When building a new house, the owners start with a fresh design, mold the structure into a home, and choose their wall treatments, flooring, and lighting. However, when buying an older home, more work and acceptance of the little annoyances become necessary. Over time, the owners apply a little paint, change the wallpaper, and slowly shape the house to better suit their lifestyle.

In much the same way, when a new manager comes in, she inherits a team in place. The new manager doesn't get to pick the team members and is faced with existing challenges. In such situations, a good manager listens, digs in slowly and molds the team toward the manager's style over time.

In our latest dilemma, a new VP steps all over the previous executive's shoes, drop-kicks them out of the office and takes a dictatorial role rather than one of leadership. This completely goes against the idea that a successful team is one where every person has a say and listens to each other's input.

SWOT Team, we are looking for your advice how to help these marketing team members who were hired to do something rather than just sit by and take orders. What is a team to do when its house gets trampled by a new occupant? How do you handle a new boss who gives orders and takes little or no input?

Your “house” may be in good shape with remodeling efforts going smoothly. Or perhaps you have a fixer-upper that needs a hand; our SWOT Team is standing by with its tool belt to help. Pose your dilemma to our readers and you will receive a free copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

Tune in to the previous dilemma where a business owner reluctantly has to toot her own horn to sell herself as a product. She is struggling with promoting the band without sounding like the star of the show. March on down to get your colleagues' reactions.

Team up and share your experiences!

• Give advice about this issue's dilemma.

• Read your peers' responses to the previous dilemma (below).

• Submit your dilemma.

Current Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness/External Opportunity

We're getting flattened by a marketing boss's steamroller!

I'm a marketing director who is in a pickle with my new boss, who was just hired as Marketing VP. Our company is 15 years old and well established in our industry. Two days after he was hired, he called us together and laid out his marketing plan, a plan that requires lots of work from us with short deadlines and large expectations. His style is non-participatory and he gets defensive if we question an element of the plan.

Our last VP had the opposite personality. She did a great job and was offered a better position at a different company. We are saddled with a steamroller who dictates orders instead of leading. It is quickly becoming a disaster in the making. Since I am the number-two person in the department, it is a hard position to be in and I must tread lightly.

I have tried to address this with the VP, but he got angry and said something I haven't heard in years, “my way or the highway.” Our team has been together for years and has done remarkable things. I would hate to give it up. How can a person work around such a situation? I'm sure others have been trapped in a situation where a higher-up built a wall and gave no support to employees.

—Anonymous, Marketing Director

Previous Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

How do you sell a one-woman band?

I'm a one-woman band. In other words, I'm the lone person in my business, in which I offer a service. Obviously, this means I have to sell myself as a product. I've seen others sell their services, and it comes across as egotistical, self-serving, or some other negative way, whether or not it is meant to. Sending a press release or letter to a reporter or business about your own strengths or superiorities is vital to your business's success. But how do you get the needed so that it doesn't rub recipients the wrong way?

—Anonymous, Business Owner

Summary of Advice Received

Gaining new clients is a tough task for the lone person in a business, especially if the person isn't comfortable with sales. The downsideto being a sole proprietor is, obviously, having to play all roles simultaneously: accountant, salesperson, negotiator and project manager, in addition to the being the expert in your specialty.

Ian Gertler, president and CEO of Symplegades, Inc., reminds us of the definition of publicity from Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: “an act or device designed to attract public interest; specifically—information with news value issued as a means of gaining public attention or support.”

Ian says, “While the definition is fundamentally correct, it's the classic battle between theory and implementation. The definition focuses on the result, which is the main objective of those looking to utilize the media. The real importance lies in the strategy and implementation.”

In response to the business owner's dilemma, SWOT Team members provide several solutions for being heard over the competition; any or all of these can add to her publicity strategy and bag of tricks:

1. Pair up with another business.

2. Provide value to your target audience.

3. Tell a story instead of flaunting your company.

4. Build relationships with reporters.

5. Promote your expertise.

1. Pair up with another business

When you're the sole person in a business, it's beneficial to connect with others in the same position as you. Use the connection for support, advice, sharing of war stories and publicity.

Paula Bright, marketing expert for Community MX, says, “Band up with several other ‘lone' business people in related fields, and do mutual submissions of one another's publicity. Act as a fellow ‘pro' giving a grand compliment to another business.”

2. Provide value to your target audience

No matter how you paint it, a press release is self-serving. The purpose is to tell everyone about something happening in your organization, so you can sell the product or service to the public.

However, steer clear of bombarding your audience. One of our SWOT Team members relays this story: A parent in charge of an event kept pushing her elementary school's publicity chair for press release after press release to go out about her event. The chair explained that frequent press releases are a turn-off, but the parent insisted. No newspaper published the event.

Here's another “learn by my mistake” example of alienating a media contact: an editor of a technology newsletter received press releases on a daily basis. Sometimes, those releases came from the same company. The editor started deleting emails from that company, since she knew that the company was not targeting its releases to the editor's needs.

Carril Mills, owner and designer of Cairril.com Design, offers a different way of looking at self-promotion:

The bottom line is: what do you have to offer that's of use to your clients? Your services have value. Communicating that value isn't about ego, it's about helping people reach their goals. Is the Red Cross egotistical because it tells you it provides disaster relief? No. For many Americans, it was the first place we turned on September 11. We wanted to help; wanted an avenue for helping; and we knew the Red Cross was there to accept blood. It's the same thing with commercial ventures.

Your favorite restaurant provides you with something you value (great food, service, ambience, etc). Don't you want to know about it? Once you recognize that you're providing something of true value, “promotion” is really about letting people know what you offer and who will best benefit from it.

