Where Innovation and Funding Meet – Buzz from the 2015 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit

The Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit is always a great place for networking and an important moment to invigorate as an entrepreneur. This year’s event held in Atlanta was buzzing with topics, tips and tools for small business owners new and seasoned.

Here are a few highlights on my Storify story. http://sfy.co/f0bvK

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One Size Doesn’t Fit All: The Truth About Channel Planning

27 million pieces of content are shared everyday making it tough to cut through the noise (Meltwater). At duGard Ellis PR, we place heavy emphasis on channel planning to help clients cut through that noise and make their messages top of mind. We write content. We write a lot and we write well. In fact, quality writing is at the top of the list for our team. The reason we spend so much time on content engagement and channel planning is because client results hinge on our ability to get the word out in the most effective and efficient methods.

Teradata/Randall Nelson

Teradata/Randall Nelson

While in my fellowship at Johnson & Johnson, I worked with corporate communication director Patricia Jones. We talked about how content is re-purposed to reach specific audiences across J&J. I had the opportunity to assist with a great story about J&J’s CFO Dominic Caruso visiting the White House for an initiative that improves supplier diversity for small businesses. The content was placed within internal and external channels and re-purposed for additional messaging. I also worked with Patricia Crowley, senior manager in J&J’s Portal Center of Excellence who is responsible for an internal communication channel where a version of the story was placed.

When talking about content, the question of “where?” always comes up. Clients ask, “So do we need to be on Instagram? Should we put a blog on our external website or our intranet? What about YouTube? Pinterest? What should we post? Will the same messages fit on each profile?”

Planning where to place content means diversifying the channels and testing often for the right mix;

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to fitting content into the right channels:

Size up your brand
Since the goal of content engagement is to communicate messages and tell stories that convey the value of your brand, you should ask what happens to be one of my favorite questions – “Why should they care?” Answering this question helps you affirm the value audiences place on your brand and the messages you communicate about it. Although your answer should be a no-brainer, it always helps to ask yourself that question to avoid communicating empty, redundant messages that audiences could potentially overlook or delete.

Size up your audience
Identify the target audience you are aiming for. Consider their location, age, level of influence, and areas of expertise or interest. This is important to know so that you may understand what information they look for and where they go to find it. Pull your current analytics to see which channels are already driving engagement for your specific target. Based on the demographics of your target, determine what channels they are attuned. If you’re drawn to Facebook but discovered your target is on Twitter, you may want seriously consider revisiting Facebook a little later and letting your strategy lead off with Twitter.

Size up the channels
Decide what the ideal channels for communicating content would be. Is your content more visual and interactive or is it informative and viral? You may find a great existing channel or you might even find the need to create your own online community. Your potential audience has to find a wow factor on a new channel intriguing and be instantly ready to join. Perhaps there’s an undiscovered appeal you can leverage using the current content channels. Consider how you will use the ideal channel. For example, are there ways this channel can provide more features than what you’re currently utilizing? Are there other features on one channel that another channel cannot provide? Can we distribute content across multiple channels for different reasons?

Size up the content structure
Now onto the fun stuff – building a structure for the content. Within the structure, you will focus on who the channel should speak to. Though it doesn’t have to be every member of your target audience, you should make sure the channel is appropriate for at least one targeted group in the audience – for instance, an internal channel might appeal to senior-level influencers but not as much to executive-level decision makers.

Pull all the ideas you have in mind to ensure you can create the type of content that is expected in this channel. Can we be consistent in producing videos if we go with YouTube? Are we able to manage and release daily original articles if we create new internal online community? How frequently will we add new content to Google+? Will subject matter experts contribute to content to any of our channels? How often will we respond to audience feedback? (I will post later about how to re-purpose content.)

These questions help when trying to prioritize which channels to invest your resources, and even with abundant resources you should not attempt to invest in every channel conceived. You certainly don’t want to start on a channel only to abandon it later. You have to know how the channel itself communicates value.
editorial calendar example
Size up the distribution
There’s one last step. Now that you have created your content structure, it’s time to try on the content for size to see how it fits your channels. Draft the plan and distribute it to your team. You will always overlook something and need other sets of eyes. Get their buy-in because many of them will help drive content to the channels. You don’t want to select and create great channels and have nothing to put in them. Good content engagement results are gained when the messages distributed are consistently strong and regularly updated. Make sure your watching the ways in which your audiences is engaging with the content you distribute so that you get the most of the channels utilized.

One piece of content doesn’t fit all channels. It can’t. It’s unfair to your brand and your audiences to think the “one size fits all” strategy will do the trick. In fact, the technology of the channels we use today won’t even allow us to try. They each come with varying features, functions and purposes. That’s we why use them and like them. If you are already sized up in content engagement, tightening up on channel planning will help you improve the use of old channels and explore new emerging channels.

Content vs. Channels

Growing up, my mother used to tell me, “It’scontent vs channels not what you say, it’s how you say it.” She was right. The “how” she was referring to is the tone of the message and the way it’s delivered to and perceived by the receiver. When you want to tell the world your story, you need to have a strategy to engage audiences and a plan to distribute your message in ways that get the response you desire.

During my educator fellowship at Johnson & Johnson, I discovered multiple internal communication channels with highly valuable content perfectly crafted for specific audiences. I had the chance to learn about how J&J places content into certain channels from long-time J&J employee and corporate communication director Melody Meade, who is responsible for developing creative and strategic messages for IT. We had a great conversation about leveraging content to get the best engagement from an audience. Companies large and small are facing an influx of messages to share and the decision of which channels to utilize that will make messages resonate and keep the interest of audiences.

