5 Ways To Raise Your Internal PR Game

Earlier this week, we made the case for raising your internal PR game. Today, we’ll suggest some ways to do just that. The technological and social changes over the past few years have both made internal communications more important, and also opened up opportunities to revolutionize it. Still, companies are dragging their feet in this aspect of corporate communications. 60% of employers have no long term IC strategy or vision. The Conference Board reported that while 90% of executives understand the importance of employee engagement, fewer than 50% understand how to address this issue.

5 ways to raise internal PR standards

Consider technology tools

In 2017 McKinsey found that only 17% of companies report investing in some form internal communications technology. One of the reasons for the corporate reticence may be the overabundance of tech comms tool choices. Nobody wants to check intranets, social platforms, email, text and instant messaging apps to be engaged with their employer. Experts urge the use of a single employee communications platform to prevent fatigue. But take note, IC (and IT) managers: it’s imperative that the technology be optimized for mobile operating systems. According to the 2018 State of the Sector on Internal Communication report, 67% of employers plan to up the usage of mobile apps in the next year. Any internal communications program’s success will hinge first on employee participation; using apps that are painless to access on mobile devices will help ensure engagement.

Omni-directional communications

The days of leadership announcing new policies with a memo or email are over. Employee engagement comes from the ability to speak and be heard. The open, free-flowing exchange of updates and ideas in the form of an employee suggestion platform tends to produce measurable results. But not only should communications flow up and down the hierarchy, it also should flow laterally. Installing a peer-to-peer recognition program can encourage engagement and boost morale, and if shareable, it can help with recruiting by demonstrating transparency and engagement. Employees can be top-flight brand ambassadors when interacting with external stakeholders using their own content.

Employee-generated content

Cisco found that employees’ social posts generate eight times more engagement than posts from their employers. Since employees are a more trusted source than executives, it’s best to create opportunities for them to lead discussion on owned and shared media. Encourage staff to post about topics they have interest or expertise in. Launch an employee advocacy program that fits the company culture. The program should make it fun to share stories about company personalities, new products, or CSR programs. There are even tech platforms solely for employee advocacy and content sharing, most notably EveryoneSocial. Platforms like this not only store employee-generated content, but they set goals and measure KPIs. However, allowing employees to share content about the brand comes with challenges. Not only does it take creative vision to motivate employees to want to generate and share content, but there are also dangers inherent in allowing employees to advocate for the brand online — the guidelines for which must be clearly outlined in a formal social media policy.

Internal comms should be easy on the eyes

It will come as a shock to nobody that video is becoming an almost ubiquitous employee communications tool. Whether to convey business objectives, new initiatives, or company values, video beats the traditional lecture format. An elevated application of video technology is found in the not so new practice of gamification. Gamification, the use of gaming elements in non-game concepts to enrich content, is simply a tool designed to boost engagement by making education or instruction fun and interactive. Powered by engagement platforms like BunchBall, scorekeeping, stats, and quizzes are Trojan horses in which to painlessly impart important info or influence behavior.

Face-to-face still works

All of these digital powered internal PR tools are so great that it might be easy to forget about the all critical face-to-face employee engagement programs. Offsite charity projects, company-wide summits, employee socials, and training workshops foster a sense of camaraderie that is key to engagement. Further, in organizations where remote work is the new normal, these in-person company interactions help preserve a company culture with real employee buy-in.

Today’s workforce wants to be engaged, to respect and be respected by their employers, and to have fun doing so. None of the above methods come easily or without significant investment of time and resources. Unquestionably, if these tactics are thrown together without creative forethought, they will likely miss their mark. Like any other PR program, an ambitious internal communications program requires strategy, planning, and measurement. The IC initiatives should be executed according to a detailed plan, and in full alignment with overarching PR objectives, company values, and branding.

How To Execute A Mediaworthy Rebrand

Rebrands are almost always tricky, but they can pay big PR dividends. (Just ask IHOB!) Seriously, that was a publicity stunt, but this week, no less than three companies officially unveiled new names. Despite heavy news competition, they all grabbed public attention. The undisputed champ, if you measure by quality and quantity of positive media coverage, is Dunkin’ Donuts. Yesterday the chain announced with great fanfare that it was officially dropping “Donuts” from its name. Media and social coverage even referred to a (barely existing) backlash, which only made the news more shareable.

The Dunkin’ move was a win because it’s not really a stretch, but the coverage was a nice visibility boost. There’s a legitimate business reason for the change; for starters, the company sells more beverages than anything else. But “Dunkin” has been used in DD marketing for years, and it’s already a nickname among regular customers. And as smart marketers know, an affectionate nickname is branding gold.

