Jeff Krakoff

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

The write stuff

Want to stretch your marketing communications dollar for all it’s worth? Make room in the budget for feature articles for publications that reach your customers.

In the mind of the reader, an article is more credible than an ad. It’s what the publication says about your product or service. And you can order reprints of the published article and send it to prospective customers.

You may have the initial draft of an article already prepared. A technical paper, for example, often can be published without making many changes, if you send it to a magazine that publishes such papers in your industry. Take the technical jargon out and send it to not-so-technical magazines that reach your customers.

Do the same thing with a presentation you’ve developed for a trade show ... or a customer group ... or even for employees, if the subject is appropriate for a wider audience. If you record the presentation, you can develop a transcript, edit it into an article and send it to a magazine without doing a lot of additional work.

You’ve already put the work into creating the presentation, so why not get more mileage from it? You may be surprised to discover how quickly you can prepare such an article.

A white paper can be converted into a feature article in much the same way. Since it may not contain the jargon sometimes found in technical papers, it may be even easier to develop. The white paper may include more detail and may be longer than the specifications called for by the magazine, but that simply means you’ve got a little editing to do.

Another document that can be developed into an article is a news release. The format may need to be changed, and you’ll probably want to expand on the details. But that provides you an opportunity to further explain some points you didn’t have room for in the news release, and you can add more narrative.

A popular article with many editors is the case history. You create it based on a customer’s — or several customers’ — good experiences with your product or service. The article describes that experience in their words and from their points of view.

Keep in mind that commercial messages in any of these articles tend to lessen its value in the eyes of the editor. The standard line for knowing how much commercialism you can get away with is, “If you want to put an ad in the magazine, buy the space.”

Your name as the author of the article, or a mention of your business in the article, or even a mention of your company in a photo caption, all serve to identify you to the reader. Consider any other mentions a bonus. Go light on them as you draft the article, and you’ll improve the odds of having it accepted for publication.

Increase your chances of success even more by checking editorial calendars for the magazines you want to reach. Look for an issue that seems to fit the subject you have in mind, and aim for that issue. Most magazines post their editorial schedule for the year on their Web sites. If you can’t find it, call the magazine and ask it to send you one.

Just be careful not to send articles to competing magazines at the same time.

Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or jkrakoff@krakoff.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Meeting the media

The owner of a new business with a great product but a very limited marketing communications budget once asked me what I could do to help him make an initial impact in his target market within about four months.

Print advertising wasn’t viable; the budget just couldn’t support producing an ad and buying the space to place it multiple times. Besides, numerous magazines reached the potential customers he wanted to reach, including a mix of business trade publications and the big — and very expensive — consumer magazines.

So I took him on a media tour, with a presentation about the product, to some of the top publications, many in New York City. We visited with 19 editors — in two days. More than half were with McGraw-Hill publications, all located in one building.

We also visited publishers of multiple publications and included a stop at the New York Times, where we met with a syndicated columnist. That single meeting, which lasted about 45 minutes, led to a story that was carried in newspapers across the country, including one right here in Pittsburgh. The story was read by millions of people.

What I wanted to do with this client — and what you should consider doing if you’re thinking about putting together a media tour— was to develop an approach to engage each editor in a discussion that would lead to the development of a feature article specifically for that publication.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Make a list of all the publications reaching your customers and group them by city or geographic region. You’ll probably find a number of them based in the metro areas of New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago.

2. Develop a statement about why readers will be interested in reading about your product or service and call or e-mail the editor. E-mail seems to be the most effective way to reach most of them. Craft the message. It needs to be brief, but have enough detail to convince the editor that you have something in which readers will be interested.

3. Call the editors to arrange a meeting. If the editors you’re meeting with work for the same publishing house, (McGraw-Hill, for example), your commute between offices may consist of a ride on the elevator, and you can schedule meetings closely together.

4. During each meeting, briefly engage the editor in a conversation about how information about your product or service will be of interest to lots of readers.

5. If the editors are scattered around the city, it may be to your advantage to rent a conference room in a hotel that’s centrally located and invite the editors to come there. Do a brief presentation before noon, go right into a Q&A session and then have lunch brought in. That offers privacy, and you avoid the confusion of asking the editors to move to a different room.

6. As soon as you return to your office, write a personal note of thanks to each editor for meeting with you and remind the editor of any discussion you had concerning a specific article. Remind him or her about possible topics, deadlines, etc., that were discussed in the meeting.

This follow-up of the media tour is what makes it a marketing communications activity that pays for itself many times over. You’re now in position to begin developing an article with the publication. Mission accomplished.

Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 by e-mail at jkrakoff@krakoff.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

It’s not what you deliver ...

The other day, I was reminded of one of the fundamental elements of success in any business, whether a for-profit or nonprofit, large or small. It’s called meeting the customer’s expectations.

One of our associates was discussing a new project with a number of people in the conference room at a client’s office. At one point, he asked a simple question. He wanted to know their expectations of us. A couple of people answered immediately; the others had to stop and think.

