Crenshaw Client Arkadium Hosts Packed Panel Session

Crenshaw Communications’ Chris Harihar and team recently produced a wildly successful panel discussion as part of ongoing thought leadership efforts for digital media client Arkadium.  Titled How Digital Publishers Are Innovating the Newsroom, the panel attracted Anthony Ha of TechCrunch as moderator as well as digital publisher participants from NYT, Quartz, Gannett, VICE and more. Arkadium CEO Jess Rovello represented the client on the panel which drew 70+ attendees for a night of stimulating conversation, good company and libations. Check out our post on all the ins and outs for producing a successful B2B PR panel.


Crenshaw Communications Welcomes Mike Stolyar

Top talent is what takes an agency from the everyday to the exceptional. We’re delighted to welcome a new team member with a fresh perspective and great work ethic. Last month, we added award-winning Account Supervisor Michael Stolyar, a B2B/B2C tech expert who is already contributing to a number of client programs.  Mike brings experience in advertising/marketing technology, Big Data, social media analytics, biometrics, and much more. Fun fact: he grew up speaking both English and Russian and knows his vodka. Welcome, Mike!

10 Do’s And Don’ts For Better PR Ideas

People often ask how agencies come up with great ideas for public relations campaigns. Agency teams will answer this question differently owing to their unique sector experience and orientation,  but there are commonalities. We have culled a top ten list of do’s and don’ts to help foster successful idea generation from some of the best brains in the business. We’re basing success on a few factors; our criteria include ideas that are on strategy, cost-effective, and attractive to media.

Sometimes the process can be daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Feeling creative? Let’s get started.

Do keep up on trends. Any successful PR person knows how vital it is to be on top of “what’s hot and what’s not,” and life in a 24/7 news cycle means that list changes and morphs on a dime. Remember Vine? The social platform for video-sharing was touted as the next big thing, until it wasn’t. Social media users are a fickle crowd, often more loyal to influencers than platforms. So it really pays to know where influencers are going next. Looks like Facebook may be a winner here, as it recently snatched Snapchat’s most popular features like filters and stories. To help keep current, check out sites like Trend Hunter — full of fun, new news on all topics. It also helps to track important industry verticals and follow the most relevant journalists on Twitter. It may seem like a full-time job to stay on top of trends but the time investment is definitely worth it.

Don’t auto-brainstorm. In a recent conversation with agency peers, a dirty little secret was revealed. The best ideas do not always come from brainstorms. In routine sessions participants may come unprepared or be reluctant to share, relying on others to do the heavy creative lifting. The meetings can be major time-sucks that result in little usable input. We offer two strategies that seem to work better in producing solid ideas. First, stick to small meetings of just a couple of people who know the account. This saves time getting up to speed and team members have more of a vested interest in developing a great idea. While it may be argued that “out-of-the-box” thinking comes from those not associated with the account, we find that is seldom the case. We also like asking team members to submit quick ideas through email or group chat. When the task is perceived as low-pressure, the responses are often more interesting. An attention-getting idea for a 3-D printing client came to us this way. In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, our team learned a 3-D printed brace was used in practice by an injured football player. Gambling on the possibility of a sidebar segment on player rehab technology, we put together a story pitch with strong visuals to help sports and tech press fill the airtime leading up to the game. The player in question ended up wearing the brace on game day and the media response earned us major points.

Do as much research as you can, and then do some more. Like any investment, it makes sense to analyze the pros and cons of a program idea before putting it into motion. It’s helpful to look for quantifiable past experience to help determine whether an initiative will fly. Another component is media response. We maintain relationships with journalists of all stripes, and that often affords the opportunity to run something by them for an unscientific, yet honest, assessment. Most important to determine is whether an idea will be meaningful to the target audience and affect behavior. Ideally, research should include persona mapping to develop a detailed profile of the people to be reached. Persona mapping takes all the demographic and psychographic characteristics involved to shape a profile that will help the team understand a target’s emotional drivers, needs, concerns and requirements. Once their behavior is better understood, proposed ideas can be more easily accepted or rejected.

Don’t be afraid to trot out the tried and true.  In B2C PR, the tried and true tactics are often smart to pursue. These include celebrations of the biggest, fastest, smallest or (insert hyperbolic adjective.) Stories like that of the “world’s most expensive taco” crop up daily, and media never tire of them. The category can also include tactics that always deliver when well executed, like consumer surveys on hot topics from parenting to politics. In B2B PR, a strong point of view on an industry problem, a compelling vision for the future, or a prediction can be winning thought leadership ideas, with the right packaging.  It comes down to knowing what media need and respond to, and following your instincts for a good story.

Do work backward. There’s a very smart exercise to be done when floating an idea internally. Gather the troops and look at the idea as if it’s already been implemented. Take stabs at writing up the dream media results and crafting the headlines that would spell success. If the idea can survive and thrive under this agency “stress test,” you may have hit paydirt. If it withers under this kind of scrutiny, it’s back to the drawing board. This exercise has helped our team rework plans, improve messaging and manage expectations for initiatives including panel discussions, surveys and blogger events.

