Silly Season Sanity: Tips for Marketing During an Election Cycle

The silly season (i.e. political campaign and election cycle) has been upon us for a while, and it is only going to heat up over the next few months heading into what will be a historic presidential election no matter what happens. If you are a marketer in a contested state like Wisconsin, you may be wondering, “Is it even worth putting your message out there among the political ads and news coverage?” The answer is “yes.”

Here are a few tips for helping your brand not only survive, but thrive during silly season:

  1. Choose your media wisely: political campaigns spend most of their dollars on broadcast and cable TV.  That means that with increased demand and decreased availability, rates will go up. You may find yourself bumped for someone paying more money, or you might have to pay higher rates to keep your schedule intact. If you usually run a TV flight in the fall, you might want to consider radio, outdoor or online/mobile strategies instead. HOWEVER…if you do decide to use TV, your message will likely stand out as a refreshing change from a sea of politics, so it could be worth the extra budget.
  2. Piggyback off of preferences: candidates can be known for certain preferences, such as favorite foods or sports. Do you have a product or a service that might take advantage of that? If so, then use it. For example, Ronald Reagan was known to love jelly beans. The Jelly Belly factory (visitor’s center and warehouse are in Kenosha, WI) supplied Reagan with jelly beans all eight years of his presidency and sales grew exponentially. Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter were peanut farmers – peanut and peanut-related product sales grew significantly as a result.
  3. Stay above the fray: watch what you post on social media about politics and political candidates, especially if it could be perceived as disrespectful. It can get back to clients and customers. Best to follow the rule, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.”
  4. Timing is everything: while it’s probably not ideal to launch a new product on November 8, 2016, remember that November 9-11 might still be crowded with all the pent-up marketing that has been waiting until that day is done. November 14-23 is likely to be a grand time for advertising and PR for your product or service.
  5. Believe in your message: if you believe in your message and its value, then keep the word out there, no matter how silly this election season gets. Someone will be grateful you did and reward you with their customer loyalty.

Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?

Who-are-you800x420_thumb

Borrowing a refrain from The Who, ask yourself the same question about your company. Why? Your customers really wanna know. Your customers won’t know unless you know. What is your mission? Your promise? What do you deliver? What are your values? How do you treat employees? Clients? Vendors?

If you are having a hard time answering those questions, imagine what it’s like for your customers. While it may sound silly to work hard at defining and sharing your identity, it’s at the heart of the success of your business.  At Staples Marketing, we have spent a little more than a year asking ourselves those same questions, and finding a great deal of value in the answers. We are taking our own advice and our own medicine, and it’s good for us.

Why do you care about this? Well, if you’re a client, our soul-searching is likely to make our service to you even better, our vision clearer, and more consistent. If you’re not yet a client, you might be interested in seeing how this process works.

We’ll keep you posted – lots of new things to share in the next few weeks.

Lessons from communicating about a deadly disease

The newspaper CRISIS AVERTED  and coffee

The Ebola crisis is nothing to joke about or make light of. We all wish for this disease to go away and never return. As with any crisis, there are two battles being fought: 1) on the ground, with frontline people working to keep the disease from spreading and 2) via the news stream, with communications teams trying to keep misinformation from spreading.

It is interesting to watch how these communications may be helping or hurting efforts to stop the disease from spreading. Is the reporting responsible? Is the news media offering a public service by making sure people know and understand the symptoms and the actual risk of contracting Ebola, or are they creating panic and fear? What do you tell people? How often? How much? In what manner? Are you violating privacy, security, slander & libel laws? Are you withholding information that would make a difference in the safety of the public? Who will be the spokesperson?

The World Health Organization, the hospitals in Texas and New York all have crisis communications plans that have gone into effect in light of the Ebola outbreak and the subsequent events we’ve all heard about on the news. I worked for a hospital system for 10 years, and it was part of our JCAHO Accreditation process to have such a plan. We couldn’t even stay open without one. That’s how important it is.

