Our crew marked Halloween with a special field trip to the BrainXcape Escape Room, where all displayed top sleuthing acumen and teamwork to escape two out of the three spooky chambers in 60 minutes (only 20% of players escape even the first room). After the dramatic escape from the “Haunted Hotel”, some of us suited up for a Halloween costume contest and party. Pirates, witches, cops, and even Kanye showed up!
Yours truly snagged the top prize, dressed as the clueless boss Bill Lumbergh (photo: back row, right) from the cult classic film Office Space. The holiday season has officially begun!
As we’ve pointed out, PR pros use many tech tools to do their jobs on a daily basis. Most are used for internal and external communications, and they work well. Yet an accidental keystroke or a slip of the mouse can produce mortifying results. If anything, technology tools allow mistakes to travel faster and further then ever before. Here are some of the worst technology “horror stories” experienced by our team or by colleagues who wish to remain anonymous.
Video killed the audio star
Videoconferencing is indispensable for most businesses, but it’s not to be undertaken carelessly. A team member’s spouse was under the impression that his Zoom meeting with European colleagues was solely an audio connection. Because he feared running late for another appointment, he began to change his clothes as the conversation dragged on. Thankfully, he was warned by a startled meeting participant before he finished disrobing. Imagine being caught on video au naturelle as the boss talks about the quarterly P&L. As his spouse has warned us ever since, pay close attention to the screen icons and make good use of the mute button.
Use caution with calendar apps
Our calendars get cluttered when staff use their personal appointments to let coworkers know when they’ll be out of the office. But the funniest calendar slip-up happened to a friend of ours. She was annoyed with her high-powered spouse’s heavy work and travel schedule. They rarely saw one another and after two weeks, she was determined to send a message. She scheduled ‘have sex’ on his iCal to ensure he knew he was missed at home. But she sent it to his work calendar by mistake. At his company, all the admins share schedules for the department heads they work for, so all the assistants in his unit received the invitation. Embarrassing, maybe, but kind of sweet.
When Google Docs rats you out
What could wrong with something as ordinary as Google Docs? It’s a shared application, so the answer is, plenty. They’re great for collaboration, but when documents are inactive for a while, it’s easy to forget who else is in the mix. When editing a document originating with the client, or where they share access, it’s obviously best to keep snarky comments private. When a client or colleague rejoins the editing process, he may not be receptive to such, um, “candid feedback.” (See my colleague Matt and I having fun in this worst-case dramatization.)
Epic dial-in fail
In PR, voice calls are routinely used for client meetings and media interviews. Everybody experiences a wonky dial-in now and then, but some rise above the rest. Someone on our team had set up a highly-anticipated call between a client and a key journalist. The phone interview went swimmingly until an uninvited guest joined the call, signaled by the familiar “ding.” When another “ding” interrupted the interview, followed by several more, things became awkward. Each time, our colleague had to pause the interview to tell the mystery guests that they were on the wrong call. The dings seemed endless, leaving the client incredulous and the PR host horrified, though the reporter thought it was hilarious. Turns out another colleague had booked a call on the same line by mistake — with five celebrity chefs, another client, and two PR people. The takeaways: never double book a conference line. Also, celebrity chefs are divas.
Email is the PR pro’s best friend, but for many people, the group emails are out of control. A few of us have had the age-old experience of hitting “Reply All” to an email when we meant to respond to only one person. Our founder Dorothy confesses that she has twice sent a note meant only for the agency account team to a client by mistake in response to a client email. Fortunately, one was a neutral message and the other was urging the team on to better results, so there were no repercussions. But it’s worth remembering that the best rule for digital comms is to never put anything in an email or text that you wouldn’t want the world to see. Save the sensitive topics or personal critiques for face-to-face or phone meetings. Yet, if you’re wondering how to “un-send” an email see this C|Net article.
It’s that magical and very busy time of year when PR agencies are prepping for the holiday season and are happy for a fun distraction. Halloween allows us to celebrate, or make a mockery of, our heroes in PR, journalism, and media. Here are some ideas for PR-relevant costumes for Halloween 2018.
Beyond superheroes… though we are!
Woodward and Bernstein ride again
This costume allows a pair of PR buddies to pay homage to the fourth estate while also going vintage 1970s. Grab a friend and study All The President’s Men for inspiration. It’ll be about fat ties, rolled-up sleeves, big hair, and sideburns. And if you have a jowly, dark-stubbled friend, bring him along as Richard Nixon.
For a PR pro determined to salute friends in the media with a little humor, Ron Burgundy from Anchorman: Legend of Ron Burgundy is a solid alternative, and Halloween shops still sell that costume!