Don’t let budgets hamstring your thinking. We’ve all been there. The PR team has come up with a spot-on idea that’s innovative and a surefire hit with media. But the price tag is too high. No one wants to see a good idea die, so a common strategy is to create a case for the idea and work to sell it in. Some ways to build that case include determining a realistic ROI on the initiative. For example, our team has sold in panel discussions and conference appearances by calculating the expected media coverage as well as placement of post-event thought leadership pieces. It’s also effective to calculate some of the fuzzier outcomes, like new relationships and ongoing goodwill with potential customers and influencers. Recommending a pilot program to test the concept on a smaller scale first can also help a client ease into a bigger budget conversation.

Do go through the calendar for inspiration. Each time we begin work on a new business assignment, someone is charged with determining upcoming red-letter dates for the company. A company anniversary, for example, can be a slam-dunk for industry press. But there are other reasons to consult the calendar. In addition to the annual holidays traditionally covered by media, there are the offbeat holidays from “Talk Like Shakespeare Day” to “World Sauntering Day” – whatever that is – that can occasionally offer opportunities for shared content or trending topic inspiration. In addition to annual time periods like back-to-school and summer vacation, look at popular awards shows, annual sports events or other important pop culture milestones. We like the way AMC is commemorating Gus Fring’s upcoming appearance on the AMC hit “Better Call Saul.” Also helpful? Look for moments with pop culture relevance to tie into such as Fashion Week or the annual release of the Pantone colors. Got any ideas for the color green?

Don’t try to stick a square peg in a round hole. In other words, don’t fall so in love with an idea that you try to force it to fit. Once the team has established workable criteria and proof points for what makes a successful concept, look for ideas that mesh well. And be sure to counsel clients that become enamored of ideas that miss the mark strategically and as media-grabbers. Recently a client with a security device contemplated staging an assault or pickpocketing at a trade show to drum up attention for its product. The team felt such an event would not show the device in its best light and could potentially backfire. We explained the downside of such a stunt and moved on to a more executable idea. But don’t throw out an idea just because it doesn’t work this time. Start a Pinterest or other file of good PR ideas and look at it often.

Do know that you don’t always need a Big Idea. Sometimes a smaller one can produce huge results. Just this week, United Airlines removed two young female passengers traveling on employee passes. The reason? Leggings, which were deemed inappropriate for employee relatives to wear while traveling on the airline. The story blew up, of course. And that was when the eagle-eyed Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, tweeted a simple offer and struck PR gold. Puma put out the call for anyone with a United Airlines ticket to visit a Puma store and receive 20% off a pair of leggings. Simple, smart, and effective. The offer landed Puma in the fashion pages of the New York Times with a huge photo prominently featuring the brand logo. All this even though the brand had no new product offering or any news at all. Just a bit of positive newsjacking.

Do ask yourself “what would a journalist say?” We have touched on the importance of media buy-in, but it bears repeating. Whether it’s a story pitch, new product launch or other initiative, the PR strategist must think like a journalist. Start by determining how newsworthy the idea is by answering the following:

  • Timing: why this story at this time?
  • Significance: what does this story mean to my readers? Will it help or inform them?
  • Proximity: is the topic close enough to readers for it to pique their attention?
  • Human interest: does the article appeal to readers’ emotions?

Finally, be honest, use facts and figures, give clear industry insights with some sources and tell a story with a compelling beginning, middle, and end. And if you’re stuck for inspiration, remember this quote from John Steinbeck, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

Make PR Measurement A Priority

Technology is making the measurement of public relations outcomes easier, less time-consuming and more meaningful.  Whether it’s the tailored digital dashboard offered by companies like Trendkite or sophisticated social listening reports like those created by Mention, sophisticated analytics help prove PR’s value beyond the old metric of “inches and airtime.” This enables teams to better identify what works and what doesn’t, creating more fruitful agency-client partnerships.

That’s a goal we can all get behind. More PR agencies today are designating a measurement guru on their team to own analytics. While labeling this person a “data scientist” may be overblown, McKinsey estimates that by 2018 the number of data science jobs in the US will be over 490,000, yet the eligible, qualified candidates to fill these jobs fewer than 200,000. Perhaps training an existing staffer or considering a hire with data science experience can elevate the function for agencies.

But before assigning someone to take advantage of new tech tools to monitor coverage and sentiment, it’s best to review the framework for achieving meaningful results reporting.

Start with clear organizational goals

Although many companies retain a PR firm to increase awareness, which at its most basic can be measured by volume and tone of coverage, PR can do so much more. It pays to work with clients at the outset to set goals that will have a business impact, such as increased websites visits, attributable sales leads or attendees at specific events. Additionally, an organization may be seeking advocacy of a position or cause, like this current campaign aimed at increasing public education and awareness of mental health issues.  The ideal organizational objectives have a measure of impact already attached. So it serves everyone if a goal is “20% increase in brand awareness” while calling out three distinct ways to measure it, as opposed to the more general “increase brand awareness.”

Course-correct where needed

Advance legwork can improve the odds of achieving measurable impact. The key factors here are thorough situation analysis, competitive set, budget and target audience as part of the planning. However, like those freight company signs that warn “contents may shift,” measures for success may change as a team gets to know a product and category. Our client Wearsafe, a manufacturer of a wearable “panic button,” for example, saw its core audience as female college students and their parents. The PR campaign’s goals were to infiltrate the college market, and our storytelling focused on college readiness for freshmen. It became apparent, however, that the college crowd was difficult and expensive to reach, slow to adopt and crowded with would-be competitors. At that point, we altered our focus to target female runners concerned about safety while exercising outdoors. This strategy paid off when retailers like Best Buy and Fleet Feet began stocking Wearsafe. The point is that simple awareness among women wasn’t as relevant as awareness among female runners in key markets.

