Crenshaw Adds Cloud Technology Platform To Client Roster

“Big Data” is bigger than ever,  driving enormous opportunity for business efficiencies, insights, and better decision-making. According to IDC, the market for big data is expected to reach $16.9 billion by 2015.

Building on our expertise in cloud technology, Crenshaw has signed new client Xplenty, a Tel Aviv-based data processing company with a dynamic customer proposition. Xplenty takes the power of open-source software framework Hadoop and makes it easy and cost-effective for the user. The result is virtually painless data processing. Stay tuned for announcements and interviews from the Xplenty team.

Our Favorite PR Horror Stories (And Lessons)

Halloween has us thinking about some scary PR experiences we’ve personally endured or heard about. Rarely can these mishaps be predicted, but sometimes they can be avoided after we’ve stopped cringing at the memory. Here are some of our favorites.

Disaster preparedness. Two years ago, just before Halloween, Hurricane Sandy struck here in New York. We had a potential overseas client fly in to meet with us and four other agencies in a competitive search. The day before the meeting, our office was in the “dark zone” without power, our server down, and the prospect couldn’t reschedule or meet via Skype. So we scrambled to find alternate space, and in a heroic effort, the team redesigned the room to reflect our creative theme, complete with props and baked goods! We were told that we made the next round, to take place the following week, so we redoubled efforts to perfect the presentation. The day before the final pitch, the prospect emailed to say the search was put on hold. Goes to show, you can rise to meet the most dramatic (natural) disasters, but you can never know how the fickle personal or business winds might blow.

Kill ’em with kindness. Recently, some colleagues — working with a creative partner known for his tempestuous personality — were late to a meeting due to a personal medical emergency. The upshot was that the team arrived one member short, and about twenty minutes late. Though the associate was told about the (very real) health issue, he was disproportionately upset, reaming out our colleague in a crowded public place. Our colleague kept his composure, even in the face of some pretty harsh insults. Weeks later, following a successful event, the individual came around, apologizing for his histrionic behavior and recommending us for future assignments. The lesson? It’s best to keep cool, be classy, and stay positive with clients. Sometime it pays to smile through a PR nightmare.

All mixed up. We know someone who spent hours meticulously researching media for the perfect pitch. The story was compelling and certain to find a good home. But somehow emails got sent to addresses with the wrong names attached. What could be worse? What could be more obvious than the importance of getting names right? Even personal, tailored emails when you actually know the person stand a slim chance of getting a response. It’s a scary enough world out there for the PR pro without fumbling the most basic things. We include this story as a (nightmarish) reminder of how important it is to heed every detail, getting every one right.

And here’s a favorite from the vault that will make you grateful for Powerpoint...

The Emperor has no clothes. Years ago, at another agency (hint: it rhymes with “pedal man”) our West Coast colleague George Drucker had the inside track on some new business. After the initial pitch, the team was feeling great: the presentations had gone swimmingly, they were in the final round, and only one other firm was in the running. The team was told they were favored to win! They did some final prep, and, feeling confident, assembled in front of the top execs the morning of the presentation, only to realize they had left the entire slide presentation at the hotel (this was the old days of physical slide carousels; kids, see them as memorialized by Don Draper). With no time to retrieve the slides and no backup plan, they tried to improvise. And went down in flames. A frightening day indeed, but, to be sure, George has never suffered from overconfidence (or forgetfulness) again. He became a model of backing up data, double checking all materials for meetings, and arriving early to presentations — just in case.

"Winning And Losing" Election-Year PR Strategies

Like many PR professionals, I love an election year. The communications strategies embody what Michelle Han calls a “vote for me” story (or, as I like to think of it, the Coke vs. Pepsi angle.) And though midterms aren’t usually very interesting, with control of the Senate up for grabs, this year is different. Many races are too close to call, and every move is magnified.

The most effective campaigns won’t be known until the votes are counted, but PR professionals can often learn from election-year PR. Unfortunately, it’s mostly about what NOT to do, given the bitter partisan flavor of most campaigns and the positions that divide us. But as candidates fight it out in local markets, we get a glimpse of many classic PR tactical moves, from bad optics to great applause lines, to real-time marketing. A recent example includes featuring the ISIL murders in campaign ads (an appalling strategy which I hope will backfire.)

It all adds up to one thing – media are training cynical eyes on campaign communications, which makes it more challenging for “everyday” news to break through. How can non-political businesses and brands get in on the action? No one wants to be partisan, but there are some election-year issues that PR professionals can use to tell client stories.

Jobs. Even with the unemployment rate sinking, they’re still a top issue. Many of our clients are retailers, and holiday hiring, as well as longer-term plans, are often story fodder. A startup company with a proprietary “big data” processing technology can even own a piece of the jobs issue; in their case, there are simply aren’t enough data engineers to accommodate technology growth, which brings us to the next topic.

