Top 5 Reasons I Love Email Newsletters

15749181_sThe latest and greatest way to promote our services and engage our customers seems to change daily. As far as ways to push our messages out to clients and potential clients, we have been hoodwinked by social media into thinking they are the answer to all our problems. Unfortunately we are finding out they are huge time-suckers and our messages are obsolete almost as fast as we can create them. So far, social media has not lived up to marketers expectations.

Print can still be effective, but it’s also expensive to produce, mail, track for effectiveness and usually gets thrown out because who wants more paper cluttering up our space? Not to say these methods don’t have their place, but what most businesses want are cost effective marketing pieces that are engaging, produce measurable results, and will hopefully hang around for a while. In my experience, the best way to achieve these results is to create and distribute an email newsletter.  In fact, recent surveys suggest that marketers continue to rate email marketing as the most effective as well as the easiest form of digital marketing (see Ascend 2 survey results).

These are the top 5 reasons why I love email newsletters:

  1. Email newsletters are cheap. By subscribing to an email marketing system, you can create custom e-newsletters for very little money. In fact, a few well-regarded email management systems offer free services for contact lists under a certain number (for example, MailChimp is free for lists under 500). There may be other costs involved such as design costs to set up a masthead or paying someone to develop your content.
  2. Email newsletters produce measurable results. Using an email marketing service allows you to track when your newsletter is opened, if it is forwarded and what links they may have clicked. These reports are often available for download and printing. By using these metrics combined with industry data, you can establish a baseline that will provide the basis for measuring your ROI.
  3. Email newsletters encourage engagement with your prospects and customers. By including opportunities to provide feedback and get involved, you can create opportunities to learn more about your audience gaining invaluable insight into their purchasing patterns and decisions while also increasing their commitment to your brand.
  4. Email newsletters position you and your brand as a source of expert information. By including useful, informative and engaging content in your newsletter, your readers will view you as a trusted and credible source of information. People like to buy from experts they know and trust.
  5. Email newsletter content can be used for other purposes. The content you develop for your newsletter can be repackaged and reused in many different ways including creating blog posts, website content, social media post, and so on. As marketing efforts continue to focus on developing unique and useful content, this is an invaluable way of recycling to save time and money.

So if you have yet to establish an email newsletter to promote your organization, I hope this has convinced you to get started. Not sure what email marketing services company to choose from? Check out this article from Top Ten Reviews. Don’t have the time or expertise to develop excellent content? Call me! Fill out the contact form below and I’ll get back to you in a jiffy!

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An Old-Fashioned Letter Provides Powerful PR

Old fashioned letterSometimes we overlook one of the most powerful PR tools in our toolbox. While we grapple with emerging technologies and content-hungry social media feeds, we forget that sometimes writing a good letter is the most effective way to communicate. And yes, I’m talking letters on paper sent via snail mail. Letters are respectful, laser-targeted, and you know that the person you address it to will probably read it. Something you can’t say about most social media messages.

Since letter writing is quickly becoming a lost art, below are some tips for writing an effective one. If you follow my 3 C’s, you can’t go wrong.

Comfort

Make your audience feel comfortable reading your letter. This requires having a good knowledge of your audience and adapting your writing style accordingly.  Try and use language they are familiar with and don’t be overly formal. Even written business letters have been affected by the informality of the ubiquitous email. The most important thing is to ensure that your reader feels that you know and care about them, whether the letter is sent to one person or thousands. Address each one individually and if at all possible sign by hand.

Clarity

Don’t beat around the bush. Include the most important information at the beginning, both to (hopefully) interest the reader, but also to ensure that your most important messages are read. Of course, avoid jargon and clichés, and use clear language. Clarity in a letter is also helped by being concise. Don’t use three words when one word will do. It just makes your writing seem labored and stilted. Feel free to use bullet points to break up large pieces of text and/or to draw attention to the most important information.

Contact

Develop your letter to its fullest extent by including opportunities to engage your reader. Provide information so they can contact you directly, find out information on your website or social media pages, or provide feedback. Include all your contact information and anything you might want to include for their future reference. Perhaps the best thing about a letter is that they are usually kept and filed, unlike digital communications that are too easily passed over and lost in a melee of information.

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Top Six Necessary Conditions for a Successful Team

Teamwork for SuccessTeamwork. Many of us dread it. Most of us have been part of a dysfunctional team and know all too well the pitfalls: frustration, confusion, overwork, low-productivity. The fact is though, we can’t get along in life, let alone work, without being part of a team.

