Crenshaw Communications Wins 2014 Big Apple Award From PRSA

Crenshaw Communications was awarded the 2014 PRSA-NY Big Apple Award (Marketing Consumer Services: Financial Services) for our work with NJ-based McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union.
(L-R: Dorothy Crenshaw,CEO; Marijane Funess, Media Relations Director; Henry Feintuch, PRSA-NY President)

The Crenshaw team was proud to win the 2014 PRSA-NY Big Apple Award (Marketing Consumer Services: Financial Services) for our work with New Jersey-based McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union. We earned the honor for our creative campaign that launched just before Valentine’s Day and urged consumers to “Break Up With Your Bank”and discover the advantages of credit unions.

Dorothy and Marijane were presented with the award at the 2014 Big Apple Awards Gala.


That Should Be A Word: PR Edition Part 2

Earlier this month a client of our PR firm emailed to say that she would need to put off our weekly call that day. Her inadvertently hilarious subject line? “need to postphone.” This unintentional gaffe gave rise to a perfect neologism (newly coined word or expression) similar to those reported on weekly in Lizzie Skurnick’s witty “That Should be a Word” column for the NYT Magazine.
For any of us in the PR agency world who love words and constantly seek new ones, here are some gems from the column that lend themselves particularly well to our industry.

smearch. To Google a person or company in the hopes of finding bad news as in “Remember XYZ Company that never got back to us after we wrote a great proposal? I smearched them and the CEO’s been indicted.”

denigreet. To purposely pretend you haven’t already met someone. “I suppose because the pitch went so badly for their agency, Julia tried to denigreet her when she saw the client at a dinner.”

snoopervise.  To secretly monitor your employees. “Suspecting that the entire account team was streaming the World Cup all day, Gordon sent someone to snoopervise.”

persavow. Claim that one will persevere to finish work. “I let everyone go home early Friday since they all persavowed that the new business proposal would be finished on time.”

condrone. To agree too much. “Although the client’s idea for a holiday PR event was clearly wrongheaded, Ashley continued to condrone it until we all just went along.”

phonesia. Forgetting who you called just as they are answering the phone. “These producers so seldom pick up that I had complete phonesia when I called the one at ‘Live with Kelly & Michael.'”

flagony. Guilt over an unanswered email that you flagged for follow-up. “Even though that blogger wanted a fortune for one post, Cindy still found herself in flagony for having never responded.”

exprosé. The message complaining about someone that you accidentally send to that person. “To his horror, Dave discovered his scathing email about his West Coast counterpart’s lackluster media results went right to her instead of her supervisor!”

PR Lessons Learned From Seinfeld!

This year marks the 25-year anniversary of “Seinfeld,” the ultimate “show about nothing” that became quite something. Though you may think of Jerry and the crew as a bunch of laughable slackers, in watching many episodes (several times!) there are some business takeaways that apply to public relations. Read on and see if you agree.

Read the social cues. Seinfeld explored the minutiae of relationships, and much of his comedy questioned etiquette or social discourse. For example, which conversations are too important to be made via cell? (or via text, as we’d say now) How many dates must you have been on before you need to end a relationship in person? These questions can be applied to the proper handling of client-agency situations as well. Can you read the signs of a faltering relationship? Do you know which situations can be addressed in a call or which demand the “personal touch?”  It may take some finessing, but the better able you are to read between the lines of an email or understand the subtext of a conversation, the better decisions you will make. As Jerry once astutely observed, “The fabric of society is very complex.”

What goes around comes around.  On the show, the characters extend themselves to help others fairly grudgingly, or they ignore the needs of anyone outside their own world, though in a hilarious way. Anyone remember George knocking down an older lady in a walker to escape a house fire? Or Kramer, Jerry, and Elaine trying to force-feed cookies to an unconscious man? The characters repeatedly live up to our low expectations of them, and in the end, they pay the price. The same is true in the business world. A good turn may come back to you years later, but a burned bridge can haunt your career forever.

