Tag: journalism


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.



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.


The importance of (good) white papers

San Fran-based content strategist Eccolo Media has released a survey of US businesses that suggests white papers are the most important and influential pieces of collateral used in technology buying decisions.

The B2B Technology Collateral Survey of American businesses was done with more than 500 technology-purchasing decision makers and it confirmed, Marketing Charts reports, “that sales materials of any kind – white papers, case studies/sale sheets, podcasts, videos, product brochures and data sheets – are most frequently consumed at the beginning of the sales cycle – before a company ever invites vendors to participate in an RFP.

Collateral subsequently is used less frequently as sales relationships evolve, the survey found.

Additional survey findings:

– 77% of respondents say they’d read at least one white paper in the last six months, with 84% of them rating white papers as moderately to extremely influential when making technology-purchasing decisions.
– Nearly half (49%) of respondents say they had watched a vendor’s video while considering a technology purchase, up from 20% in 2008.
– Collateral is more viral than ever: 89% of respondents say they share white papers with others, while 85% share case studies, 81% share brochures or data sheets; 80% share podcasts; and 79% share video.
– People prefer to consume collateral from their desktop: Only 1 in 4 surveyed even print out an online document.
– Data sheets and brochures are considered least influential written collateral but were also the most consumed type, indicating they are still valuable “table stakes” in helping solidify a brand’s product messages with potential buyers.
– Podcasts are, when compared with other types of collateral, among the least influential; Case studies – preferably thoses that are written – are gaining in influence.”

The report also indicated that good writing really matters.

“Some 86% of respondents felt that high-quality writing was at least moderately influential and 51% ranked good writing as either very or extremely influential. By contrast, poor quality writing was the most frequent reason respondents gave for decreasing the influence of a white paper.”

This is, of course, all quite lovely to read, given that I do things like white papers and case studies for clients. BUT, as you might expect, a white paper or case study will not be valued just because it has that label in the heading. It still has to be good, and make sense.

There are many ghastly white papers circulating in this industry that are nothing more than pitch pieces for their clients, the equivalent of recipes that suggest the only way to make desserts is with a certain brand of flour or peanut butter.

Good white papers that people appreciate,save and circulate are ones that really do educate and guide. The writer/vendor gets the benefit of making it clear they know their stuff, and helping prospective clients NOT make some stupid rookie mistakes.

Good white papers also take good writing. It absolutely doesn’t take a degree or career in journalism to qualify as a good writer. I used to be an editor in charge of some “journalists” who, to my mind, were damn near functionally illiterate. On the flip side, I have read stuff by people with no background in the craft who write beautifully.

If you have the skills and the time to write about what you do and what you know, you are the best person to do it. If you know you will never get to it, or your output will be in Martian, get somebody who CAN do the work and who, ideally, understands what on Earth you are up to.

As the research is showing, clients place a lot of value in this material and in relative terms, it is very low-cost, low maintenance marketing.


DS PR 101: No PDFs please

I just got a press release as a PDF. For me, that’s OK, because while I write about the industry, I don’t spend a lot of time reporting on it and therefore extracting a lot of quotes from releases.

BUT, if I did, pulling the text out of PDF files is a pain in the butt, and depending on the way the PDF is formatted, possibly a giant pain in the butt. Couple that with images that look very nice in the PDF file, but now have to be grabbed via screen capture and then fiddled with in some image edit software.

By putting something out that looks polished and pretty, you have created a bunch of irritating extra work for editors. On a busy day, they might not bother dealing with your stuff because time is limited.

If you insist on sending a PDF, send it as an attachment and have all the text in simple, unadorned text form in the email message body, and send images and logos as attachments.

Make it easy and you will get better results.


Advice from editors: on carpet-bombing


There are countless blogs now on the digital signage and DOOH sector, but still just a handful of Web-based portals and news sites that cover the industry on a daily basis. The people who runs those commercial services make the calls daily on what either goes from their email Inboxes to their digital pages, or to the Trash folder.

You can work with these folks, or you can irritate the daylights out of them. Guess which approach is more effective in meeting your marketing needs.

