Don’t Panic

Over the weekend I came across an excellent BusinessWeek article by Steve McKee, president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland Advertising, on the maddening complexity of the current marketing mix — particularly the disruptive role of social media. I use disruptive in both a positive and a negative sense. Positive in that the social media juggernaut has fundamentally changed the theory, practice and infrastructure (human and technological) of marketing for the better, and negative insofar as it has also spawned distraction, panic and confusion, causing marketers to lose their strategic bearings.

“Most marketers don’t know that an epic struggle is going on just beneath the surface of the marketing communications industry. Digital agencies are starting to offer more traditional services. Traditional agencies are adding digital capabilities. Ad agencies are offering PR. PR firms are selling graphic design. Design firms are calling themselves ad agencies. And every one is staking a claim to the new ground of social media. It’s a mess out there, with each company kicking the others under the table like too many siblings vying for too few pieces of pie. Somebody has to manage the chaos, and unfortunately, that’s you.”

Dion Algeri at The Great Jakes Blog picked up on a similar theme recently, warning “Brace yourself for the backlash against social media marketing.” However, I wouldn’t describe it as a backlash as much as a necessary correction. It’s not as if marketers are wholesale abandoning and disparaging social media and networking. Rather, the tulip frenzy and accompanying fear of missing an opportunity have subsided and marketers are being more strategic and rational about how social media fits into a an integrated marketing mix.

McKee’s simple prescription is also the best:

“There has never been a better time for small marketers to act big. The tools, tactics, and best-of-breed vendors are increasingly available to help you take on larger competitors. But if your approach isn’t integrated, you risk having your plan jerked here and there by the latest tricks and tactics, with no formal analysis of whether (or when) they make the most sense for your brand.

“It’s good to change your tires every so often, but if you neglect to align them, the ride may be rough—and you’ll waste a lot of gas, even if you’re headed in the right direction. Invest the time and effort to develop a properly integrated plan, and you’ll be on your way to where you want to go with a lot fewer bumps.”

Remember PR?: Basic Media Relations Could Be Your New “Secret Weapon”

Law firm PR isn’t dead; it’s just “off trend.”

Social media and networking platforms have hijacked law firm marketing mind share, discourse and resources, with many “experts” proclaiming that social media is the new PR. And I thank them for that misdirection, because it creates more opportunities for good old-fashioned media relations (with a few twists*).

While your competitors are bogged down writing post after post for their own blog on recent circuit court decisions, trusting THIS will be the one to command an editor’s attention, you could be appearing on a local Fox affiliate’s morning show segment about estate planning, or contributing posts on family law issues to a mommy blogger site.

The players and distribution channels (aka “media”) have changed, but not the need for, and effectiveness of, basic media relations: useful information engagingly presented, interesting and credible subject matter experts, and good stories well told.

* The “twists”:

  1. Redefine “journalist” – In addition to reporters/editors/correspondents at professional and general interest media, pay attention to “citizen journalists” (aka bloggers) who a) address the audiences you want to reach and b) have a demonstrated, ongoing interest in subject matter where you can offer unique expertise/insights. For me BlogHer is massively useful for identifying new outlets, conversations and conversationalists.  If you haven’t already, get on the HARO distribution, with matches journalists with subject matter experts through thrice-daily e-mail alerts. And don’t overlook opportunities to cultivate conversations and connections in the WordPress community.
  2. The Rolodex might be obsolete, but it’s still about your contacts – Journalists don’t sit around all day checking various content aggregation feeds for interesting posts. There are lots of great story ideas — and even more subject matter experts — out there to choose from. You still have to make 1:1 connections —  just like engaging with prospective clients — if you want to be memorable and useful to journalists.
  3. Think stories, not “news” – Classic, pre-Internet media relations put a premium on “newsworthiness” because the number of outlets and space/time slots within them were limited, and “hard” breaking or investigative news took precedence over “soft” feature stories. Blogging has turned that dynamic on its head. The bar for “hard” news is lower, and the demand for attention-grabbing  feature content and commentary — most notably of the “Top 10” list variety — is growing stronger daily. So if you’ve written an interesting blog post, don’t be afraid to turn it into a press release and/or pitch it directly to media, too.
  4. Give your press releases an SEO makeover – Almost as important as the information in your press releases is the format and searchability. Affordable services like PitchEngine can help you structure and SEO optimize. You can even set up a virtual “newsroom” so you don’t have to mess with posting releases on your website . And don’t forget to use your most searched-for keywords early and often!

Law Firm Uses Microtargeted Social Media Ad to Reach Social Media Marketers

I was surprised and intrigued by two HARO (Help a Reporter Out) e-mails this week , both sponsored by Saunders & Silverstein, an Amesbury, Mass.-based law firm specializing in trademarks, copyrights, licensing and domain names:

“Law is scary. Hide-under-the-blanket scary sometimes. That’s where our awesome HARO family member Saunders & Silverstein come in. They handle issues with trademarks, copyrights, licensing and domain names. They can also help you set up a solid legal strategy to meet your goals. You’re going to be in good hands, since they handle domestic and international trademark and copyright protection, as well as Internet and entertainment law. And it doesn’t matter if you are one person or a publicly traded company – they work with them all and tailor a plan accordingly. Check out http://bit.ly/d3B25O and if you are a new client and mention this HARO ad, they will give you 25% off their fee for your first U.S.trademark application filing. SWEET!”

If you’re unfamiliar with HARO, it’s a social media service that distributes inquiries from information seekers (e.g. journalists and bloggers) to potential sources (e.g. PR folks, marketers and subject matter experts of various stripes). Like Craigslist classifieds for stories and storytellers.

Saunders & Silverstein might not be the first firm to try running a coupon special on HARO, but they’re certainly the first I’ve noticed. And it makes perfect sense on several levels.

Highly qualified, highly targeted distribution – HARO subscribers trade in intellectual property, and even if they do not have a direct need for legal services, they likely have clients who do. As the HARO advertising sales pitch notes, sponsors are reaching “Engaged, active members of a community who will read their ads, listen to our unique perspective on the sponsor’s offer, and then take action and buy something.”

Trust and Loyalty – HARO subscribers are social media professionals and true believers, and founder/CEO Peter Shankman is something of a cult figure. Social media types remember the businesses that take them seriously, and they reward that engagement with positive word of mouth.

Eyeballs – HARO claims a “75 %+” open rate for its e-mail distributions, and the folksy feature lead of each message is derived from the sponsor’s message/offer.

Since legal services aren’t an impulse buy, it might take a while before Saunders & Silverstein see the ROI they’re hoping for. I hope they’re at least getting some click-through traffic that trends in the right direction — and that they will let me know how it turns out either way. This would make a very interesting case study.