What’s the best way to keep audiences engaged? Should we re-evaluate our content strategies or should we create new or improved channels? The answer is yes to both.

The best content engagement strategies are those that fully consider what and how, along with who, where, when, and why. The key to gaining greater engagement is to re-evaluate content regularly and assess the opportunity to create new channels that fit the uses of audiences. The perceived short attention span of our society is tempered by interesting content. If the content is great and meets the audience through a channel they value, your organization is poised to win.

 Here’s a short list of questions to ask when trying to plan or assess your content engagement strategy:

  •  What would we like audiences to know?
  • How should we tell them? What channels should we consider?
  • Who should we tell? Who are our target audiences for this specific message?
  • Where should we send the message to reach them best? How valuable is this method to our audiences? Does it allow them to share the message?
  • When should we tell them? How frequently?
  • Why should they care? How will we track and measure their responses/feedback?

Your content strategy defines your channel strategy. Many organizations craft content and place it in different channels without taking a real assessment of the type of content living in them. When content engagement drops or flattens, it’s time to rethink your channel strategy and determine what channels (web, social, email, etc.) are being used for distribution in order to re- purpose the content you have and set a new standard for what success looks like. (I will speak more about channel planning in a later post.

Content and channels shouldn’t be at war against themselves. In brand messaging, the content sits as king, while the channel is queen. They reign together and can’t be successful in the battle alone. Content makes magic in channels when planned and placed strategically. Crafting worthwhile content and keeping channel distribution diverse go hand-in-hand.

The more we evaluate our strategies, the more we discover that the best content sparks dialogue and strengthens relationships between organizations and their audiences.

(This post is part of a series written during a four-week project in corporate communication at Johnson & Johnson through the Plank Center Fellowship program.)

New Blog Alert: Spread Luv

Fellow entrepreneur and Tennessee State alum Brian Sexton is giving the world more of what it needs – love. He has launched Spread Luv, a blog dedicated to every passionate entrepreneur that has managed to create a unique niche within their industry. Brian and his wife Frances own Brances Sweets, a gourmet food company that spreads luv with it’s sweet treats. The blog’s mission is to simply spread luv to each dreamer, pioneer, and visionary by promoting and providing awareness of their business to the world.

Read more about the young entrepreneurs featured on Spread Luv including me.

I Know I’m Write

Reading is fundamental. Writing is as well. But not all writing is created equal, particularly when it comes to writing for news.

Maybe you’ve been there before. You need to write a press release but don’t have the slightest idea of where to start. You’re unsure about the content, the news factor of your story or what it’s worth. But you were always good in English, so you’ll figure it out.

Or maybe you’ve been here: you have an important message to get out to the media and want give them all the details. You’re uncertain of how to send your press release or if it will even get noticed. But you’re a fairly intelligent communicator, so you’ll make it happen.

By journalistic standards, a story without an angle is a “non-story.” What you may think is news may not exactly be what journalists consider a topic of interest for their readers. In a TV newsroom, a story without a visual element to capture for viewers lacks appeal and may be conveyed as a waste of time. Thus, your beloved press release that you’ve sweated and slaved over adorned with all its’ elaborate details and superlative-like adjectives ends up in File 13.

On the surface, writing for news isn’t much different from what you’ve been taught. However, there is one exception: style.

Enter the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. Considered the “Bible of the Newspaper Industry,” it is the gold standard of writing for news. AP recently released their 2009 Stylebook packed with rules on grammar, spelling, punctuation and usage, capitalization, abbreviation, word and number usage. It is the one reference with fundamental guidelines for news reporting that all writers, editors, students and PR pros will follow.

When it comes to writing, none of us wants to be told that we’re wrong. Writing for news requires a certain clarity and professionalism that writing for everyday purposes may not hold up. Weak, cloudy writing can be the worst because it reflects our intellect, skill and thought or lack thereof.

Your writing for news should be closely matched with the standards that professional writers go by. While writing in AP style won’t guarantee you any coverage, it tells journalists who receive your press release that you care about good writing and value their craft enough to learn their precise language.

Guard yourself when writing for news by proofing, tailoring and checking your press release. Oh yes, and go get an AP Stylebook.

Think Like A Journalist

Last month on Journchat, Twitter’s hottest new sounding board for journalists, bloggers and PR folks, there was lots of talk about where PR falls into the shift in news coverage by journalists and who bears the most responsibility in deciding what news stories are most relevant.

Journalists have the utmost requirement to be objective in their approach to storytelling, leaving a reader to determine how they feel about a topic and to draw their own conclusion. And even though most people probably don’t know or could care less about the seven elements of a news story, everyone knows a topic must be worth talking about or else it’s not news. thinklike1

As more news goes online, PR folks have to gain a greater edge on how to get a story placed. Journalists have to take a stronger approach to how they tell a story. Ultimately, that means companies have to challenge themselves a bit if they want better news coverage.

Identify the niche of your brand. Figure out what makes it stand out. Without any assumptions or false hope, be honest about where you are and why a journalist might take interest in your company.

If you were a journalist, would you write about your company? As a reader, what is it about your organization that others would find interesting? What unique facts about your business could a PR person use to publicize your business?

Try this. Write your own story about your business. No fluff – just tell the facts about you and your company in a creative way. Spend some time with it and question its level of newsworthiness. This will help you develop better expectations for your PR strategy and strengthen your ability to gain news coverage.

*** Learn more about Journchat, Monday nights on Twitter, at http://journchat.info