The Responsibility of Advertising and PR to the General Public

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There’s been a lot of talk recently about the responsibility of journalists to tell the truth.

However, there seems to be one part of the news-making equation that has so far been given a free pass, and that’s the information provided to newsrooms by PR.

Due to cutbacks in journalism, and the demands of the new media environment we live in, short staffed newsrooms are tasked to produce high quantities of content every day. Some are even faced with unprecedented output quotas to compensate for the newly diminished workforce.

Something has to give in this scenario, which means an increasing percentage of journalistic output is reliant on the information fed through by PR.

According to the PR Census 2016, the PR industry employs 83,000 people in the UK. In comparison, a Labour Force Survey released in June 2015 discovered that 64,000 people were involved in a job role concerned with journalism (e.g. editor, reporter etc.). That’s a big difference, so perhaps it’s time we started talking about the responsibility those working in PR and advertising have to the general public.

This responsibility is one taken seriously by the vast majority of PR professionals. David Woodward is a former journalist who is currently a strategy director at Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading public relation firms. He is acutely aware of the situation PR currently finds itself in.

Our business is founded upon relationships with a free press. Professional journalists rely on us to tell them the truth, and in turn share that information with audiences who hold all of us accountable. Increasingly, we are also content creators ourselves. Of course, branded content is not journalism. But we must never deceive and always be completely accurate in what we say and advise our clients to say.

In an industry which has the sole purpose of spreading the good word about a client, towing the ethical line when pitching to journalists has been a stumbling point for a selection of brands throughout history.

This needs to stop. As an industry we need to ensure a certain code of ethics is adhered to. And while agencies are bound to the rules of bodies such as the PRCA, legislation shouldn’t be the only thing stopping false claims getting out into the world.

Here are three ethical pillars of public relations and advertising professionals — that under no circumstances should be breached. It’s a steadfast list, which leaves the door open for the odd superlative here and there. After all, we are in the business of marketing.

1) Tell The (Whole) Truth

This is the over-arching theme for this entire post, so to include it as a separate point might appear redundant. However, I believe it’s an area worth indulging in. As does Becky Merchant, an account manager at the Stand Agency in London.

It is the responsibility of Public Relations practitioners to ensure that all their communications are accurate and they offer truthful and insightful stories to cover. While organizations no doubt have to be more transparent these days, 2017 is no different from other years; it’ll always be the responsibility of PR to represent clients in an accurate and honest way.

While accuracy and honesty might have been the responsibility of PR ever since Edward Bernays set up shop in New York City back in 1919, it’s certainly the case that things have come in leaps and bounds since then. Take the 1940s for example, a time where claims like the one below were allowed to go out in front of millions without being questioned …


Camel Ad Image via AdAge

Camel cigarettes actually ran with this slogan for eight years, and it was even featured as an advert in the American Medical Associations official journal. It will come as no surprise to learn that the recent nationwide survey was carried out by an agency who had supplied said physicians with cartons of camel cigarettes just days earlier.

While it’s tempting to look back and laugh, it’s worth reminding ourselves that these practices are still happening today for example …

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Image Credit: Apple

Yes, the iPhone 3G courted controversy when the announcement press release read like this…

Just one year after launching the iPhone, we’re launching the new iPhone 3G that is twice as fast at half the price.

Neither of these claims turned out to be true, and when consumers decided to complain, the matter went to court. Apple’s lawyers responded with a less than solid defense

No reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position could have reasonably relied on or misunderstood Apple’s statements as claims of fact.

Arguing that consumers shouldn’t believe their own marketing messages is probably the exact opposite of what you should be doing. As you would expect, this bonkers reaction generated a lot of negative coverage across the media. The whole thing could have been avoided through a bit more honesty from the get go.

2) Don’t Misrepresent Statistics 

As the previous point touched on above, calling something a nationwide survey — when It really isn’t — is bad form. Besides the fact that journalists will probably ask for at least some documentation to back up your claims, lying about the public’s perception of certain issues is just not cricket.

When it comes to sharing internal statistics or survey results, there really is no excuse for anything but the cold hard facts.

Here are a few golden rules to stick to when carrying out your next piece of market research.

  •  If you’re commissioning a survey through a third party, ensure they adhere to the market research societies code of conduct, these are based upon the ESOMAR principles.
  • For UK wide surveys, a pool of 1,000 respondents is the minimum response rate to be considered usable by most media publications. Of course, the more comprehensive the research the better, and the number should certainly be higher when tackling serious topics.
  • The statistics need to be 100% accurate. Manipulating data in order to support your message or branding will inevitably blow up in your face. Just ask Volkswagen …


Image credit: Fortune Magazine

Around 10.5 million Volkswagen cars worldwide were sold under the pretense that they were fitted with a ‘ground-breaking clean diesel’ engine … that never actually existed. In September 2015 it was revealed that in fact these vehicles were emitting 40 times the level of emissions they said they were.

Civil suits could inflict Volkswagen with an excess of $45 billion in fines, and the company’s reputation has been almost irreversibly tarnished. And let’s not forget about the environmental impact of all this.

While manipulating data led to more green-thinking consumers purchasing a Volkswagen in the short term, it has put a big question mark over the future of the company in the long term. Now that’s what I call bad PR.

3) Be Thorough 

Contrary to what you might think after reading this article, not all misinformation is down to PR. Some of it is down to a message being misconstrued by journalists.

A hastily put together press release which is not clear can be just as damaging as one that is full of bare faced lies.

As explained earlier in this blog, the pressure on journalists in 2017 is astronomical, meaning the time dedicated to sub-editing copy is at a minimum. This means mistakes are more likely to get through unless your press release is clear and concise. If it’s not, you run the risk of being ignored completely, or your message being lost in the final story.

To avoid these outcomes, you need to be competent on the fundamentals, and it’s always handy to brush up on these in an industry that moves at a thousand miles an hour.