As it turned out, they all gave different answers. Each person in that room had a different perception of exactly what we would do for them. Needless to say, we stayed on the subject until everyone was in agreement as to just what the client expectations were.

“Exactly what is it that you are expecting us to accomplish for you?”

This is a basic question, and an important one. It’s something we ask clients, in one form or another, before we begin work on any project. As a service agency, we know that we’re going to be evaluated in a number of areas, such as creativity, content, cost, delivery schedules, etc. But we also know that most clients already have a picture — some clearer than others — in mind that defines for them what they think we’re going to be able to provide.

Their expectations of our work will probably be high, as they should be. We need to be able to grasp their vision, to understand exactly what they want.

The most important thing to remember, though, is this: Expectations are determined by the customer. It doesn’t really matter what you deliver unless it meets or exceeds those expectations. If you delivered a certain number of products or a certain amount of service, but your customer was expecting more from you, no matter how hard you worked, no matter how heroic your efforts were, regardless of what you did, the fact is that you failed to meet your customer’s expectations.

You may have met, or even exceeded, your own expectations. But the reality is that your expectations don’t count.

In the process of failing to deliver what your customer was expecting, you probably did some harm to your reputation. The time and money you’ve invested in advertising and/or public relations activities that describe who you are, what you do and how you do it better than your competition may have been wasted on the aforementioned customer. And as word gets around that you failed to deliver for this customer, others will hear about it.

None of this has to happen. You can eliminate many potential problems and misunderstandings as the meeting is progressing, or as part of its conclusion. Here’s how:

Ask the question. At some point, sooner as opposed to later, ask the customer what he or she expects from you. Ask directly.

Listen carefully to the answer. Be sure you understand the answer. Your success — or failure — with the project could be determined by what your customer says and how you respond. If the customer’s expectations go way beyond what you normally would deliver, this is where the discussion takes place to make their expectations more realistic.

Summarize aloud. At the conclusion of the meeting, summarize and read aloud the list of action items discussed — who’s responsible for doing what, when it’s due, and so forth, to make sure everyone understands what is expected.

Write a meeting report. As soon as possible, put together a meeting report with all of the action items briefly described, and send a copy to each participant.

If this sounds a bit routine, like something you do all the time, that’s excellent. Encourage others to do it, including your customers.

If it isn’t something you’ve been doing on a regular basis, consider incorporating the regimen into your meeting format from now on.

The results may be better than expected by you ... and your customers. Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or by e-mail at jkrakoff@krakoff.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

Do your Web graphics compute?

This month, I'm focusing on the nuts and bolts of Web design -- at least the graphic design portion.

Here's my Top 10 list of suggestions to make your Web site more attractive, more likely to achieve your objectives and easier to navigate and download.

1. Minimize graphics. Download speeds are crucial -- design for the least-common denominator for data transmission. typically, a 28.8 mb modem. That way, you assure that all users can load your site quickly. This is critical until the broad bandwidth infrastructure is in place for the Web and all users. All sites are quick and great-looking on a 21-inch monitor and DSL-line connection, but design for everyone who may visit your site.

2. Minimize clutter. Incorporate lots of graphic interfaces to help aid navigation. Simplify content by better organizing information into usable chunks. Take a "less is more" approach. Ask if the graphics add or distract from the overall usability of your site.

3. Avoid scrolling. The average user will scroll 2.5 times before losing track or tiring of the information. Streamline content to minimize the need for scrolling.

4. Avoid overusing bells and whistles. Don't be tempted to use all the latest technology if it serves no purpose. Ask whether it adds value to your site. And remember that users who have to go to another site to download a plug-in usually will not come back.

5. Write in inverted pyramid style. The Web is not the same medium as print. Studies show that readers on the Web scan text, much like newsprint. By writing in the inverted pyramid style, you give readers the most useful information up front, and they can find additional information through further reading if they choose to do so.

6. Ensure high visibility of your corporate identity. Your logo should be visible on every screen, ensuring that users who bookmark any page will easily see whose site they are viewing. The brand stays intact.

7. Don't use frames. Frames, though very useful for some design applications, sometimes will not print and are difficult to bookmark.

8. Keep content fresh. Instead of constantly changing the layout or navigation of a site, simply change the information to attract new users. Web surfers can be annoyed when they become comfortable with the navigation of a site, only to see it overhauled and changed.

9. Allow for useful feedback within your site. Provide users an incentive for completing a simple survey of five to 10 quick questions. If something on your site doesn't work, fix it -- but only after you have received a clear indication of a problem from end-users. Your site should offer users an experience -- a pleasant experience. Why do so many people return to Disneyland? The experience warrants a return trip. We live in an experience-driven economy.

10. Test. Evaluate. Test again. Before you officially open the site for public viewing, make sure you test and work out all the bugs.

Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or e-mail him at jkrakoff@krakoff.com.

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