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offering tips, techniques, and thoughts from Maine's PR Maven, Nancy Marshall


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10 tips for effective press releases in the digital age

Reports of the premature death of press releases have been overly exaggerated.

I was with a travel writer friend a couple weeks ago, and she was lamenting the fact that she hardly ever receives real press releases from tourism destinations any more.

“I think that these young PR people think that just posting a blurb on Facebook or a Tweet on Twitter replaces an actual press release,” she said.

Well, my friends, press releases are still relevant and useful.

You should write and distribute press releases to:

  • promote new products and services
  • announce the hire of new personnel
  • announce awards and recognition
  • come clean during a crisis with factual information
  • provide details on an upcoming program or special event

Press release exampleThe press release is still a valuable tool to provide information to the media and the public. It is also the principle means of fair disclosure for corporations. A press release is more formal than a social media post, so it is more credible and is seen as coming directly from the management or leadership of a company or organization.

Here are some tips on crafting good releases:

  1. Use relevant keywords because it will help with search engine optimization on your site (SEO).
  2. Follow up with a phone call to the media outlets where you most want to see the release published or broadcast and provide another snippet of information to the journalist.
  3. Be sure that everything in the release is factual, truthful, relevant and timely. If it’s about an event, be sure to allow enough lead time (at least six weeks in advance).
  4. Provide email and phone contact information for the contact person and be sure that person is available when the release is received by the media.
  5. Provide a photograph or piece of artwork that will illustrate the release. If a newspaper uses a photo, it’s more likely to get placed ‘above the fold’ which is a more desirable placement.
  6. Include a boilerplate paragraph at the end of the release with some background and history on the organization, as well as a link to a website.
  7. Proofread and proofread again. There’s nothing worse than a release riddled with typos. Messiness like this erodes at your credibility as a PR person, as well as that of your organization.
  8. Include at least one quote from an official at the organization or company to express what this news means to the company.
  9. Be sure to carefully research your media list and make sure you are targeting media people who will actually be interested in your news.
  10. Be sure to update your list?if there are bouncebacks after you send out your release in order to prepare for the next time you distribute a release.

Writing and distributing press releases is sometimes seen as something that can be done by interns or low-level professionals but it is actually a critically important job function and should be handled by someone with experience, expertise and professionalism so as to give a good impression of your company or organization.

You can’t make it up: Charlie the Steer found on an island

I didn’t know whether to use the headline “You can’t make it up,” or “Only in Maine,” but this story fits both categories.

Town & Country Foods in Greene, Maine, had a big plastic steer in its front yard. You know, a steer…or more commonly known as a cow to those of us who aren’t farmers or beef salesmen.

Charlie the SteerCharlie looks just like the cows that used to be in front of the Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Mass. down there on on Route One, on the way to Logan Airport.

That’s because Charlie the Steer was made from the same mold as those Massachusetts steers (or is steer the plural? like deer and deers?) Anyway, Hilltop Steak House…owned by Frank Giuffrida, you know the place that always had people lined up for a mile waiting to get in and eat a piece of steak that didn’t come from Charlie’s brothers and sisters?

So, Charlie got stolen by some mysterious people in a minivan, who must have been riding around saying to themselves, “let’s go cow tipping,” which is a favorite pastime of Maine college students. Instead of tipping a live cow, they found a plastic one and decided to take it for a ride in their van, followed by a boat ride. Would you call that turf and surf?

After a great deal of media outreach, Charlie was found on a remote island by a kayaker. The holes in Charlie’s feet had been plugged up with duct tape (Maine’s answer to everything, well, everything that can’t be taken care of by Allen’s Coffee Brandy.)

Charlie was reunited with its owners at the store in Greene, Maine, thanks to the kayaker who was paddling by, minding his own business, when he saw a plastic cow leg sticking out of the woods on the island. Maine’s valiant State Troopers and Game Wardens put Charlie in a boat and ferried him back to the mainland, whereupon the Town & Country staff picked him up and drove him back to his cherished home near Maine’s L/A: Lewiston/Auburn.

Now tourists are flocking from miles around to have their photos taken with Charlie the Steer, and the meat store is racking up beef sales like never before thanks to its new front yard celebrity.