  • Keep your messaging clear. If a journalist doesn’t know what the news hook is within the first two lines, you haven’t done this.
  • Your copy must be spot on grammatically. Because this isnt’ acceptabel.
  • Your information must be correct. (See points 1 and 2)
  • If you’ve included a contact for journalists to follow up with, make sure they are available to talk to. The line “XXXX was unavailable for comment” never looks good.
  • Be prepared. Brush up your knowledge on the publication you’re pitching to, and always have additional information and imagery on hand, just in case.

The Rewards

Brands being open and honest with the public is proven to be the most important thing to consumers time and time again. An industry survey conducted by Cohn & Wolfe in 2014 stated that the number one behavior people demanded from brands was “to communicate honestly about products and services.”

In 2015 a survey revealed that 85% of people were more likely to support brands that are open and honest. And just last year, a survey by Label Insight found that 94% of consumers said transparency from brands and manufacturers was important and impacts their purchasing habits.

So with that in mind, how can an open and honest PR and Marketing agenda reward your brand?

You’re doing your bit for journalists, and stemming the tide of fake news.

This is not just good news for society as a whole, but will result in better relationships within the media – leading to increased coverage of open and honest stories.

Customers will appreciate your transparency, and be more inclined to buy into your marketing and use your services.

The stats don’t lie. And while this is easier said than done in a world of shareholders, quotas and deadlines, companies who strive to stick to a core principle of ethical responsibility will reap the rewards.

You stay out of trouble!

The less time spent in the courtroom the better.

It’s a cut throat world out there, where companies with the best marketing thrive and the rest settle just to survive, if they can even do that. And while journalists and bodies like the Advertising Standards Agency  and the PRCA are in place to protect the public from spurious claims, it’s vital that individuals assess the ethics workload and ensure the information the public is exposed to is legitimate.

I’ll give Weber Shandwick’s Woodward the final word on the responsibility of PR…

“The top line is this: we help organisations manage and protect their reputations, either through what they say or what they do. When fake news damages or harms reputations and breaks the public’s trust, we will take steps to undo the damage by insisting on truthful reporting. We have to hold our partners and vendors to the same high standards. We won’t intentionally do business with any business that deliberately traffics in fake news or distributes content to fake news sites.”

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing

3 Strategies to Increase Employee Retention

employee-retention-strategies.pngYou started young. You were still growing when you started your first business. You felt the thrill of making something out of nothing. Or maybe you needed a taste of the real world and you got a job after college. Either way, here you are now.

You’ve got a business.

You worked through the tough times. You had credit card debt and you put it all on the line because you knew there was something there. Now your relentless entrepreneurial commitment has, at the very least, led to putting food on the table. Or even better, perhaps you’re killing it, driving a Tesla to your hip office with brick walls and an industrial ceiling.

Check out our comprehensive guide on how to start a business. 

The only problem … one of your key employees left this week. It wasn’t about the money. It was “about the future … the opportunity ahead. It’s not you. It’s me”.  

You’ve got other key players in your business that you need to stick around to make it tick. What are you going to do to make sure you don’t lose another?

I was the one that went to college, got my MBA, and stepped on the first few rungs of the ladder. I worked for some huge software companies and consultancies. I was told by my manager one day that I “lacked a sense of urgency.” He offered some advice … when I walk down the hall, I should “walk faster and smile less, because perception is reality.”

I was fired.

I started my own software business on the antithesis of his advice, and sold to private equity 14 years later. I built a culture that attracted some of the best talent and kept them around for the long haul.

Through the years, I learned three strategies that you can begin to implement today to ensure you keep your key employees around not only through thick and thin but, as Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, says, “coming to work on the balls of their feet climbing the stairs two at a time.”

3 Strategies to Increase Employee Retention

1) Motivate from the inside.

Look at the organizations around the world that drive their followers to do unbelievable things. Look at SpaceX, Google, HubSpot, and the tens of thousands of charitable entities driving people to do amazing things.

What do they all have in common? They have followers and employees that believe in a vision and mission so much so that it’s aligned with their personal values or even becomes their own mission. These are the people that are passionate and committed. They are not leaving that organization any time soon. So what can you do to motivate and therefore retain your key employees?

Try it out: Start the dialog around why you’re doing what you’re doing. Bring your employees into the conversation. Spend weeks on this, if not months. Don’t rush it, but be deliberate about it.

Identify a purpose. The why… Watch Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” TED talk. With purpose comes dedication. With a purpose comes the person that goes well beyond the job description. With a purpose you have an employee who is by your side faithfully.

It’s not the salary. It’s not the bonus. Those are nice, and the money is necessary, but it’s not what really drives people and keeps them around. You may even find a couple other little things like a vision and values come out of this little exercise, as well.

2) Trust your employees like they’re family.

I don’t mean trust that they’ll pay you back for the $20 you let them borrow at the casino 3 months ago. And I’m not talking about the trust it takes to open up and spill your soul. I’m talking about the trust it takes to give them something important to figure out, knowing that it’s going to be ok.

Giving them a project without necessarily weighing in on it, uninvited. Give them a little dang breathing room. If failure is too common, figure out why, but have some faith that you hired the right people for the job. Because, here’s what happens: The employee starts to own it. I mean really, really own it. They begin to take pride in it. And nothing drives someone as much as pride, except maybe autonomy and mastery… Yep. That’s Dan Pink.

Try it out: The next time you give someone a project or something to figure out, let them own it. Give them the desired outcome and ask them to report in on regular milestones.

Here’s the one rule: You need to let them own it and intervention can only happen if it’s going to hurt the business. That’s it. Mmmmm. Try it. Hey, try it at home with your kids too. But don’t hold me responsible for that one.

3) Create a cadence that form good habits.

So think about all those nasty habits you have. Ok, you don’t have any, but others do … like your grandmother who smokes a pack a day and she’s almost 90. And your college friend that hasn’t grown up yet still drinks too much because cool kids drink, right? Why is it that we don’t do good things as habitually?

Well, we do actually. You have a morning routine. I’ll bet you work out, brush your teeth, and clean yourself. Let’s open that up to the office now. Every business has a cadence — your team meetings, your company meetings, your financial reporting, Taco Tuesday, etc … There are other things, however, that you can start to make routine that will help drive employee engagement and therefore retention and loyalty.

