The power of content

Planting seeds that grow into future sales

Almost always, as I’m interviewing a customer to learn about them, their operations, and the successes they’re achieving with a manufacturer’s product, they volunteer feedback the manufacturer finds incredibly useful.

I was recently sent to cover a story on the first-ever purchase of a newly redesigned piece of equipment. The article was to be a sort of product review from the new owner’s perspective. What made it particularly interesting was that the new owner had no familiarity with the brand before this purchase. I was curious as to what it was that seduced him into changing brands.

He told me it started with an article. He’d been looking to upgrade his previous equipment with his former manufacturer. He had a model picked out but changed his mind when he saw a piece about this new design in a magazine.

I knew exactly the article he was talking about – it was one that we had written. He’d never considered a rig like it before or thought about that manufacturer’s offerings. Yet the story had gotten his attention right away, at exactly the right time. He’d torn out the article and kept it with him.

During the next few months, he followed up on it. He asked around. He got in touch with the manufacturer. He was impressed by their facilities and their customer service. He learned their history and their reputation. He went from “knowing little to nothing of the company,” he said, to confidently purchasing from them.

We almost never get to put a black and white assessment on marketing ROI like this. The content we generate as press releases, case studies, customer spotlights – these are seeds we can easily forget we sowed. Yet, if we hadn’t planted this one, this chain of events would not even have begun.

It underscores a lesson once again. Never underestimate the power of content marketing.

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications

On the importance of the lowly press release

It’s easy to dismiss a press release as “just” a press release – until you need one. That’s when it dawns on you that just about every piece of marketing material – ad copy, product briefs, brochures and even job stories – will repeat a great deal of your press release’s content and exact phrasings. In effect, you’re not just making a press release; you’re creating the foundation of all things to come.

The piece itself will appear in numerous publications and prominently appear in online searches each time someone looks for information on that product. Of course, we can’t control what a publication’s editor might do with the piece’s title, length or formatting, but most editors are reluctant to change the precisely worded expressions of a product press release. In our experience, most editors will print what was written in the release. That’s why it’s so important to get it right.

The impact of a single press release widens exponentially online, as excerpts from its text are copy-pasted, word-for-word, into subsequent discussions and in comparisons of your product to other market offerings.

Press releases can be much more than just announcements introducing technological innovations and newer, better capabilities. They present valuable opportunities to influence market perception, or head-off unintended misperceptions. Novice writers often either overlook this opportunity or jump on it heavy-handedly, bungling it. An experienced writer, on the other hand, considers the reader’s frame of mind and then deftly handles subtexts in the piece.

Another error is to say too much. A press release should only plant the seed, giving the reader just enough detail to back up abstract claims like, “More powerful! More fuel efficient! Increased productivity!” Is it more powerful? Give its rated torque or horsepower. Then stop. If it’s more fuel efficient, ball-park a figure you can stand by. Then stop. The release should not give a potential customer so much information they feel confident making purchase decisions based on it alone. And a publication wants to keep their product news short and sweet. They don’t want to publish a book about every new product on the market.

For potential customers who might not be in the market now, the release has their attention. They’ve noted the model and the manufacturer. That’s its job, to prompt further investigation. It also serves as another level of branding awareness and to show your client is always developing products, whether someone is in the market to buy it or not.

Informative yet tactful, nuanced and tight –never underestimate the power of a good press release, and never trust just anyone to create it for you.

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications

Small details make big impressions

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While stopping to fill up on my way home from doing a job story for a client, I got a tip from a trucker for a “greasy spoon.” The little truck-stop diner was tucked out of site behind a one-strip airport, so it was also a popular cross-country waypoint for private pilots chasing “$100-hamburgers.” He’d just eaten there himself. He promised large portions of the best-tasting diner food I’d ever find.

After the waitress took my order, I realized the buzzing noise I heard wasn’t from the flickering lights. A fly was trapped inside my sugar shaker. I set it free to join some others that were buzzing around another table. I wouldn’t need sugar for a burger and some fries, thank goodness, but it had turned my attention to noticing stains on the broken-tile floor and hazy light of a dust-covered window.

The little distractions didn’t stop my mouth from watering when my order finally arrived: beautifully crisped home-cut fries piled high next to a giant burger overfilled with lettuce, cheese, grilled onion and tomato. A bite of each, and I agreed with the trucker. This diner was a hidden treasure – but then a large gray mat of dust flew off a ceiling fan’s blade slapped me on the head, exploding across my plate and table.

A satisfied trucker still recommended the restaurant. So, do these little details really matter to its brand? That depends entirely upon the promise of the brand.

