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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

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

 

 

 

Perfect storm– Ellcom’s site-based case studies bring it all together

JFB_0223_70ppi JFB_0146_70ppiMy favorite question is, “What is the most exciting story you’ve ever been assigned.” That’s so easy to answer: This one – that is, of course, until the next one.

This one was a last-minute rig-delivery. The story came so fast that when I received the text to go, the plane tickets had already been purchased for me. I just needed to grab my camera bag and suitcase.

There was a time a job like that would have made me panic. But the adrenaline rushing through me on this story wasn’t nerves. It was excitement. That’s because today I know the impact the story is going to have for our client, their customer and the industry.

Ellcom is a full-service public relations agency whose reputation is as content generation specialists. I am never out to get just another “customer-buys-the-product” tale. I bring back the photos and sound bites our team uses to create dynamic stories that resonate with our clients’ current and potential customers, the industry’s product engineers and project owners.

And I am the first one to see the story unfold.

Waiting for a connecting flight, I was already making calls and Googling what I could find. Product specifications and capabilities, applications – those are all a given. Anyone can report those. I am looking for more. I think of it more as being a storm chaser, looking for all the elements of the perfect storm, predicting where will strike, and racing against all other storm chasers to be the first one – if not the only one – in the best place to report it.

We aim to show the reader how this successful customer uses our clients’ products to stay ahead of their competition. What advantages made them choose our client as their vendor? How has the reliability and productivity of our client’s product lines helped this customer? Genuine, honest testimonials of product support and customer service come from their lips, in their own words. They decide the talking points, not I.

But that’s still not enough. I am vigilant for any insights that both advance the industry and increase market demand for the customer’s services, as well as our clients’ products. I want it all.

This is why so many magazines want to publish Ellcom’s stories.

Waiting for this customer to join us in his office, the sales rep and I still didn’t know exactly how this is going to play out. The rig is the most advanced on the market. The customer is a prominent drilling and blasting company in a construction consortium whose work takes them across the United States and include some of this country’s largest projects.

These were details vital to my story, but it still wasn’t my perfect storm.

The customer entered, we introduced ourselves, and BAM! It struck. Yes, better fuel economy, reduced downtime – but the customer also now had the ability to fully utilize the market’s newest, most precise face-profiling technology. If I wanted, I could go to the job right now, talk to the blast engineer and watch the surveyor using the new system before I got photos of the rig actually drilling that very pattern. So that’s where we headed.

The drilling and blasting contractor wins by showing its market that it has this new capability. The manufacturer wins by having the industry know it was their rigs and their product support that enabled this customer’s success.

Each story is a new perfect storm. That’s what I live for. That’s what the content generation team at Ellcom delivers.

Joe4

 

 

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.

What the grandmasters of writing can teach us about creating content

One thing that we know for sure about the digital content revolution—grabbing and holding people’s  attention has never been harder. If they’re reading something and it becomes boring, they know that a dancing cat playing a kazoo is only a few clicks away. This makes spare, elegantly simple and concise writing even more important.

Quote 1Of course, the grandmasters of writing have always recognized the importance of getting to the point and being clear. One of the greatest examples of this principle was the amazing genre novelist Elmore Leonard, perhaps the greatest master of dialogue in the second half of the twentieth century, who passed away in 2013. (He wrote the original books from which the movie Get Shorty and the TV series Justified were taken.) He was also one of the most quotable writers of his generation, and he famously said of his writing style, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

Stop a moment and think about what he said—and he wasn’t boasting. He delivered. He just got the story told. No one skipped a boring page of exposition. He didn’t write a boring page of exposition. Ever. When we’re writing or reviewing for publication an article, press release or blog post, we can keep Mr. Leonard’s philosophy in mind. For example, in a case history or job story you may be tempted to include a puffed-up paragraph of corporate superlatives—but will the reader (your potential customer, remember) care? Or will he skip it? And if he skips that paragraph, he may just skip the next few and miss key information that he really needs to know.

Quote 2

 

Another one of my writing idols was Kurt Vonnegut. But his writing, while beautiful, was also spare and straightforward, even when his subject matter was complex, confusing and downright mind-blowing. His advice to aspiring writers? “No matter how wonderful a sentence is, if it doesn’t add new and useful information, it should be removed.” I know that I have followed his advice even when it caused me physical pain, though I’m sure I don’t follow it as often as I should. But especially when we are editing our work or someone else’s, Vonnegut’s words can act as a touchstone for each precious sentence.

