Archive for the ‘About PublicityShip’ Category

PublicityShip uses Rimuhosting for WordPress

Rimuhosting LogoPeriodically I get asked about how we manage all of our client blogs and online marketing websites. So here is a bit of technical explanation of what we do.

PublicityShip uses virtual private servers (VPS) from Rimuhosting for our WordPress and WordPressMU sites. Our clients share the same platform we use for our own site. Rimuhosting are based out of New Zealand, but offer VPS hosts in Australia, the US and Europe. Their support is excellent, and the servers are reliable. They don’t make a song and dance about their support for WordPress, but its all there.

Using a VPS for WordPress works really well if you want to run your own installation. Shared hosting is the most common form of hosting. Issues can arise however, particularly if the hosting provider limits access to DNS or has security settings that make some plugins impossible to use. These problems compound if you are using WordPressMU.

Dedicated servers are also used, but recognised to be expensive. I’ve seen a lot of discussion about WordPress hosting on the various forums, and am surprised that the VPS option isn’t more widely used. You get all the flexibility of a dedicated host, but without the cost. And when the day arrives that you need a dedicated server, you can migrate your VPS onto its own host with only a small management overhead.

To run your own server install for WordPress on a VPS or dedicated server, you should have (or have access to) a reasonable level of Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP and security expertise. And expect to pay more than shared hosting. With your own VPS or dedicated server, you will have the maximum degree of flexibility in relation to themes, plugins and integration with other applications.

For us, this means we have been able to add in a lot of features for our sites to support various online marketing strategies. Its a very important part of our extended PublicityShip business model.

For the record, I don’t have any affiliate arrangement with Rimuhosting. But I do recommend them to anyone looking for a reliable and helpful VPS provider.

PublicityShip and the Online Office

April has been one of our busiest months ever. And its also been the first full month of our new office arrangements.

In March, we started out on a new way of working. Our business is online, and we don’t need a shopfront. But working in an office is such a common way of working? Well we’ve decided to do things a bit differently.

We each have our own home-office now, and don’t have a central office. We meet around 3 times a week – our local cafe has wireless, as well as excellent coffee (and hot chocolate for Kate). We use Skype to talk or IM during the day, and email. We are starting out with Basecamp to run projects. Can’t say its all running as smoothly as it could yet, but it works pretty well.

Blue Beach - Small
Jane’s Broome Office

Last week Jane based herself in Broome for the week. Connectivity wasn’t that easy from Broome, but its clear that with a good network connection, its viable.

I’ve talked about this approach with a number of friends and business colleagues. Other than the potential for lack of social interaction, everyone thinks it sounds great.

There are a lot of names for various office working arrangements – remote office, flexible office, virtual office. In most cases there is an assumption that the main business has a base. What if our base is mainly an online base? Is there a name for this type of arrangement? And what do you think are the best online services to use for this type of office arrangement?

Four reasons our clients are getting publicity

Our four most recent clients have all achieved some excellent coverage, so I thought it might be helpful to pinpoint the reasons for their success.

First up is Melbourne Fashion Experience – a small operation that fills a gap in the top-end fashion market. Proprietors, April Duck and Deborah Boreckyi, have created personalised tours of Melbourne’s tucked-away designer outlets for busy women wanting a top quality shopping trip. The designers themselves are highly supportive of the tours, and will arrange to be on hand whenever a tour is coming through.

Coverage in Shop Til You Drop with a full feature in Melbourne Weekly Magazine were achieved thanks to the unusual and appealing character of the tours. Not only do they offer unique experience, but the visual appeal is strong, making for a more compelling feature-style story.

AllGayCruises proved more of a challenge, with plenty of interest in gay and lesbian publications, but a tentative response from mainstream media, which was the central target for this campaign. Despite having all the elements of a great story – the first gay cruise in Australia, lots of colourful events on board, and plenty of visual appeal – we had our work cut out following the initial press release distribution.

But after umpteen phone calls and hours spent on working up angles, we finally cracked the Sunday Age, and the story was also picked up by travel industry media. In this case, success was largely due to newsworthiness and persistence.