A brand nickname is like a viral video. You may want it badly, but it can’t be forced. It grows out of a personal relationship or iconic status, and that’s a rare gift. Coca-Cola has not been shy about using “Coke” in its marketing. Harley-Davidson even tried to trademark its “Hog” moniker, although it was ruled too generic to be done. A few years General Motors found out that it shouldn’t mess with “Chevy” after its effort to legislate the use of the official “Chevrolet” name ran into a brick wall of customer resistance.

Consider those nicknames that have backfired. Pizza Hut tried to adopt just “the Hut,” but consumers turned it down cold. It was reminiscent of the late RadioShack’s short-lived nom de cool, “the Shack,” which flopped badly. In both cases, the corporation was trying to dictate the change rather than responding to something that happened organically.

Dunkin’ Donuts clearly knew what it had in the Dunkin’ sobriquet, but the brand did the smart thing in hyping the announcement and tying it to a menu expansion for the future. A rebrand should always signal more than just a name.

For Weight Watchers, which also rebranded this week, the challenge is heftier. It unveiled a new identity as WW, supported by the tagline “Wellness That Works.” In a media tour by photogenic CEO Mindy Grossman, the company explained the move as a rejection of the short-term “diet” mentality and embrace of long-term wellness and healthy lifestyles. The change drew a harsh reaction from some dietitians and body-positive advocates. Critics accused WW of hiding behind the wellness movement to push the same old diet messages, of being “diet culture in disguise.”

I don’t agree. WW has been trying to lose the “weight” since I worked with the brand two decades ago, and with good reason. The vocabulary of “dieting” is outdated, and WW is probably more geared to living and eating in the real world than its stunt diet competitors. The problem is that as a term and a product category, “wellness” carries its own baggage. But Weight Watchers needs to move beyond its church basement origins, and I think the change will be a healthy one.

The most awkward renaming of late was one that most people missed. At an advertising conference yesterday AT&T announced that its AppNexus ad-tech unit will be rebranded as … wait for it — Xandr. In my view, it’s an interesting name, but one that violates two unwritten rules of branding. First, the pronunciation isn’t intuitive – it’s meant to be “Zander” but could be pronounced “X-ander” or even “Ten-and R.” It was explained as a nod to Alexander Graham Bell, but you wouldn’t know that without being told. Yet for a B2B brand the stakes are lower, and advertising people are accustomed to such names, so they may not be bothered by it.

The name itself matters, and there will always be those who throw stones at it. But the most important thing about executing a rebrand is to maximize the PR value of the investment. A new name that’s not tied to forward-looking news is wasted. For this week’s announcements, each communicated the rebranding decision by tying it to business growth or changes, customer needs, and innovations for the future. That’s how you add meaning to a name change and real depth to a brand story.

8 Reasons To Raise Your Internal PR Game

It can be easy for a corporate PR team to neglect a critical aspect of business communications — internal PR. Sometimes the last stakeholders on the minds of senior management are those inside the organization. In certain cases, high-profile companies take it for granted that employees are corporate cheerleaders, or they may leave the responsibility for employee engagement to HR. Yet employee communications is correlated with business success. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace, companies in the highest quartile of employee engagement experience 17% higher productivity, 20% higher sales, and 21% higher profitability than others. Need more? Here are some additional reasons for a company of any size to raise its employee comms game.

8 reasons to invest in internal PR

Rise of the remote workforce

A 2018 IWG survey indicated that 70% of workers work remotely at least one day per week. Although remote work can help drive up employee satisfaction, it can make building a cohesive culture difficult. Internal communications initiatives that foster engagement become even more critical when colleagues are spread across the city, or even the country. Programs like “work-together days“, summits, social outings, and training sessions can help keep a workforce connected and engaged.

Employees have great ideas

A company with a two-way communications infrastructure – and a culture that encourages employee expression – can sometimes get solid business ideas from the workforce. It’s no coincidence that Amazon was named #1 best place to work by LinkedIn this year, while also being lauded for its prioritizing employee engagement. Amazon’s intranet site has a “virtual idea box.” It produced one of the company’s greatest innovations, the Amazon Prime program, after an employee suggested that loyal customers should enjoy free shipping.

Internal comms drives good customer service

As most business people know, it costs five times as much to capture a new customer than it takes to keep an existing one. A company that boasts stellar internal customer service are leading by example, inspiring (and teaching) employees to provide great external customer service. Additionally, happy, loyal employees are more likely to care about giving great customer service. Acknowledged customer service king Zappos is also known for its employee engagement – and consequently was ranked for seven years straight on Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For lists.