All that attention to simplicity and clarity, however, doesn’t mean that writing for our clients is just a matter of slapping down the most basic couple of nouns and a verb that we can. It is hard to write simply, but one of America’s most beloved writers, Mark Twain, explained why it is so important when he said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Quote 3

 

Yes, it’s hard because each word stands out; it isn’t hidden behind a huge shrubbery of unimportant and unnecessary words. Therefore, as Twain reminds us, it has to be the right word. Here in my office, with four other writers either across the room or on chat, it is easy to run a bad descriptor by them for ideas when the online thesaurus is no help. But whatever your system, make sure that you don’t let the wrong word get out the door—while you may know what you mean, that doesn’t help if no one else can figure it out.

(Commercial note: If you don’t have the budget to pay us to write everything for you, keep in mind that editing is just another service we offer. For example, if you write your own press releases, but don’t have an editor in-house, you can send them over to us for editing and/or proofreading. Just give me a call and I can set something up for you!)

 

 

 

Matt5

 

 

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.

Here’s why print isn’t dead

Marketing and marketing communications managers are constantly being asked to comment on the longevity of printed magazines, brochures and other promotional and educational materials. Is print dead? If it is, why are we advertising in dead-tree magazines? Why are we still sending press releases? Why aren’t we focusing all our attention on other media? Should we be tweeting our new product announcements, 140 characters at a time?

And if print isn’t dead today, when will it die? One year? Two, three, five, ten? How will this change our approach to PR, advertising, content marketing?

A February 22 article by Michael S. Rosenwald in the Washington Post  examines a phenomenon reported on by digital communications expert Naomi Baron in her new book “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.” That phenomenon is summarized in the article’s headline: “Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right.”

imageBaron found that “digital natives” like millennials—people who reached young adulthood around the year 2000—actually prefer the printed page for pleasure reading and for learning. Many studies in the past couple of years have shown that physical, printed materials are often superior to digital versions when it comes to comprehension and remembering what is read.

In our “hard hat” manufacturing industries, we have often recognized that those who own the businesses that buy our clients’ products are usually in their 40s, 50s or 60s. We are not surprised to hear that, even though this group is very computer-literate, they still prefer physical, printed material most of the time. But this article in the Post, and books like Baron’s, underscore that the preference for printed matter is not as generationally divided as we had thought.

Of course, some things are better in digital form, and the article in the Washington Post notes this fact. Speaking of the main subject of Noble’s book, college students, the article says, “They prefer them (electronic textbooks) for classes in which locating information quickly is key—there is no Control-F in a printed book to quickly find key words.”

In our industries, the vast majority of trade magazines have a digital version or web portal, for those who do prefer digital reading, or for those types of information where the “Search” function is handy. But the print versions are not going away any time soon, for the simple reason that people still like them, and often, even prefer them.

Matt5

 

 

 

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.

4 more ways to annoy an editor

Last year we posted an article called “4 sure-fire ways to annoy an editor with your press release,” and it was one of our most popular posts ever (mainly with editors, I’ll admit.) We’ve decided to share a few more, partly because it’s kind of fun, and partly because editors are still being annoyed by inappropriately written press releases. This isn’t about obeying finicky rules just for the sake of it—it’s about upping the odds that your company’s message will be read and that your relationship with the trade press is not harmed.

 

You write a zero-content piece 

This is the press release that sneaks its way into a magazine’s website, but usually won’t get as far as the print edition. It is usually a corporate puff piece that speaks in generalities and lacks pretty much any definitive statement. It’s not about a new product or a new initiative or a specific event or a new hire that will impact your market or a new location. It says nothing that the publication’s readership cares about. It makes the company that sent it seem out of touch—and that not only annoys editors, it annoys readers, your potential customers. This is especially true in our industries (oil and gas, mining, construction and so on.)

 

You misuse exclamation points!!!

There is no rational explanation for using an exclamation point in a press release. It is not an ad or a marketing brochure. It is a statement of facts, a report, a sober, business-like announcement. Nothing shouts “Amateur!” like an exclamation point in a press release. Of course, you’ll notice that I used one with the word “amateur” because it was a shout; shouts kind of require that kind of punctuation. If you don’t have a shouted quote in your press release, you don’t need an exclamation point. Of course, if your CEO really is that ebullient in his quotes, maybe you could sneak one in. But I can’t imagine the circumstance that would really call for one.

