By Audrey Webster

While blogs have been around for more than a decade, the role they play as an effective media channel has increased dramatically over the past few years. They have become a powerful tool in helping businesses and organizations reach targeted audiences, increase brand awareness and grow revenue.

As the newest member of MP&F’s blogger outreach team, it’s only taken me a month to realize how much time and attention the team is devoting to maximizing the many opportunities that exist in the blogosphere for clients.

Mom Creative formatted

Kat and Kate, the leading ladies of MP&F’s blogger outreach team, refer to  bloggers as “informed brand ambassadors,” and continually encourage our team to seek outside opportunities to improve our outreach strategy. Recently, I had the chance to attend an IABC Nashville luncheon, where Jessica Turner, professional blogger and founder of The Mom Creative, spoke about the do’s and don’ts of blogger outreach. In discussing various types of campaigns and what she looks for in a pitch, Jessica did a great job explaining the key points communications professionals need to know about the blogging business. If a blogger is not treated like a businessperson, the quality of the post (given the blogger agrees to write one) will show it. Here are some of the main takeaways from the luncheon:

  • Blogs are much more relational than traditional media. Successful bloggers earn the trust of their readers, giving their content the credibility that traditional media often lacks. Jessica explained that she will not hesitate to say no to a pitch if the brand doesn’t appeal to her or her audience.
  • Blogger outreach must start with building relationships. It’s crucial that the content in a pitch be relevant to the blog’s message, style and followers.
  • What to look for in a blog: a strong following, content that is clear, engaging and consistent (the length and quality of the comment thread are good indicators!), and SEO tags. Displaying these tags or a search bar shows that audience interaction is important to the blogger.
  • Offer the blogger various campaign and partnership options. These include unpaid features, product reviews/giveaways, sponsored posts, affiliate posts (compensation based on effectiveness of a coupon or promo code) and advertising. Social media promotion is also an affordable option, and is particularly appealing if a brand’s Twitter following is 10 times that of the blogger’s.

The real eye-opener was a story Jessica saved for the end of her presentation. She had posted on her blog, Facebook page and Twitter account promoting a four-hour sale of a brand she’s worked with multiple times. Her posts generated more traffic (and sales) to the brand’s website than the 1 million emails the company had sent out that morning. Needless to say, Jessica later received this particular product free.

It’s clear that blogger outreach can lead to measurable results for brands and businesses if executed correctly. Like businesses, bloggers want to be given expectations up-front, they want to be paid on time, and they want their content to be shared on other media channels.

MCC

Image Credit: TVSDESIGN / TUCK-HINTON ARCHITECTS / MOODY-NOLAN via The Tennessean

So we’re coming off a pretty big couple of weeks, huh, Nashville?

The opening of the Music City Center gave us another feather in a cap that is starting to make us look like quite the peacock. With all these people telling us how wonderful we are (I’ll spare you the many links), I guess it only made sense to open a 1.2 million-square-foot building and admit, with a sheepish grin, “Yeah, we are pretty great.”

As I looked out from one of the balconies of the MCC last week, I wondered how newcomers to Nashville would see the city through the prism of this new entertainment district. How would their version of Nashville compare to mine?

We have a great opportunity – and, perhaps, a responsibility – with the Music City Center to ensure our visitors experience the Nashville that we enjoy every day. I think the powers-that-be recognized this, and there are hearty doses of local flavor throughout the building. The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. The $2 million in art installations. The architecture that gives the feeling of being inside a guitar (or maybe a whale). And it’s a good sign that the first big event in the center will be our local Music City Sports Festival.

Is it going to feel touristy? Sure. The MCC is surrounded by hotels, honky-tonks, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Bridgestone Arena. Convention visitors to our city are still going to get the amped-up, ABC television-show version of Nashville, and that’s OK.

But as the city continues to market the MCC and the great new amenities around it, we would do well to incorporate the little things that make Nashville what it is and what it’s becoming. Mention in its promotion that you can escape up to Rolling Mill Hill for great views, some awesome coffee and food from one of the best chefs in the country. Encourage intrepid B-Cyclers to make it over to Five Points, or Jefferson Street, or Centennial Park. Remind them to catch a baseball game at that old college-days couch of a stadium we keep meaning to replace (and to grab a burger at Gabby’s if they’re lucky).