Internal comms makes employees happy

According to Glassdoor Economic Research, the culture and values of the organization are the largest predictor of employee satisfaction. But the culture and values aren’t best communicated through a new employee orientation booklet. If a company can inspire employees to believe in and be proud of its purpose and ethos, then employees are more likely to become brand ambassadors. Most employees want to be part of something positive and authentic. Further, if employees know they’re being heard by way of structured two-way internal communication channels, they will become more engaged, and thus happier.

Internal comms is a great recruiting tool

With unemployment under 4% and a restless millennial workforce always on the move, the competition to recruit and retain talent has become intense. According to CareerBuilder, in 2018 forty-five percent of HR managers currently have jobs they cannot fill because they cannot find qualified talent. Plus, potential recruits, many who are digital natives, have a wealth of online resources for researching companies. Therefore, companies competing for talent need to have a positive online presence, including employer reviews like those found on Glassdoor. Online reviews aside, engaged, content employees are more likely to bring in good candidates, and their employees are more likely to share pride in their company on social media. In 2013, General Electric embarked on a program to make their employees brand ambassadors – for the express purpose of recruiting.

Employees are credible influencers

Since we are now in an era of eroding trust in corporations, it’s critical for companies to earn confidence wherever they can. The ultimate byproduct of excellent internal communications is the creation of brand ambassadors who will proactively speak on behalf of the company and its products to friends and family members. Passionate employees who have buy-in will gladly spread the word, and that word carries influence. According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, the employee voice is considered more credible than that of the CEO, by 52% to 49%. Companies who neglect to cultivate communication, engagement, and brand ambassadorship are missing chances to boost reputation and trust.

Internal communications drives revenue

All of the above IC advantages can lead to competitive advantage in the marketplace. Employee brand ambassadors drive customer service, recruiting, retention, reputation — and revenue. Aon Hewitt’s annual Trends in Global Employee Engagement report estimates that every 1% increase in a company’s employee engagement translates into an almost 1% increase in sales.  The car manufacturer Audi claims to have saved $133 million dollars in 2017 by implementing some of its 10,000 employee suggestions.

Disaffected employees can undermine a corporate brand

Improving staff morale can also neutralize a negative. Nearly one in three employees say they don’t trust their employer, according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer. A well crafted internal PR program can help open up communications and help leaders earn trust. Employees can only become valuable influencers if they respect and appreciate the company.

Most professional communicators know that employee engagement is key to increasing morale, managing crises, and building a unified company culture. A thorough employee-directed communications program is no small undertaking, but the benefits are exponential. In a full-employment economy and a media environment dominated by peer-generated content, any corporation who neglects its workforce as a key constituency is sacrificing opportunity and even risking its long-term reputation.

The PR Perils Of Cultural Appropriation

PR teams have been pressed into crisis duty in a series of corporate missteps that have something in common: marketing or advertising that shows “cultural appropriation” – borrowing a sensitive ethnic or cultural theme for commercial purposes. It’s easy to see why a marketing campaign would be tempted by the currency and news value of a hot-button social or cultural issue, but it can be a perilous move. There are lessons in three recent cases of corporate cultural appropriation – and the PR responses.

Jack in the Box’s #MeToo Misstep

Last month, Jack in the Box was embroiled in a mini-controversy about its TV ad campaign for new teriyaki bowls in which men and women in an office talk about how much they like each other’s “bowls” – punning on the word “balls,” obviously. If you doubted that the spot attempts to parody the current sensitivity about sexual harassment in the workplace, there’s even a company lawyer who butts in and warns that they can’t say “bowls” in that context. Media critics led by Adweek as well as the Twitter-verse accused the fast food chain of insensitivity. The corporate response, in the form of a statement to Adweek, defended the spot without contrition.

“This ad is a creative and humorous expression around the teriyaki bowl, highlighting how a burger brand such as Jack in the Box has the guts — or ‘bowls’ — to go beyond the usual and serve something other than burgers. This ad is not diminishing any movement, and we stand firmly against any form of harassment and value those who have the guts to combat it.”

PR In proportion

The statement was the one and only corporate response to the criticism. Given that the the story lasted only a day in major media outlets, Jack in the Box’s corporate response seems both proportionate and sufficient. To its credit, the company did not issue an empty “fauxpology.” Instead, it defended its choice while affirming its values. The absence of response would have been a PR mistake, yet an overreaction could have overshadowed the campaign or even ended it.
The interesting question here is about the company’s motives. Could it have intentionally courted controversy by making light of workplace harassment issues? We don’t know, but if so, it was probably a risk that succeeded.

Bodega’s botched branding

In 2017 a pair of ex-Google employees founded a new company to sell goods usually found at convenience or corner stores – in vending-machine-like “pantry boxes” placed in other businesses and residential buildings around town. The pair came under fire when they named their company Bodega and used a cat (like those who live in bodegas) in its branding. A year later, the startup has rebranded as Stockwell. In this case, it was the earned media coverage around the launch that seemed to precipitate the backlash. Fast Company’s feature on the founders went viral – with the headline Two Ex-Googlers Want To Make Bodegas And Mom-And-Pop Corner Stores Obsolete. More media outlets piled on, and the founders found themselves on the defensive.