 

You confuse marketing with a press release

This is one that editors see a lot, especially when press releases are handled by a company’s marketing department. Even so, this usually happens because an executive is pressuring the marketing or communications department to “do a better job of selling” in their press releases. The trouble is, that’s not what a press release is for. The press release is essentially a no-cost service provided by the publication because they know that their readers do want to know, right away, when something new comes down the pike. But those same publications know that their own reputations as trustworthy sources of news are put at risk when they print, as news, that a certain product is game-changing, revolutionary, the best in the world, or whatever other superlative the manufacturer conjures. If it really is revolutionary—and few things really are—the bare facts should make that clear and they will have all the more power for being unadorned.

 

You Go on a random capitalization Rampage

We see this most often on company websites, when a press release is simply posted to the news tab of the site and has, too often, not had the benefit of a professional edit. While a trade publication may correct your mistakes, why make their job harder? Random capitalization is another of those mistakes that can make your press release look amateur, and that is not a message you want to communicate. There are a few basic rules to keep in mind

– Capitalize proper names and proper nouns, including actual product names

– Capitalize the first word in a sentence

Titles are the toughest to get right, for some reason—at least they are for me. Capitalize a title only if it comes before the name, as in President George Washington. But when it comes after the name, the title should not be capitalized. And stick to real titles. Don Smith, Mechanic, and Writer Matt Fueston don’t quite count as formal titles, unfortunately.

 

 

 

 

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.

 

Art of Editing

“What to leave in, what to leave out”

Well those drifter’s days are past me now
I’ve got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out.”   

Against the Wind, by Bob Seger

When Bob Seger wrote those lyrics back in the late seventies, I doubt that he was thinking about writing, editing or publishing. But lines two to four of that verse could easily be the theme song for an editing seminar. (The references to deadlines and commitments are just a bonus, particularly from a writer or editor’s point of view.)

Editing is all about knowing what to leave in, and what to leave out. That is true of any kind of editing, even the kind of self-editing a good writer does as part of his regular process. Some are natural masters of the art, like the great Elmore Leonard, who famously said that he left out the parts that people didn’t read. Most of us mere mortals need an actual editor, however.*

This principle definitely applies to a press release—if the first draft is 650 words, it will be worlds better if cut to 400. And not just because a person is more likely to read a short piece than a long one. A piece that only contains necessary information will better represent your company. That is true because those 400 carefully chosen words are focused on the message, rather than distracting from it with a lot of unnecessary “static.”

This is where the art and the skill of editing come in. A really good editor can save a piece of content, because they know what to leave in, what to leave out.

(* This short piece went through two edits before being finalized.)

 

 

 

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.

6 steps to executing your job-story program

Once you have story ideas rolling in from the field, and you’ve decided which ones you’d like to pursue, it’s time to assign a writer and a photographer. There are a few options you can consider in choosing a writer and photographer, and we’ll discuss those in another post. But for now, we’ll assume those choices have been made.

Ellcom managing editor Sara Schmuck on-site at a quartzite quarry in Minnesota.

I asked Sara Schmuck, the managing editor of our client publications, to share a basic checklist for those of you that may not currently have a set process for your job-story program. When you look at the list, you may just nod your head and say, “Common sense,” but I can assure you that every one of these steps has been missed by some marketing manager at some point in time, and the result has been the birth of a self-reproducing headache factory all his or her own.

Here is your basic checklist:

1. Well ahead of time, set up a specific date and time for writer and photographer to be on the job site. This should be agreed to by the salesman and the company being featured so that there are no last-minute surprises. Make arrangements to interview key people on the job site or via telephone before or after the job site visit.

2. After the job-site visit and interviews, the writer will write up the draft, and submit the first draft to you.

3. After you have made your edits, and the writer has tweaked the revision based on those edits, only then submit the revised draft to the other stakeholders, such as the dealer, contractor, etc.

4. Make sure you get formal approval to use customer information/photos for marketing purposes. And document that approval.

5. Submit the final story to an appropriate trade journal. (Be aware of the magazine’s publication rights’ expectations.)

6. Maximize the exposure for your story. Publish it on your website and in appropriate marketing collateral material in full or abridged versions.

Of course, each of the items on Sara’s checklist could be the subject of a full blog post or article all its own, but this skeleton outline should provide you with the structure you need to execute your job-story program.

 


 

 

Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.