Jopwell Taps Crenshaw for PR Representation

Crenshaw Communications is pleased to announce its newest client, Jopwell. The innovative start-up is dedicated to “making the workforce more colorful” by helping employers diversify their applicant pools. Jopwell connects employers with the most underrepresented ethnic groups — those who identify as Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American. Crenshaw looks forward to telling Jopwell’s story to media, employers and candidates in the new year.

Crenshaw Communications Holiday “Shot”

Crenshaw Communications PR Holiday party

Some of us at Crenshaw Communications enjoyed a lovely lunch for the holidays at Gramercy Park Russian restaurant extraordinaire, Mari Vanna. Everyone got in the spirit – from downing delectable infused vodka shots to eating stroganoff and borscht! Great way to kick off the season with colleagues who are your friends as well. Nostrovia!

Six Things PR Can Learn From "The Big Short"

What can a New York PR agency learn from the cautionary financial tale of the last decade? A lot, actually. “The Big Short,” the brilliant and entertaining “economics lesson” on the real estate collapse that brought down the U.S. banking system in 2008 (based on Michael Lewis’s bestseller), is full of takeaways that PR pros can use. Here are the top six.

Make your story relatable. “The Big Short” is long on jargon and the engineering of complicated financial instruments based on mortgage-backed securities, but director Adam McKay makes it all accessible. Without dumbing down vital information, he uses pop culture stars like Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez to explain it using fun and (literally) visceral visuals.  We also see Ryan Gosling’s character make creative use of  the building game Jenga. Few of us may be able to get that kind of star power, but creative analogies are a strong storytelling technique.

Educate yourself, and educate yourself some more.  One thing that impresses in Michael Lewis’s story and is translated in the film is the depth of research the short-sellers undertake before making their bets. Dr. Michael Burry, (Christian Bale) whose hedge fund was nearly leveraged out of existence by shorting the housing market, actually read thousands of pages of mortgage documents. The crew at Mark Baum’s (Steve Carell) fund visits a banking conference in Las Vegas to buttonhole insiders and tours Florida’s foreclosed homes before committing to a position. This kind of diligence pays off in PR as well.

Dig deeply. Granted, much of “The Big Short” takes place before texting took over as conversation, and it’s probably a dramatic device, but it’s notable that everyone in the film has face-to-face meetings. The players “IRL” took the time to get to know each other and sound out differing points of view to help make decisions. Eye contact, hand-shaking, even violent outbursts all serve to better acquaint each person in the chain of events. You have to wonder if more personal contact couldn’t lead to more informed decision-making in all businesses.

Be open to new ideas. The very first scene in “The Big Short” introduces Lewis Ranieri, the father of mortgage backed securities, an entirely new concept introduced in the 70s. It was a genius idea that revolutionized the staid banking industry. It was also eventually corrupted and ultimately responsible for the financial meltdown we experienced years later. But that doesn’t make it any less an innovation. It’s up to smart PR people to continue to innovate, and to recognize innovation when we see it  – hopefully with more positive consequences.

But know when to stick to your guns.  In his book, Michael Lewis makes much of the fact that four financial industry outsiders and oddballs see the coming collapse of the housing market when almost no one else does. Despite skepticism from clients and peers, and in the face of ridicule and ostracism, the contrarians persevere until vindicated, albeit at the expense of American taxpayers. Although the stakes are lower for a typical PR opportunity, the story is a reminder that – when opinions are backed by due diligence – it pays to go against the herd.

When all else fails…take the long view. What can be tough, both onscreen and in real life, is persuading others to your way of thinking. PR pros in particular may note the scene where two of the short-sellers try to interest a colleague at The Wall Street Journal in the story of the corrupt CDOs – without any success. Similarly, after his vindication, the Christian Bale character wonders why he never receives public credit for having predicted the meltdown when other, less prescient – yet more PR-savvy – pundits are recognized.
But as the film shows, a good story will find a way to be told. On the screen, as in life, if you take the long view, history may just prove you right.

Startup PR Goals: What Every Young Company Should Know

The end of the year is a great time to think about public relations and marketing goals for the year ahead. This is particularly true for startups or hot young companies, where months, weeks, and even days can mark significant milestones in the life of a growing organization. The company will likely revise its business objectives and strategies multiple times as it figures out what works best.

If a public relations strategy is part of that process — and it should be — here are some important tips to keep in mind when setting PR goals for the coming year.