All organizations are susceptible to a crisis of some sort. It’s unlikely to be a deadly disease…but embezzlement, fraud, white collar crime, sexual harassment, labor disputes are very common crises. Having a crisis communications plan in place in hopes that you never have to use it is like having liability or property & casualty insurance.

Here are some basic elements of a plan:

1. Phone tree: What are the phone numbers you will need to find and call in the middle of the night? Who will be in charge of making those calls?

2. Command center: Where will you be operating from for communications? Who will be in charge?

3.  Team: Who will be on the team? What will their roles be?

4. Protocols: Based on your industry and/or laws and regulations, what are the protocols for communications? Where will you get your official information from? What can you legally say?

5. News conferences/releases/statements: Who will draft these? Coordinate? Where will you hold news conferences? How often will you communicate or release information?

6. Spokespersons: Who will be the designated spokesperson?

7. Media calls: Who will field these? Who will be designated to respond?

8. Logging/tracking/monitoring: Who will log all media calls and responses? Who will handle monitoring coverage (news media AND social media)?

9. Internal communications: What will you tell employees? When and how will you tell them?

10. Customer/client communications: What will you tell customers/clients? When and how will you tell them?

11. Timelines: What is the plan for the first 24 hours? The first 48? After 5 days? After 7?

12. Follow-up/debrief: What is your plan to follow-up with crisis staff, customers, clients, the public, elected officials, after the initial crisis is over?

It may seem overwhelming to put this kind of a plan in place, but you will be grateful you did.

Awards Are Nice, But Entering is Even Better

Choose-Your-Ride-001-croppedStaples Marketing recently won an American Advertising Federation award (formerly known as the ADDYs) at the national level for a project for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). We were the only Wisconsin agency to win at that level, for the work we did to help support WisDOT’s highway traffic safety campaign with the Choose Your Ride vehicle pictured above. We very often enter our work into industry awards competitions. So, very nice for us, but why devote the time and resources necessary to put together an entry?

We have discovered some very good reasons to put our work out there for judging amongst our peers. Here are some thoughts about why you might consider looking into entering a reputable awards program in your industry:
1. How are we doing? It’s nice to see how your work stacks up with others in your industry. Judges comments can be very insightful.
2. What was the journey? Putting together the entry itself puts the work into perspective: What were the objectives? What was our process? Did the results meet or exceed the objectives? The journey is sometimes MORE or AS important as the results.
3. What are other people doing? Whether you win or not, you will learn about new ideas, strategies, tactics that could be applicable to you or your customers. Or, could spark a completely innovative new product or service.
4. Yay, team! Everyone likes to get a certificate, medal or trophy. It’s a great way to build team and morale among employees.
5. Yay, clients! Clients/customers tend to like it when the work you did with them wins an award. It builds trust with all customers when they know that their vendor partner is an award winner.

Stop the Spread of the Dreaded Employee Benefits Folder

benefits folders

We’ve all seen them, or gotten them. You are fortunate enough to get a job at an employer who offers benefits. Or, you get an opportunity to make changes in your benefit choices once a year during open enrollment. Your human resources department hands you a folder. A folder containing many different forms, brochures, booklets, flyers. All of them from different companies or organizations. No clear instructions, no sense as to what to fill out first, or how to fill it out.

It’s not because the human resources staff is trying to make this process difficult. Quite the contrary – they want it to be easy for you. If it’s easy for you, it’s easy for them. But they only have the materials they’ve been given by their third party administrators (or TPAs): the health insurance company, the 401(k) vendor, the dental insurance provider, for example.

What if there was a way to stop the spread of the dreaded employee benefits folder? There is.

It’s called strategic employee benefits communications, and it does the following:

FOR EMPLOYERS:
– Increases employee retention and satisfaction
– Reduces the stress on human resources staff
– Reduces the cost of benefits over time (educated employees choose and use benefits more appropriately and cost-effectively)
– Reinforces your employer brand
– Helps you stay in compliance with State and Federal regulations

FOR EMPLOYEES:
– Reduces the stress of choosing benefits
– Makes them feel like the company cares about them
– Helps them understand the choices they have
– Empowers employees to make the right choices for their individual needs
– Makes it easy to get the paperwork done

Some of our clients, like Manpower and Charter Manufacturing, have already stopped the spread of the dreaded folder, and we can help you to do the same.

