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

R in PR is ‘relationship’

Part 2: Practical application

SPE_5916The drilling job I was scheduled to cover in Ohio was suddenly replaced by an emergency job order: an Amish family’s well was bringing up sand.

The only source of water for the family and all of its livestock, the windmill-style well probably had a casing failure at the bottom. Manual labor is a fundamental tenet of Amish culture, but the community’s presiding cleric permitted modern technology in this instance.

My client and were allowed to follow along. He let me out at the homestead’s drive so I could run ahead of the rig. I saw an opportunity to show its maneuverability in confined spaces as the driver positioned it next to the windmill.


Got it!—but then I immediately recapped my cameras. They were hanging low at my sides as I watched as the Amish father stride off his porch across the frozen, rutted ground to discuss terms with the driller. He was repeatedly looking over to me. I made it as obvious as I could, I was not going to take more pictures without permission as I approached them. I waited patiently for a break in their conversation.

At a convenient moment, I introduced myself, explaining my purpose and asking what concerns he might have about photography on his property, assuring him I would abide by his wishes.

I could tell he appreciated the consideration. He bridled a bit at my humble recognition: he was in control of this property, his home.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw gratitude in the driller’s regard of me. Distracted by the sudden change in plans, he wouldn’t have anticipated the potential conflict of bringing a photographer to a camera-wary culture. My intervention, though, wasn’t simply to diffuse it. I am myself a homeowner, a father, a family man. I have genuine respect for this man, as the driller himself does. And I have years of experience working for an agency where the R in PR is for relationship. This is what I do, every job, every story.

SPE_5928 remove faces from windowThe Amish father surprised us: “I guess we aren’t supposed to allow any pictures of people, but otherwise a few of the drilling will be all right.” He looked me straight in the eye, repeating, “But no pictures with people.”

I worked fast, balancing respect for the farmer against doing the best job for my client. Within the hour the Amish father was alongside me again. Had I gotten enough?

I understood. I capped the lenses, telling him, “Yes, and thank you again. I am done now.” I stowed my gear away.

The father’s body language changed from nervousness to eager hospitality. He invited me in for coffee.

I found myself next in a warm kitchen of bonneted women in billowy blue dresses and white aprons. The coffee was a richly aromatic brew, strong and flavorful, brewed in a pot on the kitchen’s wood stove. Given more baked goods than I could cradle against my chest, a chair was pulled out for me as I was guided by numerous hands to the table. After only a few nibbles, he showed me around his home.

A little bit of respect won lavish Amish hospitality, gratitude from their driller and smiles from my customer.

Ellcom doesn’t get in your way while we’re getting the job done. Just like you, we put people first.





Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.

R in PR is ‘relationship’

Part 1: Lesson in humility, learned on a photo shoot

My Peruvian driver had pulled over to indulge my irresistible urge to photograph the near-vertical gardens of Andean farmers in the shadow of El Huascarán. Lost behind my viewfinder, the sound of hooves bearing down on me gave me just enough time to step precariously near the road’s cliff-side edge making way for a family of mountain people on donkeys.

Huascaran in morning light

They drove their little herd of goats to pasture past our high-tech, low-emissions automobile on the freshly paved asphalt road. I was caught for a moment in a time warp, past superimposed on present. Instinctively snapping off a few shots, I lowered the camera, seized with guilt for presenting myself as some tourist. These were people, not landscapes, not objects. I hastily recapped my lens and lowered the camera behind me to my side, nodding at men in ponchos and limp, wide-brimmed hats.

I haven’t deleted the files, though. One of them in particular is my private reminder of the lesson. In spite of striking cultural differences, we are the same: doing our jobs, sustaining private lives. Against the backdrop of the majestic Andes Mountains and wearing the traditional knit-cap chullo of the mountain people with tasseled ear coverings, a young boy on a donkey is leading his father and uncles toward me, smiling for the camera, looking straight into my viewfinder. Behind him his father on his donkey is also looking straight into my eyes—not smiling. It shames me to see his scowl even today, rekindling my sensitivity.

vegetable gardensI had at first thought the juxtaposition I encountered that day was something I had to go to a different country to see. Not so, as shortly thereafter, while driving across Minnesota to cover a story in Wisconsin, I saw a Mennonite buggy driven by a bonneted woman clop across the overpass of Interstate 90 I was about to pass under. It brought a wide smile to my face: We have our own overlapping cultures living side by side. I did not take her picture.

