History in the Making: How Brands Showed That #lovewins

By Amanda Garrity

imagesThe world was exceptionally colorful on Friday, June 26. From Twitter feeds to the illuminated White House, everyone was buzzing about the historic Supreme Court ruling, which made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

Responding to current events, especially ones with international news coverage and online engagement, is a great way for brands to showcase timeliness and relevance. It can also bring added attention to their brand and gets people talking, a win in the world of public relations.

The following four brands captured our interest (and hearts) by the way they uniquely and creatively showed their support of the Supreme Court’s decision.

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New Client Spotlight: Unity FI Solutions

By Adam Bowers

RLF has extensive experience designing eye-catching websites and creating compelling content to populate them. We recently partnered with Unity FI Solutions to redesign its website, which launched earlier this year.

Unity FI Solutions is a Charlotte, North Carolina-based provider of electronic payment solutions to financial institutions and other corporate clients. Within the industry, Unity FI Solutions is well known for its ability to tailor solutions to meet very specific and complex client needs. This client-centric approach reflects RLF’s own commitment to service and has made for a strong and mutually beneficial partnership.

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The Future of Digital Marketing: Lessons Learned from the 2014 Internet Summit

By Michelle Rash

Digital marketing is facing a brave new world. Not only do industry professionals have to keep up with the constantly evolving climate, but they are also working in an environment where success and failure can both occur within a matter of minutes, and in a very public fashion.

These are just two main points emphasized at the Internet Summit in Raleigh a few weeks ago. In addition to digital marketing, industry experts discussed the latest trends in social media and search engine optimization (SEO), as well as tools, techniques and tactics that are beneficial to building customer communities and driving sales.

One of the key messages for me was that success in digital marketing means taking risks. While most companies want to play it safe and stick to the “tried and true,” for digital marketing to truly resonate, businesses and marketers need to step outside of their comfort zones and experiment – see what works, what doesn’t and adjust campaigns as needed.

Speakers also emphasized that not every campaign will go viral or generate instant buzz. One common analogy I heard was that in baseball there are a lot more base hits than there are home runs – so it is with digital marketing. But, as in baseball, several base hits can still lead to a winning strategy.

Other top insights I gleaned from the Internet Summit include:

Marketing influences sales

As a communications professional, I deeply believe in the power of marketing, media relations, advertising and social media to reach potential customers and strengthen a brand’s reputation and image. The Internet Summit was a nice reinforcement of the increasingly vital role these elements play in the sales funnel – and how important it is to make sure all messages across all media are communicating the information you want to share to the right audience.

People are increasingly relying on websites, word-of-mouth and social media to research what product they want to buy or service they want to use before setting foot in a store or picking up the phone to call a sales rep, according to Jodi Wearn, product marketing director for marketing software company Silverpop. In fact, studies have found that as much as two-thirds of the buying process has been completed before businesses may be aware that an individual is a prospective customer. This means it is very important for businesses to tell a good story across all digital channels and work hard to maintain a solid brand reputation.

Quality content remains king

One of the key messages of many of the sessions at the Internet Summit was that creating content remains a key part of any marketing and public relations campaign. But what was also emphasized repeatedly is that the content has to be high quality and meet the needs of your customers – which will vary widely depending on your brand.

Chris Moody, director of content and social marketing for Oracle, said that in 2008 there were one trillion pages indexed on Google; today there are more than 30 trillion. That means there is a lot of competition for your audience’s attention – so the content you create needs to be more targeted and focused on their needs than ever before. Focus on what your customers care about, not on what you think they should know.

SMS (text message marketing) becomes crucial

The era of email marketing is coming to an end and we are now entering the era of SMS, or text message, marketing. Research has found that 95 percent of text messages are opened within three minutes, said Wearn of Silverpop. While a growing number of people will automatically hit ‘delete’ on a marketing email, research has found that 90 percent of similar text messages will be opened. Conversion rates on well-crafted text message campaigns can be as high as 40 percent, much higher than even the most successful email campaigns. While Wearn said text message marketing may not be a good fit for every company or campaign, it should remain an ever growing part of the marketing discussion.

