PR Stork Drops Two New Team Members

We are delighted to announce the arrival of two new Crenshaw teammates!

Media Relations Specialist Laurie Graff

Laurie brings to Crenshaw her 20 years experience in consumer and lifestyle public relations working on everything from start-ups to well-known international brands. Possessing strong writing skills and creativity, Laurie’s background as a published author and theater professional help shape her out-of-the-box thinking within a corporate structure. Clients include Gillette, Hewlett-Packard, WonderBra, M&Ms, Dannon, Teletubbies, littleBits, SmartFruit, Speks and Nickelodeon for firms like Kellen Communications, Marina Maher Communications, Child’s Play Communications, Porter Novelli, TheLadders.com and Trent & Company.

PR Intern Richard Etchison

Richard comes to us fresh out of graduate school at CUNY Baruch College, having completed his M.A. in Corporate Communications with a 4.0 GPA in December. Richard will helping with content marketing; generating blog posts and handling social media for Crenshaw. Like Graff, he brings a dramatic arts background to Crenshaw, as a produced playwright and founding member of the New York City-based InViolet Theater Company. He earned his B.A. in English from Florida State University. Previously, he worked for Patagonia and CUNY Startups. Richard is pleased to begin his career at Crenshaw!

Anatomy Of A Pitch: Winning Tech PR Tips

effective tech media pitch
In my last post we offered eight tips on maximizing public relations success for tech clients. Now, let’s take a look at the anatomy of an effective tech media pitch.

A great softball pitcher doesn’t simply close her eyes, rear back, and heave the ball towards the batter, hoping for the best. She chooses a pitch based on the game situation, the skill of the other team, and weather conditions.

A media pitch is not very different. Let’s examine the above example. {A couple of names have been changed to protect the excellent.}

The Grip

The Grip is the part that the media outlet can’t see. All the research, preparation, and consideration ensure that the correct story will be hand-pitched to the right media. If the grip isn’t right, the pitch will fall short. The first thing we notice is a fascinating, newsworthy story. In this case, the PR pro has targeted media contact Bruce, at a top business publication, with whom he has a trusted working relationship. He knows the types of stories Bruce needs; he looks for CEO features, technology trend stories, and colorful personality profiles offering business insights. Points for Mike’s respect of this journalist’s time by not pitching him blindly.

The Stare Down

The Stare Down is the first part of the pitch the journalist sees, so it can make or break it. It’s the subject line, and it must be direct, concise, and inviting. The journalist must see the essence of the story before opening the email. It should never be misleading. If the writer opens the pitch and sees that he’s been tricked, he’s not likely not open any pitches from this PR guy again. Mike knew his client had a programming unit originally headquartered in Crimea, and that business was disrupted when Russia annexed the area in 2014. It’s not a new story, yet the founder’s decision to relocate her employees but stay in Ukraine said a lot about her and the company. And it’s highly unusual. So he let it lead, with the inspired subject line, “Putin annexed half my startup!”

The Wind-Up

The Wind-Up begins the pitch with a tantalizing start. A compelling story introduces you to the characters, gives big picture context, and offers an example that sets up conflict or suspense. It also sprinkles in details that further underscore the client company’s credibility. If the story is told well, the reader will want to know what happens next. When Bruce read “overnight, her business was no longer legal,” he wanted to know what the CEO did to save her company. But notice that Mike doesn’t go too far in explaining the rest of the story. There’s no need to oversell here.

Effective tech media pitch

The Release

The Release serves up the satisfying resolution of the dramatic question. In this case Amy’s company succeeded in overcoming obstacles to thrive, achieve business goals and make a prestigious outlet’s “best of” list. Normally we wouldn’t mention another publication’s coverage or endorsement in a pitch to a journalist, but in this case Mike decides to include the Inc. magazine recognition because it adds credibility for Palladium as a hot startup. He’s appealing a little to Bruce’s “fear of missing out” on a rising star, and he’s really pitching a larger story about the link between the company’s commitment to its employees and its success. He has effectively supplied a story roadmap for the journalist.

The Follow-Through

In the Follow-Through, the PR pro does two important things: He makes the ask in a polite, straightforward manner. If Bruce doesn’t respond, Mike should wait about 24 hours before following up. Further, Mike needs only follow up once before moving on. This shows that he respects the demands of Bruce’s profession.

