Category: PR Tips


Why Your Digital Signage Marketing Sucks

Between industry contacts and my deal-with-the-devil press access to trade shows (in return for privileges, all the vendors get my email address), I see a lot of marketing pitches and press releases every day. An awful lot of them are, well, awful.

Or in more polite Canadian terms, sub-optimal.

There are two core problems: old formulas, and scant information.

First, the  formula.

Small companies with limited working capital can’t usually afford to get good marketing help, so they often do it themselves. And the easiest DIY method is copying/adjusting/co-opting some other company’s crappy press release or handout, and making it their own. That is likely why I get endless releases that use terms like world leader or leading global provider. Somebody used that, so Me Too!

It’s also probably why I get formula quotes from executives saying they are pleased, delighted and my favorite, excited, about whatever agreement is being touted as momentous. The execs come off as morons.

There’s a whole,”Well, I guess that’s how these things are done” dynamic at play here among people who are good and sometimes brilliant engineers, but hopeless marketers.

Second, scant information.

It’s not enough to say something has been done or something new exists, but that’s what I often get dropped in front of me for consideration.

A case in point: A company this morning announced a new “no cost” digital signage media player. Ok, that got my attention, so I dug into it. But there was no substance. Three whole paragraphs, and the third was the standard blah-blah stuff about the company. I am in Hour Seven of waiting for answers sent to the company’s email drop.

The release didn’t get coverage here because a series of fundamental questions did not get answered. The thing did get mileage elsewhere, but whoever read that regurgitated as “news” release would also be left with a pile of questions.

Making it worse, and this is very common, there was nothing on the company website related to the release. Truly, nothing.

So here’s the simple remedy, broken down by key elements:

1 – Put yourself in the mindset of the target audience: Figure out what questions they’ll have about the product or service. Then answer them in the piece, proactively.

2 – Structure the message: Get the key information up at the top, so people are intrigued and want to read on. What does this thing or service do, and why should people care? It saves money. It makes something easier. It does something faster. Whatever.

3 – Use quotes that matter: They’re almost all manufactured/invented, so make ones that add to the story. No one cares that a CEO is delighted. Except the CEO. “This has made a remarkable difference to how we do business …” beats the crap out of “We are absolutely delighted to be working with …”

4 – Develop a basic communications plan: Get your ducks in a row for PR day. Your website needs to align with the release, and offer more. A big part of issuing PR is to drive people to your site, and if they show up and can’t find anything more than the press release that sent them there (or not even that), it’s a big missed opportunity. It also screams at people that you don’t have your act together.

You want to pull them to your website to dig deeper, read specs and FAQs. Your sales people also have to be prepped, and your resellers. “I dunno … ” is not the answer you want when somebody rings in wanting to know more.

You don’t need a six or seven figure retainer with a big communications firm to do that. If you can design a content management system or a media playback device, you can plan out an announcement. If you can’t, I don’t want to buy your gear.

5 – Test your message: We all know people. We all have friendlies we trust for an opinion. Ask them to read what you have in mind, and find out if they understand it and got all the information they needed.

6 – Avoid copying: You need a not too long, intriguing headline. You need a useful, equally intriguing opening paragraph. And you need contact information – for someone who’ll actually field calls and emails – at the end. The rest: just think it through for what people will want to know.

7 – Not too long: 500 words is heaps. Really.



Infographic: Everyone’s A Leading Global Provider, And No One Cares



Soi, so, so true of this industry. How many press releases and website About Us pages start with Leading Global Provider?

Answer – Most, which is loopy.

What’s missing from this terrific infographic by Shift Communications are the word cloud counts for manufactured quotes, which invariably include how pleased/delighted/thrilled the people in charge are about the deal or announcement.

Simply put, when your press release looks like every other press release out there, you’ve done a terrific job of ensuring few people will read it.

Tell a story. Grab people and make them read by putting the news up top. No one cares that you have declared yourself a leading global provider.


Get Your Timing Down

A pair of companies sent me communications on the weekend – one a press release, the other a, umm, well, actually I’m not sure what it was.

The point here is that sending press out on a weekend doesn’t make a bunch of sense. The timing is all wrong.

A lot of people – probably most – have devices that allow really quick access to email, so they check multiple times on a Saturday and Sunday. But if you think about your own habits, how often do you sit down, read and respond to weekend emails. You glance at them.

