The Single Biggest Marketing Mistake Made by Small Businesses


Why URLs Matter

When creating their company website, many small businesses defer to their “web guy” on the address. “Oh, JanesFlowers.com isn’t available? Ok, JanesFlowers2.com is fine.”

No! No! No! While seemingly trivial, your URL is in fact critical. Don’t let it be an afterthought; make this decision an integral facet of your planning and branding.

After all, not only will your domain be printed on your business cards and in your email signatures. You’ll also need to pronounce it in a way that leaves no room for confusion.

Consider a few case studies.

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The Art of Writing Your Own Bio: How to Toot Your Horn Without Sounding Like a Blowhard


Tooting Your Horn

Let others sing your praises.

After college, I did what most liberal arts grads do when they come to Washington: I interned at a think tank. As I subsequently embarked on my career, I shied away from the word “intern,” a moniker that I felt would betray my lack of experience. Instead, my bio and LinkedIn profile said I “did media relations” for the Cato Institute.

This was true: I edited op-eds from Cato’s scholars and pitched them to the media; I just didn’t volunteer my job title. I’d argue that this sin of omission is the benign kind of biographical betterment.

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What Your Email Says About Your Brand


A Case Study: Your Emails

Digital branding starts in your inbox.

It’s something you take for granted, something seemingly trivial, even mundane. When executed thoughtfully, however, it makes a splash. It says, “This guy is sharp—I want to work with him!”

What is this opportunity, obvious but overlooked? It’s the bookends of your emails: your address and signature block—often, the first and last thing your recipients will see. For better or worse, your email bookends are powerful purveyors of your brand. What are yours conveying about you?

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5 Ways to Transform Your Blog Post Into Endless Tweets


A version of this blog post appeared in PR Daily on February 18, 2013.

You just finished a killer blog post. Reliving the process: first you had to pitch the idea to your editor. Then you reworked the angle to satisfy his feedback. Then it was research time, wherein you bumped up against facts that challenged your hypothesis. Finally, you penned the piece, sweating over decisions as light as commas, as lofty as conclusions.

Now, the post has been published. And you, like a wide-eyed kitten mesmerized by a shiny new object, sit in thrall to the whimsies of the web—watching, waiting, wishing for the big payoff.

Slowly, the clicks come trickling in. But why settle for a trickle when these numbers could be a raging torrent? As soon as your article goes live, it behooves you to SHOUT IT from the rafters. You labored so long and hard on the writing, shouldn’t you reward your efforts with a little promotion?

Indeed you should. In fact, every hack must now be his own flack.

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How KitchenAid Pureed a Twitter Crisis Into a PR Coup


Blender

A version of this blog post appeared in Fast Company on October 4, 2012.

Everyone makes mistakes, the saying goes. It’s whether you learn from them that separates the brands that retain your loyalty from the ones you now drive by.

In this context, consider last night’s tweet from KitchenAid that mocked President Obama:

“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he came president’. #nbcpolitics”

Sent from your personal account, where your like-minded friends would compose the primary audience, the tweet would have been par for the live-tweet course: funny and frivolous. However, sent from a corporate channel, the tweet is no longer associated with a person but with a brand—and its products.

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What Tim Cook Knows That Steve Jobs Didn’t: How to Apologize


Tim Cook and Steve Jobs

A version of this blog post appeared in Fast Company on October 2, 2012.

The new master of the mea culpa

Apple and “apologize” don’t usually fall in the same sentence. In fact, Apple instructs its retail employees to avoid acts of contrition as a matter of principle. “Do not apologize for the business [or] the technology,” its Genius manual commands.

Following this playbook, when faced with the debacle that is Mapplegate, Cupertino’s flacks first tried spin. “We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it,” a spokeswoman told AllThingsD. But the brush-off backfired, hard. As Gizmodo put it, “The New Apple: It Doesn’t Just Work.”