City leaders have made it a point to say that the MCC is for Nashvillians to enjoy. Just as important, let’s make the MCC a place for visitors to enjoy Nashville – the Nashville we know.

VineCrop

The following is an email exchange between MP&F staff members Lacey Purcell and Colby Sledge, because we were probably going to email each other about this anyway.

CS: Lacey, I’m having trouble wrapping my head around Vine. I feel like we’re really just giving life to selfies, which, along with zombies and the Boy Meets World College Years, are things we just should not be reanimating. What is the audience for Vine?

LP: I’ll overlook your BMWCY dis, because we both know those seasons were critical development periods for Cory and Topanga’s relationship.

That being said, Vine is a great opportunity to engage social media users on all platforms. I think it gives brands a chance to explore different ways to drive traffic to a website and increase SEO, among other things. What problems are you running into?

CS: My problem is that brands haven’t figured out what to do with it. Urban Outfitters dresses dogs. NBC films a JPEG of Seth Meyers and pipes in weird stock applause. These people know GIFs exist, right?

So far, Vine is populated mostly with teenagers being bored. Is this really what brands want to associate themselves with?

LP: OK, I agree. People are jumping on the Vine bandwagon a little too quickly. But isn’t that what happened with Facebook and Twitter? It took brands some time to figure out how to tailor those platforms to fit their particular messages. I think Wimbledon did a cool job giving a behind-the-scenes look with this Vine.

CS: Sorry for the delay — I just awoke from the coma that video induced.

Look, I agree with you, in part: Vine’s biggest potential for brands is providing consumers with access — something they can’t see anywhere else. Sports presents a great opportunity for this. I think the Dodgers’ “#VineDeckCircle” is a step in the right direction.

NBA and NHL playoff teams should be making bank on Vine. If Zach Randolph appeared on my iPhone and told me to purchase a special-edition “Grit and Grind” playoff headband, I would buy approximately 700.

LP: Don’t act like you weren’t entranced by Wimbledon. But seriously, that video contains something tennis lovers may never have seen before: a guy who looks really un-legit drawing the lines for one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

However, Vine does more than behind-the-scenes. What about some kind of transformation? A home décor store could use the app to showcase a room before, during and after a renovation. Perfect place to showcase new products, feature new designers, etc.

CS: And what about fashion? A few runway shows at New York Fashion Week did a good job with this, but the possibilities here are limitless. Don’t people want to see what clothes look like when they’re actually being worn?

By the way, we’re going to have to wrap this up soon, because Tim Gunn and I have an early lunch.

LP: I’m impressed. Let’s tie a pashmina around you and call it a day.

I agree. The fashion industry could do so many creative things with this app, and it makes sense for it to have a presence because of the incredibly creative nature of the industry.

I like Vine. I like social media. I don’t like it for everyone. The ultimate goal shouldn’t be to have people watch the vines; the goal should be to drive traffic into a store, raise awareness about an issue, or increase sales in some way, shape or form. Vine can help do that, but, just like with Facebook and Twitter, there has to be a strategy behind its use.

CS: Agreed. Vine looks simple, but beneath it lies a tangled web – dare I say, a tangled VINE – of necessary strategy and resources. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to record a Vine on a bicycle, and potentially a how-to on avoiding ambulance rides.

CS: We attached my phone to my helmet using a very complicated lantern-strap-and-paper-clip model, which proved way more interesting than the bike video itself. WARNING: Do not view bike footage while operating heavy machinery.

Participants at NashvilleNext events have given their ideas of what they want to see for Nashville's future.

Participants at NashvilleNext events have given their ideas of what they want to see for Nashville’s future.

By Colby Sledge

On a recent trip to Atlanta to visit friends and catch a ballgame, I saw the city a little differently than in previous trips. Our work with NashvilleNext, the countywide plan to determine Nashville’s civic planning over the next 25 years, has forced me to notice my built environment a lot more. Now, whenever I see new developments or empty storefronts, I think about returns on investment, density levels and public-private partnerships. Really nerdy stuff, I know.

