social media

Four U.S. Senators are calling for new restrictions for energy drink marketing, calling on 17 beverage manufacturures to avoid marketing their energy drinks to youngsters, according to an article by Keith Nunes in Food Business News. The letter states in part:

U.S. Senators call for more restrictions on energy drink marketing

Four United States Senators called for new restrictions on energy drink marketing to youth

“Across the board, makers of energy drinks say they do not market their products to children,” Mr. Durbin said. “But we know that energy drinks are promoted through social media, and that samples are often distributed at places where teens hang out — like sports events, concerts, local parks, and S.A.T. prep courses. The truth is that contrary to industry claims, energy drink companies are using highly effective tools to reach young people and it is working. It’s time for these companies to heed the advice of public health experts across the country and stop telling children and adolescents to ‘pound down’ their products.”

Voluntary Adoption of American Beverage Association Requested

The Senators urged the drink manufacturers to adopt the American Beverage Association’s Guidance for the Responsible Labeling and Marketing of Energy Drinks and  take other actions designed to curtail the marketing of energy drinks to young people. At a July, 2013 Senate hearing, three manufacturers, including Red Bull and Monster, agreed to adopt the Guidance.

Maureen Beach, director of communications for the American Beverage Association, responded to the Senators letter: “Our members are responsible companies that care about their consumers, especially children and young adults, as demonstrated through existing policies and programs. While A.B.A. did not receive the letter, we’re always willing to work with elected officials on behalf of our industry to clear up any confusion regarding our products and their safety.”

As a Minneapolis healthcare PR firm that is also a Minneapolis food & beverage PR firm, we firmly believe in responsible marketing to young people. At the same time, we also believe there are limits to what laws and regulations can accomplish in promoting healthy eating and drinking habits. Common sense starts at home.

Private label and digital marketing: can they co-exist? The answer is an emphatic yes, as private label and store brands join the fight for the mind and preferences of the Millenniums – AKA “generation Y.” This generation, born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, looks to the web and mobile for information and cues about what products to buy.

Private label and digital marketing

Private label finds support on Facebook.

Facebook, Twitter, Blogs

That means Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and consumer review sites. It also means websites and mobile apps geared toward building relationships with private label customers, the same way retail brands are doing. As a Minneapolis food & beverage PR firm and marketing agency, we offer an integrated marketing package of advertising, PR, social media, SEO and content marketing to our food & beverage clients.

Supermarket News profiled ten examples of creative marketing to advance their marketing directly to consumers. My favorite: using Twitter promotions to build awareness and reward engaged customers.

Another great article appeared recently in Private Label Store Brands, covering Jim Wisner’s presentation at the 2013 Collaboration Summit. Wisner emphasized that the retail brand threat also pointed to great opportunity for private label and store brand marketers who are ready to embrace digital marketing and social media.

Private label store brands need not wait to see their share shrink as retail brands make inroads. An integrated food & beverage PR and marketing plan can build new relationships directly with customers, while communicating the natural advantages of private label.

With the launch of its new service called Vine, Twitter is hoping to do for video what it has already done for text –shrink it into bite-sized bits that are quickly and easily shared.

Available as a free app for iOS devices (with other platforms coming soon), users can splice together six seconds of looping video for quick viewing. The animation can be one continuous shot, or as many quick cuts as one can fit into six seconds. Vine videos can be embedded into Twitter streams, or shared on personal websites or other social media sites like Tumblr.

It’s easy to imagine what some creative public relations managers might do with this new tool. And many proactive brands are already testing the waters. GE, Ritz Crackers, Dove and Urban Outfitters are some of the major brands to have already posted their own Vine videos. Are any of them ground-breaking achievements likely to lead to a boost in sales? Probably not, but that sort of misses the point.

A Personal Touch

Savvy brand managers learned a long time ago that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are more about interactive dialogue rather than one-way promotions. Social media creates opportunities for more direct interaction, and Vine videos will allow for that interaction to be more personal than ever.