I swear to God. You really just can’t make this stuff up. I can’t wait to tell this story to my friends over a beverage this winter. It will surely get funnier.

Here’s the real reporting from my friends at the Portland Press Herald:

Enjoy the beauty of Maine’s summer

This is the view from my home office window.  How do I choose between my 'to do' list and enjoying the outdoors during our brief Maine summer?

This is the view from my home office window. How do I choose between my ‘to do’ list and enjoying the outdoors during our brief Maine summer?

I confess: I was born into a moderately obsessive family. Some people would say I am driven. I have a hard time truly relaxing and shutting down my mind. As I write today, I am looking out my window at a beautiful mountain range, and there’s a cool breeze blowing. I know I have work to do, but I am also mindful that Maine’s summers are short, and sometimes it’s better to take some time outdoors to put a fresh perspective on your work and your life.

I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to live and work in Maine. I live in inland Maine which is flush with dense forestland, abundant wildlife, clear rivers and lakes, and plenty of outdoor recreation to enjoy. I am into road biking as well as mountain biking. I also enjoy hiking, swimming, golf and camping. I’ve always thought of Maine as one of the world’s top destinations for outdoor recreation and inland Maine is full of opportunities.

Our coast is dramatic and inspirational, too. I have sailed the waters of Penobscot Bay on small sailboats as well as 100+ foot schooners and there’s nothing like the smell of the salt air and the views of lighthouses, seals and the famous rocky coast of Maine. My favorite windjammer captain, Kip Files of the Victory Chimes, is known to say, “Penobscot Bay in Maine is the second most beautiful sailing grounds in the world. We’re still looking for the most beautiful.”

Whether you sail aboard a Maine windjammer, shop or eat in the Old Port in Portland, walk on the dramatic rocks of Pemaquid Point, stroll along the quaint streets of Camden, or hike the trails where the mountains meet the sea in Acadia National Park, you will always come away feeling inspired by Maine’s beauty.

So I’m writing this as much to remind myself as to tell you that summer in Maine is short. Although I feel like a slave to my “to do” list most of the time, I need to remind myself to get out there and enjoy this beautiful state that I feel so blessed to call my home.

Think of Your Website as an Asset and Your Marketing as an Investment

I contend that in today’s business world, a website is one of the most important assets a business can own, second only to the customer list. In the eyes of many consumers today, if you do not have a website, it’s as if you do not exist. And without customers, you have no revenues, and therefore no viable business.

Think of Your Website as an Asset and Your Marketing as an Investment

Consumers are searching on their computers, and increasingly on their smartphones, for information of all kinds: a place nearby to get sushi for lunch, the best model economy car to buy, a good beach read, and which school is best for their child’s education. If your business doesn’t show up on the Web, or if it only shows up in the reviews left by other people, then you are missing a huge opportunity to present your business in a positive light and tout the benefits it offers to its targeted audience.

The time and effort you put into improving your website so it is easily findable and relevant to the needs of your targeted audience is one of the most important activities you can engage in as part of growing a business. A website that offers valuable information and educates visitors about the benefits of working with you or buying your products and services will improve your relationship with current customers and attract new prospects that are an ideal fit for your business.

The customer list is a business’s number one asset. Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that making repeat sales to existing customers is the most cost-effective way to grow your bottom line. Maintaining a customer list will enable you to market directly to those who already have a proven interest in what you have to offer and make the relationships you already have with these people even stronger. So it’s important to tend to your customer list as you would tend to a garden. The idea is to grow your customer list over time in order to grow your business.

Enabling those who visit your site to sign up for an e-newsletter on your website Home page or offering them exclusive resources and information in exchange for their contact information are some of the ways you can use your website to help grow your customer list.

Other online tools, including social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, can help you engage your customers further so they feel they are part of your business and feel a sense of trust in what you say and do. Always remember, though, that the spirit of the Internet is to provide value to your followers, not to hard sell your company’s products or services. What you post on your social media pages should be educational, informative and engaging, not overly promotional.