As we drove through the mega-highways that connect Atlanta and its seemingly endless suburbs, I remarked to my wife that such urban sprawl was a planner’s nightmare. On our way to our friends’ house, we passed construction to extend six-lane highways even farther away from the city. As anyone who has been to Atlanta knows, few people (less than 10 percent of the metro Atlanta area population) actually live within the city limits. Residents define themselves by their suburbs and surrounding counties, and attached to those locations are subtexts regarding income levels, demographics and overall quality of life. Those realities are not unique to Atlanta, but they are perhaps more pronounced due to the city’s many tentacles.

In Nashville, we often remark that we never want to be like Atlanta when it comes to traffic and sprawl. But there are positive examples we can take from Atlanta as we consider what kind of city Nashville wants to be. Inside the Perimeter (as the notorious I-285 is called), we found neighborhoods that incorporated housing for a variety of incomes, as well as restaurants and small retail that encouraged foot traffic. Atlantic Station, a mixed-use Midtown development on the site of the old Atlantic Steel mill, has gained attention for its focus on reuse, energy efficiency and density. (It also attracts a jealous side-eye from Nashville toward its IKEA.)

As is often mentioned at NashvilleNext events, our population is going to increase by more than a million people over the next 25 years. Surrounding counties like Rutherford and Williamson will grow at a faster rate than Davidson, but the jobs will continue to be in Nashville. We’re going to have more commuters, meaning we’re going to have to come up with solutions that use our existing infrastructure – our highways – and encourage sensible transit options. That’s where we can avoid a lot of the gridlock and asphalt that Atlanta has created.

Neighborhoods like Atlanta's Virginia-Highland have accessible retail storefronts, a mix of businesses and homes and a high degree of walkability.

Neighborhoods like Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland have accessible retail storefronts, a mix of businesses and homes and a high degree of walkability. (Source: Flickr)

But we’re also going to need to create spaces that allow people to live, work and play where they are, without having to spend a disproportionate percentage of their income on transportation and housing. We can look at Atlanta’s examples like Virginia-Highland and Atlantic Station to see what we can incorporate both within our urban core and in our suburbs.

NashvilleNext is encouraging such discussions in a very accessible and open way. You don’t have to be a city planner to get involved; you just have to care about your community. You can join NashvilleNext online on Facebook, on Twitter and through our online conversation hub, talk.NashvilleNext.net. We can learn a lot from cities like Atlanta as we plan for the future, but it’s going to take everyone’s involvement to ensure we create a plan that is uniquely Nashville.

David FoxBy David Fox

At MP&F, we often say that we take a campaign approach to communications. But what does that mean? Are we referring to political campaigns? In a word, yes.

MP&F was started by a group of people who’d all worked in and around political campaigns before joining the company, and we discovered that political campaigns are amazing laboratories for incubating new communications tools and applications, taking them to scale in real time and proving their value, or lack thereof, in very measurable ways.

Did your candidate win? If so, then chances are your strategies worked. And the best campaigns are typically those that not only have great tools, but have all of those tools working together in a synchronized way. So the advertising and the speeches, the tweets and the news conferences, the Op-Eds and the direct-mail pieces and the off-the-record backgrounders with reporters are all operating like pistons in the same engine that’s firing on all cylinders.

When we say MP&F takes a campaign approach, that’s what we’re talking about. Being able to see the big picture and having the ability to deploy the right tactics at the right time to move the campaign closer to its goal of winning, however that is defined.

Some organizations come to us in search of a simple strategy – for example, a Facebook strategy to get a message to friends of the organization, or an ad to make people aware of an event. And we are happy to offer those services, because we have excellent graphic designers and social media practitioners, among other experts, who can turn around ads and Facebook plans in short order.

But what we have found is that those individual strategies work best when they are part of a coordinated campaign, when all of the messages and all of the delivery mechanisms are synced up and they flow out as part of one, over-arching strategy.

It’s like cooking biscuits. This morning I cooked a batch of Mary B’s Frozen Biscuits – which I highly recommend – and on the package were these words: “Placing our biscuits together with sides touching will increase their rise during baking.”

Biscuits rise during baking, but they rise more when they touch each other. Communications strategies are like biscuits. They work better when they work together.

mmmmm, biscuits

Mmmmm, biscuits.

McNeely Pigott & Fox is celebrating 25 years in business during 2012, and one of the ways we’re celebrating is by answering the 25 questions we are most asked about our business.

Question 6: How do you start a career in PR?

