Here we go! Return to writing post-baby

Here I am again – behind my computer, staring at a blank document, a million thoughts flowing through my mind. It seems like I was in the same spot just yesterday, and yet, more than a year has passed since I pressed pause on my work in communications to take on a great new challenge – motherhood.

IMG_1694

My blank canvas…

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind. The laughs, the cries, the joys and the frustrations – it has been the most fulfilling and surprising time of my life.

Honestly, I never thought it would take me this long to get back here. As the passionate workaholic, schedule-obsessed person that I am, I had pictured myself on maternity leave enjoying time with baby while blogging frequently, keeping up with the latest trends in marketing and PR. I would finally have the time to enjoy some of the books and magazines that I had downloaded on my iPad but never got to reading. I would return to my early morning running routine within the first few months and start racing shortly thereafter…

Boy was I delusional!

My friends with kids used to tell me that things would change when I had a baby, but I never quite understood how much. Plus, I always thought that somehow I was the exception to the rule and that with my super juggling skills, I would be different. As I type out these thoughts, I realize how incredibly overconfident they were. The first months of motherhood were insane, and I had zero time to focus on anything but my baby girl.

And though things got easier and I definitely could have sat here before now, I chose not to. For the first time in my life, I chose to put the work and schedules on the back burner and let myself ‘unplug’ and get carried away by the amazing tiny person my husband and I had created. Days have been filled with feedings, diaper changes, play dates, Monkey Rock, picnics, walks, story time, swimming, etc. Down time consists of reading baby blogs, making homemade purées, assembling photo albums, consignment shopping and painting – things I never thought I would take such pleasure in.

This doesn’t mean I’m a changed person. Quite the opposite – I still think about work, writing and running, and I’m still a planning junkie. I do miss my career and I make plans for what’s next, but I have learnt to not let it consume me. I start every day with a million to-dos and I end it satisfied with the ones I have accomplished – something that was a foreign concept to me pre-baby.

So today I begin a new chapter: one where I slowly immerse myself back into writing, while continuing to live my awesome new #momlife.

I’ll still be blogging primarily about trends in communications, but I’m also going to include some reflections on finding a balance between motherhood and career – a topic that increasingly fascinates me as I begin my journey juggling both.

Here we go!

The in-house client: Common challenges and how to face them

Many PR pros who don’t work in agencies are part of in-house integrated communications teams that take on agency-like structures. Research has shown that this type of structure is one of the essential characteristics of the marketing organization of the future. 

If you are part of one of these teams, it usually means you are providing advice and production services to internal client groups. 

This type of work can be a lot of fun, as it involves cross-functional collaboration in the effort to reach common organizational goals. There are however, some challenges faced by the internal account executive in managing these important stakeholder groups—especially if the internal agency configuration is new to your organization.

Here are just a few common challenges:

1. Perception that you are a service provider, not a consultant. Often, internal clients see the communications department as the place that produces brochures, writes news releases, or posts social media updates. Some internal client groups will approach you with a specific request rather than seeking advice on an all-encompassing strategy.

How to face it: Close the gap between PR strategy and tactics. Educating your internal clients about the difference between strategy and tactics is essential. Show them successful examples of objectives and research-based communications and highlight the results. This will help them understand that campaigns work better than one-offs and that your department’s expertise goes beyond writing copy and designing email headers.

2. Perception that you don’t understand their needs. You may be a skilled PR pro, but this sometimes gets overlooked if you don’t have a great deal of knowledge regarding your internal clients’ field, product, or service. Your client might not trust your advice or approach if he or she feels that you don’t grasp their needs.

How to face it: Research and constant communication. If you don’t have experience with your clients’ portfolio, do your homework. Read up on their offerings, history, competitors, previous communication strategies, and market research—the works. Also, offer to have them give you a crash course to better understand their business. It will make things easier when the roles are reversed and you are providing them with advice. Plus, it will contribute to enhanced cross-functional collaboration and help you and your team do a better job. 

3. Endless back-and-forth on decisions. The absence of billable hours in an internal shop can mean your clients will repeatedly come back to you with changes in scope, suggestions, and modifications. This hinders the overall efficiency and effectiveness of your strategy and can hamper your ability to deliver a project on time. 

