Saturday, December 19, 2009

Miamore's Week In Review: Dec. 19, 2009

As a small-business owner myself, I understand: there is barely enough time in the day to address day-to-day biz activities and crises, much less keep up on the latest news on marketing and PR. So, Miamore has decided to start boiling down, each week, the most important updates upscale businesses need know about in the areas of public relations, social media marketing, branding, and the luxury & lifestyle sectors. Here's the first of our weekly summaries:


  • In my “past life” as a magazine editor, my favorite art director used to say (in regard to photography): if I find it on Google, it is mine! As the number of bloggers and web activity grows, however, this isn’t necessarily the case anymore. While the usage of images isn’t generally policed very well, there are still rules and laws regarding your use of images for your blog. It’s a little like the speed limit or (for you fellow Rhodies) the new texting-while-driving laws: you might not get caught if you break the rules, but you take a risk if you do. Here is a must-read outline of how to keep your blogging on the up-and-up.
  • If your company is social marketing savvy, this is a bit basic. But for those still dabbling (and wondering why/if they should) in social networking it is an excellent read.
  • For newbies and experts alike: This outline includes everything (and we mean everything!) you need to know about using Facebook effectively to promote your business.


  • We would like to hug the writer of this article. If you are considering venturing into public relations with Miamore or any agency, please read this for the low-down on how to “Be a Good PR Client” (could also be titled: How to Make your PR Agency Succeed in Growing Your Business)
  • Hopefully you don’t have to worry about “crisis” PR, but in case you do, here’s a very good read on how (and why!) you must be prepared.


"Once you start discounting, or accepting deals, there's no way of getting back up," he says. "In down times, there's the impression that the simplest thing to do is discount. But when confidence returns, the consumer's going to wonder why you want to charge $48 when just a few years back you'd sell for $30. You're effectively telling people that your product was too expensive to begin with."
  • For those in the travel sector, the luxury (leisure travel) market is staging a comeback, according to this AFP report, but only for true quality. Best quote:
"The bling has gone. It's all about the quality of the experience and the feeling of space."


  • Time's a-ticking for this one-of-a-kind holiday gift certificate: Speaking of luxury and travel, you officially have 6 days left to purchase gift certificates that will give the special women on your list the upscale adventure travel experience of their lifetimes. Your purchase will not only be the most memorable gift you’ve ever given her, it will also support one of four charitable organizations (at no cost to you). More here.
  • Music expresses (and aims to raise funding to support) the universal challenge of caring for our aging loved ones: Almost everyone has had to face the difficult moment when they realize the passage of time has taken place, and that they must take over the role of caretaker for those who cared for them. As such, we all understand the challenges of caring for our elderly loved ones. A new initiative, Life in the Years, is raising funds to support a national program for elderly foster care, through sales of a beautiful compilation CD set that features 30+ of the world’s finest musicians, from the famous Natalie Merchant to Rhode Island’s own Sue Brescia.
  • StyleWeek Providence adds to agenda: This week, StyleWeek Providence added the legendary Betsey Johnson to the list of designers who are showing during Providence, RI's first annual weeklong celebration of fashion and design in June, 2010. The roster is nearly full with phenomenal established and up-and-coming fashion, accessory and jewelry designers, but a few spots are still available. Contact us if you’d like to be considered!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On a Mission...

What is your mission statement?
That simple question is the very first I ask of clients and prospects. Because, from that answer springs all PR, marketing (and, ultimately) sales strategies. And yet, so many small businesses reply to that question with one (or a mix) of three responses:

1.) An uncomfortable squirm
2.) A lengthy monologue starting somewhere around "well, when I was 12..."
3.) A quick: "to sell my stuff"

We understand that business owners are not necessarily writers (and we work with clients to help clarify that message), but if they can't succinctly describe who they are, what they do and why, then how can clients relate to them? More: how can the business, or its PR agency, craft a message that the media and public will understand?

Many business consultants recommend that mission statements be no more than a paragraph. I, on the other hand, take that further: you should be able to summarize it in a sentence (2 at the most). It should describe what you do, why you do it and how you do it... without getting into nitty gritty details. This isn't easy... even for professional writers (as my old journalism school professors said so correctly: it's a whole lot easier to write long than to write short), but it is a necessity. From your mission statement springs your brand and image... including tagline, creative materials, PR message, marketing initiatives and advertising plans. While every business owner knows this in theory, many small creative firms find it difficult to execute.

As an example/case study, I'll use Miamore Communications. At Miamore, our mission is:
To utilize the press, social networking tools and promotions to introduce, inform and educate the public about goods and services provided by small businesses in the luxury lifestyle category, thereby assisting those firms in reaching sales goals and growth.

From that mission comes:

  • Our tagline: "spreading the word about life's finer things"
  • Our various services: public relations, social media marketing, brand development, creative services and special event planning.
  • Our marketing focus: small businesses in the luxury and lifestyle categories
  • Our media targets: editors and bloggers in lifestyle beats
  • Our social media outreach for ourselves: groups, fans and followers in the above areas
  • Our social media outreach for our clients: consumers who dialogue about upscale and lifestyle goods and services.

If we were to say our mission is "to sell PR services", everything else would be similarly vague and ineffective... who would be our target client? Our target press contacts? We would be aiming our efforts in a million directions and spreading ourselves thin on all.

So, as you look forward to 2010 and business plans for the year, please take a look at your mission statement (or develop a succinct one). Once you have that down, you'll be surprised how much simpler everything else will come.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Help Us, Help You (Make 2010 a Success)

I’m stating the obvious when I say it has been a… Challenging… year for small businesses in the lifestyle category (even moreso for those focused on luxury goods and services). So, as 2009 winds down (48 days until the New Year!), most remain wary about marketing plans for 2010. I hear many, in fact, saying they aren’t only “wary”, but actually taking a wait-and-see approach.

While that is natural and understandable on a personal level (as a small business owner, I completely relate); on a business level, it ranges from foolish to suicide. Unless you anticipate the possibility of shutting your business in Q1 2010, I hope you have in place (or are developing), a MARCOM strategy to keep your company front of mind for your customers and potentials. Granted, I advise a cautious approach in developing that plan (you can always add elements), winging it is never a good option and, as research shows (see here and here, for example), those who market during a down economy—scary though it may be—are the ones who benefit when things turn around. And, rest assured, they will turn around.

So, I ask… What is your MARCOM plan?

  1. Will you advertise? If so, where is the best place for you to invest those dollars? Do you know? Or will you (*shudder*) follow the advice of the commission-based sales rep (and they all are) that does the best job of wooing you in 2010?
  2. Will you invest in marketing opportunities like shows or events? If so, have you conducted market research to determine which are the best venues for your niche?
  3. Will you have a public relations outreach in 2010? If so, what is your plan? Who is your target? Do you have a press list? What will you have to promote? And how will you promote it? (Also, given too many conversations I’ve recently had: do you understand the definition of public relations and how it differs from advertising?)
  4. Do you have a social media plan? How will you best utilize those tools? Do you understand how to use social networking to grow your business? Who will you delegate to handle that for your business? And how much of an investment are you going to make (time and money) into this, the fastest growing method of marketing?

These are questions that businesses can not leave to chance, circumstance, or the most charming salesperson who comes along in 2010. These are answers that need to be determined this month (or next, at the latest).

