you’d like two words: absolutely not.)

Unless your company has endless resources with time to kill, it should hold off on jumping on the “brandwagon.”

Why?

First off, it’s not strategic. There’s no way your company’s target audience is on every single channel.

Second, you’ll spread your social team too thin to succeed.

You can do an OK job on dozens of sites that your audience may or may not use, or you can do an incredible job on two or three sites where your target audience is most active.

But don’t shy away from new sites completely.

If you noticed during personal evaluation that the site is, in fact, perfect for your company’s audience, then by all means suggest it. Just make sure you have a well-thought-out plan and some measurement parameters to support it.

Testing and evaluating new social sites can be insightful, informative and even down right hilarious (think Imgur). But it can also be a huge time suck.

Keep an eye on time spent and set boundaries for yourself, because otherwise you’ll look at the clock and realize, WHOA! It’s 11 p.m., and you’ve signed up for 10 new sites but you haven’t even eaten dinner.

And, speaking of dinner…

February 2, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Six writing tips from “Everybody Writes”

For some reason, I always find myself in the same chaotic situation when it comes to industry books.

I have travels coming up.

I pack my new book just in case I can’t nap on the plane.

I start reading said book while the flight attendant explains that my faded navy, crumb-filled seat will save me during an emergency water landing. (Right.)

Two chapters in I realize that the book is a goldmine, and frantically discover I don’t have my pen, highlighter or post-it notes handy. Because they’re sitting on my desk, 30,000 feet below. (Fabulous.)

So I fold in pages here, crinkle up pages there, and completely destroy this new prized possession, all so I can go back and write down those insights when I land.

Six writing tips from Everybody WritesThat was the case last month when I read Ann Handley’sEverybody Writes” on my flight from Cincinnati to Las Vegas. She calls it “your go-to guide to creating ridiculously good content,” and she’s right.

It’s one of those books you keep handy at your desk, seated right next to your AP Stylebook. Each chapter features one helpful writing tip, ranging from common grammar errors to copyright issues for online publishers.

Looking at how many pages underwent my annotation-by-crinkle process, it’s obvious these writing tips hit home.

So this morning, I unfolded those pages, got out my trusty three-color highlighter and selected my favorite six lessons for today’s post.

1. Embrace “the ugly first draft.”

Procrastination is an evil, disruptive menace that writers know all too well. But did you know you can fight it with … barf?

That’s what Ann says, and I’m with her. Instead of waiting until you have that perfect moment, in which you’re not too hungry (but not too full), far enough from distractions (but have enough white noise), and well rested (but not too rested to the point of tired again), you should just barf up “the ugly first draft” (TUFD) with all of your thoughts so you have a starting place.

TUFDs aren’t cohesive, and they don’t have to sound intelligent. The TUFD is a no-excuses reason to get started instead of procrastinate. (It’s how I avoid all my annoying procrastination habits mentioned above, like not writing until I’m perfectly full but not stuffed … because that will make such a difference.)

2. Share specifics.

Details make a story stand out. So, when you’re writing your next piece of content, get as specific as you can. Ann quotes Natalie Goldberg as saying:

“Specify geranium instead of flower … substitute cocker spaniel for dog or write Vietnamese sandwich truck instead of food-truck service.” (pg. 66)

3. Add an element of surprise.

This is one way you can really get creative. Instead of providing that obvious analogy, brainstorm something offbeat that catches your audience’s attention. Ann suggests:

Instead of: The leaves of the giant pumpkin plant are huge.

Try: The pumpkin leaves are the size of trash-can lids, covering pumpkins the size of beer kegs.” (pg. 70)

If that doesn’t nearly put you in the same room as those huge, Cinderella-esque pumpkins, I don’t know what will.

4. Test your content’s readability.

I’ll be honest. I had no idea Microsoft Office had a readability scoring tool. I always used the Hemingway App (or just relied on my own instincts) to determine whether my pieces were too wordy or jargon-filled.

But why not use a tool that’s already built in to your writing software? Here’s a quick guide on how to activate yours.

5. Choose expressive verbs.

The best verbs are bold verbs. They follow tip number two by helping you visually tell your stories. Here are a few swaps Ann suggests, as well as a few of my own:

  • Instead of “cut” her finger use “slashed.”
  • Instead of “ran” through the airport use “sprinted.”
  • Instead of “asked” him for more details, use “pressed.”