These brief micro-videos can be used to provide a quick, no-budget, no-frills look past the sparkling veneer of finished ads and into the human side of a company. For example, companies might post Vine videos featuring:

  • A quick product demo
  • Visual menus, or daily restaurant specials
  • The view from the trade show floor
  • The face of a customer service rep responding to a question or complaint
  • A special thank-you to certain customers, clients, or partners
  • Holiday greetings
  • A teaser trailer for a longer presentation on another channel, such as YouTube

Time will tell whether this new app will succeed. But it certainly creates some intriguing opportunities for marketers who are willing to give it a try.

Simply put, a strategic communications plan is a description of a company’s marketing and communications goals and activities. And it should be treated as an essential document for any company, especially a start-up. While every plan should include a few key sections (outlined below), there is no single, one-size-fits-all approach that works for every business. A communications plan for a restaurant will be much different than one for a hospital, for example. But here is a snapshot of the crucial elements that every plan should include.

An Overview

This opening section describes the nature of the business and how it plans to grow through strategic communications and marketing.

Background Research

Arguably, the single most important feature of any communications plan is the background research and analysis. After all, how can you be expected to tell your company’s story if you don’t know much about the industry in which you operate? Generally this background research will identify the current market size, segmentation, target customers, growth opportunities, risks and competitors. In addition a SWOT analysis for the company itself would be helpful here.

Establish Your Mission, and Your Messages

Now is the time to define your brand, your products, your company and your value proposition to the market.

State Your Goals

Goals should be simply what you want your communications to achieve. These are specific, measurable outcomes: a percentage of market share, annual sales, growth into certain markets, etc.

Define Your Strategy

Strategies are the initiatives that will allow you to realize your goals. These should answer the question of “how” the company plans to communicate to its customers. For example, a restaurant might devise a strategy for becoming a go-to family gathering place on Monday nights, in the hopes of meeting its overall revenue goals. Or, a backup software company might create a strategy for focusing on a certain customer niche, like publishing companies or law firms, in order to support its own expectations.

Define Your Tactics

These are the tools of the trade. Identify the channels of your communications strategy here, such as social media, blogging, digital advertising, direct response marketing, or media relations. Be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to simply list a bunch of marketing channels – describe how they will be used. Consider the strategies you’ve identified above. Do your tactics support them?

Build a Schedule and a Budget

Now that you have a set of tasks to complete, put them on a schedule. Identify who “owns” each task, and list anticipated completion dates. Keep your team accountable and abreast of approaching deadlines. Also, is your marketing and communications budget in line with the strategies you plan to implement? Talk with vendors, publishers, printers and anyone else that can give you the necessary cost information to make sure what you’re planning falls within your budget.

Keep it Alive

You’ll put a lot of work into this plan. The last thing you want is to see it relegated to a dusty corner in someone’s office. Marketing and communications strategies evolve. You might have to prioritize certain goals over others. Test and measure what’s working and update your plan accordingly.

The press release, that tried and true tactic used by companies and PR practitioners for eons, has gone through quite an evolution over the past decade or so. Before the age of the Internet, the press release was generally only seen by, you know, the press. Companies and their PR agencies would distribute the announcement and hope that it was compelling enough to warrant a story.

Today, the release plays a more dynamic role. Social media and company websites allow for direct communication and interaction with customers. Releases are generally drafted with multiple audiences in mind – including journalists, customers and industry analysts.

But there is one additional “audience” that should not be forgotten – search engine spiders, or web crawlers. These automated bots constantly scour the Web for content, and their findings are used to determine which websites are shown when an individual conducts a search using various keywords. If you anticipate that your press release will be posted anywhere online – your website, through a newswire, or any media outlet with an online presence, then it’s important to consider the language used from a search engine’s perspective.

For example, if your business provides computer data cloud storage solutions, and you’re announcing upgraded security protections for customers, give the release a heavy dose of the technical upgrades you’re offering and how your customers will benefit. Generic, over-used language – groundbreaking, world-class, revolutionary – not only gets on readers’ nerves, it also does nothing for search engine optimization. The classic Gobbledygook Manifesto [PDF] shows just how frequently these terms are used – and the more often a term is used, the more competition there is for the attention of the search engine crawlers. Detailed, descriptive keywords are more effective in generating meaningful website traffic.

