writing

Ethics in Marketing

ethicsinmarketing

Working for a small business that attracts some amazing clients, I’ve never run into a situation where I’m asked to carry out a task or promote something that I’m morally opposed to (and, I have the freedom to politely turn down such a project). It’s a freedom I often take for granted, until I hear stories about people who don’t necessarily have such freedom.

A couple weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast (Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette) where a woman was being interviewed about her blog (Super Strength Health). Part of the podcast that I found intriguing was towards the end, when she spoke about being approached by various brands to promote their product (a fairly common occurrence for lifestyle bloggers). Usually when this happens, the brand has done a bit of research to determine if the blog’s message meshes well with the brand’s message. As a bit of background, Super Strength Health shares very raw material about eating disorder recovery. The brand that approached her had a tagline along the lines of “guilt-free snacking.” You might see the problem here.

So, the blogger was a bit frustrated. “If you spent any time on my blog, you’d know that we were not a good fit.” Which is true. The discussion goes on to discuss the slippery slope of assigning guilt to food/eating in marketing, and whether or not that is unethical. Regardless of where you or I stand on that particular issue, it made me wonder about the messages I’m putting out there. How can I be ethical (or more ethical) in what I produce?

As mentioned before, I have the freedom to turn something down if I feel it is unethical or immoral. We never really get those clients. Usually when I think “unethical marketing,” it’s the blatantly obvious not-cool marketing, like promoting unhealthy habits, tearing down a competitor’s product or service instead of focusing on why your product/service is valuable, or ignoring glaring flaws or safety concerns with a product (think recalls). These are all easy for me to avoid (in that I’ve never encountered them).

So, instead, I thought of a few little ways to be even more ethical. Here’s what I have:

Do the Research. Make sure you know your facts, especially if others are coming to you for information.
Be Objective. Do you really think this product/service would benefit other people, or do you maybe have dollar signs in your eyes?
“Is this Something I Would Do?” If you’re having a hard time being objective with the facts, ask yourself if you would follow your own advice.
Be the Good. This is my way of remembering my bottom line: whatever I put into the internet/world should make it a little better, even if in a small way.
Get Better. There’s always room for improvement, and as someone who produces content for the internet I could in theory find a rhythm and rest on my laurels. But I could also keep an open mind and look for ways to improve my work (because this isn’t just about me).

My hope is that following these five points in a more thoughtful way will help me feel even better about what I produce, and be more helpful for our clients. (I say ‘more thoughtful way’ because I usually perform research or try to be objective, but it can be reflexive).

The cool thing about marketing ethics? Marketing Schools defines it as “less of a marketing strategy and more of a philosophy that informs all marketing efforts.” It’s not a strategy or a game-plan, but more like having a Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder asking if you believe in the message you’re about to share with the world.

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Building a Press List

So, we’ve covered the dos and don’ts of press releases in our two previous posts. Now that you know how to write a press release, you’ve got to know who to send it to. You could scramble for a bunch of local media contacts in the days before your event or product launch. Or you could have all that information stored nice and neat in a spreadsheet and in the contacts on your email client.

Compiling your first list will require an investment of time and patience upfront, but will payoff when you’ve got to send your press release to multiple outlets quickly, and the right contacts are there at the click of a mouse.

Break out Excel; you’ve got a spreadsheet to make.

Who goes on your press list?

If you’re a small business and organization, I recommend you keep several types of lists. They include:

• Media

— Newspapers (local, regional and state)
— Blogs and aggregators
— Broadcast — TV and radio (Learn who your local TV affiliates are — those who carry network programs such as NBC, CBS, ABC, CW and FOX — and find out if they have a local newscast.)

• Trade publications

— Industry-specific regional, national or international trade magazines and newsletters

• Chambers and business organizations

— Local, state and regional chambers of commerce
— Local business development associations
— If applicable, other non-profits and anyone else who distributes community news, such as local access cable stations

What to include:

Your spreadsheet should include names, direct phone numbers and extensions as well as email addresses.

Many news outlets have a general email address for you to submit your news to. Others have an online form. These methods are often convenient for both your organization and the media outlet. But it also makes it easier your information to get lost in the daily deluge of information media outlets deal with.

There’s a workaround, but it’ll take some time and effort on your part: Getting specific.

If you’re a business, know who the business editors are at your local news outlets; if you’re a theater or gallery, know who the A&E editor is.

