Monday, December 21, 2009

Why Your Energy Organization Needs PR

International talks in Copenhagen. A boom in renewable energy and retrofitting jobs from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Serious commitments from state and local governments to save energy. Corporate America going green. These are just a few of the reasons that climate change and organizations related to it are gaining ground, increasing legitimacy and creating jobs in an economy that still has a recession fresh in its memory. And all of this means that if you are one of these organizations — you need a public relations arm.

As someone who works in the energy field, I interact almost daily with contractors, nonprofits and renewable energy companies who deal in everything from research and development of solar panels to the manufacturing of wind turbines. Some of these entities are easier to communicate with than others, though.

As the owner or CEO of a company that brands itself with energy, you might be hesitant to consider adding a public relations practitioner to your staff. You might think, “Hey, business is booming right now, so I don’t need any of that stuff. It’s just an added cost anyway.” Think again, corporate America.

People who have to get information about your business need real communicators with whom they can interact, not stuffy CEOs or uninformed sales reps. And public relations is not marketing or advertising, if done correctly. Marketing might increase sales, and advertising can raise awareness, but only PR will develop the long-lasting relationships that you want and need with your employees, stakeholders, clients and, of course, the media. (And you thought PR was only media relations, didn't you?)

There will be increasing interest in your business in the coming years as the U.S. — and the world — switches over to a green-collar workforce in a new clean energy economy. Weatherization technicians and geothermal engineers are the computer programmers of the future. Therefore, your company will grow, and you’ll need an arm of your company who can perform tasks such as outreach programs, speech coaching/writing, PR campaigns, relationship management, internal communication, crisis and issues management and environmental scanning (that’s looking for potential issues on the horizon, taking an actional legitimation stance). Of course, PR practitioners are also good for getting you involved in the social media realm — the right way — something that many organizations still struggle with today.

If people have to wait to get in touch with your vice president just to get info or a quote for a news story, or if your company doesn’t keep itself legitimate in the eyes of the public, things won’t continue to be as profitable as they are now. It’s sometimes tough for leaders to decide if they’ll see enough return on investment for communication efforts. However, it’s a myth that PR isn’t measurable, and your ROI will likely be very noticeable, especially to those folks who need to have a two-way conversation with your organization (rather than just being hit over the head with what you think they need to know).

It’s a lot easier to keep yourself out of a mess to begin with than it is to dig yourself out of a crater of an image. So give a PR practitioner a seat at the table in your organization today, and you’ll have a head start!

Still need some persuading? Check out the Business Case for Public Relations site for more information, including case studies, information for CEOs and more!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

10 Ways to Make Your Blog Work

As someone with a huge interest in public relations, I’m constantly trying to improve my own skills while observing what others are doing. Additionally, I apply the communication best practices and theories I know with the tips from top practitioners that I read each day to form my own evaluations about what I see on a daily basis. Not every organization understands the true potential of social media — or blogging in general — or how to implement it. So I’m here with some advice based on my own professional experiences and critiques of other organizations. Here are 10 tips for getting the most bang for your blogging buck:

1) Avoid overload — Don’t bog your readers down with too much content and too many updates at once. This same principal is true with tweets and Facebook updates as well. You don’t (and shouldn’t!) update with every tidbit imaginable that happens at your organization. Internet users have so much content being thrown at them already, so they are likely to unfollow you, hide you or just avoid you altogether if you make their lives difficult. Say what you need to say, then leave your audiences alone!

2) Don’t go off the radar — Again, you don’t want to bury your content by posting five blog posts a day, but you can’t abandon your social media (including the blog) efforts for days and weeks at a time and expect to pick right back up where you left off. If you don’t update for a while, chances are that your audiences will get bored with you, delete your RSS feed, stop visiting your site, etc. I could definitely improve in this area with my own personal blog, but unfortunately, my professional blogging duties take precedent. For your company, you’re being paid — it’s not a hobby maintaining the online legitimacy of your organization, so get to it!

3) Be predictable — Don’t me wrong here, you definitely want to display some creativity on your blog. What I mean by predictability is that you should format all of your content in a similar fashion so that it’s easy for your readers to navigate. Additionally, schedule posts if at all possible. If you can publish on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then maintain that regularity, and your readers will appreciate you for keeping things convenient and manageable.

4) Mix up the content — If every post is about the same topic, or if every post is line after line of boring text, you’re not going to keep audiences interested and coming back. Post a video once in awhile or include a guest blog post, for goodness’ sake! Just be sure not to post something so off-topic that you alienate your core readership.

5) Pick a target — Speaking of your readers, you need to cater to them. If you’re a wind turbine manufacturer, then your company blog probably doesn’t include a lot of stories about the latest pop artist to top the Billboard charts. Do your research! Before you start writing your organization’s first messages, find out at whom your messages are targeted. Write in a style and tone that appeals to that audience, and include references they will understand and find compelling. Too many organizations just start throwing up content and worry about how they’ll target it and market it later down the road. You’re just wasting resources by doing that.

6) Spread the word — I didn’t mention marketing your content for no reason! Develop a plan up front for how you’ll get your blog posts out to the world and noticed by your target constituencies. Why spend time and money putting together a flashy blog (or any social media effort) if you don’t have a plan to get it noticed? It’s easy for your content to be lost in the vast amount on the Internet, so you need to have a multiplatform design for spreading the word about your organization that includes traditional media, new media and good ol' word-of-mouth marketing.

7) Don’t cut off the conversation — Too many companies try too hard to regulate the conversations that happen on the Web about their image. The days of being able to control who says what and finds out what about your company whenever you want are over. Forget about it. Don’t even try it — it’ll be a futile effort that leaves your organization looking foolish and outdated. Allow comments on your blog posts, and engage audiences with friendly customer service and informed replies in your social media efforts.

8) Don’t get wordy — Keep your content short. Blog posts shouldn’t include much scrolling, and videos that go on for more than three minutes are going to leave people restless nowadays, if they even click the play button at all. Seeing how long it's going to take to watch the video is the first piece of information that many users seek.

9) Include compelling visuals — This goes along with mixing up the content. Too much of anything is not a good thing. When you don’t have videos, good photos that fit your themes are always helpful. Pages of plain text make your blog look like an industrial, corporate-sponsored, old-school forum. Staying away from being stuffy and boring doesn’t mean you have to be flashy and outlandish, but readers expect your content to look contemporary!

10) Stop being so newsy — Blogging isn’t news writing. Sure, lots of journalists are great at blogging, but that’s because they have superb writing skills that allow them to write like people talk. That’s how your blog should sound — conversational. Don’t scare anyone away with hard-news tones and posts bleeding with data and cookie-cutter quotes. Blogging should be more personal, and if it is, your readers will appreciate you for it! If you’re copying and pasting news releases or print stories as blog posts, well, no one will probably ever give your blog enough time to notice it — or you.

Joshua A. DeLung is a public relations practitioner in the Washington, D.C., area.