Your website and your customer list are closely tied together. Your current and prospective customers will refer to your website for useful information that will enable them to learn more about your company and what you have to offer. Value-added resources you can provide for your customers on your website can include resource articles and how-to videos. The more useful background information you are able to provide to a member of your target audience, the more likely they are to make a purchase. Regularly posting new information and resources will give them a reason to return to your website again and again, helping to facilitate a long-term relationship with customers.

Accountants may argue with me about classifying a website as an asset. That said, if you own a bricks and mortar store, and you qualify that as an asset, I believe a website is as equally valuable to a business, particularly if customers can make purchases from that site.

Finally, just like the upgrades you make to your business’s physical location and the equipment you need to operate, the money you spend on marketing is an investment in the future of your business. All marketing initiatives should start with a strategic marketing plan, and a strategy to maximize your company’s Web presence and website should be at the center of your plan. Like any good investment, your marketing strategy should yield a measurable return calculated by clearly defined measurements of success determined before implementation.

At NMC, we offer our own version of a strategic marketing communications plan, and we call it The Marshall Plan?. One of the features that makes The Marshall Plan? unique is a time-tested development process that engages the leadership of an organization along with the best minds from our agency to collaboratively develop a road map to generate the return on investment your business or nonprofit needs to grow. Please call me if you want to talk more about how a Marshall Plan? can help you improve your bottom line and deliver measurable results that will get your entire organization energized about your growth potential.

One Easy Way to See if Your SEO is Getting Better or Worse

by NMC Internet Marketing Manager Matthew Rideout

Google’s search engine algorithm changes a lot, trying to provide searchers with the best search results possible. Their goal is to put the best, most helpful content at the top of the search results page.

How SEO Has Changed

Google Analytics Acquisition metricIn the old days all you needed to do for SEO was make sure your page title, headings, and content all used the same keywords, and that you got links from other pages using the same keywords.

Not anymore. Google is getting better at looking at a website the way a real human would, and deciding if your content is better or worse than other websites about the same subject. Everything from your syntax and the vocabulary used, to the friendliness of the site layout, and several other factors that humans pick up on, are now used as part of Google’s algorithm.

Read the rest of the article…

Surprise, Surprise! Google is Now Basing its Rankings on What Humans Want

Three Key Takeaways from a new book
on SEO in 2014 & Beyond

For many years now, search engine optimization has seemed like a mysterious science, where only the tech geeks worked their magic to make websites rise to the top in search rankings. Well, I have good news for all of us mere mortals. Google is now basing its rankings on what real humans want, not the spiders or bots or other mysterious creatures that live on the web.

SEO 2014 & BeyondMatthew Rideout, our interactive marketing manager at NMC, recently recommended that we all read this new book, SEO 2014 & Beyond by Dr. Andy Williams. Thanks for the great recommendation, Matt! I especially like that this book was a quick read, not a voluminous textbook on SEO.?Matt has told me that these common SEO practices are brand new; as a matter of fact, even the techniques that were used as recently as 2013 are now obsolete and can actually harm your rankings. Most people are aware that SEO has changed, but you will probably be surprised at how drastically and how recently the changes have taken place.

These are my three key takeaways:

1. ?No longer can you get away with “keyword stuffing,” which is inserting the words that you think people will be searching for in order to find your site. Here is an example of keyword stuffing, if I were trying to promote Nancy Marshall Communications:

At Nancy Marshall Communications, we are a public relations agency and we do public relations and build and promote websites, because we are experts in public relations, website development and internet marketing, and we know all about doing PR, website development, online advertising, and using public relations to help promote your website and your company so the public and the media can find you.

Is that a sentence that a human would like to read? Probably not!

The key is to create content that sounds like it was written by an expert, not a marketing person. Here’s the same sentence written in a more human way:

At Nancy Marshall Communications, we use our expertise in public relations and website development, as well as internet marketing, to help our clients raise their profile and promote their services.

This last sentence is more readable, and easier to understand. The sentence is created for someone visiting your site (a human), as opposed to the search engines.

2. Quality content needs to be useful, informative, and balanced, with no marketing hype.

3. From a personal branding perspective, you need to get your site name and photos of yourself on as many high-quality sites as possible, with links back to the appropriate pages on your own site. The high quality sites are sites that are owned by accepted sources of expert information or advice.