So there’s the anatomy of an effective tech media pitch for B2B companies. However, the PR pro’s job isn’t complete. A pitcher must be ready to field the ball after the batter connects. If the reporter wants to pursue the story and the PR contact responds in a plodding, uncertain manner, it will reflect poorly on the PR team and the client. When the reporters says he wants to do the interview and plans to write a story, it’s time to get on base —  arrange the interview and supply every element the outlet needs to make it home.

A PR View Of Brands In The Crosshairs

When should a large company take a political stand? Some PR experts would say never. And you can’t blame big companies if they want to avoid public debates about the causes of gun violence, climate change, or other politicized issues. But increasingly, corporate America is being asked to pick a side. It seems there’s more pressure than ever for major corporations to weigh in on seemingly irresolvable problems or to bridge irreconcilable divides.

The latest case in point is that of Delta and the NRA. There are many other companies involved here, but it’s Delta who made it into the NRA’s crosshairs. The story started with the tragic Parkland, Florida shooting that spurred a new wave of activism to prevent gun violence. And the response to Parkland has given fresh hope to gun-safety advocates. Due to the eloquence of the students, but also because of anti-Trump sentiment among Democrats and Independents, the movement just feels different from past responses to mass shootings.

Delta was only one of many corporations who announced it would end a discount to NRA members, and its action was initially applauded by many observers. But the GOP in Georgia, where Delta is headquartered and has its hub, didn’t take kindly to the gesture. The state Senate has pledged to revoke a $40 million tax break granted to Delta unless it reverses the NRA position.

What’s a business-minded corporation to do? Any decision it takes will anger a contingent somewhere. But Delta’s dilemma is increasingly common, and it won’t be the last to face such a choice.
I’ve blogged about how companies can embrace social activism in the Trump era, and why CEOs should speak out on key issues as business leaders. But when a public company like Delta faces the loss of a lucrative tax abatement, the stakes rise. After all, it is as beholden to its Board and shareholders as to its employees and customers. And if it caves to state political pressure and reverses its stand, will business really suffer? It’s one thing for a customer to threaten to fly United, but in a highly consolidated category like air travel where routes, convenience, and price are all huge factors, a true boycott is unlikely. That’s probably why FedEx has said it will continue to offer NRA members discounted shipping despite organized protests. There’s just not that much choice in the shipping category.

Yet if I were advising Delta, I’d tell its management to stick to their guns in standing for gun safety, despite the cost. And that’s not just because it’s a principled position. First, flip-flopping only serves to anger everyone. It also shows weakness, which invites further pressure. Also, I feel the response to what seems like the umpteenth mass shooting of late truly is a turning point. With a movement led by high-school students growing and a public march scheduled within the month, anti-NRA sentiment is on the side of gun safety advocates. There will be setbacks, but I believe the NRA is the tobacco industry of the post-Millennial generation.
But more importantly, companies really do need to stand up for their values, not matter what the outcome. These difficult and divisive issues aren’t going away, the pressure on corporate America will only grow. Pick a side, and stick to it.

KFC Crisis Response Is A PR Win

Who says you can’t make lemons into PR lemonade? That’s precisely what the UK unit of fast-food chain KFC managed after an embarrassing shortage of a pretty important ingredient in its prepared meals – that’s right, chicken. Due to a change in suppliers, KFC was somehow unable to procure birds in the UK, forcing it to temporarily close most of its 900 restaurants in England and Ireland.

Of course, customers squawked, and media had fun with endless poultry jokes and mocking tweets. It’s not the worst reputation crisis that can happen to a food chain (just ask Chipotle), but for a chicken restaurant to run out of chicken not only opens the door to competitors, but it makes management look incompetent. And who wants to eat at a place run by incompetents?

To its credit, KFC adopted an apologetic but cheeky tone (dare I say cocky?) in its response to the mini-crisis. To soothe ruffled feathers, it posted notes on the doors of the shuttered restaurants explaining the dilemma in a lighthearted way, writing that “The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants,” and apologizing for “teething problems” with a new partner. It also put up a webpage so UK customers could access updates about stores in their areas.