If you really think about it, we would not survive without being part of a team – you could not eat, drink, bathe, drive, be educated, have a job…we are completely reliant on others whether we like it or not. So, instead of dreading being part of a team, it makes more sense for us to develop ways to improve our team experiences.

The first step is to understand what is important for a team to function together well. This will help us identify areas of dysfunction and offers the opportunity to address them. Below are six necessary conditions for team success.

1. Authority

The team should be vested with the authority required to carry out its mission, not just the responsibility. To be effective, a team must believe that their work is valued and that they are trusted to achieve the team goal the best way for the organization.

Without being vested with authority, team members will feel they are spinning their wheels and wasting their time, and realistically, they are. It’s a waste of time and money. However, this doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be regular reporting to ensure adherence to organizational goals (see accountability below).

2. Accountability

With authority comes the need for accountability. Accountability in a team works three ways. First, a team must be accountable to their supervisors (if applicable) through regular reporting, and readjusting their vision as necessary to stay on track with the goals of the organization.

Second, each team member must be accountable to themselves. Know your limits, be self-aware about your attitudes, and be honest in all dealings with team members. Be an example for others to follow, a not part of a problem.

Third, team members must be accountable to one another. Each member of the team should feel that they can question or call attention to a team member who is not performing tasks as assigned.

3. Communication

I can’t tell you how many teams I’ve been a part of that do not communicate well, leading to misunderstandings and confrontations. Members who feel they are not being listened to will shut up, preventing them from sharing what could be valuable insights. Others feel that they need to be the loudest person in the room to be heard. This also applies to the use and misuse of written communications such as emails.

In the beginning, set up formalized methods of regular communication such as a weekly email, scheduled meetings with agendas, and an instant messaging or listserv group for ongoing communication. Choose forms of communication that most team members are comfortable with. Regular communication should be a team requirement, as important as completing assignments and showing up for meetings.

4. Shared Goal(s)

Clear, non-ambiguous goals really help a team function well. It’s so much easier to get from A to B if you can see where B is. Unfortunately, in today’s quickly changing business and social environments, setting clear goals is easier said than done. Especially in the realm of communications.

One approach is just to keep the goal(s) really simple. Don’t get bogged down in details, strip it down to the bare essentials. Then include your areas of uncertainty and make it a goal in and of itself to reduce that uncertainty and make this goal measurable. By clarifying a complicated or nebulous goal in this way, shared understanding of the goal will increase.

5. Shared Values

A very overlooked aspect of teamwork is the importance of shared values, especially as they pertain to the team goal. Individual values conflicting with team goals are like silent landmines in a team environment. However, they are rarely identified as an issue because they will manifest outwardly in different ways, such as not completing assignments, apathy, hostility, etc.

It’s difficult to get to the bottom of these issues because many times the team member who is having a problem will be unaware of the true nature of their issue. A good approach is to first remember that, in all probability, the team member is not doing things just to annoy you. Then probe gently and see if you can to the root of what the underlying issue is and address it.

6. Commitment

This condition arises from fulfilling the previous conditions and is necessary for a team to function. Without commitment on the part of all team members, a team will be unable to reach its goals. If you sense a lack of commitment, try to identify the root cause and if at all possible, address it there.

When these conditions for teamwork are met, you will have an inspired, motivated team that will gain individually as much as they contribute to the group. Together, a committed team is more than the sum of its parts and is capable of achieving great things.

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Top 5 Ways to Make Sure Your Strategic Plan is Used

It amazes me how strategically plan-less we are most of the time; especially when it comes to public relations and marketing. I think most of us realize how important it is to have a plan and even undertake the planning process, but then fail to actually use the plan. So we end up with a bunch of not-started or half-finished plans clogging our file cabinets and computer folders. Not to the mention chaotic, ad-hoc, disorganized work processes and little idea of what we are actually accomplishing.

I’ve seen large organizations undertake costly and time-consuming strategic planning processes only to post to a website and promptly forget about it. This creates huge problems for an organization when it comes to efficiency and innovation, for how are we to get better when we don’t know where we’ve been? Not only that, but there can be no building on previous successes when people leave and new people are hired. You end up starting from scratch every time.

Equally, I’ve seen small businesses fail to get off the ground because they fail to implement and follow their carefully laid plans. Usually it’s because the owner gets too busy, or perhaps lacks confidence in their marketing skills. But, without following a good marketing plan, no small business can reach their potential, especially in the long-run. For perhaps you have enough business now, but what about next month/year? If you don’t know how best to attract and retain new customers, you’ll be in trouble.