Also, get a list of reporters and their beats. Let’s say your TV station covers the communities of Bedrock, Springfield and South Park. If your business is based in Springfield, you’ll want to make sure your press release gets to the Springfield reporter directly from you, in addition to being sent to the business editor.

If you’re sending to business development associations or chambers of commerce, make sure you keep up-to-date with whoever is in charge of marketing.

Maintenance

Your contact list should be updated once a year. Call the paper, TV station, chamber, etc. directly and make sure your information is current. Fair warning — this project is often time consuming, but is great if you have an intern.

A couple of things to remember:

• When you write, write to capture as broad an audience as possible.

• Don’t ever assume that local media won’t want to run your press release. If you’re a local business, you’re part of the fabric of the community. Well-written press releases about local businesses are more welcome than not.

In other words: When in doubt, send it out.

Press Release Makeover

I’ve written the following press release about a fake rock band specifically as an example of what not to do. The names and events are fake but the errors in writing are all too common. Read it, if you dare, and then see how easy it is to give it some spit and polish and turn it into something publishable:

PISTOLS N’ PETALS TO REUNITE AFTER 16 YEAR HIATUS BRINGS TOGETHER FANS NEW AND OLD ALIKE AT ONE-OFF CONCERT TO SUPPORT LOCAL ANIMAL SHELTER

LOOKING FOR A GREAT SHOW? WELL THERE’S ONE COMING SOON AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHOSE BACK!!!!!

PISTOLS N’ PETALS FIRST TOOK THE WORLD BY STORM IN 1986 WITH THEIR DEBUT ALBUM “CRAVING FOR DEMOLITION.” IT MUST HAVE BEEN FATE WHEN LEAD GUITARIST RONNIE “CUTTER” ROSENTHAL AND DYNAMIC FRONTMAN PAUL “FUELPUMP” PETAL FIRST MET IN LOS ANGELOS! WITH DRUMMER BUCKY “TWIN-SKINS” BOOKER, THE GROUP TOOL LA GLAM METAL TO THE NEXT LEVEL!

THEY TOURED EVERYWHERE. THEY SOLD MILLIONS OF THEIR DEBUT RECORD “CRAVING FOR DEMOLITION”. THEIR FOLLOWUP, QUADROUPLE LP “THE LUNCHBOX HAS LANDED” BROKE THE RECORD FOR MOST WEAKS SPEANT ATOP THE BILLBOARD CHARTS.

EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE AN AMAZING BAND, MEMBERS WANTED TO DO OTHER THINGS AND SO THEY SPLIT UP IN 2000. CUTTER ROCKS OUT ALL THE TIME AS A SOLO ARTIST AND PETAL IS A PROFESSIONAL DIVER FOR SEA CUCUMBERS.

TRADGEDY STRUCK THE P N’ P FAMILY, THOUGH, WHEN BASSIST GIPPY “JACKHAMMER” MACDONALD DIED IN A BIZARRE GARDENING ACCIDENT, SO CUTTER AND FUELPUMP AND TWINSKINS ARE REUNITING FOR A SPECIAL, ONE-TIME ONLY REUNION AT THE 600-SEAT FARGO CIVIC ARENA IN FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA ON SEPTEMBER 1, 2016.

JACKHAMMER LOVED KITTENS. HE’D ALWAYS HAVE A LARGE BOX OF KITTENS ON THE TOUR BUS AND WE’D PLAY WITH THEM AFTER THE SHOW. THE GROUPIES LOVED THE KITTENS TO AND SOMETIMES THEY’D FORGET THAT WE WERE THERE AND JUST PLAY WITH THE KITTENS,” SAYS CUTTER. SO WE’RE GOING TO DONATE ALL THE PROCEEDS TO THIS SHOW TO THE GREATER FARGO HUMANE SOCIETY AND SHELTER. JACKHAMMER WOULD HAVE WANTED IT THAT WAY.

ITS GOING TO BE A FANTASTIC SHOW BUT DON’T WAIT TO GET TICKETS BECAUSE THEY’RE SURE TO SELL OUT QUICKLY! AND FOR A GREAT CAUSE TOO!

Awful. Hard to read. Here’s why:

• Never type in all-caps. It looks like you’re yelling. Plus, some poor schmuck is going to have to retype the whole thing.

• How long is that headline? Way too long.

• Writing style is more akin to an advertisement than a news piece.

• Where’s the lead? Why is the band’s history so prominent? Where’s the actual news? Where’s the dateline?

• Where does Cutter’s quote begin or end? That whole thing is a mess.

