Sunday, August 13, 2006

Getting the Biggest Bang from Your Advertising

I'm going to let you in on something really interesting I learned a while back when having a discussion with a former ad sales rep and good friend of mine.

Here it is: It is very possible to advertise your organization in major publications at a fraction of the cost you may think!

One trick to use is monitoring the times when a given publication is printed. Did you know that newspaper and magazine sales reps don't always meet their weekly or daily quotas?

When this happens, they cannot go back to the publisher with empty spots in the publication. Having personally known sales reps for several newspapers, I've seen examples where even half-page full colour display ads have gone to small businesses at half price! All of this happened simply because the sales rep needed to fill in a page of the paper at the last minute. Given the choice, an editor would prefer to give away a steal than be robbed of any revenue at all!

However, this is not something that can be arranged all of the time. Beyond the obvious route of hiring a marketing professional to monitor and negotiate the best deals for you, the key here is...you guessed it:


As with PR, take time to invest in your contact building. It all pays off in the end. Please leave me your comments and let me know what you think.

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly PR & marketing tips newsletter by visiting www.actionstrategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.

Using Blog PR to Promote Your Website

Bloggers mold and shape the opinions of their readers, who are normally the most important in their particular industry, many of whom are also bloggers. Not long after a post from an influential blogger, your news has been picked up by several other bloggers and within days you are all over the blogsphere. Before you know it your site is getting more attention than it would if a story ran in the local newspaper! So how do you get the influential bloggers in your industry to run a story about your business?

Why Would Anyone Do a Story About Your Business?
Are you a new company? Did you just launch a new product that they could review? Did your business wín an award? Are you a group of college kids who started a company on savings from your summer jobs? You get the idea. There needs to be a reason that someone would want to read about you. Bloggers take pride in the content they feed their readers. You don't stand a chance of getting a blogger to write about you if you don't have a story that their readers will be interested in.

Research Bloggers in Your Industry
More is less when it comes to contacting bloggers. Buy a list of 1,000 bloggers and send out a generic email to all of them and you'll likely get no response. But send a small amount of personalized emails to the appropriate bloggers and you'll be shocked at how many positive responses you get.

The first step is to make a list of the bloggers that would be interested in your story. You can generally get a feel for whether or not a blogger would be interested in your story by reading a couple of posts and checking out their bio. If they've done a few similar stories in the past or they are heavily involved in your industry, there is a good chance they'll want to hear your story. If not, leave them off your list and move on.

The single best method that I have found to research blogs is the Technorati Blog Directory. You can peruse blogs in your industry in order of "authority" - how important Technorati thinks a blog is. This is extremely useful. For example, if you are in the travel industry, you can view a list of the most influential blogs in the world of travel.

Another great way to find the right bloggers is to search through your competitors press sections on their websites to see what blogs have mentioned them. You can also find out who has mentioned your competitors by looking at the sites that have linked to them (type in "links:www.theirsite.com" on Yahoo!). There's a good chance that if they found your competitors story interesting, they'll find your story interesting as well.

Compose Your Email
The best way to contact bloggers is by email. The good news is that most bloggers make themselves easy to access and provide their email addresses on their blogs. The bad news is that most people don't know what to do with said email address once they get it. Use the following outline for your email and you'll see amazing results:

  • Have a simple subject. You probably won't get many responses by treating your email like a press release and writing RELEASE in the subject line. Try something simple like "fan of your blog" or "comment about your blog." You want to make sure they actually read your email and don't mentally mark it as spam when they see the subject.

  • Start by complementing them. Since you've read their blog and learned about them from their bio, you know quite a bit about them. Use it to your advantage. Compliment them on your favorite post, or how cool it is that they worked for XYZ company.

  • Request them to post about you (be direct). In three sentences or less, tell them your story, why you think it would be of interest to them and their readers, and respectfully ask that they write a post about it. Be direct and to the point. They will respect that.

  • Offer something in return. You have something that could help them. Maybe it's a link back to their blog from your personal blog, or maybe you could provide them with a free product or service that could help them or their business. One way or another, there's something you have to offer them in return for the time spent on a post about you.