Startups should listen to PR advice, too

A less provocative headline might not have elicited so much blowback, but Bodega’s problem went beyond the brand. When asked about cultural insensitivity, cofounder McDonald explained that they had researched the name among Hispanics, with positive results, but he added, “I’m not particularly concerned about it.Better PR advice might have led to a more sensitive answer. Yet in this case, the issue wasn’t just the company name, but its founders’ attitudes and their overall business goals. At the very time when Silicon Valley’s reputation has started to fray, it really did seem to want to put the bodega out of business, while borrowing its own cultural status in the bargain.

You never forget your first apology

After their missteps, the Bodega founders did many things right. Instead of granting a follow up interview to apologize further or commit to changing the name (a decision that couldn’t be made quickly), they posted an apology that acknowledged the problem and admitted their market research fell short. In announcing the company’s rebranding as Stockwell nearly a year later, they take responsibility for making a bad decision and move on to share a new and gentler vision for the company.

Though Fast Company notably did not soften its language in covering the rebrand, it seems that Stockwell is on a better path today than before, at least in a communications sense.

PR remedies for corporate insensitivity

Target misfires in New York

The biggest brand to commit a cultural gaffe was Target. In July, it opened a store in Manhattan’s East Village, a neighborhood known for a gritty, diverse, and artistic sensibility. Target launched its store with a temporary display that depicted the storefront facade of iconic East Village rock club CBGBs. The backlash came in a New York minute. Rather than an homage, the CBGB facade was seen as a tone-deaf display at a time when residents are concerned about ongoing gentrification and corporatization of the area. Author Jeremiah Moss called it “the most deplorable commodification of local neighborhood culture I’ve ever witnessed.” As with the Bodega branding, the reference was perceived as ignorance of, or indifference to, the tastes of major stakeholders – namely, residents.

Two days after the store opening, Target issued a brief statement apologizing “if some eventgoers felt it was not the best way to capture the spirit of the neighborhood” and pledging to take “guest feedback” into account in the future. Given its size and resources, Target’s insensitivity to its new store’s community is surprising, and its response was tepid. When trying to tie their brand or product to an archetype, issue, or idea, businesses can’t afford to disregard cultural and social values of the communities they serve.

Can A PR Agency Be Too Loyal?

Should PR people be loyal advocates for clients?

The obvious answer is yes. How can you be persuasive with others if you yourself aren’t convinced of a brand’s worth?  But is there such a thing as too much client allegiance?

I don’t mean blind support in the face of malfeasance or unethical conduct. I’m talking about client indoctrination that obscures objective judgment. Like most career PR agency people, I always drink the client Kool-Aid. I’m a true believer, internalizing brand messages and language — even in a personal setting, even after years.

Last week at a casual dinner I hosted, a friend remarked on my use of formal china. I launched into a spiel about how we should all use the “good china” for every day rather than keeping it in a cabinet – an idea straight out of the Lenox brand message “cheat sheet” when I was at Edelman two decades ago. When a friend complained that a certain large coffee company has forced mom-and-pops out of business, I hurried to set him straight about how (former client) Starbucks actually grew the specialty coffee category for everyone. And I’d never use “xerox” as a verb after having represented a competitive brand of copiers.

Most agency PR people have similar stories. It’s good business for a PR agency team to be indoctrinated in the language, culture, and brand lore of a client. Yet one reason brands bring on agencies is that they’re relatively objective. And most PR teams have worked across many different brands and categories, so they can offer valuable advice based on a blend of familiarity, experience, and impartiality. I recall being enraged watching members of Congress take energy drink marketers to task for allegedly pushing their products on kids, then realizing that, contrary to what my client believed, it was really not being as responsible as everyone thought. Sometimes perception truly is reality.

Here are some things to keep in mind for an agency rep who needs to balance client loyalty with objectivity.

Hang on to your credibility

Every media relations pro knows that an agency person who misleads a reporter has probably lost a contact forever. The same holds true with clients, partners, and internal bosses. In the agency  world, we serve many masters, so it’s more difficult than it appears to be straightforward with everyone involved. Yet it’s essential to serve as an honest broker, especially when things are unclear or difficult. People-pleasers don’t really serve their clients in the end.

Be a two-way channel

Just as it’s important for communications pros to represent their clients’ value (and values!) to members of the press, we should also function in the other way — as a channel for senior management at client companies to get feedback from media and influencers like industry analysts. That’s how you build credibility with all audiences.