So the idea that sending on a weekend means the press announcement will be fresh and new in the Inbox come Monday morning is flawed. It’s either been glanced at and quite possibly forgotten, or it’s in among a pile of emails that people need to get through quickly to get on with the week ahead.

The same holds for Fridays. Bad time to send a release. People are mentally checking out and there is a chance the release will be ignored or deferred for review until the following week.

You also want to think about time of day and the optimal time to send things. There is no idea time or wonder hour for sending out, but you should pay attention to how and when your target blogs and trade publications send material out, and the patterns of your competitors. If in your sector a lot of stuff moves the first thing in the morning, maybe think about midday so your news is not lost in the gush of announcements at breakfast.

Timing matters, and while weekends represent great times, they reflect bad timing in PR.



Burying the lede hides the good stuff

In newspaper parlance, burying the lede is an oft-used phrase describing stories that start with inconsequential and uninteresting stuff and then, well into the narrative, finally get around to the interesting bits.

The home automation systems giant AMX is, a little surprisingly, in the digital signage business – having acquired a UK company a few years ago. It sent out a yawn-inducing press release recently that went on at considerable length about “futuristic” capabilities that just about all its competitors also offer.

The release was actually from June, but a UK AV pub just did something with it.

AMX®, the leading provider of solutions that simplify the implementation, maintenance, and use of technology to create effective environments, today announced Inspired XPert, a cutting-edge digital signage solution with capabilities of a futuristic movie. Inspired XPert delivers amazing 1080p image quality with processing power to simultaneously display HD video, images, text, and internet feeds. As part of the Inspired Signage line from AMX Inspired XPert is designed for ease of use and is subscription free. AMX is demonstrating Inspired XPert in booth C4417 at InfoComm 2010, being held June 9 – 11 in Las Vegas.

Inspired XPert is ideal for delivering HD multimedia content across a building, a campus or around the world as users have the ability to edit and schedule content from a centralized location. With its ready-made templates users can easily create layered, custom layouts consisting of video, images, online content, newsfeeds and advertisements. The templates allow users to place the video, text and images, independently, anywhere on the screen. For those who are too busy, AMX offers an experienced team of graphics designers who will work directly with customers to develop a set of templates engineered to effectively communicate a brand message.

There’s a hint at the end of third paragraph of the interesting stuff, and finally, for those few still reading the release, in paragraph five:

“A capability that truly sets Inspired XPert apart from other digital signage solutions is sensory control, which enables users to incorporate basic human senses like sights, sounds, and even touch and smell to some degree, to communication a message that breaks through the clutter and really crystallizes with audiences,” said David Gentile, Systems Engineer for AMX. “With Inspired XPert, digital signage can automatically change, based on outside temperatures, or be set off by motion sensors and other triggered events. Imagine a consumer picking up an item from a shelf triggering instant on-screen product information and product comparisons – Inspired XPert can do this.”

Well if it truly sets the offer apart from the competition, what the heck is it doing buried towards the end of the release? That part really is quite interesting, but most readers will miss it.

As it stands, it is a release from a very well-resourced giant saying, “You know that digital signage stuff that some 400 other companies have? We do that, too.”

That’ll get the phones ringing.

Simply put, in a release or any written material, the interesting stuff goes up top. The overly formulaic approach to this release means few readers will get beyond the first line.


Don’t invent new terms (and make sense)

The PR news wires steadily pump out stuff that is inconsequential and sometimes nonsensical, but I can usually at least figure out what the company is going on and on about.


I give you this headline: <Brand X> Xtream Series launched, bridging the gap of borderless digital signage solution globally

What on Earth is borderless digital signage?

On one hand, the headline at least got me interested, though not for normal reasons. So I read and read the release, and never did get a sense of what borderless meant. And then there were the references to 3D that were lobbed in, I guess, because 3D is cool right now.

<Brand X> is introducing radical and revolutionary new Digital Signage Solution that sets this industry free from the limitations and hassle of personal computers (PCs)

<Brand X> opened a new chapter in this sector of information technology which allows businesses to communicate in 3-D

Turn waiting and working time into enjoyable and entertaining process with <Brand X>‘s next generation Digital Signage, the Xtream Series.

<Brand X>’s CEO, says: “For marketers and those in the advertising business the Xtream Series is an unbelievably effective tool that is easy to use and produces optimum results.”

