Jennifer Schwegman

Does Your Company Head for the Hills When a Prospect Heads South?

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. ”This oft-quoted line from Cool Hand Luke can make a huge difference to your company’s future success, if you dig for the issue causing a deal to die. Is it a product development, marketing or sales methodology? What’s the best way to find out?

There are a number of ways prospects can elude a buying decision and politely shut a deal down: “We’ve decided that we’re happy with our current supplier. Your products seem to be the same as our current supplier. Your price is too high. We’re not ready to pull the trigger.”

How does your company respond? Do salespeople sheepishly offer to check back later and pray for the prospect’s dissatisfaction? Do they plead with management to lower the price to win the deal? Or when the deal’s dead, does the story end?

None of these options help you find out why the prospect bowed out. In fact, most companies miss a golden opportunity to learn from an unsuccessful prospect engagement where the source of failure might be and subsequently corrected for fostering greater success.

If you want to know, just ask

The best way to find out is pretty obvious—just ask. Are companies embarrassed about calling the prospect? Or maybe they’re afraid of what they might find out—like bad product, bad reputation, bad marketing, bad salesperson? Ignorance may be bliss, but it won’t help companies do more business.

There is one valid fear, and it’s that they may not get honest answers that will help them. Since in general people want to be nice, they shy away from negative remarks about anything or anyone related to the caller. This is where an experienced third party’s help with a lost-deal audit could make a real difference in pulling out candid feedback.

Product, positioning, pitch

Lost-deal audits should be structured around three main areas: the product or service, its positioning and messaging, and the sales method. Each of these areas offers an opportunity to distinguish itself from competitors. Questions must be carefully worded to:

  • Unearth prospect’s buying criteria that explains why they are “happy” with their current supplier
  • Learn about the differentiators that would motivate prospects to explore alternative solutions
  • Delve into the prospect’s focus on price
  • Discover prospect’s unmet needs

 The art of the audit

While it is critical to craft questions for each prospect from the salesperson’s recall and notes, there’s an art to delivering them. While it may appear fairly straightforward to establish a role as an impartial information gatherer, the researcher must also build rapport with the prospect. What’s more there’s a great amount of experience and finesse required to know when and how to pursue certain answers with additional, non-scripted questions to gain additional insights.

A skilled auditor helps your company improve product development, marketing, and sales efforts by delivering information used to:

  • Analyze key competitors to understand why you lose deals to them
  • Develop true differentiators that outsell competitors
  • Create compelling positioning and messages that turn others’ happy clients into your receptive buyers

Don’t let a “failure to communicate” on any level go unchecked. Learn what’s limiting your results. And let us know if we can get you started.

 

 

Mary Prevost Named Managing Director of SCHWEGMAN

Karen and I are pleased to announce that Mary Prevost has just been named Managing Director of SCHWEGMAN. In this new role, Mary will be spending more time with clients, sharing her wealth of talent, including developing marketing communications and public relations strategies, brand platforms, and content marketing initiatives.

Mary’s extensive B2B and B2C marcomm and PR experience is on the agency and client sides and includes strategic communication, content development, media relations, social media planning and execution, crisis communication, event planning, and internal communications/engagement.

Since joining SCHWEGMAN over a year and a half ago, Mary has proven to be a true leader, mentoring our team members and successfully managing client projects that drive exceptional results. We can’t say enough about Mary and are excited to have her take on this new challenge. More information about her is available on our company website at http://schwegmangroup.com/leadership/.

Jennifer

To Hire or Outsource? That is the PR Question.

Now that you’ve decided to embrace PR as part of your marketing communications mix, how do you know when to keep PR work in-house or outsource it? Here are some pros and cons of both:

In-house

  • An employee will devote every ounce of effort solely to your company.
  • Intellectual capital is preserved for later use.
  • One-man department limits professional expertise.
  • An onsite employee eliminates employee-to-contractor communication.
  • Internal resource provides greater budget control.
  • Creativity limited to accepted company thinking.

Outsourcing

  • Onboarding talent is easy with a contract that helps you avoid long-term risk of hiring an employee.
  • An agency that covers the full breadth of needs can help smooth out internal workload peaks and valleys.
  • A PR firm has broad experience with clients in many industries that can help determine what would work for your company.
  • Outsider perspective provides objectivity about products, fresh creative ideas, and new approaches that challenge, “This is the way we’ve always done it.”
  • Established media relationships make firms attractive sources for reporters working on stories and thus bonus opportunities for covering your company’s products and people.
  • Even when working with a large agency’s junior team members, you have access to their experienced superiors.
  • Boutique firms solely offering experienced talent are more agile than their larger counterparts and able to deliver projects more quickly.

