UGallery Names Crenshaw Communications As PR Agency

Crenshaw Communiccations has been named PR agency partner of record for UGallery, an online art gallery representing emerging and established artists. UGallery has over 5,000 pieces of original art from more than 500 artists.

Cofounder Stephen Tanenbaum praised our “impressive work and reputation” and said the team was “as charismatic as they are creative. Check out the full story here.

Public Relations Is A Powerful Storytelling Tool

Brand storytelling and PR – what’s really new here? The truth is, marketers have been telling brand stories through paid media, branded events, and, lately, brand journalism, also known as owned media. Make no mistake, a well-crafted 30-second television spot can tell a resonant story. But the heart of brand storytelling lies with public relations.

I first heard the term from my friend Robbie Vorhaus, at least a decade ago. Robbie was ahead of his time. It took a few more years for storytelling to become a buzzword, and for public relations to realize that it’s what we do.  To paraphrase Seth Godin, “Marketing PR isn’t about the stuff you sell; it’s about the stories you tell.” Here’s why.

PR breaks news. A new product or, even better, a new category, means a fresh story. Traditional public relations tactics are therefore inherently valuable in helping to break and shape those stories. While true category creators are rare, any business or brand that disrupts the status quo has a huge opportunity to define its category and own the narrative over the long term.  Think about Amazon, Starbucks, Red Bull, and Facebook. Different categories, but each was a creator, and each was able to craft a unique brand narrative through traditional and social media. In most cases, it happened without benefit of advertising or direct marketing.

PR digs deep.  A well-crafted public relations campaign can typically go much deeper than paid media. Advertising space and time comes at a cost, so explanations about brand origins, background, or how things work take a back seat to a sales message. The backstory is particularly valuable in healthcare and technology PR sectors, where products often require a degree of education. Storytelling naturally lends itself to earned media, including long-form journalism and blogging. As a bonus, it’s often more credible.

Brand trust is at a premium. Corporate scandals, executive misbehavior, privacy breaches – these and more have been amplified by the relentless news cycle, and they’ve threatened public trust in major brands. Moreover, millennials, the largest demographic in the U.S., are known to be skeptical of traditional marketing and advertising. It adds up to a picture where brand stories told by others – customers, stakeholders, partners, and journalists, – have greater resonance than those told by the companies themselves.

PR blends creative packaging with a journalistic sensibility.  We specialize in grabbing the attention of journalists and influencers with a story pitch that plays up what is relevant and compelling about the narrative;  in other words, we package the story. Yet, to rise to the top, it needs to conform to a journalist’s needs; the classic “who, what, when, where, and why” that seizes an editor’s attention and makes it legitimate.

PR connects the dots. A skilled practitioner knows how to make connections between brand messages and attributes and other, larger stories. And its outcome is ultimately about building a bridge between a brand and its audience.

Download your tipsheet to learn about five powerful PR strategies for brand storytelling.

Creative Updates For Tired PR Tools and Tactics

Want to “break bad” from traditional PR tactics and tropes and get better publicity results? Examine the way you are executing the tried-and-true at your PR agency and be an agent of change!

“The press release is dead, long live the press release?” Lively debate on the state of the news release continues. Some say in the world of the 24/7 news cycle fueled by social media, it’s a relic, outdated by the time a journalist sees it. Others believe it’s still the best way to provide press with  facts and approved quotes. While most PR pros and companies aren’t quite ready to abandon the press release, some companies have reinvented it for the social media savvy and come up with exciting ways to get the who, what, when, where, why about their clients out in the media.

Recently, Amazon‘s PR team announced a new product rollout in a series of 14 tweets. Amazon kept its tweeted release together by using a branded hash tag and having each tweet focus on a different element of the new product. A traditional press release still appeared on BusinessWire and the Amazon website, but we commend the creative PR tactic that tweaked the traditional tool.

“Pulled a list from (fill in with name of online database)”  As great as these services are, they were never intended to be the sole resource for a media list. Rife with errors, misspellings and people who left long ago, they are only the beginning of your list. If you want to assemble a strategic list of contacts who will open your email and consider your pitch, try these simple tips:

Google your topic and see which media have covered it in the past.
Stalk media and bloggers on Twitter and other social sites. It’s a good way to determine their personal and professional interests. The Crenshaw Team recently unearthed a slew of pet-lovers among the press for outreach on behalf of a client event and clinched a couple of great stories.
Follow journalist posts on social media channels for other reasons. It’s useful for learning about their pitch pet peeves like how they prefer to be addressed or stories that have captured their interest in the past.

