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The Write Stuff

I recently taught a writing course at NIRI’s Fundamentals Conference, which is mostly geared toward IROs who are relatively new to the business, as well as more experienced folks who’d like to brush up on the basics.

My presentation focused on the fundamentals of writing earnings news releases, conference call scripts and shareholder letters. The biggest challenge people said they faced is crafting a compelling story in what has become a template-driven world.

Following are some boiled-down writing tips from my presentation to help make that writing resonate:

Know Your Audience

Your written piece should address the following:

  • What Information do they need?
  • Why do they need it?
  • What do they currently believe?
  • What should they believe?

Plan & Organize Your Content

  • Identify your key messages
  • Create and work from an outline
  • Use blocks of content to develop a sequence of thoughts
  • Test your sequence for clarity

Draft Without Judgment

  • Fill in the outline
  • Work quickly – don’t agonize
  • Read it out loud. Is the flow logical?
  • Listen to your own ears
  • Give it a rest and re-read in the morning

Revise for Power

  • Punch up the opening and closing
  • Change passive voice to active voice
  • Strip out excess words, phrases and fluff
  • Make it natural and conversational – should “fit” the company/spokesperson

– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Ad Tech’s Implications for PR and IR

1101110321_400Los Angeles is an epicenter for all things trendy, so it should come as no surprise that the City of Angels is also a hotbed for “Ad Tech” or advertising technology companies. Ad Tech has surfaced as a formidable force in the marketing world, enabling advertisers to slice and dice data to prognosticate trigger points for consumers.

Indeed, advertising and technology have long been consummate bedfellows, but does the rise of the ad tech industry have implications for PR and, perhaps even, IR worlds?

The metrics used in ad tech seem relatively objective, while the variables that factor into the success of PR and IR are often subjective. And yet, PR and IR firms are consistently asked to measure success. It is a conundrum that will likely continue to thwart PR and IR firms with greater frequency, as metrics from contiguous industries, such as ad tech, dominate the collective consciousness of the marketing world.

There are certain variables that PR and IR folks use to gauge success, including media coverage, the number of new analysts covering a company, and attracting new followers on Twitter and LinkedIn. But again, in the ad tech world there is usually a direct correlation between a successful advertising campaign and sales. This isn’t necessarily true for PR and IR.

What is true is that setting realistic expectations apply to all industries, and if you can present a program with achievable goals, it shouldn’t matter what the data say, as long as they support the expectations set forth at the beginning of an engagement.

–  Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Transparency Matters

“Think outside the box.”  “Stretch your imagination.”  “No idea is too big or too small.”  How many times have we heard those phrases when brainstorming solutions?  Everyone who practices our craft strives to be as creative as possible to generate the best results for our clients, but how many communications professionals fully understand the ramifications of their chosen strategy?  That’s why this story about a top-five public relations firm really piqued my interest.
 
I am not using this blog to place blame (plenty of media outlets have already done that), but rather to examine what happened and help others learn how to avoid what has become a rather public embarrassment for said PR firm.
 
On behalf of an unnamed client, who has since been identified as Facebook, Burson-Marsteller began a “whisper” campaign against Google to shed light on some of their privacy practices, presumably in the name of helping Facebook get out ahead of the competition.  While this practice might not seem extraordinary, the way the campaign was conducted, and the fact that it came from a highly respected firm, was a bit unorthodox.
 
The events:
 

  1. A Burson employee, former political columnist John Mercurio, offered to ghost write and place an op-ed column for former FTC researcher and blogger Christopher Soghoian, but would not provide the name of the client to Soghoian.
     

  2. Soghoian responded by posting Mercurio’s email pitch, along with his rejection, on the Internet. According to Forbes, Soghoian said, “I am quite capable of authoring my own anti-google stuff thank you.”
     

  3. USA Today devoted a story to the campaign about a week later, which included information about the pitch they received from Burson employee Jim Goldman, a former CNBC reporter.
     

  4. Former Internet analyst Henry Blodget, who now writes for Silicon Alley Insider, later proclaimed, “BUSTED: Former CNBC Tech Reporter Jim Goldman Caught Spreading Lies About Google For Unnamed PR Client.”
     

  5. Burson-Marsteller says that it shouldn’t have pitched negative Google stories on behalf of Facebook.

 
In their apology, Burson conceded that, “When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.”
 
Media is a fantastic tool to get your messages to a broad group of people, but remember that everything you say or write is “on the record.”  Should we continue to find creative ways to disseminate messages?  Of course.  Should we do so without transparency?  Absolutely not.  In most cases, taking the high road is indeed the best course of action.

 

Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com
 
 

Tacos and Beer

I don’t drink that much beer, but I do enjoy an occasional light brew when tacos are present. It’s a very nice complement, kind of like mondel bread and coffee.
 
The media is shedding light on a different kind of complement these days. I am referring to blogs and PR. The Wall Street Journal recently devoted more than 20 inches of copy to a beer blog that Miller Brewing Co. recently launched.
 
The blog is written by a former Advertising Age staffer who channels his sudsy muse into an analysis of the beer industry. Of course, I suspect the blog doesn’t break news about the very brewer that pays for its existence. But to Miller’s credit, the company is completely transparent about its relationship with the blog.
 
As more companies attempt to ride the wave of blah-blah-blogging (ours included), I find Miller’s approach refreshing and full bodied. They are taking the foam out of foam. They are tapping the proverbial keg and making themselves look smart, as opposed to drunk and stupid.
 
So, here’s to Miller Brewing Co. for drumming up a savvy PR program. The question is whether a similar program could be applied to a publicly-traded company.
 
My advice is to proceed with caution. Don’t get me wrong, I think blogs can be valuable for public companies. However, public companies must not forget that they are blogging on behalf of shareholders, too.

 

Evan Pondel, Senior Associate, epondel@pondel.com