• How does one even get tickets for this thing?

• Who can I talk to with questions?

• When can this run? Who do I contact with questions?

OK, so let’s see if we can’t make this baby hum. We’ll shorten the headline, dig up the lead and toss all the extraneous wording and superlatives. Most importantly, we’ll make sure we include some contact and ticket sale information.

EMBARGOED

FOR RELEASE AUG. 18, 2016

Contact Bob Smith, Corporate Communications, Top 5 Record: 555-4444; bobsmith@fakedomainname.com

Pistols ‘N Petals to reunite for a good cause

First reunion in 16 years

FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA — Legendary heavy metal band Pistols N’ Petals are reuniting for the first time in 16 years in Fargo on Sept. 1. It’s all to benefit a great cause in memory of a recently deceased Pistols member.

Pistols N’ Petals took the world by storm in 1986 with their debut album, “Craving for Demolition.” Born out of the L.A. glam scene, Pistols was the brainchild of lead guitarist Ronnie “Cutter” Rosenthal, drummer Bucky “Twin-Skins” Booker and dynamic frontman Paul “Fuelpump” Petal.

The band became a live favorite, performing to millions during a sold-out world tour. P N’ P’s follow-up to “Craving,” 1992’s quadruple LP, “The Lunchbox Has Landed,” spent a record 55 weeks atop the Billboard charts, breaking the record previously set by the soundtrack to “West Side Story.”

The band split up in 2000 over creative differences. Cutter went on to pursue a successful solo career while Petal received his diving certification and now spends his days harvesting sea cucumbers.

The recent death of P N’ P bass player Gippy “Jackhammer” Macdonald in a gardening accident last year prompted the surviving members to reunite for this special, one-time only reunion at the 600-seat Fargo Civic Arena.

Proceeds will go toward the Greater Fargo Humane Society and Shelter.

“Jackhammer loved kittens,” said Cutter. “He’d always have a large box of kittens on the tour bus and we’d play with them after the show. So I can’t think of a better organization to donate our ticket sales to.”

Cutter addded: “Jackhammer would have wanted it that way.”

This is expected to be a sold-out performance and the band recommends getting tickets as soon as possible for this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Tickets will be available Aug. 21 at the Fargo Community Center at 3 Main St. and through Ticketmaster.

Why this version works:

1. It flows. It’s easy to read, uses good grammar and is still compelling without including extraneous details.

2. Right off the bat, the reader has the important information: That the band is back together Sept. 1 for a charity event in Fargo. Ticket information is included.

3. Still contains facts about the band’s history to lure in a new audience and plenty of color. Quotes are tightened and improved.

So Your Press Release Sucks. How to Make it Suck Less:

Worried that you aren’t getting the local media attention your organization deserves? Sending press releases to your local TV, radio station or paper, only to hear the sound of crickets in return? The problem may not be that your announcement isn’t newsworthy. The problem could be the way your approach in alerting local media. Here’s how to tell if your press releases suck, and how to fix them:

1. You don’t understand what a press release is.

Often, small businesses and organizations don’t understand the difference between a press release and a paid advertisement. You may submit a press release thinking that you have to pay for it, and that it will appear exactly as submitted, like an ad. You may also wonder, “how much will this cost me?”

A press release is not an advertisement. An ad is content you pay for, and there are some definite advantages to running an ad in place of or in addition to submitting a press release. As an advertiser, you have a degree of control over when your ad runs, where it runs and how often. You can pick the wording and decide what images will be featured. Not so with a press release, which is considered news content. The disadvantage is that you don’t have much of a say as to when or even if it will run. The uptick is that it’s free and you can pack in a lot of information. Learn more here: http://breakingeveninc.com/press­release­101­so­you­think-you­know­press­releases/

2. It was an afterthought.

If you’re going to put blood, sweat and tears into a project, make sure people know about it. Got a fundraiser coming up? Let the local media know a week or two ahead of time. Avoid procrastination. Don’t wait until the day before or, even worse, the day of your event or product launch to send it. Remember: News outlets prize timeliness.