Healthy curiosity has its limits.  A good agency-client relationship breeds curiosity and should come with the ability to discuss  issues without destructive, “Seinfeldian” obsessing.  (As when Jerry spends an entire episode torturing himself to figure out why Audrey, the dessert-loving girlfriend, won’t sample the best apple pie in town.) But curiosity has limits, and we should know  them. There’s a time to push in a productive way and a time to accept the circumstances or decisions of others.

Worlds really do collide.  George’s famous hand-wringing over certain people in his life meeting others is funny, but it also calls into question how PR agencies (or anyone) chooses to staff interactions. Whom to bring to the new business presentation? Who to lead the account? To whom will we assign the “difficult call?” Good leaders know how to read each situation and “futurecast” outcomes before strategizing a next move. They also know that business gaffes are rarely as funny as anything that happened on “Seinfeld.”

Questions To Ask Your PR Agency

I liked Jay Baer’s thoughtful dose of tough love to the public relations community, “The 8 Wrong Questions PR Agencies Are Asking About Social Media.” In fact, I liked it so much that it inspired me to create a similar list of typical questions posed by prospective clients to the PR firms they may be looking to hire.

In my book, there are no stupid or wrong questions from prospective clients, and they should feel comfortable enough to ask anything, particularly if they haven’t worked with an agency before, or if they’ve had a less-than-positive experience with PR.

But some questions are more helpful than others. Here’s my list of some questions we’ve seen and heard posed by clients and others, along with some alternatives that might contribute more strongly to a constructive start for the relationship.

1.   Possible question:  How will you get me in The New York Times?

      Better question:  How do you plan to tell my story in the most compelling way?

2.  Possible question:  Will PR “move the needle” for my business?

      Better question:  What are the most appropriate ways to measure PR outcomes?

3.  Possible question:  How long until we see results?

      Better question:  What do you need to get a fast start for our campaign?

4.  Possible question:  Why are you different from every other PR agency/team?

      Better question:  Why are you particularly well qualified to represent our business/brand?

5.  Possible question:  Who are your best media contacts?

      Better question:  What will your media relations strategy be for my story?

6.  Possible question:  Is PR more cost-effective than advertising/direct marketing?

      Better question:  What can PR do to build my brand and/or my business?

7.  Possible question:  How do we get our video to go viral?

      Better question: In your experience, what makes content shareable, and how can that be maximized?

8.  Possible question:  How do we compare to your other clients?

      Better question:  Is my budget sufficient to accomplish my goals?

9.  Possible question: Why is it so hard to find competent PR agencies?

      Better question: What makes a successful client-agency relationship?

10. Possible question:  What is your most successful client campaign?

       Better question: Can you tell me about any clients that have opportunities/challenges similar to ours?

11. Possible question: Can you make sure we’re never left out of a story?

      Better question: How will you position us as a resource for media who cover our industry?


PR Pros: You Can Better Educate Your Clients!

Every PR agency-client relationship can benefit from education. Of course, the agency team needs to get up to speed on the client’s product or service, whether it’s a  B2B/tech innovation or a new consumer product. Clients also need to understand the power of public relations to drive great campaigns in tandem with other tools and tactics like effective content. So it is up to us as PR professionals to revert to what we know best and do a little “PR for PR.”

From the outset, define your role as professional consultant rather than simply “service provider.”  Some clients view agencies as order-takers for news releases or  social media posts rather than as a strategic communications partner who best do their job as informed and involved members of the marketing team.

But make sure the scope of work is crystal clear. Other clients incorporate the agency into everything and truly look at the team as an arm of the company. Good problem to have, right? Yes, if the terms are spelled out clearly and the compensation is fair. Otherwise, such “scope-creep” breeds resentment and threatens even the best relationships.

Go back to basics. Sometimes the client missed the memo and has an incomplete understanding of what PR is and what it is not. With all the changes in the industry in the last few years, it is particularly important that the CMO or other client contact has up-to-date experience or information. With absolutely no condescension or inflated sense of importance, take the time to build in an explanation of the agency’s role (and potential role) in ongoing communications such as reports. Refer back to goals and expectations for the assignment and make sure the decision-maker is aware of the client-agency communications and accountability process.

Illustrate rather than pontificate. When making your points, think in visual terms rather than a spew of words. Just like in the best presentations, if you can say it with examples and images, the takeaway will be more palatable and memorable.