Situation matters

Here are some additional factors to be considered in determining the viability of hiring, outsourcing, or blending the two:

  • Scope of your challenge –If you’re a small in-house team tasked with creating huge change, you probably need the experience and bandwidth of a PR firm.
  • Your culture –An agency’s ability to be an effective can be limited by a hyper-secretive culture. However, a non-disclosure agreement opens the door to share essential information for plotting communications. If your culture is exceptionally unique, dedicated in-house resources may make sense.
  • Your budget –Outsourcing gives you access to someone/team with more experience/depth than hiring someone for the same amount. A popular compromise is hiring a relatively junior in-house PR person and backing them up with a more experienced agency.

Best of both

There are many moving parts to a PR initiative – strategy development, media relations, social media, events, awards, content creation, product review programs, etc. The company person overseeing PR and the budget should determine which parts make sense to outsource and which should be handled in house. Some projects may merit employee ownership while others may be better off with external management. Even within a particular project, a small part may best be handled externally while the rest is managed internally.

A blend of internal and external resources is also desirable for delivering the control, convenience and continuity you may be looking for in your PR function.

Still up in the air about your decision? We’re happy to help you find clarity.

Are You Ready for PR?

You’re probably convinced that there are plenty of good reasons to add public relations to your marketing communications mix if you’re reading this. However, are you prepared for making PR a successful, long-term initiative that contributes significant results to marketing and sales? Get your head in the game with these tips:

Know all the ways PR works today. PR is much more than media relations (pitching stories on your behalf). You need to understand how media relations and PR related content (news releases, byline articles) integrate into your larger marketing/communications effort, i.e., prospect emails that include links to stories about your products, LinkedIn posts that link to stories.

Share your business and marketing goals. Have agencies and professionals sign a non-disclosure agreement, so you can feel comfortable sharing your goals in initial meetings. Any prospective provider of PR counsel will need access to your business plan, goals, communications assets, database, and metrics in order to develop a plan for you.

Align realistic expectations to your marketing goals in order to determine success. While you will spend money on your PR effort, you should expect a return on your investment. If leads and inquiries for sales is the only reason you’re investing in PR, stop. Your PR resource will provide perspective on the many ways to assess the value of PR results. But in the interest of establishing expectations right from the start, it is critical that you determine those metrics upfront to set expectations.

Be willing to invest time. PR will require your involvement or someone else’s on your team who is in the know. If you can’t commit to update your PR resource on a regular basis, you probably aren’t ready to hire a firm or an employee. What’s going on in your company is the grist that feeds the PR mill. You will also need to commit resources to talk with the media. No one knows your business as well as you, which is why journalists and influencers may want to talk with you. Your PR firm will create opportunities for those conversations, so be willing to participate.

Understand the risks/rewards. There are no guarantees that the content PR disseminates to position your brand/products in a favorable light will result in favorable coverage. PR is not based on guarantees. It opens up opportunities but unlike advertising, doesn’t provide control. A media pitch results in an interview, yet the client may not appear in the story. Editorial schedules may change, and stories may get bumped due to space.

Embrace new thinking. Challenging the status quo can be uncomfortable. But a fresh perspective can rejuvenate your marketing communications program. The media are especially interested in provocative content that disrupt conventional thinking. Your PR firm should provide story ideas that attract coverage.

Be patient. It won’t happen overnight. It may not even happen in 90 days, especially if you’ve never had a PR initiative. There are some foundational tactics that need to be done before actually starting media outreach. While your PR effort may need six months to take flight and deliver a return, start tracking metrics that will show whether or not you’re on the right path. 

Be responsive. Although last on this list, I can’t overemphasize this enough. Every story idea, pitch, press release or byline article requires your feedback. It’s important that you actually review ideas and drafts to make sure they are on the right track. Send a sample of your product to a publication or conduct a demo for a publication that asks for either. Make sure your spokesperson will grant an interview when a reporter asks for one as a follow up to a story pitch or news release. You’re paying for PR to open up opportunities, so make sure you take advantage of each one.

PR can power brand awareness and positive image building. Now that you’re well versed in the ups and downs and ins and outs of PR, you’re ready to check out options for getting started. A good place to begin is to visit our website www.schwegmancommunications.com.

 

How Much Should I Budget for Marketing?

What’s the first rule in determining your marketing budget? If you don’t know, congratulations, because there is no hard and fast rule. While 10 percent of revenue is a popular figure, budgeting should be a process that revolves around your company’s specific situation, goals and requirements.

According to one CMO survey published by the American Marketing Association and Duke University, the averages for marketing investment as a percentage of revenue by business type were:

  • B2B Product Businesses: 10.6%
  • B2B Service Businesses: 10.1%
  • B2C Product Businesses: 16.3%
  • B2C Service Businesses: 10.9%

There are many considerations for planning your marketing budget from ground zero. In addition to your projected gross revenue, your industry and business stage are primary considerations. Newer companies trying to build recognition for emerging brands among markets that don’t know them may need a larger budget. More established brands may require a smaller budget to maintain market familiarity. Many businesses allocate up to 3-5 percent of projected gross revenues for start-up marketing and 2-3 percent of actual or projected gross revenues for run-rate marketing.

