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


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


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.




Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.

Tradeshow logistics & warehousing—another Ellcom service

SPE_6228_edit webOur clients see tradeshows as a way to see potential customers face to face. Meeting them and sharing information at a show doesn’t have to go through the media or some new app. It’s just you and your customers, making connections.

Through our years of putting together tradeshows for clients, we’ve tried to be smart about resources – reusing materials, keeping themes continuous from show to show. We also had staff with experience in logistics and realized that using our skills and ample space to warehouse tradeshow material made sense. We know the companies we work for, their products, what goes where, so why not organize tradeshow goods and ship them where they’re needed?

We like to help make sure those well laid and expensive plans for tradeshows turn into success stories. Whether it’s planning a show from start to finish, creating a 3D sketch of booth space, arranging for booth setup, carpet laying, rigging, whatever is needed, plus creating your communication material, we can do that.

We inventory, house, maintain, ship and receive items used for marketing at tradeshows – from keychains to equipment weighing tons. The companies we work for pay storage fees like they would anywhere. They get the benefit of not paying or training full-time staff to run this warehouse, but yet they have us on call for their warehousing needs.

Storing tradeshow gear with our warehouse has advantages for our clients. For one, there’s no better way to make sure the right equipment is sent with the right marketing and branding material than to have the ones who planned it, pallet it. Our clients can file orders through a handy online system that shows them their inventory, or just call us to say, “Remember that really pretty wall we used six months ago in New York? I want that next week in Las Vegas.”

SPE_6099_edit webWe not only provide economical storage but can clean and touch up displays and products so that they arrive looking showroom ready, with minimal prep on the show site. We strive to have goods arrive only needing to unwrap and maybe put a final shine on them.

We keep detailed records for every piece of your inventory, and we can provide tracking so that everyone in your company knows where something is at, and when it’ll be available for the next show.

Realizing that tradeshows are a way for you to put your best face forward, we’re happy to help in all aspects of that process.  From the fun show concepts all the way to the booth space … and the trucks that get everything there.




Sara Schmuck is an Account Manager, and the Managing Editor of Client Publications, for Ellenbecker Communications.

Client appreciation event at Ellcom

Round Lake Tank Testing 0224

Photo credit Justin Lessman/Jackson County Pilot.

Although Ellenbecker Communications enjoys its renown as an international marketing firm with a clientele that includes a number of global manufacturers, we have a special affection for our local clients. Living in the same rural community, supporting each other, improving life for our children and their futures together—that interdependence creates a bond.

That’s why I was so happy for the opportunity to celebrate that relationship during the Ellcom Client appreciation night Friday, Feb. 19. It was long overdue, an opportunity for us to show our gratitude to clients.

In this case you could say we shared more than “roots.” Part of the night included a somewhat rare event: a private tank-tasting from the Round Lake Vineyards & Winery, whose retail store and tasting room is right beneath our Ellcom offices.

My career as a marketing consultant is grounded in manufacturing—production processes, packaging, sales structures and brand. My life in advertising, my devotion to Ellcom, actually has a lot to do with the winery.

Wine making is a nice metaphor for how the Ellcom team embraces your businesses marketing needs. No matter what the project, no matter which person is in charge, it’s an entire team of enthusiastic collaborators, each passionately contributing their own talents and skills to the final quality blend. From project management to content generation and copywriting down to graphic design and publishing—you need to see this firsthand as I do. Feel free to stop in anytime to experience the energy that keeps me so proud to be associated with them as president of Ellenbecker Communications.



Scott Ellenbecker is the president and owner of Ellenbecker Communications.


The Great Ice Storm of 2013

Sara Schmuck is the Managing Editor of Client Publications for Ellenbecker Communications.


Some of you might have wondered where we were a couple of weeks ago.

If you didn’t receive a timely email reply or wondered why weren’t answering the phone for a day or two, it’s because we were in the center of what we’re calling “The Great Ice Storm of 2013.” We are located in southwestern Minnesota and many of our clients around the country and overseas weren’t aware that we were without power for two days.

It was eye-opening to realize how dependent we are on constant connection. Some of us were lucky that our homes were a part of rolling blackouts with generators powering our city so we could use personal email to send email to clients, and of course smartphones were helpful. However, our actual office headquarters was totally without power and email servers and information drives on the network were completely silent.

Fortunately, none of us starved or froze. (Or, truth be told, even got hungry. We tend to stock our pantries well here in the northland!) Unfortunately, 90 percent of the trees in our little area have lost branches or have fallen completely after both ice and heavy snow. It is no stretch to say that our streets looked as if a tornado touched down.

Check out the three photos here—one shows an incredible coat of ice on the branches of a small tree, and another shows that every single blade of grass was clad in its own clear, cold overcoat! (It was like walking on crunchy marbles!) Now imagine the weight of ice that large trees were bearing. In fact, take a look at the last photo—a lot of trees were bent over in a perfect semi-circle like this one, due to all the extra weight on them. Some of them snapped off, and some slowly stood back up as the ice melted.

Fortunately, spring has finally arrived, even in Minnesota, and the Great Ice Storm of 2013 is just a memory.

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!