I understand the predicament of not wanting to “commit” when the first half of 2010 is such an unknown… but I also can’t stress enough the need for planning and strategy (no matter how bare-bones). So, Miamore Communications is offering special 2010 MARCOM strategy and planning sessions to small businesses. Let us sit down with you; analyze your budget, target market and goals; and assist you in creating a 12-month outline that is achievable in within your means, not your dreams. While corporate agencies focus on number-crunching, as a boutique firm, Miamore Communications is not just flexible, but I’m also a huge believer in paying it forward. And, let’s face it, if you are a small business, either in our same geographic market (New England), or within our niche—lifestyle and luxury—the long-term success of your company = our long-term success of mine.

So let’s collaborate to make 2010 successful for both of us. Email us or give us a call anytime at 401-315-5979.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Miamore's Top 10! How Businesses Hurt Themselves By Not Utilizing FB Fan Pages

On my Facebook personal page, I'm receiving more "friend" requests than ever before from businesses using the wrong medium... personal, instead of "Fan" pages. This is a favorite subject of mine on this blog, because it pains me to see SO many businesses setting themselves up for social media failure. So, here are my Top 10 reasons why it is vital to use a Fan page for business promotion... all 10 focus on Miamore Communications' own experiences. Even if you skip the first nine, pleaaaaase, at least read #10...

1. Google ranks Miamore Communication’s fan page high on its list, so anyone in the universe interested in our services can become a fan. Why would I expect a potential client to "request" the honor of becoming a friend and waiting for approval in order to check out my services? Get real: there are a million more accessible competitors out there.

2. On our Fan page, we can provide quality information that illustrates our expertise in a format clearly designated as a business. (For more, see #3)

3. Potential clients aren't confused a mish-mash of posts (a la: Hey! Here's my family vacation! Then: Here's a new service I'm offering!)

4. Potential clients aren't annoyed by a bait-and-switch like maneuver: "acting" like someone who wants to be friend, then bombarding them with marketing solicitations under that false guise.

5. When I invite someone to be a fan and they accept, it shows up on their Facebook wall... And their friends are much more likely to check out why they are became a fan of a biz, than to care why they became friends with some random “friend”.

6. Facebook has a nifty feature that posts Fan additions in the sidebars of friends, thus illustrating the whole idea of "viral" growth... Which is the point of social media for business.

7. It's the RULES of Facebook that businesses use fan pages.

8. Can't stress enough: it's the rules!

9. If you only reach people you already know (via "friend" requests) on Facebook, why are you putting all this effort into social media, when you could just use traditional forms of communication (like email)... those friends clearly already know you.

And, most tellingly; MOST importantly:

Number 10...

Through viral growth, 8% of my business page’s fans are people I don't know and/or wouldn't have thought to ever request on my Facebook personal page. Those 8% of Miamore’s fans have converted into 30% of our contract clients...

Now, how many businesses operating within the constraints of "friend" pages have witnessed that kind of growth? Not many. See, while it may seem like the easy answer to create a personal page and "find" potential customers, the beauty of viral social media growth is that, when you follow the rules and utilize the fan pages Facebook has structured to help you build your business... your potential customers can, instead, find you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What We See Depends on What We Look For...

I spent yesterday evening with a fabulous, dynamic group of specialists in various creative and business fields, planning what everyone, everywhere will soon hear about: StyleWeek Providence. I could not be more excited to work on this project! If anything makes a fantastic concept better, it is a palpable energy driving it… and that is exactly what StyleWeek Providence has.

StyleWeek Providence is the brainchild of dynamo (talk about energy!) Rosanna Ortiz Sinel, a fashion writer and general fashion guru. When she shared her brilliant idea with me a couple months ago, I almost jumped out of my seat. See, we are both transplants to Rhode Island with a shared interest and expertise in fashion. Further, as relative newcomers to Providence, we see our new home with “outsiders’” (read: not jaded) eyes. The home of RISD and the historic center for jewelry design (not to mention the most vibrant and charming city in New England!), Providence overflows with a creativity that, until now, has been largely disjointed. StyleWeek Providence gives those creatives in the areas of fashion and design a common voice. And it will be a powerful one.

Top designers in various fashion categories, from across the region—Rhodies (that’s local-speak for “Rhode Island dwellers”), New Englanders and those with local ties (a la RISD alum)—will showcase their collections at shows spread across five days next June. Far from being just a social event as many regional “fashion weeks” are, StyleWeek Providence is, at its root, a business event, with buyers from New England, New York and across the country invited to meet the area’s phenomenal talent, and have the opportunity to then introduce it to their customers and audiences.

StyleWeek Providence is also, in a time when businesses everywhere are facing difficult challenges, an incredible example of small businesses uniting and promoting the local economy. Not surprisingly, businesses across the city are embracing the idea (the most recent and most exciting: Hotel Providence, the area’s finest upscale boutique hotel, home of one of the city’s most gorgeous event venues, Aspire, will be not only host to the closing-night show and festivities, but also serve as the official hotel of StyleWeek Providence).

So, while I’m gushing about StyleWeek in general, my points here are much broader for small businesses…

First: bringing in “outsiders”, who can view your area or business with fresh new eyes, can be a key step to visualizing your full potential and, ultimately, growing your reputation and business.

Second: Never underestimate the powers of partnerships, and common visions and goals. Our designers and venues have no prior connections, but are pulling together in ways that are the stuff of cross-promotion chapters in Business 101 textbooks.

The fundamental message is (while I hate this cliché): never stop thinking outside the box, and investing in new ideas, consultants and voices who can provide new vision and voices to grow your business. To borrow from John Lubbock: What we see depends on what we look for.

StyleWeek Providence’s inaugural event will be June 6-10, featuring fashion shows and celebrations at venues across the city. For updates, join StyleWeek’s Facebook Fan page, follow us on Twitter, and stay tuned for the website launch on Nov. 1. If you’d like information of sponsorship opportunities, a buyer or press invite, or to be considered to show your designs at StyleWeek, feel free to contact me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Fundamental Rule of Social Media Networking for Business

I'm reflecting on several amusing conversations I had this week with clients and friends regarding social media usage and users. The topics have included:
  • The user whose photos are shockingly personal
  • Another who uses "send an update to fans" to announce every sneeze
  • One whose Facebook and Twitter posts are, well, without TMI, mind-numbingly impersonal
And, finally:
  • The charming one who "friends" people on Facebook, only to hijack their contact list to send promotional announcements.

It may not be pretty, but this chatter simply echoes human nature (and what goes on in every school cafeteria, trade show cocktail party, and family get-together): gossiping.

While this topic is seemingly anything but business-related on the surface, the general subject is actually very relevant to anyone using social media tools for marketing... because, in each of these cases, the user utilizes social media to promote their business. And, as I say (apparently ad nauseam, as seen here, here and here!): networking via social media should be thought of in the same terms as networking the real world. The same rules and etiquette apply:
  • Would you show up to a networking event in a negligee?
  • Would you call everyone in your address book 3 times a day (to say the same thing again and again)?
  • Would you walk up to prospects at a cocktail party rattling off random information from an encyclopedia?
  • Would you lift an associate's address book from their office during a business dinner so you could later cold-call people they know?

Clearly (or I hope): No. Yet so many of us sit in front of a computer and don't realize that our actions on these social media tools are just as much a reflection of ourselves and our businesses as our actions in "real" life.

