Don’t Just Crank Out More PR: 7 Questions to Identify, Expand & Serve Your Audience

ID and Reach Your Target MarketThe first newspaper stories that I wrote, 30 years ago, began as actual scrawling that I did in a notebook. After making editing changes, I would then begin typing the copy on an electric typewriter plugged into the wall of my home in the woods on Webster Street.

Along the way, I would make some more on-the-fly tweaks as I churned out a story that typically was two to four pages long, double-spaced, on 8 1/2- by 11-inch paper. The next step: hop onto my bicycle and pedal for nearly two miles to the house/barn-turned-newspaper office of the Marshfield (Mass.) Mariner on the south shore of Boston.

After handing the story to my editor, someone in the office would re-type the words into a mysterious device known as a computer. A few days later, the story would appear in the newspaper.

It was what you would call a process.

And compared to the world of communications today, from newspapers to just about any mode of story-telling that exists, it was a process that moved at glacial speed. For residents to know what happened at the Town Hall meeting on Monday night, by and large they would either have to attend the meeting or be at the mercy of what the reporter deemed newsworthy enough to include in one or more stories that appeared in the paper.

As professional communicators, there is the omnipresent temptation to crank out something in the blink of an eye–because we can. But here are some questions we are wise to ask, of ourselves and one another, before clicking “send” or “post” or whatever word or symbol appears on our latest gizmo:

1. Who is our audience?

2. How do we reach them now?

3. Is there a more effective way of reaching them?

4. What does our audience need to know?

5. Can we expand our existing audience?

6. Do we need to create different messages for different audience segments?

7. What will move them to take the action we desire?

Distilled into one overarching principle: as publicists and marketers, we can never be reminded too often of the need for consistent mindfulness in our communications.

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Chicago Pediatric Dentist’s Playful Display Creates Buzz, Bigger Smiles

With a colorful, playful sign out front touting its “little teeth big smiles” motto, Children’s Dentistry of Forest Park has been an eye-catching attraction along Harlem Avenue for years.

But the practice’s founder, Dr. Jerry Udelson, isn’t one to rest on any laurels.

As a result, the popular pediatric practice (and Inside Edge PR client since January) has added a 6-foot, 200-pound display of giant chattering teeth that figure to inspire even bigger smiles.

A few weekends ago, the fiberglass structure was installed above the office’s entrance and wrapped around three sides of a decorative brick wall. Each tooth is 13 inches tall and overall the 32 teeth are seven feet across.

Attached to the giant teeth is a pair of green high-top sneakers, laced to the top and roughly 2 feet in length.

Looming more than 20 feet off the ground, it now greets not only patients but passers-by along the busy stretch of Harlem just north of Roosevelt Avenue on Forest Park’s eastern border.

Udelson came up with the idea through conversations he had with a friend, artist Lance Friedman, owner of Shattered Glass Group in Chicago. The teeth were manufactured by Mark Cline of Enchanted Castle Studios in Natural Bridge, Va.

“Fun is at the heart of our approach to pediatric dentistry,” said Udelson, who founded the practice in 2004. “In addition to providing top service, we pull out all the stops to make a trip to the dentist an enjoyable experience.”

The Forest Park Review bit into some coverage of the new feature.

Last year, Children’s Dentistry of Forest Park gained acclaim from national website Red Tricycle as a “Most Awesome” selection in the “Happiest Dentist Offices” category. To gain the honor, the practice outdistanced nine other finalists throughout the Chicago area.

The tongue-in-cheek humor serves a greater purpose, establishing an environment for young patients to become diligent and proactive in their dental care as they enter their adult years.

“The more we can reinforce that dental care isn’t some kind of ordeal, the better it will be not only for us, but all dental practitioners in the area,” said Udelson.

To learn more about Children’s Dentistry of Forest Park, call 708-FUN-KIDS (386-5437) or visit www.little-teeth-big-smiles.com.

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An Effective Public Relations Strategy: Use Phone to Follow Up E-Mails to Reporters

Last week, PR Secrets From a Media Insider returned with a typically eclectic assortment of attendees: two citizen activists, a healthcare practitioner, a communications specialist, a furniture store owner and a representative of a stained glass studio.