Identify the “core measures”

Many in PR use the acronym PESO to define the different types of media coverage a solid and comprehensive PR program achieves: paid, earned, shared and owned. Most firms still deal primarily in “E” for earned, and with good reason; 62% of consumers trust media articles when it comes to making purchase decisions. Social media inspires less confidence but is still powerful; 49% of buyers trust content in brand social media campaigns. So, while there may still be “trust” gaps between editorial content and less neutral sources, today’s sophisticated agencies can make the PESO formula work to produce significant results. Take, for example, just how hot Domino’s Pizza is today. The brand has pulled off a successful multi-pronged campaign – part advertising, featuring Ferris Bueller with nods to “Stranger Things,” and part incredible marketing comeback story. It literally fires on all burners.

Match tactics to goals

The rubber meets the road when the high-level thinking is translated into an implementable plan. What activities will deliver key messages to high-value constituencies to produce measurable results?  It depends on a combination of factors: what inherent news does the company have and what kind of budget is available to get the message out? An innovative B2B tech client with a new product launch or newly generated source of funding is a slam-dunk for coverage that can engage the target audience. This is evidenced by companies like Starship Technologies, which closed a $17.2M Series A in January followed by a number of restaurants retaining the company for robotic food delivery.  With news like this and a goal of producing earned coverage in a handful of key outlets, a company may not need to spend a huge amount on extra PR activities or sponsorships. If, on the other hand, there is no hard finance or new product story, and the objectives for visibility are broader, borrowed-interest tactics may be needed. This may mean events, stunts, surveys, or influencer campaigns, which can be evaluated using metrics like quantity and quality of coverage, share of voice compared to competitors, sentiment, and hard factors like event attendance. 

Consider market research

The single most comprehensive metric for PR’s efficacy just might be pre-and-post-campaign awareness research. Such research is an effective way to show the value of a solid PR expenditure for a startup brand, or a situation where a perception change is needed. A recent study on the effectiveness of podcast advertising provides clients with information like “unaided product awareness increased from the pre-study to the post-study by 47% for a financial services product, by 37% for an automobile aftermarket product and by 24% for a lawn and garden product.” This kind of data helps PR clients plan further content strategies to improve understanding of a product, service or issue and shows how effectively an audience engages with content.

Evaluate the impact, and act on the findings

Here we measure and analyze the effect of the communications on its audience. Has understanding increased, have attitudes changed, or has trust and/or preference increased? We also look to see if a campaign has affected intent by looking at relevant subscription or registration data, or if it has increased online advocacy, as shown in social media content. We can then measure the impact on the organizational objectives, often with the help of simple technology tools such as Google and Cision as well as those offered by companies like SeeDepth which claims to save agencies precious time by providing real-time data on which PR programs are returning bottom-line value. A well-documented results report reveals which initiatives produced the best results and sets the stage to brainstorm ways to build and improve for the next PR push. The report can also serve as the basis for creating case studies and award entries.

Measurement will continue to grow in importance to clients and agencies, especially when it comes to reputation management, lead generation, or impact on policy or social change. The agencies that make measurement a priority without letting it consume too much time and budget will have an advantage by offering that all-important link to the organization’s business objectives as well as the everyday measures of responsiveness, quality deliverables, and creative partnership.

Influencer Marketing For B2B Brands

Can influencer marketing work for B2B brands? PR programs with influencer tactics evoke emerging YouTubers or glitzy Kardashian-type personalities, but influencer marketing works in B2B public relations, too. The names may not be as glamorous, but the impact is real.

Here’s why. Most B2B companies operate in a competitive category characterized by a long selling cycle, relatively high costs, and, most importantly, a highly informed buyer. An executive who buys enterprise technology, for example, has access to unprecedented amounts of material like analyst reports, reviews, studies, and informal testimonials on social media. The wealth of information, in fact, can be so overwhelming that it leads to purchase paralysis. The firsthand experience of an influential user or a report that includes relevant trend forecasts can make a big difference.

A few years ago, influencers were considered an elite group, operating at a rarefied level and not very accessible. Today, almost anyone with expertise can become an influencer if they create relevant content, deliver compelling speeches, or counsel clients successfully. For business clients, long-term influencer relationships are PR gold. Here are some principles to bear in mind when planning a B2B PR program that involves influencers to tell its story.

Don’t confuse influence with popularity

The two can certainly coexist, but a person with narrow, yet deep, expertise can be a top influencer even if his name isn’t widely known. A niche industry analyst can have an enormous impact on brand visibility even without a large following. This is particularly powerful in high-information verticals where expertise is at a premium. Many consumer marketers have turned to micro-influencer campaigns where a single individual might earn $250 or less for a post, but where hundreds of such bloggers or social posters can be harnessed within a campaign, with powerful results. Such long-tail influencers are not as plentiful in B2B sectors, but they don’t need to be. With its more precise targeting needs, many B2B verticals are targetable with smaller numbers and keyword-rich content.