Megyn Kelly (but no blackface!)
Talk about topical: PR and media types can dial up the snark by showing up dressed as TV pundit Megyn Kelly – but, please, not in blackface! This week, in a discussion about a report that some universities were banning such costumes, Kelly opined that blackface for Halloween is not a racist trope, sparking a backlash. Yesterday she offered a teary apology on the air. She must have known she was being provocative; was it just a bid for publicity to boost her ratings? In any case, Kelly isn’t long at NBC, so maybe add a “freelance” press i.d.
Can you ‘handle’ Olivia Pope?
2018 said goodbye to “Scandal,” so if you feel you can pull it off, why not salute the recently retired queen of crisis PR, Olivia Pope? You’ll be unmistakable in a wrap or trench coat, knockoff Prada handbag, and impeccably shiny ‘do. Most importantly, carry an air of hauteur and BYOW; to be pegged as Ms. Pope, you need your own glass of red wine! (You can even opt for her go-to Camille from Crate & Barrel.)
Finally, it helps to be stunningly gorgeous, quiver your lips on command, and bring a Fitz-like date with wavy hair and a chiseled jaw. With that final touch, you can assure yourself and everyone else with Olivia’s famous words, “It’s handled.”
C.J. Cregg from The West Wing
One of the most beloved fictional PR professionals ever created is the press secretary to Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett, C.J. Cregg, played by the great Allison Janney. Straight out of Sorkin’s 1999-2006 liberal fantasy of a functional, intelligent government, C.J. makes for a nostalgic PR tribute, especially if you’re a statuesque, fast-talking female. The little girl pictured here got it right on the money with her lanyard, power suit, and moxie. West Wing watchers will remember that C.J. should always be holding a leather folder and a stack of papers of indeterminate purpose while walking swiftly. (The crossed-arms posture for either Pope or Cregg is optional.)
Pearls make the SHS
Love her or hate her, our current White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders makes a fun costume. Simply grab a long brown wig, string of pearls, sensible knit dress, and a flag pin for good measure. If you really want to go all out, pencil on heavy eyebrows and carry a cardboard podium.
It’s always good to get in character to enliven your costume. For Huckabee Sanders, deepen your voice, let your drawl out, and scowl. But PR people, be cautious which parties you attend in this outfit. Aidy Bryant does an amazing SHS on Saturday Night Live. So did this gentleman pictured here.
Mark Zuckerberg as Big Tech
Zuckerberg’s public image used to come mainly from the film The Social Network, but now it’s more likely to resemble his seemingly continual TV apologia and Capitol Hill testimony. Facebook’s founder has become a major face of Big Tech in crisis for 2018, so the costume is perfect for the PR person. Grab a curling iron, a suit (or a hoodie and sandals for the pre-2016 Zuck), and be prepared to explain why you allowed people’s data to be stolen. If you can’t get your hair to curl, consider a solid alternative PR crisis costume and go as Elon Musk with a vape.
Halloween and the City
A PR person can’t go wrong by going to the Halloween party as Samantha Jones from Sex and The City. While she may not be the most topical PR character, or even an accurate stereotype ( though her affinity for cocktails is right on), she may be the most famous fictional PR pro. Part of the fun of this costume is the throwback fashion and the requisite martini glass. To get in character, add a little swoon to your voice, raise it an octave, and prepare a few suggestive one-liners, like “I’m a try-sexual. I’ll try anything once.”
Arthur Page ftw
So you’re the erudite PR person who wants to wow your colleagues at the party by showing up as a godfather of the biz. In that case, dressing as the venerable Arthur Page (1883-1960) may fit the bill. Page, who was an executive with AT&T for twenty years, has left a rich legacy in corporate communications with his famed document of PR ethics, the Page Principles, as well as his eponymous communications association, the Arthur W. Page Society. For this PR getup, pull out a 1950s business suit, spectacles, and the coup de grace, a pipe. But don’t worry if people don’t recognize you. You can educate them about PR history, even if you don’t scare anyone.
There’s not a major corporation today that doesn’t have a small army of PR and reputation experts helping it navigate a tricky media and government relations landscape. But occasionally, the damage comes from a company’s own ranks.
That happened this week when the Campbell Soup Company found itself in hot water after a bizarre tweet from its own head of government affairs — an executive who ironically lists “crisis management” among his skills. It all started when Campbell VP Kelly Johnston tweeted about the so-called “caravan” of immigrants traveling north from Honduras. Mr. Johnston posted a photo of the migrants along with a claim that the George Soros-backed Open Society Foundation is an organizer of the group, including “where they defecate.”