This is a whole new and evolving way of communicating and everyone is very much learning as they go. But a rule that isn't evolving, and that I constantly remind myself (and clients) when using social media tools for marketing: if you wouldn't do it in a real life business setting, please, don't do it on Facebook, Twitter, a blog, or anywhere else.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hey, Ladies! Feel Like a Gerbil on the Wheel? How About Some Girl Power...

Sometimes, and perhaps too often, life feels like that old plate-spinning act at the circus... Aging parents; the endless demands of children; managing a career; and keeping up with housework, car repairs, the dog that needs walking, and a million other responsibilities. The daily grind takes its toll on everyone but, here, I speak specifically to the women out there: how often do you think about your own future, your own goals and dreams, and the financial stability it takes to achieve them? If you are anything like me, those things pop into your head now and again, and you vow to give them some thought, but they are far from front-of-mind. Further, how often do you actually feel empowered, strong and confident, instead of like a gerbil on the wheel? Again, if you're like me, not often enough...

I recently found myself in a planning meeting with client Tomgirl Tours, and Tomgirl's partner in several of new 2010 tours: Ameriprise Financial. Tomgirl Tours specializes in adventure tours for women--upscale travel that includes mildly adventurous (read: you don't need to be an Olympic athlete) activities like zip lining, hot air ballooning, and hiking the Grand Canyon. Tomgirls' tours promote relaxation, exhilarating outdoor activities, bonding with new and old friends, and confidence building adventure. In a nutshell: Girl Power.

Client or no, I find the concept fabulous for today's stressed-out, going-through-the-motions women. And, I find these new 2010 Vermont tours even more exciting: they combine the physical/mental empowerment of challenging activities (inherent in all Tomgirl Tours) with what women all too often neglect: planning for a future of financial empowerment. And lest you think these are yawn-worthy financial planning sessions that would intrude on an "adventure" vacation... the program focuses on fun, creative, and thought-provoking activities, like identifying your dreams, visualizing them through old-school activities like collage-making, and developing an action plan for making those dreams reality. Better yet, the two Ameriprise planners (profiles here and here) who are working with Tomgirl are down-to-earth, fun and, frankly, absolutely hilarious.

Along with the financial planning elements, each tour (dubbed Green Mountain Escapes) features a sunset hot air balloon ride, a challenging ropes course and zip line adventure, a chance to try out a Segway, pampering at a fabulous spa, and culinary delights (including a cooking and wine pairing evening led by the New England Culinary Institute). I don't usually use this forum to promote client activities, but as I work on planning the PR for this new tour, I keep thinking about all the friends and colleagues who, like me, fit into the "Oh, man, do I NEED this sort of getaway" category. So, I thought I'd give you all a sneak peek and chance for an early sign up. For specifics, check out Tomgirl Tours.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another Ode to Customer Service

Last week was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Neither mom nor dad is a fan for big parties, so my sister and I opted, instead, to give them a big gift and a small family dinner at a favorite restaurant to celebrate.

Being very particular, mom and dad have their limited list of fav restaurants. Our first choice was a seafood spot they adore. Mid-market in price, the Maine Fish Market isn't (as my dad would say) "fancy", but the seafood is among the best in Connecticut. The caveat? They don't take reservations. Being in PR and having been a business editor for more than a decade, I scoffed: for a 50th anniversary dinner in honor of loyal customers, AND a party of 10 (including my almost 103-year-old aunt), they would surely make an exception and not make us sit in the bar for 2 hours on a Friday night! So, I called. My answer: "sorry, no reservations." I explained again. The response: "Nope."

My head ready to explode, I tried mom and dad's other favorite: a fabulous Italian spot in Hartford's South End: the First and Last, an independent that has been around since the 1930s. Like the Maine Fish Market, First and Last doesn't ordinarily take reservations. However, I told their lovely employee, Emma, the situation and, voila, we had a table reserved during their busy 7 p.m. Friday-night rush. Further, First and Last has an affiliate Italian bakery, so they prepared a made-to-order cake (dubbed by my 15-year-old, food-connoisseur nephew as “Perhaps the best cake I’ve ever eaten”) at the end of the meal.

I’m not going to tell you what the bill came to, but suffice it to say: significant. The Maine Fish Market? Well, they lost that business. However, much more important than that one big dinner (because, I’m certain, the Maine Fish Market didn’t notice our absence)… is, as always, word of mouth and personal reputation. I wouldn’t just not recommend the Maine Fish Market to anyone looking for a restaurant in the Hartford, Conn., area, I would actively DISCOURAGE it. As for First and Last, well, I (and the rest of my family) are huge fans (PS: if you are in Connecticut, go... and order the Cioppino. Amazing!). I expect not only future dinners, but probably a whole lot of bakery orders, as well.

The moral? QUALITY is not enough. Especially for independent businesses (and especially in this economy): service and flexibility are key. Those are the things that keep customers coming back. An establishment like the Maine Fish Market (est. 1986) might be enjoying 2-hour waiting lists on Friday and Saturday nights now, but when they disregard customer loyalty in favor of rigid rules? Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t expect them to EVER be celebrating a 70th anniversary like the First and Last did last year.

Rules are important, but when it comes to your best customers, service is more important. If you are a travel company with a set itinerary and price, think hard before refusing to re-price without airfare for someone who regularly travels with you. A jewelry firm that doesn’t like to change a gemstone in a design? Reconsider before refusing that service to your best customer. A PR firm that has a set retainer, but is approached by an up-and-comer with fabulous potential? Be careful before you turn them away. Remember: there are a million other businesses out there who will happily take your customers by bending rigid rules to accommodate and honor loyalty. Just ask the Maine Fish Market...

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Small Biz Doing Facebook Right

I hear some interesting things in my daily journeys. And, given the nature of my business, many of those are things that business owners tell me they have been advised to do by other consultants and PR/marketing agencies regarding social media marketing and publicity. The one I find most amusing (read: aggravating), and that I've, sadly, heard again and again: "don't start a Facebook fan page for your business; market yourself via your personal Facebook profile!" I bite my tongue, except to say: interesting promotional strategy... the social media equivalent of only talking about your wares to friends, relatives, neighbors, and others you already know, then wondering why your business isn't growing.

So, rather than go on about the wrong strategy, I offer up an example of the correct one... my client, Sonia B. Designs. If you aren't familiar with designer Sonia Bitton, she's the fabulous French designer and vibrant personality behind ShopNBC's Galerie de Bijoux. She also has her own e-commerce website for her fine jewelry collection. The manufacturer behind her collection approached me several months back, curious about social media but, like many (most?) small businesses, wary of both public relations agencies and, especially, the ROI on investing in an unknown like social media. So, we started with baby steps... first: a Facebook-specific plan (with a minor Twitter effort).

Sonia already had a personal Facebook page and, sure, she could have started talking up her jewelry to her "friends". Instead, we worked up a Facebook fan page. Elements of the page, content, strategy and outreach were strategically planned by Miamore Communications and Sonia B. Designs and executed prior to the launch. Flash forward six weeks to the present. Sonia B. Designs' Facebook fan page now has 150+ fans... Not, I should add, fans who joined because they are related to the designer, or are friends/business associates invited from Sonia's personal profile. These are true FANS (from whom the company has already derived a number of sales).