Do the research

PR professionals don’t always take advantage of market data and proprietary research  in the way that marketers are trained to do. Some of us are still conditioned to serve the media’s needs rather than tailoring content and other materials to the end-user, and with good reason. But a grounding in the customer mindset is essential in today’s communications. The one-way “broadcast” approach in PR was killed by the rise of social media years ago.

Get out in the “field”

It’s part of research, but sometimes we don’t get enough “real-world” information about important audiences (even if that world is social media.) For a business software company, that may mean interviewing enterprise customers at a conference or soliciting feedback on social platforms. For a product sold at retail, you can actually learn by talking to store managers or customers themselves.  I lurked in a SaaS customer chat room the other day and learned a lot about how business users look at branded content.

Speak up

None of this matters if an agency person is reluctant to share difficult news with the client. Working closely with any organization will uncover fault lines, but it’s our responsibility to help identify and address them when they threaten brand reputation.

6 Quick Tips For PR Writers

If you’re in PR, chances are, you’re a writer. Now more than ever, public relations recruiters prioritize writing skills. Yes, visual content is very important in what we do, and we’ve woken up to the power of podcasts, but don’t underestimate written-word content. According to USC’s 2017 Global Communications Report, written communications is second only to strategic planning in important skills for future growth in public relations. A professional communicator is arguably one of the most versatile writers around. But some just entering our profession may be surprised by what type of writing a typical PR position requires.

PR writing may not be what you think

Versatility rules

On any given day, we can be asked to craft media pitches, bylined articles, PR plans, or blogs posts. Each requires different writing styles, though all feature the elements of persuasion. With media pitches, PR pros must tell or tease a story to a journalist – and fast. Meanwhile, an executive byline for a thought leader must not only be a solid piece of journalism, but it should reflect the voice of the executive. A PR pro must be able to switch gears between various formats, keeping in mind the different audiences and objectives for each.

Don’t believe the hype

With persuasion in mind, a PR newbie may come in ready to be a salesman with plenty of hyperbole – “groundbreaking” products and “unique” announcements. It’s more useful to think about persuading and educating rather than selling. Reporters and other audiences have keen BS detectors, and overused, sensational language doesn’t persuade; in fact, it undermines credibility. Leave your “innovative software developed by a true visionary that will revolutionize the world” at home and focus on clear and powerful language. PR writing needs to be high-impact, but not overblown.

Writing for SEO is standard PR practice

Reporters may not appreciate your clever or flowery headline in pitches, so PR writers with chops in the creative area should guard against too-florid content. The purpose of the pitch is to make them want to tell the story – with their own clever language, so a straightforward approach is wise. And when it comes to press releases or other material published or distributed through wire services, natural language is best. Distributed content needs to contain the keywords that will make it searchable, without compromising quality.

Never write for word count

While a recent college graduate may be trained to write to reach a certain word count, at a PR agency she will need to condense, shape, and headline. The translation of unwieldy or technical matters to their simplest core remains an essential skill in PR. Even beginners understand that a press release is pure journalistic writing that should hit on the 5Ws — who, what, when, where, why. Yet many fail to apply the same rigor to client communications. It’s a paradox of business writing that shorter documents take more time to create and edit. But even more than journalists, clients deserve the time investment that results in a shorter and more concise recommendation requires. Less really is more.

Use research for insights, not content

A recent graduate’s research skills will come in handy on the job in PR, but unlike in academia, research plays a slightly different role in PR writing. We typically use it for insights that inform our messages, not for pouring into a white paper or press release. Demographic or psychographic data about customers based on market research, for example, can help refine story ideas, media targets, and even the wording of content aimed at consumers or business customers. The research supports and drives campaigns, but it doesn’t necessarily populate them.

Storytelling is the engine of PR

A grasp of universal storytelling principles is at the core of most successful PR writing. Here is where a creative writing background can be useful — starting with the novelist’s rule of show, don’t tell. While every given memo or press release may not be a story in itself,  the content calendar should serve as a roadmap for the client’s overall narrative, connecting the dots and making the case for what it does – solve customer problems, make a task easier, entertain people, or whatever it is.

PR agencies are always looking for good writers. But good writers looking for a career in PR may have to assess their skills and adapt them for journalistic content, business writing, and creative pitches. It can take work, but it’s worth it.

PR For The "New" Technology CEO

For CEOs of technology companies, arrogance is out and humility is in. “Boring is the new black,” proclaims New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo in a piece about the latest trend for technology company chiefs. Whereas they once reveled in being colorful, brash, and outspoken, today’s leaders have quieted down a bit. The trend has implications for traditional tech company PR campaigns that focus on the top guy.