Sustainability is all about the habit forming cadence. Recognition and feedback often lack consistency. Cadence. Career and professional development often lack consistency. Cadence. Attention to strategy often falls on the way-side. Cadence.

Try it out: Identify a few things in your company that are hard to keep top of mind. For example, employee recognition. This is something we tell ourselves we need to do better. I’ve even talked to some entrepreneurs that set calendar reminders to give props to their employees. It can be easier.

Get your employees helping you out. Establish a peer to peer recognition program and set it up with a cadence that creates a habit. It might be a weekly or monthly routine. Or find something else you need to do better. Turn it into a cadence. Turn it into a habit.

At one point, while building my business, we ran into a difficult period. We were losing money. We needed to either let some people go or reduce compensation across the board. I reached out to my key employees and told them the scenario. I needed to ensure they were behind me on this. All of them confirmed they were on board. I made the difficult announcement and over the six month recovery, we didn’t lose a single employee.

We had built a strong culture and money was not the key motivator. There was trust and autonomy. And our best habits were driven by a cadence.

Put These Strategies Into Practice

If you’re successful at embracing these three strategies, you will never ever lose another key employee, even in the tough times — or at least it reduces the likelihood.

In fact, you’ll have their friends hitting you up for jobs. You’ll have customers and clients asking to work for you. And you’ll see your employees walking in the door with smiles on their faces. They’ll arrive to work in the morning “on the balls of their feet climbing the stairs two at a time.”

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing

13 Project Management Terms You Should Know [Infographic]

The legendary management consultant Peter Drucker once famously wrote, “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.”

This nugget of wisdom is especially relevant to project managers. Effective project management is all about cutting through the clutter to focus on the things with the biggest impact on the project’s bottom line — the basic pillars that hold your project up. There’s no use optimizing the details if your core process is flawed.

This handy infographic from Taskworld identifies 13 basic, big-picture project management terms you should know to keep things running smoothly and on-schedule from kickoff to post-mortem.

Some of the areas listed might seem self-explanatory, but they’re worth your attention as you start planning out your next big project. They’ll help you communicate your goals effectively, allocate resources efficiently, and keep your team focused and supported. Check them out below.

How do you make sure your big projects stay on track? Let us know in the comments.

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing

Why Agencies That Conduct Market Research Grow Faster

You’re a busy marketer. Your days are full of client meetings, brand research, marketing strategy sessions …

Who has time to do market research for their own marketing agency?

If you think market research is for clients only, better think again. As a marketer, it’s equally important for you to understand your market, its wants and needs, the state of your competition, and your place in the marketing ecosystem and pecking order.

Make no mistake — market research for your own firm is no purely-academic exercise. Think of it this way: the better you know your audience, the more easily you can turn prospects into clients. Incredible as it may seem, most professional services firms, including marketing agencies, don’t know their audiences as well as they should. As a result, they’re missing out on opportunities to gain more clients and get more business out of current ones.

So why don’t more marketing firms do research? Well, because many think, for some reason, their clients are “different” so that the input won’t yield any insights. Others think research simply won’t impact growth.

We beg to differ.

We’ve conducted our own research on research (yes, really) and discovered that there are some significant benefits for marketing firms. Firms that regularly research their client markets (at least quarterly) grow more than ten times faster than firms that don’t conduct research. 

If you’re willing to go all-in and conduct research on a frequent, more-than-quarterly basis, your firm can really take off, compared to agencies that do no research. Our research confirmed that more than one-third of high-growth firms conducted target audience research regularly and at least once a quarter (see below chart). Virtually none of the no-growth firms conducted frequent research.


Data from Hinge’s 2017 High Growth Research Report

Research not only drives growth, it also impacts profitability. For instance, when Hinge studied the effects of research on growth and profitability, we found that firms that conducted frequent research realized 19.9% profitability, whereas firms that did not conduct research reported only 11% profitability.

What makes research so effective? There are a number of ways that firms become better positioned to secure prospects and grow their client relationships through research. These include:

  • Having a clear understanding of emerging issues and trends in order to determine which services to develop and offer.
  • Uncovering areas in which your firm has misjudged or misread their clients, such as what market influences are keeping them from growing their relationship with your firm.
  • Identifying purchasing or other types of patterns that you haven’t noticed since you are so deeply engrossed in your day-to-day interactions with your clients.

As Hinge has done research for ourselves and our clients, we’ve identified ten research questions that can drive growth and profitability. Below is a sample of the questions we have found to have a big impact for our clients.

Why do your best clients choose your firm?

Understanding what great clients find appealing about a firm can help the firm attract others like them.

What are those same clients trying to avoid?

This is the flip side of the first question and offers a valuable perspective. The answer can provide clues as to how to avoid being ruled out during the early rounds of a prospect’s selection process. The answer can also help shape business practices and strategy.

What is the real benefit your firm provides?

Firms are often surprised to hear the true benefit of their service, as viewed through their clients’ eyes. Once they understand this, they are able to enhance or even develop new services with other real benefits.

So what’s the best way to conduct research?

Believe it or not, Rule Number One is do not do it yourself. That’s right. Have someone else do it for you. Why? Because respondents are more likely to provide honest answers to a third party. If you insist on doing the research yourself — which is better than doing no research at all — be aware that you may capture only a portion of the overall picture.

Here are three more tips for conducting effective research:

1) Phone interviews are best. 

Nothing beats a live interview. Even reluctant participants will open up to a skillful interviewer. In fact, the greatest insights are often volunteered outside the scope of the questionnaire.

2) Online surveys are second best—but they don’t have to be second rate. 

An online survey will never capture the same insights as an interview, but a well-crafted online survey can still reap valuable information. Surveys also tend to be easier and less expensive to implement. Just remember, your response rate is likely to be very low.

3) Don’t limit it to your current clients. 

Cold prospects are more difficult to get on the phone, but they provide—by far—the most accurate picture of your marketplace. Clients who got away offer invaluable insights into your weaknesses. Similarly, lapsed clients can help you understand how to become more relevant and engaged.

And what should we do with all this research?

