Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Best Practices in Writing Customer Case Studies

For B2B companies, customer case studies are more important than ever. Here are some tips for writing compelling case studies that generate interest from prospective customers.
  • Length: Some studies show that longer case studies rank higher up in search rankings while others suggest to keep case studies to about 500 words to keep your readers' attention. You might try experimenting, writing a short and long version of the case study to see what works best. For longer case studies, make sure to have clear summaries that enable readers to scan the story quickly.
  • Style: Pick a style -- whether formal or informal, for example -- that matches your company's corporate personality. Case studies should be consistent so consider developing a style guide that sets the standards for spelling (is it health care or healthcare), type of voice, and accompanying artwork. Keep in mind that case studies must be engaging and tell a story that has a logical flow. They also need to be informative and credible. 
  • Format #1: Simple can be best. We typically address the following items:
    • The Challenge (or Situation Analysis): Explains the problem and pain points that the client came to us to help solve.
    • Strategic Plan & Execution: Provides an overview of our strategy and what we did to help our client. In others words: this section details our solution and the implementation. This is a vital section in which to highlight clear, key benefits of working with your organization -- and should directly link to the Results (below).
    • The Results: Includes key metrics that demonstrate how we made a difference. 
  • Format #2: Make sure to have an interesting headline. Subheads (like the ones mentioned immediately above) are useful in breaking up blocks of text. Consider including a highlighted quote from the customer that encapsulates the key points. For long case studies (over 1,000 words), consider including a sidebar summary that delivers the key points.
  • Multimedia: Consider producing video interviews of your customers so that visitors to your site can read or watch the case study. Video case studies can also be uploaded onto YouTube.
  • Customers: Make sure to identify compelling customer stories and spokespeople. Hopefully your best customer also has a great spokesperson. Keep in mind, that the customer spokesperson should match the decision-makers you're targeting with the case studies.
  • Call-to-Action: Don't forget to include a clear call-to-action so that prospects know what to do to get more information.
Developing compelling case studies is important because you can also develop presentations and byline articles based on good case studies. For more information, email us at info@birnbachcom.com.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In Reporting Fake News for April Fools, GMA Plays Trick on Itself

Although I watched "Candid Camera," I've never been a big fan of April Fools and practical jokes in general.

But the folks over at GMA seem to be big fans.

They kept talking about April Fools this morning.

href="http://abcnews.go.com/international/video">World News Videos
| US News Videos
Then they did some actual segments that were fake news -- to show they can have fun, I guess.

World News Videos | US News Videos

At one point, George Stephanopoulos held up a sign that said, "Happy April Fools."

I know -- it's all in good clean fun. But the segments weren't funny.

And given credibility issues surrounding NBC's Brian Williams and Fox's Bill O'Reilly, I think it's a bad idea for professional broadcast journalists to play on-air practical jokes on their viewers. It's okay to have fun but the credibility of their news readers is too important to play with.

At the risk of looking like I have no sense of humor, leave the April Fool gags to the late night talk show hosts.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

7 PR Lessons from O’Reillygate

(This post originally appeared on CommPro.Biz: http://www.commpro.biz/public-relations/reputation-management/bill-oreilly/)

