Sandra Ericson|Oct 18, 2011

I’m at the PRSA International Conference in Orlando this week, and I’m providing you with the inside info from here on the ground. The clear message from the presenters is the need to evolve all communications to appeal to what your customer wants – whether that customer is the media, the people who buy your products and services, your boss or your employees.

The tone at PRSA validates what we’ve been telling clients for some time now. The on-demand, digital age has opened new opportunities for communications channels beyond traditional media, but that also means end users have infinite options. As if we weren’t already self-centered enough as Americans, now more than ever before we want to know what’s in it for us.

And let me tell you: If the answer isn’t in plain black and white, we’re moving on.

This sentiment really isn’t all that new, but big brands today are still sending out one-way messaging on social media and centering their press materials around their news and their announcement, rather than the benefits to the customer.

So, in the spirit of writing from the perspective of my readers, I’m going to break down the most compelling learnings from the conference. I’ll keep it brief too, because as my reader I know you only have time for the key information that’s going to help you do your job better.

1. Information is free, but attention is expensive. Ann Wiley‘s seminar on thinking like a reader discussed the audience’s instinct to look for the information with more gain and less pain. There are only two rewards for readers: living life better and being entertained. If you aren’t providing one of the two rewards, you are doing it wrong.

Want to get your copy read more often? Learn to write with the “what’s in it for me” mentality, and restructure your prose to lead with the benefit to the readers and substantiate it with features. Ann summed it up best with a tale about her Grandpa Wiley, who back in the day was the best fisherman in town. Why?  Because he thought like a fish – he used the bait they liked, not the bait he did.

2. The folks at MGH and Maryland’s Department of Tourism really get the whole customer-centric theme. In fact, they let their customers do the heavy lifting in promoting the destination of Ocean City. Recognizing the importance of peer-to-peer recommendations, they assembled a 20-person ambassador program to take advantage of social media and online forums, while still retaining some control of the messaging.

Not only did the ambassadors post on external social media sites, but they also fielded questions from potential tourists right on the city’s website, reducing the work for the internal department.

A few more key points:

  • Disclaimers are a MUST. Providing ambassadors a disclaimer to use, along with a link back to your site’s website, not only encourages transparency but also traffic.
  • Use incentives to motivate ambassadors, and don’t be afraid to “fire” them when they aren’t performing.
  • Give them inside access – make them feel special and part of the team.
  • For this program, small groups of ambassadors worked better, as they felt more connected to the job and didn’t count on anyone else to handle the bulk of the work.
  • Never tell them what to say.

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