You know you have a great service, product or story to tell. You’re eager to market your small business, but questions about the return on social media investment, debate about the lifespan of the press release and confusion about how to work digital tools make it tough to stay on top in today’s fast-paced world of marketing.
“[Small businesses] know their business, but they don’t know how to sell their business,” says Connie Ramos-Williams, president and chief marketing officer of CONRIC PR & Marketing | Publishing, which is based in Fort Myers.
More than a dozen local and national experts shared their secrets and tips for our eight-page guide to marketing and public relations.
MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL
SMART WAYS TO USE TRADITIONAL MARKETING AND PRESS RELEASES IN THE DIGITAL AGE
IN THE NEW WORLD OF MARKETING, press releases, fliers, billboards and other traditional PR tools don’t have to be completely tossed aside. Instead, businesses are adapting yesterday’s methods to reach new audiences today.
Old tools, new tricks
Traditional advertising hasn’t gone away; it has just evolved in the digital age. Companies are using Facebook advertising, for example, to better target a specific demographic.
“Facebook keeps continuing to make some changes and now has become one of the better ways to reach a very niche and targeted audience,” says Connie Ramos-Williams, president and chief marketing officer of CONRIC PR & Marketing | Publishing, which is based in Fort Myers.
When one of her clients had five tickets left for a wine and chocolate tasting event, they used Facebook advertising to target females from 30 to 50 years old who lived within a 5-mile radius to invite to the event.
“We could really zero in, and within the first hour, we were able to get those five seats booked right away,” she says.
Another attention-grabbing tool is remarketing, a technique that allows ads from websites you visit to follow you around the web, says Zach Katkin, president and CEO of Atilus, a Bonita Springs-based web design and marketing company.
Remarketing is controllable down to an extreme, granular level, he says. As soon as someone types in your website and lands on it, you can target them and their computer. For example, if you own a remodeling business and someone visits your kitchen remodeling page, the ads that pop online—even when they’re on other sites—can be specific to kitchen design.
“Remarketing in the digital world has merged with the physical or old-school marketing world,” Katkin says.
Print ads are not obsolete, but even if you buy print, he says, you have to follow up with a strong online presence.
“[A print ad may] grab your attention and quickly communicate what this company is all about. And then it directs readers to a website that doesn’t support that, that doesn’t continue that connection,” Katkin says. “I think right now, more important than even a retail space is a website.”
Ashleigh Henry Kent, co-founder of Walker Henry, a Naples marketing and public relations company, says some clients have websites that need to be updated, while others need to be mobile responsive. Having quality content and images with readability and functionality will determine if a viewer stays on your site to learn about your services. “Having a good website is so important; it’s your billboard,” she says.
Figuring out social media
Word-of-mouth marketing is still important, but social media has given it a wider audience and reach. Social media is not a fad, says Christopher T. Spiro, owner and CEO of Spiro & Associates, Brand Architects.
On social media, people are often looking to crowdsource when they have a problem or need a recommendation for a cleaner, termite company, accountant or other business, says Katkin.
Don’t have many “likes” on Facebook? Don’t worry, Katkin says.
“It just seems sexy and there’s activity around it, but if you look at the numbers and take a step back and think about it, it makes very little sense,” Katkin says. “Companies will spend hours and hours and hours trying to get Facebook followers and Facebook likes for ultimately no reason.”
That’s not to say that social media should be ignored. Companies just need to be using it to their advantage.
“We do try to look at [a company’s] overall clientele, who their target audiences are and try to help them find the right social media tools that will best market or brand their company,” says Ramos-Williams, who was named the 2016 Public Relations Professional of the Year by the Florida Public Relations Association, Southwest Florida chapter.
For example, restaurants or boutiques that have enticing visuals would fit well on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, but Ramos- Williams says it would not be her priority to get them on LinkedIn.
Social media also gives you an opportunity to promote other traditional forms of media, such as newsletters and fliers. Given the popularity of images, you can upload a flier or photo to your Facebook or Instagram page to let people know about a big sale, event or new hours. Press releases and fliers can go on your company blog to generate search engine optimization (SEO) and improve your website’s page rankings.