The recent credibility scandals of Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly are shocking and fascinating. But for PR and marketing professionals, there’s a lot that can be instructive.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
  • There’s no statute of limitations when it comes to the truth. Both scandals stem from incidents that took place between 12 and 33 years ago — long enough ago that it might seem the truth is no longer relevant. It matters if only because both Williams and O’Reilly retold their embellished Iraq and Falkland war stories several times within recent few years.
    • PR pros should keep in mind that a crisis could originate years before an executive joined an organization.
  • There at least two ways to handle a scandal: 1) Issue an apology, conduct an investigation, and hold someone accountable or 2) Conduct a scorched-earth approach of attacking your critics and their character. NBC followed the first approach, O’Reilly and Fox, the second. Both can claim the victory of a post-scandal ratings boost.
    • Since no laws were broken, for PR professionals, the right approach depends, to some extent, on your brand and your audience. NBC suspended Williams to hold him accountable and protect its credibility — whereas had he apologized, O’Reilly would have greatly harmed his brand and his connection to his audience. In fact, keeping the controversy alive may actually strengthen the O’Reilly brand, ratings and value.
  • If you decide to fight the scandal and your critics, don’t wait for the facts to start making your argument.  O’Reilly started attacking his critics well before he had time to assemble his facts. By doing so, he was able to frame the narrative to focus on the credibility of Mother Jonesand the other reporters who subsequently came forward in support of Mother Jones — instead of his own credibility — while keeping others off-balanced through intimidation and threats.
    • This is a case of “don’t try this at home, kids.” His scorched-earth approach is working for O’Reilly but he has a nightly bully pulpit, and you don’t. That said, framing the narrative is an important element of crisis communications, and can be done without resorting to oppositional research.
  • By commenting on his show and in other outlets, O’Reilly is able to keep the attention where he wants it: on him aggressively attacking his critics. During a crisis, most organizations try to avoid speaking to the media. Not O’Reilly. He’s not hiding. He’s arguing his case on his program and many other outlets, providing new statements almost daily since the Mother Jones article hit. The resulting coverage has focused on O’Reilly’s eagerness to attack, which is a win for O’Reilly because it deflects attention (from questions regarding the credibility of his reporting) while showcasing O’Reilly brand’s combativeness.
    • Most organizations should not follow the O’Reilly playbook of attacking and intimidating reporters. But it can be a mistake to go silent, too, which lets the media spend endless cycle time speculating. For example, the NFL went silent during most of the intensive Deflategate speculation, and lost control of the narrative, which hurt its credibility.
  • There is a distinction being made between journalist and pundit.The line between fact and opinion can be very blurry – but in the case of Williams and O’Reilly, the demarcation is widely recognized, and O’Reilly benefits from lowered expectations for pundits. (What’s being overlooked is that the questions about his accuracy stem from when O’Reilly was a reporter.)
    • This blurred line between fact and opinion is important to keep in mind when your client or CEO asks you to respond to an inaccurate opinion article. It’s almost impossible to get an opinion writer to apologize.
  • Despite the media’s tendency to attach the word “gate” to every scandal, the media this time is not referring to it as “Williamsgate,” “O’Reillygate” or even “Truthgate.”This is far from the most important element but it speaks to the fact that some crises follow a certain pattern while others will go in a different direction from the crisis plan you assembled.
    • Good plans address likely scenarios and then also figure a way to address unlikely crises that may still occur.
  • Truth is not always quantifiable and what’s at stake depends on your value system. Just as some people see that dress as black and blue while others insist it’s white and gold, there are two camps when here: Those who say the truth matters (and invariably cite a spinning-in-his-grave Walter Cronkite) and those who believe freedom of speech is more important. Where you fall has quickly become another political polarizing question.
    • For PR pros, it’s important to understand which stakeholders are important and what their perspective is – is an important element in determining the path you should take.
Despite all the acrimony from both side, there is one thing both O’Reilly and his detractors probably agree on — these lessons are irrelevant to them. But understanding them — like starting the vetting process to cover years before an executive joined the organization — may enable a PR function to better weather a future crisis.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Positive Power of Robotics

There are a number of movies hitting the silver screen (does anyone really use that term anymore? I guess I do) this year that involve robots and artificial intelligence.

Some stories have appeared wondering about the power robots will have, and they think about some doomsday scenario in which robots subjugate mankind.

I don't see that happening, and not because I don't think robots are getting more powerful.

I see that robots have power -- to help raise us up to be better people.

Here's an example of the positive power that robots and robotics can have, courtesy of our non-profit client, FIRST, a terrific organization that holds an annual robotics competition for kids in the US and around the world. I have been to two regional competitions (one in a professional capacity, the second as a parent of a competitor), and the spirit, enthusiasm and positive energy is infectious and inspiring.

That's part of the power of robots.

Here's a WABC-TV Eyewitness News segment that highlights the positive power in the lives of two kids from East Harlem.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wall St. Journal Validates Another of Our Predictions: Getting Away Means Disconnecting

Back in 2012, we said:
  • The desire to be connected 24/7 may change in 2012. You almost never have downtime anymore, and people are beginning to notice that’s not all good. Sure, if you are waiting in line at the post office or bank (something today’s kindergartners won’t do by the time they hit college), you’ll be able to check email, play an app, text your friend, or make a call. But this lack of downtime may negatively impact our ability to concentrate and avoid distractions at work and at home. The recognition that we actually need to disconnect, that we need downtime, is likely to generate coverage this year. Already a handful of companies have limited email, both during the day and after hours – and we think more will join those ranks. We also think the concept of going on vacation without access to email or cell will become more of a status symbol because it now takes a lot of money to disconnect yourself from your regular workday.
In our list of ongoing trends that we update annually, we've mentioned the ongoing need to disconnect. That need may be more pronounced than ever as younger-and-younger kids own their own devices -- and as more-and-more parents can't get their kids off their screens.

Screen use and children, including how they socialize, how they interact with peers and grownups, how they experience their environments, will be a growing area of tension for parents -- at least when they look up from their own devices. (And we're all guilty of that.)