I left three messages for the producer.”  We’re all busy, and it’s often easier to communicate online. Many reporters feel the same and say so in their online profiles or voicemail greetings. So, instead of being classified as clueless, pitch cleverly. This often means nailing a catchy subject line to start and following up with something meaningful, not the dreaded, “checking in to see what you thought about xyz pitch.” 

“But emails go into a black hole.” Try a new tool. Email today is very sophisticated, and there are apps like ToutApp that can tell you if a journalist has opened it or clicked on links involved. It’s similar to how a newsletter service works, but you can use it with individual emails that aren’t in the newsletter template.

Often, a story needs feedback from media so it can be changed to suite their needs. You want to build a relationship with media contacts, not just “pitch” all the time.  Visit Muck Rack, which allows PR pros to connect with journalists and send pitches. Try communicating about anything other than your client as a way to start a relationship. Get on their radar by giving them a shout on Facebook or Twitter…a simple, “great read!” goes a long way.

Six Steps To Creative PR Brainstorms

Many successful PR and marketing campaigns have started with a simple creative brainstorm. Yet, we’re always searching for better and more productive ways to develop great ideas. What many PR pros and others don’t always realize is that every concept doesn’t have to be groundbreaking. Some of the best creative sessions produce a small germ of an idea, a new phrase, or a fresh twist on the ordinary.

Look at the most recent promotion from Lowe’s, the home center retailer. #lowesfixinsix centers on a series of Vine videos demonstrating cool home improvement tips. Business Insider calls it, “one of the best uses of the social medium as a marketing tool we’ve seen yet.”

Here are some pointers that have worked for us.

Create a positive atmosphere. Some people associate office meetings with stress or pressure to be brilliant. The best creative sessions feature a positive, welcoming, and humorous atmosphere. It helps to start with a warmup like, “How would we launch this product on the moon?”  Responses to such absurd challenges can never be wrong, and they’re likely to be funny. Above all, don’t make judgments on any of the ideas floated.

Set some goals.  Brainstorms can work well when wide latitude is given for generating ideas, but keep the end goals in mind. Make sure your team is prepared with all the background, and be clear in what the brainstorm is trying to achieve.

Let the fun begin. Once people start shouting out suggestions or solutions, write them down… all of them. Even though some ideas won’t make sense at the time, they may lead to other things. The best ideas often stem from a simple concept or phrase.

Change it up. During a given session, there is typically a time where the enthusiasm wanes and everybody falls into a slightly awkward silence. Sometimes rewording the initial objective or goal is all you need to get a response. Or, if you’re the moderator, have some thoughts in your back pocket to get the juices flowing again. If that doesn’t work, try taking a break and cover an ancillary aspect of the situation. Candy is often helpful.

Try speed-storming. A takeoff on speed dating, this can work as an ice-breaker, or it can help reset the situation to keep ideas flowing. Set a time limit of ten minutes, go around the room, and ask everyone to shout their best ideas. It’s okay if it deteriorates into free association or jokes; what you want is to get rid of blocks.

Never stop brainstorming. Even when the meeting is over and everyone has returned to their desks, create an email chain, or a running word document with the top ideas that are really fleshed out. Work them out with greater details and graphics to ensure the best result.

Have any brainstorms for more successful brainstorming? Let us know.

What Startups Should Know About Public Relations

Many startups or emerging businesses can benefit from an investment in public relations. It’s a cutthroat world out there, with all manner of new and fast-growing companies competing fiercely for media and investor attention. Most entrepreneurs realize that a well-focused PR program can help drive visibility, highlight what makes the business or its products different, and even generate business. But not all entrepreneurial businesses have the right stuff – both monetary and human resources – to commit to a PR strategy or program.

An obvious answer is to hire a PR firm, but in some cases it’s premature, both for economic reasons and because the effort needs to scale gradually, as the business does. And there is a vocal minority of founders – most notably, Mark Cuban – who feel the task is better suited to the CEO. (Don’t get us started…)

No matter how you slice it, even a modest commitment to a long-term public relations strategy can elevate visibility and accelerate the achievement of business goals.  Here’s our list of what startups should know and consider about public relations.