Focus PR efforts on both user acquisition and partnership development. It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new launch, especially if your startup began with a big splash, but an investment in PR is best focused on getting results that will make a difference for the company, not just make headlines. Make sure you have business goals that PR can help achieve. Figure out where your target audiences hang out media-wise, and target those publications. Likewise for attracting partners to work with — an important aspect of building a new company.

Use PR to attract top talent. Young companies face some pretty tough competition when it comes to attracting top talent, and positive founder profile stories, or stories that highlight how the company is doing something different, can make the difference in winning over prime candidates. Don’t forget how valuable good PR can be for this important part of growing a company.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Life at a fast-growing tech startup can be a bit volatile in the beginning, when structure, discipline, and proven habits are still being worked out. Make sure you have the time and resources to devote to PR involvement. Ask lots of questions when bringing on a PR partner so you know exactly what will be expected of your key players to ensure success. Failure to think these things through from the outset could lead to frustration and wasted time — a most valuable resource young companies should treat wisely.

Brush up on SEO. Good public relations work is more and more about strong content, which is crucial for SEO. But the maturing SEO landscape is constantly changing. The adoption of machine learning systems for search is making optimization more technical. A content marketing or inbound marketing consultant is one option to keep on hand.

Think long term. Startups and early stage companies are used to things happening fast, but keep in mind, PR and earned media is more of a long game. Experience and relationships are hard earned and take time, but the payoff in brand recognition and enhanced reputation is well worth the wait.

How To Be Successful In Public Relations

As the owner of a successful public relations agency, I’m sometimes approached by new graduates or career-changers interested in PR or communications. Most are looking for that first job, of course, but the more savvy couch their approach in a request for advice. How can I position myself to succeed in PR, they ask? My response is rooted in an agency career, but even if your goal is to work on the client side, agency experience is very, very valuable. Here is my best advice, informed by experience.

Hone your content skills. Most aspiring PR stars know that content is increasingly important in the agency business, but they may not be aware of the breadth of skills required of PR practitioners today. Excellent journalistic writing, regular blogging, video storytelling, and, most importantly, the strategy behind a content recommendation, no matter what the medium – are backbone PR skills today.

Learn the business of your clients. A common failing of up-and-coming PRs is the thought that they need only master the content and media relations skills necessary to support a client’s business. But it is only in learning the fundamentals of that business that you can maximize the value of the PR investment for the organization. That means knowing how to interpret a balance sheet, knowing about product distribution, and understanding revenue models.

Learn the business of PR. Similarly, it pays to understand how agencies make a profit, because that model is the roadmap for success in the agency environment. Profitability isn’t a dirty word, and it should never be a mystery.

Be curious. In my book, intellectual curiosity is one of the single greatest assets in a potential new hire. It makes understanding a client’s business more organic and it separates the truly great practitioners from the merely competent.

Learn to speak in front of strangers.  Yes, you will have to stand up in front of a group of prospective clients or colleagues and run through a presentation, and the more compelling and persuasive it is, the more successful you will be. Some people are born presenters, but most fake it until they make it. Bear in mind that sharp presentation skills also include advocating for your position in a senior-level meeting, and, above all, in knowing how to be persuasive, yet succinct.

Get diverse experience. I feel fortunate because I started in consumer marketing PR and then had the opportunity to apply that experience to technology clients. In my case, it was a happy accident. But a sampling of different sector experience early on helps inform a career focus, and the cross-pollination will make anyone a stronger practitioner.

Have grit. Like any service business, the agency life has extreme ups and downs. There are exhilarating new client wins, as well as bitter losses, and they don’t always follow a logical pattern. Those who persevere during tough times will be far more successful in the long run.

Go the extra distance. The additional hour spent researching a story idea, an extra-thorough response to a client question, or that last creative session in search of the winning concept make all the difference in the agency business.

Network within your agency. The people you meet and work with on your way up can play huge roles in your career. Some will go to the client side, others will be agency principals, and still others will be content or media personalities. Make sure they see the best in you.

Understand strategy.  PR is not only about creating publicity or distributing content. It will pay to be familiar with the practices that inform public relations, including brand marketing and reputation. Only with a background in each can you call yourself a true PR strategist.

A PR Playlist For The New Year

What better way for a New York PR agency to prepare for the New Year than with an invigorating new public-relations-themed playlist for 2016? We use music to help us through good times and bad, exciting and banal, so why not find ways it can complement our work in PR? Check out the following songs the next time you’re looking for that perfect tune.

