I love the NCAA basketball tournament. And it’s not because our office hosts a pool and I almost won the pot. I love it because it is a storyteller’s heaven.
As the games progress, there are countless compelling tales that emerge on a nightly basis. Cinderella stories, unlikely heroes and last-second heroics, heartstring tuggers, and huge upsets and surprises around every court’s corner.
Including the easily marked antagonists who delivered questionable officiating, the protagonists delivered buzzer beaters and races to the finish. Like most years, the 2013 National Championship games delivered a slam-dunk compelling story.
The same could and should be said of your annual meetings. Tell your stories as they progress during the week. Of course, you have the necessary and predictable headliners. But you also could have stories about those sessions or exhibitors who pull some rabbit out of their hats, dazzling suddenly standing room-only audiences.
Your members and attendees are just as ravenous for fascinating stories; why shouldn’t they be? Their professions are their passions. Cash in on that. Reveal those untold stories. Involve them in the unfolding events as they happen. Add the people perspectives. Give a behind-the-scenes view. It makes your event all the more memorable.
It’s what gets your audience talking to their colleagues about their trips to your meetings, just like a trip to the Final Four. It makes your event worth coming back to year after year.
Speaking of which, I can’t wait until next year’s March Madness. My colleague Emily beat me in the pool by one game. You can bet I’m coming back next year. Look out, Emily.
Custom publishing, custom content, content marketing. By any descriptive term one chooses, custom media is in style, growing and amazingly effective. Countless research studies in both consumer and B2B markets unquestionably confirm it.
And this high-quality, reader-friendly and engaging information is popping up in every imaginable medium. And yes, that includes plenty of print as well.
This custom content trend is so compelling, it warranted a full-page editorial in the Dec. 12, 2012, issue of The Wall Street Journal. The article features the amazing video work being done by a number of high-profile consumer companies including Proctor and Gamble, Budweiser and Red Bull, among others. Let’s take a look at some of these custom-content purveyors.
From my perspective, the most aggressive and innovative in the use of custom content as branding and customer engagement tools today is Red Bull. Who did not see at least once, if not a dozen times, the breathtaking 128,000-foot free-fall jump made by Felix Baumgartner? Most do not know that the custom-content buildup for the actual jump started months in advance through Red Bull’s slick print magazine and its completely interactive tablet version of the magazine. If you have a tablet and you have not downloaded The Red Bulletin, it’s time to do it. The company featured several stories — in print, photography, rich media and video — in issues leading up to the actual jump. The post-jump December tablet issue was arguably the best issue to date.
Then, of course, the actual jump was streamed live on their website. The epitome of fully integrated custom media.
Proctor and Gamble
With its decades-old tradition of sponsoring soap operas and even The People’s Choice Awards, Proctor and Gamble is another noted custom content creator. Talk about customer engagement. How many millions have been addicted to their soap operas throughout the years?
Probably one of the most spectacular custom content programs is one that surprisingly few people actually think of as what it is: the Victoria’s Secret live fashion show on network television every December. It is pure infotainment and quite literally a live catalog and one-hour blatant ad for the company and its products. And everybody loves it.
The granddaddy of all custom content is, again, one that few actually see as a purveyor of custom content: the phenomenally successful Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for-TV movies that have been running for more than 50 years. The Hallmark folks are masters at their craft. No one has the formula down better when it comes to endearing themselves to customers, building their brand and creating customer engagement through the use of relevant custom content.
Kansas City-based agencies
Here in the Kansas City market, several companies lead the way in custom content. Not surprisingly, they are executing their custom media initiatives through print. A high-end jeweler does an annual magalog that is gorgeous, high gloss, entertaining and a highly effective sales tool. All while reinforcing the elite image and brand of the store.
Similarly, a car dealer selling premium automobiles executes the same custom publishing concept through an entertaining and educational quarterly magazine.