There are any number of ways you can use it, limited mostly by your goals and imagination. Here are just a few ideas on how you can use your research to enhance your reputation, generate leads and bring in more clients:

  • Tweak or redefine your positioning to differentiate your firm from competitors.
  • Introduce new services that prospects have indicated want.
  • Use it as an entrée to bring former clients back into the fold.
  • Offer new services to current or former clients.
  • Anticipate clients’ needs.

Most important, you can boost your credibility with your target market and increase your visible expertise by pulling data and results from your research findings to write blog posts and articles that address urgent market challenges, to publish a research study, and as fodder for speeches, seminars, and webinars.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get researching. The sooner you get started, the sooner your firm will reap its rewards.

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing

10 of the Best Ads from April: Hygge, Apocalypse, and a Robot Baby

Although we haven’t been fortunate enough to see more than a few scattered days of sunlight here in Boston, I’m told it’s technically spring.

In addition to rain, April also brought us some stunning new creative work from agencies around the word. Our monthly ad round-up features a German-produced animated short, a delightful Danish beer ad, and a clever insurance spot from Japan starring a rugby team from New Zealand. 

Did you miss any of these ads from April? Scroll down to check them out, and get inspired to tackle your next big project. 

10 of the Best Ads from April

1) AIG Japan

New Zealand’s national rugby union team, the All Blacks, hit the pedestrian-heavy streets of Toyko in this unexpectedly charming spot for AIG Japan. The three-minute ad opens with the uniform-clad players tackling seemingly random (and reasonably stunned) Tokyo residents — but things quickly take a heartwarming turn.

About half-way through the TBWAHakuhodo-produced video, it becomes apparent that the All Blacks were actually saving people from unpredictable disasters — a car running a red light, a pile of debris falling from a construction site, and a sudden laptop fire.

“[The ad] was an arresting way to show our fantastic relationship with the All Blacks, demonstrate the idea of risk prevention, and create a strong connection to the Japanese audience,” said Matthew Walker, AIG Japan’s senior vice president and regional chief marketing officer.

 

2) Carlsberg

Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen ponders the secret source of his home country’s enviable happiness in Carlsberg’s latest UK campaign. Produced by London-based agency Fold7, the ad follows Mikklesen as he peddles his way through Copenhagen, magically passing through hedges, into stylish, minimal apartments, and over a rustic table set for a hyggelig gathering.

His tour ends (where else?) at a Carlsberg brewery, where Mikklesen enjoys a cold Carlsberg pilsner and decides that this is the real secret of Danish happiness … probably.

 

3) Student Flights

If you’re young, you better enjoy traveling while you can — before you become an uncool, perpetually exhausted parent. That’s the message of this spot for Student Flights, a company that specializes in travel deals for the university set.

To really drive that message home, Johannesburg-based agency TBWAHunt Lascaris convinced a hip millennial to carry around a wailing, pooping “Babybot” for a few days at a music festival. The poor guy in question, Loyiso Madinga, is promised a free trip to New York if he can survive a weekend with Babybot unscathed. His initial assessment of the challenge? “How hard could this be … right?”

As expected, having a baby at a music festival isn’t super fun — even if that baby is Wifi-enabled and made of metal. 

 

4) Netto

Ever wonder where the Easter Bunny came from? European supermarket chain Netto teamed up with German agency Jung von Matt and production house Mill+ to share their whimsical imagining of the egg-laying rabbit’s origins (Hint: it starts with a hen and a rabbit meeting each other at a night club.)

Set to a innocent, heart-wrenching rendition of “Beautiful, Always,” the animated short packs a surprisingly poignant punch. It’s sure to make even the coldest little hearts grow three sizes.

 

5) The New York Times

Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (of Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan fame) lends his talents to this Droga5-produced spot for The New York Times. The stark, one-minute ad series is part of the Grey Lady’s first brand-focused ad campaign in a decade.

Aronofsky met with several New York Times photojournalists, asking them to recount their experiences covering some of the most impactful stories from recent years. As the photojournalists discuss their fieldwork and motivations, images from the trips in question flash across the screen.  

 

6) Unilever

Pricey, trendy beauty products aren’t necessarily worth the hype, according to Unilever’s latest marketing stunt. Vice’s digital agency Carrot invited a group of real beauty influencers to try a fake new shampoo: Evaus (Spoiler alert: that’s just discount hair care brand Suave spelled backwards).

Packaged in a sleek, minimal bottle, Evaus products were a big hit with the influencers, who raved about how shiny and soft their hair felt after 10 days of using the line. When producers reveal that the “startup” hair care brand is really just $3 Suave shampoo poured into fancy schmancy bottles, the influencers are shocked — and then seemingly delighted at the great value.

“We found seven of 10 women think higher-priced brands are more trustworthy,” Jen Bremner, Unilever marketing director explained to AdAge. “That really was the inspiration. We wanted to peel back the labels and convert the skeptics.”

 

7) Entourage

To promote Entourage, a French app aimed at reconnecting neighborhoods with their homeless populations, TBWAParis decided to take an unconventional, offline approach to viral marketing: writing directly on banknotes.

The agency asked homeless community members to pen short messages directly on paper bills. Each hand-written note reveals something that homeless people wish everyone else knew. Take this example from the case study video below: “For me, Pierrot, homeless for 19 years, this bill has a lot of value, but not as much as a hello.”

The hope is that the simple messages with encourage Parisians to download the Entourage app, which helps people offer support and make social connections with homeless folks in their neighborhood.

 

8) SubHub

When the inevitable robot apocalypse finally spells fatal disaster for the human race, won’t you wish you shelled out to see that Sia concert?

Goodby Silverstein & Partners produced this cinematic, YOLO-fueled spot for StubHub, encouraging you to buy those concert tickets “before it’s too late.” The ad balances sleek, action-movie pacing with an unexpected, hilarious ending.

 

9) Pedigree

BBDO New York resurrected a little-known story from the Revolutionary War to promote Pedigree’s “Feed the Good” campaign.

In 1777, General George Washington and his troops were in the midst of a battle against British Forces Commander-in-Chief William Howe when one of Washington’s men discovered Howe’s dog wandering lost near the American camp. Instead of harming the lost pup (as some of Washington’s men reportedly suggested), Washington benevolently returned the dog to Howe with a kind note. The true story reflects Pedigree’s belief that dogs bring out the best of us.