Never stop. As your agency-client relationship grows and trust increases, take it upon yourself to introduce the client to new ideas and “boundary-stretchers” that will help with reputation management and interest in the product or service. Take the time to make  a concrete case for new initiatives and push for collaborative brainstorms and other sessions to get all parties to offer up good ideas.

A Journalist’s View: Three Questions From A PR Pro

Rachel Weingarten is a weekly style columnist for and opinion columnist for amNewYork who also freelances for CNN Digital, Fortune, Newsday, USA Today and many others. Rachel is the author of three non-fiction books including Ancient Prayer: Channeling Your Faith 365 Days of the Year.

The most important rule to remember when pitching a freelance writer is…Unlike writers on staff, we tend to have existing ongoing relationships with numerous outlets. Depending on the product, person or project, it’s entirely possible that we can include your client in one or more stories and publications. Once you have an existing relationship with a freelancer, don’t be disappointed if they reject your pitch to one of their outlets; it’s best to be open to different outlets, even they aren’t your initial targets.  For the same reason, always try to offer more than one facet to your pitch. This is a great way to create an ongoing relationship. One more thing, if your contact is a regular contributor or columnist, check to see if they’re still with the publication when you pitch.

As a freelancer, I am typically working on… any number of stories with a workload that might ebb and flow. For instance, I write a weekly column for, am an editorial columnist for amNewYork and contribute to lots of other publications as a freelancer. I also take on new assignments regularly. I do copywriting and marketing copy, so in a given week I could be writing a minimum of two articles and thousands of additional words. Or I might be working on my books while keeping up all of the rest. And during all of this, I also might be researching and interviewing sources for upcoming articles. My writing is a business, and as such I create structure and manage many moving parts. But I also have clients and editors that I love working with, so I’ll happily accept extra assignments from them even during the busiest times- I just try to figure out how to manage my deadlines better.

Sometimes I am at the whim of my editors which means… that I might not be able to predict when a story of mine might run. In fact, I usually have no idea whatsoever when my pieces appear. I usually tell publicists that it’s entirely possible that they’ll see a story before I do. It also means that sometimes stories get killed or sections or product recommendations are cut. And while I value my relationships with publicists, I also realize that I have to smile and accept the decisions of my editors.

That’s right, we all have to smile and accept the decisions of editors!

How Strategic PR Can Support A Successful Exit

Ask any PR or communications professional how to succeed with an investment in strategic public relations, and they will surely ask about goals. The most powerful PR programs are focused on supporting business objectives from product visibility to expansion into new markets. But the right PR plan is also valuable for accelerating a business exit – the good kind, that is.

Whether it’s a planned public offering, acquisition, merger, or employee buyout, an exit is not only a legitimate reason to invest in public relations, but it’s one situation where the right PR strategy can even help drive a higher valuation for the company.

Some clients are coy about their end game, often due to uncertainty around market conditions or because they don’t want to risk employee anxiety. But it’s often advantageous to make your PR team, whether internal or external, aware of your goal to be positioned for an acquisition or other liquidity event, even in the most general terms. Here are some common examples.

Strategic PR can support a high-value positioning

A just-launched portable ultrasound therapy device called sam® is positioned as the next frontier in “wearable technology.” Handybook, a service that lets you hire a house cleaner through an app, is described as “the Uber for your household chores.” These companies are creating advantageous comparisons to develop a strong positioning. A positioning is more than an elevator speech, and it must be backed with real evidence. But a smart communications approach can help change or expand a company’s identity, which in turn helps build a healthy valuation for the business.
My agency was brought in by a successful email services provider (ESP) who had made smart acquisitions to offer a full range of services in digital marketing. But perception can lag reality, and the client was still known as an ESP by many marketers. Recognizing that a “marketing technology” identity would help grow its business and also build a stronger positioning for an exit, the client and our team worked to create an updated, technology-focused perception. Two years later, the client has recently closed a deal with a Fortune 20 company.