A hip and trendy locally owned men’s and women’s clothing boutique creates spring and fall catalogues with beautiful covers that make them collectors’ items and coffee-table books. The contents mix a blend of fashion trends and items from its clothing line. Interestingly, its target market is 20-something millennials. Surprised? As the father of three millennials, I am not. This generation still loves and reads print. My daughter makes it a point to have this catalog out as a form of home decor all year long.
Examples in print, digital and mobile media on a national level and a local level are everywhere. Sometimes where we least expect it or where it is so obvious that we do not even notice that is company-generated content. The most amazing thing is, people accept it — and most often — love it.
What other types of unique custom content have you noticed?
By Eric Jacobson, Vice President, Media Development
Engaging your meeting attendees with smartphone apps, text messaging, tablets, live streaming, video and other electronic technologies is becoming increasingly popular.
But most meetings haven’t abandoned their print materials completely. And there’s good reason not to.
Recent research across the more than 50 association conferences and meetings with which we partner reveals that attendees, primarily in the health care industry, still engage with print materials. Even while they also are engaging with the newly introduced apps, texting messaging and other electronic offerings.
Here are the facts. Note the frequency “old-fashioned” sharing of printed materials that’s going on:
• 72 percent of attendees surveyed find pre-meeting planner content helpful in planning their meeting experience.
• 52 percent of respondents share their pre-meeting planner copy with their colleagues.
• 63 percent of respondents share their meeting daily newspaper copy with their colleagues.
• 78 percent of attendees find an association-provided city guide useful in navigating the meeting host city and for planning activities.
• 78 percent of attendees want to receive symposia-related preview information either before the meeting or on-site.
Our research also shows that:
• 33 percent of attendees visit a booth in response to an advertisement in printed materials.
• Exhibitors who advertise attract 55 percent more attendees than exhibitors who do not advertise.
Going green, engaging electronically and staying current certainly are all important. But, don’t give up on print. Print still has its place at your meeting. It’s still an effective method for engaging with your attendees.
And, to make your print materials increasingly eco-friendly:
• Used recycled paper.
• Move some of the content online that becomes accessible via QR codes in your printed materials.
• Place presentation/workshop/seminar papers and handouts in a virtual tote bag.
Finally, the key is delivering the right mix of electronic and print.
What are the print materials you believe are the most important for your meeting?
Did you know that the word ketchup is thought to have been derived from the Cantonese word kechap. Kechap, like today’s ketchup, was a sauce, but one without tomatoes. It used to contain fish brine, herbs and spices. From China, sailors are thought to have taken kechap to Europe and sometime in the intervening years, tomatoes were added, as were a number of different spellings, including catsup. Great little nugget to have in your arsenal at the next slow cocktail party. It also is just one of the many nuggets of background you can glean from a dictionary.
This week, the newest edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language was released. In my humble opinion, it is the best dictionary out there. Besides thorough and current words and definitions, it also includes all sorts of terrific information about history, usage notes, synonyms and references. Plus as far as dictionaries go, it is well-designed and even beautiful.
According to the dictionary’s editor: “There is nothing quite like the experience of thumbing through a dictionary, exploring its pages, jumping from one entry to the next.”
I tend to agree. I know that some of my colleagues laugh when I pull out my print edition. They simply use their online references.
In keeping up with modern technology, the publisher is taking the extra step of adding a free download of the e-version for iPad, iPhone, iPod or Android smartphone platforms, included with the purchase of the print dictionary. Now you can access it all, including the 10,000 new words and definitions, in this 2,084-page, 7.5-pound compendium in print and on the go.
Perhaps my enthusiasm for the English language stems from my chosen profession. But I also believe that as Americans, we owe it to ourselves to be good stewards of our chosen language. And that involves using it properly. Admittedly, everyone isn’t going to flock to the local Barnes and Noble and purchase this heavyweight reference. But now you can enjoy the entire dictionary at your fingertips anywhere, in any place.
You can just call me a style hawk. Not the kind of style hawks as Steven "Cojo" Cojocaru and Carson Kressley. The former may have the Entertainment Tonight world and the latter may have Carson Nation, but I am fighting for a tribe.