Know what sets you apart. And learn how to articulate it well and cogently. Few companies are unique, but most have one or more differentiators. Ideally this is an attribute that translates into a user benefit, but it can also be a backstory. What problem do you solve? Why are you better? What do you have that others don’t? These are the questions that need to be answered in your story. 

Show, don’t tell.  For some founders, or their marketing staff, it’s instinctive to talk about why their business is innovative, different, newsworthy or important. But words only go so far; to generate real traction among traditional or digital media, descriptions need to be backed up with supporting facts, numbers, examples, and/or visuals. Key messages are only the first step.

Look beyond press releases.  Press announcements still have their place in the larger public relations picture, but the days of keyword-stuffed releases to hype non-news are long gone. Any PR program that is based on press releases is probably a waste of resources. Mass-distributed or posted announcements are typically only 10 or 15 percent of the overall communications picture.

Start with low-hanging fruit.  Businesses just starting to embrace public relations should be aware that there are free or low-cost services whereby journalists and bloggers promote their needs. It is sometimes a good idea to start with some basic tools like HARO or PR Newswire’s ProfNet, to determine if aspects of your business story can match up with journalist requests. It’s time and cost-efficient and at the beginning, it can be a good way to test your pitch.

Use data. Emerging businesses often have access to in-depth data that supports their overall business strategy and approach; it can be particularly interesting if it relates to a new category, an advancing technology, an underserved customer segment, or future trend. It pays to think about the data you have and its relevance to media who cover related business categories. Often it can be sliced and diced and served up to reinforce a company’s expertise or a founder’s insights.

Add value.  Occasionally, new businesses are overfocused on promoting their products or services or even simply telling their story. That’s a simplistic view of how public relations works. It’s usually far better to think in terms of adding value. What insights can your founder share? What expertise is the business based upon? What trends, behavior, or development can you explain or predict? The answers may have far more media potential than mere PR announcements.

Speak for your category.  Although product or service differentiation is important to a fully fleshed-out public relations strategy, an emerging business can often get more PR mileage by assuming industry expertise or leadership. If a new company is part of a growing category, it will nearly always be more interesting, and therefore more newsworthy, in the eyes of media and bloggers. We often say that one company is just a company, but two is a category.

Let others tell your story. The heart and soul of good public relations is implied third-party endorsement. A business promoting itself isn’t nearly as credible or newsworthy as the praise of a third party, usually a customer.  If there are customers or partners who can help tell your story or flesh out details or substance, they should be tapped to do so. In the case of corporate clients or partners, that cooperation should be spelled out from the start of the relationship.

Address Your PR Emails With Intent

To “to” or to “cc”? The question can be sticky, yet take a minute to think about if before you hit send on your next email. Be sure to address with intent! Here are some basic guidelines you might want to follow:

Be discerning with your use of “to” With multiple parties in this field, it can be unclear who has the action. Designate “to” for those tasked with responding, understanding that it could be multiple people. When forced to consciously think about what they are asking for, and from whom, PR pros can more effectively craft email to elicit the desired response.

Understand recipient expectations Normally, when you are cc: ing someone, you just want them to know what’s going on without the expectation that they will respond or involve themselves in the “conversation.” A real-world PR example might be sending an interview request to a client and cc-ing his or her supervisor so they can be aware of the accomplishment. This approach keeps all parties in the loop, giving no one the ability to plead ignorance on a project or directive. It’s far from universally popular, though, as some would say it clutters up inboxes.

Copying and the chain of command In addition to the “straightforward” informational use of the “cc” there are more nuanced uses such as to a supervisor to show the initial recipient that said recipient had better treat the missive with high importance. However, this can be misconstrued by the recipient as a lack of trust on the sender’s part — a kind of “tattle-tale” ethos at work. Proceed with caution here to make sure you achieve the desired effect. Judicious use of the “cc” can work in reverse as well. Those who unexpectedly find themselves cc’d on a memo detailing some office initiative thought to be “above their pay grade” will feel justly included by this online “pat on the back.”

When to “bcc” Used to copy others without the originally intended knowing about it, this is tricky and can definitely backfire if you don’t know all the recipients well. Our best counsel for “bcc” is to use when you want to do a mass email and wish to keep all the recipients “anonymous.”