To visit her fan page is to witness:
  • Discussion among strangers (bound only by their love of Sonia's jewelry) about which hoop earrings to buy.
  • Photos posted by fans of their favorite Sonia B. Designs jewels.
  • Personal engagement between the designer and her customers. (Initially wary, Sonia now loves the interaction... and, clearly, so do her fans!)
Now (a note to those thinking their personal page is a way to promote businesses), Google search Sonia B. Designs and what do you find? Sonia's Facebook fan page comes up as the 3rd listing... inviting all the world to become fans and, ultimately, growing the designer's outreach and recognition.

There are many exciting additional features still to come on the Sonia B. Designs Facebook page, but, to those who question how a proper social media outreach works, or wonder how I work with clients to help them launch a successful campaign, I'm proud to offer up this awesome how-to example.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What Happened to Good, Old-Fashioned Communication? It Got an Upgrade...

I have a friend who is decidedly anti-social media. As a corporate lawyer, he doesn't see much use for the likes of Facebook and Twitter in his career. But, further, he's fond of saying: why does a business need these things? What ever happened to the telephone and good old-fashioned personal communication?

I understand that mentality. Little more than a year ago I was a magazine editor in an insular industry and I couldn't wrap my head around "social media", especially Twitter. How things have changed in a year... Both for myself and for the entire "social media" realm. According to August statistics for Facebook alone:

  • More than 250 million active users
  • More than 120 million users log on to Facebook at least once each day
  • More than two-thirds of Facebook users are beyond college
  • The fastest growing demographic is those 35 years old and older
  • Average user has 120 friends on the site
  • More than 5 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide)
  • More than 30 million users update their statuses at least once each day
  • More than 8 million users become fans of Pages each day

I am (clearly) now among the converted, as social media marketing and PR efforts have become a major focus of my business at Miamore Communications.

To answer said friend's doubts, I offer up a new Miamore client—an acquaintance from a million (or 10) years ago. We became FB friends through the natural course of social media's viral growth (more scientifically: friends of friends of friends); then she became a Miamore fan. Flash forward two months and here we are, about to start working together. Neither of us probably would have thought of each other again ever if not for social media, much less pick up the phone to reconnect.

And, that's a perfect example of what I always tell clients (especially those who don't quite understand how “social media” is valuable to their businesses): This, in essence, isn't a "new" way of reaching clients. It is the old way, with a new-fangled twist. It is, quite simply, the next generation of word of mouth (here's a great article on that topic). For B2Bs, I equate it to being able to network at an industry trade show event every single day, instead of only twice a year. No longer do you have to buy ads to reach your audience year-round (same for B2Cs), you can, instead, log on to a social network and connect with them directly (much to the chagrin of ad reps and traditional PR people).

Personally, from my own business experiences and the successes of my clients, I am completely confident in saying that social media has changed the nature of business communication forever. And, contrary to a FB post I recently saw, wondering if growing sales via social media was a "trend", I answer: notsomuch… at least not in the colloquial sense. Because as those like me with a fashion background know, things we call “trends” come and go. So, as we witness magazines and newspapers--those vehicles of traditional PR and advertising brand spin--wither and, (sadly) die in increasing numbers; marketing, public relations, brand growth and sales via social media is not so much a trend as an evolution in business. This is the future and, in my opinion, the only way businesses (especially small businesses) will survive moving forward.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Social Media: One Size Does NOT Fit All

I received two Facebook friend requests this week from people I didn't know. I had at least a dozen common friends with each person, however, so I accepted both. Flash forward a couple days (or, for one of them, three hours) and they are but a friend memory.

First was a woman I'll call Ms. RT, because she updated her Facebook profile umpteen times a day, clearly using tools that simply posted Tweets to Facebook. After a day of "RT @Joe Schmoe..." posts, I ended my friendship with her. If I want to read Re-Tweets, or learn about Joe Schmoe, for that matter, I'll catch up with y'all on Twitter, thankyouverymuch.

Second was a guy I'll call Mr. Confusing, because he littered my Facebook newsfeed with posts on (true story!): social media, technology, emerging financial markets, rock bands, and the water crisis (among others). I'm guessing Mr Confusing was somehow trying to promote his expertise or his business. For that, I applaud him. But, for using a personal page to actively request my "friendship" in an effort to promote his business... when I don't even know him (annoying enough coming from those I DO know), well, Mr. Confusing and I parted ways within a few hours.

My point: social media is not a one-size-fits-all world. Ms. RT's automatic posting of tweets to Facebook felt like someone sending me a letter addressed "Dear PR Person" because she couldn't bother to personalize it. And, Mr. Confusing's business stuff might have actually caught my eye on Twitter, whereas it was inappropriate and aggravating on the feed of my personal Facebook page.

Different social media tools have different applications and each serves a specific purpose. If you utilize them all properly, you can expand your circle and grow your business. If you plow on blindly and use them incorrectly, you may lose "friend"ships (and possible business relationships/opportunities) before they even begin.

If you are a do-it-yourself-er, there are some great tools out there to educate you (I recommend mashable, for one; or search #smm on twitter for a variety of info and tips); if you need more help, give Miamore a shout (or an email, or a Facebook message, or a Tweet...!)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Social Media PR Expert. Is There Any Such Thing?

I've had several conversations this week that lead me to this post... and it is inspired, in part, by one of my favorite commentaries on the subject (here), which I read months ago as I was researching and delving into the idea of marketing and public relations via social media (and which is always in the back of my mind).

So, the question: What is a social media PR/marketing "expert"? And, when this communication medium is still so unknown, how does any small business gauge whether a PR consultant (many of whom can spew babble on cue, regardless of their actual knowledge) can help them engage customers and succeed in a PR and marketing environment that is evolving, quicker than we thought imaginable, into a social media-focused world?

I encounter a lot of skepticism in my day-to-day comings and goings. I talk about Miamore Communications' services, emphasizing social media promotions, and see many a raised eyebrow and glassy eye. And, honestly, I run a small business, too, so I completely understand. I also encounter my fair share of "social media" babble in both the real world and via mediums like Facebook. Everyone is scrambling to emerge as an expert. But who really is?

Granted, I'm one of those people touting social media marketing and public relations expertise. But (and PR folks may see this as a detriment to my business, but I see it as a bonus): my background is that of a journalist. Meaning: the facts, honesty and transparency are key to me personally, and, thus, to my agency. So, if you are pondering who to hire for social media expertise, I offer my own services but, first, I offer these key pieces of advice. They may lead you to work with Miamore Communications, or they may lead you to another consultant. Either way, I've succeeded if they lead you on whichever path you choose INFORMED. My advice:

1) Understand the difference between "traditional" expertise (ie, PR 1.0) vs social media expertise. In the words of one of the foremost experts on the subject: "the business of PR IS in a state of paramount crisis". And (in my words): traditional PR and marketing folks are in fight or flight mode in an effort to survive. So, if you're seeking out knowledge, first know the difference between traditional PR and P.R. 2.0 (more here)
2) Frankly, there's reason why PR/marketing folks are known as "spin doctors". My point: trust no one at their word.
3) Check out that earlier link (here) for tips on vetting candidates.
4) Ask for references. Not references to speak to a candidate's qualifications in the old PR or marketing world, but references who can speak to someone's skill at social media promotion.