The style I am speaking of relates to the written word, which is becoming a bit of a lost art. Blogging may have encouraged amateur writers to voice their opinions and uncovered some hidden talents. But it also has brought some of the most atrocious writing and writing habits to the fore.
Most publications follow specific style rules established by major media entities. For instance, there is AP Style, Chicago’s Style as well as The New York Times Manual of Style. Most business press follows the rules set forth by the Associated Press. The benefit of AP Style is the prevalence of it in the media. The majority of publishers adhere to it, making it an easier and more familiar read for your audience.
Why is style important?
Today’s readers are busy and have limited time. Think about the difference in reading a book by an American author versus a Scandinavian author. I remember it took me a few chapters to adapt to Stieg Larsson’s cadence and flow. Admittedly, part of it related to tracking the various characters: Berger, Bjurman and Blomkist. Before the characters were fully developed, I couldn’t remember who was a good guy or bad. And Larsson’s writing style could — at times — bog you down with seemingly meaningless background.
Aside from enhancing readability, adhering to a style creates a tighter product overall. For instance, do you hyphenate decision-maker, or is it one word or two? Without style, we could feature it all three ways in a single article. It is not actually wrong any of those ways. What is wrong is spelling it differently each time you face it. The reader may not readily notice it, but it will cause them to pause just a nanosecond.
Another example that may trip up readers is lengthy sentences. Sometimes, sentences of more than 35 or 40 words can’t be avoided. (I have read some medical journals that would give any editor pause.) However, the longer the sentence, the greater the chance that you will 1) confuse your reader, 2) miscommunicate your desired message or 3) simply lose them because they can’t figure out what the heck is going on between the periods.
Style is like putting the finishing touches on an outfit. The basic pieces are there — credible facts, proper English — but adding just a touch of bling will make your article more polished. Checking it for consistent style in usage, grammar and punctuation makes a good article great.
Tonight, I am attending a benefit in which Cojo is the featured guest. Visually, he certainly could point out my fashion fas paux, but with the written word, I will be more refined.
What kind of style guide do you follow for your content marketing pieces?
In many ways I am an old-fashioned girl. I still adore print — reading a good book by the lake, making notes in the margins. However, by day, I am in the convention publishing business, and my world is about content in print and so much more. I am always tracking and monitoring reader behavior.
I was pleased to discover recent research findings from GfK MRI about print consumption. GfK MRI is the country’s leading provider of magazine audience ratings and multimedia research and the company reports that adult owners of tablets and e-readers also are big consumers of print magazines and newspapers.
In fact, American tablet owners are 66 percent more likely than the average adult to be avid readers of printed magazines, while those who own e-readers are 23 percent more likely to be avid magazine-readers. The study also reports that digital-device owners are more likely than the average adult to be avid newspaper readers — tablet owners 54 percent more likely and e-reader owners 63 percent more likely.
So when people ask me — and they frequently do — if print is dead, these stats certainly say it is not. There is too much focus on what is “dead,” rather than what is being added in terms of technology and delivery channels that really enhance our lives.
While print is still very much alive and appropriate, it is clear to me that we have entered the age of the incredible content wonderland where nearly any content consumption experience can be developed and delivered. Imagine that. I’ll always have affection for print, but I cannot deny the delight with some of these technologically enhanced digital content consumption tools that have added so much richness. This old-fashioned girl is in awe.
For example, recently I had the opportunity to review a new product being introduced at an upcoming convention whereby the classic meeting notebook has been enhanced. (Gotta love those old standby meeting guides.) Well, this one has been transformed into an interactive social notebook that will be used on-site at a conference to connect with colleagues and exchange ideas throughout and following the meeting.