Now, you may not have these all ready in your TUFD (and you shouldn’t, if you’re following the barf-up-content-quickly model). But they’re a good thing to add when you go through that first round of revisions.

6. Break some rules.

Back in elementary school, teachers lowered our grades for starting sentences with “because” or “and.”

But you know what? Times have changed, and professor Handley is in charge now.

Ann suggests throwing in some fragments, starting sentences with “but” when it feels right and opting for one-sentence paragraphs for effect. Today’s online readers don’t want your five paragraph essays, with three-sentence paragraphs.

They want it short, sweet and readable.

(See what I did there?)

When I first saw Ann speak about “Everybody Writes” at ASCEND Digital Marketing Summit, I had a feeling the book would be a winner. Now, after reading – and pretty much ruining – my entire copy in one sitting, I’d say my hunch was right.

As you’d expect, I’d highly recommend you go out and buy your own copy of “Everybody Writes,” because these six tips are only a starting point. Ann has 74 chapters that promise to make you ridiculously good at writing.

January 25, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

How to Prezi in seven simple steps

How to Prezi in seven simple steps

When Prezi hit the market in 2009, it took the presentation world by storm.

Instead of just clicking through a Powerpoint presentation, with a fancy graphic here or annoying flying text box there, Prezi helps presenters take the audience on a step-by-step journey through their content. When done well, the presentations have that authentic Prezi snaz factor you can’t really get anywhere else.

So why aren’t more presenters using Prezi? Many don’t know where to start.

I learned some Prezi wizardry when revamping my professional portfolio (below). It was a good way to test it out and learn on my own agenda (instead of a pressing client’s). In total, this Prezi project took upwards of six to eight hours, but that’s mostly because of my newbie status (and the frequent coffee breaks to regain motivation). The more Prezis you prepare, the quicker you’ll get.

Stephanie Vermillion's Prezi Portfolio

Image from Prezi.com (screenshot)

So, if you’re still in the Prezi newbie category, or just want to learn more about this great presentation resource, here are seven simple steps to get you started.

1. Map out your idea.

Before you even log in to Prezi, put your presentation ideas and flow down on paper. Ask yourself:

  • What’s your goal for the presentation?
  • What topics do you want to cover?
  • What subtopics do you want to cover within those topics?
  • What visuals or videos can you use?
  • What’s your call-to-action?
  • What’s the start and end point?

It’s crucial that you have this well in place before starting, because Prezi without a plan is a rabbit hole. Don’t be a rabbit.

2. Select a template.

Depending on your level of expertise, you can choose between using a pre-made template or developing one from scratch. Unless you’re really confident in your skills, I’d use a pre-made template. This makes the navigation process much simpler, and gives you a place to start.

Fortunately, the templates aren’t just cookie cutter. You can customize colors, fonts, layout, etc., once you get started.

3. Fill in the content.

Before even thinking about the navigation, go through and fill in all of the content you mapped out from step one. To start writing, click the slide you want to start in (it’s typically marked “2” on the left side – “1” is for the overarching Prezi title).

Think of these circles as the different slides on a Powerpoint. You’ll want the main circle to host the central theme for a section (let’s say “social media”), and you can add smaller circles within that main circle to get more specific (for subjects to fit in the main theme like “Twitter” or “Facebook”). Here’s an example of my use of sub-circles from my portfolio:

How to Prezi in seven simple steps

Photo from Prezi.com (screenshot)

To add a new circle, click “circle frame” on the top left (it has a little plus sign on the circle). Drag that new circle over to your main circle, shrink it to fit and fill in the content. Do the same for additional subtopics, although you’ll want to limit it to four or five sub-circles circles for readability (and your sanity!).

Once you’ve filled in that first slide, click to the next slide on the left and repeat.

4. Throw in some visuals.

One of my absolute favorite things about Prezi is the emphasis on visuals. You can insert your own images (I used screenshots to show my PR work), symbols/ shapes from the Prezi database, YouTube videos, arrows, music and even a voice over (particularly helpful if you’re sending the Prezi for people to watch on their own).

To add the visual, just drag it from the right side onto the circle where it should be featured.