My awareness of our shared humanity doesn’t extend just to strikingly different cultures. None of us is ever merely an object to be captured and framed, posted around the Web to amuse someone’s friends. These are real people, doing real jobs, supporting real families, many of them carrying on a family line, a legacy, created and built upon by multiple generations.

I learned early in my tenure with Ellcom that the R in PR stands for “relationships”: our relationship with you, the relationships you have with your customers, and the relationships they have with the people they serve.

Every time I go into the field, is a practical application. I will get the job done, but respectfully, mindful of the carefully cultivated, continuously nurtured relationships that make it possible for me to be there in the first place.





Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.

Padang Cuisine

Monkey BrainWhen I travel abroad and eat whatever the locals are eating, I always tell my hosts I will try anything once. Though I may not be back for seconds. They like to see my face when I try these things.

EelPadang restaurants are a unique experience, based on a style of food that originated on the island of Sumatra and akin to our association of Cajun food like jambalaya with Louisiana. Food sits in the front window and they bring you bowls of food, usually two things in a bowl and you get a dozen options or so. You eat one piece, they charge for one. Don’t eat any, no charge. Then the left overs go back in the front window for the next guest. Much of the food sits out all day with no refrigeration. I think it was all cooked early in the morning because all is served room temperature. Not enough refrigeration in these places to keep overnight, so it must be fresh.

In Indonesia it’s common to eat with your fingers, the way we eat tacos or fried chicken in the U.S. The hard part is doing it without getting too messy, because everything has a sauce on it. The locals look pretty clean when they’re done, but I looked like a toddler on his first birthday. Hands and face covered. I need about four napkins during dinner, but they don’t use even one. A bowl of water is put at each place as the table is being set to clean fingers before and during the meal if necessary




(top left photo) I had monkey brain in Borneo!

(middle right photo) Eel comes in both fresh water and saltwater varieties. Both are good. Seasoning on these was a little too hot for me: red chiles!

(bottom left photo) These have teeth like a walleye, the state fish of Minnesota. The fish in this photo was at a Chinese restaurant. I really liked the pepper fish.

The Call of the Wild

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.

Working a silver mine story near Juneau, Alaska, I was overwhelmed by how routine man’s co-existence with nature was there. Eden has not been lost after all. Here the human footprint has not squished aside nature like mud around a boot. The mine itself was on an island hosting the world’s densest concentration of brown bears. Deer lined up along the road to watch our bus come back down to the ferry. I saw glaciers, seals, whales, eagles, and spawning salmon. But most impressed upon my memory are the trees.

Juneau is surrounded by the United States’ largest protected woodland, the Tongass National Forest. I had known, of course, spruce grew that tall. But it was secondhand, cognitive fact. To be standing at the base of one of those evergreens looking up to the clouds through its limbs, nearly falling over backward to look for its top, is so much more than fact. And the density of that forest! Mendenhall Valley residents do not have yards: they insert a cabin or house beneath the trees that remains hidden until you are abreast its driveway.

In Juneau, skyscraper spruce look down upon lowly buildings six and seven stories tall. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder as mothers in a nursery, they protect its infants from low and heavy clouds bulging round them, monstrous gray caricatures crowding close, taunted by humanity’s bumptious intrusion. Moving colors and unsettled sounds lay in sacrilegious contrast to the pre-historic backdrop of moss-laden, ragged branches hanging tired against dark green eternity. And the clouds of Juneau demand silent reverence.

Reluctantly, I left Juneau as I found it, beneath its moist grey veil, promising a glimpse inside the treasure chest to any who’ll wait for the sun.

Elephants of the Low Himalayas

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.

I had begun to think I was out of luck catching a glimpse of elephants while covering two tunnel stories in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s northernmost state. Monkeys, yes. Monkeys were everywhere, mothers with babies clinging to them, one hand out to passing cars, illegally panhandling from fence posts and curbs.

It was two days before I saw the Tata cargo trucks for what they were. Each brightly painted truck was uniquely adorned with garland, tassels and extra metal bits welded on. Handwritten script in any of a hundred or more languages blessed travelers, repeated wise sayings, or invoked protection from one or another of India’s 33 million deities. These brutes were ponderously slow in an infinite procession, straining up the mountain grades. High up in their cabs their mahouts pulled fast and hard on their steering wheels, negotiating hairpin switchbacks while smaller traffic spilled around them precariously close to poorly guarded ledges of ravines and cliffs.

The tunnels between Srinagar to the north and Jammu to the south will provide a straight, level, all-weather route that allows travel at highway speeds and protection from Himalayan rockslides and snowstorms, ultimately removing elephas metallicus spectacularus from the endangered species list.