This neat notebook — whether in print or digital form — provides for note-taking capability, gives twitter tips to facilitate using hashtags to follow convention conversations as well as a quick how-to-follow colleagues after the conference is over. QR codes allow quick entry into various communities. A YouTube feature allows attendees to view photos, upload convention videos or watch videos of new products/innovations being showcased at the meeting. Other features on the digital version make it easy to stay connected to the event, colleagues and thought leaders, even after the convention is over. So much can be offered in the digital version — it seems limitless. Print has its place, but as I see more and more, it needs — and benefits from ¬— these complementary digital channels.
How do we maintain a positive and meaningful reader experience? Well as I see it, it boils down to knowing how to effectively integrate print, digital and mobile. In my mind it takes a sort of technological and content-creation genius. One who understands your market and what enhancements will make content dynamic, appealing and valuable to your consumer. There are more wonderful options on our content-delivery menu than ever before.
So, how do you pick and combine the right options effectively? It was and still is all about asking the right questions:
• Do you understand the differences in developing and presenting content in print, digital and mobile models?
• Do you have access to stats that illustrate the best path to do this?
• What are the most effective bells and whistles available to you and how will you measure them?
If you do not have this capability in-house, find a vendor who can answer these questions. Take it from an old-fashioned girl — the time to do this is now.
How will you maximize and synchronize all the fabulous content channels and enter this new era of incredible, engaging custom content?
After two years of aggressively trying new forms ofeNewletters for a variety of clients, here are eight fool-proof tips to incorporate in your custom email program. Ultimately, remember that your email program has a life. You need to mix things up. Engage your audience in meaningful ways. Bump up those open and click-through rates.
1. A-B-C, 1-2-3. Much like print counterparts, readers have proved that they love numbered lists. “6 Ways to Get a Promotion,” “10 Steps to a Healthier Life,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” etc. Use numbers regularly and highlight them in your headlines.
2. Dress it up. Include graphic elements. It helps to break up the gray text. This makes it a more enjoyable read.
3. Short and sweet. Keep headlines short. Punch them up. You have about a millisecond to capture the attention of the scanning reader. Don’t waste it by publishing a 30-word headline. Be creative and clever.
4. Unleash your inner detective. Constantly dig into your metrics. Consistently investigate which subject lines create an increase in open rates, which headlines effect a click-through. Try different action words in subject lines and headlines. Mix up the content. If you typically focus on features, throw in an occasional case study.
5. Just the facts, ma’am. This is not the forum to write grand manifestos. Write succinctly, but be informative and provide must-have information.
6. Create urgency. You want your eNewsletter to stand out from the hundreds of emails that your readers receive in a day. Make sure your news or features are need-to-have, not nice-to-have information.
7. Ask for feedback. Ask your readers what they think of the information you are providing. Ask them what they would find helpful.
8. Split runs. Split your email list and try different subject lines to see which ones resonate with your audience.
Infotainment and churnalism are on a collision course that will annihilate and forever change the face of true journalistic endeavors.
A category of news information presented in a manner intended to be entertaining, infotainment possibly originated as documentaries that tried to cover a subject in a fully engaging and educational manner. However, if you watch the Academy Awards, rarely do any percentage of people recognize the nominees for documentaries.
Hence, with more entertainment values, documentaries evolved into docu-dramas and virtual re-enactments. And these days, it seems that any hard news has been replaced by the softest of news angles about the inadequacies and private habits of big names and movie stars.
How many times in the last two years has Hollywood bawdiness masqueraded as true news and even trumped important news developments as the lead?
Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson and most recently Charlie Sheen have all scored front-page headlines, trumping truly worthwhile U.S. and world events.
I am not sure how infotainment got its foot in the door — although like reality shows, its infamy wouldn’t be as entrenched if we, the adoring public, weren’t clamoring for it, or at least secretly soaking up every last episode.
Are we a public weary of the litany of insanity, bad behavior, lies and half-truths from purported world leaders? Is our response to cling to bad behavior coming from Hollywood rather than from real people? Or has infotainment gained its notoriety due to the sorry state of the world — we’ve just begun sucking in the lives of the rich and famous, if only to reassure ourselves that wealth and fame doesn’t guarantee a better life.