5. Customize away.

Now that you have all of the content in place, it’s time to make the Prezi your own. Click the “customize” option on the top of the page, and choose the background image you want (you can even upload from your desktop) and select a new color theme if you’re not thrilled with the one you initially selected.

To change the font throughout, click on the “advanced” option on the bottom right. This is similar to the slide master option in Powerpoint. You can get pretty detailed in this advanced section, so I’d recommend keeping it simple and sticking with their options unless you absolutely cannot stand their selection. If that’s the case, switch, because no one wants an unhappy Prezi-er.

6. Build your navigation.

When you start with a theme, Prezi will set a suggested path. That’s what shows up on the slides on left side of the screen. But, if you’ve added any new circles or content, you’ll need to re-navigate.

So, click “edit path” on the bottom left side of the page, and brace yourself for what will look like a scary blue spider web all over your Prezi. Fear not: There are no hidden spiders, and you didn’t mess anything up.

This web is the current navigation path in place. To change it, move the number blocks to the circles or pieces of content in the order you envisioned. You’ll want number one to be on the main title, because that’s where you’ll start. Place number two on the first circle that kicks off the presentation.

Have a circle within that kickoff circle? Put number three there. Have a graph within that circle you want the audience to focus on? Put number four on that graph.

Do this for the entire presentation, and, while not required, I’d suggest putting the final number either back on the title or on a  slide with that call to action (which you conveniently mapped out in step one!) to ensure the Prezi has a cohesive, well-planned end point.

7. Test and test again.

OK, so your Prezi is complete. It’s time for a HUGE sigh of relief and a celebratory coffee/beer break! (Seriously – take a step away so you can come back with fresh eyes … unless one beer turned into five. Then it may be best to wait until morning.)

Once you’re finished with your break, test the Prezi and check for flow, typos, missing content, etc. Use the “present” feature on the top of the screen and run through your Prezi again and again until it’s perfect. (And even then, it’s wise to ask someone else to review, too.)

When you’re 100 percent sure it’s ready to go, you can share the Prezi with colleagues or friends, post it on Facebook, embed it or use the remote presenting options. These features are under the arrow icon on the top right of the page.

So, friends, that’s the nut-shell version of how you create a Prezi. You can make your Prezi as simple or robust as you’d like, but keep in mind that the more detailed you get, the more time it will take, and the more likely you are to frustrated eat your way through an entire bag of salt & pepper Kettle chips without realizing it (that’s my frustration vice – I’ve never been much of a chair thrower or foot stomper).

If you have any specific Prezi questions, please leave a comment below or check out the Prezi support page for help.

Featured image from Canva.

January 15, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Three Customer Experience Strategies that make Disney World Magical

Three Customer Experience Strategies that make Disney World Magical

With charming, fairy tale-esque streets, rides that transport you from the deep blue sea to the tallest mountain on earth, and that iconic fuschia then blue then pink then sparkly-white Cinderella’s Castle, Walt Disney World is truly the most magical place in the world.

I had my dose of Disney magic this past weekend. I probably spent half of my time at the parks in awe, just examining Disney’s marketing strategy. (The other half of my time was spent riding around in a wheelchair – no joke – because my post-Disney Marathon hobble was, well, incredibly pathetic.)

The more we went from park to park, the more I realized:

It’s not magic that brings Disney World to life. It’s marketing.

To pull off something as grandiose as 43 square miles of parks, 100+ rides (Wikipedia) and 62,000 employees (Today.com), Disney needs a robust, well-rounded and detail-oriented marketing team. And that team must have a specific focus on the customer experience – which this group obviously does.

Fortunately, for us marketers without those mouse ears on our resumes, Disney’s customer experience strategies can work far beyond the Magic Kingdom walls.

Here are a few ways you can add some Disney to your company’s communications strategy, too.

Get down to the details. 

In Orlando, all the cool kids take the Disney Magical Express from the airport to their Disney hotels, because really, what’s cooler than catching a ride with Mickey?

But the Magical Express is really where the customer experience magic starts and ends, in perfect Disney style. On the way to your hotel, Disney has its DME-TV playing to show you everything you need to see, eat, ride, try, etc., once you arrive. It’s all about getting you ready for your trip.

