PR & Earned Media 101: Maximize Website Conversions and Start Relationships

SI.com Internet Marketing System Review

As we’ve mentioned before, a press release, tv spot, or any other type of public relations outreach should always include promoting a free product. Whatever the item a publisher decides to give away, it should be linked to a dedicated landing page with a strong conversion architecture that requires the visitor to give up an email address to download the free item. The dedicated landing page should also invite the visitor to sign up for a free email newsletter—one that promises to be filled with tips, tidbits, and interesting information about a specific topic of interest.

This single, dedicated landing page sets your Mequoda Internet Marketing System into motion. It’s simply a trade off—your valuable free product, one that you could have otherwise sold, in exchange for the visitor’s valuable email address and, permission to contact any visitors who sign up for your email newsletter. This is the point at which you say, “Let’s have a relationship.”

Some simple rules to keep in mind when creating your designated landing page:

  • The landing page you create must have a simple URL – e.g., www.PUBNAME.com/freebook—that takes people directly to the free downloadable/accessible item.
  • Your home page must have a highly visible link to the landing page in case someone who saw the segment on TV forgets the landing page URL or has misplaced the article in which the URL appeared.
  • And, of course, be ready for a massive spike in traffic. There are stories of servers crashing because the publisher wasn’t prepared when a major news outlet picked them up the story.

Case study: Sports Illustrated

Missing the boat with the greatest promotion tool of all time

Tied into the February publication of its 2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and SI Swimsuit Calendar—and myriad other related products and promotions—Sports Illustrated provided a multimedia experience for visitors to its website, SI.com. Using only a Web browser, visitors can access movies, slideshows, and high-quality photos—and they can download a free “Personal, Customizable SI Swimsuit Calendar,” which accomplishes step one in the Mequoda guidelines for using PR to drive traffic.

Incidentally, these new digital product offerings are a terrific example of Sports Illustrated playing to its strengths. The SI Swimsuit Issue, which debuted in 1964, and companion SI Swimsuit Calendar, which debuted in 1983 and was the first spin-off “Swimsuit Issue” product, have been hugely effective promotional devices for the publisher for decades—gleaning $10 million in incremental revenue each year. And, frankly, none of the magazine’s competition has been able to come close to that success.

“[The Swimsuit Issue] is the mother ship of what we do,” Mark Ford, president and publisher of Sports Illustrated, told the NY Times in February 2006. “We want to leverage the power of that franchise. Sports Illustrated is a multimedia brand. It’s a magazine. It’s online. It’s mobile. It’s an event.”

Using PR
Leading up to and accompanying the publication of the issue, a grand PR campaign included press releases, radio spots, TV appearances, and events at which several of the models appeared. Although it’s hard to compete with a dozen beautiful women, even though they wear street clothes, not swimsuits, in their guest appearances, the multimedia promotions, new for 2006, was an obvious highlight of the PR campaign.

Ford estimated newsstand sales of the 2006 Swimsuit Issue to be around 1.5 million copies, which, when added to the 3.3 million subscribers, totals a paid circulation of 4.8 million. In terms of readership, however, the number becomes staggering. With an estimated 60 million readers, Ford said, “the 2006 Swimsuit Issue would be the most widely read single issue of any magazine in the world.”

Imagine the number of downloads! According to Jeff Price, president of Sports Illustrated Digital, 50 million page views were expected on the SI.com website in the first week after the 2006 Swimsuit Issue was in reader’s hands. You can bet that many of those guys also wanted their own customized version of the calendar.

The conversion
As good as Sports Illustrated is at marketing its annual Swimsuit Issue and Swimsuit Calendar—and by giving and giving, year after year, it is arguably one of the most successful marketing devices a publisher has ever created—the company has missed the boat in terms of using the related products as a device to build relationships with SI.com site visitors. There is no conversion architecture set up to capture an email address, no newsletter offer, and no attempt at all to build a relationship with all those people who are demonstrating their interest in the product. You can be fairly sure that asking for an email address would not deter people from downloading those fabulous photos of the swimsuit models.

Granted, the downloadable Swimsuit Calendar promotion is sponsored by an advertiser, according to message that appears when accessing the download. So the entire promotion, it seems, is simply a tool to drive page views for the advertiser. Since Sports Illustrated is primarily advertising-oriented, that may not be surprising. Yet, if thought were given to the benefits of a direct marketing approach, in addition to the branding and/or advertising objectives, the outcome would include an entire added dimension with quantifiable results and long-term value. If the point of the site were to start a relationship, the publisher would be able to sell subscriptions and products for 12 months rather than the few seconds visitors spend viewing an advertisement.

To underscore the huge missed opportunity for relationship-building, Price was also quoted around the time the 2006 Swimsuit Issue appeared as having said that each copy of the Swimsuit Issue would have a unique printed number on it that the purchaser could use at iTunes.com to download one free video. That was given as an example of how the magazine would be used to direct website traffic. Again, though, no attempt was made to capture an email address from those linking to iTunes to retrieve the free download—not even from those without a special code but who were willing to pay the $1.99 price for the download.

So the folks at Sports Illustrated went to all the trouble of using PR and a variety of bells and whistles to drive people to the website, then left them hanging—except to generate page views for advertisers or link to an offer to buy something. By simply using existing content, the editors could publish, say, a “Swimsuit E-Newsletter,” which might include a selection of extra photos, interviews with editors, bios of the models. It would be easy to put together, entice registrations and signups, and build a database of qualified people to whom revenue-generating products could be marketed.

The fact is, for publishers that offer a free email newsletter, 60 to 80 percent of the website’s daily impressions typically originate from within that email. Those that don’t have an email newsletter, therefore, are probably missing two-thirds of the impressions that they could be generating.

In fact, email newsletters of any kind are nearly impossible to find on SI.com, although the site index does indicate a few of them. SI.com is departmentalized into various different sporting areas, each of which has a huge following and lots of related products. The publisher, however, doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of that rich audience. By using existing content to create an email newsletter for each sport, the publisher could promote any number of products and generate incremental revenue.

The problem is that the publisher doesn’t seem to see value in an online reader relationship unless money is attached to it – whether that’s advertising revenue or product sales. The folks at Sports Illustrated apparently don’t understand the first rule of the Mequoda Internet Marketing System, which is, basically, to make it as easy as possible to start the relationship—and don’t ask for money.

This article was written by Don Nicholas with the help of Jane E. Zarem in a series on PR & Earned Media 101.

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