A good PR plan is built to communicate leadership

We represented a midsize credit union in the Northeast with a leadership platform that promoted its status as a non-profit and an advocate for financial literacy versus big banks. The campaign, which issued a call-to-action for users to “Break Up With Your Bank,” was designed to promote the individual company, but also to update the image of all credit unions. It made such a splash in the personal finance press and category trades that it caught the attention of a larger organization who initiated talks about a strategic partnership.

Thought capital can drive differentiation

The right strategy can also position a client as a major player and reinforce brand differentiators even when its size and customer base don’t rival the big guys. One recent client, a European mobile navigation company called skobbler, is based on a crowdsourced mapping technology that represents a new wave in navigation. A smart strategy helped it stand out, and as in the case of the credit union, positioned it as a leader in a dynamic category, not just a great navigation app.

The right strategy can help a brand “join the conversation.” 

We helped a client called skobbler achieve notoriety far beyond its size by publicly commenting on moves─positively and otherwise─by heavyweights like Google and Apple. Its founder became known for his trenchant observations on the giants. One leading tech blog suggested—somewhat facetiously—that Apple might do well to acquire his company, and, boom, it was officially in play. skobbler did close a deal this spring…not with Apple, but with a navigation services leader that is definitely going places.

Good internal communications helps manage change.

Finally, strategic PR can help an acquired or newly public company grapple with the communications challenges that come with a merger or a liquidation event when the company typically needs to maintain a sharp focus on its business. And during times of change, the support and cohesion of critical internal audiences like employees, partners, and stakeholders can mean the difference between a sloppy or disastrous exit, or a smooth and profitable transition—the happy ending that everyone wants.

I  am proud to blog for Marketing Executives Networking Group, and a version of this post ran May 28, 2014 on MENGBlend.

The 5 New Business Presentation Types: A Primer For PR Pros

You’ve spent weeks researching the category and the potential client. You’ve strategized and brainstormed and created the perfect presentation. The team has rehearsed, and everyone is psyched. You’ve set up the room and made your introductions. Its showtime! Despite your best preparations, however, there are unknowns when pitching new business. Human beings are unpredictable, subject to change without warning. Here are five “presentation personalities” you are likely to encounter as you pursue new PR clients.

The nodder and smiler. This person defines the ideal audience for a successful presentation. The prospect is warm and engaging, makes and keeps eye contact and actually shows enthusiasm for what you are discussing – and sometimes even gratitude for the hard work your team invested in the effort.

The inscrutable. A tough nut to crack, this type may have been terrific on the phone and even greeted you with an upbeat welcome. But once the presentation starts, the temperature drops and you cannot read him. Sometimes people adopt this persona to shield some insecurity in the face of higher-ups or perhaps because they don’t feel comfortable “showing their hand” when the process is competitive. Whatever the reason, it’s the agency’s job to try to engage them by stopping and eliciting feedback or thanking the individual at an appropriate moment for providing good direction and input.

Nitpicky, challenging or mean. It happens, and the odds are they didn’t get that way just because your team entered the room. Sometimes someone is truly having a bad day, or there are office politics at play that a visiting firm wouldn’t be privy to. Whatever the case, keep your calm and your professionalism. Don’t let this personality ruffle you, and don’t engage in an argument. If you feel your own temper or emotions rising, try to defuse the situation, defer to someone else on your team, or pray this prospect has a hard stop.

Poorly prepared. It can become obvious that one or more people in the room were late adds or replacements and are genuinely puzzled by what’s going on. This may manifest itself in stops and starts and seemingly gratuitous questions. As annoying and thankless as that may feel, go with it! Enjoy the presentation and take your time with this individual. You never know how important he or she may be to the business.

On a device the whole time.  Sadly, this is a trend on the rise. This disrespectful person cannot disconnect even for something as important as the presentation your team worked on for weeks. Even though IRL you cannot tell the prospect to GFY, you can very kindly offer to wait until the person is done with their device. The result should mean a more intent listener, and if not, you could be the first firm to collect phones at the conference room door. Now, there’s an idea!

What PR Pros Can Learn From Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is on the campaign, er, book promotion trail, and whether you love her or hate her, PR practitioners should listen up! Mrs. Clinton is a smooth operator in the interviewee chair. Here are some examples of her expertise that can be applied when managing B2B or consumer PR clients.