As we made our way onto the bus to catch our depressing flight home, I wondered if they’d have a new video for those leaving (because seeing a video about all the exciting things to do AT Disney while you’re leaving would be soul crushing).

But of course, Disney had the perfect “good bye” episode to help customers recall those fun memories and understand the Orlando Airport so there was no stress catching that flight home. They want customers to leave on a positive note because then, the customer will only recall fond memories – not running frantically through the airport. That will make them even more likely to come back.

Learning: Sure, it’s easy for Disney to pull this off, but you can do the same for your customers – just on a smaller scale. Always take your marketing initiatives, whether mundane or major, one step further. If you’re writing website copy, add personality to it instead of the typical jargon or business speak. If you’re a restaurant, have something special for those enjoying big moments like an anniversary. Surprise and delight your customers whenever and however you can, just like Disney.

Bring simplicity to your customers’ lives.

When you bring 25,000+ runners together to participate in one crazy-early 26.2-mile run, you’re setting yourself up for absolute chaos. Especially when most of those runners don’t have their own means of transportation.

But chaos is a piece of cake when you work at Disney. Their team had an entirely separate bus system running all weekend to transport runners to and from the expo and races, and they had a marathon information table at every hotel. All hotel and park employees knew the marathon weekend details, and even if one person didn’t, s/he could quickly help you find the information you needed.

And, as one would expect, from the detailed pre-event instructions to the morning marathon transportation buses, the Disney Marathon was chaos free. That’s the reason so many runners participate in these races year after year: Disney makes it easy, and easy = happy customers.

Learning: Get into the mind of your customer and think of what they’ll be going through while experiencing your product. Are they running a marathon, like I was? The last thing they want to worry about is stressful transportation. Are your customers using one of your new software offerings? Provide one-on-one tutorials or webinars to limit frustration. Remember: You may be selling a product, but it’s that quality experience that will keep your customers coming back for more.

Align employees on your branding strategy.

To describe Disney employees in one word, I’d say they’re happy. The waitresses are excited to see you. The street cleaners can’t wait to give you a high five. The bus drivers greet you with a big, big smile no matter the time of day.

Are they this happy on the inside? Who knows. But during those magical hours, they’re on, and their happiness is contagious. Without these incredible employees, Disney World wouldn’t be half as magical as it is today.

Learning: Your employees are your best potential brand ambassadors. During employee training, have sessions on your company brand to help them understand how they can embody those traits. Start an intranet where employees and supervisors can share stories, successes and positive customer feedback to let them see they’re making a difference. (Side note: Here’s a good clip from Eleanor Pierce about sharing brand characteristics using internal comms).

Does Disney World have an advantage in the customer experience arena because it’s the largest entertainment powerhouse out there? Probably. But the company didn’t get that way by saying “well that wouldn’t work for us…”

To take your company to the next level and connect with customers like never before, take a few notes from the Disney playbook. As the most magical place on earth, Disney knows a thing or two about customer service.

What do you like/ dislike about the customer experience at Disney World? Share below!

January 4, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Gutsy is Sprinting the Extra Mile(s)

Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy. This post is my entry for Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details and download a free copy of the inspiring Get Gutsy ebook.

As I crossed mile marker 19, I knew it was going to happen. The fall sky was a vibrant, crisp blue. The breeze was strong enough to keep me cool for three hours of running, but slight enough to not disrupt my pace. Yes today, on this perfect day, I was going to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Or so I thought.

They tell you never to rely solely on technology for pace during a race, but I must have skipped that lesson. My new Garmin watch was guiding me from mile to mile on what felt like an “easy” 8:06 average pace. Well, that should have been my first clue. But it didn’t register until mile 20.

Beep.

My watch reads that lovely 8:06 pace and I’m feeling good.

Beep, beep.

Wait, 9:10? Where did that come from?

Beep, beep, beep.

Mile 19? I already passed that a long time ago. And wait … this stupid thing is no longer reporting my pace – or capturing miles – at all anymore. It’s BROKEN! {Insert explicative}.

I quickly calculated my overall time and broke it down by mile (see, PR pros can do math!) only to find out I had been running miles 16 through 20 one minute per mile slower than my goal pace – even though my watch said I was right on target. Seeing as this is the closest I’ve ever been to my lifelong running goal of a Boston Qualifying time (BQ), I had two options:

Give up or get gutsy.