  • Close with something nice. Thank them for their time and wish them luck with their blog and/or business ventures.

Notice that of the five components of the email, only one is about your story. The rest of the email is spent complimenting them and offering them something. Your chances of getting a positive response have just gone through the roof. Every blogger, no matter how large, likes to hear that people are enjoying their posts.

Respond Promptly and Respectfully
Not everyone is going to agree to run your story. Some will say that they don't do that type of thing or that they don't have time. Since you have been so nice as to compliment them, they will still usually reply either way. Regardless of the response, be sure to thank them for their time and wish them luck with their ventures. You nevër know when they will encounter someone who needs your product or service in the future (remember, they are in your industry) and if they have a positive image of you and your company they will undoubtedly give you a good recommendation.

Sit Back and Watch the Traffíc Roll In
Over the course of the next few weeks you will see post after post appear about your business. Be sure to send another thank you email to the blogger after the post and also be sure to promptly provide whatever you offered them in return. At this point you have developed a mutually beneficial relationship with someone important in your industry that can become invaluable over time.
That wasn't that hard was it? With a little research and a carefully crafted email, any business can effectively use blog PR to drive traffíc to their site.

About The Author
Adam McFarland owns iPrioritize - simple to-do lists that can be edited at any time from any place in the world.


Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly PR & marketing tips newsletter by visiting www.actionstrategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.

Avoiding the Pitfalls in Municipal Lobbying

Guy W. Giorno
Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP
(September 27, 2005)

Note: An edited version of this commentary appeared in The Globe and Mail, September 27, 2005, p. A19, beneath the headline, “Register this: It takes two to lobby”

The judicial inquiry into Toronto’s MFP fiasco has produced sensible advice, not just for Ontario’s largest city, but for municipal governments across the country.

For example, Madam Justice Denise Bellamy’s report in the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry contains welcome recommendations to establish a municipal lobbyist registry and a code of conduct for those lobbying civic officials.

Toronto’s official response is that it wants to establish a lobbyist registry, but lacks sufficient authority under provincial legislation. Pointing its municipal finger at the Ontario government, city council claims that it is otherwise unable to require disclosure of who lobbies whom.

As usual in cases of buck-passing, the reality is somewhat grey. Certainly the provincial government should introduce legislation permitting municipalities to create full-blown lobbyist registries and to regulate the activities of professional advocates. (Quebec is currently the only province with a law providing for lobbyist registration at the municipal level.) In the meantime, however, Toronto and other cities are far from helpless. There is much they can already do if they are sincere about making lobbying transparent and accountable.

It takes two to lobby: an advocate to make representations and a public servant to listen. Civic officials always have the right to refuse access to lobbyists who won’t play by certain rules. They don’t need provincial legislation to do so.

For example, some Toronto councillors make lobbyists sign a log before accepting their visits. The registers of lobbyist visits are turned over to the city clerk’s office, where they are available to the public.

It’s a simple system: unless the lobbyist signs in, he or she cannot speak to the councillor. The shortcoming of the Toronto model is that this process is voluntary -- voluntary for councillors.

Even though Toronto councillors voted overwhelmingly to create the lobbyistsregistry, only a tiny handful of them make lobbyists register their activities. There are 45 members of Toronto’s city council. Last month only one of them submitted a lobbyist log. In August only two councillors participated.

The record of Toronto’s mayor is little better. David Miller has filed lobbyist logs exactly twice: in January and February 2003. This was before he became mayor and, in fact, before his mayoral campaign gathered steam.

As chief magistrate, Mr. Miller has chosen not to file lobbyist logs with the city clerk. Nor does he make lobbyists sign in upon entering his office. Who meets whom there is undisclosed.

Nonetheless, municipal lobbyists routinely meet with staff in the Toronto mayor’s office and various lobbyists have taken clients to meet Mr. Miller himself. I spoke to several lobbyists who confirmed that this occurs.