You’re waiting for approval on a quote for a journalist due by end of day, but they’ve been MIA. Oh, the despair we feel when a PR contact doesn’t respond! But Adele’s “Hello” should help ease the pain – Hello, it’s me/I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet/To go over everything

You’ve just undertaken a new PR project, thinking of initiatives to take your company to the next level. Let yourself daydream! The Turtles will show you and your business partners the joys of successful collaboration with “So Happy Together” – If I should call you up, invest a dime/And you say you belong to me and ease my mind/Imagine how the world could be, so very fine/So happy together.

That media pitch you weren’t so sure about? Your first choice pub is all over it! Something about low expectations turning to joy deserves a special kind of happy song – Beyonce. “Love on Top” will make anyone smile, and you and your team can dance your unwarranted worries away with each key change – Now everybody asks me why I’m smiling out from ear to ear/But I know/Nothing’s perfect, but it’s worth it after fighting through my tears

Your invitation to social media influencers has fallen on deaf ears. It’s a bummer, but sometimes the fish just aren’t biting, and your original game plan will have to go through some re-writes. Don’t panic, just breathe, sit back, and remember the wise words of Modest Mouse in “Float On” – Bad news comes, don’t you worry even when it lands/Good news will work its way to all them plans/.

A miscommunication about exclusivity leads to an unhappy reporter, business partner, or both. Even the best of us make mistakes, and at times like these, sometimes all you can do is the best you can do. Say you’re sorry! Justin Bieber can help – Is it too late now to say sorry?/Yeah I know that I let you down.

The Top Crises Of 2015: A PR Update

For those of us in public relations, 2015 has brought a number of crisis situations for well-known brands and individuals linked to them. I reviewed the most visible brand crises of 2015 from a PR point of view for MENG, but in the week since its posting, there have already been some new developments.

Besides Subway, which struggled after the indictment of its longtime brand spokesperson on sex abuse charges, and Volkswagen, which was rocked by revelations that it cheated on diesel emissions tests, Chipotle was beset by serious incidents of food poisoning in 2015.

The fast-casual pioneer handled the initial E. coli outbreak in the Northwest well, notifying press, closing stores, and pledging to bring on food safety consultants. But after new outbreak of norovirus in Boston, one of two company co-CEOs appeared to point the finger at unusual handling by the CDC as well as media who seek sensational headlines.

Even if this is true, it’s not helpful. Shifting responsibility breaks the cardinal rule of crisis management, which is to focus on those affected by the situation, not the consequences to the company. Chipotle stock tumbled as more restaurants were shuttered.

But late last week the brand seemed to bounce back with a healthier response. Steve Ells, its other co-CEO, appeared on NBC’s “Today” in an interview right out of the crisis playbook. Ells apologized to all affected by the outbreak and pledged a higher commitment to food safety. “The procedures we’re putting in place to eat are so above industry norms that we are going to be the safest place to eat,” he told Matt Lauer Thursday. His demeanor helped; it wasn’t slick or too rehearsed, but rather sincere and concerned.

So, what’s the takeaway here, aside from the benefit of having a ‘spare’ CEO? Clearly, an apology that rings true is an important first step. But in this case, Ells’ mea culpa was backed by a credible commitment to change. Time will tell if Chipotle’s actions live up to his promise, but it seems as if the chain is on a better path in its PR strategy.

There was a new wrinkle in another name on my 2015 crisis PR list. It’s a small one, but Brian Williams may have made a reputation gain this week. The last of the high-profile news anchors was famously exiled to MSNBC this year after he was called out for exaggerating aspects of his experience covering the Iraq war. His change in status seemed like a metaphor for the entire broadcast news business. The cable news sector in particular has seen its share of controversial moments, most recently the cringeworthy live ransacking of the home of the deceased San Bernardino shooters by CNN and MSNBC. (The Atlantic called it “baffling and surreal.”)

But Williams returned to the network anchor chair this week after regular broadcaster Lester Holt was taken ill. It was a temporary gig, but a nice comeback and a reminder that – for almost any brand – public redemption may never be very far away.

5 Feel-Good PR Stories Of 2015

Sometimes a hectic NYC PR agency team needs to take a minute to appreciate some simple good-news stories. By and large these weren’t generated by a strategic PR team with a business goal in mind; rather, they garnered attention because they’re heartwarming and offer some good news in a crazy world. But there are some PR lessons here.