Social Marketing vs. Social Media

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Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Start wearing a seat belt? Lose weight? Quit smoking? Stop drinking? That decision might just possibly have been the result of SOCIAL MARKETING. Social marketing is an effort to affect a behavioral change instead of to sell a product (check out Donald Driver, a regular wearer of seat belts).

You might use social media to help effect that change. In fact, FitBit and other exercise programs can be very effective because people are sharing their experience with others using online/social channels and making use of the spirit of competition to help motivate everyone to meet their goals.  

So, what is social marketing and how is it different from social media?

Social marketing: Social marketing was “born” as a discipline in the 1970s, when Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman realized that the same marketing principles that were being used to sell products to consumers could be used to “sell” ideas, attitudes and behaviors. Kotler and Andreasen define social marketing as “differing from other areas of marketing only with respect to the objectives of the marketer and his or her organization. Social marketing seeks to influence social behaviors not to benefit the marketer, but to benefit the target audience and the general society.” 

Social media: is just one of a wide range of tools and tactics that can be used to help support a social marketing effort. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest are just some of the social media channels available.

Many public health efforts use social marketing to help effect changes – such as cancer screenings, smoking cessation, food safety, nutrition and more. Through research, we get at the heart of both what motivates as well as what barriers exist in affecting behavioral change among our target audience. We then craft the messaging and the method in which those messages will be delivered based on the audience. Social marketing is measured in years, not months.  

Staples Marketing specializes in social marketing – we help reduce the number of deaths on Wisconsin roadways and increase the number of people recycling or using public transit. If you’re still confused about the difference between social marketing and social media – let us know. We’ll be glad to help clarify.    

Measuring your PR: what is relevant to you?

Written by Laura Monagle, APR

“I spend alot of time tracking all of our media mentions, but no one ever really looks at this stuff.”

That’s a common feeling among our clients. We all want measurement, but it’s hard to decide what data is relevant. There’s a great deal of activity on a global basis in the PR world regarding standardization of PR and media relations measures. The Institute for Public Relations just came out with interim standards for media analysis and metrics. If you want to see the full report, visit http://www.instituteforpr.org/topics/proposed-interim-standards-for-metrics-in-traditional-media-analysis/ .

I am completely in support of these efforts. However, like all measurement, the most important data points are those that relevant. And the definition of relevant is in the eye of the beholder. So, where do you even start? Here are some initial suggestions:

1. Decide what is relevant and useful to you. Are you in a controversial industry, a crisis or volatile episode in your company’s history? Then positive, negative or neutral tone in coverage is important to you. Are there certain keywords and key messages you want covered that support your other marketing & advertising efforts? Then track and measure those. Are you trying to forge relationships with new journalists or outlets? Then measure how many of those have begun to cover your organization or call you for comment. 

2. Decide what is relevant and useful to the people to whom you report. Let’s be honest. The CEO or CFO might not appreciate the same measures as a PR pro. So finding out what’s valuable to that person is just as important as what you and I want to know. If it’s garnering more mentions than the biggest competitor, track it and report it. If it’s a huge binder full of clips that makes him or her happy, make it happen. Once you have their interest and attention by meeting their expectations, only then can you begin to get a CEO excited about other ways your coverage is meaningful. 

3. The more you can track your efforts directly to bottom line results, the better. This is the hardest one of all, but it’s the PR jackpot. Do orders for a particular product increase during the time your story or release on that product hits the media? Did you receive a call or e-mail from a potential client who specficially mentioned your article in the business news? Do you notice that you have more leads and referrals coming in from people who said they heard about you from a news story? Make sure you’re trying to capture this information as part of the sales process, and you’ll enjoy the truest measure of success. 

Remember that the data you’re collecting should be helping you decide how and where to focus your PR energy. If you have ideas or thoughts on media relations measurement, I’d love to hear them.