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Three Questions For Every PR Professional

I don’t get them everyday, but today I received three emails from assorted PR agencies that kind of struck a nerve. I’m not technically in public relations, but I am heavily involved in communications so I know a thing or two about what works and what really sucks. Don’t worry…this isn’t going to be a “Bash PR” post. Well, at least not totally. Instead, I’m hoping I can offer some feedback to those in the PR profession who might listen and take heed.

Here we go.

First question you need to ask yourself is:
Does this contact actually want to be connected with our agency?
Email #1 was a very brief email from one agency’s Media Researcher (taking a guess that this is a “fresh out of college” type position) who asked:

Could you tell me if this e-mail is still valid as a contact for you at Alchemy of Soulful Work? It keeps bouncing.

chris@baileyworkplay.com

Thanks so much.

Regards,
xxxxx

If you find my email address is bouncing then go to the trouble to visit my site and send an email to my new address, why not invest a wee bit of time to building a relationship? This Media Researcher just missed a golden opportunity to understand what types of communications I’d like to receive. Or even ask if I’d like to continue to receive emails on behalf of their clients. (Ironic sidenote: I no longer use chris@baileyworkplay.com because of all of the PR blast spam I got at this address.)

Just like any other type of email communication (like newsletters), I don’t mind receiving them when the content is fascinating and important to my work. But don’t just assume because you have my email address, that I’m a captive audience who is automatically interested in whatever your client is doing. Apply some permission-based email marketing practices and you might discover better ROI because I’ll be a willing participant in your media outreach.

Relatedly, another question is:
How is my client going to make you look good?
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the awesomeness, amazingness, incredibleness, stupendousness of your client. He or she (or it, if we’re talking about a brand) is paying you to promote their greatness. But no matter how terrific your client is, no blogger or online influential cares if this marvelousness doesn’t rub off on them in some way. So your job is to connect the dots and make the case for why I should take time to read their book or schedule an interview. Deep down, I really don’t care about all the great things your client does if it doesn’t help me achieve my own goals.

And again, remember its not just me you’re pitching. You’re asking me to connect you with my friends, colleagues, readers…in other words, my own social network. Clearly demonstrate what’s in it for me and I’ll be more likely to want to help you.

Finally, the big question you have to ask is:
Why should you want a relationship with me, my agency, and my client?
For the love of all things holy, stop thinking short-term, small ball. That game played out fine ten or twenty years ago but its all changed now. If you’re trying to drive results through cold, impersonal email blasts that don’t address me by name (email works different than fax), include other email addesses in the To: line (yes, unbelievably I know the other email addresses that received the blast), and offer no opt-out provision (which is kind of breaking the law), then have fun on the ride down. I guess that means your client is riding shotgun.

Time to wake up and realize the PR game is now played through relationships.

And it’s not as if these questions are just for PR folks. They’re applicable to customer experience, marketing, and sales folks as well. Just focusing on your side of the action without considering the relationship with the folks on the other side squanders the potential connection. And in this case, everyone suffers.

photo credit: tashland (via Flickr)

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The Art Of Volunteer Engagement

Say you’re a nonprofit executive or someone responsible for working with volunteers…do you know the value of the volunteer work being done on your organization’s behalf? Consider all that time spent, all that energy devoted, all that expertise put to service of your mission. Do you have an idea of their true worth?

If your answer is “no” or any variation of “sorta,” don’t worry; it’s actually a rather complex question that’s going to be quite unique to each nonprofit. You might want to bring in a business anthropologist (I do happen to know one) to help you sort through all of the people and policy issues. But there are a few key domains to consider as you mull this question:

Relationship
What kinds of relationships do you want to form with your volunteers? After working with volunteers for nearly 10 years, I’ve come to believe in one certain truth: there is no such thing as “managing” volunteers. Management changes the interpersonal dynamic making volunteerism a transaction rather than a relationship. Plus, your volunteers don’t need or want to be managed.