Finally, and, to me, MOST importantly:

4) Investigate how the candidate is operating their OWN business in the social media realm.

Number 4 is the clincher for me. Any 4th grader who spends 20 minutes researching social media can come up with and throw around the word: "engage". So, digging a little deeper, I'm astounded by those PR & marketing people who promote themselves (and, worse, are being PROMOTED by groups, industries, etc.) as social media experts, yet have (and these are key):

a) No blog for their own company

b) A blog so stagnant it is growing mold

c) No Facebook fan page (or a page that growing the same mold as its blog)

d) A personal Facebook page that promotes their business (a MAJOR violation that can lead to them being shut down by Facebook and, logically, to your business being shut down if you are following their advice)

e) No Twitter presence

f) A blank stare when you mention Digg, Stumbleupon, Technorati, etc.

Fundamentally, if a PR/marketing person is telling you they are a "social media" expert, check their credentials in that specific area. Any publicist can talk the talk. But when you are a small business spending valuable dollars on promotion, forget what they did in the past; make sure they can walk the walk and lead you on that stroll into the future.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

PR Rules of Engagement 101: Be a Resource, Not a Vandal

A great way to get your name out there among potential customers is to become an active contributor on well-read news sites or blogs that address your niche, and in popular social media “gathering places” (i.e., Twitter or Facebook pages) for your target audience.

This P.R./social media marketing tactic has a clear goal: to build your credibility, generate interest in your business, and establish yourself or your brand as an expert in a specific field. It can be an enormously successful way to promote yourself. It also requires some rules of engagement… the emphasis on engage. Success lies in being credible and engaging, not a promotional hijacker.

An acquaintance of mine, let’s call him Henry, recently complained to me that a comment he’d posted online, in response to an article written about a competitor, had been deleted by the author. Curious, I asked for details… and soon realized that Henry, a lovely person and bright businessman, was also a social media vandal.

The story: Henry had a similar product and perhaps even greater knowledge of the subject than the business profiled in this article, so he jumped in with a “comment,” which is exactly (he complained) what I advise, and what I practice as the spokesperson for Miamore Communications. When he went back to check the post again, he was unpleasantly surprised to see it gone. Me? I wasn’t surprised at all. Henry, you see, had (anonymously) posted something to the effect of “Henry has even more/better stuff. Check it out!” Which I can only describe as, roughly, the equivalent of taking spray paint in the dark of night and writing his company’s name on the wall of his competitor’s store.

Still miffed and perplexed, Henry asked me how his action differed from Miamore's comments on various news sites and blog in my field. My answer: I comment when I can add value to a story or a post by sharing, for example, an experience or research on the topic being discussed. Because the same rules apply online as in a face-to-face setting. That's a pretty basic principle but (I've realized from various conversations with social media newbies), one oft-overlooked by those unaccustomed to this promotional strategy, and emboldened by the anonymity of sitting alone in front of a computer.

My advice to any businessperson in that category: the next time you read something online and think to yourself: “well, I know that subject better than they do,” seize the opportunity and comment! But, before you type, imagine you are in an auditorium filled with your peers, and the person who wrote (or is written about) in the story is standing at the podium taking questions. You wouldn’t crouch down and yell “Do business with me! My company is better than his! I know more than he does!” Instead, you would state your name and share your expertise via a well-crafted question or comment. Essentially, you would be polite, think before your speak, and take advantage of a golden opportunity to enhance your credibility before your community.

In a nutshell, please remember: the online or social media community may be a “new” world, but it runs by the same old rules of etiquette as the real world.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is Your Social Media Strategy Looking as Abandoned as My Lawn?

As I drove up my long driveway this evening and winced, I realized that many companies’ social media marketing strategies remind me of my lawn. (What? you ask? Let me explain…)

I have a relatively large front yard, and friends keep telling me I should just hire a lawn service. My thought: sure, I’m very busy, but c’mon, I can mow my own lawn, for heavens sake! I think it’s my dad’s voice screaming in my head: “Why would I pay someone to do what I am fully capable of doing myself?” It is a sentiment to which any child of a military man or any small business owner can relate.

The result of that thinking? Well… let’s just say I’m laying low, as I’m sure my neighbors (rightfully) roll their eyes at the eye-sore of a meadow my yard has become because I simply have not had time to address it. Sort of like the eye roll I (and customers) experience when I see the blogs (or Facebook or Twitter accounts) of companies who asked for advice from a consultant or, perhaps, read a few articles, then said: “for heaven’s sake! I can do that myself!”

Of course they can! Just like I can mow my own lawn. But, do they have time to do it properly? Or are they announcing their social media presence to the world with great enthusiasm, then getting caught up in the more important tasks of their day-to-day business and letting their P.R./marketing efforts go to pasture? Too often, the latter. Leaving an abandoned Facebook fan page or a blog that hasn’t been updated in several weeks… meaning they are not only forgotten but, in this age of instant-information and constant communications, perhaps also have lost some credibility with their fans or followers.

Not. Good.

If you can’t stay abreast of social media or your public relations outreach, and you won’t get help to assist you in doing so, then my best advice is to avoid it altogether. Not a wise business strategy, given the increasingly competitive marketplace and the importance of having a social media presence to communicate with discerning consumers, but much wiser than appearing lazy or inattentive. Of course, those perceptions are clearly not true, as small business owners have roughly a gazillion things to address daily. But, well: appearances are everything.

So, lest you think I’m judging, I will openly admit that I’ve neither hired a lawn service nor hauled the mower out of the shed, as I still convince myself that “I can do it!” (to the chagrin of my poor neighbors). Business, however, is business. So, were I trying to interest buyers in an effort to sell my house? Well, then, let’s just say I’d have the lawn service on speed dial. Because paying to communicate a good impression is far less expensive than trying to erase a bad one.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How PR Works for a Small Biz (Let Miamore Count the Ways...)

By now, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know about my client Tomgirl Tours. Tomgirl's CEO, Lori Carr, is a dream client for a boutique PR firm: she runs a small (relatively new) business that has a fantastic story and an innovative niche (all-inclusive adventure and culinary girlfriend getaway tours to the most AMAZING places). Better, she understands that, regardless of the economy at the moment, a higher-end company that doesn't get its name out there and doesn't remain true to its upscale image has little hope of surviving, much less growing. Better still, she gets both the importance of social media marketing and the fact that even a small business needs to delegate and can't do everything on its own.

Miamore Communications has been working with Tomgirl Tours for 10 weeks. In that time, Miamore hit the "traditional" media, of course, but also encouraged Tomgirl to experiment in the social media realm. Lori gave me a relatively loose leash (did I mention that she's a dream client for a publicist?!) and stepped outside the small business comfort zone.

