playingtowin

PROSPER’S CO-FOUNDERS LINDSAY AND ALYSSA RIFF ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP, INNOVATION AND IMPACT.

(AND YES, SOMETIMES MARKETING)

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Crafting Your Leaders’ Stories

Marissa Mayer. Mark Zuckerberg. Richard Branson. These CEOs and their brands almost feel as though they’re one and the same. The stories of Yahoo!, Facebook and Virgin would not be nearly as intriguing without their main characters: their leaders.

In last week’s Mission-Driven Marketer Bootcamp email (subscribe here), we discussed the perks of structuring your brand’s story much as you’d structure a piece of fiction. Like any good story, your brand’s narrative needs a plot, a theme, a conflict, and perhaps most importantly, a cast of compelling characters. At the center of that cast is your founder or leader, and the way you tell their story will have a direct impact on the attention your brand commands from media, investors and other stakeholders.

So what does it take to craft a compelling leadership story?

Authenticity

Your leadership stories can (and should) be exciting and dramatic, but they can’t be fictional. Begin with “just the facts” about your leader’s background and  personality, and build from there.

History

Where did your leader come from, and how did their past impact who they’ve become today? What past experiences did they have, in business or otherwise, that made them the perfect fit for the role they hold today.

Motivation

What drives your leader to be great, and more importantly, to help your organization achieve greatness? No, the answer shouldn’t be simply “making a lot of money.” Luckily, if your organization is mission-driven, your leader’s motivation will be much loftier than that anyway. Make sure you understand your leader’s vision  and can explain the factors that drove your leader launch your organization in the first place (if they are also the founder). What need did they perceive and decide to fill? What kind of change are they aiming to create?

Challenges

Believe it or not, an overnight success story doesn’t do nearly as well as a story about trying, failing, and trying again. Leverage the struggles and obstacles your founder has faced to your advantage. Use them to shape a narrative about resiliency, a characteristic that, when emphasized in the story of your founder, will naturally be attributed to your organization as a whole.

Personality (That Extra Something)

Nearly all of today’s most talked about leaders didn’t become popular simply as a function of their business acumen or impact on the bottom line. Its their personalities, and most importantly, their quirks that make them stand out. Entrepreneurs like Marissa, Mark and Richard all have that special something, that makes them impossibly unique and interesting. It’s tough to put your finger on it, but you know it when you see it. For Marissa, it’s the steadfast confidence in the face of doubters and naysayers. For Mark, it’s the hoodies, the obliviousness to the status quo of the business world, and the polished nerdiness. For Richard, it’s the beachy style and dolce vita attitude that makes you think being a billionaire entrepreneur may actually be more play than work.

So what’s your leader’s story? Can you tell it in just a few sentences? Share yours in the comments – we’re happy to provide critiques!

 

Photo Credit: Hpeterswald

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Building Mission Into Your Current Business

Prosper Strategies has built our business at the intersection of people and profits – we believe that one does not have to be compromised by the other. We envision a world where mission-driven organizations rise to the top – a world where people, profit and the planet are all treated equally.

As we’ve talked about on the blog before, consumers are increasingly prioritizing social impact when making purchasing decisions. Many of our clients are social enterprises and nonprofits, so they are inherently impact focused. But your company doesn’t need to fall into one of these two categories to adopt a mission-driven mindset. Following are five ways to prioritize impact:

Develop a pro-bono program

There is nothing better than using your talents to help an organization you care about succeed. However, it’s important to balance your pro-bono work with paid client work. Your organization should define your criteria for selecting pro-bono clients. Be clear on your timeframe, deliverables and goals, the same way you’d be with a paying client. Defining criteria for how you select benefiting organizations, determining the goals of your pro-bono work and what exactly you are willing to give will bring clarity to the process for your team and the organizations interested in pursuing pro-bono work with your company.