 

10) Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Here’s one for the IT guy or gal in your office.

In this playful Publicis New York-produced ad for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, a sad, bobble-head IT employee named Brian is forced to deny his colleagues’ earnest requests due to inadequate legacy technology. That is, until his office gets Hewlett Packard Enterprise — at which point Brian transforms Pinocchio-style from a plastic bobble head doll into a guy who can finally say “yes.”

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing

7 Steps to Documenting a Content Marketing Strategy That Works

I already know what you’re thinking. You saw the words content marketing and strategy together in the headline and thought, “Oh, cool, another article telling me how important it is to have and actually write down my strategy — just what I need.”

Don’t worry, that’s not what this is.

You already know that having and documenting your strategy is important because you’ve probably read the same reports and case studies that my team and I have read. But there’s a pretty big difference between knowing you should do something and knowing how to do it — which might explain why 89 percent of B2B marketers use content, yet only 37 percent have documented strategies.

The marketing team at Influence & Co. spent the last couple months of 2016 carefully researching, planning, and creating a content marketing strategy for this year. What follows is an exploration of exactly which elements our team determined a successful plan must include to drive results, empowering you to create your own documented content strategy.

How to Document Your Content Marketing Strategy

Part of what makes a documented strategy so powerful is that every person on your team — from your content creators to your senior-level directors and everyone in between — can see what, why, and how your company is communicating.

This alignment makes it easier to get buy-in, crowdsource content, and pull employees into the distribution process, and it makes your efforts stronger because it extends your reach beyond the marketing team.

For your strategy to be helpful to your whole company and not just your immediate marketing team members, it has to address a few major questions, like:

  • Why are we utilizing content marketing as a strategy?
  • Who are we trying to reach with our content?
  • What are we hoping to accomplish?
  • How does this fit into our overall marketing strategy?
  • How will we measure success?

If you start with these questions in mind, the actual pieces of your strategy should come easily. In fact, each of the following components of your strategy should help you clearly answer those questions, align your team, and hold you accountable. Here are seven key elements your content marketing strategy must include:

1) Overall Mission

Before you get too far into the weeds, ask yourself, “What’s the real reason we’re investing in content?” And if the answer is anything close to “Well, we just know we should be doing content,” stop immediately and spend more time thinking about why you’re making this critical, valuable, and time-consuming investment in the first place.

If you do have a well-thought-out answer, write it down. Are you preparing to use content so your marketing team can generate leads and attract new customers? Are you trying to build brand awareness and credibility?

No matter your reason for investing in content marketing, it needs to take a prominent place at the beginning of your strategy; that overall mission will guide the rest of your document and keep your team on track when it’s time to execute.

2) Target Audience Personas

You may have included some general ideas about your audience members when you outlined your mission, and while that’s a helpful place to start, it’s not nearly detailed enough to start creating content for them.

Before you craft any content or develop any distribution plan, you have to know who you’re trying to reach. You aren’t creating content for the general public, you’re creating it to attract specific individuals who can contribute to your company’s goals.

You need to research and create detailed audience personas. If your personas inform the content you create, your content will do a much better job of speaking to the exact audience you’re targeting.

3) Content Mix Plan

Once you know why you’re creating content and for whom, you can determine what type to create. Depending on what your marketing funnel looks like, you’ll need a couple different types: content that educates and engages prospects at the top of the funnel and encourages them to learn more, as well as content for the bottom of the funnel that answers very specific questions and addresses objections to working with you.

That content can take any number of forms, from guest-contributed articles on online publications to blog posts, white papers, email campaigns, sales enablement materials, and more. What’s especially important here is thinking through the variety of earned, owned, and paid media you’ll need to keep prospects moving through this funnel.

4) Content Creation Process

You could follow each of the above steps exactly and still fall flat on your face when it’s time to actually put pen to paper. Creating content of your own and turning your company leaders into content creators takes time and effort.

So before you dig into executing your content plan, determine which processes, workflows, and resources make the most sense for your team. Perhaps taking advantage of content creation tools will make your job easier, or partnering with an agency to help may be a better solution.

5) Editorial Calendar

Consistency is key in content marketing. It’s your opportunity to build trust with your audience members, nurture them, and become a resource for them. Once you know what kinds of content you need to create, it’s time to develop a calendar or schedule to make sure you deliver.

Your editorial calendar should detail how often you need to publish to keep your audience engaged and when you’ll distribute your published pieces. Mapping out your target deadlines for different pieces will keep your process on track.

6) Distribution Plan

Distribution is all about getting your content to the right people at the right time. That can mean publishing articles in publications your target audience members are already reading, using a paid distribution plan on social to attract readers to your white paper, or simply including your content in your email newsletters.

Your distribution plan should be part of your documented strategy because knowing where and how you plan to distribute your content informs the type of content you create, how often you do it, and which processes you utilize. It’s a key part of your content marketing strategy, so don’t start executing the strategy until you’ve thought it through.

7) ROI Calculator

Remember when you identified your overall mission at the beginning of this document? You need to identify from the beginning how you’re going to measure success with this campaign, and now’s your chance to match metrics to your goals to gauge how well your content is helping to achieve that mission.

Set some benchmarks you want to hit concerning traffic to your website, leads generated, or opportunities created through content, and set up a plan for tracking this using anything from your own modest spreadsheets to a robust software package.

If this documented strategy seems like a lot, that’s because it is. Nobody said that content marketing was simple, but it’s well worth the investment, especially when you set yourself up for success. And with these seven must-have elements detailed in your documented content strategy, your team will be off to a fantastic start.

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing

What is Latent Semantic Indexing & Why Does it Matter for Your SEO Strategy?

I’ll admit that when I first heard a colleague mention “latent semantic indexing,” my immediate response was simply, “What?”

Luckily, although it sounds like something that requires a degree in computer science, it’s actually a concept you’re probably familiar with — particularly if you have some basic knowledge of keywords and their close relationship with search engine optimization (SEO).