I sent around a note today to the editors of these news sites to get their point of view on how things work, and got a lot of great responses. I will do a few posts about what they had to say, with this first one on the issue of what I call carpet-bombing.

This is the practice of sending press release after press release out to the same media outlets, with the notion that this shows the business has incredible momentum in the marketplace. There was a sports-oriented company doing this last year, and the new, undisputed champion is a software company that at least seems to put out a press release a day announcing a deal that sees its product installed in another small venue somewhere.

“We as editors get so many press releases per day as it is, it really doesn’t help to get carpet bombed with insignificant ones,” says Bill Yackey of Digital Signage Today. “If a company sends releases of little value to the industry too frequently, I may begin to ignore them, and that doesn’t help anyone.”

“Press releases are a valuable marketing tool, however, there’s a fine line between being informative and being abusive. We’ve reached a point where we’ve just stopped paying attention to companies that issue press releases too often, or make claims in their releases that are too over-the-top. There are several companies in this industry that have been too aggressive with their PR and we just won’t carry their news anymore,” adds Lionel Tepper, Managing Director, Digital Signage Universe.

On the other hand, several editors said they would rather get the releases than not at all, and indicated doing a mental filter on what matters and what doesn’t, or what is just yet more blabber, is easy enough for them.

Denis Gaumondie, who writes the French (and now English, as well) portal OOH-TV, suggests companies would be wise to show some restraint, and would probably get a better reception from editors like him. “I don’t care to know if a company signs another bar, or bowling alley, or whatever. It’s just irrelevant,” he says. “If I was them, and patient enough, I would aggregate four or five press releases like that and put one release together.”

My take: You can easily wear out your welcome with an editor. Even those editors who indicate they will deal with the carpet-bombing campaign of a company would also, probably, confirm any releases from that company stop getting read beyond the headline.

Editors are interested in news and in educating their industry. If a company is in the business of selling software, it is hopefully NOT news that the company actually did some business and got a small client here and there to sign on. The news is when a software company does a big deal, like an entire chain of stores. Or the company does something that hasn’t been done before, or very much — like converting a whole restaurant from backlits to digital menu boards.

My advice is to be judicious about your PR. Send things out when you really have something worth telling the world.

When a company engages in carpet-bombing, and the daily deals all look tiny and irrelevant, that company can start to look a little desperate for attention.

NEXT: “Scale by association.”


Fine-tuning your message so that prospective customers notice, and care

This post was also recently posted on the Website of the Digital Signage Association ...

How digital signage and digital out of home companies craft their communications on their Websites, handouts and in press releases is critical to their success.

So why is so much of it so bad?

The industry executives I speak with almost uniformly admit they know they could and should do better, but don’t have the time or resources. Coming from technology, ad sales and retail backgrounds, they also haven’t the insight or experience to recognize the good from the bad.

In the interest of helping better shape the message, here are a few tips:

Figure out what makes your company unique, and go hard with it

For whatever reason this is a “me, too” business, with most vendors marketing themselves on the same general range of features and capabilities that their competitors are also trumpeting. It’s hard to stand out from the pack if all you have to half-heartedly report is the written equivalent of, “Yeah, ummm, we do that stuff, too.”

There will be something your firm has developed, or work your team has done with a client, that is at least uncommon and worthy of a little marketing noise. Maybe your company had to figure out a solution that involved GPS and mass transit? That experience and capability is far more intriguing than telling the world your platform does all that stuff everybody else does, too.

Get to the point

Anyone who has been involved in this sector for a while knows how important it is to have good programming that quickly captures the attention of viewers. The same thing applies with a company’s written communications. Between emails, RSS feeds, tweets and texts, people are carpet-bombed all day with marketing messages. That means your message better make its point quickly, or it will be passed by.

Empty phrases that clutter the opening lines of announcements need to be dropped. The point of your communication can’t be buried somewhere in the third paragraph of your e-mailer. You can’t write something that people need to read twice just to figure out, because they won’t .

Put your key messages in context

When you are banging out your key features and benefits messages, and announcements about new gadgets and gizmos, make sure you do the extra work to explain what that means for your prospective customers.