While social media gets a lot of attention, ultimately what’s referred to as “search marketing” can have the most impact because of how people use the Internet. Customers search for products, answers to questions and solutions to problems using search engines, so Katkin says focusing your energy on SEO and page ranking seems to be significantly more effective.
Henry Kent says SEO is all about knowing your customer and how they will search for you. If you can figure out what words customers will use in a search, you can make sure that your company’s website has a high search page ranking. In other words, your company will pop up near the top on any search results page.
For example, an orthopedic group should integrate the words that their patients would use to search for them, not necessarily the technical diagnoses. Terms such as “foot doctor,” “hurt shoulder” and “broken ankle” may be more effective than “rotator cuff tear,” “musculoskeletal conditions” or “fibromyalgia.”
“The more we have those keywords infused throughout the entire site, the better chances are that they will find your website and that you’ll come up on the first page of the Google search,” Henry Kent says.
ANATOMY OF A NEWS RELEASE
THE DO'S AND DON'TS OF ASSEMBLING AN EFFECTIVE ANNOUNCEMENT
FOUR SOCIAL MEDIA ALL-STARS
These local companies and organizations are grabbing attention via social media and generating loyalty among customers.
NAPLES ZOO AT CARIBBEAN GARDENS
@naples_zoo (Instagram), @NaplesZoo (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube)
Naples Zoo has embraced the Pokemon Go craze with events such as guided tours to find Pokemon characters, and it has been announcing on social media special times for players to collect more Pokemon at the park. The zoo also celebrates unofficial national days or weeks, such as #NationalZooKeeperWeek, and grand openings of businesses that support the zoo. By providing multiple daily updates on various social media channels, Naples Zoo shows what’s happening behind the scenes and sparks conversation with its followers with techniques such as asking readers to help name baby animals.
NORMAN LOVE CONFECTIONS
@normanloveconfections (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube), @normanlovecandy (Twitter), @normanlove (Pinterest)
On Instagram, Norman Love uses photographs, videos and user-generated content to highlight its artistic truffles, desserts and other services and products, such as classes. On Pinterest, the Fort Myers-based confectionery has created boards based on holidays, special collections and ideas for wedding cakes, along with one called “Sweet & Delicious Quotes.” Its blog spotlights various desserts and highlights various awards and news articles.
SUNDIAL BEACH RESORT & SPA
@SundialResort (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest), @Sundial Beach Resort & Spa (YouTube)
Blog posts, infographics and photo stories display what’s happening at Sundial Beach Resort and Spa. Content is disseminated on all of its social media sites. The Sanibel resort sends personal congratulations to wedding couples and shares snapshots from their big day showing how they used Sundial’s venues and services.
@Happehatchee (Facebook, Instagram), @Happehatchee13 (Twitter), @Happehatchee Center (YouTube)
Happehatchee Center’s social media pages provide ways for customers to sign up for yoga classes and learn about events with other area businesses. The eco-spirituality center located in Estero shares videos and photo stories so people can learn more about its work and healing environment.
GOING ONLINE AND ENGAGING A BIGGER AUDIENCE
USED WELL, SOCIAL MEDIA CAN EXTEND A BUSINESS OR ORGANIZATION’S REACH FAR OUTSIDE ITS LOCAL COMMUNITY. IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA, TWO LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS HAVE HARNESSED THE POWER OF ONLINE TOOLS SO WELL THAT THEY HAVE BUILT A NATIONWIDE AUDIENCE.
Florida Gulf Coast University Athletics
After its men’s basketball team had several successful runs in the Atlantic Sun Conference, Florida Gulf Coast University garnered national attention, especially online. But the online season doesn’t end when the final whistle blows on court. Social media is a year-round game for Florida Gulf Coast’s athletic department, which works to maintain connections with its fans and students, in Florida and throughout the country.
Jason MacBain, director of athletics communication at FGCU, and four other members of his department, keep followers up to date on Twitter (11,000 followers on @FGCUEagles), Facebook (7,343 likes on @FGCUAthletics) and Instagram (3,033 followers on @fgcuathletics), as well as explore new apps such as Snapchat, Facebook Live and Periscope, which can broadcast live events.
The success story: In 2013, FGCU’s men’s basketball team became the first 15th seed to ever make it to the Sweet 16. The program gained its identity as “Dunk City,” which took off as a hashtag that united fans, players and students.