3. You mailed or FAXed it

Email is so ubiquitous, so easy and so free that there’s no reason not to use it. We’re in a copy and paste age, and few local papers have newsroom staff dedicated to retyping your 800­word press release or scanning it in order to extract the text of your snail­mailed PR. FAXing is even worse, as often the reproduction is splotchy.

editorfrusteratedwithpressrelease

4. You sent it to the wrong news outlet, the wrong person or the wrong department

The Baltimore Sun probably isn’t going to run your press release about your bean supper fundraiser in Waldo County, Maine. Neither will the New York Times, Chicago Tribune or Boston Globe, for that matter. But local and regional news outlets will. Identify the blogs, papers, radio and TV stations and other media outlets whose audience will be interested in what it is that you’re doing. Once you’ve identified the right outlet, make sure it gets to the right department. Your press release should be sent to the newsroom, not to the advertising department or the circulation department. Keep an updated press contact list — we’ll explore more about the in a future blog post.

5. You didn’t include the right contact information

Your press release’s header needs to include the name of a person who to contact, as well as a phone number and email address. Without that, how will the reporter know who to contact so they can cover your amazing event?

6. You padded it

Don’t use a lot of superlatives, don’t try to be cute, don’t use exclamation marks, and remember to cut to the chase in your first paragraph — what we call the lead. Right off the bat, tell them who, what, when where and why your event or launch is important to a news outlet’s readers, viewers or listeners. Keep in mind that a press release should read like news, not like an advertisement. Check spelling and grammar, too.

notsurepr

7. Your photo was too small, out of focus, the wrong size/format

Remember that if you include a photo in your press release — and you probably should — that you don’t need to shoot on the latest Nikon DSLR. But it does need to be in focus. Don’t use any special filters to make it artsy. Don’t send it in black and white or use some monochrome filter. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t imbed the photo within a Word document. It’s a pain to extract and the end results are usually less than desirable. One good photo is great. Two is better, but keep it to three, tops. Don’t send little bitty baby thumbnails. Think 300dpi at around 2 MB. Send photos as jpgs, not bitmaps (for goodness sake, it’s 2016 — who uses bitmaps any more?!).

8. You didn’t include any information about the photo

Very important but easily overlooked — captions, also known as cutlines. Include when and where the photo was taken, a brief description of who or what is pictured, and how it relates to your press release. If applicable, include the name of the people in the photo and their titles, and where they are situated within the photograph. In the caption, include the name of the photographer. The photographer is the person who actually took the person; not the person who owns the camera. That is, if George took a picture of Ringo with Paul’s camera, George is the photographer, not Paul.

9. You never followed up.

Take five minutes and call the newsroom to make sure they at least got the press release. A news outlet can’t run what it doesn’t have.

Stay tuned for more posts about Press Releases this month! In case you’ve missed them, be sure to check out our latest posts here:

Remixing Press Releases For Online Marketing

Press Release 101: So You Think You Know Press Releases?

Press Release 101: Writing and Formatting

Press Release 101: Using Imagery

Press Release 101: Releasing it into the Wild

 

We All Can’t Be Seth Godin

5 Long Form Bloggers And Why It Works For Them

When I hear about people aspiring to blog, people usually mention Seth Godin. Seth Godin’s blog posts are often short and sweet (and if you don’t believe me or want to see first hand, here is a link to his blog).

Because people aspire to be Seth Godin, they aspire to be brief and profound.

For most people, being brief is harder to get right than it is to take a little longer to get to your point. It requires editing, drafts, and a lot of thought.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do things because they are hard. I’m just saying people should stop trying to be like someone else and do what works for them, and in most cases, it means writing a blog that is more than two paragraphs.

I wanted some examples pointing out that long blogs don’t mean readers have short attention spans. So we have the same working definition of long form, I’ll say long form is anything you have to scroll when on a typical computer screen to see the entire blog post.

Here is a short form Seth Godin blog post:

sethgodin-shortformpost

Here is a longer form Medium blog post (screen made 50% size to screenshot and this isn’t even 20% of the whole thing):

mediumblog-longform

Here are our five bloggers in question:

Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You To Be Rich
These meaty blog posts give you scripts, workflows, and other specific ways to execute concepts. It would hard to be brief while also being so instructional. (Also this makes you think, if this is what he gives away for free, how awesome can his programs be?)
Takeaway: If you are instructional and interesting, the right people will stick around (ie those who want to learn)

Darren Rowse, Problogger
A blog about blogging seems so meta but these longer form posts are more helpful than the average ‘write and share on social media’ articles about how to get started on blogging. The guy literally wrote the book on blogging. (Honestly, it continues to blow my mind to this day.)
Takeaway: If you have specific, niche knowledge in a field, people will take the time to read what either you or authors you have vetted have to say. 