Blech. There’s no evidence that Mr. Soros or his foundation has any connection to the migrant march. The Open Society quickly posted a denial, expressing that it was “surprised to see a Campbell’s Soup executive spreading false stories.” Johnston deleted the tweet and later shut down his Twitter account, but not before sharp-eyed @kenvogel of The New York Times captured it in a screen shot.
Bad timing compounds a mistake
Kelly Johnston has a background in politics; he’s a former Secretary of the U.S. Senate – not an unusual pedigree for a Public Affairs VP. But surely a top government relations officer should know better than to publicly dabble in conspiracies that simmer in the dark corners of the interwebs. And Johnston’s tasteless tweet couldn’t have come at a more sensitive time for Campbell.
First, Mr. Soros is a frequent target of anti-Semites and among several prominent persons targeted in a series of pipe bombs delivered by mail this week. Mr. Johnston’s tweet was posted Monday, and he likely didn’t know about the mail bomb, but the timing is terrible.
What’s more, it comes as the company is under pressure from shareholders. Campbell has been plagued with poor earnings and faces a challenge by activist investor Bill Loeb. A consumer boycott of Campbell’s many brands due to a tweet by a “soup Nazi”(as one critic dubbed Johnston), is a recipe for more than heartburn. And it scalds worse given that Campbell’s soup is an iconic brand long associated with home and hearth.
So, what’s a company to do when the call is coming from inside the house? Campbell did take several proactive steps in this case.
Issue a clear and quick response
Shortly after the backlash to Johnston’s tweet, Campbell posted a tweet of its own distancing the company from Johnston’s comment. “The opinions Mr. Johnston expresses on Twitter are his individual views and do not represent the position of Campbell Soup Company,” it tweeted. The comment itself wasn’t enough, and Vogel doggedly tweeted follow-up questions to Campbell, but it was a start.
Apologize to the offended party
Campbell took pains to contact the Open Society Foundation as the controversy reached a boil. In a letter from interim CEO Keith McLoughlin, the company expressed that Johnston’s comments “are inconsistent with how Campbell approaches public debate.” A bit stilted, and the response falls short of an apology.
Remove the problem if possible
This is the stickiest issue for many companies. Dismissing an executive for speaking out can fix the problem, but it can also create additional negative coverage or precipitate litigation in some cases. But yesterday we learned that Johnston will retire from the company in early November, and that news was also included in the letter to the Open Society Foundation. In response to media inquiries, the retirement was positioned as something that had been planned all along, although that seems unlikely.
Make your values clear
This is the most important part of protecting a corporation from reputation damage that starts inside. Most companies have a written social media policy, but any executive of Johnston’s rank should be empowered to tweet or post on its behalf where news or issues warrant. What’s more powerful is a clear statement of values, backed and lived out by the organization itself.
Love them or hate them, conferences and trade shows are key venues for any business to generate public relations, marketing, and sales returns. If you’ve ever attended a major tech trade show, you know they can be a blur of handshakes, branded swag, business cards, and mediocre meals. How to make the most of a time and dollar investment in a trade show or conference? Our own Chris Harihar offers some sage advice on navigating the world of B2B conferences.
7 ways to make an impact at a business conference
There’s a business conference for every conceivable vertical, niche, and sector; and they come in various sizes and cities around the world. Since the ideal lead time for earning a speaking opportunity is six to nine months, and sponsorships take planning for maximum benefit, a PR team must incorporate a conference strategy in its annual planning. Is the goal to generate awareness, leads, and sales? To build an executive profile? To grow relationships with influencers, media, and colleagues? A sales-oriented trade show like Cloud Expo in New York may work for many goals, while a more ideas- driven one like Fortune Live Media may align better with thought leadership objectives. A consistent presence at carefully selected conferences year round can produce good ROI, as well as support PR goals.
For maximum impact, over-prepare
A B2B company can set itself up for success with some logistical planning and research. The first step is to work with organizers to earn speaking and event opportunities at the most advantageous times. The team should study the layout and the schedule well ahead of time, as well as the attendee and exhibitor lists to scope out a plan to be in front of the right people. A good PR team will get a list of attending media to plot their outreach and set up briefings. Some even create a “facebook”-type schedule with head shots of key contacts to maximize networking opportunities. Armed with advance intelligence, a company can create its own minute-by-minute schedule to avoid wasting the considerable time and money invested in the conference.