Then, over the weekend, KFC cooked up a masterful ad that ran in two UK daily newspapers. Created by ad agency Mother, it’s extraordinary for a few reasons. First, when is the last time you saw a major brand scramble its own logo? That doesn’t happen, but in this case the “FCK” headline is exactly what makes the ad work. It delivers as an apology to customers and franchise owners, a public expression of frustration, and a show of brand personality. It reminds us of other brands that have, through creativity and quick decision-making, managed to turn bad publicity into good PR.

Observers are clucking once again about KFC, but this time because of its timely and truly funny response to a business and reputation setback. Well done, KFC.

How Good PR Builds Competitive Advantage For Startups

Gaining competitive advantage with PR programs comprised of media relations, reputation management, and content marketing can help a young tech company achieve prominence.

For an early-stage technology business, differentiation can be everything. Many operate in a crowded environment prone to fast changes and quick obsolescence. While solid business strategy and a good marketing plan are fundamental, a young company needs two things: positive visibility and credibility. They are linked but not the same.
Here are some ways PR builds competitive advantage for promising technology companies.

PR lets you play with the big boys

Emerging tech companies are often challenger brands. They need to highlight their differentiators in order to play in their chosen sandbox. Marketing is one piece of that – but there is no better way to do it than PR. A solid public relations strategy can bring all functions together with a single vision in accordance with the mission of the company. A consistent message is much easier to communicate, and it’s far more resonant.

PR means third-party validation

It’s always better to have someone else sing your praises than for you to sing them. The kind of organic visibility and the implied endorsement produced by earned media are fundamental outcomes of public relations best practices. Word of mouth is still king (even though the words now come from keyboards or smartphones). Earned media also produces higher ROI and higher conversion rates – and fortifies reputation.

Its credibility informs sales and marketing collateral

Whether you’re new or established, having a reservoir of sales and marketing content is essential to stay top-of-mind, build brand loyalty, and more. Not only can PR placements help as standalone sales and marketing collateral, they can also be used to populate or flesh out other pieces of collateral like newsletters, blog posts, and social media posts.

Your PR team offers 24/7 support

Good PR agencies/teams don’t just talk about your brand from 9 to 5. They talk about it constantly, during networking events with media and influencers, on Twitter, and more. It’s not enough to just pitch stories anymore. Smart PR means constant hard (story placement) and soft (informal) conversations. This cultivates more brand credibility long-term.

PR builds key relationships

Top PR teams do more than merely pitch media. They build long-term relationships that can pay dividends in many ways. A carefully cultivated journalist relationship will help a team navigate issues that can impact reputation — like poor reviews, customer complaints, or competitive challenges. Additionally, a savvy media relations program goes beyond valuable interactions with journalists and bloggers, but also with colleagues, influencers, clients, and competitors. Nurture a network of strategic allies and associates. Someday, you may need them.

Your story is compelling. The right campaign will tell it right.

A tech company’s origin story is a valuable commodity, so it’s critical to tell it well. Differentiation may not only come from a stellar new product, but also from its creator. Entrepreneurs rarely create groundbreaking new products just for money. They are often passionate advocates for some sort of change, whether it is a tiny life-improving device or a mission to affect society. Quality PR practitioners are expert storytellers. They know how, when, and to whom to tell your story in the most strategic way for building a competitive advantage over the competition.
PR creates brand attachment like Converse

PR creates brand advocates 

Good PR can help turn customers into brand ambassadors. People who wear Converse sneakers adore the brand. Apple’s customers love its products. But more than that, Apple customers love Apple – and everything it represents. This consumer attachment is the envy of all brands. A well-crafted, integrated PR/content marketing plan can create dialogue and engagement with clients and customers. Authentic interactions, entertaining content, and honest storytelling can capture hearts and minds in ways paid advertising cannot. The brand ambassadors will then tell your story, and this bears repeating –  it’s always better to have someone else sing your praises than for you to sing them.

PR keeps a finger on the pulse

Media and issues monitoring help you stay ahead of the proverbial curve. In today’s ever-changing news and cultural environment, it pays for an early-stage tech company to see what’s coming, what competitive factors and industry trends signify, and how to respond. Seasoned PR practices routinely monitor the media conversation in order to anticipate possible obstacles that might hinder a company’s long-term prospects. Technology firms can face crises ranging from regulatory issues to leadership changes. Monitoring the competition can also pay dividends. Being in the know helps a tech startup (or any company) get an edge on the competition.