We even once said that where it was once only the wealthy who could stay connected wherever they traveled, that soon, it would be a luxury to travel and not be connected. That's borne out but an article in today's Wall St. Journal: "Resorts Promise Families the Perfect Getaway—From Electronics: Looking for a technology detox, more parents book vacations at family resorts touting limited Wi-Fi."  Check it out.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

5 Trends Marketers Should Consider in 2015

(This post originally appeared on CommPro.Biz: http://www.commpro.biz/marketing/five-trends-marketers-consider-2015/.)
Each year on Groundhog Day, “Punxsutawney Phil,” known as “Prognosticator of Prognosticators,” makes a prediction about whether we’ll have a short or a long winter. It doesn’t really matter if he’s wrong or right. In that vein, here are five trends that will marketers should consider in 2015.
  • Content management remains king. Companies need to continue to promote themselves as thought leaders through social media, blogs, videos, bylined articles, infographics and more. This content needs to be produced and updated on a regular basis; you can’t post a blog in January, and think you’re done for the year. Even smaller, niche B2Bs are realizing they need to publish more. You can’t rely on a press release from last March to show you’re still active. Establishing a content or editorial calendar can help companies take a more systematic approach to the content they publish.
  • After a couple of more-or-less stable years, 2015 will be a rough year for print media. Publishers are finally accepting that they can’t charge as much for online ads and subscriptions as they once could get from print. So expect more buyouts and layoffs at print media. This will push print media to adapt their brand of journalism to include more “listicles” (articles that are primarily lists – like, um, this one) and more native advertising. (How you feel about it depends on whether you call it “native advertising” or “clickbait.”) Marketers need to consider adjusting their content to map to how print is adjusting its online content.
  • There’s always going to be a new site generating lots of buzz, but those may not be the ones to reach your customers. Yo, an app that allows you to only say “Yo” to your friends, generated a lot of buzz in 2014 but even if your customers use it, Yo may not be the best app to engage with them. Some brands are finding success on Snapchat but it will be difficult to generate traction if you’re continually jumping to a new app or social media site. Instead, look at your customers and make sure you have a strong sense of the social media sites they actually use. In other words, you need to consider saying no to Yo.
  • Wearable tech will allow new ways for marketers to interact with consumers. Beyond smart watches, smart clothing and the Internet of Things will provide new platforms for branding and customer engagement. Based on new kinds of sensors and apps, your smartphone knows much more about you than your spouse or doctor could ever know. And that data is being aggregated by the phone company and its marketing partners to offer content that’s more targeted and useful – and that can be a bit creepy.
  • The temptation for marketers is to be everywhere all the time – but more Americans will try to disconnect, if only for a few hours or the weekend. This tech sabbatical isn’t about cutting the cord on cable service to save money. It’s about realizing that being constantly connected makes us more stressed and less happy. This will get more intrusive when we get low on milk and our soon-to-be networked refrigerators start offering up “You Might Also Like” suggestions of other foods to buy. Marketers may be more successful if they show they respect consumers’ boundaries, including privacy, such as by making it much easier to opt-out from email lists.
While there are, of course, many more trends that may affect marketers in 2015, the theme that links the ones included in this article is the need to publish new content on a regular basis, to tweak the content to how people are consuming content (because we don’t just read) these days, to determine where your customers are online, and find ways to really engage with your customers which may mean knowing when to not engage with them. A lot of these suggestions may seem simple or obvious but too many businesses overlook these suggestions. By the following these suggestions, companies can be more effective marketers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What the Selling of Forbes Tells Us about the State of Business Media, Part II

