Monday, January 19, 2009

Dear Client ... Write for the right reasons

Here's to hoping I'm the only one this happens to and that it's a wasted read for the rest of you, I doubt it tho.

--PC (PR Cog)

Dear Client -

Write for the Right Reasons.

When you send me an article for placement (that is, a 'byline'), after reading it and fixing some of your wretched speeling and grammer (ha!), I try to figure out what the best target publication would be for your piece. Among the items I consider -
  • who can make sense of this article (is it too technical for a general purpose publication),
  • who would be most interested in the article (if it's stale it does little good to anyone) and
  • are there any other factors limiting its usability (a 12K word commentary is probably NOT going to find a home in a newsweekly).
Once I think I've found an appropriate set of targets I'll likely run that list by you, and anyone else in your PR, marketing, business development department that needs to see it. Then the inevitable will happen. I (and you might be CC'd on it) will get an email, that in some way or another can be distilled to one of the following:
  • How will placement there help us get new customers/business/clients
  • No one in the industry we know will see it when it runs in X
  • It'll be meaningless and/or a waste of time if it runs in Y because we'll have to cut it down to size.
There are three main (non-academic) reasons to put pen to paper and author an article you want to see placed:
  • To bring in new business
  • To strut for your industry (can overlap with #1 if referrals are a big part of your business)
  • To reinforce your reputation with old business
These are all perfectly valid reasons to write, but for each purpose there are considerations to well...consider (I only take out the thesaurus for paying clients, you readers will just have to cope).

If you want to develop new clients/business you have to write at a level your client will understand. If you work with widgets, don't get into statistical analysis of widget use over time - it's boring and no one will want to read it except subscribers to "Widget Analysis Weekly." Write instead, on what people/businesses can get from statistical analysis of their widgets - use plain English and real life examples:
When XYZ Corp analyzed their widget use they discovered none of their clients actually LIKED the yellow widgets but they ordered it because they wanted the complete set. They discontinued yellow, introduced canary, which customers loved, and began ordering individually.
No mention of how the survey was done or other minutiae that potential clients don't want. Give them the what and the why - not the How. These type of articles CAN go in general purpose business/entrepreneurial publications. Potential big circulation, but the trade-offs will be 1) No one from your industry will see it and 2) a pretty small percent of the readers will actually be interested in it so that circulation number can be deceiving. That being said - the ones who are interested, can become clients.

If you're trying to strut for your industry peers, which is not at all inappropriate if a significant part of your business comes from referrals or you get a decent amount of B2B work, go as high end as you'd like.

Make it excruciatingly detailed on the how - they're the ones that will be able to call your bluff if you gloss over something - let it be known far and wide that you are the man (woman) when it comes to this field and if they want the best they need to call you.

The trade-off - No WAY does it make it into a magazine you can find at the airport and your friends and family will have never heard of it (with certain exceptions - JAMA, etc.). What I'm saying is that it WILL end up in a trade. Circulation will be low, but of those subscribers, a well developed concept will be important to most of them and will get readers. These also frequently take the form of newsletters with high annual subscription costs (they'll have a big pass-along rate where a large office only has 1 subscript.) and no advertising since the circ. numbers are low. The readers are looking for deep content, not something to read while waiting for the dentist.

Both of these types of articles can help with #3 - building up your rep with existing clients.

A stat I've heard tossed about indicates it costs around 1/10 the cost to keep a client than it does to get a new client. Remind your clients of why they hired you - if you send them a newsletter with your 'published articles' and it's recognizable business magazines or respected trades they'll know you're staying sharp and current on the industry.

Don't wait for an RFP where you're begging for your lunch to make the client feel good about the choice of hiring you (or buying your product) - do it continually, like bringing your spouse flowers for no external reason, or doing the dishes/dinner/other chore without being asked (or asking if you should).

And so the moral of my story -- write for the right reasons:
  • If you're looking for new clients, figure out where they read and write to their level - tell them something they don't know but should.
  • If you're looking to impress - do it, but realize who's going to be most interested.
    • One one more thing - if you're doing this do it when it's most helpful. If you're writing an overview of a new law or regulation in your business do it when it's new - not 6 months later. If you write an 'overview' article 6 months later write it 'down' to a general reader because everyone IN your business already knows what you've managed to regurgitate onto the page and needs analysis or real deep thought - not just summaries.
Your PR Cog.

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