I don’t concur with every example Manjoo cites (since when was Bill Gates considered charismatic?), but there’s no doubt things have changed for Silicon Valley. Once held up as the embodiment of American innovation, Big Tech is now seen as partly responsible for many of society’s problems — from income inequality to the erosion of personal privacy. Media attitudes have hardened, too.  Most journalists aren’t fan boys waiting breathlessly for the next gadget launch; they’re just as apt to be tough on company leaders, or to pounce on bad news.

With its changing reputation comes a new caution in CEO conduct. Being outrageous, or even quirky, is risky. And since the #metoo movement, many high-level male executives in the Valley are running scared. They have a good reason. Sixteen months ago, Travis Kalanick was the freewheeling, bad-boy CEO of Uber and Susan Fowler, who spent “one very very strange year” there, was an unknown software engineer who quietly departed after unrelenting sexual harassment and discrimination. Today, Kalanick is out of the company he founded and Fowler has been brought on by the New York Times as opinion editor. My, how things turn.

So how is a technology leader to stand out as the face of a company? Most tech companies, among others, want to steer away from the “cult of personality” approach, understandably. Yet the C-level role is more critical than ever.

The good news is that CEO “thought leadership” is easier to achieve in periods of rapid social and technology change. And during divisive times, people are hungry for real insights. In fact, now may be an opportune time to take a new approach to personal branding for corporate leaders. But the key isn’t really to play it safe or to be boring.

How should a CEO convey leadership?

Leaders talk about ideas

Is there anything more powerful than an exciting idea that hasn’t been realized? I was reminded of this recently when someone tweeted a portion of President John F. Kennedy’s “moon speech” — “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” It was a rallying cry for the entire country and served as a metaphor for American ingenuity, competitiveness, and idealism.

Focus on the future 

Looking forward is the key to staying relevant, and when it comes to technology businesses in particular, all eyes look to the future. Forecasts, preparation, and anticipation of changes to come should be a staple of every technology CEO’s public script. The future is exciting, especially if we’re prepared for it.

Master the message

Sometimes a trend is happening in front of us, but we don’t realize it, or it hasn’t been identified. The leader who captures it can take the credit.  Malcolm Gladwell had some striking observations about how ideas spread, but it was only after he packaged his thoughts under a label borrowed from epidemiology that “the tipping point” was born.

Zig when others zag

Who doesn’t love a contrarian? PR and corporate comms people have known this for years. If a C-level executive has views or ideas that are legitimately against the grain, they will clearly help differentiate his brand and that of the organization.

Be hopeful

We may be in a buoyant economic time now, but in many sectors the environment is divisive and uncertain rather than optimistic. We’re starved for hope, and a business leader who can inspire with solutions and confident expectation will exert far greater influence than the CEO who simply diagnoses our ills.

Lead

What could be more obvious, right? But involvement outside of one’s own category is what separates a strong company captain from a great leader. Look at Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, for example. Benioff remains a larger-than-life character, but he has made social change and climate action a key goal for Salesforce. He called for the Silicon Valley community to address inequality and homelessness in San Francisco and backed it with millions in donated funds. Along with others, Benioff has committed to helping take on global climate change through the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit.

That’s the kind of inspiring leadership that CEOs don’t need to be quiet about.

How PR Can Boost Lead Generation

Public relations isn’t just for publicity, awareness, and reputation management. A company’s sales and marketing teams should consider PR as a lead-generation tool that can work in tandem with business development and paid advertising. Here are some things to consider when planning your next campaign.

PR as a lead generation machine

Earned media boosts SEO

If a CEO offers expert commentary – or a byline or guest blog post in a key media outlet, that content can earn valuable visibility and leadership positioning for the organization. What’s more, if the piece contains a link back to the company, it will boost its search ranking. PR content should be optimized for SEO, complete with thoughtful keyword placement and inbound link accumulation. But it’s not just about links anymore. Prominent brand mentions that don’t contain links can also drive higher search placement because Google sees them as implied links. Effective PR campaigns that drive earned media visibility maximize the impact of all media placements in a variety of ways, resulting in a 1 + 1 = 3 boost in SEO rankings that encourage desirable referral traffic. If you’re a PR pro needing a refresher, check out our earlier post on what PR people should know about SEO.

PR aids business development

Big wins in earned media can help elevate a brand into the consideration set of a customer who’s in the market. A brand’s own content and that of retail partners certainly help here, but features and reviews offer a credibility that can move a customer closer to conversion. Earned media mentions not only build brand awareness and credibility, but can display a company’s differentiation — another way media placements can reinforce lead generation.