Choose a charity of choice

For some organizations, pro-bono work is just not an option. If you’re unable to give time and talent, think about in-kind or monetary giving. Many companies like to choose a charity of choice. This approach allows you to be purposeful in choosing an organization that aligns with your company’s own mission and values and maximize your impact in one specific area.

Incentivize employee volunteering

Just as many companies are taking a mission-driven approach, many individuals have the desire to make an impact in their work. They want to be a part of something bigger. If your organization can’t provide pro-bono or doesn’t have a charity of choice – or even if you do – consider incentivizing your employees to volunteer. You can give them one day off a quarter to volunteer on a weekday, or set up a day where everyone in the office can get out and work on a project together. This is a win-win, your company is doing good and you’re satiating your employees’ desires to contribute to the greater good. There’s a reason so many companies are looking to employee volunteering as a great retention tool!

Develop an employee match program

Many of your employees probably already have causes they care about. Adopt the “your friends are my friends” mentality and create a corporate matching program. It will amplify your employees’ individual contributions and send the message that you as a company that cares about what your employees care about. Many companies put parameters in place, for example, “we’ll provide a 1:1 match for up to $500.”

Even if you’re not a nonprofit or social enterprise, there are numerous creative ways your company can adopt an impact focus and demonstrate the desire to put people and profit on an equal playing field. Does your company support your community in creative ways? If so, share with us on Twitter @ProsperStrat.

 

Photo Credit: N@ncy N@nce

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20 Blog Post Ideas for 2015

Blogging can either be the best part of my day or the worst, depending on the topic and my state of mind. Writing about something you find interesting, fun or useful is great because you want to share that excitement with others. That desire then fuels your passion and creativity in your writing, making your blog post more engaging. But writing about a topic that you’re not fired up about can be seriously painful. If you want to jazz up your 2015 blog calendar, here are 20 ideas for blog posts that you’ll actually enjoy writing.

  1. Interview an industry expert.
  2. Recap an event or workshop that you attended. Summarize the key takeaways.
  3. Give a list of 10 thought leaders to follow on social media and explain why.
  4. Discuss current industry trends and give your take on them.
  5. Highlight another organization that you partner with and celebrate their work.
  6. Discuss something relevant or timely related to an upcoming holiday or observance.
  7. Highlight staff employees that are living out your mission in their daily lives and tell their stories.
  8. Explain “how to” do something that you’re an expert at.
  9. Share a list of top mistakes pertaining to a specific subject and how to avoid them.
  10. Share best practices for networking in your industry.
  11. Create a list of ways you see mission-driven organizations succeeding.
  12. Give tips on helping your staff learn about and internalize your mission.
  13. React to something in the news.
  14. List your favorite online resources pertaining to your industry or sector.
  15. Share the top five ways supporters can engage with your organization.
  16. Allow new employees to introduce themselves via blog posts.
  17. Feature something your organization does in the community, such as service projects or community outreach.
  18. Do a round-up of the most relevant industry news at the end of the month.
  19. List your organization’s favorites in a specific category, such as favorite eco-friendly products, mission-driven retail stores, places to visit in your headquarter’s city.
  20. Share thank you letter to your followers and supporters.

What other topics are you planning to blog about in 2015?

Photo Credit: Dollar Photo Club

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Developing your 2015 Marketing Calendar

As we wind down the year and prepare for the upcoming holidays, our thoughts are turning to 2015 and the goals and objectives we have for the year ahead. Whether you only have a list of top-level things you want to accomplish, a calendar of events and opportunities for each month, or a full-scale strategic and tactical plan through December 2015, chances are you’ve already been planning for the year ahead in some fashion. But how do you take those ideas to the next level and create a plan that will drive your business throughout the next year? Here are some ideas to take your thoughts and build them into a cohesive, strategic marketing calendar for 2015.