Skirting the awkward or negative. Last night  Clinton spoke with Diane Sawyer, who asked how the public should view “Bill and Hill’s” rich speaking fees in light of the stagnant economy and plight of many Americans. The former Secretary answered as easily and smoothly as if the question had been, “Care for more tea?” The Clintons may not have left the White House “broke,” as she put it, but there was an assuredness to her unwavering and detailed response.
There is an art to the cool, unruffled rejoinder that PR agency folk should adopt for difficult conversations with clients, colleagues or press. Client spokespeople can adopt this practice as well. It begins with picturing the conversation in your head and writing down key points. It’s helpful to try out some phrases with someone you trust and employ your own relaxation techniques to stay focused. Easy, right?

Pointed but never nasty.  This morning Renee Montagne of NPR began her interview by stating that Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices” was a “classic campaign book.”  Unwilling to let it slide, Mrs. Clinton said in a very kind but authoritative voice, “Oh, I disagree!” Then began her perfectly positioned argument that a campaign book looks forward while her book reflected on the past, revealing untold stories behind key decisions. And Renee dropped that line of questioning and moved right along. The lesson here is an old and obvious one; you get more with honey than vinegar.

Deflecting by association? Asked about any guilt she may have over lives tragically lost at Benghazi, the former secretary paused and acknowledged the grief she feels over the incident and then traced an arc of previous Secretaries of State who each suffered the loss of American (and other) lives while making their own “hard choices.” This was a masterfully employed strategy: place yourself in respected company, acknowledge the legacies of each, and deflect the negative as “cost of doing business,” even for this exalted group. This approach has less chance of working for a PR professional or a client, but should you find yourself or your client in a crisis situation, knowing and understanding some of the history of the issues is always helpful.

Taking the high road. Mrs. Clinton had the opportunity to address Monica Lewinksy and could have chosen to chastise, dismiss, or edit history. Instead, she did the expected and articulated a reasonably compassionate, but brief, comment about the woman who nearly brought down her husband’s presidency. She even gave her a little advice, saying “I hope that she is able to think about her future and construct a life that she finds meaning and satisfaction in.” By taking the high road, Mrs. Clinton diminished the importance of the question and came off as a smart, caring individual. Or, at least a very well-prepared one.

Hey PR Pros: Everything Old is New Again

For example, today is National Doughnut Day,  created by The Salvation Army in 1938 to honor the men and women who served doughnuts to soldiers during World War I. Now it is merely an excuse for today’s pastry purveyors to give away free product and gain visibility. No one is immune, as a giant doughnut on 5th Avenue proved today. At least three TV trucks descended on the monstrous munchie, and it was all over radio and social media as well.

This phenomenon is repeated throughout the year on other so-called holidays, joyously newsjacked by commercial brands which would have a hard time garnering this kind of press without the air of importance lent by these hype-happy days.  Even the most hard-boiled assignment editor turns into a softie when presented with feel-good stories like this.

Lest you think that your client’s product or service has somehow been overlooked by a day of its own, take comfort in knowing that  there are other seemingly tired tactics that withstand the test of time, including:

Big anniversaries. Be it Nutella’s 50th last week or GMC Trucks 100th  or even the  50th anniversary of Motel 6, product anniversaries present major media opportunities. As you get to know a client, always ask about important anniversaries.

Tweaking a classic product. Most famously exemplified by the unsuccessful (or was it?) launch of “New Coke,” any variation on a theme is usually pressworthy. Often you can work with a client to effect a tweak, even if for a “limited time offer” and still achieve impressive results.

Bring back an oldie but goodie. Much like celebrating an anniversary, bringing something “out of the vault” a la Disney animated films, elicits a tug of nostalgia that many reporters glom onto.

Factory tour. Offering reporters a behind-the-scenes visit with a famous brand like Domino’s or Dyson to see where the “magic is made” is another angle that doesn’t seem to age even as these brands post YouTube videos and other content “virtually” everywhere.
In addition to offering up a plethora of PR possibilities, these examples also demonstrate that some ideas are best executed in real life.