Bring the news
If a company has news to share — an acquisition, new product launch, or growth milestone, the conference backdrop can add sex appeal and offer the benefit of a captive audience of media and insiders. Experienced PR professionals often coordinate an announcement with a major conference appearance to maximize interest and visibility. Yet with so much noise at trade events, it’s hard to draw attention to your brand. The trick is to pay close attention to timing; even a company’s big news can get lost in a wave of similar announcements. At last month’s Microsoft Ignite, there were so many announcements that Microsoft had to issue a media a 27-page booklet for attendees. Consider making an announcement the day before the conference through a media exclusive slated for breakfast the morning of the first day. Or, sponsor a mealtime slot for breaking news — a time-honored trick that helps turn out press hungry for stories as well as lunch.
Bring PR to the show
Having a PR team member on-site for media relations support at a key conference isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. PR can continuously rove the event floor to wrangle relevant media and influencers to engage. While the sales team is working at the booth or in private meetings, the PR team can take the offensive as your advocates. There are often video assets developed by conference coordinators on-site to promote the event through digital and social channels. PR teams can chase down those opportunities as part of a plan of attack well in advance of the conference.
Get creative to stand out
It’s not enough to simply sponsor, exhibit, or speak at a conference these days. To maximize the value of the investment, think outside of the programmed opportunities. Rather than putting big dollars into a larger booth, consider using some of that budget to host an off-site dinner or cocktail hour, to which the PR team can invite press, clients, and prospects. This helps a brand separate itself from the crowd and earn a captive audience. B2B tech conferences can often get monotonous. An offsite happening allows a company to shake things up a bit, keeping it top-of-mind among the right audiences.
It’s remarkable how many brands still don’t optimize their event presence through social media. In advance of a conference, brands should consider paid and organic content strategies to gain more ownership of the event’s hashtag. For example, while Facebook isn’t a huge lead-gen source for B2B businesses, creating content for Facebook Live can be repurposed well after the conference ends. These videos can be easily shared with media who may not have attended but want more information about key announcements or trends. See our earlier post for tips on how social media drives B2B PR. But note that when the conference ends, the work does not.
If a good one is available, the company should use the event video of the thought leader’s speech or panel appearance by posting on its owned media and amplifying on social channels like LinkedIn. An executive appearance can bolster the individual’s reputation, building a resume for other earned conference engagements. Additionally, the PR team may develop the speech into a white paper or byline. PR will nurture all the new media and influencer connections it made, just as sales will follow up on its leads. When a company has mastered the trade show experience from preparation to follow-through, it can build a consistent brand presence on big thought leadership stages year-round.
Business storytelling has become a buzzword in PR and marketing, because, when done well, it works. But what some communicators don’t realize is that a storytelling approach can work throughout the marketing journey, from prospecting for customers to closing the deal. I recently refreshed my skills and point of view at a workshop sponsored by Engage, and the session offered food for thought. Here are some quick takeaways and observations based on experience with storytelling for B2B brands.
It’s not about you
This runs counter to the typical PR approach used widely by tech startups and entrepreneurial companies. New companies naturally want to make the brand story all about them, and a colorful narrative about a bootstrapped business can be a powerful media pitch in a PR campaign. But the overarching brand story shouldn’t be about the company. If we consider the most powerful archetype to be Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey,” that hero is invariably the customer. Remember, the customer doesn’t know what you do and probably doesn’t care. The goal of the brand story is to reach and engage her where she lives and works.
Tell, don’t sell
PR professionals know this intuitively. Most of us have been trained to engage journalists with the lure of a good story, not a commercial message. But when we take the story directly to customers and prospects in the form of email or content marketing, it often loses that nuance. Marketers want to make sure they take advantage of the time and budget invested in tactics like newsletters, collateral, and paid content, so marketing becomes selling. But that approach will shut down communications. Jeff Loehr of Engage likens the hard-sell storytelling approach to a marriage proposal at a first meeting. It’s bound to be a turnoff. The goal instead is to strike up a conversation that might develop into something deeper and better.
What’s at stake?
If the hero-customer’s most compelling dilemma is pedestrian, it won’t be powerful. Maybe your prospect is a small business owner who is unhappy with her IT services — a common problem, but one that’s not very interesting. On the other hand, if she runs a wealth management business with access to confidential client information, but her creaky IT infrastructure leaves her business at risk, that’s a more potent story. The point is not to use fear-mongering in storytelling, but to create a credible narrative where the stakes are reasonably high.
Appeal to emotions, not just intellect
To go back to the hero myth, he/she is called on a journey of adventure, undergoes trials, and is transformed in the process. To be compelling, the stakes must be high and the journey must be fraught with real risk or conflict. Take my favorite political ad, MJ Hegar’s Doors. Hegar is an Air Force veteran who’s running a longshot campaign to win a House seat in Texas, and whose video story went viral earlier this year. What’s compelling about the video is that she’s not running on the issues; rather, she’s running on her story. Hegar weaves an irresistible tale about achievement, rejection, and resilience. And, yes, this one’s about her own personal narrative, because her “product offering” is herself, but as a constituent of the incumbent. And I guarantee you that the “door” that slams in her face because of her gender is something that every woman understands.