When your brand represents the smartest, most innovative solutions for your customers’ challenges, you can’t afford any distracting mistakes – flies and dust bombs – in your marketing material. And you shouldn’t have to do it yourself. You can keep your focus on what you do best while letting content specialists like Ellcom (or a marketing communications expert on-staff) handle those tasks for you.

We immerse ourselves in the applications of the industry itself, not just the product line you offer. That’s why we so easily collaborate with sales reps, customers, product end-users, environmental scientists and engineers – we learn and speak their language. This kind of industry fluency tends to make us a fussier about details than those who can rely only on their Ethernet connections, repeating text they merely Googled.

The Web is a very handy source of information, but it’s missing the warning math teachers give their students: You must understand the problem, or your calculator will give you the wrong answer.

Take for example just how wrong basic metric conversions can be. These are tiny, tiny little details that, overlooked, betray ignorance of the concept. Specifications often come in metric values only. They can be copy-pasted straight from the monitor into a document. To get U.S. Customary (“standard”) equivalents that are more convenient for American customers, you could use the same Google browser you found them on to get a quick conversion. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll be putting flies in your sugar shaker.

The following online errors were unfortunately approved by someone else’s clients and published without correction. Our industry-fluent Ellcom editors would have cleaned up details like these in an instant.

– A machine part’s 87 mm diameter was converted to 3 3/7” (What ruler reads in 1/7th inches?)
– A 9 mm fitting was changed to 0.354331” (Why?)
– Nominal class sizes were converted to thousandths of a kilogram (1 kg = 0.035 oz.)
o < 0.6 tons (<544.311 kg)

One hard-copy brochure showed inches converted into metric “fractions” – 16” (41/100 m). That’s just funny! – unless, of course, you paid for that brochure.

Each little mistake above shows the writer had no clue what the figures represented. I bet your customers do. Will you lose a rig sale for a nonsense conversion on a sales sheet? Probably not. But don’t they have to wonder, if you permit your dining room to be this messy, what’s your kitchen like?

We offer you far more than just keeping your brand distraction-free. Our knowledge of your industry provides you with professional, full-spectrum content generation. We’ll take care of your social media management, ad copy, press releases and case studies for magazines, brochures and sales sheets, white papers and technical papers – all prepared and edited by our highly trained, professional staff with boots-on-the-ground industry experience.

The result? Content that is to the point. Professional. Distraction free. On-message.

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications

 

Who controls what’s said of you?

Content generation that just keeps paying off over and over and …

We often repurpose articles to trade magazines that were originally written for our client’s in-house magazines – stories of valued customers doing well with their equipment and support, pieces that translate technology for market professionals without an engineering degree. We can write about a mom-and-pop startup or create a textbook of applications and equipment for a given market used by colleges and universities.

 But today I saw a most remarkable thing, a return-on-investment that was completely fortuitous. It is both windfall and testimonial to just how valuable the content we create is for our clients.

 A tech piece I had written for a manufacturer’s in-house magazine was cited by a major international trade magazine in the mining industry.

 We hadn’t pitched it to them, and we hadn’t repurposed it elsewhere yet. It existed so far only in the client’s self-produced publication. The only possible conclusion is that the tech writer had searched for this information on the Web, located my article in our client’s magazine and then cited at length from it, summarizing how advanced our client’s equipment was compared to market competitors.

 That’s incredibly valuable. It cost our client not a cent more than they had paid for me to do the original piece. And it verified for them not only that there was interest in their articles outside their own mailing list, but that a prestigious industry magazine trusted its veracity and significance for use in an international discussion of state of the art.

 And we will still re-purpose the original article in another trade magazine in the future.

 Why isn’t your marketing content being used in similar fashion? Give us a chance to give you that. Call or email Matt, our business development manager, at 507-945-1005 or matt@ellcom.us.

 

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications

Smile! Google Earth is watching!

A last-minute opening in a construction magazine gave one of our manufacturing clients a spur-of-the-moment opportunity for a case study. They had one perfectly suited to the editor’s needs that showcased our client’s machine at the hands of an expert on a real-life job. But the green light to proceed came during the busiest part of the tradeshow season. Everyone who could provide a missing piece of the puzzle was unavailable. I had very little hard data to go on. Deadline, imminent.

My main problem was that I couldn’t for the life of me picture the jobsite or the operations that took place there. Heck, I didn’t even know what street it took place on. Two of my client contacts I reached didn’t know either and wouldn’t be free to help me for about a week.