Dr. Williams’ book is full of expert advice on SEO that is new and based on Google’s latest updates which are called Hummingbird. These updates are based on an algorithm, or a series of mathematical equations which mimic the way the human brain searches for information. With more and more people now talking into their smart phones to find information, the way that searches are conducted has changed dramatically. (Siri, can you find me the best sushi place close to where I am right now?)

If you are interested in SEO, I recommend you read this book. I especially recommend it if a company is trying to sell you SEO services and you suspect that they are basing their methodology on outdated techniques. The techniques that produce fast results, which are called “Black Hat,” will definitely backfire on you because Google will punish you for trying to outsmart them. I compare Black Hat SEO to crash dieting. You might lose 10 pounds in a week but you risk gaining 20 pounds as soon as you go back to your old way of eating.

Mapping Your Network

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you,
whose presence calls forth your best.”


I believe that your network of contacts is the foundation of your brand. The people who are closest to you, who will vouch for you, who will refer you for jobs or business, and who trust you enough to do business with you are the ones who will help you define who you are and what makes you unique.

Network map

Have you ever considered mapping your network? It might be a useful exercise. It would be something you could post on your wall and look at every day. It would be a visual reminder that you need to ‘tend to your flock,’ and stay in touch with these people to show them gratitude for being part of your life.

You could start with your most inner circle of contacts. This would be your family and closest friends.

The next layer might be the people you work with on a day-to-day basis and the friends you see frequently but who aren’t necessarily your most intimate friends. If you send Christmas cards every year, it might be the people on your Christmas card list. Or it might be your Facebook friends.

The next layer might be all the associations you are part of: your professional memberships, your church congregation, your school and community groups, and perhaps even the residents in your neighborhood.

Then there might be another layer with people whose names you recognize, but who you might not know very well. You might make it a goal to get to know these people better.

I recommend you create a network map, and you hang it on the wall near your desk. You might want to include an affirmation such as: “These are the most important people in my life and I am grateful for my relationship with them.” Or it could even be as simple as “These are my peeps!”

New Hope for Old Resolutions

Happy 2014! NMC President Charlene Williams wrote this humorous article about New Year’s resolutions. Enjoy!

As we near the end of January, many of us have already determined that the New Year’s resolution we made with the best intentions less than a month ago is nothing more than a nagging reminder of something we know we should be doing for ourselves.

According to, the top three New Year’s resolutions for 2014 (source: University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology) are:

1. ?Lose weight
2. ?Get organized
3. ?Spend less, save more

The research goes on to report that 45 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, but sadly, only 8 percent are successful in achieving their resolution.

While 8 percent is pretty meager, I have to wonder if that percentage is actually an increase over past years due to newer technology and social media platforms that offer up the latest in self-help techniques right at our finger tips. It seems that keeping resolutions should be much easier. Let’s take each of the top three resolutions for 2014 separately:

Pinterest board#1 – Lose weight – No surprise here. This is a big one. Just Google “weight loss” and you could read for the next six months about the tips, tricks, and lifestyle changes that will result in a new you. Just be sure to do your reading on your hand-held device while on your stationary bike. Take my personal advice and do not watch the Food Network while on your stationary bike. The conflict is too great.

You can even join and participate in Weight Watchers without ever attending a meeting. Just download their app, enter your credit card number and you’re ready to roll…hopefully, not literally.

And, don’t forget Pinterest. You can find just about any low fat, low carb, low cholesterol, low calorie recipe you could ever imagine. And, how about those pins of the cute little outfits appropriate for super models? They do wonders to guilt you into not eating.

Lastly, you can download the free My Fitness Pal app to your mobile device. You will be able to enter your food intake and log your activity. This only works if you’re completely honest. Food you eat while you are preparing the food you track does count. Sorry.

#2 – Getting organized – I must admit, I had no idea there was a magazine called Getting Organized available online. One of the featured articles in the current issue is 12 Things to Simplify Your Workday. I stopped reading when I got to number 2 – check it out.