MacBain says hashtags, such as #WingsUp and #WeAreFGCU, have played an integral part in establishing an identity for other teams, and for the university as a whole.
The most memorable social media moment for MacBain came during March Madness in 2014. After Mercer, an ASC rival, upset Georgetown, he tweeted, “Well played, @ MercerMBB” from the men’s basketball’s Twitter account. He said the tweet got national attention, including being shown on ESPN, because it was simple, direct and effective, considering the storyline of that season.
The challenge: MacBain’s team faces the challenge of connecting with different demographics that want to keep up with FGCU’s athletics. He says they try to reach students and potential student athletes through Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, particularly using video, graphics and images with text. It’s a different strategy when connecting online with snowbirds and retirees. Those audiences want to see facts without the frills, he says.
The payoff: MacBain says their work is worth it when something goes viral, like his tweet in March 2014, which helped the Atlantic Sun Conference gain national exposure, he says.
Social media also gives the department a way to instantly connect with its fan base. When the men’s basketball team goes to the Bahamas for a tournament, for example, fans can track them in real time and watch their games like never before through Periscope, Snapchat and Facebook Live.
The tip: Know the demographics of your audience on the social media sites where you plan to have a presence and have a plan before launching a social media page or account. Make sure there are enough staff members and resources to keep up with social media. Be funny and creative by choosing someone with a strong personality to run the accounts.
Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau
The Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau won 10 Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International Adrian Awards in 2015 for promoting its events offline. But the bureau also has a strong presence online.
Between Facebook, four Twitter accounts and a Pinterest page, it works to connect with returning tourists and potential visitors alike.
The success story: One of its most successful Facebook posts was a simple one—a video of the sunset in June. Within about 48 hours, the post had reached 160,000 people. “Sunsets are very popular here,” says Jack Wert, executive director of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB. “A lot of people do share them, it’s just that it happened to capture a really amazing one that got a lot of attention.” Wert also says the bureau has seen success in hosting InstaMeets around the area, in partnership with Visit Florida. “You bring a group of bloggers together and virtually give them the run of a place,” he says. The bloggers take pictures and video, then upload them to their personal profiles. “It’s an opportunity to really share some photography to people we might not have reached in the past,” Wert says.
The challenge: Wert says the biggest challenge he and his team faces is keeping up with social media. Not only are there many different platforms, but the bureau also has a variety of audiences it attempts to reach. “We want to be able to interact [with our audiences] if we can. It’s virtually a full-time job,” Wert says.
The payoff: Getting to interact on social media with Gen X and millennials, who are not the CVB’s target market of baby boomer and retirees. “Social media is our opportunity to interface with younger travelers who will eventually become our visitors,” he says.
The tip: Choose which platforms work for the brand, and don’t worry about the rest. Also, make sure to have a team dedicated to monitoring the pages so no comments or questions get stale. “Interact as quickly as you can,” Wert says.
NO FEAR HERE
DIGITAL MARKETING IS NOT AS SCARY AS YOU THINK
DIGITAL MARKETING CAN INTIMIDATE owners who would rather focus on their main business. Some fears of digital marketing are unfounded. Others can be assuaged with a little training or help from a professional. Here are five ways to overcome those fears.
1. “I don’t have the time to do another type of marketing.”
Digital marketing might disrupt some outdated marketing strategies— like printed newsletters—but a new digital strategy should fit into what you do now, not add too much to it or replace it altogether.
“Digital marketing doesn’t work in a vacuum. It’s not a silver bullet that works all by itself,” says Samantha Scott, president of Pushing the Envelope, a Fort Myers-based marketing communications firm.
In fact, one of the biggest mistakes companies make is adding employees to handle digital communications, while the traditional marketing team works elsewhere.
“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Scott says.
At the same time, digital marketing can be incorporated into a cohesive plan.
“The more focused and coordinated your campaign is, the more suc- NO FEAR HERE DIGITAL MARKETING IS NOT AS SCARY AS YOU THINK. cessful you will be over the long term,” says Ingrid Fuller of Fuller Online Solutions, a website and Internet marketing firm based in Fort Myers.
2. “I don’t know how to get people to my website.”