Sponsored events join online and offline PR

A well-attended public relations event such as a discussion panel can generate leads through digital traffic and in-person attendance. Key media, industry colleagues, experts, and prospective customers are all target attendees. The event – and the company – may be promoted through mentions in the event’s collateral, and panelists’ and moderator’s communications, like social media and company website news pages – setting up opportunities for referrals. Plus, a solid company sponsored panel event will yield PR/marketing content such as video, media coverage, blog posts, social posts; and its discussion can be repurposed as bylines or white papers.

Public speaking can generate leads

Industry awards and conference speaking engagements are plum opportunities for an executive to earn respect and visibility from powerful industry peers – and build leads. A prominent conference may have big brand sponsors, which increase its visibility and domain authority. But the real leads come from the fact that conferences are often giant multi-day networking events during which a company has a stage for displaying its offerings and its expertise. Sometimes a key brand client will join up with the thought leader to talk about the company’s innovative services, conferring an added degree of prestige to the speaking engagement. Building relationships with like-minded colleagues, big brands, industry legends, analysts, and media can be key to stimulating new business opportunities.

If you write it, leads will come

Today, it’s all about quality content in both marketing and PR. A company’s best thought leaders should be writing as much as possible for use on owned media. Churning out optimized press releases, blog posts, LinkedIn posts, videos, white papers, and even business books can contribute to search rankings — while also helping to position a company as a knowledgeable authority. But PR writers should take care not to get keyword-obsessed. Quality and relevance have never been more important, given the sheer volume of content out there. The results can prove exponential, given that this content can be reused, repurposed, promoted on social channels – and yes, parlayed into earned media wins.

Customers are the best salespeople

Once a lead has converted, you have another potent PR and marketing tool: success. Customer reviews become case studies, and satisfied customers tend to spread the good word. Especially for B2B companies, case study testimonials are another trusted third-party endorsement that can be a lead generator — and perhaps even a closer. Marquee clients will often be glad to write a glowing testimonial – which the PR team will publish on the website, in blog posts, and on social channels. Not only that, but a key client can be tapped for inclusion in most PR tactics, from earned media, to bylined content, to prospect education and speaking opportunities where big brands are featured and “vendors” are frowned upon.

6 Ways To Generate PR When You Have No News

The PR plan has clear visibility objectives that call for earned media or branded coverage — and there’s news that will help tell the company’s story. But after the initial executive moves, product launch, or funding announcement, then what? How does a PR team keep the momentum going if things get quiet?

6 ways to build publicity when it’s quiet

Be an expert

Media need experts every day to fill out stories with quotes and commentary. Expertise is the gift that keeps on giving, particularly for large stories about complicated issues, important trends, or previously obscure developments. From the investment expert who weighs in on a stock market dip, to the child safety author who shares Halloween advice for parents, expertise makes the media world run. And as every PR professional knows, sharing a client’s expertise is a strong way to build media relationships.

Speak up on owned media

One way to be in the public (or industry) conversation is to start it — with relevant content. It’s another strong way to share expertise, of course, but content can also run on informed opinion. Any CEO who hasn’t yet weighed in about industry issues in thought pieces on a blog or LinkedIn should consider cultivating a strong point of view. An interesting bylined article or blog post can make its way around social channels and be picked up by a trade or business outlet. Guest blogging on a prominent vendor, customer, or partner’s channel is another way to expand the reach, and a good method for grabbing visibility when hard news is scarce. To gain traction, the content should be memorable: calling someone to task, advocating a new approach, or advancing a distinct point of view. For most B2B companies, it’s part of a proactive content campaign that raises brand awareness, boosts searchability, and even helps generate leads.

Be reactive

Proactive marketing of expertise is the first line of defense of course, but given the opportunity, a quick way to generate relevant news is to capitalize on breaking news stories relevant to customers. Watch for stories about competitive moves, big industry developments, financial market changes, or mergers in a given space. If an industry expert is offered for commentary within the short window of opportunity that follows relevant news, it’s a win for everyone involved. As we mentioned in a previous post, every PR team should have industry monitoring in place to identify reactive pitching opportunities. While this doesn’t always pay dividends, it’s one good option to generate publicity in news voids.

Make news with opinion or behavior surveys

Most PR plans are informed through research, even if it’s general customer information or category analysis. But an hoc data-driven story is a good option for pitching the media during lulls. Many companies have market research or category data that has nuggets of valuable, even newsworthy information in it, but no one realizes it. Often it can be mined for stories. And for those who don’t have usable research, they can create it easily through an omnibus survey or flash poll. The key is making the data tell a relevant story, gaining points as an industry authority, or promoting a common pain point or question that customers have. Nearly any issue can be turned into a data-driven story that initiates a brand new conversation — a story that your firm may be well positioned to tell.