<Brand X> ’s next generation of Digital Signage allows a company’s messages to be delivered in the environment of their choosing thus hitting precisely the target market and just when that audience is at its most receptive. With the new Xtream Series technology managing Digital Signage just got a whole lot simpler, more adaptable, more reliable and more environmentally friendly. The Xtream Series requires much less maintenance and it uses a fraction of the power that conventional digital signage systems use.

Where to start…

What is it? What does it do? What’s different about it? What’s the 3D bit? What does next-generation mean, other than nothing?

I could give these guys a little bit of a break because they are based in Europe, I think, and English is probably not the first language. But if you want to do business in English, communicate clearly and effectively in the language.

Putting out something that makes almost no sense, absolutely makes no PR sense. What it really communicates  to potential customers is that working with these guys is going to be , umm, work.


Add user-friendly to the archive of now meaningless marketing phrases

I saw a release recently for a company that was changing its name and releasing a new version of its product.

The big pitch was that the new version was “a game changer, as it is the most user-friendly DS application available at a price that is hard to beat.”

With some notable exceptions, damn near every platform out there in digital signage is pretty user-friendly. They’re pretty much all powerful platforms, at least in some sense. They can pretty much all do real-time content. And the so-called game gets changed every morning with the latest round of press releases.

At this point, user-friendly is going to be a given in the looking-for-software filter of even nominally educated buyers. It’s like leading the push by saying, “Our platform lets you schedule videos to play one after another!!!” The big value propositions have to be things that help a company stand out from the mob.

Saying the stuff is advanced doesn’t do it. Real-time isn’t going to make people tingle. To market in such a competitive environment, the people who make the marketing calls for software companies have to ensure what they put out in PR and anything else raises eyebrows instead of triggering yawns.

Choose your value propositions carefully and find ones that actually set you apart.


The problem with big, round numbers

I was just reading a press release about a media network’s plans to increase its footprint by 1,000 locations, starting with 500 by the end of Q3.

That may be entirely true, but as someone who has talked to hundreds of early stage network operators over the years, my BS Filter starts shaking and spitting out smoke and WD-40 when people start using big round numbers like that. Software biz dev guys hear endless variations on the “we’re going to do 1,000 sites” thing and struggle not to roll their eyes right in front of the client.

Once … just once … I had an early stage company’s VP Ops detail how they planned to something like 138 venues in year one. It was the one time I got a number that clearly wasn’t just pulled out of thin air. That one I believed.

So DOOH execs, when you issue releases with big, round rollout numbers like 1,000, just be aware that most of your industry brethren aren’t buying it.


Remember the basics when writing releases

I noticed a piece recently on ReadWriteWeb about media relationships, a guest post by the marketing guy for an e-commerce startup  specializing in co-created custom dress shirts.

Very different space, but what he has to say about getting media and general reader attention translates really well to justa bout any industry, and certainly an emerging one like digital signage.

He writes about starting with the basics, which is preparing something that is actually interesting and clearly understood by readers.

Don’t be an exact copycat to stories that have already been published. In other words, if say Apple is using biodegradable materials for its hardware that reduces its carbon footprint by 20%, you shouldn’t pitch that you are using similar materials for your gadgets and that you are saving 20% off your carbon footprint too.

What would be compelling is you saying that you are using XYZ new materials for your hardware and how you have reduced your carbon footprint by 75%. (Hopefully there is already buzz about how awesome those materials are, but if not, this could be an opportunity to pitch your company as a case study.)

Is your content easy to digest?

This might sound overly simplistic, but use bullets if you can. Journalists dread long emails. They absolutely dread it. So make your pitch short, sweet and simple – and what’s simpler than some nice bullet points? Don’t be too vague for the sake of brevity. You don’t want to compromise the quality of your pitch by leaving out the meat, the important details. Numbers are useful and eye-catching too.

Does it make sense?

Can anyone other than you understand it? Is there too much industry jargon? Too much language only you and your team understand? Similar to the last point, make sure your content is readable. Put your Master’s degree and ego away. You want to make your message very easy to read and very clear, so simplify the language of the pitch.

Split up long paragraphs for a quicker read. Five, three-sentence paragraphs are easier to digest than one fifteen-sentence paragraph. One of the worst things you can do is confuse a journalist. Overwhelming the journalist with technical information could elicit enough interest that they respond to your pitch. But it’s most likely they will just trash the email.

Does it really sound compelling?