Churnalism is a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking.
The culture of churnalism has escalated dangerously since its first reference back in the 1920s. Unlike then, daily newspapers are dropping like flies, due in large part to a beleaguered economy and an underperforming print advertising market. The few journalistic newspapers that remain standing are woefully understaffed (down nearly 30 percent in personnel) who are expected to churn out tomes of content while only earning a few cents a word.
This situation is fueling a cut-and-paste use of press releases and other forms of PR to create and publish what now qualifies as news. And hence hard news is beginning to fade from view, except perhaps from purely academic endeavors.
I try to support what few vestiges remain of true, thinking-person’s news in the form of my local city paper and the New York Times. Over a recent Sunday breakfast, I was savoring an in-depth feature outlining how President Obama’s U.S. and world strategy was composed of few words, to the point of providing nothing to report on. The story in essence suggested it was part of his strategy not to get caught up in partisan games. Really? I thought it was because those stories got bumped to page 5 in favor of the breaking news story about Rush Limbaugh’s caloric critique of Michelle Obama’s barbecue dinner.
I love circus acts in which performers spin plates on pinpoint pedestals and candelabras. These skilled performers add plates, all the while running back to the earlier candidates to give them another spin on their perches. It clearly is challenging — something for which you have to look backward, look forward, but stay focused on the current plate. Otherwise, a plate somewhere along the line crashes to the floor, breaks your concentration and leads to others falling.
Balancing your communications between print, digital, social and mobile is a similar feat. You have to feed content into all of your channels in order to effectively serve the readers who look to each to feed their informational needs whether they are at your event, at home, in their offices or in travel mode.
Yet, there are associations that line up the four plates ands get them spinning, only to ignore one channel for an event cycle or otherwise disengage. For example, one association created a wonderful website that featured all sorts of content and functionality. In its premiere event season, its performance metrics were stellar. Yet in its second season, it didn’t support the website with links from eBlasts or other efforts to drive traffic. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the once record-breaking metrics plummeted.
Although this example focuses on digital, all of your communication channels need ample attention. A print product such as a daily or directory may have a limited distribution for only those attendees on-site. This distribution plan should include multiple distribution points throughout the site venue. Empty bins or missed hotel-room drops equate to dropped plates.
These print products also should feed information to the digital and mobile products such as websites and eBlasts. These products have a much broader reach. Just as print feeds digital, your websites, eBlasts and mobile should drive traffic deeper into the association’s offerings and encourage more clicks and time spent.
Social media is yet another channel that requires care and feeding. Most of our associations actively support and populate Twitter for their events, with promotion of their LinkedIn and/or Facebook in related literature and digital pushes. Some even push Flickr and Delicious. Yet, it means nothing to feature and link those icons if you are not going to provide meaningful posts. Only meaningful posts will encourage participation from the audience. As associations keep this social media plate spinning, their audiences then can lend a hand to keep it from getting wobbly.
Clearly, content-driven communication products do not thrive with a “build it and they will come” mentality. They need new and refreshed content. They require comprehensive audience development and distribution plans that effectively tie all of the products together.
The real excitement of spinning plates comes as all of the plates spin in concert with one another. The watchful performer moves fluidly from plate to plate adding another spin or two, and perhaps another plate. And the real payoff is an audience that rewards the performance efforts by staying engaged.
What tactics are you using to make sure your "plates" are spinning in unison?
To the many tasked with communicating their company’s message, the act of writing — and in turn creating compelling content — must seem like conjuring witchcraft spells where the right combination of words and phrases will produce the desired effect. Some communicators believe stacking up adjectives is as good as adding an extra bay leaf and lizard eyelashes to the prose potion. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I recently ran across a Wall Street Journal column addressing this same issue, titled “Block That Adjective.”Alexander McCall Smith, author of some 60 books including the “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series, bemoaned the adjective crutch that many writers lean too heavily upon.