Focus on having a technically strong website—one that loads quickly, keeps each page to a single topic and gives visitors the experience and information they want. Content is king in facing this fear.
“Now, you have to really push content to get noticed in the search engine,” says Matt Bernhardt of Stickboy Creative, a Fort Myers-based software development, website design and mobile app development company.
Certain tools can help you know whether the site is loading fast enough for Google’s standards. For example, Google’s PageSpeed Insights is a free tool that allows you to type in a url and get a score out of 100, for the mobile and desktop versions of your website. You want to get as close to 100 as possible.
PageSpeed Insights suggests things you should fix and consider fixing, such as optimizing images, avoiding plugins and reducing server response time, which a website developer may need to modify. Ultimately, you might consider hiring a professional to check on and fix any technical glitches that are keeping your site from potential clients or customers because it doesn’t show high enough in search results.
3. “I can’t use social media to sell my product.”
Social media isn’t about selling; it’s about interacting, Scott says. “Social media should be social and genuine,” she says.
But because they feel it’s higher quality content than what they may write themselves because they don’t feel skilled as a writer, some companies use corporately produced, generic content on social media.
“When you do that, you lose the genuine quality of your communication. You wouldn’t want to be friends with a person who only talked about the great value of his business. Customers want the same,” Scott says.
For example, Wilbur Smith Attorneys at Law, based in Fort Myers, provides its own content, such as a recent infographic that explains the somewhat-confusing DUI process in Southwest Florida, and shares relevant stories by media outlets on its social media sites.
“They’re actually trying to produce content that answers a lot of questions that everyday people [have],” says Reema Bhatia, who coowns Stickboy with Bernhardt and whose clients include Wilbur Smith Attorneys at Law.
“Everybody focuses on the media—getting information pushed out to potential customers—but don’t forget the social,” Fuller says.
4. “I worry that my social media doesn’t have direction.”
It’s a valid fear, but one that you can overcome with strategy.
“A lot of people will go to Facebook and just post a link to their website. Or, they’ll go to Twitter and post a new video,” says Fuller. “You should think of social media in terms of a media campaign and where it fits in your overall strategy.”
Think about how to use social media before you sit down at the computer. Define an end goal and decide which social media platform works best for that goal.
“You need to put different pieces of content out on the appropriate platform. Obviously, Facebook is very different from Twitter, and Twitter is very different from LinkedIn. Each needs unique content for those audiences,” Bernhardt says.
The differences are in the demographics, tone and mindset of the users on the different social media sites. People typically talk in more casual tones on Facebook than they do on LinkedIn, for example, Bhatia says. It’s like going to a sports bar versus a power lunch spot.
5. “I won’t know whether it’s working.”
In traditional advertising—print, billboards, TV and radio—you might only know how many people saw your brand. But digital marketing offers a wealth of information about how people interacted with your material, if you learn to use the tools.
“You can test and measure every single element of digital marketing, far beyond what we could have done traditionally,” says Scott. “One of the first questions I ask clients is, ‘Do you have Google Analytics?’ and then, ‘Are you getting monthly reports?’ and then, ‘Are you looking at them and do you understand them?’"
Google Analytics gives you an idea of traffic on your website, such as how many people visit, how many pages they visit and how long they spend on your site. You would want to look at whether your traffic goes up or down.
But beyond that, look at your bounce rate, or the percentage of single-page visits. The bounce rate indicates how many people visited the home page and left, Bhatia says. If it’s 80 percent, that means your method of getting them to your website, such as paid advertising, didn’t reach the right market. “If you got them through paid advertising, you lost your money because they didn’t take any action,” Bhatia says.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN HIRING A PR AGENCY
MOMENTUM. SPORTS TEAMS HAVE IT; POLITICIANS HAVE IT; BUSINESSES HAVE IT. OR THEY DON’T.
FOR BUSINESS OWNERS, effective communication is a key way to gain momentum that leads to business success. If you haven’t built that momentum with your in-house staff, it may be time to look for outside help from a public relations agency.
“The time to hire an agency is when the needs of a business require marketing support services that go beyond their internal capabilities,” says Gregory Walker, senior vice president, agency relations and membership for the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), Southern Region.
That means a business owner must first ask some key internal questions, Walker says, including:
• What is the business or marketing need to be addressed?