So here are my top five ways to increase the likelihood that you will keep yourself on track and actually use your plan:

1. Realize that even the best plan will change over time. It’s OK to make changes to a plan. When we write a plan, we can only use the best information we have at that moment. As we get new information, it’s important to incorporate that into the plan or we will only compound any problems with it and render it irrelevant. Don’t throw it out, adapt!

2. Be flexible. Allow for activities and budget items to be added or subtracted as necessary. Keep in reserve some time and resources to allow for situational opportunities (i.e. those that pop-up unexpectedly) as they occur over the course of a year, and they always do. You can’t plan for everything.

3. Build-in accountability. As part of your plan, include scheduled plan reviews when you gather and evaluate the data you have received so far. Go over what has happened vs. what the plan called for, identify what changes may need to be made, and make adjustments as necessary. These quarterly reviews have the added benefit of making end-of-year reporting so much easier!

4. Keep the plan visible. Have the planning document easily available and make sure that all appropriate stakeholders have read it (whether they are directly involved or not). Transparency with regards to your goals and objectives is important to facilitate common understanding. Your strategic plan should never be a secret.

5. Simple plans work best. When you are creating your plan, don’t overwhelm it with details and don’t make it 20 pages long. Your strategic plan is an overview of your activities for the year, and it shouldn’t get too detailed. Create separate working plans and action-item matrices to keep track of the specifics. Always follow the KISS rule!

Hopefully these tips will help you take another look at how to keep your strategic plans useful and relevant. If I’m jumping ahead, and you’re still stuck on getting your public relations and marketing plan completed, check out my series of posts on creating your plan starting here. If you’d like my help, fill out the form below and I’ll get back to you pronto!

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Improve Communication by Developing Primary Messages

Public relations and marketing efforts can be made so much easier if the business or organization has a clear and concise set of primary messages, also known as key messages. These messages are essentially positioning statements that accurately reflect a company’s vision, mission, and strategic goals. An incredibly useful resource to have on hand to assist communicators as they develop marketing and communication materials.

Purpose of Primary Messages

The purpose of primary messages is to serve as the foundation for all public relations and marketing communication. They ensure consistent and on-point messaging across all communication media, i.e. brochures, press releases, presentations, web content, etc. Using these messages will prevent irrelevant, contradictory, tangential, and misleading communications that can serve to confuse and turn off potential customers. These messages are not intended to be a public document; rather it is for internal guidance and reference.

How to Use Primary Messages

The use of these messages will depend on the context. All communication vehicles will reflect one or more of the primary messages, but the emphasis and focus will change depending on the use, as well as the audience. For example, a corporate brochure may use all messages while a blog post about a company fundraiser would focus on the primary message related to community service. In addition to these external communication vehicles, your primary messages can also be used in employee training programs or used by sales and management to develop elevator pitches or prepare for media interviews.

How to Create Your Primary Messages

The first step to creating primary messages involves deciding what is important. It’s important to be clear and concise at this stage – you don’t want to end up with pages of complicated messages as this will defeat the purpose. Try and limit the number to around five. If necessary, you can add secondary messages, but again, keep it simple.

I like to make sure that the primary messages cover the following ground:

  1. What is your vision/mission and why is it important?
  2. What is different and special about your company? How long have you been in business? Do you have any awards or accolades you are especially proud of?
  3. What is important about your customer service or products? How is it better than anyone else?
  4. What does your company do for the community or the environment? Do they support certain causes or take part in local events?

Once you have decided on the basic content of your messages, re-write them in language that will appeal to your audiences and avoid using jargon. Most messages will benefit from using clear and concise language that quickly conveys the important information, but that are also friendly, welcoming and reassuring.

If you’d like help developing your company’s primary messages, contact me at skye@skyewritercom.com.

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Common Themes Emerge at Social Media Conference

Social Fresh East 2013

Social Fresh East 2013

The Social Fresh East Conference held in Tampa last month was jam-packed – both with attendees and great information on the latest social media trends. The sold-out conference was full of an amazing variety of people, from corporate professionals to small business owners. All united by the desire to learn more about the social media phenomenon and how to harness its energy. Speaking of energy, there were so many electronic devices being used at the same time, that we actually caused a brief blackout at the hotel and surrounding city blocks.

This was not like any other conference I have ever attended. The most interesting aspect of the conference, made all the  more apparent by its format, was the almost real-time emergence of common themes. Even though the presenters were very different individually, the single-track, short, information-dense presentations and the very fast pace of the conference began to highlight some interesting convergences. It was also mentally exhausting! Thank goodness for the yummy cookies and coffee that were kindly provided during breaks.

