One of the words I have come to dislike is . . . wrong.
It’s because I see lots of headlines telling readers that they’re doing something wrong: social media, marketing, selling, living . . . [add your own suggestions].
It can do wonders for your confidence to read such articles.
Why not just give up when there’s millions of people out there waiting to tear everything we do to bits?
Now, I realise that the writers are doing it to show off their expertise and highlight problems that many of us do have to tackle, but I’d prefer a different approach to trampling on everything I’m doing.
I believe there are so many ways of doing things these days and many will work work for different groups of people with few working for everyone. We’re all so different that we take different approaches. Apart from practices that break laws or terms and conditions or inconvenience and annoy, who is to say what is wrong?
What is important is to improve whatever we are doing and to recognise when some methods do not work for us and change them.
I like to think that I’m not doing things wrong, but that I’m working to do things better . . . every day.
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As a business journalist, a company’s web site is often the first source I turn to for background information when writing an article.
I click the ‘about’ page, but am disappointed that this sometimes say nothing about ‘who’ is in the business or ‘what’ the business does.
I’ll probably head on to the ‘contact’ page in the hope of finding a telephone number or email address. Again there is often nothing but an email contact form.
Who is this business? Where is it? Is it real?
I know as a customer that you have to watch out for dodgy cloned web sites these days, so I always want to know registered company name, mail address and/or phone number. If none of these are provided, I’m unlikely to buy. How do I know if I can trust the site?
I find I need more indication that a site is genuine and that I can get in touch easily if something goes wrong. True, phones and emails may not be answered, but I want to know why a business wants to be anonymous.
What do you need to trust a business or web site?
When you send a press release to the media, do you send a good quality photo with it?
By good quality, I mean a portrait shot taken by a professional photographer who understands lighting or, at the least, a clear photo taken on a camera at a high resolution.
In my role as a business writer for a newspaper, I still receive poor quality photos, some taken on mobile phones with low resolution cameras. Sometimes even marketing and PR professionals send these, which astounds me. When this happens, I have to ask them to send a better quality photo.
A high resolution, well composed photo with interesting subject matter can be very powerful. It can persuade a journalist to include an article based on the press release simply because they want to include the image.
Another good practice is to send the photo as a separate JPEG file and not embed it in a Word document or PDF. Often this results in a call or email to send the original file.
As to the composition and lighting, I’ll leave that to the professional photographers, whose expertise and art I admire.
A good photo will make you look good and it’s easy to arrange with a bit of thought and planning.
All businesses need to create a presence so that customers know that they are there. Whether this is through marketing and advertising or from word-of-mouth recommendations, awareness is essential for getting work.
I find that many people are still wary of trying out many of the marketing tools that are available to them. In my role as a business writer for a local newspaper, I often receive phone calls starting with a business owner saying gingerly “I don’t know if you’ll be interested in this . . . ” and then going on to tell a cracker of a story. Of course, the opposite of this is the business owner who sends in press releases regularly with ‘news’ that is only of interest to them. I believe many businesses have good stories to tell and need the confidence to tell them.
While an effective PR consultant can help, businesses without a budget can . . . and do . . . achieve media exposure through their own efforts. With thought and planning, a clear idea of what you want to achieve and a focus on what you will and what you won’t talk about, public relations can be a very cost effective tool.
This applies not only to PR but also to blogging, social media and more. Perhaps you see your competitors getting exposure and feel that you offer a better service than they do, but how will people find that out? Often a voice can tell us that “no one wants to hear about that”, but it’s probably that we’re afraid of standing up and telling our story, a bit like the fear of public speaking.
I’m often encouraging people to talk about their businesses because so many are fascinating and deserve wider exposure. With social media, colleagues and associates can help to share your stories and support you.
There really are many opportunities to tell your stories and people who want to hear them.
• Robert Zarywacz is a copywriter and journalist who has written thousands of magazine and newspaper articles. He also researches and writes press releases, case studies and newsletters for clients as well as managing social media and PR campaigns at z2z.com. Robert is the business writer for the North Devon Journal, chairman of COMBEbusiness and courtesy consultant for the National Campaign for Courtesy. Follow @robertz on Twitter.
. . . if you don’t want to take advantage of publicity for your business.
In my role as a newspaper writer I continue to wonder at how many businesses lose out on media coverage simply by not returning calls or responding to emails from journalists. If they’ve got more business than they can handle, that’s their decision, but how many businesses are operating at full capacity or don’t need more business?
I know people are busy and can’t always respond instantly, but an attempt to return a call to get a comment or article in the paper at no cost would seem to be worth the effort. Perhaps they think it won’t do them any good.
I know from writing for a local newspaper that editorial does generate enquiries. That’s why many businesses I’ve covered previously contact me again when they have some news they think will interest me.
Perhaps they think they won’t be able to talk about their business coherently. Surely they talk coherently to their customers or else they wouldn’t make any sales. There’s not much difference.
And what if the call is about something negative, such as the horsemeat scandal? If you can comment knowledgeably or have a food business where you can demonstrate traceability and quality, you do have the opportunity to benefit.
So the next time a journalist calls for a comment, take a moment to think about the opportunity and what you want to say before calling them back promptly.
What is it like? Would you recommend it? What are the plusses? Don’t you just love it? Will you share it?
Is it just a numbers game?
I’m not sure I know what any of these mean any more as we’re constantly asked to give approval for a blog or a photo of a ‘cute’ animal or to recommend someone for services that we have not actually used.
I ‘like’ to give recommendations where I know a person or have had an excellent experience from a business. I am happy to ‘share’ content that I find entertaining, amusing or useful and hope others will too.
I find I have now stopped saying ‘I love’ things and pause before saying ‘I like’ something.
Perhaps it’s because ‘loves’ and ‘likes’ are precious and I don’t want to throw them away.
How about you?
Sometimes we can spend too much time worrying about the latest Google update, smartphone or OS version and forget that effective communication – for that’s what all these tools are there to support – often needs to be clear and simple.
This runs throughout our lives, as I found when I was booked into my local hospital for a medical procedure. I had a preparatory appointment with a nurse to brief me and took home a leaflet giving detailed instructions. I also had a preparation to start taking on the day before the procedure.
On that day, I found some of the information from the nurse, the leaflet and on the box containing the preparation conflicted. It was a Sunday so I used my common sense to work out the problem: a minor niggle that didn’t matter much.
I was getting concerned because the leaflet said the procedure would take 30-40 minutes to complete and, knowing that it was likely to be uncomfortable and that sedation would not knock me out completely, I braced myself for this mentally. I felt it was going to be tough. As it turned out, just before my turn the doctor mentioned that he was timing each procedure for a study and that the average time was 6-7 minutes: I breathed a sigh of relief.
I am glad to say the procedure was quick, painless and the results were fine. However, I had approached it in completely the wrong frame of mind as a result of the details in the leaflet.
Such gaps between perception and reality can be created by any written instructions. Whether we’re selling a flat-pack wardrobe, an electrical gadget or a holiday, it can be easy to plant the wrong impression in a customer’s mind. Once planted, that seed can grow into a dream or worry that bears no relation to the real product, service or experience.
For businesses selling products and services, this can create unrealistic expectations, impossible to deliver; for doctors it can cause unnecessary worry in patients.
Consistency and clarity are essential when writing instructions or descriptions. Not only do they prevent confusion and wrong impressions, they help to create happy customers . . . and patients.