Third, something completely different – business coach Greg Chapman recently launched the Australian Business Coaching Club, an online tool for small and remote businesses to gain access to top-quality business coaching at low cost. As another Australian first, Greg’s story was news, but needed something more than a straight announcement.

So PublicityShip worked with Greg to come up with a ‘business school of the air’ angle. This was picked up by the Daily Telegraph in Sydney and Herald Sun in Melbourne, who ran features in their small business sections.

And finally, the Supertalent Network asked us to publicise this year’s Australian Dance Idol competition for 5-19-year-olds, running this week in Sydney.

Thanks again to newsworthiness and fabulous visual appeal – who can beat children dancing? – the competition was showcased on Channel Nine’s Mornings with Kerri-Anne on Easter Monday, and has raised interest among local media for coverage of the finals.

To sum up – our clients’ success comes from:
1. being newsworthy,
2. having visual impact,
3. finding an appealing angle, and
4. sheer persistence.

You don’t necessarily need all four elements, but the more you have, the more likely you are to get publicity.

Distributing press releases with a personal touch

We’ve been operating our publicity services for just on a year now. When we started, we figured we would be different to many of the public relations companies because we use journalists to develop the angle and write the press release.

But we’ve also developed a distinctive style in another area, and that is press release distribution.

Our main distribution approach for Australian media is very personal. Rather than develop a large media list and use email to send it out widely, we encourage our clients to focus on a small number of specific target media. Six, to be precise (although we can cover as many as required). Our distribution approach involves personal checking for the most appropriate and up to date contact at each of the print/broadcast media outlets involved, sending them the press release (with a personally crafted cover note), and then personally following up.

We will still email press releases to additional contacts from our professional media subscription services, but without the same level of checking and follow up. And where an international press release is involved, we utilise the services of global PR distribution outlets that syndicate releases to thousands of outlets.

So in an era when many press release distribution services offer distribution on a mass scale, we offer press release distribution services with a personal touch. Its part of our ‘house style’, and is designed to deliver better outcomes for our clients.

Our new risk-reward model for online marketing services

In the near future I’ll be revising the service modules that we offer around blogging. Blogging is one part of the online marketing mix – an important part, but only part. The new services we will be offering will be to help people setup their business and market effectively online. We’re hiring, and have a specialist marketer joining our team (hi Kate!) next week. We also have additional freelancer relationships so we can bring critical marketing, technology and design skills to bear at just the right time. All of this so we can can help a small business clarify their online business strategy and online marketing plans, and get to execution very rapidly.

I hope to make it far easier for small business to try out a new style of online presence. Our small-business sites will create an opportunity to test and measure – quickly and without major upfront costs – new online marketing strategies and tools. We have invested a lot of time and energy into creating a fantastic platform for this purpose. It goes well beyond our initial offerings for small business blogging – this will still be included (of course!), but only be part of the offer.

When we launch these services, we are going to change our pricing and also the risk-reward mix. The price will go up, and for those clients who are midway through an offer process with us, pricing will remain at the existing rates.

The major change will be in the way we take out risk for our clients. Rather than require clients to pay for setup costs up front, we will divide the costs by 12 and charge a monthly fee for 12 months. If during that 12 months the client thinks the value isn’t there, they stop paying their monthly fee. Or they can take their site content elsewhere and stop paying our monthly fee. There is no contractual lock-in. And because we set people up online using widely used open-source tools, there is no technical lock-in.

No lock-in means if we develop a business strategy with a client AND setup the foundations of their business AND they leave us after three months, we forego 75% of our setup fee. Theoretically they could just put their site onto another host and keep executing their marketing strategies. Naturally I don’t want that to happen – ever. To avoid it happening, we will have to be good at explaining what we do so expectations are clear. And deliver results during the harder stage – execution. Of course we will only engage with clients where there is trust and clarity on both sides (and maybe some people won’t understand why we decline to offer services).