(This post originally appeared on CommPro.biz: http://www.commpro.biz/investor-relations/selling-forbes-tells-us-state-business-media/. The companion piece can be found here)
Forbes Media, publisher of Forbes and other magazines, is running into roadblocks as it seeks to sell the company. Working with Deutsche Bank, Forbes was pursuing international companies to purchase one of America’s premier business publications. The problem: Germany’s Axel Springer SE says it is no longer involved in the bidding process while Singapore’s Spice Global Investments Pvt has “removed itself from the process” and China’s Fosun International Ltd. hasn’t held active talks for “some time,” according to a recent Bloomberg article, a Forbes competitor.
At the time when bids were due, New York Times media columnist David Carr, provided some insight in a column entitled, “Foreign Buyers Eying Forbes Magazine, a Chronicler of the World’s Wealthiest.”
Given the limited interest in acquiring a well-known global brand, here are some lessons learned, gleaned from the article and our experience:
  • Establishing a strong brand is important but outsiders may not find enough value in it. Unquestionably, Forbes has a strong presence and brand awareness, including its annual Forbes 400 issue in October. Its journalism is respected and the magazine and its website continue to be relevant. But brand may not be enough – certainly at the price Forbes’ current investors and family are searching for. It may be worth noting that McGraw-Hill sold BusinessWeek to Bloomberg for a reported $5 million along with the assumption of $10 million in liabilities in 2009; and Newsweek, a once equally strong media property, was sold for $1 and the assumption of $40 million in liabilities in 2010.
  • Standalone magazine companies are at a disadvantage to conglomerates that can spread costs and profits across a family of magazines, according to Carr. For the most part Carr is right — but Forbes actually publishes several other titles — ForbesLife, Forbes Europe, Forbes Asia as well as 29 international editions. (It’s probably not a good time to purchase advertising in Forbes Russia, Forbes Ukraine.) Forbes also runs a very popular website (more on that below) and RealClearPolitics.com family of website. Our point is: it’s not just publishing a range of publications — it’s publishing magazines that reach a range of readers. After all, if you put all your eggs in one high-value Birken bag, when advertisers pull back on your demographic, you could get hit 29 times.
  • Sometimes selling isn’t a matter of making money but in preventing additional losses. The estimated asking price for Forbes is between $250 and $400 million. Elevation Partners paid $264 million for a minority stake — so their portion is likely underwater. Carr says the Forbes family is unlikely to make money from the sale. The question becomes: why sell? Seems clear that the reason is that it continues to be tough for media companies to build value.
  • The value shoring up Forbes is not its popular website — but its conference division. The publication is probably generating tons of revenue from its growing number of conferences, including luxury cruises offering insights and access to top stock pickers. Conferences have re-emerged for Forbes and other publishers as a profit generation tool. Conferences may have been a difference in the valuation of BusinessWeek for $5 million (and the assumption of debt) when it was acquired by Bloomberg. The same for Newsweek, which had no conferences and was sold for $1 and the assumption of debt. The bottom line lesson: perhaps leverage a successful conference series and turn that into a multimedia property (which is what TED is doing).
  • Forbes could generate more money by establishing a paywall around its content. Carr makes the point that others news outlets — including the Times and Wall St. Journal — have successfully boosted revenue by establishing paywalls around their content. Yet Forbes.com aggressively promotes the website in a bid to generate views that can translate into higher revenue. It has been very successful in developing a community of columnists (many of them people trying to position themselves as thought leaders). The bottom line here: there’s still no single, accepted way to generate sustainable revenue online — neither free access (and higher revenue from advertisers) or paywalls (and subscription fees from access) are really replacing print advertising revenue that will never return to pre-mobile/digital levels.
  • Circulation is holding steady but it may not generate steady revenue. Last year, Forbes was offering print subscriptions for $10 — that’s a steep discount from prior years. Keeping circulation high is important to advertisers (and the amounts you can charge them) but discounting clearly hurts profits. And constantly discounted subscription offers tell advertisers the circulation figures may be clogged with subscribers who don’t spend much time reading the magazine.
  • Forbes is very creative in finding revenue. It’s been a leader in pushing advertorials. It can sometimes feel like a 1/5th of the magazine is devoted to advertorials. But more significantly, Forbes is a pioneer in native advertising through its BrandVoice section on the website and in the magazine. Here’s how Forbes describes itForbes BrandVoice™ is an integrated and by-invitation content-sharing platform …(that) is an innovative approach to integrating marketers’ content with Forbes’ editorial and users’ content — allowing marketers to demonstrate their thought leadership on the Forbes platform using the same tools as content creators.” What does it take to receive an invitation to be a Forbes BrandVoice partner? We’ve heard estimates of $800,000 in annual advertising just to get to the point of discussing BrandVoice. (In other words, BrandVoice spending is on top of a company’s annual advertising buy.)
  • Not all ways of charging access are reader friendly. While Forbes doesn’t charge to access its website, it does charge for iPad access even if you’re already a print subscriber. Print subscribers still have to pay $9.95 for an annual iPad subscription.  When you consider Forbes’ $10 print subscriptions price, charging $9.95 to access the iPad version is the equivalence of a 100% tax increase.
Carr makes the point that it’s ironic that a magazine with a strong heritage of America-first is now being sold to an international company. I agree — but I also think that the sale (likely to an Asian company) makes sense because Forbes is more likely to be seen as a trophy property for companies based in Asia than anywhere else in the world. And yet, so far, interest from any part of the world seems less than anyone might have expected.
What Carr doesn’t discuss or speculate is how an international owner will change Forbes. For that, stay tuned.