If the online magazine isn’t enough, wikiHow has a five-part series on how to be organized. After Part 5, you’ll even find a list of warnings – don’t worry, nothing like horrible side effects from taking prescription medication. Just benign warnings like, “Don’t expect to get organized overnight unless you’re really fast at it, or it’s a small area.” Thank goodness! In addition to the warnings, there is a Things You’ll Need section with the second bullet being “Patience” – which leads right into other resolutions that are even harder to achieve.

It would not be fair to Pinterest if I didn’t give them props for this one, too. You can find a plethora of ideas on organizing your home, office and life in general. Have you ever seen so many neatly arranged closets in your life? The best part is, you can have those same organized spaces by using either old bureaus, left over wrapping paper rolls, or used pallets. Oh, yeah…we’ll have to be sure to organize all the left over and old stuff we’ll need to renovate our storage spaces to look as good as those on Pinterest.

#3 – Spend less, save more – First, let’s cover “spend less” by starting with comparison shopping. You can shop online for just about anything by doing a quick Google search for your item of choice. The popular shopping sites are abundant, including Amazon, Overstock, Etsy, eBay, and the endless number of stores, shops and manufacturers that have online shopping carts. Of course, this can work against you, if you let it. The temptation is great when Amazon seems to know what you want even before you do. Seriously, their newest plan for “anticipatory shipping” is a system that predicts your future purchases.

To help us spend less and save more, coupons have made an online splash in a big way. Not only can you download savings in the form of various coupons from coupon, store and manufacturer sites, (check out SmartSource when you have a chance, maybe while on the stationary bike mentioned in #1) you can also get tips on extreme couponing from the Krazy Coupon Lady or Coupon Mom. I think I should add my own warning on this section, just like wikiHow did for getting organized…if you happen to find yourself in line at the grocery store behind someone who has taken this coupon advice, please see “The Things You’ll Need” section in #2 above.

With all the online help today, there are no excuses. This is your chance to help boost that 8 percent success rate. Get in front of the screen, boot up and get started.

All Business is By and Between People

“If you believe relationships build business,
then make building them your business.”
Scott Stratten, author, UnMarketing

Senator Angus King and Nancy Marshall

In 1982, I met Angus King while working at Maine Public Television. He later became Governor, then U.S. Senator from Maine, and we have been friends ever since. Relationships like this are a wonderful part of my personal and business life. We met this fall at the Colby /Bowdoin football game and, even though his team (Bowdoin) won, we still had a lot of fun.

When a baby is born, the first thing he or she wants to see is the adoring face of its loving mother. Then, throughout our lifetime, we are conditioned as human beings to connect with happy, smiling and familiar faces whether we are a newborn baby, an elderly person in a nursing home or a business executive giving a presentation in a crowded convention hall. There is nothing more compelling in business or in life than a bright smiling face with an open attitude of warmth and acceptance.

If we have the opportunity to do business with a happy, smiling professional we know, like and trust, or another professional we don’t know anything about, we are most likely going to go with what we know. It’s the human connection that makes the difference.

Whether we’re in the business-to-business world or the business-to-consumer world, human interaction is ingrained in the fabric of everything we do. In our day-to-day dealings with clients, potential clients, vendors, and our professional peers, we should strive to make authentic connections so the people in our professional network know us, like working with us and trust us.

Zig Ziglar, the late great sales guru, said, “People will listen to other people they know, but they will do business with those whom they trust.”

What does it take for people to know, like and trust you? They need to know you care about them as individuals, not just as talking heads you are only interested in because they can further your business goals in some way. You establish the “know, like and trust” factor by asking them about things other than work and finding common ground. For example, I find that asking about a person’s family, where they grew up, upcoming vacation plans, or hobbies they are passionate about are all good conversation starters. By asking these basic questions, you are guaranteed to find something you have in common with virtually anyone.

People love to talk about themselves, and everyone loves a good listener. Being a good listener and giving the person you are talking to your full attention are important parts of the equation, too. Make eye contact with the person you are speaking to and treat them as if they are the only person in the room. Say their first name frequently. During the course of your conversation, also refer back to things they mentioned earlier to show you are really hearing what they are saying.