Seek insight, not endorsement

The right endorsements are terrific, but on the business side, they are rare, occasionally expensive, and often lacking in credibility. A stronger way to reap influence over the long term is through the insights and opinions of tastemakers in relevant sectors. At our company we create periodic thought leadership events for B2B clients that comprise journalists, authors, analysts, and experts to explore a burning issue for two hours. Those two hours can then be turned into bylined articles, short video bites, earned media coverage, and – perhaps least obvious but most significant – ongoing relationships with brand influencers.

Collaborate on content

This is what companies like SAP do to move influencer marketing from an awareness model to one focused on demand generation. The most effective influencer component for most B2B companies is a content marketing program featuring contributed articles, videos, or posts by thoughtfully selected individuals where each can make a distinct contribution. Relevant content partnerships have a 1+1=3 kind of impact, aligning a brand with an expert’s own name and reputation for industry insight and practical knowledge. And when a business influencer participates in content, they’re naturally more invested in promoting and sharing it.

Build relationships, not just recommendations

Endorsements are transactional and by definition, one-dimensional. An expert or personality promotes your product for a fee. But a true influencer relationship should be more than a transaction. Smart B2B brands use influencers for their opinions on new products or even messaging, getting feedback on marketing strategies and opening doors to new market segments.

Make it mutually beneficial

Many influencers want to be paid, of course, but the majority are building their own brands for the long haul. Smart businesses help that process by introducing their partners to others like them, letting them make multiple connections with the company network and promoting them to clients and other business contacts. Similarly, influencer relationships can guide program messaging and elicit insights that can be used in PR programming. Survey them for opinions and ideas; they will appreciate it if proper credit is given.

Take a long-term approach

Anyone familiar with the cycle of analyst reports knows that a short-term relationship with a key analyst is a waste of time. The same is true for other types of influential figures, from super-users to authors and academics.

Have someone own the relationships

Make no mistake, the care and feeding of business influencers takes time and skill, and it should be owned by a capable executive (or agency staffer) with sufficient seniority to signal its importance.

According to Altimeter Group, most marketers say they’re either still experimenting, or they’re running individual influencer campaigns rather than maintaining ongoing programs. Just 24% of respondents say their brand is running ongoing influencer programs, and only 5% say they have integrated influencers across all marketing activities. B2C companies still have more mature influencer marketing programs overall, but, we haven’t seen the full potential of influencer marketing for business brands.

The Only B2B PR Event You’ll Ever Need

Compared to consumer PR, B2B public relations is more highly targeted, and usually more limited when it comes to the range of tactics that are truly effective.

One nearly surefire tactic for building thought leadership, creating quality content, and earning trade media coverage is a small group discussion event we call the business thought leadership panel.

Once the preserve of think tanks and academia, panel discussions that tap “thought capital” are both highly individualized and reliably replicable for PR. The panels offer a way to showcase a company’s thinking on a hot-button issue and involve other leaders in a way that advances the industry conversation.

Topics can range from sustainable businesses to the future of driverless cars. The elements of a successful panel include the obvious —  a worthy subject, compelling participants, and a plan for capturing the terrific content produced for post-event white papers, bylines, videos, and other communications. But no matter what the topic, there are ground rules for making a panel discussion a success for all involved. Read on for the key ways to customize a discussion event for your B2B brand.

Pick an outstanding topic and a title that tells a story. The number of potential panel topics to consider is endless. The key is identifying which topics are either evergreen/continuously interesting, or particularly hot at a given point in time. The best panel topics are a little bit of both — while staying relevant to the business hosting the discussion. For example, a recent panel we produced for media tech business Arkadium focused on how publishers are innovating the creation and delivery of content given the growth of Facebook and other digital channels like Snapchat. The talk was titled  “How Digital Publishers are Innovating the Newsroom and it pulled together major players in digital publishing from outlets like Gannett, Quartz and Vice. In a packed room, this impressive group offered up great talking points that the team is successfully converting to content, positioning Arkadium at the center of the newsroom innovation conversation.

Secure a top-notch moderator.  It’s been said that a panel moderator’s job is “to help the audience get their needs met.” That may be so, but the first task of a moderator is to act as a lure for quality panelists. Job one is therefore to attract a great moderator – ideally a high-level journalist who covers the proposed topic of discussion, or an appropriate B2B industry influencer. Seek out a journalist or influencer who is also a great speaker, someone who can drive discussion, pivot when necessary and keep the audience engaged. A good moderator takes charge of the panel at the outset, introducing the participants and directing questions at each to make sure participation is fair and equitable. No one appreciates a showboater. Finally, when developing a short list for moderators, keep in mind that your selection gives your panel credibility and helps you up participation, attendance and coverage.

Drive panelist participation.  A “name” moderator will help attract top panelists with an invitation that clearly spells out why they’re being asked, the manageable time commitment and the value of the discussion. The best results come when a couple of planning calls are involved to prepare the group, but it need not be over-scripted, so the time involved by each participant is usually only three to four hours.  It’s also wise to make sure there is diversity among the discussion group for the most robust possible discussion.