Facebook changes gears

Several speakers talked about how changes in Facebook’s model over the years now make it harder for brands and businesses to organically reach their “fans.” For even the largest of brands, only about 2 percent of fans now see unpaid content shared on the social network, and many expect that even this percentage will decrease in the coming months and years. (Even earlier this month, Facebook said it was going to push brands toward a more advertising-focused model.)

However, many brands still focus most of their social media time and energy on Facebook. While Facebook – especially paid ads and promoted content – will likely remain a staple of the social media landscape given its large presence, many speakers encouraged brands to focus more on other social media outlets. It’s important that brands understand their customers, what social media channels they are using – whether that is Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat or one of the dozens of other sites – and find a way to engage them there. As the number of social media options grow, it will be increasingly important that brands identify the one or two key mediums for their audience and message, and find a way to create relevant, engaging content for those platforms.

As we look ahead to 2015, RLF is continuing to look at the most effective ways to tell our clients’ stories, both in the emerging technology and in some more traditional ways. We are excited about the possibilities some of these digital methods are creating to allow us to hit multiple base hits, and hopefully a few home runs, on behalf of our clients.

The Untaught PR Task: Writing Effective Website Copy

By Amanda Limoges

As an aspiring public relations professional, I can attest that we are taught the basics of PR writing in the university classroom — we are drilled on AP Style from the first communications class we take until we graduate, and we spend four years mastering how to write the perfect press release, effective pitch email and engaging social media content. However, the one writing-focused task of a PR professional that is often not explored in the classroom is drafting effective website copy.

Potential customers often interact with a business for the very first time via its website; therefore, each layout decision made and word chosen are fundamental to a business’ success. This semester, I have learned extensively from my colleagues at RLF about how to write effective website copy for various clients at the agency. Writing website copy is both fun and challenging, and can be vastly improved upon by utilizing the following strategies:

Headlines and navigation are key

The first step in writing valuable website copy is to develop an extensive site map to determine the navigation of the website and the basic content on each page. If the navigation of a website is not user-friendly, viewers will leave the page in search of alternative sources where information is easier to access. Headlines that guide a user should not be viewed as areas for PR pros to showcase their creativity. Instead, users are looking for recognizable headlines, such as “Contact Us,” “Our History” and “About Us,” that will easily guide them to the page they are seeking. In order to facilitate easy navigation, headlines should be short, simple and recognizable.

Less is more

Would you have chosen to read this post if I hadn’t broken up the text into headings with minimal text under each one? Probably not. As Internet users, we rarely read content word for word. According to Neilsen Norman Group, readers scan each website page and then pick out individual sentences and key words. Thus, we should:

  1. Keep the word count at half or less than with conventional writing
  2. Utilize numbered lists and bullet points
  3. Highlight keywords
  4. Use infographics

Optimize your copy

Marketing company Hubspot found that 75 percent of Internet users never scroll further than the initial page of results when using a search engine. This is a testament to the power of utilizing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics to improve a website’s rankings on search engines and ultimately drive more users to the site. Two simple ways to improve your SEO when writing website copy include:

  1. Using keywords. For example, instead of using words like “fresh-baked bread” to describe products in a bakery, employ a specific, key phrase like “gluten-free bread” or “seeded marble rye.”
  2. Providing links to other articles. Just as I’ve done in this post, providing links to other articles helps to maximize SEO by adding another layer of depth and expertise to your site.

Utilize a call to action

Website copy isn’t effective unless it actually encourages viewers to do something. For some companies that might mean buying a product, while for others it might mean donating to a cause. No matter what the action is, persuading readers to act should be paramount in your website copy. According to HubSpot, utilizing verbs and numbers are most effective in a call to action. For example, the phrase “click here for 50% off” will prove more successful than simply saying “now on sale.”

While writing website copy may not be taught in the classroom, it is an essential skill for all PR pros. It may seem overwhelming at first, but writing web copy is something we all can master because we are constantly exposed to a variety of different websites, and we can easily identify an effective, user-friendly website. Use your natural instinct and the four strategies I suggested in your next website copy project, and you will be well on your way to success.

Photo courtesy of Pete O’Shea’s Flickr photostream.