I personally believe the no lock-in approach sets a tough standard (and yes, we will never be Microsoft). But I also believe that the proliferation of open source means that before long online businesses like ours are going to have to be able to succeed in this type of environment, regardless. No choice. So I want to get there early.

I’m betting that clients will love our up front strategy ideas, but will value the execution even more. We’ve got a great set of services to work with and deliver results. After the first twelve months is up and the setup costs are out of the way, I hope to see our clients eager to get their latest online marketing initiatives off and running, because they can see the return on investment.

Transparency in our margins and pricing model is something I’ve already talked about, and now you know about our new risk-reward model. Bruising critique and robust suggestions of improvement very welcome.

How to have a transparent pricing model

To answer the question about transparent pricing – easy, simply tell the world (in some detail) in your blog. Read on to find out about ours.

Why? Well, in a recent comment on Getting To Online Marketing, Edmund Pelgen asked about my thoughts on pricing for services. I’ve also found it refreshing to read some bloggers/online marketers speak frankly about their actual revenues, such as Yaro Starak in his Making Money Online series.

As I’m about to update our pricing to launch our new online marketing services, I figure I should outline our pricing strategy. It is an important part of our philosophy, and think it worth having clients who understand it. I realise businesses aren’t usually about their margins and pricing model. But think of this as a variation on open content. By disclosing not just our price (we have published our prices on our website from Day 1) but also our margins and pricing strategy, we do make it easier for our competitors to understand what we are doing (hi y’all). But we also make it easier for our clients to understand how we operate, and why. So I’ll post this here, and maybe even link to it next to our pricing tables.

When we launched, my initial voodoo-magic-finger-in-the-air spreadsheet came up with something that was real close to:
$1 variable cost (labour) + $1 overhead + $1 profit = $3 sell price.

Looked at another way, that is a 33% gross margin. Gross Margin is profit ($1, being $3 less $2) divided by revenue ($3), or 33%

From my experience in the services/consulting field, companies tend to like a 30-40% gross margin. In highly competitive/large deal situations, they will settle for 20-25% or even less. Some companies go lower – sometimes as part of a cunning plan, but more often than not as part of an (unplanned) downward spiral. Since we have no way of achieving the economies of scale of larger companies (and the math was compellingly easy) I decided to adopt the 1+1+1 rule of thumb and go for a 33% gross margin. I figure we can deliver services that will look like great value with a 33% gross margin – if not, we have to find another business.

Where we can achieve economies is in online marketing, and all things going well our overhead component will reduce as we get better at finding customers online. My experience in the first 12 months is that its hard to separate your cost base into ‘one off startup’ costs and ‘normal’ operating expenses. We certainly aren’t achieving 33% gross margins yet. But you gotta have dreams!

After more than a few discussions with accountants and small business owners it seems that what we are doing with our pricing is quite common for small businesses. Please let me know your experiences in this area, either privately or via comments.

Anyway, that explains margin. But what about pricing approach?

We use fixed price wherever we can. More commonly services businesses use a time & materials based approach. Value pricing (where you price based on the value delivered to a client) was also mentioned. These are the three pricing models I want to discuss.

Value pricing

Trying to price based on value is a great concept. But its not much fun if you are the client:

How much for the car over there? Depends, what do you want to use it for?

Not many clients respond well to that philosophy. In my experience, a value based pricing contract needs to include a genuine risk-reward component. So if you deliver a defined benefit AND have a defined exposure to the risk, you can ask for a share of the benefit (and cop a share of the risk, if it doesn’t pan out). That requires intestinal fortitude on your own part. That said, what I found in practice was that value pricing was often very interesting to the client at the beginning of the discussion, but once it got close to signing up, they figured how much they might be paying. Since clients were optimistic, they would then ask you to give them a fixed price, to keep all the upside. For large contracts, this was fine – nobody minds just settling on a fair price in the end.

The downside – particularly for small business – is the time required if you vary your pricing on each deal based on value. How much extra time does it take to sign off and administer a one off deal? What is your time worth? If you look at this on a cost-benefit basis, its hard to see a payback.

