What Brands Need to Know About the Current State of Earned Media

The news cycle is overwhelmed with pandemic-related stories. Media organizations are facing trying times, and it’s hard to get the attention of reporters to pitch your company’s latest news. Yet, earned media remains an essential strategy for brands who want to reach their customers and prospects with trusted information.

The news cycle is overwhelmed with pandemic-related stories. Media organizations are facing trying times, including managing remote staff, a reduction in resources, and anti-press attacks. It’s now harder than ever to get the attention of reporters and pitch your company’s latest news. Yet, earned media remains an essential strategy for brands who want to reach their customers and prospects with trusted information.

To be successful at securing news coverage, brands must understand the current state of media and how to best engage the press.

Find the Right Audience

Before a brand can pursue earned media, research must be done to know the reporter and publication and ensure it’s an appropriate match for your story.

According to Cision’s “2020 State of the Media Report,” the No. 1 thing that PR professionals could do to help reporters is to understand reporters’ target audience, and what they find relevant. Of the over 3000 reporters surveyed by Cision, only one percent consider 75% to 100% of the pitches they receive as relevant.

To ensure relevance, read past stories and look at what reporters are sharing and discussing on their social handles, in particular Twitter, where many reporters and publications have an active presence.

Keep in mind that coverage areas of reporters and publications are changing in the face of COVID-19. For example, the New York Times has scaled back its Travel and Sports coverage and introduced a new section called At Home.

Be Strategic With Your Communications

Cision’s study emphasized that reporters feel bombarded with pitches and prefer email: 51% of respondents said they get from 1-50 pitches a week, 25% receive 51-100 per week, 10% receive 101-151 per week, and 14% receive over 151.

You need a good pitch, sent to the right contact and publication. If you don’t hear back right away, be patient, and send only one follow-up within a few days of your initial outreach.

Perfect Your Pitch

A pitch should be concise and include supporting information such as links and a press release. According to Cision, 72% of journalists said press releases and news announcements were one of the kinds of content they wanted to receive.

Within the pitch, let the reporter know the source available to comment, as well as when and how (video or phone) an interview can take place.

Put your news into the context of a bigger story or trend. You shouldn’t treat earned media as an advertisement or promotion (save this for owned and paid content). Therefore, do not fill your pitch with marketing speak and jargon.

Find Virtual Ways to Build Media Relationships

Your pitch is more likely to be read if the reporter knows you and your brand. Getting to know reporters is an integral part of securing earned media now and in the future. However, COVID-19 has halted our ability to network with reporters, and the broader marketing community, at conferences and events. In this environment, there are no face-to-face coffee or lunch meetings taking place.

You can, however, find creative ways to develop relationships. Social media is a valuable platform to explore shared interests with reporters. I’ve connected with reporters on topics such as cooking, fitness, parenthood, and music.

Now is not the time to abandon an earned media strategy. Instead, to break through the news clutter, brands should be strategic, flexible, and informed.

 

4 Great Direct Mail Welcome Ideas

A direct mail welcome package can be one of the first few communications that your customer gets. Here’s a sampling of some I found.

Can direct mail make a red-hot customer even hotter?

That’s just one question some marketers may want to think about when acquiring a customer. They’ve paid their heard-earned money for your product or service, but why not get that new relationship off on the right foot with a solid welcome package?

There are some solid reasons for doing so. A direct mail welcome package can be one of the first few communications that your customer gets after getting an email confirmation of their order. It’s your chance to shine, to let them know that they’ve made the right decision. And it’s only polite to express your thanks, and put it in print.

So how can you say “Welcome”? I looked at a ton of mail from Who’s Mailing What! for some ideas. Here’s a sampling of what I found.

1. Make It Personal

Dell direct mailHere’s a direct mail piece I got when I bought my laptop. A simple 6”x8” 8-page booklet that has some personalization going on, and a nice image on the front panel. Inside, it welcomes me to the Dell family and recommends that I keep the booklet in a safe place in case the information it holds is ever needed.

What information? My purchase ID number is the big one. It also lists lots of tech support and customer service websites and phone numbers. Some of them came in handy when I spilled iced tea on my keyboard last summer.

2. Remind Them About Your Brand

New York Times direct mailThe New York Times likes booklets, too, mailing this one to a new subscriber. Its 24-pages include lots of copy about all of its online and print features as it helps readers along “your journey.” And, the perfed inside back cover smartly has customer service contact info in case you lose your access, or your Sunday Times doesn’t show up on your doorstep.