Five Questions For A PR Agency

For any organization in initial talks with a public relations agency, there are many questions to be asked. The obvious ones include queries about relevant experience, the team’s approach to media relations, and case histories. Every client has its list of questions, including very relevant ones and occasional eye-rollers. Here are some of the most common ones we get and our perspective on how helpful – or not – they are in making the best decision.

PR agency questions: To ask or not to ask?

How much will it cost?

This is a key question, of course, and the answer shouldn’t come as a surprise. Every client wants to know what they will spend on a good PR campaign, but it depends on many variables. The PR firm will often want to tailor a program to meet a client budget, so we usually prefer the client to have a predetermined range. There’s no “ideal” PR budget, but there are some rules of thumb. Some companies look to an industry standard of budgeting 10 to 12 percent of gross annual income for marketing, including public relations. Newer thinking suggests that younger businesses be more aggressive, devoting up to 20 percent of gross revenue to marketing, while more established brands might hover at 6 to 10 percent. Verdict: PR programs vary in cost, but asking in advance about minimum retainer or project fees is a good way to weed out those that aren’t a good match. And having a budget in mind will save everyone time and money.

Where does our company fit in your client roster?

If an agency has several small clients compared to your budget and needs, it might mean they don’t have the bandwidth or experience to service your account. Another potential red flag is a single huge account that dwarfs all others; make no mistake, the mega-client will always come first. Ideally, your budget fits somewhere in the middle or even a bit above the agency’s client budget median. Some clients may want to probe more deeply to determine how senior and junior-level staff time is allocated to account work. Responses will help you learn how much attention to expect from the agency’s senior team.

Will my team stay the same?

Most clients and agency teams bond during the evaluation process, and if the fit is good, all will want to maintain the status quo. Yet staff changes may be unavoidable, and there may be times where an agency manager makes the decision to rotate an account team member for his or her career growth, or to keep things from getting stale. What matters most is the need for communication between both parties so that no one person dominates the account and becomes “irreplaceable.”

What are the challenges of working with our company/category/story?

Here, candor in the agency’s response is a good sign. It’s very easy during the selling process to fawn over the brand or its innovative new product and to be starry-eyed about the prospects for success. But honest feedback from the agency team is valuable; it’s a sign that they’ve truly thought through the program strategy, or at least the category landscape. In our experience, these “challenges” can include a fiercely competitive category; a poor history of media relations with key players, a brand utterly lacking in news or relevance; or even internal factors like unclear goals or messaging. Both partners should appreciate an honest appraisal that leads to a productive working relationship.

Can you guarantee results?

Some consider this the ultimate “eye-roller,” since most agencies will emphasize that they can’t guarantee traditional earned media placements. What smart agency teams do guarantee is that they will craft the most compelling story angles using experience, contacts, and client resources, leaving no media stone unturned. They can also offer anticipated results based on program particulars, budget, and other factors. But clients should bear in mind that the media landscape has changed dramatically with opportunities for placements that an agency can guarantee. These include bylined articles, social media posts and other user-generated content that have real power to increase brand visibility. But, ultimately, the agency should learn about client goals beyond brilliant strategy and solid earned media wins. They need to know how PR fits into the large business picture. So, this question opens up a good discussion about what success means and what truly constitutes “results” for PR and for the organization overall.

Tech PR Tips To Pitch Media Like A Boss

Media relations is typically a key part of a good technology PR program. One thing entrepreneur-led startups and enterprise technology businesses have in common is a desire to generate positive earned media coverage in widely read publications from TechCrunch to BloombergBusinessWeek. Here are our best tips for maximizing public relations success for tech clients, straight from our Tech Practice leader Chris Harihar.

Save the phone for calls to mom

Don’t call. Email. After all, these are technology people, and many are digital natives.  If you don’t hear back from the journalist, follow up just once. Nothing can be gained by pestering writers – except resentment. PR pros should wait at least 24 hours before the follow-up message.  You’re not the only pitch in the inbox, after all.

Pitch a story – not your client

Tech journalists don’t want to read a thinly veiled advertisement for your company or product. They want good stories that are relevant to their readers. Your pitch must quickly and concisely show them the value of your story to their audience. Don’t ask them to have coffee with the CEO of your client company unless you outline why the story matters to them.