Put time and resources into attendance.  Regarding that “packed room,” keep in mind that people attend panels for the discussionIf you’re hosting something separate from a large event like a trade show that affords a captive audience, and are not focusing on turnout, it probably won’t be well attended. Healthy panel attendance requires a lot of elbow grease. It’s best to leverage existing prospect and customer lists, while also relying on third-party tools and services like Lead411, LeadID and others to build targeted lists from scratch. Additionally, we recommend supporting core email invitations with relevant event listing websites like EventbriteMeetup, and Lanyrd. There is no exact formula, but as every good PR person knows, at least 50-60% of RSVPs will be no-shows.

An open bar and good food are a must. For any successful event, good food and an open bar are staples, and lofty discussions are no different. Events need to be experiences, and providing top-notch hospitality can mean the difference in a crowded and competitive event marketplace. Pick a location with some cachet and keep the format in mind when planning catering. A small event can succeed with a few food stations, but passed platters before and after can be a nice touch, if budget permits.

Avoid a sales pitch. Hosted panels are generally thought leadership and branding opportunities. They are higher-funnel strategies, not mid or lower level sales opportunities. Attendees are generally potential customers or non-customers, not qualified like those brought in by a sales team. So, best practices dictate that the event not be treated as a hard sell. Keep a soft touch and avoid over-branding. The panel is an opportunity to gently promote your business and brand, not hold people hostage with a 10-minute product overview. Quality panelists and moderators won’t go near a perceived third-party sales pitch.

Follow up quickly and appropriately. While everyone involved is still pumped from the successful event, send thank yous and elicit constructive feedback from panelists, moderator and attendees. Where appropriate, determine who is planning to write a story and offer up more information. The most powerful outcomes can come from packaging the content from the talk. You’ll want to involve the panelists to confirm quotes and keep them apprised of your plans for white papers, videos and bylines. A well thought-out panel can produce content for months, “rewarding” participants with coverage that adds to their professional resume and your reputation.

Have a tight plan for merchandising results. Taking a cue from the company’s PR objectives, most plan to use the panel discussion’s content for leadership positioning. Tactically, this means slicing and dicing the content – written, video, still images – and packaging it in different forms for different audiences. We sometimes start with a white paper delivered to prospective customers and journalists, then use segments from the white paper to craft vertical-specific byline articles and story pitches. For example, we wrote a paper for a medical device client on non-drug solutions to the opioid crisis in workers comp cases. From that, we were able to derive articles appealing to prescribing physicians, the insurance industry and company HR departments. Visuals are also key; packaging short video and photo stories for social media platforms like Snapchat and YouTube can work well. There’s no shortage of ways to extend the life of a successful panel discussion.

5 Ways To Turn Negative Press into Positive PR

Uber may top the current list of major companies with public relations worries. Its controversial CEO just keeps stepping in it, and even when he doesn’t, the bad headlines keep on coming. But while competitors may be sharpening their knives for Uber while the brand is down, there are some concrete steps a company can take to mitigate a crisis, rehabilitate its image and even emerge from the ashes stronger than ever.

Take the now notorious case of the Reese’s Christmas tree candy scandal. If you aren’t familiar, maybe that’s because the company did a good job turning a holiday campaign flop into gold.

Reese’s issued Christmas Tree-shaped Reese’s pieces that looked nothing like trees. The candies were miserable little oblong-shaped blobs, and the traditional and social media backlash began. Rather than fight the fail, Reese’s responded with a brilliant social media message about “tree-shaming” anchored by the #AllTreesAreBeautiful hashtag. The campaign netted nothing but good will and produced coverage from CNN to Fortune to Fox. Would that caliber of earned media coverage have been possible if the candy trees had been more realistic replicas? We think not.

A fun fix like the one dreamed up by Reese’s isn’t always on option. But owning and even embracing a mistake when you can is good first step. There are other important measures to employ at the first signs of negative press as well.

Have the right spokesperson in place. Typically this is a company CEO. But not all CEOs are up to the task. (Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s problems extend beyond his media demeanor, but it’s part of the overall problem.) We look to prepare CEOs and others at the outset of an engagement, well before a new product launch or other announcement that could possibly result in less-than-positive press. Media prep helps a press spokesperson present information fluently and respond calmly to questions. It can also help the team uncover the best individual to represent the company in different situations. It helps to run scenarios in advance to anticipate the possible outcomes for a given situation and have plans, messaging and statements prepared in advance. But even the best plans can go awry if something unexpected takes place, and that’s where a steady presence and a calm temperament can make all the difference.

Act quickly, yet thoughtfully. Whether your negative press stems from a product or service malfunction, an errant tweet or a more serious issue like a product recall, timing is critical. It’s bee argued that the amount of time it takes to adequately acknowledge and fix a problem directly correlates to the seriousness of the reputation backlash. Toyota stalled the recall of its faulty airbags until they had caused hundreds of injuries and crashed the company’s credibility. On the flip side, Nest Labs, an IoT industry darling, got wind of a potentially dangerous bug in its connected smoke detector and immediately issued a recall and even an online fix – well before reports of incidents or injuries. The resulting press was positive, noting the company’s proactive steps and Nest’s smart smoke detector was back on the market shortly thereafter.