Hourly billing

Hourly billing (or time and materials) appears to take away the risk for the service provider. And it isn’t attractive for the client, for good reason. “It was taking longer than we expected – so we just went ahead and did it anyway, and now here is the bill”. Service providers sometimes say that clients are to blame – they change their mind, or they want to try and get something for nothing. No doubt sometimes that could be the case.

Clients see that service providers get paid even if they aren’t being effective. I think it is hard for all parties to walk away happy after hourly billing, and I think clients will rarely raise their concerns. That is partly out of politeness, and partly because even if it feels wrong, they can’t prove it. Oh, and for larger services companies – often time and materials projects are over-represented (and/or the worst offenders) in the ‘troubled project’ lists.

Fixed price

I like offering a fixed price in return for a well defined service. Its clean. You can talk clearly about what you will deliver, and the client can decide if that is value for money – for them.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the fixed price should be. For example, what if the client changes their mind and we have to go back over some work? That is a big risk in what we do. But rather than drop all that risk on the client, my view is we are the experts. We do this work all the time, so we need to help guide the client. So discuss the key factors up front, and write down the scope. Then work hard to manage the service well. People often worry about unforeseen issues and events (for good reason!) Still, over many years I’ve learned that with a good understanding of what the client wants, and a well defined scope, you can deliver a great result. This approach has worked for me on projects large and small.

Working to a fixed price requires trust and clarity on both sides. And this means you don’t take on every client. We certainly don’t. Just a fortnight ago, as politely as I could, I declined to propose our services, in response to a somewhat out of the ordinary request. After I politely declined for the third time, I copped a serve on my ‘attitude’:

since it is obvious you don’t get it, then we certainly will not waste our time with you. Hopeless attitude indeed.

The prospective client wanted publicity services on the basis we only got paid if we got them coverage – not a problem in itself, we can work that way. But for a variety of reasons, they could not tell us much at all except to assure:

The services offered will be extremely easy to explain – it will only take a one sentence tagline for anyone to know what the website is about and what it can do for them. Let me assure you this will not be brain surgery, it is a very simple idea (as all good ideas are). Whipping out one of your release templates, changing it around and sending it to your media contacts you deal with on a regular basis, coupled with a follow up call will suffice to get it published in industry news and on Today-Tonight or similar.

Hmm. We don’t whip out ‘templates’. Our site makes it pretty clear how we approach publicity. But if the story is so easy, why even use a publicity specialist? So, maybe I declined to offer services to what would have been a great client. But as I said earlier, working on a fixed price requires trust on both sides, and in this case I decided it was too much of a risk (call it ‘going with your gut’). As a complete publicity campaign is well under $2,000, you might argue that the chance of finding a good client outweighs the risk of losing our cost + overhead if the publicity didn’t eventuate. Maybe. But a complicated project (and demanding or unhappy client) can consume more than just cash – it distracts from more important things.

So I am most comfortable when we work on a fixed price basis. Even though some might say the risk is higher, we have a far greater chance of delivering the right outcome (because we have to plan well) and meeting the client’s expectation. And I’ll decline to offer services if I can’t see reasonable chance for clarity and trust to underpin each engagement.

Ok, that is enough for this post. I’ve got a follow up for you about how we are going to adjust our pricing strategy to introduce a new element of risk-reward.

Revealing the Hidden Jewels of tourism

Hidden Jewel logoI’m delighted to announce the winners of the PublicityShip Hidden Jewel Awards – one of the most enjoyable tasks I’ve had so far as Managing Editor of PublicityShip!

The winners are tourism operators who remain relatively unknown and poised for growth. They all have an edge that sets them apart, offering some exciting editorial and broadcast opportunities, which means they are likely to benefit from their prize – publicity! And they have something extra – passion.

The national winner is Ningaloo Blue Charters, situated on Western Australia’s Coral Coast.