 By Lauren Barrett

As an MP&F intern coordinator, I work with young, eager people who are itching to get into the field of public relations. I enjoy the process of mentoring our interns and watching their development throughout each semester. Some of them are dying to fulfill their Samantha Jones career dream (let me tell you, NOT going to happen) and can define every PR term imaginable, from “news release” to “grassroots campaign.” That’s a great start, but what does it really take to snag that entry-level PR job?

That's me in the center with our summer 2012 intern class.

That’s me in the center with our summer 2012 intern class.

Internships. Whether it’s writing for a school, club or local community publication or interning in a large firm, on-the-job experience is key. You can learn only so much in the classroom. Start your internships early, and try several different places to figure out which type of environment suits you. You may find you enjoy working for a nonprofit, in a corporate setting or at a small agency. Check out websites like Intern Sushi for available intern positions and tips. Also, visit your university’s career center to practice job interviewing for that big internship.

Networking. Ask a PR professional to have coffee with you. Pick their brain. Ask about what they look for in entry-level candidates and what you can do to be prepared after graduation – though your job search should start well before you graduate. Also be sure to take advantage of job shadowing. It’s a great way to make new connections and find out more about different companies.

Portfolio. Be sure to create a strong portfolio to showcase all of the hard work you’ve put into your internships and education. Include several different types of writing samples (news releases, blog posts, brochure copy), resulting media hits, PR plans, social media campaigns and anything else you have worked on that is relevant to the job you are applying for.

Intangibles. There are several key skills that PR pros must possess. Weak writers need not apply. Digital media experience is a requirement these days. You must be detail-oriented, able to multitask, hard-working and a team player. Positive attitudes are essential, as well as the willingness to go the extra mile. Standing outside in the rain to direct traffic at a Saturday event? No big deal. Media calls at 5 a.m.? Done.

Take it from a girl who started her PR career by Googling “What is a news release?” and “What can I do to get an internship at a top PR firm?” The Google results led to three internships and one big interview on the 28th floor of a high-rise in downtown Nashville. It will take persistence, hard work and a positive attitude, but you will get there. Samantha Jones will have nothing on you.

Already working in PR? How’d you get your start?

MP&F and Mayor's Workplace Challenge

By Alice Chapman

MP&F was recently asked to share with a group of business leaders why we are participating in the Mayor’s Workplace Challenge. Through the Challenge, Mayor Karl Dean has asked Nashville businesses to show “just how big an impact they can make on the livability of our city.” There are three areas in which a business can compete:

  • Volunteer service (Involved)
  • The environment (Green)
  • Fostering a healthy workplace (Healthy)

The Challenge is really about quantifying the activities and habits that are already part of your company’s culture, and adding some new ones for the good of your company and the city. Even the smallest of businesses can participate.

In filling out the score sheets, we found that we are already doing a fair number of items included in the Challenge:

  • Involved – We give back to the community as a company through an extensive pro bono program.” (Last year, MP&F donated more than 3,870 hours to a total of 24 nonprofits.) In addition to our in-office work, many MP&Fers volunteer on their own time. They  serve on boards, read to children, chair events and participate in events such as Hands On Nashville Day.
  • Green – If you live in Nashville’s Urban Services District, you take your Curby recycling cart to the end of your driveway once a month. (And if you’re not using Curby, you should be.) MP&F developed Metro’s Curby campaign 10 years ago, about the same time we realized we needed to be recycling more than paper and cans. We now divert an estimated 280 gallons of trash from the landfill every month through our office recycling program.
  • Healthy – The health of our employees is very important to us. That is why we pay for 100 percent of our employees’ health insurance costs and offer a flexible spending plan to help cover out-of-pocket medical expenses. We also pay for flu shots for every employee each fall. We encourage a healthy lifestyle. You’ll often find MP&Fers jogging through the streets of downtown Nashville in preparation for a local marathon, or working out at the gym located in our office building.  

We’re communicators. We see another benefit to the Mayor’s Challenge – telling the MP&F story through our website, blog, and Facebook and Twitter pages.

We hope other Nashville businesses will join the Mayor’s Workplace Challenge. We’re all in this together. When one Nashville business is recognized for making a change, we all benefit.

Tell us what your company is doing to make Nashville a better place to live and work.