Among other points that I emphasized:

For many publicists, sending an e-mail often marks the extent of their outreach.

But based on my years as a reporter as well as in the PR realm, e-mails take on a markedly different life when they are accompanied by a verbal heads-up and some professional rapport. What guides my approach is how I always preferred to be treated as a journalist.

If someone was pitching a story to me for the first time, I was happy to get a call first so that the e-mail didn’t arrive out of the blue. (Later, once a publicist and I had built some trust and mutual respect, I welcomed e-mails any time, and calls in advance weren’t so necessary.)

Even though I was open to introductory phone calls, my patience had its limit. I had neither the time nor the interest to have my ear talked off when my real interest was in seeing, by e-mail, how much groundwork the publicist had done for me.

In my years on a newspaper staff, I had my beat or beats to tend to. As a freelance journalist, I was paid for completed articles, not the passage of time. So the swifter, more complete and more concrete a pitch, the more likely I would hop on a story.

When we give the media what they need, they will give us what we want. And who knows? They might even return more of our e-mails.

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A hairy turn of events: Entrepreneur magazine features my Blagojevich haircut offer PR stunt

Nearly a week after closing arguments in former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial, the jury is still out on whether he is bound for the slammer, a reality TV show, or somewhere in between.

But Entrepreneur.com, at least, has weighed in with a verdict on a Blago-inspired PR stunt that Inside Edge PR concocted for a hair salon client, Charo’s Hair Design and Day Spa of Elmwood Park, Ill.

The stunt came on the heels of Blago’s arrest some 20 months ago.

In a piece that appeared online Tuesday, freelance writer Geoff Williams deemed the stunt to be a flop, though he did note some up-side as well. He also covered nine other PR stunts and teased out lessons from each, making it relevant material for anyone in the public relations and marketing fields.

I really don’t mind the “flop” characterization.

As Williams rightly notes, “Blagojevich didn’t take the salon up on the offer; he likely didn’t see much of an upside to accepting. A smattering of local outlets reported on the gimmick, but the stunt went nowhere.”

On the positive side, Williams wrote, “It’s good practice to invent marketing stunts that won’t cost you much if they don’t go anywhere. Baron doesn’t think Charo got a lot of business from the stunt, but she didn’t lose any time or money, either. Try to avoid a marketing stunt that, if it fails, could cost you a lot of time and money that you can’t afford to lose.”

And here in August 2010, the hairy hijinks did get some more national publicity, with links to both the Inside Edge PR website and that of Charo’s Hair Design.

How fortuitous, too, that it comes at a time when Blago is very much on the collective public’s mind. Who knows? Maybe he will still take up Charo on her offer, which is good through January 2011.

If so, you can be sure that I’ll appeal to Entrepreneur.com to alter its “flop” verdict.

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Publicists Must Anticipate, Address Conflict

I just read an engaging piece (“The Redundant Journalist Guide to PR: Things To Be Considered Before Jumping Careers”) by journalist-turned-publicist Craig McGill.

In a humorous, been there-done that address to journalists considering a move to PR, McGill makes plenty of on-target points. As someone who has made the transition, however, I have to differ with at least one of his five key messages:

“You write press releases, not the story.”

In that section, McGill writes, “If you do get a topic or issue that you can sink your teeth into, remember you aren’t looking to give all sides. You aren’t writing the row (Matt’s note: “row'” is Brit-speak for “conflict”), just your client’s side of it.”

In my experience, writing a release that is limited in scope (confined to the client’s perspective, for example) simply limits its potential to spark interest from credible media.

With the media more short-staffed than ever, it’s vital for publicists to offer written content that not only anticipates the conflict inherent in a story, but offers rock-solid facts (statistics, maybe even contrary viewpoints) that make it all the more tempting for the media to say “yes” to coverage.

Here’s one example from a news release I recently developed for Scheck & Siress.

Rather than simply tell the story about what the company is doing to help care for children who have plagiocephaly (flat-head syndrome), I expanded the release to include fuller context and conflict–in this case, with the successful “Back to Sleep” campaign that has drastically reduced Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

So far, five media outlets have expressed interest in the story, including two that have published it.