Messages of a delicate nature For certain messages, email just isn’t the right vehicle. If you’re struggling with who really has to know something, skip it altogether and try the quaint approach of picking up the phone or wandering over to their desk and talking it out.

Any email anecdotes or advice you’d like to share?

The Seven PR Agency Commandments

The web is brimming with posts by journalists and bloggers warning PR pros what not to do when presenting clients or pitching stories. Sadly, there’s plenty of evidence that we have more to learn as an industry.

Yes, spamming pitches is a bad idea. But within a PR agency, there are other, more grievous sins. Here’s my list of bigger-picture PR “commandments.”

You will not overpromise.  Overpromising, particularly when it comes to publicity results, reinforces unrealistic  expectations, which is probably the single biggest reason why relationships fail. It’s an easy mistake, because even the most experienced PR professional cannot predict results with full accuracy. The most bedeviling error, however, is failure to even discuss client expectations, and the agency’s own requirements from the client.

You will know your client’s business. One of the most helpful things for me and my most high-achieving colleagues has been a knowledge of their client’s business. Sometimes this is based on relevant experience, but at the start, it should be driven by innate curiosity. If you don’t have a genuine interest and desire to know the business, the category, and all the ups and downs involved in the business, you are guilty of a sin of omission and probably should not be working with the client.

You will not give it away.  In our zeal to win the pitch, it’s very tempting to drop prices or give away our best thinking without proper compensation. Why? Typically it’s for competitive reasons, but it’s also because some PR professionals are insecure about the value of the service we provide. Resist the temptation and don’t sell yourself short.

You will always give honest counsel. We’ve all been there. A client pressures the team into writing a release about non-news. Or maybe he wants to tweet about 9/11 and casually mention the company’s new service, or obfuscate a negative development in an interview. We cannot always prevent a false step, but we owe it to our clients, and ourselves, to try.

You will take care of business.  In this business, we don’t always do unto ourselves as we would do for clients or prospects. The flipside of the disengaged practitioner is the PR pro who doesn’t dedicate the same attention to his own business.  Just because you’re in a creative industry doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know your own industry trends, watch the balance sheet and, keep an eagle-eye on cash flow, – or make sure a competent person is doing the same.

You will practice what you preach. It’s hard to advise clients to find the time for a content marketing or social media strategy if we’re not making a similar commitment in our own industry.

You will show your value. Years ago, a client CEO asked what my agency did that was distinct from our daily contact, the PR Director. Although we had a close and mutually trusting relationship with the PR Director, the question made me realize that our job was to add fresh value to the brand’s communications and reputation every day, and that no one else was as qualified to demonstrate and quantify that benefit.

The meek don’t win here; blessed are those who step up and show value!

PR Pointers For Mobile Content

More people have access to cell phones than working toilets. From a PR perspective it has never been more crucial for brands to adopt a functional mobile presence, as more and more, devices become our primary source of information. Furthermore, given mobile’s prevalence, now there is great opportunity to drive your content and brand more directly and immediately to users than ever before.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when expanding your PR repertoire to include a mobile presence.

Spatial relations. When it comes to mobile, space is minimal and clutter unforgivable, so keep content short and to the point. This will help ensure that the small screen digital experience is a big success.

Watch the repurposing. Just because you are trying to drive engagement through a boiled down interface doesn’t mean a mobile site should be void of original content. People love new stuff, and furthermore, it provides you with a great opportunity to showcase different aspects of your brand and deep knowledge of your field. Don’t forget to include buttons to your blog, Facebook, Twitter or other social media profiles as well.

Remember context. We all want information NOW, and mobile can offer the best transmission of instant data. Mobile content should be contextualized to provide users with exactly the information they need when they arrive at the site. Present your content in the exact way you expect it to be searched. That way you maximize your chances of gaining traffic as well as recognition, within the increasingly dense digital and business landscape.

“Always be recommending.” While each article and piece of information on your mobile site should be succinct and strong enough to stand on its own, it is important to keep user needs in mind. So, if you’re a shoe retailer, and a user searches an article on a certain style of footwear, you may want to provide recommendations for other relevant content, like deals, walking clubs, hosiery, etc. This simple step not only syncs with your sales and marketing strategy, but speaks indirectly to your brand’s breadth of knowledge, content and products.

Before jumping into mobile content, be sure you have a clear plan. A great mobile site can be the difference between a growing and engaged customer base and a stagnant (or even shrinking) one.