Building Relationships

First of all, I am happy to report that most, if not all, of the presenters touched on the theme of creating relationships. I was a little concerned that with the influx of marketers into the social media realm we might lose the personal nature of social media. But judging from the presentations, that is not the case. It’s more like there’s a celebration going on. Social marketeers are finding that the most successful strategy is to embrace the personal and intimate nature of social media. Finding opportunities to help their customers/followers in ways not available through traditional media. A wonderful example of this was the presentation by Morgan Johnston from Jet Blue. He presented examples of his social media program being vital to helping customers during crises such as delays and cancellations, as well as surprising them with service above and beyond.

Be Real. Be Human.

Morgan’s presentation also highlighted another theme of the conference – the importance of attaching a human face to messages sent via social media. Christopher Tuff of 22squared said it best in his presentation, “be real, be human.” Savvy companies are using social media to show their customers that they are dealing with real people who work for the company and who want to help them, as opposed to customers being faced with a monolithic corporate ID. While I love the idea and see that it is the best way to maximize the effectiveness of social media, it also serves to emphasize how important it is for companies have a good social media policy. This trend is a double-edged sword when one employee’s blunder can be spread around the world in milliseconds.

The Importance of Transparency

The third theme of the conference is good advice if you encounter the situation above. The need for transparency in social media communications becomes very obvious. Cover-ups, side-stepping issues, and being vague doesn’t cut it in the world of social media as it’s too easy for stakeholders to find or infer the information and then spread it like wildfire, true or not. Presenter after presenter emphasized the need to be ethical, to tell the truth, to be accountable. If you do, the relationships you have developed may survive and thrive after a crises, if you don’t, they most certainly won’t. I talk a little about transparency in a previous post. Click here to read.

Overall, the presentations and presenters were very optimistic and upbeat about the future of social media as a tool for public relations and marketing. Opening doors to relationships that would not have been possible before. A media where true two-way communication between an organization and its stakeholders can take place. And although it can seem complicated, I think it can be made simple by following  Kevin Vine’s (Dunkin Brands) advice and “listen, learn, engage and celebrate” our customers and followers. If we do that, I don’t think we can go wrong.

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Need Social Media Training? Get Ready for Social Fresh EAST

 

I have been a public relations professional since 1991. Yes, I am dating myself, but I do so to point out how much has changed in the profession over the past 20 years. When I started there was no such thing as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, or the myriad other social media platforms that have proliferated since then. In fact, desktop computers were still a recent addition to the workplace and the Internet revolution had not yet begun.

Today’s practitioners have seen the rules of public relations change in many ways. The environment is dynamic, constantly changing, and very confusing to us dinosaurs trying to keep up. I realized about five years ago that if I didn’t make an effort to learn and implement these new avenues for public relations, I was going to be left in the dust. But it’s difficult to learn about how to implement social media strategies in a constantly changing environment. There aren’t many college programs or formal training opportunities, so traditional methods for learning are hard to come by. There are lots of information sources on the Internet, but who do you listen to? What information is reliable? Authoritative?

It is for these reasons that I am attending this year’s Social Fresh EAST’s social media training conference. The conference is being held from April 18th to 19th in my home town of Tampa, Florida (a wonderful place to visit for those who would like to attend from out-of-town). This is the fourth year the conference is being held in Tampa and there is a terrific line-up of sessions and speakers. Billed as “the social media conference you’ve always hoped for,” this conference offers a simple and focused format. There is a single track that allows Social Fresh to focus on bringing in only the best speakers and takes the guess-work out of choosing sessions. There are no “filler” panel presentations and the sessions are short to encourage each speaker to present only their best information. Group learning is also emphasized with networking events each evening and online opportunities to interact with other attendees.

This year’s speakers include industry leaders such as Chris Brogan, author and CEO of Human Business Works, who will explain how to rise above the noise and make an impact with your social media strategy. Other speakers include Christopher Penn from Shift Communications who will provide insights on how to measure the bottom line, and Ryan Cohn from Ron Sachs Communications who will show us how to convert boardroom resistance into social media advocacy. Founder and CEO of Social Fresh, Jason Keath, will also present an overview of 50 social media campaigns. I’m looking forward to seeing how he will accomplish that amazing feat in only 30 minutes!

By attending this year’s Social Fresh EAST conference I am hoping to not only improve my social media skills, but meet face-to-face with other professionals who are navigating the ever-changing social media landscape. I’m looking forward to being able to meet, build relationships, and ask questions of some industry giants. Social media is an amazing new way to reach out and engage your audiences – building your business by creating relationships, which is the essence of public relations after all. If you don’t want to be left in the dust, perhaps you should go too!

 

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