We’re constantly faced with these two paths in our lives.

At work, it’s easy to sail through without overexerting yourself or trying too hard – and many do so successfully. But where’s the fun in that?

While I’m still technically new in my PR career, I set quite lofty goals for myself from day one. They keep me pushing through those late-night work hours, and keep me focused on my career pursuits. Are they realistic? No way. But they’re exciting, they’re challenging, and they’re the perfect level of gutsy to get me to the next level.

And gutsy is more than a day job.

When you live right, this risk-taking mindset can spice up your entire life.

It’s volunteering for multiple months in a third-world country where you don’t know the language. It’s starting a personal blog when you’re consistently tight on time. It’s interning at a major agency in a foreign country where you know no one. It’s saying yes to puppy parenthood even though you have no idea where to start.

And it’s choosing to sprint six miles straight after already running 20 to overcome technological adversity and qualify for the Boston Marathon – by one second.

That’s right: One second.

Columbus Marathon Results _ Vermillion

A breakdown of my pace/mile at the Columbus Marathon. (Photo from ColumbusMarathon.com)

When I realized my watch malfunctioned and I was way off BQ pace, I decided to suck it up, down some Gatorade and sprint 6.2 miles for a personal best marathon time of 3:34:59.

On Oct. 20, 2013, I got gutsy, and it paid off. Now, whenever I face a similar situation – be it work, running or life in general – I remember that perfect fall day when I accomplished my dreams because I chose the gutsy path.

(Note to PR State of Mind readers: I will not be posting this coming Sunday, Jan. 11, because I’ll be recovering from the Disney Marathon that – God willing – I will complete earlier that morning. Wish me luck!)
December 28, 2014 / Stephanie Vermillion

“Safari Live” Builds Brand Ambassadors for National Geographic: A Case Study

Safari Live Builds Brand Ambassadors for National Geographic: As a (late) holiday present to myself, I’m combining two of my favorite things for this week’s post: PR and Africa.

Yep. You heard me right. While it may seem like a disparate and extremely general topic, the two really came together for me during the holidays as I went on a safari game drive with thousands of strangers worldwide – all from the comfort of my couch.

Let me explain.

As part of its Big Cats Week, National Geographic is featuring daily live safari drives from Kruger Park in South Africa through January 2015. To encourage audience engagement, viewers can tweet their questions about the safari using the #safarilive hashtag. But the interactions have gone well beyond questions.

Now, one month in, there’s a solid community of viewers who tweet with each other – not just the drivers – every day. They tweet about the animals. They joke about the weather. They share upcoming dinner plans and recipes – just like they would if they were sitting in the safari car together.

Through this initiative, National Geographic shows that building those niche communities is an incredibly important – and effective – social tactic. Here’s why.

Help your customers (or viewers) find like-minded individuals.

Instead of “getting,” brands should focus on “giving.” If you help your loyal customers (or viewers) find other people they’re similar to, you’re offering significant value.

In this case, National Geographic is enhancing its viewers’ mornings by not only offering a free virtual ticket to South Africa, but providing a space for viewers to talk with other safari enthusiasts and build relationships that – from the look of it – will go well beyond the series. I mean really, you don’t tweet about your holiday dinner plans with just anyone!

Build brand ambassadors.

When you give people a reason to love your brand – perhaps a free daily safari? – they’ll gradually turn into ambassadors for your brand. (And caution: It could happen quickly if you’re like my safari-loving family!)

They’ll talk about what you do or offer to their friends. They’ll stay loyal to your brand. And, as National Geographic is finding out, they’ll share your brand message widely on social media – especially if there’s a hashtag to join the conversation.

Reach your overarching goals.

Is National Geographic posting live safaris just for the sake of doing it? Of course not. There’s a strategy behind the concept, and it’s working beautifully.

National Geographic’s “Safari Live” is part of its overall Big Cats Initiative, which is “a long-term commitment by the National Geographic Society to stop poaching, save habitats, and sound the call that big steps are needed to save big cats around the world.”

It’s raising awareness for the initiative and reaching the target audience of those who would likely donate and support the cause – passionate safari goers.

The more these “Safari Live” viewers tweet and engage with the #safarilive stream, the more they’ll start relating to National Geographic. And, the more they start relating to National Geographic, the more they’ll want to get involved – which helps National Geographic reach its overarching Big Cat goal.