Education. Another key domestic issue that, while not without controversy, tends to unite us more than it divides. One of our clients, for example, supports arts education, which as a somewhat forgotten part of the curriculum, has been mediaworthy. And there’s no hotter story than science and technology education, particularly when it comes to girls and women.

International affairs. Given our increasingly interconnected economy, even businesses without an international footprint can be buffeted by changes in other nations. Problem is, much of the news from abroad is negative, like the recession that threatens to drag down U.S. company earnings. Better strategies include looking for a new market entry, a unique take on news developments in key capitals, or a strong point of view about a global issue – all can differentiate a business.

Ebola. Skilled and tasteful “newsjacking” of current events, where there’s a legitimate connection to be made, can be a winning strategy. But not for this headline-making story, unless your company is sending volunteers to the stricken parts of Western Africa, or has discovered a path to a vaccine. Yes, it’s become a campaign issue for some candidates, but don’t try this one at home, kids.

7 Tips For Planning Global PR

Whether  launching a B2B technology service, a medical device or new consumer product, many of the rules of the (international) road remain the same. This month, for example we will provide PR support for the international debut of a health technology product at a prominent overseas trade show. Next month, we’ll be launching a social app that’s popular in Europe but unknown on these shores. Those are very different assignments but there are some common requirements.

Gather best practices.  It’s helpful to study key business categories, particularly those in regulated industries where rules vary by country and culture. Research the successful global debuts of companies in particular who have succeeded in pharma, technology, online advertising, and franchising. Note Subway’s secrets to success found here. Find common tenets and practices for guidance.

Choose your international partners wisely. The founder and CEO of international client Edible Arrangements compares finding the right overseas associates to getting married—it’s a relationship, not a sale. When searching for the right partner, Farid employs the “airport test” — if you were on a plane next to this person, would you wish the flight was delayed or lasted longer because of how much you enjoy spending time with them? If the answer is yes, add them to your short list!” For our company, being a partner in PROI, a network of independent PR firms, has provided us with strategic and tactical support.

Think global, write local? Best to avoid jargon when expressing key messages and get straight to the point. Translate press releases, announcements and presentations into the local language, and use images wherever possible. Hire an on-site interpreter if necessary. This is particularly true if the client news is packed with technical terms.

It’s a small social media world. The HQ-based team sets the strategies and defines the content. The local team adapts the content and implements the campaign. Therefore, they must be fluent in the native language/s, social media mores, cultural nuances and the target audience. It’s also key to set up a structure to match your social media needs. How often does your campaign need posts? Do sites need to be monitored 24/7 and just how many languages are there in each country you’re headed to?  

Consider the optics.  Assess a brand’s visual identity, including logo, and consider how the colors, shapes and even font choices could be perceived in other cultures. It’s also important to note how the senior officers will be perceived. If it’s an all-male team, 100% racially homogeneous, and all under 30 or over 60, it can hurt the public image of the business in many communities and cultures. Our experience favors working with local partners to gauge media and public perception and advise on presentation.

Study ethics and issues. Finally, when expanding internationally, know the hot-button issues and reputational threats specific to each environment. These include hiring and wages, manufacturing, environmental considerations and p0litics. Take a page from Walmart (yes, Walmart) which seeks to source produce for its food sections from local farms that are near its warehouses. Walmart has learned through tough experience that this practice is not only good for business, but helps build allies and good will.

Have a local presence. Even if it’s a small office, it helps to have a local address and place of business. More importantly, a qualified in-market executive who can serve as occasional media spokesperson will multiply opportunities and help enhance reputation in case of any kind of customer service breach or issue. Where possible, commit to the local business community with local philanthropy, small sponsorships, or volunteer Boards. The more you give to the local community, the more “human” your brand will become.

The Sprint Vs. Marathon To PR Approach

No doubt you’ve heard many a newsmaker say, “It’s not a sprint, but a marathon.” With the start of marathon season here in the Northeast, this got us thinking about how we view PR: is it a sprint, or a marathon?  (Full disclosure here: as a three-time marathon finisher, I’m partial to the “marathon” approach to most things in life, so I’ll skew to taking the long view on things, including PR!)

That said, it’s worth pondering a comparison of the two when considering a PR campaign. There’s great value to the PR sprint to the finish. The new product release that requires intense, exerted effort to make a big splash. The sweeping initiative under a serious time crunch to win public opinion in  a hurry. The opportunity to convince stakeholders, via earned media, that a complex project has merit and worth for the common good.

But when the excitement subsides, it’s important to remember quality PR is also a marathon — an intense, consistent effort, maintained over time, ultimately paying off in the end. Here are a few points to remember when taking the long view of communications.

Perseverance pays off. The marathon runner knows tenacity is key to victory.  I’ve heard it defined as, “keep doing what you’re already doing.” If you’re already doing all the right things in your PR activity, and you can measure by mutually agreed-to KPIs, then keep doing it. Certain benchmarks along the way — new relationships, small victories, or building a following — will serve to keep you on track.