Assess your current situation

Take a look at your company: where are you right now? What is the field you work in, and where do you fit into it? Who are your main competitors? What do they have that you don’t, and what is your point of difference against them? What major gains did you achieve in 2014, and where did you fall short? This information will be crucial in figuring out how you should market yourself, and who you should target in the next year.

Start at the top

It’s tempting to jump straight into tactics when creating a plan, but resist the temptation to do so! Your first step should be defining your high-level strategy for the year. What are the overarching goals you want to accomplish? It may be that you want to position your brand as a thought leader in your field, or you want to open up lines of communication with potential clients and build a following in a certain geographic area. Keep these simple, and limit your goals to no more than three–this will help keep your tactics aligned to your objectives. Then, for a full-year plan, split these goals into smaller objectives–one for each quarter of the year, and then split those into smaller monthly objectives. This will provide you with a strategic, actionable framework that is necessary for success.

Assess your target audience

Always keep in mind that you are marketing to someone–not just shooting information out into the ether. Who are you targeting? Come up with three or four personas for your most important stakeholders. What are they like? What are their values, and what influences their purchasing decisions? What time do they get up? What are their days like? To successfully reach your audience, you need to know about their day-to-day activities and personality in order to provide them with targeted, relevant content.

Use data to look back and plan ahead.

The data that you collected in 2014 will be a valuable tool as you plan for 2015. What did you do that went well last year, and how can you recreate it? Where did you fall short, and can you leverage that data to make a more successful attempt sometime next year? By figuring out your strengths and weaknesses, you will learn what you need to focus on in your plan.

Once you have your strategy, target audience information, and data, begin creating a tactical plan.

It’s finally time to begin working on tactics. Think what you can offer in multiple different sectors: social media, events, speaking opportunities, deliverables like webinars and whitepapers, and tradeshows are all excellent things to keep in mind. Plan each month to include a social media strategy (5 Twitter posts a day and 2 Facebook posts, and a longform LinkedIn comment per week?) and something in another of the above categories every month. Align each with your monthly, quarterly, and yearly objectives. If you’ve done all the above, this final step should be easy–it’s basically filling in the blanks!

A thorough marketing calendar for an entire year can seem a daunting task. However, if you take the care to do your homework and frame the whole thing according to an overarching strategy, it comes together easily. But if you’re still having trouble creating your plan, we have you covered: here’s a free 2015 marketing calendar template for you to use! Consider it an early holiday gift from Prosper Strategies.

Photo Credit: sepy via Dollar Photo Club

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Building Trust By Behaving Ethically

Earlier this month a number of prominent PR firms made headlines by coming together to sign a statement disavowing the unethical tactic of surreptitiously editing client’s Wikipedia pages to remove unflattering information. While the move is unlikely to completely stamp out the practice entirely, it’s a positive step for the industry as a whole.

Boy shouting into megaphone

A boy who cries wolf undermines trust in other messengers. (Photo credit unknown)

At Spin Sucks, Gini Dietrich gives a fuller picture of the different, and damaging, ways that the practice, called “sock puppeting” to invoke the use of fake anonymous accounts, is utilized. Anyone who has spent any amount of time perusing comments sections on any website knows the nastiness that anonymity can breed. To be sure, most professionals recognize that smear campaigns, even in the context of “going negative,” are amateurish and beneath the standards of a professional. But many might not realize that even subtle alterations and placements of pseudo-authentic content are just as suspect.

These behaviors are unseemly not just because they give off a foul odor. They fundamentally undermine the confidence and trust in the communications industry’s integrity and professionalism that is a foundational element of the industry’s effectiveness. As messengers, we must be trustworthy. Certainly, the well known tale of the “boy who cried wolf” is an applicable allegory.

No one trusts scientists who fib their data, and so too no one will trust an expert with a flexible attitude toward the truth. That is the mindset that is essential to keep. Some communications pros view their job as to gain attention through any means necessary, including “gaming the system” to produce favorable results, or at least the illusion of favorable results. This is a short sighted and narrow view.