So, after just 10 weeks, what does Tomgirl Tours have to show for their investment in Miamore Communications and a public relations campaign? Here are some are some highlights:

Traditional media:
  • An extensive on-air interview with Stephanie Abrams, the world's foremost radio travel expert (who boasts syndication in every major and minor U.S. market). Click here.
  • Major coverage in both the leading travel trade magazine (here) and one of the New York metro area's top leading daily newspaper (here)

Social (or online) media:
  • A dedicated Twitter media account that is not only followed by, but has established communication with, travel-specific reporters and bloggers
  • A new blog that generated 100+ hits in just its first couple days online
  • Mentions in 200+ (ok, honestly: I'm not a statistician; I stopped counting around 180, when my eyes blurred) travel websites and blogs
  • A doubling in traffic to Tomgirl Tours' main website the weekend the blog launched (and was promoted via various social medium)

Big public relations firms love to "spin"--everything from facts to numbers. I am a fan of neither the traditional PR machine nor "spinning". As a former journalist, I instead advocate transparency in publicity efforts. However, if I were to play that game--and, with clients always reporting back to me with big-firm "spin"--I will play that game for a moment: in little more than 1 month, we have achieved more than 65,000 online impressions for Tomgirl Tours. For a brand like Chanel, that's child's play. For small companies that (be honest) rarely generate more than 25 impression a day? That's pretty major.

My point: clearly, times are tough. But, if you are a small firm, you don't need a million-dollar marketing budget, nor a slick PR firm, to grow your reputation and business. But you do need to delegate and find a specialist--devoid of spin--who understands both the nuances of the rapidly evolving public relations world, and the financial challenges you face as a indie business in a tough economy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Industry Uses Social Media to Mourn Traditional Media

Today was an interesting day for those in the jewelry industry. One of the venerable old B2B magazines, Modern Jeweler, ceased operation. This comes on the heels of another venerable old brand, JCK, (my former magazine) coming within inches of suicide by annihilating its staff several months ago. These are magazines that each boast a 100+-year history. 

All afternoon, Facebook and Twitter were abuzz with the news. My own FB post alone received multiple replies almost immediately. Most agreed with my statement about being saddened by the news (and it is, indeed, incredibly sad). There were comments that ranged from "hating" what is happening to the industry, to horror that knowledgeable voices were being silenced, to "what will be left when we get through this recession?"

As someone who worked within this tight-knit industry for more than a decade, I can relate to the sentiments entirely. The fine jewelry industry, perhaps more than any other, resists change and values its old-school "relationship"-based history. However, as someone one step removed, and now very much immersed in analyzing the changing media as I strategize forward-thinking brand development and public relations/marketing plans, the contradiction between sentiment and reality strikes me as an astounding study in modern "communications"... for not just the jewelry industry, but for businesses, journalists and PR specialists in any field:

Several hours post announcement, Facebook and Twitter continue to buzz about the news that the industry has lost a respected traditional B2B magazine. At the same time, of the three remaining jewelry B2B pubs, only one has posted the news on their website (there is nothing to be found about it on the other two major jewelry publications' sites). Further, the one magazine that did post a story received no comments about it. 

And therein lies the irony. If ever there was a clear-cut example of how social media is reshaping the world of business--and sidelining traditional media that doesn't keep up--it is this event today. One of my FB friends expressed hope that the editors of the now-defunct magazine will maintain a social media presence. I second that... while the "traditional" publication may be gone, the vast knowledge of its editors need not be lost. Instead, take this news and the resulting reaction is a perfect example of how media (and business) is evolving. While change isn't ever comfortable, and no one is certain of what lies ahead, at least one positive seems assured: Whatever may come, the voices are not silenced and information is not stifled... I'd venture to say the voices are louder and clearer; and the information is spreading at a faster rate than ever before. Instead, the mode of communication is simply evolving.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Networking: A Business Basic Worth Revisiting

I've had networking on my mind this week. And by networking, I mean the good old-fashioned,  face-to-face variety. Amid the myriad of things you must do when launching a business (or maintaining a business, or growing a business!) is networking until you think you can't possibly smile anymore. And then, networking some more. While I'm clearly a huge fan of social media and other promotions, nothing beats getting your face out there and forming personal connections. 

Yes, this is Business 101. Yet the subject of networking has come up randomly in several conversations this week and I found a common feeling among a variety of business professionals: networking is, at best, tolerable and, at worst, miserable, for one main reason: too many groups that claim to be for networking really amount to private clubs. As one businesswoman so hilariously said to me this week about a certain local business "networking" group: "I stopped going; they're so clique-y that I forever felt like the fat girl at the junior high school dance." I've had my own similar experience with a particular women's group that I can only describe as slightly less inclusive than the characters in the film Mean Girls

Baffling, isn't it? The basic idea of networking is to expand your contacts and, ultimately, grow your business. And, especially in this economy, who doesn't need to do a little of that?

I offer up as a positive example the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. Admittedly, after said experience with the "Mean Girls", I most definitely fell into the networking-is-a-necessary-evil category. This week, however, I walked into a Chamber event, knowing not a soul in the room, and was met by an "ambassador" Terri Abbruzzese of Warwick RI-based PuroClean. Terri introduced me around and generally made sure I felt comfortable and welcome. Helping her in that task was, well, pretty much everyone else at the event. Ahhh, I thought. A networking event where people actually want to network. Heaven!

I understand from my own experience in groups where I was a long-standing member... it is all too easy to fall into the comfort zone of chatting with those you already know. But, consider: by not introducing yourself to that fat girl at the junior high school dance, you just might have missed out on meeting the love of your life or the most loyal best friend of your life. Don't similarly let opportunity slip away for your business.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Think Social Media Is for Kids? Think again...

I've had several business owners tell me they are hesitant and don't know if they should use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media for business purposes ("Teenagers aren't my audience" is a favorite objection). While I scratch my head at that idea, I do understand: this is a new frontier and many still cling to the outdated social media stereotype set long ago by the likes of MySpace

Research on social media use is scattered and spotty, with no major, well-known authority. So, I've been on one of those get-lost-in-cyberspace hunts to track down data. To keep things as orderly as possible, I focus here on the hottest social medium: Twitter. What I found didn't surprise me, but it might surprise those who resist because they think social media is for their teenaged kids, not for their own business. Here is some key insight (follow links for full reports):

Enough? (If not, let me know, I'm obsessed at the moment!) The point is, there is a major shift in business right now; specifically in marketing a business (and, of course, in the field of public relations... but that is another post). 

As I do this research and sense the change, it reminds me of a personal family story: I'm not sure of the date, but sometime in the late 60s/early 70s, my dad, who was in the military, was offered a job in a craaaazy new area: computers and networking. As a man with a young family, it was a risky proposition that raised the skeptical eyebrows of my grandparents. Dad, however, took the leap (and, needless to say, never regretted it). So, was he a visionary or a wild risk taker? Not really. He simply did his homework and smelled the winds of change. 

Now, four decades later, when I hear resistance to social media and this undeniable evolution in the marketplace, I bite my tongue and offer the data above. On the inside, however, I'm screaming: Hey! Can you smell that?? It is those wind of change again...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Tribute to a Great Lady and a Lesson to Remember...

Today I spent time with my great aunt, Emily Brown. Aunt Emily is 102, sharp as a tack, independent, beautiful b-e-y-o-n-d words, still lives completely on her own, and has survived: two husbands, losing a fortune in the Great Depression, running her own business when women didn't do such things, and countless other challenges since her birth in Eagle Lake, Maine, in 1907. (Right, Aunt Emily watching the balloons we released at her 100th Birthday celebration in 2007).

The setting today: a nursing home in Manchester, Conn.; the situation: her baby sister (my 92-year-old grandmother) needed help getting from her wheelchair into bed. My dad and I had already asked for help, but it was slow in coming and grandma was painfully exhausted. Aunt Emily, ever impeccable in her trademark 2"-heels and pearl strand necklace, took off down the hall with her cane (dad and I knew much better than to try to stop her). She returned, hugged Grandma, settled into a chair beside me and assured us all: "They'll be right here." 