Brevity is the soul of tech

Tech media pitches need be no more than three lines. Get right to the point, and do it without ambiguity. Craft a concise, compelling subject line that hooks the reader. Tech writers get an email a minute, so they will judge its value in seconds. Save your novella for friends and family.

Become a trusted source

There’s no better way to forge a bond with a journalist than to support his or her work. Share non-self-promotional stuff about other companies that you think will be of interest to the writer, not just your own clients or company. Also, tech PR professionals should also be okay with being an industry expert quoted in stories; remember, good PR influences journalists, too!

Give them context

When pitching tech media, explain why your story matters. Give them some big-picture perspective. Tie your story to current category trends, themes, or industry conversations. Connect it to the reporter’s previous work if possible. This will pique their interest and give them a roadmap to your story or the next one.

Don’t neglect the smaller press

We know, every early-stage tech PR manager dreams of getting his or her company’s name into TechCrunch or The Verge. While a coup for any young company, it’s not the only way to get your story out. A positive piece in a relevant trade like AdExchanger or a targeted publication like CIO can not only reach the perfect audience, but it may influence larger publications.

Build long-term relationships

Some approach the media relations process like a sales person looking to close the deal. We prefer to treat tech journalists as collaborators. Go to events where they’re speaking on a panel and participate in the discussion. Introduce yourself, ask questions, offer informed opinions. “Touch” them before you pitch by engaging with their social media channels. Share non-self-promotional stories or quotes. Show that you respect the demands of their work, and that you are an equally professional PR person. They will treat you as such.

Pitch the right media

This is media relations 101 review, but it cannot be stressed enough. It’s never a good idea to carpet- bomb the tech mediascape and hope for a hit. Target those journalists who regularly write on the specific subject of your story. Get to know their reporting and follow them on social media. Think of tech reporters as people with interests that you can appeal to in your outreach. Research. Research. Repeat.

How To Get A Running Start With Your PR Agency

The best public relations partnerships are client-agency collaborations that involve a serious time commitment on both sides. Most clients know this and they have great intentions when they embark upon a relationship with a PR firm. But what if the company has limited time to invest with the agency team? Or if it lacks experienced staff to manage the agency effort? There are ways to achieve a full collaboration even when time and experience are lacking.

Get a strong start with your PR agency

Start with a half-hour call each week

No, it’s not enough, but it’s a start. Beyond daily emails or calls, an inviolable call or meeting will help move things forward by disciplining both partners to save non-urgent matters for that occasion. Outside the weekly meetings, a shared activity dashboard, regular email and instant-messaging tools like Slack will save back-and-forth. Companies should want an agency that strives to keep all parties in the loop without lengthy in-person meetings (although a monthly face-to-face is recommended.) And if a client can’t act quickly on an agency request or recommendation, then they should empower the agency team to find a workaround.

Drown the PR team in documents

If time is short – or even if it isn’t –  start with a document dump. Share marketing plans, messaging documents, and competitive or consumer research, of course, but there are other materials that will add value, like the CEO’s recent speeches, paid analyst reports, and records from prior PR or marketing partnerships.

Don’t overuse email

It may be tempting to barrage team members with thoughts before they’re lost, or to document every deadline, but a dashboard will capture details more efficiently, as too much outgoing email will invite too much incoming email. Sometimes a 10-minute phone conversation is the best timesaver of all.

Invite the agency in

You can also save time by inviting your PR team to appropriate meetings, brainstorming sessions and events, and soliciting their input. The more integral an agency team is, the better equipped they are to promote your business. If possible, plan opportunities for a PR team member to join after-work drinks or a working lunch meeting. These occasions are often fertile ground for interesting stories.

Share the good, the bad and the ugly

Clients are typically eager to share good news. But to be a really well-oiled PR machine, both teams need to know negative as well as positive developments. It’s self-defeating when a client fails to keep its PR team in the loop on a sensitive situation, only to have a journalist “surprise” them. Even if a development on the horizon is unclear or uncertain, it’s best to give the agency team a heads-up to avoid a last-minute scramble if things break later. Plus, they will feel included, which is motivating.

