Tag: language


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.


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.


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.


DS PR 101: Don’t bury the good stuff

This isn’t terrible, it could just be better. So I’m not too concerned about using the name of the company that sent me a release today. There’s good information in it – if the readers are patient enough to read on and find it.

Magenta Research is proud to announce a state-of the-art installation equipping Colorado State University’s College of Business for global communication. Magenta was chosen to provide a connectivity solution that would allow the routing of video audio and control signals to classrooms, conference rooms and common areas.

Colorado State University (CSU), is located in Fort Collins, Colorado, and hosts approximately 25,000 resident-instruction students who come from every state and more than 80 foreign countries. CSU has an extensive distance learning program with students attending from around the world.  The distance-learning program allows students who cannot physically attend classes to attend lectures via Internet or DVD. One of the challenges that the university faced was keeping the distance-learning students up-to-speed with lecture materials.  Distance-learning students depend heavily on internet lectures and receiving recorded DVDs of previous lectures.

Professors only have seven minutes between classes to set up microphones, mixers, switchers, and cameras. The set up and testing of this equipment is time consuming, labor intensive and subject to errors. Having localized video equipment in each classroom required the professor to physically be in the classroom to make changes to the AV configuration.

In my old newspaper days, we called this burying the lede. I am not sure why newspapers called the leading paragraph the lede and spelled it like that. But they did and still do, I think.

The good stuff here is that this new connectivity solution is saving time and resources and removing considerable aggravation for the profs and the AV department. Unless I am missing it, THAT’S what higher ed AV and IT people would get excited about. They will not normally get excited by a lede that drags out the “state of the art” cliche and then just flatly says the school put in some Magenta gear.

There’s too much background info in the 2nd paragraph and again nothing about the good stuff. All that 25,000 students, 80 countries, 50 states belongs further down in the release.

The net result is a release that says: We’re proud to announce we did something that’s the bee’s knees at this place and if you bear with us long enough we’ll eventually let you in on why you should care.

Magenta is known, by the way, as a supplier of premium gear for moving content around large spaces, and I’ve used their VGA over Cat 5 in past operational lives.

Approach your news releases as stories, and grab the readers from the beginning. Your goal with the first paragraph is to get them continuing on to the next paragraph, and so on.

The headline – Magenta Bridges the Gap for Colorado State University – also does absolutely nothing to pull readers in.

How about “Magenta central AV controls save time, money and resources for college’s AV/IT group”


It’s digital signage trade show season: Time for a Message Tune-Up?

This is a press release issued today:

Marketing communications firm pressDOOH has developed a special program intended to help industry firms “tune up” their communications in advance of the many digital signage trade shows and related events scheduled over the next few weeks and months.

The “Message Tune-Up” program is aimed squarely at vendors, service companies and network operators looking to gain some marketing notice before and during such events as ISE, Digital Signage Expo, GlobalShop, NAB, Kioskcom/The Digital Signage Show and ScreenMedia Expo. The program offers quick reviews, recommendations and updates on marketing and press materials for companies heading into the show season, as well as fast turnarounds on newly crafted material.

“I have been going to these events for years, and know at least a couple of things will happen,” said pressDOOH founder Dave Haynes. “Some companies will remember at pretty much the last moment that they need to get out a release or update their hand-outs or mail-outs. So they’ll do it themselves and it will look like it. Others will hire a PR firm and get something cranked out that is polished but utterly pointless, because the PR writer had no idea about the industry or what the audience was actually interested in.”

pressDOOH is temporarily relaxing its minimum engagement policy for clients as a way to help a wider range of clients who don’t need a full communications program for the  shows, but do need two or three hours to get their material reviewed, tweaked and polished up by a fresh, experienced set of eyes. The most effective material for distribution is work that is clear, concise and relevant to the targeted readership.

“I think it would be refreshing change for everybody in the business if the big blitz of press releases and marketing materials that’s about to start was characterized by substance, effective messaging and far less hype,” said Haynes. “This industry is now at a level of maturity that the target audiences are knowledgeable and a little jaded. Their tolerance for BS gets lower every year.”

pressDOOH is a copywriting and marketing strategy firm working specifically in the digital signage and digital out of home sectors. The company was founded in 2009 by industry veteran Dave Haynes, a seasoned print journalist who has spent the past decade doing everything from running pioneering DOOH networks to selling top industry software.  pressDOOH produces press material, white papers, case studies, sales and marketing sheets and Website copy, as well as does overall marketing strategy, for companies in all aspects of the industry, on three continents … and counting.

The company markets itself on the value of having copy developed by a subject matter expert – usually faster and at substantially less cost than mainstream PR firms with high overheads and limited or no in-house expertise in this sector.

The firm was recently cited by heavily-read industry portal DailyDOOH as one of its Best of 2009 companies, products and people.  “ … there is one place that we do throw work and that’s in Burlington, just outside Toronto,” noted DailyDOOH. “That’s the home/work office of David Haynes, who has made writing a press release an art form.  When pressDOOH has written or massaged a press release, the job of journalist is made so much easier. If only more people used his services.”

The Message Tune-Up program – which drops pressDOOH’s normal minimum hours engagement policy – will be available through April, and subject to available time. Company and contact information can be found at www.pressdooh.com


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: Contain your ego

A press release this morning from a guy who was leaving his gig and going out on his own as … something … (it was far less than clear) … started with the guy proclaiming himself a luminary.

Don’t. Just don’t.

It’s meaningless to most people, but all the wrong people will jump all over it and make all the wrong hay with it.