In this post, we’ll be using an infographic by HigherVisbility to discuss latent semantic indexing (LSI) in three parts. More specifically, we’ll define LSI and how the process can potentially benefit your overall SEO strategy, take a closer look at ways to find LSI-driven keywords, and outline how to add these keywords into your content.

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

What Is Latent Semantic Indexing, and How Will It Boost Your Overall SEO Strategy?

To understand LSI, you want to start by taking a closer look at search engines and how they operate. At the very basic level, sites like Google use complex algorithms to understand two things:

  • Your content and its context
  • A user’s search intent and its relationship to specific keywords

In other words, LSI helps search engines identify related keywords and process synonyms to deliver more accurate search results.

Consider the word “aviator.” Pages that include this word could be anything from an e-commerce site selling the popular Ray Ban sunglasses to a fan page dedicated to Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn as Howard Hughes in the 2004 biopic, “The Aviator.”

Search engines use LSI keywords to help add context to pages that contain the word “aviator” in order to provide better search results. If the site is dedicated to the latter, for instance, it would include LSI keywords like, “Leonardo DiCaprio,” “drama,” and “movie.”

Benefits of LSI-Driven Keyword Research

Search engines are always on the hunt for the most relevant and in-depth content for a given query. When you think about how big the internet is, it’s not easy for a site like Google to determine what a page’s content is all about. This is why it rewards sites that include relevant LSI keywords with higher rankings and more traffic.

Benefits extend beyond those directly related to SEO, though. Additional and more accurate categorization helps users, publishers, and marketers alike. Publishers, for instance, can increase engagement because LSI-driven content is more targeted and ensures that it’s landing in front of the right audience. Users entering queries also benefit because they can easily (and more quickly) find the content that answers their questions.

5 Ways to Find LSI Keywords

Now that you’re an expert on LSI and why it’s important, let’s walk through the different ways you can find additional keywords you’ll want to include in future content and blog posts.

1) A Simple Google Search

One of the easiest ways to find LSI keywords is Google itself. When you enter a term in the search query field, it automatically shows the keywords related to the particular query.

Let’s use the earlier example of “aviator” again. An initial search of the word provides these results:

Again, there are a lot of pages this particular keyword could point to which is why we need to use LSI to add more context. If you continue to scroll down to the bottom, you’ll find a section titled, “Searches related to” and your given query:

Use the list of keywords as a starting point for potential LSI keywords because it reveals what Google already associates with your primary keywords.

The best part? This method is 100% free!

2) Use the Keyword Planner Tool via Google AdWords

If you have access to Google AdWords, you can also use their Keyword Planner tool.

Again, we’ll use the “aviator” example. Begin by adding the term into the initial query box. Click “Get ideas” and you’ll be redirected to a page that offers related keywords and an idea of how competitive search rankings are for said term.

3) Take Advantage of the SERPs Keyword Research Database Tool

Another free tool for you to use comes from SERPs. Their Keyword Research Database Tool is very similar to Google’s Keyword Planner.  Simply add your query into the search bar and you’ll receive results based on volume of searches and CPC.

4) Use the LSI Keyword Generator

The LSI Graph/LSI Keyword Generator is another free tool specifically created for identifying LSI keywords. And as you can probably guess, it simply requires users to add a term into the search bar to generate a list of related keywords.

5) Try Ubersuggest

Finally, another freebie you can use to identify potential LSI keywords is Ubersuggest. Simply enter your primary keyword, and the tool will produce a list of related search queries based on volume, difficulty, and CPC.

How to Select (and Use) the Best LSI Keywords

At this stage, you’ve likely got a big list of potential LSI keywords. The trick is to narrow down your best options that are both directly related to your content and carry a decent amount of search volume.

Understand the Three Different Types of Intent

It’s important that your LSI keywords help answer any questions someone might have about your primary keyword, so you’ll want to figure out what kind of queries your target audience is putting into Google to find you content.

We’ll refer back to “aviator” again, this time in the context that it’s on a site dedicated to the film, “The Aviator.” Below are three different types of intent someone on Google might have using examples related to the movie:

  • Informational intent: This type of query is typically on a much broader scale. An example would be, “What is the movie ‘The Aviator’ about?”
  • Navigational intent: This is a more specific type of query. For instance, someone might want to know who directed the film or which company was a key producer.
  • Transactional intent: This type of query relates to purchasing something. In regards to our example, it could be related to purchasing the DVD.

Choose Words That Add Context, But Don’t Overstuff

LSI keywords need to be highly relevant to your content. In the case of our example with “The Aviator,” a post on “10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Aviator” should only include LSI keywords that relate to the film. “Aviator college,” for instance, was a related keyword that popped up when we used SERPs. However, this has nothing to do with the film and, in turn, adds no value to your content.

Something else you’ll want to avoid is to not to overstuff your content with the LSI keywords you choose. A great way to judge this is by rereading your content once the keywords are added. If a given word doesn’t sound natural, leave it out.

Remember That LSI Is Only Part of an Effective SEO Strategy

Although it has quite the complex name, you don’t need to know the ins-and-outs of website development to understand latent semantic indexing. Keep in mind, though, that it’s only one factor that determines how well your content ranks in search engines. An effective SEO strategy should also include relevant backlinks, relevant alt tags, etc.

That being said, it’s worth taking the time to identify and add LSI-driven keywords into your content — particularly when everyone wants Google to be their number one fan.

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing

4 Strategies to Spark On-Demand Creativity

Back in the “Mad Men” days, only writers and artists were held accountable for driving an agency’s creativity. Today, that dynamic has expanded to include just about everyone.

Whether it’s the account services team bringing fresh ideas to clients, the business development team finding new ways to engage with prospects, or creative services producing content, everyone has to be creative for the agency to succeed. Individual contributors also must be able to tie their creative efforts to measurable ROI.

Why is creativity so important? Because for agencies, creativity is currency. The successful execution of good ideas separates top agencies from closed shops. The barriers to entry for marketing are lower than ever — anyone with an idea and an hour can build a website or whip up a logo. Agencies must communicate their value proposition as the owners of the best ideas and know how to measure that value.