Hold both parties accountable

Once an agency partnership is up and running, it’s time to set milestones for evaluation. Ask yourself if the agency is meeting deadlines and delivering on promises. Usually, the timely check-ins and shared dashboards will keep team members honest. But clients should nip problems in the bud with a frank expression of expectations. At the same time, the client team needs to keep its end of the bargain, providing answers and approvals in a timely fashion. The agency team will appreciate a client who asks where they can improve or how they can support a successful outcome.

Encourage fresh thinking

The best PR results may come when the agency goes “off-script” and dreams up a program idea that may be audacious or unusual.  A client doesn’t have to accept every idea or recommendation from an agency, but a fair hearing is important to encourage a free flow of creative thinking. And if the concept isn’t workable, explain why in a constructive way. It will improve the next recommendation.

The Death Of A PR Firm, Due To Bad PR

Can you imagine being the guy running a public relations agency that “perished in a public relations fiasco”?  That’s the unhappy fate of James Henderson, the former CEO of now-defunct PR and crisis management powerhouse Bell Pottinger. The London-based firm imploded last year after its role in running a “dirty campaign” for South African client Oakbay Capital was exposed, and the sordid story was recapped by The New York Times this week.

How, you might ask, could such a large and influential PR firm fall victim to bad PR? Easy. It was a stew of unscrupulous clients, deceptive tactics, and toxic message communication linked to its campaign. When it was called out for crossing ethical lines by using false propaganda and fake grassroots in 2011, Bell Pottinger blasted critics but apparently never saw fit to police its methods.

Then it made the mistake of taking on a single, enormous client and apparently never pushed back as the work slid from relatively traditional reputation laundering to a racially-charged campaign that embarrassed other clients, employees, and even the embattled South Africa president.

The Bell Pottinger meltdown is a reminder of five principles in our industry.

Transparency is not only good practice, it’s good business

Fake social media accounts, shadowy financing, hidden conflicts of interest — these and other practices aren’t just wrong; they will inevitably come to light and tarnish one’s reputation and business. As founder Tim Bell himself said regarding the racially charged social media campaign that his agency ran for the Guptas, “it was altogether smelly.” But whether because the agency principals were too distracted by infighting, or because the fees were too rich to turn down, no one took steps to protect the firm from the monster client that devoured its reputation.

Choose your clients wisely

The agency was lured by the reported $100,000 monthly fee it was paid by the controversial Gupta brothers, and understandably so. There’s no shame in taking on a lucrative contract, after all. I’d also argue that even clients who have behaved unethically can be represented with integrity. But in this case, the client sought only to distract from negative media coverage with misleading tactics and pernicious messaging. A small irony of the situation is that the racially charged terms like “white monopoly capital” that were used on social media were largely spread by the client, not Bell Pottinger, but both were badly damaged by the association.

Do right by your employees

This is a fine rule for just about any business, but its absence is particularly acute for a services business where the only real product offering is the time and talent of staff. Bell Pottinger’s troubles escalated when a cache of internal documents about the Gupta campaign was leaked to the media, likely by disgruntled ex-staff. The leakers clearly crossed ethical lines themselves, but the agency’s controversial practices may have invited their actions. In any case, it weakened the firm and paved the way for its dissolution when senior officers began jumping ship.

Act quickly to correct mistakes

Years before the Oakbay fiasco Bell Pottinger was caught bragging about black-hat SEO tactics to a group posing as representing Uzbekistan.  In 2016 the United States Department of Defense paid it $540 million to create fake terrorist videos and news items for Arab news outlets, triggering a wave of bad PR. But it seems to have learned little from those errors. When its work for the Guptas became known in 2016, other clients objected, in some cases because their businesses were actually targeted by the Gupta campaign. Instead of severing ties immediately, Bell Pottinger tried to find a middle ground by renegotiating its terms with the Guptas to eliminate “embarrassment” of its other clients. When it finally resigned the Oakbay account in 2017, it was too late to save the agency’s reputation.

Don’t tarnish your profession

Bell Pottinger’s demise was hastened by its censure and expulsion from the UK’s Public Relations and Communications Agency (PRCA) for exploiting “racial divisions on behalf of the Gupta family.” Its actions over the years had also violated an unwritten rule that most PR and reputation agencies preach to their clients who face controversy. We advise client to build advocates and allies in and around its industry. Preferably before they are needed.