Requiem for a Pitchman (and PR Master)

CALby guest blogger George Drucker

I never thought I’d be writing about the death of a (car) salesman, but this one is different. Chances are you’ve never heard of Cal Worthington, not unless you grew up or lived in Southern California in the 60’s and 70’s, in which case you had no choice but to know who he was.

Cal Worthington became THE icon in car salesmanship (if there is such a thing) because he had an innate sense of style, panache, creativity, marketing and, whether he knew it or not, an eye for the power of public relations.

When he passed away this week (having lived nearly 90 years and sold more than a million cars in his day) every media outlet in the West took note. They all paid homage to SoCal’s greatest car pitchman and poster child for early integrated marketing. A four-column feature in the LA Times touted his accomplishments, with particular emphasis on his natural ability to generate media, print, TV, radio, for himself and his cars.

You see, Cal did a great deal of TV advertising back then but it wasn’t just the traditional “buy my cars, they’re  cheaper, they’re better, and I’m your friend” ad. Cal would appear on camera with a car and his dog Spot. Cute, but certainly not memorable. But here was the brilliance, here was the catch.

“Spot” was never a dog.

What was on the leash and on camera was indeed always referred to as “my dog Spot,” but it varied from a lion, tiger, cougar, aardvark, monkey, you name it. The public became entranced with Cal’s quirky ads and he took advantage to the fullest. He would appear on the street walking “Spot” (could have been a puma one day or a chimp the next) and the TV news crews and newspaper photogs would show up to cover it. Cal made appearances at public functions, customer showroom events, weddings and bar mitzvahs touting his latest “Dog Spot”, nearly always to media attention, and always weaving in his sales proposition.

He had the vision long before it was in vogue to use a creative idea and, via integrated communications, to extend and take it to the next level. That’s what made it memorable. He was also consistent, varying the package but never straying from his shtick.

Simple idea? Yes. Silly? Of course. Masterfully done? Absolutely yes. Sticking to core messages/theme over the years? You betcha.

So, four decades and one million cars later, here’s to you Cal Worthington. Millions of Californians will never forget you.

What PR People Can Learn From Vladimir Putin

It raised eyebrows when Russia seemed to seize the communications initiative on Syria, picking up on a stray comment by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to call for a diplomatic solution to the mess. But it’s downright shocking that Russian president Vladimir Putin makes his case with a bylined editorial in The New York Times.

In calling for restraint in the use of military force in Syria, Putin suggests that the use of poison gas that killed thousands was actually perpetrated by Syrian rebels – an accusation that the White House immediately shot down. Yet Putin’s reasonable tone and elegant language makes such a “false flag” attack almost credible.

But it’s in his final paragraph that the former KGB strongman really lets loose and shows his communications chops. In a direct response to President Obama’s Tuesday address, he challenges the concept of American exceptionalism. Pushing back against Obama’s earlier reference to what makes our nation different, Putin warns that it is “extremely dangerous” to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional and reminds us that “we are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Astonishing, considering the source. The U.S. response to the editorial has been cynical, to say the least, but from a communications perspective, the piece is instructive. Putin and his PR handlers have followed a formula that can be very effective when making a case in public.

Find common ground.  The Russian president opens by reminding us of historic bonds between our two nations and our many shared accomplishments. He even tries to soften us up by mentioning the Nazis.

Reframe the argument. Putin describes the Syrian conflict not as a struggle for democracy – that most precious of American ideals – but as an ethnic and religious war abetted by mercenaries.

Sow seeds of doubt and fear.  In a calm, reasoned tone, Putin suggests that the U.S. version of events does not correspond to reality. More skillfully, he expresses concern for the consequences of Syrian military action.

Exploit division. As if on behalf of the American people, Putin questions why we would want to “repeat the mistakes” of the past by becoming embroiled in the Syrian conflict. Of course, this echoes many domestic discussions, and he knows that very well.

Invoke core values.  He then cites the prized American ideal of equality for all people, our most cherished core value, and turns it upside down to make his case for non-intervention. Even bolder, he invokes America’s tradition of religious freedom and our Judeo-Christian faith tradition by mentioning God.

Bypass intermediaries. In his editorial, Putin mounts his appeal directly to the American people. That’s another reason why his closing paragraph, as disingenuous as it may be, is so resonant.