Human Parts on Medium
Described as a group of storytellers who have since disbanded, many blogs on Medium are longer form pieces that get tons of readers. (Note: Nicole clicked through tons of Medium authors for this post and found most of them had written less than 5 total posts on the site – though most were long form. For this example, I wanted to give a Medium page with a deeper history but there are lots of Medium bloggers who seem quite successful at longer form writing.)
Takeaway: Medium writes at the top of every story how long they take to read, allowing people to either read now or save for later. 

Brandon Gorell on Thought Catalog
Like Medium, Thought Catalog allows publishers/authors to have their own blog that lives on the Thought Catalog site. I am using this author as an example, though I know he uses more photos in his long form blogs than the typical Thought Catalog writer (if you’re writing about the internet, things like screenshots are helpful). Most Thought Catalog articles are long form but of the ones I looked at, most used things like pull quotes and formatting bullet points to break up the text.
Takeaway: Being thoughtful about formatting breaks can make long form writing more digestable. 

Us at Breaking Even Communications
No one will ever accuse me (Nicole) of being brief. That said, I write this blog like I speak and try to use language and examples that are fun and easy to relate to. I will also say that, compared to the previous examples that have much larger audiences, Breaking Even also has readers and subscribers that seem to enjoy what we have to say. Who else is going to tell you that whitepapers online are like man purses in France?
Takeaway: Having funny/memorable examples that take time to explain will get you a small but dedicated following.

So be brief if you want to but if you’re a chatterbox, don’t let that stop you from blogging long form. There are plenty of websites and individual bloggers who encourage this style and plenty of readers who appreciate it too.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Free Reading: Why We Give It Away Online

Three years ago, I wrote a book for National Novel Writing Month. It’s been sitting in Google Drive, and I’ve been wondering what I do with it.

I’ve kind of edited about half of it but I think I’d have the motivation to finish if I knew what next. (I sometimes am paralyzed by choice. Not my best quality.)

The beginning of my terrible novel, sitting in Google Drive, wondering its fate.

The beginning of my terrible novel, sitting in Google Drive, wondering its fate.

Option 1: Do I send it to 50-100 publishers, hoping one will like it enough to rip it apart and await my rewrites?

Option 2: Do I self publish it, making my friends pay $1-$10 for the ‘pleasure’ of reading it, probably making all of a few hundred bucks?

Option 3: Or do I just format it as an ebook and give it away?

I’ve been leaning toward Option 3. Sure, it seems like the least amount of hoops to jump through but it is also the world I know best: the internet is all about giving stuff away. I’ve been writing this blog ‘for free’ since 2007 for example.

I was reading a great article about Why Give Away Your Work For Free. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow, he says people who download the free book wouldn’t have bought the book anyway. Really by giving things away for free he’s increasing his audience. To quote: “My problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity, and free ebooks generate more sales than they displace.”

It actually got me to thinking of something completely different I read from Elizabeth Gilbert (read the photo caption- it’s long like a blog entry). But to paraphrase, basically you can’t make creativity show up and earn you money. You need to give it room to breathe. To quote: “I adore Creativity. I love her. I have devoted my life to her, because she brings me joy. But I do not suggest relying upon her to pay the oil bill. She is not very reliable. Creativity has no idea what the words “oil bill” even mean.”

My whole life the last seven years has been building two businesses, in other words the laser focused pursuit of money. Creativity showed up and I have this kind of terrible, moderately personal 124 page story sitting in my files without a purpose. Do I demand it make me money… or put it out there for free?

(Aside, I get that I should stop calling my novel terrible. But I’m one of those ‘plan for rain, be happy when it doesn’t’ kind of people so I am just managing my own expectations- and yours- by doing that.)

So do I enter into a world of a million rejections? Do I ask my creativity to make me some money now with this novel (which you see doesn’t even have a title but ‘Novel.doc)? Or do I give this novel away in hopes that my ideas will get out there and in turn generate others?

Now I’d be a liar if I said this ‘give it away and get more later’ idea was a writing only idea. Musicians give away albums, companies swag… every industry has a ‘something for free’ component so this idea is far from original.

But somehow reading those two articles in a row made me realize why I wanted to give it away… and the gut instinct wasn’t one of general laziness! If you are similarly on the fence with something you’ve made, let me know if reading those two relatively short posts helps clarify what you should do like it did for me.

(By the way, if you want to read my yet to be titled novel, just leave a comment on here and I’ll make sure you get the information for it.)

 

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.
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