Toronto’s mayor vividly boasted about opening the front doors to citizens and padlocking the back doors to private interests, but contact with lobbyists continues.
That in itself is unobjectionable. Lobbying is easily maligned but does not threaten our democracy so long as the process is transparent. Few would deny the fundamental importance of allowing citizens, interest groups, trade unions and businesses to present their positions to government. This democratic right is rooted in the Magna Carta, which confirmed the right of nobles to seek redress of grievances, and the 1689 Bill of Rights which declared “That it is the right of the subjects to petition the King ...”

What the public interest requires is to make lobbying open and to shed light on representations to government. That is the laudable theory behind Toronto’s voluntary lobbyists registry, even if the participation rate is execrable.

Municipalities can take three immediate steps to make lobbying transparent.

First, they should create lobbyist registries. While the ideal registry is mandatory, in most places that would require provincial legislation. In the meantime, even a voluntary system should be sufficient to secure the participation of elected officials. Every councillor sincere about the process ought to cooperate already.

Councils then should make the lobbyist information readily available. In this day and age, that means posting the registry’s content on the Web. Toronto’s logs are stored in a 12th floor office and are accessible only by personal inspection. It is almost as if access has intentionally been made difficult.

A further, obvious reform would be to instruct municipal employees to record all their dealings with lobbyists. These records, too, would be filed with the clerk and publicly available. No provincial legislation would be required, and a council could enact this policy almost immediately. The only requirement is the political will to make lobbying open and transparent.

Toronto’s voluntary lobbyists registry is a model that Canadian municipalities should emulate. The unfortunate caveat is that other cities and towns should do as Toronto’s mayor and councillors say, not as Toronto’s elected reprentatives do.

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting www.action-strategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.

Solid Research Builds Success in Government Relations

Background research really is the foundation in lobbying success. However, before beginning any campaign, the savvy lobbyist puts their efforts behind solid research.

Some of the most common themes I include in environmental scans prior to beginning a government relations campaign include:

Section 1: Current Substantive Goals
Although your organization may have formulated and ratified its goals explicitly, restating them briefly in priority order is important because they constitute the audit's base. It is very important that any misunderstandings or differences of opinion about the goals be brought out. "Substantive" refers to tangible action - specific behaviors - that are sought.

Section 2: Target Publics And Desired Behavior
Elicitation of specific behavior is the key behind any government relations’ strategy. Rigorously defined and listed in priority order, those groups of policy influencers who can help the organization achieve its substantive goals, and the precise actions that the organization wants these people - both internal and external - to take (or to NOT take).

Section 3: Attitudes/Opinions/Beliefs of Target Publics
This section reviews what is currently known of an organization and what is currently being undertaken in the policy arena of interest. It is likely that available information will be insufficient, and the good amount of work in research by interview will be required.

Section 4: Messages To Be Conveyed To Target Publics
This section discusses the organization's present and prospective government relations’ messages for its ability to produce an effect, and its acceptability by the target publics. It also identifies which targets in government apparatus are most open to a given message.

Section 5: Overall policy environment review and other notices
This section identifies the coming trends to watch. It may also go into the specific pieces of legislation, private members’ bills, and various departments that are on the leading edge of the issue at hand.

Section 6: Measuring And Reporting Results
This section recommends any baseline research deemed important, so that an organization can measure the results of any coming government relations’ efforts. Recommend ways to report both the results and the measurements to its management and leadership.

Section 7: Budget
This section estimates the costs of the programs discussed in the preceeding sections, and compares them to the organization's present and prospective government relations’ budgets. If necessary, it suggests ways in which the two can be reconciled.

Section 8: Staffing and Other Implementation (optional)
This section recommends possible avenues of implementing the plans discussed in the previous sections - including the existing arrangement, possible staff additions, reliance on out-sources, and working relationships between any proposed communications staff and the rest of the organization.

Depending on the needs of a given campaign, this study can be shorter or even include other items. So the question remains; where are you positioned? Let me know your opinions by leaving your comments here. Do you think this plan serves the basis for good government relations?


Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting www.action-strategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.