When you start a phone interview with a client’s customer, you’re almost always asking a prominent company figure to take precious time away from their main concern – meeting a project deadline, or more often than not, several project deadlines. You certainly don’t want to start the interview asking for basic information. They might not mind taking time to give you information you couldn’t have known without their input. The rest you should have known before you bothered them.

Google Earth to the rescue!

I had a few clues from the job story data collection form. It was a heavily travelled four-lane corridor through the metro’s downtown area. I knew at one end of the project was a strip mall with many entrances. The data collection form said so. It also mentioned a big-box store, government agencies and institutions along the route. I should be able to instantly locate that on Google maps.

Unfortunately, the map showed three routes satisfying the description – at least from the map and satellite views. Choosing the most likely one, I zoomed down into “Street View” to see if I could match up clues from store fronts, not just the few business tags on the overhead depiction.

Sweet serendipity! The Google car had actually caught the job in progress, and the digital capture was still the most current street view. Right there on my computer display was the customer’s crew, using the equipment I was to write about! Service trucks brandishing their logo lined the street. Their heavy equipment was lined up in a parking lot.

I cyber-traveled the length of the project, noting where excavations had been made and restored, how traffic was controlled, how the project was laid out. It was the next best thing to being there.

These details condensed and focused my interview questions later that day, keeping the conversation brief and to the point. The contractor was relieved I already knew a lot about the project, saving him from tedious explanations. He called up the view himself, and we discussed the project together with a common reference.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, this has happened before. Not long ago, for another story, I couldn’t grasp over the phone how a horizontal directional drilling crew had run a pipe line from one lift station to another via a small sandbar in a river. The routing defied description until I could see it for myself. I had turned to the Google Earth satellite photos on that occasion, as well, just to see how large the sandbar was, and how far it was from a direct line between the two. It wasn’t just an empty sandbar, though. I could see something on it in the satellite image. When I zoomed in closer, I saw the drilling crew at their HDD rig alongside their fluid pit. I saw them pulling pipe through and immediately understood the strategic advantage of this halfway point.

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications

 

 

 

4 sure-fire ways to annoy an editor with your press release

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer.

The trade press is much more receptive to corporate press releases than typical news media outlets are, and they are certainly much more forgiving of poorly written releases than mainstream news magazines or websites. But even the long-suffering editors of trade journals grit their teeth and dig in their heels when they are faced with the following PR transgressions:

You embed your photo in your press release

If you want an editor to include your amazing photo alongside your press release, please do not embed your photo in the Word document (or even worse, the PDF). There is a loss of resolution and overall quality, which will likely make it impossible to use, at least in a print edition. And even if the publication is online—and can thus use a lower-res photo—why make the editor go to the work of extracting or copying the photo from the document? That brings up another excellent way to annoy an editor…

You make them work for their photos

Editorial staff has been reduced at most media properties and everyone has too much to do. So when you send a complicated set of instructions to the editor detailing how he or she should go about finding and then downloading the photo you’ve chosen to accompany your press release, you’re not really giving them much of an incentive to use your photo. This is a leftover from the days when emails regularly got rejected for exceeding size limits, or they took too long to download. But it’s not 1999, so go ahead and send a 2MB photo as an attachment right along with your Word document. Speaking of Word documents…

You send your press release as a PDF

Editors like to be able to cut and paste the text from your press release, sometimes directly into the content management system of their website. That is really difficult with a PDF. Why would you ever send your press release as anything other than a Word document or .rtf or .txt document? The key is to make it as easy as possible for an editor to use your information. We’ve been told by editors that some companies—who do not use PR agencies, incidentally—regularly submit their releases in this format. Editors will edit your submissions. Sending them as a PDF doesn’t “lock in” anything. It just forces someone to retype your release.

You include a lot of fancy formatting in your document

Some inexperienced communications people go all out to make their press release look like it is a page in a magazine or newspaper. However, each publication has their own layout style and all the work spent on the press release document, getting the text to flow around the photo just so, for example, will have to be removed by the editor before they can do their edit or re-write of the piece. Sometimes the press release will be full of italics and bolding and underlining—all of which will have to be removed by the harried editor or an equally harried assistant before it can be used.

AND FOR GOODNESS SAKE DON’T USE ALL CAPS. IT’S HARD TO REFORMAT THAT, AND SOMEONE WILL HAVE TO SPEND TIME (THAT THEY DON’T HAVE) RETYPING. Neither editor nor assistant will be inclined to go the extra mile for someone who has made their work day even a little more difficult.

Some minimal amount of formatting, for the purpose of making the press release easier for the editor to read, is acceptable. For example, a headline will likely be in a larger font to make it stand out, and the lede paragraph may be in bold because it also serves as the executive summary of the overall piece. But formatting that goes much further than this just becomes, well, annoying.