“For some people, being able to use all these words is rather like being faced with a chocolate box with multiple layers; the temptation to overindulge is just too great. The result is the use of too many adjectives, adverbs and subsidiary clauses. Such writing then becomes contrived.”
He blames Roget “and his wretched thesaurus.”
Likewise, novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon, tells the story of a writer’s first newspaper gig in The Angel’s Game. In the novel, he describes the main character’s encounter with his first editor … “a forbidding man with a bushy mustache who did not suffer fools and who subscribed to the theory that the liberal use of adverbs and adjectives was the mark of a pervert or someone with a vitamin deficiency.”
Creating content that results in a desired action or engagement by the audience demands that you effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas. Concisely expressing your message to ensure it is received and understood demands limited usage of extraneous adjectives and phrases.
Good content requires good writing. Good writing is actually the judicious use of all words, including adjectives, to gain maximum impact. Good writers know when to use or avoid certain words. Many communicators working to create content think the longer the sentence, the smarter their message sounds. In fact, they would be better off consulting a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.
A friend of mine recently was terrorized by the thought of going through an English composition class when she returned to college for a new degree. Her first assignment — to write about something that happened the previous week — nearly undid her. She stressed in front of her computer screen for so long her writer’s block was even gathering dust.
Finally, she begged me for help. I asked about her intended subject, a bland topic she obviously had zero passion for, let alone interest in. It showed in the few lines she had strung together with a healthy dose of adjectives as the glue.
I knew the previous week she had undergone a series of doctors’ appointments after an unusual mammogram finding. I suggested that she write about that experience. Thirty minutes later, she had finished her composition and emailed me her first draft. It communicated an idea. It was genuine. And she clearly cared about the subject. Her copy was original, clever and concise. In fact, it was nearly perfect.
Adjectives? Sure, she used a few, but only when describing the coldness of the machinery and the diagnostic technician.
Creating content that communicates effectively is not an easy task. But, it’s important to remember that adding unnecessary adjectives takes you farther from your goal, not closer.
What other hurdles are causing you trouble in effectively communicating to your audience?
I finally boarded my Southwest Flight 1327 from Denver to San Francisco, after more than an hour’s delay. Once on board, I settle into my seat for the two-hour trip. Midway, I got up to stretch my legs. Strolling the narrow aisles, I was amazed at the sheer number and diversity of content delivery methods being employed by the other 130 passengers.
Seat 4D was reading a book on a Kindle. Seat 18B was scrolling through some information on a Motorola Droid. Seat 10A was searching for some information on her iPad. Countless seatmates were reading or creating content on their MACs and PCs, and nearly one-fourth of the passengers were soaking up information from their print papers, books and magazines.
What this so effectively illustrated is the diversity of preference in how people consume their content. Business as well as pleasure, there is no single way that people consume content; no single choice for content delivery.
This is important for our future. It effectively shows how diverse content has become, and needs to remain. While some folks would have us believe that content is dying, or that the print component is withering, I believe content is actually hitting its stride, as do others in the media.
When I was growing up, my parents received the morning and evening papers (the Kansas City Star and Times) at the house (unbelievable, I know); they watched Walter Cronkite report the news; and we read books that we exchanged at Mid-Continent Library every two weeks.
Today, the content opportunities have easily quadrupled thanks to technology in terms of both content production as well as delivery. And that doesn’t even include the myriad opportunities available via social media platforms, where success is also dependent on solid content.
I am currently on the road working some of our client’s Fall events. I am witnessing the culmination of their (and our) efforts at developing content for mass dissemination during their conferences. And I am appreciating how all of these attendees absorb that content.
The key is that the clients who understand content are the ones who are serving up content that reflects the diversity of the consumers I saw on my Southwest flight. They are offering different ways that work for the different needs of their attendees.
So here on the road, as is the case in our corporate culture, our guiding principle remains poignant as ever: Content does matter, and how you get it to your audience matters as well.
And as Cronkite was known to say: “And that is the way it is.”