She then leaned in and informed me: "I asked if they could send someone quickly and they said yes, so I said, 'You won't forget now, will you?' and I smiled." Squeezing my hand, she added wisely: "Remember to always smile and be kind. It is the best way to connect with people, and the best policy, no matter what."

No more than two minutes later, two aides were there to help Grandma.

So, here's to my Aunt Emily, the very definition of a "Great Lady", and her simple (yet, oft-neglected) lesson, which has led (and continues to lead) her through life's challenges. May we all smile and remember it...

Social Media PR 101

For many small businesses, marketing via social media is still a great unknown. I hear time and again: "I think I need to 'do' social media, but I'm just not sure..." This is usually followed, at some point by: "How do I know if a social media program is worth the cost?"

Understandable. Businesses want deliverables. Especially small businesses in this economy. They want to see a tangible return on investment. If you are one of those business, please read this article, as it is the best explanation I've seen on social media ROI. 

Also, I offer my own take... an uber-simplistic explanation of social media's power. Social media "PR" is a matter of dialogue and building relationships via give-and-take conversations on various social media. That said, imagine the vast universe of your potential clients and customers. Now imagine they are residents of a small town. Let's say you (clearly, an example for the women out there) just moved to this town, and that your favorite hairstylist is now 500 miles away. How do you find someone with whom you can entrust your tresses? Generally, you have three options:

  1. Look at ads in local publications. (Ahhh, there's a pretty ad, but clearly the salon wrote their own advertisement)
  2. Search for media coverage of salons in the area. (But where to look? And where do I find time to search?) 
  3. Ask for recommendation from your very stylish neighbors. 
Now, say each of the three examples above yield the names of different salons. Which would you be most likely to trust? 

Okay, back to your real self as a small business owner trying to reach that customer:
  • Option 1 is clearly the paid-ad route. It can be effective, but today's consumers are savvy enough to understand the bias in what they are reading. 
  • Option 2 is the traditional PR route, which can also pack ooomph (but, honestly, given the state of publishing today, not quite the power it used to have)
  • Option 3 is social media. People talking to other people about brands with which they feel a relationship or connection.
In sum, this scary new world of "social media" is really just a new-fangled, global approach that taps into what has long been the most effective way to grow your business: strong relationships and word of mouth. In today's global marketplace and Social Media age, consumers seek out recommendations in a cyber, rather than geographic, neighborhood. So, what is a social media PR strategy "worth"? Well, the answer can be found in whatever worth you've traditionally placed in fostering your strong reputation and positive word of mouth.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Marketing to Women: A Success Story

As my friends and family will verify: few things make me happier than being right (please, no comments from said friends and family). And, yesterday evening, certainly unwittingly, Ameriprise financial planners in Cranston, RI, proved me right. Specifically, they confirmed all the reports I wrote during many years reporting on the financial and buying power of women.

At the gracious invitation of Lori at Tomgirl Tours, last night I had the pleasure attending Ameriprise's "Girls' Night Out" event, a small gathering of professional women at Ameriprise's office in Cranston's Garden City shopping center. Not sure what to expect, I found myself greeted by three warm, funny and friendly (and, most importantly, no-pressure) financial planners: Christopher Di Fronzo, Christopher Hager and Eric Tunstall. From there, I was able to network with my peers for a while, and met some fabulous women. Then, Ameriprise offered a short (again, I stress: no pressure) introduction to their services, with a slant on how women (or anyone) can navigate these trying economic times. 

From there, the evening evolved into an entertaining wine tasting and education hosted by the fabulous Marc Guillotte, of The People's Liquor Warehouse in Apponaug, RI. I'm sure there are countless others who will agree: there aren't many business networking events you attend where you (genuinely) laugh until you almost cry, and aren't perhaps watching the clock and the door for an escape route. This was one of those rare occasions. Indeed, the event was scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. and when, at 8:30 p.m., guests were asked if they wanted to leave, most stayed in their seats. Yes, in one short evening I experienced exactly the lessons I preached so many times as a business journalist covering the high-end market, and those I continue to preach as a publicist for small, upscale businesses:

  1. Women have the financial power in today's economy
  2. Women need to be marketed to in a completely different (aka: low-pressure) way than men
  3. Build relationships, and business will follow
  4. Make lemonade: look for ways to make the most of a "bad" economy for yourselves and, more importantly, your customers

So, at approximately 9 p.m., after a three-hour event that surely required a lot of pre-planning and coordination (along with an investment by Ameriprise, which offered a lovely spread of food, and the People's Liquor Warehouse, which brought the fabulous wine we all sampled) what did these companies have "to show for it"? Did Ameriprise have any contracts signed on the dotted line? Did the People's Liquor Warehouse have any receipts for sold bottles of wine? Absolutely not. But, did 25 well-connected local businesswomen leave that room feeling so confident in and connected with their hosts that, whenever they (or, perhaps, more importantly: their friends via word of mouth) are looking for financial planners, they know exactly where they will go? Absolutely. And, when they are shopping for wine, they know what store they will patronize? Absolutely.

And that, my friends, is how a business taps into the financial strength of women in their community. Better yet, it is how they turn a "negative" (the economy) into a "positive" (how to survive it and thrive). And, from my view: best yet, it is public relations at its finest. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Are Celebrity Brands Still Relevant (and Working)?

So, another celebrity has jumped into the "designer" fray. Christie Brinkley--model, mother, serial-wife--is adding jewelry designer to her resume. Brinkley teamed up with retailer Ross-Simons to launch the Christie Brinkley Collection. While the line is actually well positioned with great prices (ring, below, is $125) and stylish (if not innovative, with floral, heart and boho themes) design, I'm curious about the whole "celebrity" angle. Is it still relevant? Does this strategy work in this economy? 

It may very well be that I'm jaded. First, I wrote through the years about far too many "celebrity" fashion and jewelry lines, most of
 which barely registered a blip on the mainstream style radar
 (um, Brody Jenner, anyone?). Second, I'm currently absorbed with the business of independent designers, artists and boutique luxury-service providers. Granted, this is a definite PR success for Ross-Simons (if this were just an unbranded line I and many others probably wouldn't pay it much attention). But, given that consumers seem to be focused on value over image right now, it seems to me that, while celebrities are still helping to drive fashion trends, the general idea of celebrity brands may be reaching the saturation point. I'm very curious to hear thoughts on the subject...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Luxury: The Good Thing About All the Bad News

After a busy few days, I caught up this morning on the news and walked away with my head a-spin, between high-profile bankruptcies and foreclosures, and reports about luxury spending

From a business standpoint, I cringe. But, honestly, digging a little deeper, I find myself encouraged and confident that this reality check will help the luxury market emerge stronger and more true to itself. 

Perhaps it is partially the old-school New England mindset drilled into me when I was a kid growing up in Connecticut (I can't count how many times mom shook her head and said: the truly wealthy don't put on a show). In my neck of the woods, the "rich" people drove boxy Volvo wagons (before Volvo luxed themselves) and wore L.L. Bean. So, when I started covering the luxury market as a journalist in the mid-1990s I experienced quite a culture shock. That shock came mostly from displays by people who owned small businesses, yet lived (to quote mom again) "like Rockefellers". Private jets, $10,000 bags, over-the-top real estate. Wow. How did they afford that stuff?