When your company celebrates the release of a new energy efficient combination of PC and display panel in an all-in-one package, don’t stop there. It’s better described as a technology combination capable of dropping energy consumption for a signage deployment by as much as 25%.

Adding 250 more screens and locations doesn’t mean your ad network is now in 600 locations in five states. The message for prospective advertisers, the ones you’re after, is that the addition of 250 sites means your highly-targeted digital out of home media network is now reaching 200,000 affluent consumers every week.

Think through the whole communications chain

How many times have you read a press release, or the news story that spilled out of it, that was effective enough to send you to the company Website to find out more, only to find there was no “more” to be found?

Marketing and media communications have to be carried through the whole chain. If there’s an announcement, it needs to already be up on the Website and easy to find. The sales people need to be briefed on what it is about so that they can respond knowledgeably and not feel like doofuses. They also need material, ready to go, they can send out as follow-ups to calls, and it shouldn’t be just the same thing the prospects just read.

Meanwhile, existing clients need and expect to get early word of new goodies from their vendor, and to first learn of it on some blog.

Choose your words with care

There are powerful phrases, and there are empty phrases. Good writers choose their words carefully, and think about things like the rhythm and emotion of the message. Most of the people writing copy for Websites, email updates and press releases are doing so not because they like writing, but because they have to … so even if takes forever to prepare, those people spend little time actually thinking about the message.

That’s how the industry has ended up with a vast sea of empty phrases and buzzwords about leading, turnkey solutions and revolutionary, state of the art development. If someone only has to write copy every now and then, there’s a natural tendency to look around and borrow on what other companies are doing. They read three press releases starting off with “leading provider” and figure they better get that in there, too. They see Websites that talk “turnkey” and figure that needs to get in there. The result, every day and everywhere, is yet more of the same blabber.

Whether it’s Website copy, email blasts or press releases, whoever gets charged with doing the writing should ignore what else is out there, forget they ever read phrases like “best of breed” and “taken to the next level”, and think through the messages that would actually resonate with prospective customers and partners.

It’s an after-thought for a lot of companies, but developing the right message that helps drive product awareness, build credibility and boost sales needs the same attention to detail as product and market development. You can have a kickass product, a fabulous network footprint, or do amazing creative, but if you do a bad job of getting the word out, few people will know.


How to write a digital signage press release: Step 4 – Body copy

The headline and the summary and leading paragraphs have hopefully done their jobs of drawing people into your news release. Now it’s time to fully explain what you are up to, why people should care, and get into the nitty-gritty of how or what’s being done.

You want to be sure the five W questions are covered off – who, what, when, where and why – as well as any other Ws that matter, like which.

This is your chance to provide accurate detail on the project or product, and when you can make statements about the impact. Those statements are things like driving sales lift, enhancing navigation, making a task easier, allowing people to work in their native language, any number of potential benefits.

The body copy is where you can also go into more detail about your company and market position, and use one or two tight quotes from the appropriate representative for the company. The person quoted should be someone who, if pressed, could actually speak with some degree of knowledge about the project, product or service.

This is not critical, but I really like quotes that read naturally, like they really are quotes. Almost all quotes in press releases are planted words, and most of them read that way. You can dilute the credibility of a message if people reading it are marveling at how stilted the quote is instead of taking in what it says. If you are creating a quote, just read it back and ask yourself if it sounds even remotely natural. If not, that’s easily tweaked.

Keep it tight. Your press release is ideally only seven or eight paragraphs in length. You will start losing readers if you go much longer. If there is a lot of technical detail to go through, consider attachments or a Web link where the propellerheads can go to get a jargon fix.

Paragraphs should be reasonably uniform in size and sentences should not run on and on. Have a look at newspaper articles to get some sense of how information is broken up. If you write overly long paragraphs, they look like intimidating walls of characters that people don’t even want to start on.

Some fundamentals:

  • be honest and accurate
  • you are selling your company and goods though useful information, not hype and lots of exclamation points
  • if there are other parties mentioned in the release, ensure they approve what is written and asserted
  • it should read easily all the way through

Next – Step 5 – footer and contact information


How to write a digital signage press release: Step 1 – Define your objective

I spend a lot of time with this blog slapping around companies that do a truly terrible job of media communications, and by pointing out the mistakes, trying to educate them and others.