Make them see it
People don’t read much anymore. So, most marketers are looking for striking images, video, and illustration to hold the viewer’s attention and add impact to the message. We must go beyond the talking head video to feature a customer discussing their pain points or sharing an experience about a business pivot.
Yet visuals don’t always have to be super-slick to be memorable. I recently heard best-selling novelist Judy Blundell speak at a gathering of fans. Her new book is set on the North Fork of Long Island, a narrow strip of beachfront whose location and relationship to the more glamorous fork to its south is key to the novel’s plot. If you want to learn about storytelling, talk to a novelist. Judy explained that she’d been traveling on her book tour. To help non-New Yorkers understand the geography in the novel she used — wait for it — “a sophisticated visual aid,” her two fingers, separated to represent each skinny slice of Long Island’s East End. It’s what I remember about her talk, and it still makes me smile.
Web 2.0 has made the daily nuts and bolts of public relations work unrecognizable from a decade ago. Now, every public relations team needs reliable tech tools for media monitoring, instant messaging, task management, and media-list building, just to name a few. PR people routinely use apps for document design like BeFunky, the industry standard software Cision, and a wire distribution platform like PR Newswire. Some in our agency swear by sanity-preserving apps that have nothing to do with daily business, like Spotify and Calm (for meditation, which we still aspire to!) Apps and web tools come and go like Silicon Valley startups, and the choices can feel endless. Here’s our must-have list.
7 great tools for the tech PR workshop
Crenshaw partner Chris Harihar swears that Wunderlist is the next best thing to having an assistant (insider tip: PR people do not typically have dedicated assistants). Wunderlist is pleasing to the eyes, and more user-friendly than Outlook’s “tasks” bar. It’s synced across all devices so it’s readily available to check at all hours of the night (insider tip: PR people work nights). Plus, it allows you to separate work lists from others like travel, chores – whatever the user deems necessary to keep life from spinning into chaos. You can toggle seamlessly your grocery list and the Q4 PR plan. Also, if you’re collaborating on a project with a coworker – as we always are – we can share lists using the app.
Cision’s media contact information should never been taken as gospel, since journalists, outlets, and email addresses are constantly in flux. PR pros can verify a reporter’s email address quickly by typing it into the single bar on the website www.mailtester.com. If the contact is elusive but you know the domain, you can test address combinations. Most domains allow access for this type of testing, although a few do not. Mailtester or one of the similar apps like EmailHunter is a lifesaver for most PR people.
Techmeme is a favorite news aggregator website for tech PR people. Every pro has her go-to channel for tracking news developments in technology. A quick glance at Techmeme.com or its e-newsletter brings you up to speed on trending conversations from outlets like The Verge, ArsTechnica, and Financial Times – as well as a list of upcoming tech conferences and events. Our own account supervisor Erica Schain says it’s the best place to get a summary in real time of what’s trending across the tech blogs, offering a bird’s eye view of what reporters are writing about. As a bonus, Techmeme launched its own podcast earlier this year, hoping to duplicate the roaring success of The New York Times Daily, a top podcast since 2017.
BuzzSumo remains a go-to tool to assist PR pros in keeping track of who’s writing about what topics, and the resulting social engagement from each placement. This tool is key for sniffing out gaps in the narrative that allow PR pros to find the right story angle to pitch. BuzzSumo pro plans allow one to identify influencers’ shared content, find backlink opportunities, and monitor brands and competitors’ content. A quick search returns a list of influencers on any given topic, along with several telling statistics, including domain authority and share percentage. Cost ranges from $79-$499 per month.
While heavy hitters like Microsoft (Yammer) are racing to develop applications to compete with Slack, and competitors like BaseCamp and Trello offer solid alternatives, it remains the best option for the Crenshaw Communications team for internal collaboration. We have separate channels set up for each client, and we can swiftly share links, images, and documents. Like many companies, we even have a dedicated channel for non work-related chat, where we might share a ridiculous pop culture story or gossip. Though Slack hasn’t yet unclogged email inboxes, it helps us make things happen faster — an absolute must in the world of New York tech PR.