When done well, building niche, online communities is a valuable tactic. To be effective, you have to uncover what niche space you, as a brand, can own, then brainstorm engaging ways you can connect members of that community through content marketing.

For National Geographic, it’s a safari series. For communications agency Arment Dietrich, it’s engaging blog content (Spin Sucks) with hundreds of comments regularly. For Harley Davidson, it’s the Harley Owners Group (HOG), which is a community of Harley Davidson loyalists nationwide who get exclusive news, test drives and more.

Be it B2B firms or B2C companies, every brand fits into a specific niche. As the PR pro, it’s up to you to find – and capitalize on  that community.

December 21, 2014 / Stephanie Vermillion

Seven Productivity Hacks for PR Pros

Seven productivity hacks for PR pros

Image from Gratistography

Last week over dinner, one of my PR friends mentioned she’d been on a good workout streak lately, but had to give it up because there just weren’t enough hours in the day.

Sadly, she’s not alone. Whether it’s bonding with family, cooking a meal, squeezing in a workout or enjoying the outdoors, I’d wager to guess that most PR pros have “time” on their holiday wish lists.

But it doesn’t sound like the oh-so-desired 26-hour day (my dream!) is coming any time soon. Therefore, we must improvise.

From day one on the job, I’ve been doing some efficiency improvisation, testing out how certain tricks could help me become an in-the-know PR pro. And now, two years later, I think I’m getting somewhere.

So it’s time to share that progress with you. Here are seven productivity hacks I’ve adopted, refined and come to love, and I think you’ll appreciate them, too.

1. Lunch-hour webinars: Once every week, set aside lunch time for an industry-related webinar. If you’re a member of PRSA, you have access to dozens upon dozens of webinars with PR experts. If you’re not part of PRSA, check out the Spin Sucks webinar lineup. They’re free, and the variety of topics will give you a well-rounded education.

2. Podcasts during exercise: Training for a marathon takes up A LOT of time. I’m talking three-hour runs to kick off my Saturdays. Fortunately, those long runs are supposed to be low intensity, which means I don’t need my motivational workout music. Instead, I listen to a long podcast lineup consisting of Marketing Smarts, Inside PR and Media Bullseye Roundtable. It’s a great way to multitask, and I’ve actually found it helps me take my mind of the long miles at hand.

3. Keep a notepad handy – always: Whether it’s your favorite physical notepad, or an app on your phone, always be prepared to crank away at a little work when your day pauses. For example, when I’m waiting in the airport, I have my favorite notebook handy and spend the 30 – 45 minutes before my flight writing down blog post topics, social media ideas, or future campaign possibilities for clients. When I’m in line at the grocery store, I use those few minutes to brainstorm my next blog post lead. Taking advantage of even two or three spare minutes can save you a lot of headache later in the day.

4. Use Feedly: With hundreds upon hundreds of PR blogs out there, it’s tough – and daunting – to stay up on industry news. But it’s also critical. Find your top 10 to 15 blogs and set up a Feedly account. It’s similar to the beloved (and missed!) Google reader. Feedly aggregates all new blog posts into folders of your choosing. It’s my favorite way to start the day!

5. Sign up for the right newsletters: It’s tempting to sign up for every single newsletter out there – but don’t do it. Once you get too many newsletters in your inbox, you’re more likely to become overwhelmed and either delete them all, or star them for a later date (read: until they get auto-archived). Instead, sign up for five or six newsletters you find most valuable (I’d suggest the news-aggregating email service SmartBrief) and leave the rest of the blogs for Feedly.

6. Annotate your to-do list: If you’ve never color coded your to-do list, you should give it a whirl. It’s one of my favorite things ever because it helps me prioritize projects based on deadlines and importance.

For example, when I leave work in the evening, I write down everything to do for the next day. Then, I highlight in pink those tasks I need to crank out early in the morning (usually bigger projects while my brain is still fresh). I use yellow highlights for the quick, 15 to 30 minute tasks that can be finished in the afternoon. If it’s not urgent, I leave it on the list as a placeholder, but without a highlight. Yes, I realize this makes me somewhat of a crazy person, but I’ll take crazy organized over crazy messy any day of the week.