Ningaloo Blue LogoThe Ningaloo Reef is a hidden jewel in itself. Much of it within wadable or swimmable distance of shore, it harbours a huge variety of marine life. Most importantly, it is the only place in Australia where visitors can swim with a whale shark – the biggest fish in the sea – and Ningaloo Blue Charters records the most reliable sightings in the world.

But it was also Ningaloo Blue’s passion for what they do that attracted the judges.

“What swayed us towards Ningaloo Blue Charters was a dynamic and unique experience that could translate well to the television screen. That, coupled with a professional and passionate team, made Ningaloo Blue a standout entry.”

This comment from Alex Ristevski, Hidden Jewel judge and travel series producer for Channel Nine, sums up the essence of Ningaloo Blue and that extra something that is likely to get you noticed too.

The combination of professionalism and passion make for great TV – and this also applies to print media, especially when there are stunning photographic images involved.

Now to the state/territory winners:

NSW: Tribal Warrior
NT: Anangu Waai
QLD: Undara Experience
SA: Bookabee Tours Australia
TAS: Live History
VIC: Auswalk
WA: Faraway Bay – The Bush Camp

We will be running publicity campaigns for all the winners, and setting up a travel blog for Ningaloo Blue to attract more visitors to the region and the tours offered by the team.

Congratulations to the winners, and thank you once again to all our entrants. A big thanyou also to my diligent co-judges: Channel Nine‘s Alex Ristevski, Australian Traveller‘s Greg Barton and AAT Kings‘ Les Cox.

I’ll leave the final word to Greg Barton: “It was an extremely difficult – but thoroughly enjoyable – judging process, since there are so many operators out there worthy of attention. Bring on next year’s PublicityShip Hidden Jewel Awards!”

Getting the media excited

Well, we’re in full swing with judging the PublicityShip Hidden Jewel Awards for small tourism operators.

press camerasWe’ve chosen our national winner – but I can’t tell you who it is until the information on all the winners is released on Friday.

What I can tell you is we already have two travel magazine editors who are pretty excited. And when an editor gets excited, you know you’ve hit the jackpot! We’ve achieved this by creating a story of value to the media.
Now we’re in the throes of choosing a winner for each state and territory.

Other exciting news is that one of our judges, Postcards series producer, Alex Ristevski, is currently working on a brand new national travel series.

Alex is one of those media people who believe in bringing quality ventures into the limelight. He’s been impressed by the Awards entries and is always on the look-out for fresh material, so the new series could provide more publicity opportunities for the hidden jewels of tourism.

Sifting for publicity gems

Work on the PublicityShip Hidden Jewel Awards is seriously happening.

Hidden Jewel logo

We are in the middle of judging the entries and will be choosing the national winner this week. The state winners will be finalised next week, with all the results to be announced on 16 February.

We’ve been really thrilled with the standard of entries, particularly from South Australia and Tasmania, and the large number of quality Aboriginal enterprises right across the country.

I’m really enjoying the whole judging process, although it’s harder than you’d think. The awards aren’t just about what’s new and different. We’re also looking for who would really benefit from publicity. Often this means having the potential for more than one story angle.

I’m not the only one finding it tough. Greg Barton, a fellow judge and editor of Australian Traveller magazine, sent me an email saying, “Some wonderful entries in here. Choosing only a few seems unfair!”

But the struggle is an enjoyable one, and as I’ve been poring over the entries it’s reminded me what gives one small business an edge over another, what makes one more newsworthy than another.

It is about having something that sets you apart, that’s original or that fills a gap in the market. And ideally, you need have a product or service that is constantly creating new stories for you.

This is how business blogs can also work really well. Each blog post can focus on a different point of interest that keeps more life into your business.

So ask yourself: What makes you special? What are the kinds of stories that would make someone want to do experience your product or service? What are the special changing sights, tastes, smells and feelings you offer your customer?

For many people in the travel industry it is their local region that will feed them new publicity angles: e.g. seasonal migrations for animals, the wildflower season, a glut at harvest time leading to more and new products, new itineraries going to rarely-visited spots, client stories of new experiences.