Remote voice and video communication are critical to PR work, from client meetings to media interviews. Every PR agency needs a versatile solution for meetings. UberConference allows for easy connections without pin codes and app downloads, and can be integrated with tools like Slack and LinkedIn. With the UberConference Business upgrade ($15/month), participants from 50 countries can call in. Further, the cloud software allows meeting participants to collaborate on documents during the call. Clearly, one of the great advantages of technology is its improvement of collaboration not only in PR, but all industries.
We encourage clients to tell data-driven stories that are mediaworthy and verifiable. Survata is an affordable market research company that advises on and executes surveys using its network of publishers and partnerships with research panels. An SMB can conduct market research with unlimited survey questions at a reasonable cost. We’ve found it a useful resource among the many options for customers surveys and newsmaking B2B opinion research.
Good public relations can be an essential way for a brand to stand out from the pack, especially in the B2B/ technology sector. The tech space is a crowded category with more startups entering every day, so in order to compete, companies must differentiate their product or service. There are some PR tactics that can help.
6 PR tactics to differentiate your brand
Have a distinct voice
A company can set itself apart by speaking in a distinct brand voice. A consistent but idiosyncratic tone through branded content like blog posts, social updates, and a company’s own website and sales materials can convey an impression of its personality. Is it humorous? Down-to-earth? Aspirational or emotional? But the company shouldn’t just start experimenting with different tones in hopes of finding the one that resonates. Instead, the PR agency or team should work with leadership to commit to a strict definition of the brand voice — and it should come from a place of authenticity. Being outspoken or controversial is a common method of differentiation, but if it’s contrived, it will probably fall flat. MailChimp is admired for its pithy and wryly humorous communications – all of which helps it stand out from bland competitors.
Tell a story
Entrepreneurs tend to be driven to create something the world wants or needs – and most of them have a story of how the light bulb went off or what drove them to take the leap. The origin stories don’t always make for great PR, but if a founder’s journey is fascinating, it’s a differentiator. We have a client here at Crenshaw whose business idea was borne from his brush with death in a terrorist attack. His experience is unusual and must be handled with sensitivity, but almost any senior executive does have a story to tell. Check out these “wacky entrepreneur stories to inspire you” from Inc. Magazine. In addition to origin tales, PR teams should embrace narratives about adversity, unconventional paths to success, small setbacks, or even personal quirks and interests. Who would have thought that a rift between friends could be a big story in Inc. Magazine? Last month, Inc. told the story of the troubled relationship between the founders of Reddit, their departure from the company and eventual triumphant return. It’s a riveting story, and is part of a recently published book about Reddit – that itself being another tactic for differentiation.
Write the book on it
One of our clients, CEO Robert Glazer, published the first in-depth book on affiliate marketing. His accomplishment has helped cement a reputation as an authority in a poorly understood sector. A book, like a research study or other knowledge project, separates a thought leader from other business executives, and even in the digital age it remains a solid platform for earning media coverage, speaking opportunities, and other executive visibility within an industry. The small B2B software provider Basecamp set out to be different from the moment is began in 1999. Part of the founders’ strategy was to publish business books under the company’s name, culminating in co-founder Jason Fried’s 2010 best seller ReWork. Basecamp is still a small, privately-owned company, but its culture, branding, and ethos help it stand out from the crowd, and the books were a part of that.
Put on a conference or panel event
It’s always beneficial to speak at industry conferences, but a bigger and more lasting step for a company can be to start its own conference where feasible. Because it’s an ambitious undertaking, however, few companies take this step. We’ve found success in mini-conferences we call thought leadership panels. A company that regularly holds its own entertaining and relevant panel events can quite literally earn the label, because it’s taking the lead in an industry discussion on a trending topic to benefit customers. A business that takes the initiative to assemble influencers, colleagues, and key media has found one more way to differentiate itself. See this earlier post for best practices in putting on a successful PR event.
Do some (real) good
We are now in an era of burgeoning corporate social responsibility, in which many in the millennial generation expect companies to take a stand on issue(s) or initiatives designed to contribute to the social good. Last week for World Dyslexia Day, McDonald’s created digital signage in Sweden which simulated what dyslexics see when they read. This type of creative, highly effective activity makes a splash. SalesForce, well known as a differentiated SaaS brand, launched its employee giving program “philanthropy cloud” in early 2018 – not only a dynamic idea, but also in line with its brand voice and stated purpose as a “self-sustaining social enterprise.”
Convey a point of view
Another way for B2B companies to distinguish themselves is to offer expert commentary on trending news — but not just neutral commentary. SaaS company Box Inc.’s CEO Aaron Levie has been speaking out on issues of trust in tech and privacy regulations in the last few months, taking a strong point of view in reaction to the reputation struggles of big tech. Levie is calling for more digital privacy regulations – something not always expected from a software provider. Reactive executive commentary in the brand voice is an excellent tactic to differentiate the firm from the competition.