Rally the base. And if you don’t have one, consider how to build it. Sometimes a negative backlash automatically inspires loyalists to rise to the occasion. It begins with a focused social media team who should always be monitoring conversations for sentiment and building relationships with influencers. A smart influencer relations strategy that builds loyalty won’t necessarily get a company out of hot water, but it will help give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s helpful as well to have a track record of being fair with journalists and other media. PR teams know which reporters have had positive dealings with a company can bring an open mind and a neutral tone to covering it. We worked with a CEO who was repeatedly the subject of vicious rumors planted by a politics blogger who tried to connect him to extremist organizations. Each time a troll re-emerged, we reached out to local media, who were familiar with the CEO’s reputation in the community, his track record of charitable giving, and his no-holds-barred attitude toward responding to rumors honestly and fully. The resulting coverage won the day.

Set an example for your industry.  It could be argued that no sector suffers the brunt of customer and media criticism as often as the airline industry. JetBlue has taken a stand to right wrongs twice in its storied history. The airline issued its now famous Passenger Bill of Rights following customer complaints after a snowstorm a decade ago. It stated among other things, that passengers would receive compensation at various levels depending on the inconvenience and hardship they experience. In 2014, the company stranded a bunch of passengers in Barbados after weather caused cancellations and then it eliminated several well-loved perks that had been the brand’s hallmarks. Jet Blue has been able to weather these storms as well. It has expanded routes and created the popular “Fly it Forward” campaign, through which the company offers free flights to citizens who perform good deeds. In each instance, the company acted quickly to restore its reputation and in so doing, provided a wake-up call to the airline industry. JetBlue also continues to rank highest in customer satisfaction in its airline segment.

It’s important to remember that although the public and the press are quick to judge harshly, they are also quick to help resurrect a reputation. The difference between companies that can salvage and rebuild their image and those who are less successful often comes down to hubris. Some companies tout their post-crisis plans in a boastful way that undercuts what they’ve done and further damages their reputation – think anything that BP Oil did post-Deepwater Horizon. The NFL, which suffered reputation damage after repeated domestic violence charges against league players, has also been judged positively in the company comeback game.  Its contributions to domestic violence hotlines are credited with increasing assistance to callers in D.C. one of the city’s receiving funding. And this news didn’t come from the NFL itself.

Less defensive or more thoughtful companies and their CEOs handle a setback with equanimity, and they move on to proactive measures, letting their actions speak for the brand.
The bottom line is, will your company’s negative press become a major PR problem or an unexpected PR opportunity?

5 Tips To A Successful PR Career

Public relations is a $13 billion industry employing 100,000 people in the US. And, the need for qualified PR people has never been greater. The country has seen record growth in entrepreneurism according to a study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, with 27 million businesspeople vying for a presence. And that’s only counting start-ups – established businesses, big brands, political movements, personalities, not-for-profits – everyone needs good PR.

But a career in public relations isn’t for the faint of heart. Every day is challenging, full of deadlines, demanding critical thinking and strategic decisions with real impact. Think you’re up to the challenge? Here are five tips to consider if a PR career is in your sights.

Gain crack research skills

Data is power in more ways than one. It’s not enough to research the agency you’re applying to – that’s your baseline. Serious candidates research the industry, clients, client competitors and any other intel that will give them an edge. We were most impressed when a candidate tracked down press releases for competitors to a client and created a simple SWOT analysis that aided in our pitching. Once in the agency environment, those with terrific research acumen can help their firms win client business, craft more targeted story pitches for existing clients and even futurecast for possible industries an agency might want to target.  Beyond Google, there are sites like American Fact Finder, a resource for searching U.S. census data; Nielsen’s MyBestSegments, which provides demographic information and lifestyle habits; and one of our personal favorites, the the Pew Research Center website, which offers free research on everything from finance and political attitudes to media and tech.

Be scrupulous

“Scrupulous” means two things: honest, and attentive to detail. Both are very important for PR people. From the minute you polish your resume, through the interview process and on to the front lines of account work, PR is a business that demands accountability. We owe our business partners an honest assessment of new products and advice that helps manage expectations and navigate tricky reputation situations. When developing materials, we attend to every aspect of the narrative and its main messages, and when working with reporters on stories, every detail is important.  For both our clients and ourselves, we must spot and respond to, correct, or mitigate anything erroneous being said by the traditional media or those on social media. This has always been a key part of a PR person’s job, but it’s particularly important in the era of “fake news.”

Master all types of writing

In my first PR job, I was told that if I didn’t love to write, I was in the wrong business. And this is still true today. But it’s not as easy as crafting a compelling press release; successful PR people need to be able to write from their left and right brains. And, one of the best ways to improve writing is by reading — following a varied diet of great journalistic and creative content. For news organizations and journalists, we typically craft short, detailed pitch emails to get attention, and with bigger news, press releases. The pitch might be the hardest, given that brevity is a must, but the writing of a terrific press release also takes skill and artfulness. For thought leadership campaigns, PR teams put together interesting content like blogs, white papers or bylined articles for clients on subjects as varied as clean energy and construction. But in all agencies, the importance of business communication can’t be underestimated. This writing includes presentations, memos, proposals, job descriptions, performance reviews, RFP responses, training materials, promotional copy and a wide range of other materials. It’s important in business writing to be as professional, concise and jargon-free as you can. The good news is most agencies have a healthy supply of preferred templates to help new recruits learn the business-writing ropes.