As bankruptcies pile up, I realize: they couldn't. Somehow, over the past 15 years or so, "luxury" became all about hype and image. Spending (on credit) was the way to go. Obviously, I'm not stating anything we don't all already know (and perhaps I'm sounding like a broken record). But, as our collective fears are stoked by each wave of bad news, and as we scurry to find our way through these times and regroup for whatever the future of "luxury" holds, I stand firm in my faith that the luxury market, however gradually, will not rebound as much as reemerge. Those companies who remain focused on quality, live and work within their means, and base their businesses on value (rather than hype), will be those who survive and define the future of "luxury"... Not unlike those who defined the word to begin with.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

When a Tweet Isn't at All Sweet

Integrating social media outreach into public relations strategies is a major part of my business. As such, Twitter is among the tools I routinely recommend, especially to small businesses. Like any medium, Twitter has benefits and drawbacks. And, while I'm confident the former outweigh the latter, I have my moments when Twitter makes me a little loony. 

Here's my highly technical recommendation to those who are starting to use or are considering using, Twitter as part of their business: don't be annoying. 

I speak here to newbies, as I find I am most often asked: "How do I Twitter"? Well, to start, avoid these three major Twitter offenses (and if you disagree, I'd love to hear feedback, as we're all navigating a new s.m. world)...

1) Tweeting for the sake of tweeting. Yes, it is vital to be authentic and genuine, so sharing non-biz related tweets is important. But balance is key. If you're tweeting 12 times a day to update on every errand you ran and chore you did, or if you post 14 random quotes or 32 links to favorite songs--essentially tweeting for the sake of tweeting--I say one thing: Please, stop. You might have 1,000 followers, but there's a chance 800 of them are just too lazy to un-follow you.

2) Saying the same thing over and over and over (and over...). Promoting yourself is great, but find a relevant new way to communicate your message. Link to a news story or blog post, or find others who share or support your mission and give props. Really: if your followers didn't respond the first 400 times you told them the exact same thing, chances are they won't the 401st time, either. 

3) Holding personal conversations in public. @JohnDoe is a great tool to foster a personal connections on Twitter. But once you and John Doe are connected and want to have an extensive conversation, be kind and take it to another place so your followers don't have to scroll and scroll and scroll through your personal communication. 

While Twitter and other social media are new and unknown for many, remember: when you boil these down to their essence, they are simply ways to communicate. That being the case, the same rules of apply here as they do in any form of communication: Don't be pushy, think before you speak, listen carefully and, most of all: be considerate of others. 

Friday, June 19, 2009

Still Doubting the Use of Social Media in PR? Read On...

Here's a must-read article for those questioning if they should utilize social media as a public relations strategy. The answer: well, the Public Relations Society of America is so convinced that it's the primary focus of the annual conference. My favorite quote:
“I think many are doing a disservice to their companies,” said Michael Cherenson, the chair and CEO of the PRSA. “Now is not the time to hibernate. To be understood, you have to understand.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's the Little Things That Count

I'm a stickler for customer service. I've written here, and in numerous editorials during my tenure as editor, about how to earn repeat customers. Clearly, making judgements on customers is a bad idea, as I've already posted. But what little things make a one-time shopper a loyal customer? 

Almost everyone can name a favorite place to shop or dine. And, aside from those who are label-obsessed, it usually boils down to the experience. My sister in Connecticut, for example, is loyal to Michaels Jewelers, because the salespeople are friendly, non-assuming and offer little things like jewelry cleaning while she shops--regardless of whether she's spending $50 or $5,000. My best friend, Jenn, a high school teacher in the D.C. area, meanwhile, shops at J. Crew because the mega-brand gives props to hard-working (and underpaid) educators by offering a 15% discount. 

My own personal favorite example: Tim Hortons. For those not in New England, Tim Hortons is, roughly, a regional competitor of Dunkin Donuts. Being a coffee fiend constantly on-the-go, I stop for coffee, on average, once a day. When I moved to Rhode Island last year, I drove right past this unknown Tim Hortons and headed for the DD I knew from New York. Until, that is (I don't remember why, but) I hit the Tim Hortons drive-thru in Westerly about a year ago. As usual, my lab pup, Mia, was in the backseat. We pulled up to the window and along with my coffee (which is also, I should note, cheaper than DD), the employee asked if Mia would like a Timbit (Tim Hortons equivalent of a DD Munchkin). Well, with that, Tim Hortons certainly earned a loyal customer in Mia. Like most with fur-children, I'm a sucker for my pup. So, I was thrilled that this chain-restaurant offered a little something special to my little girl.
As a result, I avoid Dunkin Donuts (even when Mia isn't with me) and seek out Tim Hortons. Now, I'm not a mathematician but, by my rough estimate: in a year, Tim Horton has invested $50 in free "timbits" for Mia. In return? They've made about $600 in profits off my coffee purchases. Dunkin Donuts, meanwhile, with higher coffee prices, has lost roughly $900. 

Interesting food for thought, no? Generally, as this example illustrates, it's a matter of seeing the forest and ignoring the pesky trees. Sometimes merchants think they can't "afford" to "give" things away... even little things, regardless of what they may mean for customers. But, when you break down the numbers, the question really is: can they afford NOT to? 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bravo to Upscale Boutique Firms Who Create Their Own Opportunity

Clearly, this is not a good economy for small, luxury, boutique firms. Or, wait. Is it? Well, it all depends on your frame of mind, I say. If you think creatively and find solutions, these economic times can be spun from gloomy to bright. Opportunity, afterall, can come in strange disguises.

Last night, one of Miamore Communications' clients, Tomgirl Tours, proved this truth. A little background: Tomgirl Tours is an upscale, boutique travel firm specializing in culinary and adventure travel for women. Tomgirl founder (and dynamo) Lori Carr loves to travel; but she also loves her hometown (and my new one): Providence, RI. As such, Tomgirl is offering three culinary tours of this gorgeous, quintessential New England town this summer. Click here for details on the tours (al fresco cooking course on the rooftop of a boutique hotel, anyone? How about a progressive dinner in Federal Hill, an Italian neighborhood with restaurants that can whup the best any larger city may claim to boast?). 

Despite the obvious appeal of these tours, as we all know: this is a rough year for the tourism (and most other) industries. But Lori is not deterred. Instead, she is inspired... so she joined forces with the Hotel Providence (you MUST check out this hotel. I had a tour and, forget visiting... I'd like to live there) to host a special event last night. The guests: travel
agents. From afar? Notsomuch. About 20 agents from the local region attended. The payoff, aside from learning about Tomgirl Tours and the gorgeous Hotel Providence? A colorful narrative and conversation with Providence icon and former mayor Buddy Cianci (right, with Carr). Now this, my friends (if you've been under a rock for the past 20 years) is a man who can sell the region. 

The result? Well, for starters, busy travel agents who agreed to come from 6-7:30 p.m. happily lingered til 9. Notes were scribbled, press kits devoured, and, I'm confident, some New England "staycations" will be sold. 

The moral: Lori and Tomgirl Tours, along with the Hotel Providence's incredibly gracious Mark Feinberg, are two spectacular and inspirational examples of upscale boutique firms taking the economy's lemons and making sweet, sweet lemonade...