The PR tactics like the ones listed here can work together to create positive differentiation in a hyper-competitive atmosphere in which every enterprise scrambles for an advantage. While skillful branding and solid performance can set the stage for success, PR-driven storytelling, third-party recognition, social values, and a compelling brand voice can make a brand distinct. Isn’t that what all companies strive for?
We associate social media platforms with splashy consumer campaigns, but social is increasingly important in B2B public relations. B2B buyers are often looking for as much information as possible on vendors and products before they buy, and they rarely buy on impulse.
According to an IDC study, 75% of B2B buyers and 84% of C-level/vice president executives use social media to make purchasing decisions. Business vendors who have overlooked social media strategy in the overall PR or marketing plans are missing opportunities. Here are seven ways to maximize the power of social media as a brand visibility and lead generation tool.
Offer useful information and insights
B2B companies can engage and attract followers through educational and entertaining content. It doesn’t have to be dull; look at Hubspot, IBM, or Novartis. Because of the longer selling cycle for business products like insurance or software, engagement through social channels may actually pay greater dividends for B2B products and services. But for business customers, the stakes are higher, and the products more expensive, so they need real answers and information. Social content is most effective when it offers something not directly related to the company in question. An enterprise software provider is better off posting inspiration for managers, practical advice, or stories about fostering innovation than hard-selling their product.
Cultivate media and influencers
Influencers like industry analysts, authors, and even journalists typically have powerful followings on key social platforms like LinkedIn, Medium, and Twitter. It pays to engage them over the long term, and where it makes sense, form business relationships for customer education. Third-party experts can be excellent content resources and are excellent additions to customer education events, webinars, and other customer-facing initiatives. Journalists, too, are approachable on Twitter, especially if the approach is less transactional and more about offering the journalist an industry resource over time, as B2B PR people have done since the beginning of time.
Educate future customers
For B2B companies, an educated customer is like gold. Many invest in real-world customer education events to build relationships and offer high-quality business insights, especially in fast-changing industries where decision-makers may struggle to keep up. But physical events can only go so far, and they are costly. A B2B social media team can act as curators of great content tailored for its audience. Along with other thought leadership initiatives, sharing educational content on a consistent basis helps establish the company as an authority in its industry. And becoming an authority in one’s industry automatically boosts credibility and trustworthiness. Journalists use social media, too. It can’t hurt for reporters to read your consistently informative posts. But the key to keeping audiences coming back is tailoring the material to their needs.
B2B audiences are by definition narrower than their mass-market counterparts, which makes it easier to target them with relevant social campaigns. As noted, business customers are generally seeking information on business problems, intelligence that might give them an edge, or practical advice. But if you’re stuck for relevant content or campaign themes, why not ask customers what they need? Social listening and monitoring offers a wealth of information about customers where they live and work.
Build a community
By extension, business customers can also help one another. That’s where tech services that cater to small businesses, like Hubspot and Zendesk, have done a great job. Both CRM Hubspot and customer service software provider Zendesk create customer case study videos with high production value that live on dedicated YouTube channels, like Hubspot’s YouTube Customer Success Stories Channel. The video stories are shared on all other social channels. Software provider Zendesk regularly posts customer success stories on its LinkedIn page, doing a great job of thrusting the client into the spotlight instead of themselves.
For example, even though they link back to blog posts on Zendesk’s page, the substance of the post focuses so much on the client LendUp that it almost amounts to a feature story. These business relationships are powered by social media posts, which become engagement multipliers.
React to news in real time
In the same way PR teams monitor trending news for reactive media pitching opportunities, they also use social channels for business leaders to offer bite-sized commentary on such news. It’s another way to bolster a company’s authority and to share its point of view. Companies can offer insight by chiming in on an industry best practices debate; it can also show leadership by speaking out on a social issue – which can humanize a B2B company in a dry or technical area. Cisco is a multi-national conglomerate that sells and makes various hi-tech products and services — yet its Twitter feed brings a decidedly human tone, speaking with passion, empathy, and humor – sometimes on social issues. In this example, a Cisco SVP takes advantage of a conference to offer a strong opinion on diversity in tech — while leaving a general impression of Cisco’s progressive orientation.