Be tech-savvy – and then some

PR is about more than great writing and strategic skills. Today’s successful PR pro should know their way around a variety of tech, including presentation software. Prezi and Haiku Deck are easy to use platforms for beautiful, custom presentations and there are several more that are worth checking out. Our office has adopted HipChat for quick group chats and we find it a great timesaver. Being tech-savvy also includes using WordPress for website hosting and blog posting as well as the basics behind all the social media platforms. Many PR firms do their own media training, and it’s important to be able to use a video camera (or your phone) to capture training sessions to help clients master communication skills. It’s estimated that 65% of all people are visual learners, and great video content is becoming standard as part of a successful online PR campaign. With an increase in content comes a need for greater sophistication and production value in video creation. It pays to get to know some of the free tools which can splice clips, add transitions and special effects and apply video and audio effects to really up your video game. Check out Lightworks and ShotCut for starts. The more tech-savvy you are, the better positioned you are to be a real PR team asset.

Be a good communicator

Yes, it’s a very general term, but it’s the foundation of what we do. The most successful PR campaigns are the result of a brilliant collaboration, both within the PR team and between the agency and its clients. There are many situations where an in-house team will face a pressure-cooker situation and need to pull together to make an event or announcement come off perfectly. In those situations it’s advantageous to have (or be) a leader who’s clear in making specific assignments with deadlines and accountability. And when you’re not in the trenches, inspired communication is an effective way of motivating a team and reminding them of their original goals. Every leader has a style, and some prefer written communication over verbal. But the best PR people are able to craft both the perfect memo to rouse the troops and the right note in wrapping up a staff meeting or client pitch. Even the most creative presentation doesn’t rest on the powerpoint deck; it’s about the people who are speaking.

Public relations is a fast-paced, ever-evolving field with new client and industry opportunities every day. The one promise PR pros can make to someone joining the ranks? They will constantly be challenged and never be bored.

Top PR Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Mistakes in PR planning or execution are costly, particularly when you consider the typical investment in a top public relations agency. But errors aren’t always predictable, which is one reason why PR is both endlessly fascinating and frustrating as a career. Years of experience have taught us that when a program isn’t working, it’s often due to a common mistake. Here are some of the more avoidable missteps in planning and executing a PR program.

Confusing strategy with tactics

This isn’t just a common proposal error; it can actually limit the positive outcomes for an otherwise decent PR program. It happens when PR people know that a client wants a splashy press event, or that the CEO thinks USA Today is the most influential media outlet for his message. Those deliverables then become the goals of the PR effort. I’m not saying to ignore a CEO wish list, but any PR program will be more successful when its tactics are driven by an overall communications strategy, and when activities are seen as a means to an end, not the end itself. Most importantly, it places the PR discipline in a category with other essential business functions, which helps ensure proper funding and staffing.

Confusing PR with publicity

This overlaps with the above, and it’s another unfortunate way that PR is “dumbed down,” to the detriment of all involved. While it’s perfectly legitimate to have earned media coverage as its chief desired outcome, those marvelous publicity hits don’t materialize out of nowhere. They’re preceded by research, message/story development, planning, and the creation of the right strategy. That takes time and talent, and those skills deserve recognition and proper resources.

Flawed or half-baked messaging

In public relations, it’s all about how you tell your story, so shaping that story should come before media contact or content creation. It also helps to tap (reasonably) objective experts to test messages and the overall narrative that guides your content. Empower your PR team to help identify the major points that set your organization apart from the pack and make its story compelling. Beware of the trap that many early-stage technology businesses fall into — over-engineered, groupthink—driven messages that are heavy on jargon and light on clarity. They’ll always require a do-over that costs time and money.

Insufficient budget

You don’t need a $500,000 budget to launch an effective PR campaign, but it’s important to be realistic about the budget that is available and to match the scope of the program to available resources. Even large companies make the mistake of skimping on funds for internal and external PR, and it sometimes comes back to bite them. Glenn DaGian, former government affairs expert at BP, says that one reason the company made so many mistakes after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was that CEO Tony Hayward had cut costs by slashing the external PR and government relations agencies. BP was forced to rely on inexperienced employees in the first critical days after the accident. Your PR investment should be commensurate with your size and reputation risk, as well as the opportunity to build business through positive outcomes.

Bad timing

There are so many ways timing can work for you in PR, but it works against you as well. Particularly when there’s not enough time to prepare in advance of a product launch, or when a competitor steals your thunder but you can’t adapt in time. Getting a pitch with insufficient lead time to develop a story is a top complaint about PR pros among journalists. Backing out of that unfortunate (yet far too common) situation, even a major announcement can require two-to-three months for proper planning, messaging, media negotiation, and interview prep.  And there’s nothing sadder than a client who want to promote a back-to-school campaign in August. Trust me, there’s no such thing as being too early or over-prepared.

Unrealistic expectations

When PR agencies teams oversell their capabilities or anticipated outcomes to a client, they only hurt themselves. Similarly, if expectations for a PR program swell as part of the internal sales or approval process within a client organization, it can backfire. That’s why we recommend outlining specific deliverables as well as outcomes, and how those outcomes should be measured. If all parties agree in advance, it’s likely to be a beautiful relationship.

No baseline for measuring outcomes

This may be more of an opportunity cost than an outright error, but it stands to reason that setting any program up for success will help all programs in the long run. And a good way to ensure success is to start with a baseline for major metrics like brand visibility, key messages, or share-of-voice in your category. There are many other practical ways to measure outcomes, but it’s best to set up the process before you begin, naturally. The goal is to tie outcomes back to the original objectives, demonstrate legitimate achievements, and set up your next successful program.