Certainly underfunding marketing is a mistake, but proper budget allocation is just as crucial to ensure you cover key bases. First consider the two broad buckets—brand development through your website, blogs, sales collateral, etc. and promoting your business (campaigns, public relations, social media, advertising, events, etc.). Then home in on the specific areas contained in these buckets. The actual amount for each area depends on the age and size of your company, product goals, and reach (national, local, global). Your buckets may include the following:

  • Branding
  • Website
  • Social media
  • Public Relations
  • Advertising
  • Content Development
  • Events

Align Budget with Goals & Measure Results

Your budget allocation should align to your marketing plan, which explains how you are going to achieve marketing goals within a certain timeframe. The budget needs to be somewhat flexible for accommodating unplanned opportunities and needs, such as a lead-generation campaign to boost sagging sales or an event sponsorship. And while marketing plans should be created/updated annually at a minimum, launching a new product/service and changes in the market landscape changes (a frequent occurrence today) requires reassessment of a plan.

Don’t forget about a plan to measure how the activities you’ve budgeted for are impacting marketing goals. You may need to adjust your budget on the fly based on actual results, so stay on top of them monthly with readily available analytics including but not limited to:

  • How many product inquiries and sales leads were generated, and what is the potential value of those leads?
  • How many deals were closed and at what value?
  • How much did website visitor traffic grow? Did the number of page views and time spent on your website increase?
  • How many subscribers signed up for your blog? How many new Twitter followers did you add?

Budgeting for annual, semi-annual or even quarterly research into your target market helps ensure that budgeted activities are reaching and impacting them. The results of this effort are extremely helpful in allocating future budgets that are based on real market perception.

Determining and allocating your budget sets the stage for your success. We know what has worked for our clients. And we can help you create a communications plan that meets your budget and achieves your goals. So let’s talk. Call us at 651-247-6640.

Will “good old” values survive the new age of communications?

Will “good old” values survive the new age of communications? It’s a good question. Look around. Society encourages us to do more in less time—at home and at work. We teach our kids to mimic the behavior we abhor. We entice them with cell phones, video distractions in motor vehicles, and dinner accompanied by television— interferences that limit opportunities to engage future generations in dialog about life and the art of conversation.

At work we utilize new and engaging technology to do more faster. We label this “efficient”. We text peers about projects in the works while attending meetings about projects to come. We email, search Google, and post to social media while participating in webinars. We want immediate answers to our questions and want to skip the supporting material. The art of communication has given way to 140 characters and has superseded communicating clearly in importance.

I work with some pretty amazing people—smart and successful business professionals required to interact with a variety of people at all levels. However, as a communications professional, I find myself cringing at the lack of attention to professional courtesy, manners and I’m just going to say it…grammar. Our leaders of tomorrow can’t write and often come across as flippant, terse and even rude.

Now I know the new age of communications has forced its hand, and individuals are just trying to be efficient, but please. Does it take that much time to re-read an email and make sure words are spelled correctly and that it supports professional decorum?

This isn’t just a business phenomenon. It’s graduation time. My husband and I have received thank you notes from some pretty amazing kids that are getting ready to start the next phase of their lives. However, as we read the letters, it was apparent just how much we’re failing them. Riddled with grammar and spelling errors and rarely longer than two sentences, we were clobbered with insincerity and thoughtlessness. Perhaps it wasn’t meant that way, but people don’t remember what you say. They remember how you make them feel. Graduation thank you notes are early networking tools, with long lasting impressions.

I fear we’re raising a generation with high expectations that call for an immediate return on investment before actually putting in the hard work or effort. Is this realistic? Can we as a society support this? What we view as rude we excuse in our youth. We need to expect more from future generations. Civility and manners are important in communications. Let’s set a good example and encourage high standards.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Beware of Diluting Your Brand, One Post at a Time

Obsession with Selfies is just one example of a heightened awareness today around personal branding. It’s a force for guardians of company and product reputations to reckon with, including employers, marketing departments and public relations firms.

Read More.

Schwegman Communications Expands Media Relations and Strategic Brand and Product Marketing Talent Base to Meet Fast-Growing Demand for Services

MINNEAPOLIS, May 13, 2014—Schwegman Communications, a provider of comprehensive communications services that connect organizations with their markets, media, employees and shareholders, today announced that Elisabeth Grant and Meghan AuBuchon have joined its network of independent professionals to meet the needs of its fast-growing client list.