• What type of resource is required to help us address this need?
• What is the budget for this effort, including funds for a possible external resource?
Here are six things to consider when hiring an agency.
1. Is the agency willing to listen?
When you meet with a potential communications agency for the first time, the public relations practitioners should be asking questions and listening, rather than immediately pitching their services.
Some of the questions may surprise and challenge a business owner, says Russell Tuff, president of the Gulf Coast chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Those questions could revolve around your company’s mission, future goals, past accomplishments, challenges and how much time you are willing to invest in building and refining a strategic communications plan.
If the agency doesn’t understand your company’s story, then it cannot tell the story. If after the initial meeting, the agency doesn’t capture your vision, then it may not be a good fit, Tuff says.
2. Is the public relations agency willing to answer your questions?
After listening to you and grasping your company’s vision, then the public relations agency should be prepared to answer your questions.
Trish Robertson, president of the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA) Southwest Florida chapter, says some questions for a prospective agency include:
1. “Who else does your agency or has your agency represented?” Many agencies list clients on their websites, as well as industries in which they work.
2. “What is your agency’s or practitioner’s reach?” Agencies should discuss various media outlets it can use to communicate your company’s message.
3. “What relationships does your agency have that could benefit me or my business?” Public relations professionals should have relationships not only with media but also with local leaders, other local business owners and other public relations agencies.
4. “What are your credentials as a public relations professional?” Business owners should ask who from the public relations firm will be working directly with them, and they should request professionals who are listed as Accredited Public Relations (APR) professionals and/or who are Certified Public Relations Counselors (CPRC).
5. “What sets your agency apart from any other?” A business owner should strive to choose an agency that’s a good match. For example, a business owner may look for an agency that has principles aligning with its business, that gives back to the community or that shares religious or family values.
Additionally, the agency can be asked to provide at least two case histories dealing with similar issues and creative samples, says Sal Conte, vice president, agency management services for AAAA in New York City.
As a business owner and potential public relations agency discuss possibly working together, they should cover the overall process and the business owner’s role and responsibilities.
Hiring a public relations agency does not mean that a business owner should be hands off. Rather, the business owner should expect a time commitment with the agency to ensure that it is measuring the right information, having the right outcome, Tuff says.
3. What is your company’s budget for public relations services?
The business and public relations agency should have a clear agreement regarding budget, Walker says. Price ranges vary greatly and are largely driven by agency size, areas of specialty, geographic location and assignment.
Some agencies offer à la carte services, such as writing press releases or planning an event, Robertson says. When doing so, agencies charge for billable hours, with prices in Southwest Florida typically ranging from $65 to $125 per hour, she says.
Other agencies offer flat rates for projects. For example, an average fee for drafting, distributing and following up on a press release may cost about $500, she says.
The cost for having an agency on retainer varies, based on the company’s needs. “I’ve seen large companies spend $2,000 to $3,000 monthly to have an agency on retainer,” Robertson says.
4. Based on your company’s needs, would a local or national agency be a better match?
In selecting a public relations agency, businesses in Southwest Florida must decide if they want a local or national agency. A local company knows the local market and can physically be there for you when it’s necessary, Robertson says.
The greatest advantage to a local agency is that it understands the nuances of a community, Tuff says. Still, he acknowledges that if the company is seeking national exposure, then it may make sense to use an out-of-town agency that is familiar with the company’s line of work.
5. Based on your company’s needs and personality, would a small or large agency be a better fit?
Another decision to be made by business owners is whether to hire a small or large public relations agency. There are advantages to working with them all, from the largest firm to the sole practitioner, Robertson says. A larger firm can give clients more access to assistance as well as more immediate responses, while a smaller firm offers more intimacy and a more direct relationship between the agency and business, she says.
6. What will be the return on investment for hiring a public relations agency?
Businesses should not be afraid to hold an agency accountable for its performance. Walker says the criteria for accountability should ideally be SMART-goals oriented: Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic and Time-Based. Various aspects of business can be measured, such as sales performance, brand/product awareness and preference, improvement in market-share, brand/product perception within the target audience and key metrics established for the initiative.
If a plan isn’t reaching desired results, Tuff says the public relations professional should be able to quickly adjust as needed.