Press releases are a mainstay for public relations campaigns. By keeping search engine crawlers in mind when crafting the language within them, releases can continue to provide benefits for a long time.

As advertisers continue to flock to Facebook, many are wondering if Google+ has the makings of a solid competitor to the world’s top social networking site. Whether Google+ will become a successful social media service with a dedicated user base remains to be seen. However, in the one month since its launch one thing has become apparent: this is no Facebook killer. Here’s why.

Engagement Overload

You’re on Facebook. Probably a majority of the people you know are on Facebook. The site has over 750 million users, many of whom check the site constantly. LinkedIn continues to gain influence. Not to mention Twitter, Tumblr, FourSquare and countless other social platforms that integrate these big hitters into their sharing options (Xbox LIVE, for example). How many people do you think are eager to manage yet another online profile? Especially when everyone that’s on Google+ is already on Facebook. Eventually, social media saturation is reached and choices must be made.

In addition, participation within these networks generally involves posting detailed personal information: birth date, email, phone number, political views, location, etc. At what point will users shy away from giving this information to yet another corporation?

You’re Already Hooked

Business blogger and fellow skeptic Mark Schafer points out on his blog {grow} that, “…Facebook may be entrenched as the king of social networking sites for a long time because the emotional and psychological cost of switching to something else is too high.”

Exactly. Those that check in and update their Facebook profile regularly have built up tremendous loyalty to the service, whether they realize it or not. It’s not uncommon for today’s college students and recent grads to have over 1,000 friends on Facebook. Many have dozens of photo albums. Starting over would be no simple task. On the flip side, the older generation is still cautiously dipping its toes in the Facebook waters. To many of them, Google+ remains foreign altogether. Consider this invitation to Google+ I posted recently:





My Facebook friend is not exactly an early adopter. Now we expect Grandpa to begin using Circles and Sparks?

Social Segmentation

Speaking of Circles, this feature is a key differentiator. Essentially it takes one’s “friends list” a step further, allowing the user to segregate contacts into specific groups, then interact with each group as they please. It’s a feature that many have requested of Facebook as friend lists have evolved to include more coworkers and family members. And certainly having more control over one’s message is a positive thing. But it also has potential drawbacks, like requiring more effort to manage, the potential for user mistakes and the knowledge that you could be in someone’s circle titled “Jerks I Ignore”. (One does not have the ability to see what others have named their circles, or who is in them.)

No Third-Party Support

At least, not yet. Facebook embraced third-party development, which brought a new level of interactivity and innovation to the site. Farmville and Mafia Wars are just two hugely popular examples of what third-party support can bring.

From Math to Social Science

Can a company that knows algorithms and search technology also strike gold with social networking? It’s the same question many asked at the launch of Google Wave (and what a debacle that turned out to be!)

Paul Adams is a former Google employee that joined Facebook shortly before the launch of Google+. He recently felt the need to clarify a few things about his departure from Google, and described his frustrations this way: “Google is an engineering company, and as a researcher or designer, it’s very difficult to have your voice heard at a strategic level. Ultimately I felt that although my research formed a cornerstone of the Google social strategy, and I had correctly predicted how other products in the market would play out, I wasn’t being listened to when it came to executing that strategy. My peers listened intently, but persuading the leadership was a losing battle. Google values technology, not social science.” [emphasis added]

On the Plus Side

Still, despite a plethora of obstacles, it’s foolish to count Google out entirely over the long term. The company is flush with cash, employs many brilliant minds, and is already one of the world’s best-known brands. Millions of people use the company’s variety of products such as Gmail, YouTube, Picasa, Maps and of course the search engine itself.

Google+ does have some very good things going for it, too. “Hangouts” are video web chats that allow up to ten participants at once. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, one can edit their posts after publishing. And simply by not being Facebook, a certain segment will be eager to give it a try.