It’s all about video
Perhaps the most trending social marketing and PR tool for two-way engagement is live streaming video, which can be done on Facebook, Instagram, and even LinkedIn with YouTube. Companies can livestream product how-to demos, webinars, events, company tours, or crowdsourcing of tips and ideas. It’s a great chance to introduce a human face to B2Bs; plus the live immediacy encourages participation. Adobe routinely livestreams well produced tutorials, like this one on illustrations from last week. The live videos generally draw from 500 to 2500 views, encouraging engagement through live chat, liking, commenting, and sharing. But the logistically easier practice of pre-recorded videos also drives interaction. Brightcove found that social video generates 1200% more shares than text and images combined.
Show a personality
Since business-to-business is really people-to-people, it bears reminding that social media content need not be as dull as Apple user agreements. B2B companies can show personality, as companies like Wistia, SalesForce, and Eventbrite have demonstrated. Use gentle humor to outline business challenges. Post about pop culture references to make content topical. Tell customer stories. Recognize employees. As noted in last week’s post, employees can be powerful brand advocates if encouraged to create and share social content within a sensible framework. B2B customers are people, so there’s every reason to think they can build attachment and loyalty to brands that help and engage them in real time.
Social media is a PR amplifier
The most fundamental utility of social media for B2B companies is amplification of other communications. B2B PR teams work hard to produce informative owned content like case studies, white papers, blog posts, webinars, and ebooks. Buyers in all stages of the journey hungry for assistance should find this content wherever they look, from the website to influencer blog to vendors’ social posts. B2B social channels should be sharing every piece of PR content, linking back to its home on the company’s website. Naturally, all earned media placements and positive analyst reports get the social treatment as well. Basically, everything gets amplified via social, provided the posts are in the right voice, in alignment with the PR plan, and educational. As a bonus, social engagement affects search ranking.
As a PR professional (and Zillow enthusiast), I can appreciate real estate euphemisms. We’ve all seen flowery descriptions describing homes for sale as “cozy” (read: tiny); with a “low-maintenance yard” (probably concrete); or “partial water view” (maybe a dried stream bed). A recent tweet about a “Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired cabin” made me think about the jargon that clutters press releases and business memos in our own business.
There are far too many tired, empty words used in news announcements and other content prepared by PR agencies or their clients. In some cases it’s understandable, or even necessary. When it comes to business software, customers may expect to hear about “end-to-end solutions” or a “suite of scaleable offerings.”
Advertising Week just wrapped up here in New York, and with it, a festival of jargon. In the adtech sector, buzzwords like “monetization” and “engagement” are unavoidable, and terms like “transparency” and “visibility” have a special meaning. (Even worse are the acronyms. If you don’t know what GDPR is and why it’s important to a DMP, DSP, or SSP, then you’re lost.)
But even allowing for vocabulary specific to certain sectors – and technology is the worst — PR-speak can be lazy, uninspired, and clogged with meaningless descriptors. Here are some of the terms that, when used in press materials, can undermine the typical PR team’s message. There are three main categories of bad PR-speak: hyperbole, buzzwords, and hopeless clichés.
Building buzz without the buzzwords: ban these terms
“leading” – This one’s everywhere, usually in the first line of a press release or company boilerplate. That’s because it’s an easy way to imply leadership status without making a claim that might be disputable. The same goes for weasel-words “market-leading” and “leading-edge.” Without information that supports the claim, they have no power. But those aren’t as bad as “bleeding edge,” which I first heard in 1996 and never want to hear again.
“excited” – Okay, it’s not a buzzword, but my pet peeve is the news release about a partnership or deal where the company spokesperson is quoted as being “thrilled,”“delighted,” or “excited.” While these descriptors may be accurate, they add nothing to the story. No journalist will use them. Why not say something about how the partnership will advance business goals? Or, skip the quote and post a real executive comment on social media.
“groundbreaking” – Another overused PR buzzword that has lost all meaning
“curated” – This is one of many words that are unnecessarily pretentious versions of simpler ones. Why call something “curated” if it’s clearer to say it’s “carefully chosen” or “hand-picked”? The same goes for “bespoke” and many nouns used as verbs, like “mainstreaming” and (the worst) “architecting,” as in “architecting a new plan.” Ugh.
“lean in” – With due respect to Sheryl Sandberg, this term has been appropriated by so many different entities and in too many situations that the original meaning has evaporated, and it’s now a cliché.
“incredibly” – Hyperbolic and meaningless
“leverage” as a verb – I’m reconciled to seeing this word throughout PR proposals, but it should never appear in a press release.
“game-changing” – If a product has truly changed the game, then explain how. Otherwise, this is another empty hyperbole.
For more PR buzzwords that deserve to be busted, check out PRbuzzsaw. You can try its “automated jargon removal tool” to assess your press release, or just have a laugh. And if you’re still in need of inspiration, I have a charming, bespoke cottage with lots of character that you might want to check out.