How to face it: Implement a proper workflow process. A structured workflow that takes your client from the research and strategy phase to building ideas, tactical plan development, implementation, and measurement will help guide your projects and create a sense of discipline and shared ownership. Putting a workflow in place requires you to identify the steps required to bring a given project to life, as well as the requisite timelines, accountabilities, approvers, and processes. Create a master milestone charter of all the steps, and get your client to sign off on it so that he/she knows that an extra round of corrections or a last-minute add-in will compromise your deadline or incur additional costs.

Internal communications shops are forever attached to their clients, which makes establishing a healthy relationship and process essential. Continuous internal education and workshops will help cross-functional teams to better understand each other’s work. 

As PR pros we should share examples of how agencies and other organizations do things to help our internal clients understand how we can help them achieve our shared organizational goals. 

This post first appeared on PR Daily.

Making the Case for Brand Journalism

The majority of PR and marketing pros are buzzing about brand journalism. Last week I attended a workshop hosted by

Making the case for-Brand-JournalismRagan Communications’ Mark Ragan (@MarkRaganCEO) and Jim Ylisela (@jpyjr) on The Company as Media – Your role in the age of Brand Journalism & Content Curation.

Here are just some of the insights from this workshop that can help us make the case for brand journalism in our organizations.

(1) A catalyst for integration. PR and marketing teams may have “beef” with brand journalism, because both functions think they should own it. Turning your site into a storytelling vehicle that provides content your customers actually want to read and share can have an impact on conversion. Why not use this as an opportunity for PR and marketing to collaborate more closely?

(2) Taking a balanced approach yields results. You are NOT talking about yourself; you are essentially becoming a trade publisher. Tell stories about your organization’s people and its area of expertise and pair this with content curation about the industry. Content marketing efforts should not be propaganda. Many companies hire journalists to act as internal reporters and take a more ‘unbiased’ stance and tone.

(3) Why write a news release when you could write a story? So many organizations are still tied to the news release. Some that have storytelling vehicles on their websites duplicate their efforts by using both. There is no need to do this with brand journalism. You can publish a story that resembles what a journalist would write on your site and then send a targeted pitch to your media contacts.

(4) Great content + engagement = success. Nowadays we have to make sure to get people to our site, but we also need to get our site “out there” (i.e. on social media platforms, via email, etc.) If you provide your customers with content that they find useful and interesting they will actually take the time to read it, and even comment on it or share it. By becoming a go-to source of trustworthy information you also drive them through the conversion funnel.

(5) Stories with impact. Your content should make your audience’s life better. It should be relevant, useful, entertaining, consistent, transparent, and targeted towards their needs.  It should practice what Mark Ragan refers to as ‘refrigerator journalism’ – so good that you want to post it on your fridge. Therefore, it should be free of jargon and corporate speak. Keep it crisp, brief and to the point – just like what you might see in your favourite magazine.

(6) The best way to showcase your expertise. Your organization’s brand journalism site is a vehicle to share the range of expertise you have that surrounds your brand. Mark and Jim use the example of Export Development Canada’s online magazine Export Wise that provides advice for Canadian exporters. The content looks like what you might see in The Economist. A brand journalism site can also be useful to your salesforce, as it allows them to easily share stories with clients or prospects.

(7) Creates brand ambassadors. Involve your employees in your brand journalism stories – they will be your best brand ambassadors. They have great stories to tell about your organization at the operational level. Content marketing begins from the inside: engage your employees and encourage them to share.

(8) Takes a strategic approach. Effective brand journalism begins with your strategy. Take a look at your objectives, resources, key messages. What are you trying to achieve? Start with a communications audit to take stock of what you are currently doing to connect with your stakeholders and how content marketing fits in. Build a content strategy, a news desk and an editorial process. Decide on which tools to use for your main site and social media. Determine how you will measure success on your brand journalism site and trace how it leads to conversion (leads, sales, relationships, etc.).

(9) Closes the gap between media sites and corporate websites. Your site doesn’t have to be dull, transactional and text-heavy. By turning it into media site, you can still provide the information and services that your audiences need, but keep them interested along the way. This means changing how we write stories and how we share on social to ensure that they are audience-centric, must-click pieces. Turn your press releases into features, convert expert evergreen interviews into blog posts and pull good stories from research and whitepapers.

Creating a good content marketing strategy and building a vehicle to carry it through is a lot of work. It requires rethinking the way organizations have done things for years and taking on a less me-centric approach to communicating your content. The workshop I attended really highlighted how brand journalism focuses less on corporate priorities and more on the audience. Often understanding that focus on the latter will benefit the former is half the battle.