But I don’t want to dwell on the negative stuff, and thought it might be useful to put readers through the basics of writing a press release to distribute in this industry.

This is not done through the lens of someone who took formal public relations training and has some certification to that effect. My background is daily newspaper journalism, as down and dirty as investigative reporting, and I have been reading press releases for 30 years because I had to. There may well be a formula that’s been laid out in textbooks, but here’s what I think actually works in getting the attention of editors and bloggers, and readers who get things direct through news readers and filters.

I’m going to break this up in parts, so that the post is not too long and I can drill a little deeper into the process and then the components.

The very first thing you need to sort out is why you are doing a press release.

What has happened, or will happen, that compels your company to issue information about it? Is what you are about to tell the world actually interesting or valuable to anyone beyond the walls of your company? Or are you issuing a press release because, as is common, it’s been a while and you want to keep the company name out there?

For example, a press release about your company’s new Website is only relevant if the facelift changes the way your clients do business with you. If it’s the online equivalent of a new hairdo, forget it. Changing office locations isn’t PR-worthy, unless you are hiring a bunch of people or adding new facilities like a lab or hosting center.

New product developments that advance the company or the industry, or big deals, milestones or hires, that’s cause for press. If your company trades on an exchange, you may be legally required to issue press releases on any business dealings or status changes.

The point here: if you have nothing, really, to announce … or don’t have to be law … just don’t do a press release.

If you do, develop an angle for your story to make it more compelling. Announcing your advertising network has added some new venues is nice, but not overly compelling. Announcing that a new set of venues added this month to the WhizBang Media Network means ads are now being delivered to a weekly audience of more than 250,000 affluent, gourmet food-loving consumers is another matter entirely. That’s reminding your target advertisers you just got to a big number and might get you to whatever it is that constitutes critical mass.

Think about what you want and need to announce, and how you’ll spin it to make it interesting to your target readers.

Keep in mind spin is one view of the facts, but is still, hopefully, maintaining some grip on reality.  You should be able to defend your spin, so if your angle is that your service is the first of its kind, is it? Can you defend assertions that what you’re doing is the best? Is what’s going out some largely empty and indefensible chest-beating exercise (common), or something people will read and send to friends because it looks like what your company is doing is something they and others will want to know about.

If it’s just hype, most people see through it. People don’t like being “sold” in press releases. They expect worthwhile information. Press releases are an opportunity to talk about good work you’re doing, and the successes  you’ve had or are coming. You want people to read what you’re doing and conclude they either need to know more, or have reinforced that these guys are busy and clearly making a mark. Press releases can show market momentum and corporate excellence.

But bad press releases can have all the wrong effects. If they are written poorly that reflects on the company’s smarts and ability to communicate. If the releases are nothing but empty phrases and unsubstantiated assertions wrapped around a small hint of news, your company is telling people you’re really not up to much. And companies that announce relentlessly, with near constant releases about pretty much anything, can create reader fatigue – the equivalent of hearing someone drone on and on and wishing they’d please just stop.

The audience for press releases has changed dramatically in the last decade. For scores of years, press releases were only ever seen by journalists, since they were distributed in one way or another only to media outlets. Releases were written entirely for the editors, with the expectation that if a press release was noticed and picked up, it would be seriously filtered, with the BS removed and the story recast from the perspective of the assigned journalist.

The Internet means press releases go everywhere, immediately, and there are now several target recipients.  Mainstream journalists may see  a release and pursue a full story, but the more common scenario now is for releases to get noticed and largely repurposed by online industry publications, and sector bloggers. Some of these writers get their hands dirty and filter and repackage stories, or even take the releases in unintended directions. But most just pass the releases though largely unfiltered, the contents re-formatted more than edited.

That means the plan and the wording of the release you put together is that much more important, because while it may pass through other hands, it can easily go through pretty much untouched. It will be rare when a journalist comes back to you and asks what you were trying to go on about in the release. You won’t find out it’s really bad until someone reads it and tells you. Someone like your now unhappy CEO.

NEXT – Step 2 – Headlines