A press release saying “we offer X product” isn't going to go anywhere. A press release saying “for a limited time, we're offering a free X to technology firms with 12 employees or less,” (or whatever your target market is) is definitely going to get some press! It's only about ego when it's all about you. The best marketing communications are about your clients: what problems they face and how you can solve them. Start with that, and promotion becomes about building partnerships with people who need your help.

Picking the right time and right content is also important when sending out releases. Send them too often, and you could become a thorn in someone's side. Blasting the same release to a bunch of editors doesn't work, either. It's rare that different editors have the same needs. A sentence or two here and there might need tweaking to fit the editor's audience.

Tony Wanless, a principal with KnowPreneur Consultants, shares 30 years of experience in the news business. He believes a release goes into the round file when it toots your horn distantly and dishonestly:

That's corporate stuff and is generally useless, unless it contains some fact that just has to be noticed—a horrible quarterly result, for example. When you're small, you grab the attention of a reporter or business the same way you grab that of a customer or client—by being a human being and doing a little wooing. Provide value or a benefit, and give them something they can use. It might be a collection of problem-solving tips, a novel take on a subject, or a plain-old likeable personality, but you have a far better chance of being noticed this way than you do by “selling” yourself.

In your press release, suggest a couple of story ideas along with your information, and you'll save the reporter some time. Be sure that the story ideas will interest the audience rather than focusing only on what you want to sell.

3. Tell a story instead of flaunting your company

Instead of talking about your business and the latest thing it has accomplished, tell a good story. The success of Oprah and her show comes from telling stories about ordinary people.

Harry Glazer, a communications coordinator with Rutgers University Libraries, suggests not selling yourself directly, but instead offering a unique perspective drawn from your work experiences, or an amusing “vignette from the road.”

“Either angle can provide a newspaper or local business with a good story without your seeming self-serving. And by offering a carefully chosen and phrased view or tale, you'll tell volumes about your business,” says Harry.

4. Build relationships with reporters

Building relationships with editors and reporters takes work, but if pays off over the long-term. To increase your chances of offering value, get to know them as a way to find out what they need and value. Ian Gertler says the success of publicity is based on relationships and the value of the information being offered:

Reporters and editors are smart people who understand the pitch process, especially when they are receiving dozens or hundreds a day. Before crafting a press release and pushing your news, make a list of the top venues and reporters in your space. Read their articles. Understand their coverage beats. Start writing to them about their stories with a sincere interest and comments, based on your professional expertise in the industry.

While not 100% guaranteed, establishing a strong rapport with these people that respect your opinions will do two things:

  1. They will see you as an expert in the space, and

  2. They will be more likely to accept and cover your news, where applicable.

Professional relationships are built on respect and trust, just like personal ones. Look out for the best interests of your editorial contacts and they will probably try to do the same for you.

But again, realize you are one of many people they discuss viewpoints and industry events with, so understand their limitations and appreciate when they help you with their written words. Unlike advertising, public relations is not a guaranteed placement. It's based on editorial integrity and timing. Stay involved in the industry and work on innovative ways of having your name associated with an expert status. The more you do this, the more you'll enhance your reputation as a leading professional.

We forget, and Ian reminds us, that while we might have a jaw-dropping announcement that would be hot news on most days, the reporter is rushing against a deadline on another, hotter topic. That's where relationships come in. If you know the reporter is dealing with this, hold off the news for another day instead of losing it in the mix and wasting a good story.

5. Promote your expertise

Rather than selling you as a person, focus on what you know. The Publicity Hound, Joan Stewart, offers 10 tips for promoting your expertise as one of the best ways to get free publicity:

  1. Determine the areas in which you are an expert. Then contact reporters at publications you want to get into, those read by your target audience, and invite them to use you as a source if they need background, commentary, story ideas or anything else related to your area of expertise.

  2. Use the term “expert” in your signature file, the automatic signature that is attached to the end of every email message you send.

  3. Use the term “publicity expert” or “sales training expert” or whatever it is that you do on your home page, so the search engines find it. Media people who are looking for sources often start by searching for certain kinds of experts online.

  4. Write how-to articles for online and offline publications. In the identifier paragraph at the end, refer to yourself as an expert.

  5. Get on the public speaking circuit. Public speaking gives you instant credibility.

  6. Write white papers on controversial or cutting-edge topics within your area of expertise. Interview other experts, then write a news release about the white paper and send it to newspapers and magazines.

  7. Take a poll or survey on a topic within your area of expertise and send results to the media.

  8. Write letters to the editor of newspapers and magazines you want to get into. Comment on stories they already have published or comment on a controversial issue they cover.

  9. Keep in touch with your media contacts and continue to ask the most important question you can ask them, “How can I help you?”

  10. Start publishing an e-zine or a tip of the week. Offer lots of free advice and do soft promotions for your services. If the information is good, you'll be amazed at how many people subscribe, including some media people.

These 10 tips are excellent ways to seek free publicity while maintaining the respect that business owners want without coming across as self-serving. Joan's tips provide an opportunity to give in order to get.

Reading what your peers have to say makes us respect those in public relations roles more. Because PR is an art, anyone doing PR has a tough job of trying to get someone in the spotlight while making the reporter care about putting that person there. It takes cleverness to get covered, while being honest and giving value to the recipient of the release.

Another standing ovation for the SWOT Team! We'll be watching for stories about you out there.

Have you noticed that answering a dilemma and getting published gets you publicity? The people who responded to the business owner's call for help took the time to respond and offer advice without asking for anything in return. However, we did publish their name and company. And just maybe, one of you will like a response well enough to look up that person's company and become a potential client….

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.