But the highlight to me are the images – of refugees, food, and dolphins – that appear on many of the even-numbered pages. They’re a great reminder to the reader of the quality photography that helps the Times tells its stories on paper and online.

3. Talk About Security

American Express direct mailThink of how data and identity security are constantly in the news. You need to make your new customer feel safe. So it makes sense not only to take precautions, but tell your customers what you’re doing to keep them and their information secure.

American Express onboards new cardholders with yes, another booklet. Here, it includes fraud alert protection in a rundown of features that are available in its app.

4. Take Further Action

National Audubon Society direct mailSo you’ve already thanked your customer for their purchase. Now what?

How about another purchase? This is the perfect opportunity to cross-sell or upsell other products or related services as well.

For non-profits, the direct mail welcome is a great time to really energize new donors when they’re most engaged and enthusiastic. The National Audubon Society, in its documentation, presents new members with an action plan “so that you can make the most of your ongoing membership.” Among the checked items: volunteering at an Audubon center, participating in citizen science programs, or making another donation.

You have nothing to lose by letting a new customer feel good about their decision, and spending their money with you.

By starting with a good welcome, you can help create a good experience for them, build a foundation for their future loyalty, and establish your brand at the same time.

Saving Newspapers With Direct Mail in a Digital Age

Yesterday, I was riding the train in to work when I saw a fellow passenger doing something a little unusual: reading the newspaper.

Yesterday, I was riding the train in to work when I saw a fellow passenger doing something a little unusual: reading the newspaper.

We are living in a smartphone world, after all. Aside from a little conversation here and there, most people spend their time looking down, quietly staring at their screens.

And I’m one of them too, mostly.

So there she was, flipping through the newspaper’s sections, and circling stories with a pen. I remembered a story I read (online of course) this week.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said in a CNBC interview that most newspapers will probably not survive in the long term. He picked the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as those with a certain future. They’ve managed to figure out a digital strategy to go along with a print one, he said.

I wonder what role, if any, direct mail will play in the years ahead in driving subscriptions for these two brands, and the industry as a whole.

nyt_01The New York Times recently mailed an invitation-style envelope that included a notecard-type letter inside. The top leaf shows a cup of coffee, a pair of glasses, a phone, and sections of the paper, as well as the magazine. I liked the design because I can relate to it. But the letter itself left me a little cold.

After “Dear Reader,” it jumps right into four paragraphs with headings that seem a bit self-absorbed. “The touchstone of news,” “The most engaging storytelling,” “Discover real journalism” … I know it’s a great institution, but really?

The Wall Street Journal’s mail is better. They’ve moved away from relying on bare-bones voucher offers to also use an actual letter. The paper’s Editor-in-Chief says that it “explores the most important world of all. YOURS.” He talks about how the Journal’s “brand new features and expanded coverage” are all devoted to “your interests and passions.”

OK, so it’s not exactly like Martin Conroy’s “2 Young Men” letter, which made over $2 billion for the Journal during its run.

But it’s something.

As long as newspapers can persuade readers to pay good money for high-quality, one-of-a-kind, and relevant content, they’ll survive, and hopefully thrive. Whether it’s direct mail that gets that job done is a big question.

4 Great Ways to Use a Postcard in Direct Mail (Besides Mailing One)

When I travel, I usually send a postcard or two to friends and family, reminding them of where I am. I often opt for the cheesier ones. You know the ones I’m talking about.

When I travel, I usually send a postcard or two to friends and family, reminding them of where I am. I often opt for the cheesier ones. You know the ones I’m talking about.

Maybe they have a badly outdated picture, or a city’s name emblazoned across the front.

And sometimes, I’ll scrawl a cliched: “Having a wonderful time … Wish you were here” on the back.

Anyway, while buying some new ones the other day, I thought about other ways postcards can be an effective element in many direct mail efforts. Here are a few.

1. Go Somewhere New
amexdpostcard_01This postcard was the perfed front panel of a self-mailer that American Express mailed last year. It uses a tropical scene to draw in a prospect for the company’s Gold Delta Airlines SkyMiles credit card. One of the inside panels lists the many travel benefits of getting and using the card. For example, new members can earn miles bases on their purchases. And their first checked bag is free when traveling on the airline

2. Talk With Your Network
oatpostcard_01Call it a friends and family discount, or member-get-a-member. Asking your customers to reach out to people they know to help sell your product or service can be a powerful tool.