Google execs are referring to Google+ as a “project,” not a product. Eventually it will be open to everyone, not just those who have received an invitation. Currently the network does not support advertising, although we can expect that to change at some point. But judging from what I’ve seen so far, Facebook doesn’t have much reason to be worried.

Conventional wisdom suggests that getting one’s message out is easier than ever. Anyone can create a Twitter account, for example. But sending a message and actually getting through to the target audience are two different things. When it comes to effective message distribution, companies face several hurdles— including lack of interest, distrust of subjective information sources, competition from other messages, and numerous distractions (Internet browsing, smart phone games, text messaging, etc.). The compacting of message length is a profound issue for practitioners of PR and their clients. A study by Erik Bucy and Maria Elizabeth Grabe, published by the Journal of Communication, showed that the average sound bite for a presidential candidate on the nightly network news is about 7.8 seconds.

If you’re a corporate spokesperson trying to explain a nuanced rationale for a company action that’s under fire, your time slot isn’t much bigger. Moreover, we live in a world where the most common type of message – the text message – is 160 characters. (For why this is so, see here). And while a corporate message isn’t likely to be sent primarily via SMS, the point is that attention spans are getting shorter, not longer, and messagers need to act accordingly. By the way, Twitter also uses the 160 character format, but automatically reserves 20 for the messenger address, so one is left with 140 characters for this potent form of social media.

I realize I’ve already exceeded my allotted 160 characters, but I hope I’m making the case that message quality has never been more critical. So, let’s consider what goes into a good message:

Your message should speak to your audience. It needs to address the issues or values they care about. Too many messages are “inside-out” – they communicate the worldview of the organization looking out at the world instead of reflecting the audience’s perspective. When BP’s former chief executive said, in light of a catastrophic oil spill, that he’d like to get his life back, it made sense from his point of view, but obviously not to the audience he was hoping to address.

Your message should offer a distinct solution or perspective. Too many messages emphasize points that are not special. The law firm that knows business. The printing company that cares about quality. The auto dealer that offers the best deal. These points are really a requirement of doing business. They’re the ticket to the dance, so to speak. Snow Communications developed a campaign for Hormel Foods Specialty Products Division to speak to the many corporate customers that sell Hormel’s food products under their own private labels. Our message, “Brand Spoken Here” speaks to Hormel’s customers’ needs and offers a capability that Hormel can uniquely offer in this space.

Your message should be simple and clear. “Death tax” is a powerful way to characterize an estate tax that primarily taxes people with substantial assets. “Vouchercare” is an equally effective way to characterize the Republican approach to limiting future Medicare costs. Subway’s “Eat Fresh” redefined the fast food market along lines that heavily favor Subway.

In summary, keep your messages short, clear and considerate of the audience’s perspective if you want to make an impact.

The other day I met the owner of a small technology start-up at a local fundraiser. As we were exchanging pleasantries and small talk, I told him that I worked in public relations and he asked me if I thought social media was replacing traditional media relations, and if I thought that reporters were becoming less influential. I do get asked this from time to time and my answer is always the same. I read something recently that sums up my feelings:

“The trend we need to see emerge for the industry is the understanding within the broader profession and the business community that public relations is not communication – PR is about identifying, developing and maintaining mutually-beneficial relationships between an organization and its stakeholders. A public relationship is the end goal; communication is merely the means to the end. “

(Stephanie McFarland, APR)

In essence, one form of communication should not be judged against another as my new friend suggested, but merely analyzed and considered in terms of what is most relevant for a company or organization in order to help them build their public relationships. The value of print media is no less critical today than it was ten years ago. Even though newspaper circulations across the country are declining, niche, community and trade publications that serve a unique audience are showing sustainability and growth. Besides, if you look at what people are posting on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, chances are you will see some news article links to all kinds of traditional media.

When we view things from an “either/or” perspective in the PR world, we limit our potential for success. The best recipe for achieving valuable public relationships is usually a creative mix of programs and activities that will best serve your overall marketing objectives.