All of those who entered the PublicityShip Hidden Jewel Awards have potential to create publicity, so congratulations on getting your entries together – and good luck!

New services in the pipeline

Wow. January has been a cracker for us at PublicityShip. I’ll give you a brief update.

Publicity services are changing. We started our business with a press release service, and quickly added services around that to cover planning, distribution and monitoring. We’re just launching a new service called Get Newsworthy. We’ve had a few situations where the best angle we can come up with isn’t good enough to warrant attention in the target media. So, we are borrowing from Guy Kawasaki who advises (I think from The Macintosh Way, but its a lot of years ago) that if all seems grim, ‘get better reality’. Our Get Newsworthy service is all about helping small business figure out ways to do things differently and become more newsworthy.

New online marketing services are about to be released. Our publicity and blogging services are useful tools for companies that want to get their message out. Running an online business now opens up an incredibly wide range of marketing options. So we plan to offer services in bite size chunks, building on our journalism and copywriting skills.

Registrations have continued to come through for the PublicityShip Hidden Jewel Awards. We are approaching 300 entries. We didn’t have any real idea of how many would enter, but this is a fantastic result. Jane has worked her magic in terms of getting the message out to all the right places. We get a buzz out of hearing from so many small tourism ventures around Australia.

We are working with a significant proportion of clients from NSW and Victoria at the moment – not surprising really. Its a great sign for us, new clients are approaching us directly from the web, with a good understanding of what we do and what they want.

Our new email based publicity course is steadily building subscribers. We aren’t getting feedback from everyone, but those who have told us about their experience have been really positive. Its an 8 part series, and we were worried it would be too long. Feedback to date has been its spot on. After we launched ours, I noticed that Joan Stewart at PublicityHound recently launched an email publicity course as well. Her material is always very interesting, and at 89 parts, this is one of the longest autoresponder courses I’ve heard of. I’m thinking we will see more resources of this nature appear.

Paul and Jenny’s blog is coming along hugely. Traffic is growing consistently, and they are getting new bookings directly from the site. Once we have enough stories collected, we will help publish their first eBook. Julia and I really enjoyed a comment from Jenny last week “I’ve been so busy today I haven’t had a chance to look at AdWords”. Paul and Jenny have a small (but very effective) AdWords campaign running, and are both expert with Google Analytics.

Angie and Shelley at Mardon are so busy its just amazing. They are operating a flourishing recruitment company in a boom economy, so its not a surprise. Blogging for recruitment is a lot harder than we thought. We’ve talked about what we can do differently – content is key. A trail is definitely being blazed here.

Janet Shaw’s blogs are both travelling exceptionally well. For some reason Google took quite a lot longer to index than it did to index While we aren’t pure SEO specialists, we pride ourselves on our sites having strong SEO fundamentals, so its surprising to see a delay like this. I am constantly inspired by Janet’s determination to get past barriers – she does this with her sport, her writing, and her approach to blogging.

New blogs that we are working on include an integrated photography blogsite, and we’ve advised recently on a number of startups. I feel the WordPress platform is on a growth curve of extraordinary proportions – now I’m no statistician, but surely Google Trends on blog platforms suggests there is some basis to this. I’m convinced that many people haven’t realised exactly what WordPress has achieved in terms of bringing together a blog platform with a content management system. Sure it might not be the *best* content management system in the world – but its very good. Very good coupled with very easy coupled with an open source community tells me that WordPress is going to dominate blogging and user-editable websites (in fact, they will merge). Pity you can’t buy shares in it.

Our publicity work is going full tilt right now – travel, fashion, cosmetics, and personal coaching are some of the main industries.

For a new business (well, we’re nearly a year old now), this is just such an exciting period. Making sure we are able to grow and maintain our level of service is going to be tough. We rely heavily on our freelance journalists and writing skills, so we have to keep on getting better at finding good freelancers and getting their skills applied at the right time and the right place. If you know of journalists who might like to do some additional freelance work, please get them to contact us, we would love to hear from them.

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