Overseas Adventure Travel, a tour operator often reaches out to its past customers for referrals for its many trips. A recent envelope mailing included a sheet of 5 perfed jumbo postcards, each showcasing one of its destinations. The reverse side offers “3 Reasons to Travel” to that location, like Peru. For letting their loved ones know in a colorful way where they’ve been, the traveler earns rewards, plus savings for their friend.

3. Leverage Your Assets
nytpostcard_01When you create and control good, valuable content, why not let everyone know that?

This postcard features an iconic photograph of President Kennedy that originally ran in the New York Times back in 1961. It was mailed in a subscription package for the newspaper a few years ago. According to that effort’s letter, it was intended “to provide a vivid snapshot of what you will find in the Times.”

Another good example: the National Museum for Women in the Arts mailed postcards for years as part of its membership acquisition package. Each one featured a work from a woman artist that came from its collection.

4. Work for Change
ifawpostcard_01As a component of a fundraising appeal, the postcard can be an effective involvement device to advocate for change. Examples abound in Who’s Mailing What! but many of them generally build brand and not much else.

This exception to the rule was mailed by International Fund for Animal Welfare. It’s part of a campaign to stop the declining numbers of rhinos in South Africa. The front includes a stark caption to accompany a cute image. The reverse side contains a message to the country’s Minister for the Environment, asking for an end to poaching and slaughter.

The common element in all of these cases is that the postcard’s job is to inspire an action.

It is not enough to be eye-catching, or look pretty; the postcard has to make a connection — maybe several of them— to be relevant to the customer or donor.

 

Will Millennials Fully Experience the Analog Revival?

Analog is back. It’s hip, it’s retro and it’s hot in film photography, print books and paper notebooks. But will the embrace of tactile, non-digital media among Millennials extend to music? That remains to be seen.

Analog is making a comeback
Analog is making a comeback

Analog is back. It’s hip, it’s retro and it’s hot in film photography, print books and paper notebooks. But will the embrace of tactile, non-digital media among Millennials extend to music? That remains to be seen.

Instagram shows over 3 million posts each for the hashtags #filmphotography, #filmisnotdead and #polaroid. Photo booths are popular at weddings. Young people are increasingly enamored with pictures taken on devices other than their phones, even though Instagram remains the go-to place to view and share them.

My students who have done class research projects on ebook readers have consistently found that college students prefer print books over electronic ones for classes. I’ve observed an increasing number of students using paper notebooks rather than tablet computers and laptops to take notes. Hardcover diary-type notebooks are gaining a hipster cache, and recently, I had a student enter an appointment in a paper calendar, as I remarked, “How quaint!”

A New York Times review says the new David Sax book, “The Revenge of Analog,” is “a powerful counter-narrative to the techno-utopian belief that we would live in an ever-improving, all-digital world.” The review adds that the author contends that the analog revival “is not just a case of nostalgia or hipster street cred, but something more complex.”

But while most things we can have and hold are easily accessible to Millennials, music is different. Fortune magazine reported vinyl record sales hit $416 million last year, the highest since 1988, according to the RIAA. But there are several barriers to the mass adoption of analog music, most significant of which is the need for a turntable and vinyl platters. Millennials own digital music and listen to it on portable devices through headphones, occasionally through a Bluetooth speaker. I’ve written before about the Millennial music experience being more individual than social, more like filling your ears with sound than filling a room with sound.

It’s easier for Baby Boomers to embrace analog music, because many still have their vinyl collections stored away. Marketing consultant Lonny Strum recently wrote in his blog Strumings about re-experiencing the joy of a turntable needle drop, saying “What the process of using a turntable has reminded me of is the joy of interaction/engagement with music that vinyl provided. The ‘needle drop’ (and alas the subsequent vinyl scratches) were all part of the process of listening to music. The selection of the song, the cut of the album took time and consideration, not a millisecond fast-forward that digital allows. I rediscovered the snap, crackle and pop from excessive play in past years. In fact, I instantly recall the places in songs of my 45s and LPs where the crackle, or pop existed, as if it were a key part of the song.”

EmotionsThese are the types of experiences that the Times notes in reviewing “The Revenge of Analog,”

“ … the hectic scratch of a fountain pen on the smooth, lined pages of a notebook; the slow magic of a Polaroid photo developing before our eyes; the snap of a newspaper page being turned and folded back … ”

A recent study published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society concluded that “MP3 compression strengthened neutral and negative emotional characteristics such as Mysterious, Shy, Scary and Sad, and weakened positive emotional characteristics such as Happy, Heroic, Romantic, Comic and Calm” making the case that analog music might actually be a more positive and pleasant experience.

Will Millennials and the generations who follow get to experience it?