Let’s Take the “Corporate” out of Communications Writing

Today I attended an awesome Ragan Communications workshop on advanced writing and editing for corporate communicators with Mark Ragan (@MarkRaganCEO) and Jim Ylisela (@jpyjr). The day was jam-packed with advice, interaction, examples and materials. Here a just a few takeaways from a must-attend event for anyone that is writing comms materials.

(1) People don’t necessarily care about our stuff. There is so much competition and audiences are suffering from information overload. Your target’s attention span is shorter than ever, which is why your writing must distinguish itself from the “rest”.

(2) It’s time to get past all the corporate “boilerplate” stuff. You can tell when a piece has been written by committee. There are often too many approvers and too much meddling and negotiation. “We’re fighting all the wrong battles – the only battle we should be fighting is the battle for readership.”

(3) Out with the boring, in with the authentic. Your writing should be conversational, user-focused, visual and stripped of corporate speak. Inject personality into your writing to make something that is unreadable, readable.

(4) Our job has extended far beyond what it was. With organizations taking on a publishing role, we have a chance to really have an influence. Corporate communicators are brand journalists, advisors and teachers. On the other hand, “we have to stand up and make some noise” and go up against “the way we’ve always done it.”

(5) Simplicity and clarity is key. We need to be more human in our writing and stop listening to internal clients with misguided agendas. Good writing is the way you talk with your family and friends. Your writing should be stripped of jargon and corporate speak.

(6) Write awesome headlines, leads and quotes. These should entice and pull in your readers. They should answer the question: “what’s in it for me?”. Headlines should be specific and sexy. There is no reason why they can’t look like the ones we see on newstands.

(7) If you don’t ask questions, you won’t get info. Sometimes we have trouble writing because we just don’t have good enough materials. So much of what we are writing comes from the top. We need to find out what it actually means to those that are coming to work everyday and inject life into what we are writing.

(8) Be a reporter in your organization. First, ask key questions: What’s the urgency? Is it worth our audience’s time? Who are the key players? What are the big issues? How do I get plugged in? Follow the paper trail and get info on the history and context to produce a richer story.

(9) Show me, don’t tell me. Use examples and people in your stories. Take something abstract and show readers what it actually looks like. Find a human in your organization that we can care about and root for.

(10) Packaging matters. Think about the best way to convey your material. Photos, infographics, videos, quotes and different formats can add value to your writing and make it more interesting. Make sure to look at all the different ways you can use to get people’s attention.

Alternatives to the traditional article

It’s no secret that audiences are increasingly consuming concise, media-rich content. This tendency toward shorter bits of information means we must work harder to make our branded content more interesting. 

With the array of tools, formats, and applications available, content marketers are looking beyond the traditional article and using creative ways to tell their stories. These variations can highlight different aspects of our content and make it more intriguing and easier to repackage it for sharing across multiple channels. 

If you haven’t already started rethinking the old-school article and blog post, here are a few formats you can use to diversify the content on your website:

  • Lists. I love lists. They are easy to scan, useful, and to the point. I’m pretty sure almost any organization can use lists to deliver their content in one way or another.
  • How-to pieces. People often venture to your website to solve a problem. How-to pieces that show customers what they need step by step can efficiently meet their needs.
  • Q&A pieces. A timely Q&A with a third-party expert can add credibility to your company website and mix things up format-wise.
  • Infographics. Infographics are a great way to show stats and visually convey material that might otherwise be boring. They are also a convenient format to display a lot of info in one place.
  • Videos. Studies showthat customers are drawn to video because it transmits rich information and emotion. Short segments can liven up your page and add a human element to your content.
  • Photo and caption. Instagram. Need I say more? A photo with a caption (or hashtag) is a great way to quickly share something cool about your organization and its people. You can make it more interactive by inviting your audiences to share theirs.
  • Opinion/contributor pieces. Customers increasingly like engaging with the brands and organizations they love. Invite customers and/or third-party experts to submit pieces related to your brand. It’s a great way to get them involved and collect interesting content.
  • Storify. Including a Storify feed in your articles enables you to collect insights and quotes from your social media connections. It can showcase the social “pulse” of an event or topic that surrounds your organization.

There are lots of creative ways to convey what your organization is doing. The important thing is to consistently feed your audience’s desire for unique content and find innovative ways to tell your story. 