The ideal of a communications pro as we, and like-minded others like Gini Deitrich, envision it is one of professionalism and integrity. Success comes from being an expert and able communicator and connector, with a savvy eye for helping reporters and the public understand your clients message and connect with stories. It’s heartening to see major players in the industry take a definitive stand in favor of this type of principled behavior. Here’s to hoping many more join the bandwagon.

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Blogger Outreach Best Practices

Our recent post on blogger outreach turned out to be quite popular, so we’ve brought you more news on the topic.

That post shared advice on how to evaluate a blog and make sure it’s a good match for your audience and media strategy before you reach out. Now let’s look at some best practices for reaching out, and go over things to avoid.

Blogger outreach best practices

First of all, do your research. Many influential bloggers, because they are used to receiving outreach, lay out a clear method for how they do and do not want to be contacted. Take the time to check if a blogger you are interested in has written anything on the topic. If they have, respect their requests.

Similarly, don’t pitch a guest post at a blog that does not accept them. This is an easy thing to determine. Has the site ever run a guest post before? Blogs that are looking for new guest bloggers often have a clear method for inquiring about opportunities.

When you contact a blogger, send a personal note, not a form email. Keep it concise, but show why this writer and their audience should care about your product or service. That is your job. Don’t ask a blogger to do it for you.

Show that you are a fan of a blogger’s work by sharing their posts, signing up for their newsletter and otherwise engaging with their work, says Stan Smith of Pushing Social. You want to expand your reach, and so do they. Better to spend your time building relationships with a few bloggers who share your audience than blasting emails to people who have no reason to care about your business.

Blogger outreach best practices

Photo by Wesley Fryer

 

Things to avoid

Looking to read some real examples of what not to do? Bloggers have a lot to say on the topic. Read this piece by Dana Forman, a fashion blogger and freelancer in SEO, social media and copywriting. She provides examples of emails she has received, along with commentary on what was well or poorly done.

Bloggers consistently complain about outreach that is not personalized in any way or clearly sent to a massive list of writers. Just like journalists, bloggers do not want to put time and effort into a piece that will be one in a sea of similar posts. Writers are also wary of praise for their work that reveals how little of it you have actually read. If you say that you were particularly interested in a blogger’s many tech reviews and they have only written two in the past year, you are not going to win their interest.

Ultimately, be respectful. Treat bloggers as you would any member of the media. Learn from your mistakes and your successes.

Think you are ready to do some worthwhile blogger outreach? Get out there and tell your story!

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A PR Strategy Means Imagining Your Headlines

A woman reads a newspaper

Imagine the headlines you’d like your story under

PR is a long game, one to be approached strategically. As you build your network of reporters and develop your story angles, you should do so with an end goal in mind. Caryn Marooney, the Head of Technology Communications for Facebook, has some terrific advice for developing your long-term strategy here.

All of it is worth reading. In it, she cites the importance of having a vision of the stories you’d like to see your company included in. To quote:

“What is the headline you’re shooting for? Chances are, you’re not going to get exactly what you want, but if you don’t know what it is when you start, you’re definitely not going to get it.”

This quote is illuminating because it illustrates the extent to which PR is intertwined with your business strategy. At its best, your outreach will attract the public’s attention to a story they might have otherwise overlooked. But PR isn’t alchemy; it can’t spin yarn into gold. When you think of the headline you’d like to see above your story, you must also ask yourself if you have the story to support it.

The Onion, a satirical media outlet, writes its headlines first, and then invents the stories to go with them. Of course, you won’t have the luxury of inventing your own story, but this thought exercise will get you thinking about what you would need to make that story happen. And it will help you refine your outreach by giving you criteria with which to sort your targets.

As Ms. Marooney says, you’re probably not going to get a headline as glowing or effusive as you might hope for, but thinking about the results you would most like to see will help you lay the groundwork for achieving it. The more clearly you see your story, the better able you’ll be to share it with the world.

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