 

Grant has more than 20 years of experience providing marketing, PR, and media and analyst relations strategy services to clients across the U.S. Prior to becoming a consultant, she spent seven years at Fourth Shift (subsequently SoftBrands, now Infor), where she was responsible for media and industry analyst outreach as well as internal and external communications. Under her leadership, editorial coverage increased by 300%. Grant’s mix of agency and client-side experience, along with her deep roots in the IT and healthcare industries, brings a wealth of B2B and B2C experience to the Schwegman team.
A B2B and B2C strategic brand and product-marketing consultant, AuBuchon was previously vice president of marketing for Winland, where she drove the vision and execution of an organizational rebrand, product launch, channel and reseller sales programs, and go-to-market strategy for its transition to a SaaS-based service provider. As director of marketing communications for PeopleNet, AuBuchon initiated and led innovative market and customer communication programs that resulted in increase in industry exposure, in addition to a 37 percent leap in lead generation. She led the company into social media and elevated PeopleNet’s annual user conference to attract 1,000-plus customers, prospects, and trucking industry representatives, including media, government, and other product and service providers.

 

About Schwegman Communications

Schwegman’s aggressive communications strategies deliver visibility, versatility, and value through customized marketing, public relations, employee, and shareholder programs designed to meet business goals. Delivering compelling content through a variety of communications vehicles, Schwegman boosts brand awareness, and supports sales with effective positioning, publicity and promotion. For more information about Schwegman Communications, visit www.schwegmancommunications.com or call 651-247-6640.

12 Things to Expect from a PR Firm

Ragan’s PR Daily put out a list of qualities that you should expect from your PR firm so I thought it was worth sharing with all of you. Do you agree? Feel free to challenge or add your own ideas. We would love to hear from you.

From Ragan’s PR Daily (Posted January 25, 2013):

Here are some important qualities you should expect form an agency that is committed to your success. You need an agency that:

1. Owns the process. You want an agency that will never say, “Well, we sent you the guidelines for the Forbes contributed article three months ago and never heard back.” Your agency should be a professional nagger—they should never let you be the reason for a missed deadline.

2. Pushes back. You are hiring a PR firm for its expertise, so find one that provides firm recommendations. If your account team is constantly nodding their heads and yessing you, there is a problem. The success of your PR program requires a team leader who can adamantly say no in the face of tough scrutiny when something just won’t work.

3. Knows when to give in. There are times when other company goals, such as sales campaigns, take priority over PR (for example, when a sales team is under the gun to meet quarterly goals and needs to push out a direct email campaign in advance of the press release). Your PR firm should tell you the optimal plan for getting great media coverage, but should also accept it when PR is not at the top of the list.

4. Makes it happen. Only clients should have the luxury of asking big questions without offering solutions, such as, “How can we maximize our attendance at an upcoming trade show?” Good PR firms know that the right response is a list of viable options, not more questions.

5. Surprises you with unexpected and creative ideas. Your PR firm should march to the beat of the PR plan, but they should also bring you unexpected and creative ideas. This demonstrates that they are paying active attention. Only intellectually hungry people will tie the right pieces together to make you relevant in a way that matters to the press.

6. Owns mistakes. If your agency needs to be right all of the time, it’s a problem. You need an agency that abides by the rules of crisis PR (even when the crisis is a very small one): tell it all, truthfully, and tell it now. This takes confidence and humility, but it is the sign of a great communicator.

7. Hustles. Look for an agency that is pushing you, not the other way around.

8. Writes well. Content marketing has changed PR forever. Adequate press release writing skills are no longer enough. You need an agency that can sift through mountains of information, zero in on the interesting angle, and ghost author an article for your spokesperson. Ask for samples, and look at the agency’s blog.

9. Listens intently. PR people are renowned great talkers. We need to be. However, we need to know how to listen, too. You need a PR agency full of the kind of analytical and open minds that can scan the conversation for points of interest, drive the discussion toward them and relate them to your broader industry.

10. Empathizes. You need a PR agency team that can imagine what it’s like to be you. What pressures do you face internally, from your board, from competitors, others? Is PR central to your role or tangential? Coincidentally, this skill also makes PR people great at media relations—we must imagine what it’s like to be each reporter if we have a prayer of selling a story.

11. Navigates options and contingencies like an attorney. There are many decisions we must make along the winding route between the pitch and the placement. You need an agency that understands the media landscape—which outlets (and journalists) compete, which reporters require exclusives, which ones care about embargoes, and which angles will compel coverage.

Sifting through these and responding appropriately when an embargo is broken or an exclusive falls through tests the skills of the best PR professionals, so make sure you have a team that can bend gracefully when a critical relationship is at stake, and hold firm when your company goals require it.

12. Thick skin. PR people sit in the middle of two constituents whose goals are not always aligned: the media and our clients. Finding the common ground that creates successful outcomes for both requires an ability to handle discord well.

Visibility. Versatility. Value. Schwegman customers talk about how they are achieving a piece of the visibility pie.