Teen Creates Clock, Gets Arrested?  Remember the story of Muslim teen Ahmed Mohamed, who built a clock, shared it with his teachers and was then arrested on suspicion of building a bomb? While it began as a sad statement on our times, the PR pile-on resulted in a visit to the White House, an invitation to Facebook, and most importantly, a chance for a positive outpouring on social media and change in conversation.

Mark Zuckerberg and Wife Donate Millions to Charity. This story, coinciding with the birth of the Zuckerbergs’ first child, was especially well-received when juxtaposed against the (at the time) impending birth of another ‘billionaire’ baby, Kim and Kanye’s second child. The writers who got this right, pointed out that while Kim pondered what crazy-expensive “push present” she deserved, Priscilla Chan was all about the opportunity to give to those less fortunate. A nice contrast.

Social Media Helped Cancer Victim See Star Wars Before Theater Release.  We love stories where the power of social media is used for good! In this case, a terminal cancer patient and hardcore “Star Wars” fan hoped to see “The Force Awakens” when it opened.  Daniel Fleetwood’s wife and friends appealed to Lucasfilm on Facebook with the hashtag – #‎forcefordaniel‬ and the shoutouts reached the right places. Five days after Disney and Lucasfilm fulfilled his dying wish to see “The Force Awakens”, lifelong fan Daniel Fleetwood succumbed to cancer.

The City Of San Francisco Provides Homeless With Priceless Gift.  Like so many large cities, San Francisco has a large homeless population faced with many indignities that the city can’t properly address. A simple idea has solved at least one of those problems and garnered a great city some great PR at the same time. A local non-profit called Lava Mae transformed San Francisco’s decommissioned city buses into mobile bathroom facilities for the homeless, equipped with toilets and showers.

Moving Company Moves Domestic Violence Survivors Free Of Charge.  Sometimes a headline says it all. What a simple and generous concept. California moving company Meathead Movers  has partnered with domestic abuse non-profit Good Shepherd to help domestic violence survivors escape their unfortunate situations by providing gratis moving services.
‘Tis certainly the season for feel-good stories.

A PR Holiday Wish List

At this time of year, the typical NYC PR team begins dreaming of industry “gifts” they might like to receive. Of course, we all love tangibles like a great bottle of wine or sweets, but in a more abstract sense, we’re talking about gifts that benefit our profession. Here are a few standouts for Holiday 2016.

Companies who take crisis prep seriously.  Given the (often well-deserved) drubbing many corporations have taken this year due to a crisis –  VW, Subway, Chipotle, we’re talking about you here – we can only wish for clients who work with their PR teams to conduct audits, take potential threats seriously, and craft a thoughtful plan way before anything happens.

Media who provide helpful feedback. We work with multiple journalists covering everything from B2B tech to beer and the best relationships are the ones where real dialogue occurs. We often say the next best response after, “Love this story, send me more” is, “Can’t use this because…” followed by some helpful, thoughtful rationale. This feedback helps us to be better media partners and create better stories.

Companies who respect the PR proposal process.  Ah, the wish that never seems to come true. Every year there are a number of “bad actors” who put PR teams through rigorous RFPs with unrealistic deadlines and huge asks, but who never follow up and don’t respond to inquiries after the proposal is delivered. This remains a source of frustration for the people who put blood, sweat and late hours into PR proposals only to see them vanish like cast members from “The Leftovers.”

Better writing. Since we live in a world where everyone’s a publisher — compounded by near-constant texting and posting as primary forms of communication — grammar, spelling and punctuation take a beating. And, despite our wishes, they may never recover, based on some findings from the Pew Research Center. The conclusion? New platforms encourage more writing, which is a plus, but teachers feel digital tools and platforms may diminish grammatical skills and vocabulary, due largely to today’s more informal writing.

Fewer emails. Alas, the scourge of every PR team is also the most necessary evil. Sure there have been attempts to eliminate, or tools to help better manage, including Crenshaw client ToutApp and others, but the fact is, it remains the primary way to deliver information to business audiences quickly and accurately. Based on this interesting conversation about the retro joys of the typewriter, I guess we could go back to “snail mail” and more phone conversations, but those come with their own issues!
Happy Holidays! What’s on your wish list?