Like the business contacts we are working to connect with, we ourselves want to do business with people who we know have “got our back.” It takes a great deal of time to identify, build and maintain business relationships fortified by a strong foundation of trust. However, it is very much worth the investment. It’s kind of like building the “circle of trust” Robert De Niro’s character Jack Byrnes refers to frequently in the classic comedy “Meet the Parents.” Though future son-in-law Greg, played by Ben Stiller, eventually makes it into Jack’s circle of trust, you will find that, just like Jack, you cannot like and trust everyone. Aligning yourself with individuals that share your values, respect you as a business person, are competent in what they do, and are trustworthy themselves is critical to building a strong circle of trust that will bring you personal happiness as well as success in business.

In a world driven by technology, social media now plays an important role in building human connections. While it can never take the place of face-to-face contact, social media can be critical to maintaining and strengthening the connections you have within your professional and personal networks.

Recently, when I was leading a PR Boot Camp, an ad agency owner questioned whether social media is really worth the time or not. I responded, “How could it not be worthwhile to have an ongoing dialogue with your current and prospective customers?” If people want to read what you post, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or another social network, or to admire the photos you post on Instagram or Pinterest, how could that not be to your advantage?

Also think of it this way: thanks to social media, you can maintain a connection with many more business contacts than you ever could before. I travel a great deal to conferences, workshops, and networking functions throughout the country as part of my position as CEO. I always meet lots of great people with interesting stories to tell and professional experience to share. It’s one of the most gratifying parts of my job. Before social media, I could never make the time to maintain connections with all of those people. The occasional email, phone call, or holiday card was just not enough. With social media tools like Facebook and LinkedIn, I have established a community in which I can communicate with my “tribe” on a near-daily basis. When we do have the good fortune of meeting again in person, we can pick up right where we left off without missing a beat.

The takeaway from this article is that the ability to build relationships and make connections with people is one of the most valuable skills you can possess as a professional. Likewise, a strong circle of trust is the most powerful tool you can have when it comes to growing and sustaining your business. I encourage you to get out from behind that desk and get to know those you do business with on a personal level. Cultivate your network with the help of social media but don’t rely on it to do all the work. If you work at it consistently, your own happy, smiling face will begin opening doors where there were only walls before.

Five Steps to Develop Your Social Media Marketing Campaign Strategy

Morning Sentinel masthead

I wrote this article for the Central Maine Morning Sentinel’s Business Journal, which came out earlier this week. Jen Libby, our graphic artist, created the infographic to illustrate the five steps.?

5 Steps to Develop Social Media MarketingMany people in business think of social media as a distraction or as something that’s just for kids; others think it is a waste of time. Some even wonder how anyone in business even has time to spend on it. If you are in one of these camps, my question to you is this: how can we, as small business owners, afford not to spend time on strengthening relationships with our current and prospective customers?

Data shows that people who follow brands on social media are likely to buy more products and services more often than those who are not connected. Furthermore, they are more likely to share their enthusiasm about a brand with their own family and friends. That kind of endorsement has the same power as word- of-mouth marketing, which is the most powerful kind of marketing.

Younger people are less likely than ever to believe anything they see, hear or read in advertising, which makes even more of a case for using social media to market your business. Ask a 25 year old if they are more likely to buy a car based on an ad they saw on TV or a recommendation from a friend on Facebook, and guess what the answer will be?

You may not want to spend time on social media, but if you are trying to sustain the growth of your business, you need to find an employee or a professional who will help you engage in this kind of marketing. It’s just a fact of life today: a social media marketing strategy is essential for any business, whether you are selling cars, financial services, farm-fresh vegetables, or fishing equipment.

The dramatic sea change that has occurred in the marketing industry over the past ten years means that we now build brands by engaging people who are interested in having an ongoing relationship with us, as opposed to creating campaigns that promote or sell your business in short campaigns. People don’t want to feel like they are being “sold to” online. You are better served by having a large number of people who are interested in an ongoing dialogue with you than spending a lot of money on an ad campaign that is short-lived.

Furthermore, social media helps your search engine optimization. Google Plus is an often overlooked platform, but it’s worth paying attention to the social media platform created by the number one search engine.