This raises an inevitable question: how do you get your volunteers to do what you want them to do? It’s actually the wrong question to ask if you’re trying to cultivate strong volunteer engagement. I would suggest this one: How do you guide your volunteers to give their best talents, expertise, and energy in ways that are meaningful to both themselves and the nonprofit? Individuals give most freely when they see and feel the personal connection to their work.

Value
What’s the value of the work being done by your volunteers? Most nonprofits that I’ve worked with don’t have a firm idea of the value of their volunteer work activities. If volunteers put together an event, what would the price be if done by a paid contractor? It’s not a question designed to make you shout, “Wow! Look at all the money we’re saving using free labor!” Instead, take some time to realize that individuals are giving their effort and that it does have an economic value. Then, calculate in the emotional value that comes from the passion behind the effort.

Social Marketing Potential
What kind of word-of-mouth marketing are you getting from your volunteers? Here’s where that emotional value pays off. If your volunteers are emotionally invested in your nonprofit’s cause, they’re going to tell others about their work. They’re going to have stories to share with their friends, family, coworkers, and other folks they see on a daily basis. And these stories can have a significant impact on your organization’s brand, fundraising movements and advocacy appeals. Engage your volunteers in meaningful work and they will spread the word in ways you may never have imagined.

This was just a broad look at volunteer engagement. It really does need some deeper probing. To do this, Aaron Bramley (blog :: twitter) and I are doing an email dialogue exchange over the next week so we can drill down into this topic. When we finish, we’ll post the results so everyone can benefit. Neither of us know what it’ll look like so you’ll just have to subscribe and see what happens. And if you have thoughts or questions, post them below and we’ll weave them into our dialogue.

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Step Away From The Trade Booth

Here’s a little fact about me: I don’t like trade shows. From the visitor side, they make me uncomfortable. I’m always afraid to make eye contact with an exhibitor for fear that I’m going to get the full-on sales blitz. And usually it’s for a service or product that I really don’t need. Ever try to get away from these guys or gals (yes, the sales blitz technique is equal opportunity in its usage)? Nothing less than having a heart attack will allow you to elude their grasp.

From the exhibitor side, I’m not a big fan of them, either. There’s a certain quality of salesmanship that I find hard to grasp…there’s also a certain quality of will that doesn’t seem entirely authentic for me. And I guess it all comes down to my preference for depth. Can you develop a deep connection with a potential member, customer, or client in the span of 5-7 minutes (that’s the average amount of time you get to speak to one person at a trade booth)? Probably not, which is why so much leg work is required after the show to seal the deal. The practice of trade show exhibiting assumes that you already KNOW the needs and desires of your customers – it’s just a matter of talking to them until they fully know it.

Of course, there are alternatives. It starts by doing this: take all the <em>assumptions</em> you have about your customers – what they want, how they want it, what they expect from your products and services – and get rid of them. Write them down and burn them in your wastebasket. Give them the ceremonial flush down the toilet. The important point is to realize you may not know anything real about the folks with which you want to connect.

Now, take all the money that you would spend on your trade booth and put it toward the conference registration (you might even find this is less expensive). Don’t exhibit; instead, be a student. Go to the sessions and honestly listen to what the presenters have to say, attend the workshops and openly participate in the dialogues. In between, strike up real conversations with fellow attendees and figure out what’s going on in their lives and their work. Of course, be prepared with some brochures and swap business cards. But remember, the point isn’t to deluge the other person with info about your product or service (if that’s what you’re really after, be truthful about it and just get yourself a trade booth). The point is to immerse yourself in the rich world of your customer. What you give up in terms of having a long list of prospects (many of which may never be interested in you anyway), you gain in having a deep understanding of the individuals who comprise your market and how you can make their lives better. Trust me, they’ll love you for it.

From Bailey WorkPlay, first published November 7, 2005 (with minor edits)

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