Bottom-line…

Obviously, we believe that it is best to retain the services of a full-service agency such as Ellcom to handle these tasks for you. We know the editors, and we know that these four mistakes can cost you a certain degree of cooperation. We know this because we talk to these editors all the time. They tell us their pet peeves. And we give them press releases crafted in such a way as to avoid these and many other annoyances so that our clients have the very best shot at getting their story published.

Ellenbecker Communications adds new account manager

 Ellenbecker Communications (Ellcom) has assigned Holly Wilson account management responsibilities for Atlas Copco CMT USA. Holly comes to Ellcom with an extensive background in marketing, including experience as the marketing manager for the world’s largest manufacturer of autogenous livestock biologicals.

Scott Ellenbecker, president of Ellenbecker Communications, cited continued growth as the reason for the change. “The natural resources exploration, mining and construction industries have offered a strong foundation for our business to grow over the years.  Holly’s years of marketing expertise brings new ideas to our already great group of professional communicators.”

Wilson also brings her skills as a writer and editor to the Ellcom writing team. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science from Iowa State University, and then a Master of Science degree from ISU’s Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. She has also worked as an editor and writer for various magazines and newspapers.

The account manager previously responsible for Atlas Copco CMT USA, Matt Fueston, will now focus his attention on business development, including the recruitment of new clients for the agency. “Matt’s deep background in business development gives us an opportunity to diversify our customer base. He understands our capabilities and skillsets which will translate well into communicating our strengths to new customers,” said Ellenbecker. “Matt will continue to manage other accounts in the U.S. and Canada.”

Behind the scenes of a brainstorming session

This is the first time we’ve shared photos of our downstairs conference room, the one we use when we have larger meetings. These photos are from a recent brainstorming session. Like many of you, we are getting ready for the 2014 CONEXPO-CON/AGG. This enormous conference and expo is held only every three years, and preparation starts more than a year out.

We’ve been working on the planning for this event for a few months already, even though the show is still 11 months away. And the creative aspects that will go into every aspect of a client’s booth, pre-show marketing and advertising must be nailed down soon, so we’re all spending a little extra time to make sure that we’ve truly investigated every idea that any member of the team can come up with. The finished product must reflect the very best that we can imagine—and we promise that it will!

In the first photo you see us getting the least viable ideas out of the way early in the process. Having fun and letting ourselves be a little goofy stimulates the creative juices and helps us all quit worrying about whether our idea is “the one” or not. As everyone in a creative field well knows, if you don’t give yourself permission to have a bad idea, you’ll never have a good idea.

The second photo shows us in the middle of the process. Matt is wandering around out of the shot, as he is largely unable to think unless he’s moving. Liz is also standing up, getting a little restless, and Laura and Kyle are already at the chin-stroking stage. Everyone is listening to Sara, who you’ll see on the laptop screen, participating via Skype. Joe is behind the camera….

The downstairs conference room will host many more of these intense meetings before we have the CONEXPO creative nailed down for one of our largest clients. We look forward to seeing you at the show, in Las Vegas March 4-8, 2014. By then, we’ll be free to share more of the details!

Behind the scenes at Ellcom

Conference RoomIn our first blog post we shared a couple of photos of our new building—the downstairs kitchen and lounge area. In this post we’re finally moving on to the upstairs offices.

The first photo shows Scott leading a project meeting in our second floor conference room. Looks like a fairly complicated project, because it includes representatives from most of the agency’s workgroups!

Scott's Office

The second photo is a nice shot of Scott’s office. To the left are windows through which a visitor could see the vineyard and the horse pasture, and the window to the right overlooks the koi pond—one of the few in rural Minnesota, we are told.

We’ll try to get photos of the rest of the office areas in the next few weeks—Diane’s office, the tradeshow area, Matt and Liz’s workgroup area, Joe’s outpost, Laura’s corner, and all the rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Martin joins Ellcom as PR specialist

As many of you know, we’ve been a bit short-handed for the past month or so. We’re happy to announce that Liz Martin has joined Ellcom as our new Public Relations Specialist.

Liz comes to us with a communications degree and a specialization in public relations and advertising. She will be the primary PR department contact and will work with Matt to make sure that our clients’ need for well-written and perfectly targeted PR material is met.

Adding Liz to the team increases our capabilities and we expect her to be an important contributor to our continued growth in the months and years to come.

Welcome aboard, Liz!

Liz’s photo and a brief profile are posted on the “Who we are” page.