6 Steps To A Better PR RFP Process

In our own informal polling on how to improve the client-agency experience, a better public relations agency search process was near the top of the list. Central to that PR search process is the RFP or Request For Proposal. What’s the problem with RFPs? Typically agencies feel potential clients create unwieldy RFP documents that don’t necessarily generate the most relevant information for clients looking for the best agency partner. And some in PR also feel that the time expended (often more than 30 non-billable hours for a simple proposal) goes unrewarded by clients who are merely window-shopping and in some cases never get down to the business of hiring an agency.

Those are valid concerns. Yet a well-executed RFP, drafted for any industry assignment, can be a strong tool to help determine a good fit, as many creative services experts point out. And we believe there are steps potential clients can take to make PR firms embrace rather than curse your process, which can make it a win all around.

Here are some guidelines we’ve developed for those considering issuing an RFP for public relations services.

Determine the kind of PR agency you need. Companies decide they need a PR firm for a variety of reasons. They have grown to a point where they need to communicate their story. They have a reputation issue that needs to be addressed, or maybe a challenge from a competitor. Whatever the reason, it’s key to have all internal stakeholders agree on the rationale, need, and goals in order to develop a profile for the type of PR team that fits the assignment. Some companies may realize they need to staff up with an in-house PR team; others may opt for a freelancer due to budget constraints. In our view, if your budget is less than $5,000 per month, you may be better off with a sole practitioner who has relevant PR or media relations experience in your industry.  Happily, many organizations realize the value of an external agency team, which brings greater depth of experience and can offer a “multiplier” effect when it comes to media contacts, creative abilities, and skills. If an external team is warranted, it’s helpful to look at the area of specialty and size of agency that would work best. Prior to issuing an RFP to 20 agencies, create a checklist of needs and reach out to those who best meet the criteria. This is the ideal way to start streamlining the process for the best outcomes.

Be crystal clear in your communications. Look for a communications partner who can take direction from the company and translate it into action or deliverables. Start that process here by making your RFP as easy to understand as possible and leaving out the “make-work” – exhaustive lists of former clients, lots of facts and figures, org charts and detailed hourly rates for a proposed team. The best RFPs can be just a few pages, seeking what’s truly important — one page of credentials, a summary of relevant experience, areas of specialist expertise, and possibly a creative assignment. Above all,  the document should be explicit about goals, budgets and timing. And make the timing realistic, as we addressed in this post. The goal of the PR RFP shouldn’t be how quickly an agency can make a deadline, but how meaningful they can make the response. For some companies, an RFI, or Request for Information, may be a more productive way to get to your final list. Requests for information are limited to capabilities and credentials, which agencies can put together more quickly than an RFP response. With an RFI an organization can winnow the field of PR agencies down to 2-3 strong contenders and then efficiently engage in the creative showdown.

Enable a productive Q&A session. A phone call with both parties serves a few important functions. For starters, it enables the beginning of the all-important chemistry check. No matter how terrific an RFP response may be, if the agency and company teams don’t click, it’s all for naught. Additionally, a call allows for the agency to demonstrate their enthusiasm and relevant experience, as well as offer insightful thinking by posing smart questions, another important window into a potential PR partner. We also appreciate when a client call involves an actual decision-maker. Too often, the RFP process is delegated down the chain to a very junior marketing person. Believe it or not, we’ve seen interns running PR agency searches. This can lead to mixed signals, confusion, and a poor response. Engaging a PR firm is an important investment and it pays to put an experienced and PR-savvy person in charge of it.

Consider workstyle compatibility. Every agency is going to put forth terrific case studies and references, but what most organizations want are assurances that the relationship will be successful. Companies serious about creating such a relationship should find out how they’ll communicate on a regular basis, and make sure the workstyles are compatible. Do you need daily communication? Detailed call reports? Face-to-face meetings? Media responses from every pitch? Your expectations for day-to-day contact and workstyle should be conveyed in the RFP.

Let agencies show their chops. To help narrow the field and locate a truly enthusiastic and talented agency team, give them a spec assignment that invites them to offer a big idea or solve an interesting problem. Let them be the hero. This exercise doesn’t need to be an enormous, time-intensive challenge, but it should offer enough flexibility for the agency teams to show their range. These are the kind of creative or strategic challenges that allow an agency to shine and give the decision-makers a great look behind the curtain.

When at all possible, meet in person. Even the most detailed RFP responses can’t offer up the “x-factor” in a successful relationship. Meeting in the same room affords teams the chance to really get to know the people they may be working for the long term. It can be the start of trust-building and chemistry between all team members and a glimpse into what future meetings will be like, as this article points out. Conversely, there are “red flags” that only come up in face-to-face meetings. We’ve been in presentations where a potential client cut us off mid-deck because he was only interested in seeing tactics. We’ve had CEOs glued to their phones and utterly uninterested in what we had to say. We’ve also seen agency teams who are terrific proposal-writers but in a client meeting were too blasé, robotic, or aggressive in style. You can’t underestimate the importance of being “in the room where it happened.”
The most important thing to remember about issuing an RFP is to use it wisely. It can be waste of time and resources or a really productive tool for creating a realistic list of agencies.