But creativity alone is not enough. Agencies and the people within them must be creative on demand. To do that, every department and every employee must become part of a culture that excels at creative problem-solving.

Bringing New Ideas to the Table

Often, creativity is talked about like it’s a magical ability of the chosen few — something we have little control over that strikes at random. But Jason Keath, founder and CEO of Social Fresh Conference, says universal creativity is not as hard to achieve as some entrepreneurs would imagine.

I spoke with Keath recently, and he said that creativity is less about inspiration and more about learning to solve problems. “Anyone can be creative,” he says, adding that creativity is a process that we fail to teach in schools or in business environments.

This is good news, though, because it means creativity isn’t something the muses bestow upon you. Rather than wait patiently for lightning to strike, you simply must learn the process. If you want to teach people to become creative on their own and within a group, a lot of it comes down to management, Keath notes.

The first step in bringing new ideas to the table is banishing the notion of bad ideas — early in the creative process, bad ideas are an essential building block to create a better final product. A lot of times, a bad idea can trigger a better idea.

“One person might have a bad idea he considers to be the obvious solution, but he doesn’t mention it to avoid looking stupid,” Keath says. “However, as obvious as that solution might seem to one person, it probably hasn’t occurred to 80 percent of the people in the group. Plus, even the most obvious solutions are useful to put on the board because connecting to that is another idea.”

One tactic to encourage your team to get over their fears of offering “bad” ideas is to require anonymous ideation prior to creative meetings. This allows people who don’t normally consider themselves creative to contribute to the solution. “Judgment kills great ideas,” Keath says. “To preempt judgment, ask people to come to the meeting with 10 or 20 possible solutions to the problem. Have the person organizing the meeting anonymize the answers, and suddenly, ideas can be discussed on their own merit without fear of rejection.”

4 Tactics for Cultivating On-Demand Creativity

If agency leaders want to infuse creativity and new ideas into their agencies — and communicate that value proposition to clients — the path is twofold. First, leaders and team members must learn to take new steps as individuals. Second, agencies need to create an environment that enables creative individuals to collaborate. Here’s how to accomplish both:

1) Encourage individual growth.

Most creative people have a core competency that they build upon by brushing up against life. This means seeking out new experiences and connecting them to the areas they know most about.

That connection between the known and the unknown encourages people to seek out new experiences rather than hide within their comfort zones. A hiker might not know much about photography, but learning to take better pictures of hiking spots combines a known pursuit (hiking) with an unknown (photography) and allows the person to explore new ideas without feeling overwhelmed.

2) Pursue new experiences.

To achieve great output, you first need great input. According to principals of neuroplasticity, experiencing new things enables us to make connections and think in ways that would have previously been impossible. Experiences big and small can inform our decisions in surprising ways down the road.

Think about it like this: You’ve just returned home from a long trip. You need to cook something to eat, but you’ve been gone for a while and the kitchen is bare. Now, compare that to a kitchen that has been stocked with a variety of ingredients. Creativity works similarly: It’s much easier to create something interesting when we have a lot of raw materials to work with.

3) Always present two ideas: one safe, one scary.

We constantly hear CMOs complain that their agencies are phoning it in. Same old ideas, same old approaches, same old results. Of course, CMOs share the blame by selecting safe ideas, but that doesn’t mean their point isn’t valid.

No matter how many times your agency’s wacky idea gets shut down, you need to continue to bring new thoughts to your presentations. The unusual idea won’t get selected often, but bringing something new to the table shows clients that you’re willing to do things differently. And if a client decides to go with the crazier idea, that provides an opportunity for an agency to showcase its talents.

4) Host company outings.

Most of us haven’t had a field trip since high school, but they can still provide meaningful learning experiences for adults. Whether it’s catching a new animated movie, visiting the art museum, strolling the zoo, or something completely off the beaten path, getting your team out of the office together in a low-pressure environment can generate surprising discussions. The more inputs people have — especially when they share those inputs outside of work — the more creative connections they can forge.

We love to tell clients to think more broadly about their goals, but if we don’t mix up our own experiences, we fall prey to the same traps we ask them to avoid. By seeking opportunities to broaden our own horizons and building processes that facilitate creative discussions, we can transform our agencies into creative powerhouses that are capable of handling any challenge.

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing

How to Pick the Perfect Font Pairings for Your Website: 7 Free Tools

With so many custom fonts readily available for download, selecting a combination of typefaces to feature on your next project can be an unexpected time sink. There are seemingly endless pairing possibilities — how can you be expected to choose?

Whether you’re diving into a major website redesign or a creating a simple infographic, you need a font combination that looks professional, polished, and doesn’t distract from your content. And you need it fast. 

These designers have heard your cries for help, and developed free tools to help you make better typeface pairings faster and more efficiently. Pairing fonts doesn’t have to be a lengthy guess-and-check process when you have the right tools at your fingertips. 

7 Free Tools for Selecting Font Pairings

1) Google Fonts

You’ve probably used Google Fonts at some point to select fonts for a web project, but did you know they also offer suggested font combinations?

From the list of available fonts, hover over a typeface. In the bottom left of the typeface preview area, click See Specimen.

This will open up a font preview page where you can enter preview text, adjust the background color of the page (using the paint bucket icon in the upper right corner of the page), and view information about the typeface’s history and usage. Towards the bottom of the page, you’ll see a section called “Popular Pairings with X.”

In this section, you can preview a selection of popular font combinations featuring your selected typeface. You can add complementary fonts directly to your Google Font library by clicking the “+” symbol beside each recommended pair. When a pairing is selected, you can use the up/down arrows beside the font names to change which typeface is used in the preview as the headline and which is used for body copy. 

2) Typ.io

This expertly curated database allows you to view trendy font combinations used on real websites, and take a peek at the CSS designers used to style and format them. Spend some time browsing through Typ.io’s impressive archives or categorized lists, and when you find a site that catches your eye, simply click “Get Under the Hood.”

This will let you view the exact fonts used on the website, see where the fonts are available for free download or purchase online, and scope out how the designer plugs them in on the back-end of things. Even if CSS isn’t really your area of expertise, Typ.io is still a useful tool for viewing professional typography combinations in action.