Train well to go the distance. Training for a marathon is all about discipline, and going the distance in PR involves buckling down  as well. It’s easy to get sidetracked by sexier topics, or more urgent tasks. But well earned PR is often the result of having maintained a disciplined practice — getting the message right, consistently following up, identifying the right influencers and stakeholders involved and not letting rejection get to you! Discipline isn’t a very sexy topic, but in the long run, it’s vital to achieving results.

Visualize the (marathon) victory. Imagining yourself crossing the finish line helps runners get past the tough spots. Take a page from sports psychologists who say that by visualizing success, you program your subconscious to move there. Actually envision what a PR win looks like for a particular program and your subconscious will fight the negatives so you can cross the finish line and be victorious.

Why PR Should Rethink Social Influence

What if everything the PR industry believes about social influence is wrong? And that there’s no such thing as truly viral content?

That’s the case made by Duncan Watts, network-theory scientist for Microsoft Research, whose views are outlined in the book Everything Is Obvious (Once You Know The Answer.) His research challenges accepted thinking about “viral” memes propagated by so-called citizen influencers (like hipsters or alpha moms), as promoted by Malcolm Gladwell and others.

Watts spoke at the annual PR Council’s Critical Issues Forum, and his premise is a provocative one for professional communicators. The sessions explored the changing role of PR, and much of the content fell under the broader theme of Big Data vs. Big Intuition. The research isn’t terribly new, but given the size of his data samples and rigor of analysis, Watts’ conclusions are welcome.

There’s more to be explored online, but it basically goes like this. Watts and his team analyzed millions of Twitter posts and mapped social sharing for big events and memes. The social graphs didn’t look like the tree-and branch approach of classic social contagion theory. Instead, they resembled a burst, where clicks and retweets emanate from a single social “broadcast.”

What this means is that most “viral” happenings aren’t truly viral in the way we believe. In fact, Watts’ previous research has shown that those Williamsburg hipsters and soccer moms aren’t even particularly relevant when it comes to spreading a message or meme. Ordinary people can do just as well.

More importantly, Watts got the group thinking about all the events and memes that DON’T become viral. The vast majority that never take off and aren’t picked up by mainstream press. So-called viral events are easier to pinpoint after the fact than they are to predict in advance, and the successful ones are rarely duplicated. Hmmm. It just may be that PR and social mavens are reverse-engineering case studies to suit a successful outcome. And that truly “viral” events are simply accidents, difficult to create and impossible to duplicate.

So, are we all off the hook when clients ask for a viral video?  Yes and no. When we call something “viral,” what we really mean is that it’s simply “popular.” Most of us have long since realized that truly spontaneous memes are nearly impossible to engineer; for every Ice Bucket Challenge, there are tens of thousands of failed attempts at social contagion. When you crack open the most successful campaigns, they usually blend mass marketing and social media.

The good news is that even though lightning rarely strikes, Watts’ research actually gives us a roadmap to achieving the right mix of paid, earned, and owned content to achieve popularity. It also validates what most PR professionals have believed in our gut for a long time, which is the continuing the influence of traditional media – that’s right, the very media coverage that PR has helped generate for decades. So, maybe the battle between Big Data and Big Intuition is a false dichotomy. In our world, they can both win.

Four Ways To Make Sure You Meet Your PR Deadlines

Nobody likes deadline busting, and in the PR business, completing projects on time is critical. Whether it’s finishing a new business proposal, writing a seasonal PR plan or editing that byline – every PR pro juggles deadlines.

As we can all probably attest, missing deadlines can erode credibility, while delivering on time helps earn you a reputation for dependability –a professional and reliable resource. Here are four ways to strengthen your deadline-meeting practice.

Less Is More. It really is! Oftentimes we miss our deadlines because our to-do lists are piled so high it would be impossible to accomplish everything on time. By paring down our action-item list to only the essentials, we clear the way for smoother execution and higher quality, as author Greg McKeown outlines in his best seller, Essentialism.

Write things down, and keep them in front of you.  Not everyone is a visual person, but having some kind of a physical reminder is a proven way to make sure we stick to deadlines. Whether it’s a pen-and-paper list or an app that pings you when you’re approaching your deadline, reminders and signposts don’t just keep us on top of our projects, they help free the mind to focus on the task at hand without worrying about what’s coming later, according to the productivity guru David Allen.

Give yourself more time! As in, not busting the deadline, but better estimating how long a task will take at the outset. Most of us tend to underestimate how much time things take, over-program, and then scramble to get things done. Starting with a more reasonable expectation is one good way to make sure deadlines are met.

Learn to manage expectations. If you need a large chunk of time for a project, do the people waiting for your work product know the job at hand? Does it require a lot of research? Is there much back-and-forth between different parties involved? Communicating what’s going on and what a job entails is a simple way to manage expectations, which goes a long way towards sticking to a timeline.