The experience of being on a media mailing list is akin to standing "in a blast zone," Scott Stratten, president of UnMarketing
, told an audience of about 1,000 during a Thursday afternoon Vocus webinar.
Reporters and bloggers who find themselves on major lists are routinely assaulted with emails with subject lines written in all caps, "shouting at me." The emails are mostly copied and pasted, with no personal appeal to the recipient. Stratten told the audience in no uncertain terms that that's bad.
"If your main function in PR is merely to blast out copied-and-pasted emails to press, you are a data entry clerk," he said, adding that the only other emails he receives with all-caps subject lines are Viagra spam.
What PR pros ought to be doing, he said, is getting to know the people they're talking to. The purpose of having an email list isn't to send every pitch to everyone on it. It's to seek out people with an interest in the subject at hand.
Once you form relationships, you won't need all capital letters in a subject line to get people to notice your emails. They'll open them because of your name.
"PR doesn't stand for public relations," Stratten said. "It stands for what you see right now. People react, people respond, and people reach out."
How to do it right
It takes some work to persuade your bosses to give you the time to really connect with people rather than just blast out emails, but it's worth the push, Stratten said.
"Out of every 100 pitches, I read one," he said. "Your job as a PR person is to be awesome with [influencers], so they'll run to the edge of the Earth for you."
One of the pitches Stratten read was from a rep at Ogilvy who was looking for some attention in Canada for Tassimo's new one-cup coffee makers. Before contacting anyone in the media, the rep went to Kraft, which owns Tassimo, and asked for something crazy. He wanted them to cancel their TV budget and funnel it into connections with bloggers and other influencers.
"You cannot go in there and say, 'We're going to get a lot of likes,'" Stratten said. "Match the metric with the mind of who you're talking to."
The metric in this case was the share of conversation. In Canada, 0.04 percent of the discussion of coffee brands included Tassimo. The Ogilvy rep asked if he could try to boost that to 1 percent, and Kraft said to go for it.
Using tools such as Klout, the rep found 100 influencers in Canada, including Stratten, who has about 130,000 Twitter followers. He spent about a month reading their blogs and following them on Twitter. Then, he sent each one a personal email asking them if he could send them a machine to try.
Stratten instantly said yes, and he tweeted about the machine over the next few weeks. When the rep followed up, Stratten told him he liked the machine, and the rep said, "Pick 10 friends in Canada you want to send one to now."
"I got to give away stuff and not spend a dime," Stratten said.
That strategy got so many people talking about Tassimo's coffee makers that the share of conversation in Canada didn't just go to 1 percent. It plateaued at 12.6 percent.
In another example, the same Ogilvy rep, now working with Magnum ice cream, asked Stratten to be a paid sponsor. Stratten agreed to do a promotional video for a contest, but said he wouldn't do a blog post. The rep had actually negotiated in advance to make it so influencers wouldn't have to reach a tweet quota or do sponsored posts.
"He knew that, without asking me and forcing me to do things, I would do more," Stratten said.
In the video, Stratten jokingly called the brand out for "false advertising," saying an ice cream bar had four layers of chocolate instead of an advertised two. In response, the company whipped up a special box with his name on it, and a note that there are four layers.
Stratten was so impressed, he ran to his computer and wrote a blog post, when he said he wouldn't. Mentions of the brand spiked.
Contests don't work very well, Stratten said, because you attract only those people who want a free thing. What you really want, and what really makes something viral, is for people who owe you nothing to share it because it's so good that they have to. It's something that makes the press come to you, not the other way around.
"Just because you call your video viral, that doesn't make it viral," he said.
You want to reach the people's third circles, Stratten said. If their immediate base of followers is the first circle, and those followers' followers are the second, the next group is the third.
What does that? Not just a picture of a dog. A funny picture of a dog may, though.
The importance of tact
When The Rush fitness centers asked Facebook fans to stop posting negative comments and complaints on its page, people went nuts, telling the brand it didn't get it. Stratten said the brand could have made the same point in a different way and actually made people happier. All the page manager had to do was say that many complaints are personal in nature, and to protect privacy, ask that people send theirs through private messages.
"One of the best tools you have in your toolbox in PR is tact," he said.
Nikon made two mistakes with one of its posts: First, it insulted photographers by saying they're only as good as their equipment. Second, it asked a loaded question, specifically if fans use a particular Nikon lens, likely because someone somewhere was worried that people would mention competitors.
"Don't be afraid, don't censor, and don't piss them off," Stratten said.
PR representatives, the PR experts, should work with HR departments to train employees in social media, he said. Twitter "is like wearing a golf shirt with your logo on it." If your company name is in your bio, you represent it all the time.
You should never tweet anything you wouldn't put on a billboard, with your face on it, that all your clients and your mother can see, he said.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.