Did you fool yourself into thinking that your story has legs? What’s the benefit for the writer’s audience? You have to be giving in your pitch, not self-serving. What I mean is that you have to give the writer a story he or she can’t refuse because their audience will love it.

You can’t look at media coverage as simply a means for promotion. Media’s purpose is to provide quality content to readers who are waiting to gobble up important and relevant information, so heavily consider the journalist’s and their audience’s needs when crafting a newsworthy pitch.

Some additional tips on how to be newsworthy include getting a few objective eyes to check out your pitch and provide feedback. It would be ideal to have the eyes of readers of the publications you are pitching, too. After rewriting your pitch, test it out on a few journalists and see how they react! Not receiving a response at all is definitely considered a reaction, although it doesn’t necessarily mean your pitch is bad, it’s just bad for them. After receiving their reactions, you may have to iterate on your pitch to provide them with a story that they would be compelled to write about.

Nothing groundbreaking here, but as someone who reads press releases every day I can assure you many, many companies blithely ignore these basics. I had a release come to me the other day from a company I’ve started to get to know, and was interested in a new service they have developed.

The release was so filled with corporate chest-beating and jargon, it was hard  to figure out what the service was that was supposed to be new and worth the attention of readers. I got an unprompted email from a business friend – smart guy, a CEO – asking if I could figure out what the service was all about. He too struggled with the release.

Today’s news releases cannot, should not be prepared as they were 10 years ago, or even five years ago. The Internet has changed all that and most of the people who read the release will not see it as converted from PR Martian to English by an editor. They will read it unfiltered.

And if they are going to need to endure a bunch of crap about how great the company is, and then find a decoder ring to figure out what the release is all about, that’s a completely wasted effort and opportunity.

Remember the basics.


When IT people do marketing …

BLANK, the software house that develops the BLANK platform for digital signage, becomes officially a “Front Runner” and announces the release and immediate availability of its solution for Windows Azure.

BLANK is the first digital signage software platform in the world available for Microsoft’s Cloud Web Signage is the first digital signage software platform in the world available for Microsoft’s Cloud.

The solution consists of web based management application delivered as a service and a player software managing the multimedia content playback on digital signage displays. BLANK Player has successfully passed compatibility tests conducted by Microsoft for the 32 and 64-bit versions of Windows 7.

“We are particularly proud of having achieved first, in the software for digital signage arena, this important compatibility goal,” said the CEO, “that will allow us to further shorten the release and development times and increase both scalability and performance, thanks to the great flexibility offered by the Windows Azure platform.

The compatibility with Microsoft’s cloud services of the Windows Azure platform, strengthens the offer towards the international markets: both software and infrastructure will be available as a service supplied through the Microsoft data centers spread throughout the world. Web Signage is always supplied by the nearest Windows Azure datacenter to ensure the highest performances.

Also, thanks to the evolution from SaaS to IaaS, a set of more flexible distribution and resale agreement, including OEM and co-brand formulas will be available to partners.

Nice. Awesome. Now apart from the handful of non-IT people who know what the Azure platform is all about, how many will know what any of this means?

Even if the only people a software company ever sells to are in the IT departments, this sort of release is still missing a critical component:  Why prospective customers should care.

When you are preparing marketing material like releases, always remember to think about what matters to and will intrigue the target audience. Does this make doing things easier? Faster? Better? Cheaper? More reliable? Anything???


DS PR 101: All but squealing with delight at the news

First a mea culpa: I believe I have been guilty of this, because it was what the client wanted and it was too much work to talk them out of it.

Press release after press release has giddy quotes from VPs and CEOs saying they are pleased, excited, delighted – everything short of “we wet our pants!” or “our nipples exploded!” – with mundane arrangements like partnerships and agreements.

You can stroke each other’s egos on your own time, but for the purpose of PR, it adds nothing to the story and is therefore silly and counter-productive. Editors who do more than copy and paste releases are rolling their eyes when they read such lines. They are also  nimbly hacking those quotes out of the piece or skipping right on by the release.

They’re happy that you’re happy … kinda, sorta. But mostly they could care less.

If you want to achieve something more than headline awareness that some deal was done, make your quotes real and contextual.

Instead of “We’re just delighted to be working with such fine fellows …” – and I am not really jesting here with that line – try something more like, “This agreement is critical to our company, because we’ll be adding new capability for our customers, and getting a clear competitive advantage.”

From that, all the readers will make the great leap in logic that you are happy about it.