Realizing that the story wasn’t dying down, the time came for the CEO to step up. Tim Cook needed to communicate two things—(1) an apology, and (2) a promise to do better—both of which he did with aplomb.

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How PR Pros Should Use Twitter


Twitter

A version of this blog post appeared in PR Daily on September 19, 2012.

For today’s PR pro, the question is no longer whether to tweet, but what to tweet. This is, of course, a loaded question—akin to asking, What kind of pet should I buy?

Happily, the answer need not be prohibitively complex. While the specifics will depend on your specialty—crisis, public affairs, B2B, etc.—a variety of best practices cover our profession as a whole.

Here are eight that every PR pro should follow.

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How to Make Google Laugh: SEO Your Headlines


Why do search engines always rank certain websites so highly? Obviously, their content is kingly, but so is their search engine optimization (SEO). Indeed, for many sites, the search-engine spiders that crawl the Web deliver a third or more of their traffic. Perhaps the most famous example comes from the Huffington Post, which in February reeled in readers with the ingenious bait: “What Time Is the Super Bowl?

In protest, writers for publications such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and Atlantic each have taken turns slugging the SEO punching bag. The headlines describe their complaint: “Gene Weingarten Column Mentions Lady Gaga.” “This Boring Headline Is Written for Google.” “Google Doesn’t Laugh: Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO.”

In other words, algorithms don’t appreciate wit, irony, humor, or style. As reporter Steve Lohr put it, they’re “numbingly literal-minded.” Alas, Oscar Wilde!

These laments ring true in a big way: it is one of the definitive 21st century truisms that in addition to writing for eternity, or for one’s mother, today’s writer must also write for Google. Yet, as always, the devil’s in the metadata. The secret of stellar SEO is that you can have your cake and eat it, too; that is, you can pen pun-based headlines all day long and maintain your journalistic integrity. You just need to draft a second headline that’s straightforward and keywordy.

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Why Your Press Release Needs a Blog Post


Blog Key on Keyboard

Like an old shoe, the press release has been around forever. Every year seems to bring another proclamation that it’s on its last legs. While the rumors are exaggerated, they emerge from a stubborn truth: the press release is being eclipsed by digital alternatives that are more flexible, more interesting, and more relevant.

A milestone was reached in 2010, when Google made a major announcement not by press release but by blog post. Five years earlier, a company of Google’s stature would have issued a boilerplate statement on a newswire. Now, a Google executive was crafting a more thoughtful, even heartfelt narrative that was published on the Official Google Blog.

This shift in medium and message represented a new era in corporate communications. No longer does a traditional press release suffice to make news. News now needs to be conveyed in an empathetic tone and delivered in a user-friendly format.

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With PR Pros Like This…


Virtual Handshake

A version of this blog post appeared on the Future Buzz on January 17, 2012.

Chris Abraham recently published a case study on the “art of writing the perfect blogger pitch.” There’s a lot to like here. For one, the time and thought Chris and his team devote to this esoterica are rare. For another, spilling your trade secrets takes guts.

And yet, for a purportedly “perfect” pitch, the Abraham Harrison technique, approach, and diction leave much to be desired. Here’s why (in web-friendly fashion, via a list with headings).

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Are You the Shoulder-Shrugger or the Commitment-Keeper?


The dog ate my homework

A version of this blog post appeared on Brazen Life on October 24, 2011.

“The dog ate my homework.”

Even though this famous excuse is rarely used, what it symbolizes is all-too-familiar: an aversion to admit accountability. What’s more, this urge to excuse one’s blunders rather than shoulder them betrays a bigger issue: a lack of character.

Let’s be honest: no wants to entertain excuses—even perfectly good ones. We value friends who are reliable, we promote employees who are consistent, we love spouses because when they wrong us, they rectify it. Not for nothing did the sign on Harry Truman’s desk proclaim, “The buck stops here!

To be sure, emergencies arise. We all screw up from time to time. Yet it’s how you rectify things that counts, that makes you who you are.

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