This post first appeared on PR Daily: http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/16436.aspx

5 reasons why Content Marketing is not a fad

Content marketing, also known as brand journalism is an emerging discipline that has exploded over the past few years thanks to digital and connective media.

Organizations like Coca-Cola, HSBC and Whole Foods are becoming publishers in their own right and engaging with their target audiences by creating and sharing rich content through their owned channels.

As with most trends, there is a tendency to question whether content marketing is a temporary PR craze or a genuine shift in what really drives customer interest.

Here are a few customer-focused reasons why content marketing is here to stay:

  1. People enjoy stories. It’s in our DNA – we want to hear interesting, funny and engaging stories about the brands and organizations we like. In fact, we often appreciate good stories even if we are not fans or users of a particular product or service. Content marketing favors storytelling. It allows brands to find interesting angles surrounding their offerings and share them with their target customers.
  2. There is too much noise.  Audiences are inundated with messages and sales pitches. Using a brand journalism approach is less aggressive. Instead of flooding customers with facts and figures about your brand, it gives you an outlet to share valuable or entertaining content that resembles what one might see in their favourite newspaper.
  3. Audiences want to engage and share. Content marketing has staying power because it is in line with the natural human tendency to learn, question and converse. If you create cool content for your customers, they’ll share it with their friends on social media and become broadcasting towers for your brand.
  4. Consumers associate positively with organizations that produce custom content. According to the Custom Content Council 61% of consumers feel better about, and are more likely to purchase from a company that delivers custom content. Also, 78% of consumers believe that organizations that produce such content are making an effort to build good relationships (source: TMG Custom Media).
  5. People want to make informed decisions. Content marketing can be used to showcase your product or service by providing customers with useful information, stories and anecdotes related to it. Sharing links, videos, best practices, third-party recommendations and curated content about your brand provides customers with the juice they need to make an informed decision.

Bottom line: content marketing is not going anywhere. As long as organizations continue to listen to and engage with their audiences, evaluate their content strategy and adjust accordingly, this is one trend that will stick around for the long haul.

A version of this article also appeared on PR Daily.

Brand Journalism: Is Porter the New Vogue?

The new Porter magazine ‘powered’ by luxury retailer Net-a-Porter takes fashion content marketing to a whole new level. Launched only a few weeks ago during New York fashion week, the high-end publication is already being touted as serious competition for fashion bible, Vogue. The retailer’s move to produce such a vehicle underscores the central role content is taking in its e-commerce machine.

A glossy print-first magazine, Porter has all the bells and whistles of a traditional fashion catalogue, only the styles showcased across its pages are shoppable on Net-a-Porter.com, and even on third party websites. The magazine’s online version makes it simple to point and click to purchase featured products.

Make no mistake – Porter is not a shopping catalogue, but a true content marketing vehicle. With over 65% editorial content, the 284 page publication avoids the hard-sell, using a barely there reminder at the bottom of each page to invite readers to “Shop Porter with the Net-a-Porter app”. The free app can also be used to scan any page of the mag, but any other calls-to-action are ever so subtle.

Why would Net-a-Porter decide to go with a print version?  Well, because research shows that women actually like to leaf through traditional magazines, even as they make their purchases online. The content in the first issue stays true to its theme, “A celebration of incredible women” and includes articles on everything from fashion and style, to health and travel. Its pages are lined with lavish advertisements, beautiful photography and rich content, and the cover story is an intimate look at the world of supermodel, Gisele Bündchen.

It doesn’t end there. Porter further establishes itself as a brand publisher by showcasing views by designers Manolo Blahnik and Victoria Beckham, a piece on whether mystery still exists in a world where social media prevails, and a story on photojournalist Lynsey Addario, who was kidnapped in Lybia in 2011.

Net-a-Porter is creating this type of content to engage its core audience – “women on the move”.

“We are also a media group. And we love print,” said Natalie Massenet, Net-a-Porter Group Founder in Tweet on the company’s Twitter page. Her proclamation supports the trend of brands as publishers, and the Group’s move to produce such a vehicle emphasizes the importance of reaching customers through rich content that speaks to them and gives them the opportunity to engage across multiple platforms.

It will be interesting to see the impact Porter will have on customer engagement and sales. Dubbed as the first truly global fashion title, the magazine will be published six times per year, with print runs of 400,000 copies and distribution in 60 countries. If subsequent issues match the first one, Porter will definitely prove to be a worthy rival for established fashion titles.