Leverage customer success

This is a tried-and-true tactic for getting trade media visibility, of course, but it can also work outside of trade channels. An artificial-intelligence-driven analytics company may not have news to announce, and its story might not resonate beyond narrow tech blogs. But if that company is helping another business like Blue Apron or Peloton serve customers or boost revenue, the story becomes more appealing. Even if a B2B service has helped a smaller up-and-coming brand, it may still be relevant to local press, specialist media, or social discussion groups. Case studies are some of the most powerful tools a B2B company has, and they can be used and repurposed in a variety of ways to fill in those news gaps. The challenge is to get customers on board in advance; some of our clients find it useful to make testimonials part of the deal when negotiating the business agreement with new customers.

Do something good

If nothing dramatic is going on, why not make something good happen? A full-blown CSR program might be ambitious for some businesses, and a thin commitment made for PR purposes is never a good idea. But any company can create legitimate local news through a commitment to a community cause, for example. Or, it can test-drive a philanthropic campaign through pro-bono work for a not-for-profit, or a pilot to benefit an underserved consumer segment. Sometimes it’s a demonstration of corporate values. When WeWork announced it was “going meatless,” major media covered its move, in part because it was controversial, but also because it was an unusual demonstration of the company’s commitment to its own principles.
PR teams and agencies strive to drive a steady drumbeat of coverage, but tech companies of all sizes run into occasional news droughts. With a little ingenuity, the drumbeat can continue even when there’s little to sing about.

Media Relations Dos And Don’ts For Holiday PR

media relations dos and don'ts for Holiday Pitching

Tying media relations activities to key calendar milestones is a time-honored PR tactic, because it works. But if holiday PR opportunities are approached carelessly, they can be squandered. From Labor Day to New Year’s Eve, fall holidays probably offer the best occasions for media coverage, but the approach needs to be relevant, respectful, and creative.

Holiday season takes thoughtful pitching

Don’t force the story

Your PR team may be determined to grab some visibility during a holiday season, but if the story doesn’t fit, don’t force it. The Christmas/Hanukkah time in particular is so cluttered that a marginal pitch that might slip through on another occasion will probably be tossed out. Having said that, the tie doesn’t need to be literal; for example, Halloween might be an excellent time for a cybersecurity pitch, or even a “scary” near-death business story about an entrepreneur.

Do consider the meaning of holidays

A tone-deaf treatment of a solemn holiday can offend audiences or even risk backlash. Even Memorial Day – generally considered the unofficial start of summer and therefore somewhat disconnected from its origins – deserves respectful events or announcements tied to the day itself. Trickier still are occasions that have special meaning to specific populations, like Martin Luther King day, or that are controversial, like Columbus Day (now known as Indigenous Peoples Day in many areas).

Commercializing a serious holiday should be avoided, and it pays to consider the current news environment when planning a specific media pitch. Also, in our opinion, 9/11 is off-limits for anything that isn’t directly connected to the day and its survivors. Remember this absolutely tasteless 9/11 mattress sale ad that featured the mattresses falling like towers? Of course no PR person would create such a pitch, but it’s a good reminder that for many people, serious holidays have deep and emotional meaning.

Do release some relevant data

Solid data-driven PR story pitches are always welcomed by reporters, but especially so during calendar milestones or big breaking stories. It may make sense to generate employment-related statistics on Labor Day, or data on Jewish tradition observance in advance of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The weeks leading up to New Year’s, of course, offer a classic media window for year-end lists and projections for the coming year – all the more compelling when accompanied by data visualizations.

Do use editorial calendars

For data-driven PR campaigns that rest on surveys or other research information, your data bureau will need to launch its survey or analysis well ahead of time. Consider the calendar when planning an announcement or new product launch to avoid conflicts or times when editorial or broadcast staffs are reduced. It’s always wise to keep tabs on publication ed-cals at key outlets, taking note of holiday plans that present pitching opportunities. For example, this October Ad Age’s calendar indicates plans to release “The Scary Issue: Brand fails, horror stories, and superstitions” — perhaps an opportunity for that cybersecurity pitch, or maybe a chance for a brand to show its human side with a story about a failed initiative or setback.

Do work the “news hole”

The week after Christmas is nearly always a news desert, which can present great opportunities for soft media pitches during that quieter time. But of course those stories need to be locked and loaded ahead of time, because chances are good that most media outlets are working on skeleton crews. Those few reporters that are working will be looking for good content, and the entire process may be more streamlined in the “news hole.” Not only might a good byline be picked up more promptly, but it may also enjoy a longer shelf life.

Do celebrate media relationships  

The December holidays are an ideal time to cultivate media relationships the old fashioned way, face to face at parties and informal lunches. PR pros and journalists rarely have time to meet, so holiday get-togethers can be the best opportunity to do some socializing. So don’t hesitate to RSVP and have some fun while you can, before things heat up again in January!