7. Wake up early: There – I said it! The productivity hack that morning people love because they’re probably already doing it, and night owls hate because there’s no way 5 a.m. equals success for them. Sure, it may not be for everyone, but I’ve found waking up even 45 minutes early gives me enough time to read all my 20+ Feedly updates, watch the national morning shows and eat breakfast – all before I step into the office.

But don’t take it from me, take it from Peter Shankman, one of the most successful entrepreneurs out there (and, coincidentally, an earlier riser, too). Here’s his tip list for waking up early every morning.

In the fast-paced world that is PR, we’re constantly looking for ways to stay updated on national news, local news, social media trends, evolving media landscapes, client industries … and the list goes on. These seven productivity hacks have not only helped me stay informed on a variety subjects, they’ve also exposed me to inspiring content that pushes me to think outside of the box, resulting in new, clever ideas for clients and for myself.

Do you have a productivity hack up your sleeve? Please share!

December 14, 2014 / Stephanie Vermillion

New Strategies for Vine, Facebook and Instagram in 2015

New Strategies for Vine, Facebook and Instagram in 2015

Image from Gratisography.com

As PR pros, most of us know the ins and outs of social media. It’s an absolute must in today’s digital age.

But, while we may be savvy pinners and engaging Instagram-ers, we often miss one of the most valuable social media marketing resources of all: the site’s interface.

Say what?

That’s right. Instead of just posting regular updates, you can get creative with your social media by using the site’s unique assets, such as photo click throughs or location links. This will catch your audience’s attention and, in some cases, align with your key performance indicators.

Here’s how you can think outside the social box as you plan your brand’s Vine, Facebook and Instagram strategies for 2015.

Vine

Earlier this week, Ad Age shared how Lowe’s is using Vine’s “tap-to-stop technology” in its “How-To Tap Thru” series. The Vines offers quick, six-second demonstrations for home improvements.

By incorporating Vine’s tap-to-stop technology, the audience can pause the tutorial to follow along at home. For example, in this Vine, Lowe’s shares how to build a fire pit in 10 (very quick) steps.

And this tactic can be used across multiple industries. Do you represent a grocery store chain? Implement a tap-thru series for recipes. Do you work for a clothing line? Use Vine to share tips for putting together an outfit. It’s simple, but sometimes simple is the best option.

Facebook

As one of the oldest social media sites, most U.S. citizens – not just PR pros – are well-versed in Facebook. The site’s album option is a popular feature because people (and brands) love to share photos.

But what if we could turn that album feature on its head for an exciting new promotion strategy?

Instead of just posting photos, try using that click-through feature (the easy act of clicking on each photo to get to the next) to tell a larger story.

For example, as the aforementioned grocery store brand, you could unveil the top 15 foods purchased in 2014 via photos with text overlay as a click-through list in a Facebook album. You could end with a coupon redeemable on your website, or tease people to the site to see the number one most popular food.

Another option: If you’re launching an e-book, provide a snippet of it – perhaps the first chapter – through a Facebook album. With the click-through feature, it’s like they’re flipping from page to page. And, if the content is valuable enough (which it should be if you’ve published it!) they’ll click right through to your site to download the rest.

Instagram

I love Instagram, but as a marketer, the lack of hyperlinking capabilities is frustrating. To counter this, more and more brands are offering specific promotions through individual posts, then directing the audience to their profile page for a direct link to the campaign or promotion landing page. That means they’re updating their profile link multiple times per week.

So I tried that out on my own behalf to see how it would work with my marathon fundraising efforts – and it was a success. I received a new donation within the hour! Here’s a snapshot of what that post looks like:

Instagram Linking

Other brands are even using the location tag within posts to share the call to action, such as “shop today’s deal, use link in profile.”

For you visual learners, here’s an example of how Asics, my beloved running shoe brand, is using this tactic (note the location tag on the top right, which mirrors the CTA mentioned above):

Instagram Linking

In and of itself, social media is an incredibly useful tool for brands. It offers unprecedented opportunities for customer interaction. And, when you go beyond the typical posts and fully use the platform’s offerings and interface, you can surprise, delight and engage with your audience even further.

Have you discovered tips and tricks for other popular social sites like LinkedIn or Twitter? Please share!