Typ.io also offers a useful search feature, enabling you to filter websites by primary font, desired font type, and font availability. You can even see which font combinations are popular on different types of websites (e.g., blogs, portfolios, etc).

3) Web Font Blender

Web Font Blender is a quick, intuitive way to test font combinations in a minimal environment. Set up like most text editing programs, this tool lets you mix and match different web font combos, edit the body, subheading, and headline copy, and adjust the styling of the preview text to your liking.

Choose from a wide selection of popular web fonts and play around with the settings to find a group of fonts that work well together. Once you have a combo you’re happy with, you can even grab the CSS for your creation under the “Grab Code” tab. 

4) Fonts In Use

Fonts In Use is an independent archive devoted to showcasing creative typography from designers around the world. Whether it’s a website, a print campaign, a package design, or something else entirely, the curation team at Fonts In Use is committed to uncovering interesting font combinations wherever they appear.

Scan through their archives for seemingly endless pages of inspiration, or check out examples of popular typography in your specific industry using the “Industries” option from the top drop-down menu. If you have a font in mind you want to use, but aren’t sure what font to pair with it, you can also filter results by typefaces.

5) Canva Font Combinations

This simple tool from Canva lets you select a font and instantly discover complementary typefaces and examples of your chosen font in action. Just pick a starting font from the main drop-down menu, and the tool will automatically produce some aesthetically pleasing combos for you to peruse.

Once you get a perfect match, you can edit the preview text to see how the fonts will look with your content.

6) Font Combinator

Font Combinator is a sleek typography tool developed by Typotheque, a type foundry and design studio based in The Hague, Netherlands. If you’re looking for a way to preview font combinations with lots of customization options, look no further.

Use the drop-down menu in the upper left to select a pre-made font selection designed by the Typotheque team, or use the settings to build and test custom font combinations of your own. You can adjust the size of any text group using the sliding bar above each section. Not loving the current combo? You can introduce a new font to the mix by dragging and dropping from the typeface list on the left.

7) Font Pair

Hayden Mills, a design student at Indiana University, developed this tool to help designers quickly and painlessly find proven font combinations using Google Fonts.

Organized by typeface categories, each of the combos featured on Font Pair are curated by Mills himself or suggested via a Google form available on the site. Want to plug in your own copy? You can click directly into any of the font pairing examples and edit the preview text anywhere on the site.

What are your current favorite font combinations?

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing

6 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Freelance Graphic Designer

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Hiring the wrong freelance graphic designer can make or break your brand or marketing objectives. A designer that can’t complete projects on time, lacks the ability to adapt to your brand aesthetic, or has never taken on the type of work you’re doing could cause you to lose business.

Regardless of the type of project you’re hiring a designer for, it’s important to make sure you’re bringing in the right person for the job. Pose these six questions to each candidate before making a hire.

6 Freelance Designer Interview Questions

1) What motivated you to apply for this project?

This question can reveal a lot about whether the graphic designer you’re interviewing is genuinely interested in your company and what they’ll be working on. If they aren’t, it’ll show in the final product — and that’s a losing situation for everyone.

Ask questions that gauge their knowledge of your business and goals, and observe how well their skills and interests align. You want a graphic designer who fundamentally understands what you are building and why it’s important. Ideally, they’ll already be familiar with your company or will have interacted with you as a customer in the past.

2) What is your workload like?

There’s a big difference between the level of attention you’ll get from your freelance designer if you’re providing a significant portion of their income versus sending them a small project here and there.

Before committing to a contract, set clear expectations around your requirements. Will you need closer to five or 40 hours of their time each week? Find out how booked up they are with other clients and if it’s realistic for them to take on your project given your expectations and their other commitments.

3) Can you describe your design aesthetic?

A critical factor to consider when hiring a graphic designer is whether their work aligns with the overall design aesthetic you envision for your project.

If the designer you’re considering has a portfolio full of edgy, hand-illustrated black-and-white cartoon characters, they might not be the best fit to work with a mature brand that wants to appear authoritative. It’s a good idea to look through the designer’s work to get a sense of whether their aesthetic jibes with your vision before getting too far into the interview process, but be sure to ask this question regardless.

4) What is your design process like?

The graphic designer you’re considering should be able to articulate a clear path to achieving your desired results. An inability to do so could mean they don’t have enough experience to suit your needs.

For example, here’s how veteran graphic designer Ian Paget of Logo Geek kicks off a project with a new client: “I start my design process by creating a list of goals that can be used as a tick-list to refer to during the design phase and when selecting the best solution. We cover areas such as the brand’s story, values, competition and target audience.”

Having a well-defined, agreed upon design process like this is key to the success of the designer-client relationship.

5) How would your other clients describe working with you?

When a graphic designer has a page of their portfolio website dedicated to testimonials or keeps an offline copy of positive reviews they’ve received from past clients, it tells you their customers are happy with their results and willing to publicly vouch for them. If they don’t offer to share, just ask.

However, if they’re unable to produce a few positive testimonials, that’s might be an indication they are unable to sustain good client relationships or produce quality results. Tread lightly.

6) Do you have a blog?

Graphic designers who have a blog and actively take steps to showcase their domain expertise are more likely to bring additional value, advice, and experience to the table –beyond the deliverables you’ve agreed upon. The right graphic designer with an active social media following or established personal brand can help create more than just a new style for your company; they can become a worthy advocate, too.

As for who should be asking the questions: If your graphic designer will be working hand-in-hand with other members of your content team such as writers and marketers, it’s essential these stakeholders have a say during the interview process. Aside from being able to weigh in on whether they like the designer’s work or not, your other team members’ inputs are valuable for a few reasons: they will have a close pulse on anticipating the timing for upcoming projects, an understanding of the deliverables, and will likely be the ones interacting most with the designer on a day-to-day basis.

These six questions will ensure you come out of the interview with a clear sense of whether the graphic designer candidate is right for the job. When you and the person you hire are on the same page, you’ll cultivate a better rapport and get mutually beneficial results.

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing