Crenshaw Nominated For Two PRSA Big Apple Awards

Crenshaw picked up two nominations in the 32nd annual PRSA Big Apple Awards, honoring outstanding public relations campaigns and projects developed or implemented in and around New York City. Crenshaw was nominated in the marketing business-to-business category for its work for cybersecurity company F-Secure for “Ghost In The Locks” and for talent acquisition platform Greenhouse Software for F-Secure Big apple nominee“Making Diversity Work.” Category winners are also eligible to be named overall winners for the “Best Use of Research,” “Best Business/Campaign Outcomes” and “Best of the Best” awards. We hope to take home the big apple trophy at PRSA-NY’s 2019 Awards Gala on Monday evening, June 24th at the Mandarin Oriental, New York.

5 Tips On Running A Global PR Program

Global PR revenue is expected to climb to a record $19.3 billion by 2020 — an increase of more than five billion from just three years ago. As more brands seek to expand into new markets, or drive greater visibility in existing ones, they’re ramping up public relations to maximize international opportunities. 

For those tapping global PR services for the first time, however, there’s an understandable and pronounced learning curve. And knowing the core challenges and mechanics common to global PR is essential to ensuring an efficient, successful and smart program. At Crenshaw Communications, our team has developed and executed a number of high-impact PR programs across EMEA and APAC. With that in mind, here are five things to consider as a brand launches a global communications strategy. 

Invest in your setup

What type of global PR model works best for your organization? There are several approaches to building a global PR team. Large brands like Unilever or Dell might have one global PR agency with offices in all key markets to support their strategy. Another common approach for big brands is to have multiple PR agencies across core regions and geographies (possibly through a network like the PROI). Other brands have a number of in-house PR team members supporting a global program, with agencies only in select markets. And, finally, an increasingly common arrangement — particularly for startups and smaller brands that may not have a multimillion dollar PR budget — is for a North American agency to execute a global PR program by tapping agency members with experience in those markets, while supporting additional cities with expert freelancers. Each model has pros and cons in terms of complexity and budget. The former models have more boots on the ground, for example, but are more expensive. The latter, more cost-efficient but without as much in-market depth of expertise. 

Pick a leader

For global PR programs, having one individual in charge of managing and overseeing the overall effort is critical. There are so many disparate parts involved in executing PR regionally. A global PR strategy might involve dozens of team members and even more initiatives. Keep in mind that every market should have its own tailored and unique approach. Having one core team member — whether in-house on the brand-side or within one of your agencies — with experience managing global communications programs is important. That person must be able to wrap their arms around everything. If a story is told prematurely in one region, it could hurt efforts elsewhere. Having a single source of truth and a one-person hub who can advise on and evaluate strategy will drive greater success.

Logistics can be a nightmare

The logistical challenges of a global PR program are expected. But, it’s important to bake the challenges into your program so that you can maintain realistic timelines and optimize your team members and agency partners. For example, global status calls with key stakeholders are a challenge to coordinate, particularly when they involve APAC partners who are 12 hours away. Similarly, press releases need time to be translated, then reviewed by a designated client-side marketing or comms person in a position to approve the material for market distribution. What about PR documents and sharing privileges? Who can access what and through which platforms (Google Docs, Evernote, Slack, etc.)? These simple factors contribute to a prolonged preparation, planning and evaluation period for each initiative. Recognize this from the outset and don’t let these challenges surprise you.

Respect cultural and workstyle differences

If you’re seeking to grow your business internationally, you must respect and recognize the cultural and business norms in those markets. For example, EMEA generally observes more federal holidays than the US does. That does not mean in-market EMEA team members need to work on their holidays or cater to a US-driven PR calendar. Respect the norms and work in each market. Another example — not every big announcement will play in one market or another, for whatever reason. Perhaps the technology is too advanced for the region, or it’s addressing a problem that isn’t as pronounced there. Or maybe the partner you’re announcing is well-known in North America and Europe but has no cachet in the Middle East or APAC.  The point — do not try to jam puzzle pieces where they don’t fit. 

Feel free to repurpose… to a point

Each player should have a tailored strategy that respects the customers and prospects in that market. However, in most cases your fundamental PR themes and messages won’t be dramatically different region-to-region. At the end of the day, your value proposition is generally the same. With that in mind, brands can repurpose content and ideas across markets, without having to recreate the wheel each and every time. For example, all guest articles we develop for a client in one market, we share with their sister regions, allowing those in-market the latitude to pick and choose relevant content that they translate, repitch and republish. If done with care, repurposing content across markets can deliver ongoing value.

Today, global PR is becoming table stakes for many brands. But to optimize opportunities and budget, keep in mind these considerations, best practices and factors. What other challenges or best practices are you employing in your global PR program? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @chrisharihar

How Brands Create Fans

In today’s fragmented media environment, the scarcest commodity for any marketing or PR pro is customer attention. That’s why engaging users and relationship marketing is so fascinating – and so elusive.

Too many brands have outsourced their customer relationships to influencers like celebrities for hire. Influencers are effective, but how much more powerful are real, authentic fans?
I started thinking about fanship recently while representing my agency at the 2019 PROI Global Summit, where celebrated marketing strategist David Meerman Scott delivered a keynote address on how fans are made and maintained.

“The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of superficial online communications at a time when people are hungry for true human connection.” – David Meerman Scott

We’re not talking about a casual Facebook ‘like’ or a comment upvote. Scott has dug into the phenomenon of true, passionate fanship – or “fanocracy,” as he calls it. That’s the title of the book he’s co-authored with daughter Reiko Scott, which offers a unique intergenerational twist.

When Scott talks about being a true fan, he knows what he’s talking about. The man has been attending live Grateful Dead concerts (and those by the reconstituted band) since he was 17 years old, and he’s expert at translating the ways the iconic group “broke the rules” of traditional marketing wisdom. Scott also took us through a current case history by classic car insurer Hagerty, which has built an impressive fanship by creating online forums, special experiences, and generally tapping into the passion of car collectors.

But an insurer for people with the leisure time and wealth to collect vintage Maseratis has a special opportunity. What about more mundane brands and businesses? Scott’s presentation sent me down a road of exploration of true fanship. Turns out it’s not just for rock and roll legends or car collectors. Here’s how a variety of brands have created or tapped into their natural fan base.

Give it away

You must give in order to get. Possibly even your intellectual property. David Meerman Scott makes this point brilliantly when describing how his favorite band allowed its fans to record their shows – in fact, they encouraged it. Today, “co-creation” is a strong trend among those who market to millennials, because the younger cohort is all about creating, curating, and adapting images and content. As a latter-day example, marketing software company Hubspot does a great job showing the power of free stuff, especially content. It serves up free templates, content idea generators, marketing advice and inspiration, and a dizzying variety of high-quality resources that cost businesses nothing. All are designed to help customers and prospects reach their inbound marketing goals.

Forget landing pages that require an email. Forget freewalls or paywalls or data capture. Don’t worry if users adapt your product. Don’t try to legislate fanship, either. Chevrolet learned this the hard way when it tried to require employees and customers to use the full product name rather than the nickname “Chevy.” The backlash that ensued was a great example of a brand learning to get out of its own way.

Treat fans like celebrities

Sparkling water brand LaCroix built a deep pool of fans by wooing users on social media and rewarding them with free product and swag. Most importantly, it gave LinkedIn, Twitter, and especially Instagram fans what they craved most – social media attention. LaCroix shares posts by users, regardless of the size of their following, so each fan can get its 15 minutes. What’s more, that fierce fan base came in handy when negative PR bubbled up after LaCroix was accused of misleading labeling information. How many brands can issue a defensive press release on behalf of its fans?

Be entertaining

You don’t need to be a rock band to offer entertainment for fans. Just look at Merriam Webster. It’s hardly a brand with sex appeal, yet it’s been entertaining us with witty definitions, tweeted dryly to millions of followers. It’s a brand that doesn’t take itself seriously, yet its brand character, which is captured in its tagline, “Words Matter,” elevates its mission. A smart brand will look at its own apps, social content, events, gamification, and experiences to connect fans with one another and above all, entertain them, even if its goals are substantive and serious.

Find your tribe

As popularized by marketing experts like Seth Godin and others, tribalism differs from simple brand loyalty or brand fanship in one key way. The relationship is about a shared passion, not loyalty to a brand. Fellow members of a group or tribe are bonded through communal storytelling, exchange of knowledge, and – most of all – a shared identity. The emotion in this case is about having a healthy lifestyle, building a fantastic business culture, or whatever. Which leads to another, even more essential ingredient of pure fandom, below, because even an inspiring brand needs to connect to something higher.

Stand for something

Well, duh, you might say. But this is often a brand’s greatest challenge. It’s not enough to own the obvious product attributes. For Starbucks, it isn’t about that great cup of coffee – although the quality and variety has to be there. Starbucks’ unique attribute is its status as a “third place” – where you can hang out, enjoy community, or simply keep your own company without being rushed. For Tim Horton’s, a very different coffee brand, it started with the legendary Canadian hockey defenseman known for his strength and durability – undersung and quintessentially Canadian values. Nike sells lots of shoes and clothing, but what it really offers is performance. The greatest brands create fans by making a deeper-than-average connection because they’re selling us more than a product or service.

What’s Better, PR Agency Or Client Side Work?

In public relations, there are many career path possibilities, but most fall into either the agency side or the client side. This is the time of year when I get questions from new graduates about which path makes the most sense for an aspiring PR professional. But the question isn’t just for PR beginners. Many who’ve been successful after years in agency PR may nurture a curiosity about client-side work. Like everything else in life, a move from agency PR to corporate or brand communications involves trade-offs. Here’s how people in our circle describe the pros and cons of crossing to the other side.

Agency PR Has Many Advantages

Constant innovation
At an agency, “you have your finger on the pulse” of industry trends, according to Debbie Etchison, head of public affairs and corporate communications at a major pharmaceutical company.  She’s grateful for her agency background, which offered “the ability to be creative and think outside the normal boundaries.” It’s true that when you handle multiple clients and are constantly in the marketplace competing against other agencies, your sense of what’s around the corner is always being sharpened, and you’re up on the latest trends.

A true team mentality
An agency executive is surrounded by people who basically do the same thing they do. They therefore share a deep understanding of the work and an appreciation of what goes into it. On the corporate side, things may be different. A handful of clients I queried who moved from agency to client work mentioned having to adjust to an environment where everyone shares a common goal, but where skills and backgrounds are very different. Depending on the company, the communications team may be relatively small, and corporate peers in marketing, HR, and product development may lack an understanding of PR and corporate communications. There’s also the siloed nature of many organizations. Marijane Funess, who left our agency a year ago to join a nonprofit, says, “I thought it would be easy to brainstorm and get information for story pitches, but, proximity doesn’t always guarantee that I’ll shake loose what I need in a timely fashion!”

Well-rounded skills
The opportunity to work on many clients and brands at an agency is excellent career groundwork for whatever may come next, whether that’s a client-side post or even an entrepreneurial venture. Comments Etchison, “An agency position will promote agility and productivity, and the versatility of the work makes you very well-rounded.” Though many agency professionals eventually specialize in a specific vertical industry, like technology PR, or a service offering like content creation or media training, the wide exposure to different aspects of the PR agency service offering is nearly always cited by those who started out in an agency job.  You’ll also learn to produce under pressure, which in itself sharpens skills and enables a bottom-line mentality that can be useful wherever you choose to take it.

Career mobility
Starting salaries at PR agencies can be low when compared to the corporate side. But early in one’s career, an agency environment may offer greater upward mobility, particularly if the agency is growing. Turnover at PR agencies can be high, and while that’s not a good thing, it often creates a terrific opportunity for career advancement for those who perform.

The Client Side Offers Consistency, Focus

One client, one focus
Many client-side professionals talk about their satisfaction in maintaining a pure focus on their particular company and industry, which enables their best work.  Etchison says that her move to the corporate side gave her an in-depth understanding of her company’s brand and business and freed her to be “highly strategic and even visionary” in supporting its communications and business goals. There’s also the advantage of following your bliss. Sri Ramaswami of rbb communications advises, “If you are singularly passionate about a specific industry it makes sense to join a company within that sector and grow through the ranks.”

Consistency
On the client side, there’s typically no need to be selling in order to gain new clients or have the opportunity to do interesting work. This is in contrast to an agency environment, where new business development is the lifeblood of the place and a requirement for anyone who wants to climb the ladder there. A corporate PR team does need to promote its own work and justify the investment in PR, especially if an agency budget is involved. The difference, however, is that the day-to-day work offers greater consistency and lacks the do-or-die pressure of a growth-oriented PR firm.

Control
No one in the dynamic and every-changing PR universe has perfect control over their programs, but on the client side, resources and politics tend to be stacked in your favor. Etchison explains that on the corporate side, “you’re able to deploy agency teams for maximum brand benefit” and exert a greater degree of control over the outcomes than she did in her former agency life.

Recognition
Though agency team members support one another and often get shout-outs from their clients, there’s nothing like the shared business mission of those who work under the same roof. Comments Marijane Funess, “The shared pride and admiration for projects has been a thrill. When you are in-house and your co-workers see ‘up close and personal’ the effort that goes into a successful event or a meaningful story, it is really rewarding.”

Why Boeing’s Reputation Radar Failed

Boeing’s PR crisis deepened this week as a fuller picture emerged of its handling of serious problems surrounding the 737 Max. With the release of audio from a tense November 2018 meeting between the American Airlines pilots’ union and Boeing executives – after the Lion Air crash but before the Ethiopian Airlines accident – the scope of the company’s miscalculation is apparent. The narrative has moved from tragedy to scandal.

It didn’t have to be this way. And, sure, it’s easy to second-guess Boeing’s decisions, especially in the aftermath of the first accident last October.

In hindsight, it should have grounded the 737 Max until any and all problems were explored and fixed. Instead, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg resisted action to curb use of the aircraft, insisting that the problem could be corrected by a software fix and better pilot training. Even weeks after the second fatal accident, as other countries grounded the 737 Max and global attention focused on a possible connection between the crashes, it defended the inherent safety of its aircraft.

A narrow framing for a crisis

I tend to agree with Harvard Business School professor Sandra Sucher, who describes the ill-advised way Muilenberg framed the situation after the second accident. Faced with two fatal crashes only five months apart  – a highly unusual occurrence and one that raised huge red flags – he viewed the situation very narrowly. In his mind it was that pesky software flaw that could be fixed and handled with pilot education. That was his story, and he was sticking to it, both in public statements and in discussions with regulators and pilot groups.

Boeing clung to that view even after the aircraft was grounded, even after two major U.S. carriers canceled flights through August of this year. As lawsuits piled up, it rejected calls for a larger investigation. Professor Sucher argues that, had Muilenberg framed the accidents more broadly by acknowledging uncertainty and pledging to investigate a possible connection between the two crashes, he might have limited the damage to Boeing’s reputation. She contrasts his decision-making to legendary Johnson & Johnson CEO James Burke’s framing of the Tylenol tampering. For Burke, the fatal product tampering wasn’t an assault on the company or a supply chain issue; rather, it was a public health emergency. All subsequent actions flowed from that broad framing of the deadly event.

Of course, an executive’s framing of a situation is naturally colored by his own interests, and those of the organization. It’s not unusual that Boeing CEO Muilenberg viewed his crisis in the context of his short-term responsibility to employees and shareholders. One could argue that a leader in his position is conditioned to frame the accidents as he did, given Boeing’s prior safety record, its business clout, and its relatively cozy relationship with regulators. Why expand the problem if it’s not necessary?

A B2B company’s faulty radar

Yet industries where large numbers of operator and/or customer lives are at risk, like the automotive, aircraft and pharma categories, to name a few – should strive for the broadest possible framing when it comes to safety matters. And I believe one key to Boeing’s missteps, and a factor behind Muilenberg’s myopic framing of the situation, was its history as a B2B company. Had Muilenberg and his communications team been more accustomed to handling consumer pushback, more sensitive to the impact of anonymous (pilot) comments in news reports and to the social media furor, it might have framed its situation differently.

In some ways it’s analogous to the 2017 data privacy scandal experienced by Equifax. Equifax was slow, even clumsy, in responding to the scope of the breach and the impact on those affected, in part because it lacked those early-warning systems that signal a major public backlash. A consumer-products company, on the other hand, typically has a fine-tuned sense for a reputation threat. A B2C chief communications officer will function both as a mouthpiece for the company and an ear to the ground. When the social media chatter takes a turn, or the same rumor comes up in journalist inquiries, the PR media will consider a course-correction. It’s in the DNA.

Today’s news ratchets up the pressure on Boeing. It seems that the 737 Max had greater problems than previously known, and that at least some pilots were unhappy with the situation. Any early-warning system that could have helped safeguard Boeing’s reputation and guide its public response failed, or maybe it was on auto-pilot, thinking it could frame even a fatal air crash as a one-in-a-million catastrophe. There was no “reputation radar” here, and for Boeing, the brand damage will be worse because of it.

You’ve Been Served: How To Be A PR Client Service Superstar

Working in a PR agency means working with clients and making them happy. Yet not all have the same goals, needs, or expectations. But it’s fair to say that the best PR people, like Liam Neeson, have a particular set of skills that keep the clients coming back year after year. Here are seven indispensible rules to becoming a client service superstar.

7 Ways to Stellar PR Client Service

ABC’s of PR client service

Always Be Creating. Clients pay agencies for ideas. Ideas for messaging, for story angles, data-driven research, strategies, tactics, plans, and activations. There is no autopilot on the PR agency dashboard. The steady drumbeat of coverage that agencies strive for demand new thinking because there won’t always be something newsworthy to talk about. It’s PR’s job to drive conversations and ideas that keep the media interested, but even more importantly, to let your clients know you’re always helping them succeed.

Communicate – early and often

We’re in communications after all, so silence within a relationship is the kiss of death. Constant proactive communication is the key to PR teams never letting the client doubt its commitment. Keep the client informed about the progress of media pitches in progress. Bring that stream of new thoughts and ideas, both large and small. Don’t be bashful about questions. A good rule of thumb is PR pros should email or message every client once a day at absolute minimum. See this earlier post for more on what clients should expect from their PR agency.

PR pros keep it real

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best services PR provides is the ability to spot BS. Clients pay for our expertise and guidance in the world of media relations. That includes being forthright and transparent if a client’s idea may not work, why we feel that way, and what the alternative solutions may be. We’re counselors, and we owe our clients a point of view that’s grounded in experience and good judgment.

Volunteer to help        

This one can be controversial because many agencies worry about “scope creep” and we work to curb constant overservicing to meet a client’s goals. Yet the occasional assistance outside the strict scope of work can do wonders for the client relationship and cement a service-oriented foundation for the long term.

Be responsive

Our informal research shows that while clients can be blown away by top-tier strategic thinking and impressive creativity when they shop around for PR agencies, they most often judge the agency team on simple responsiveness. It’s obvious, but sometimes this basic rule gets lost in the fog of war. Responsiveness means answering emails promptly, making sure that queries are covered on weekends and holidays, and a certain “can-do” attitude, even when things are tricky.

Meet face-to-face

It’s very easy in PR to perceive clients (and vice versa) as mere email addresses or Slack handles that fill our screens day in and day out. A good practice is to schedule regular face-to-face meetings with clients – whether its once a quarter to go over planning initiatives or more often – perhaps in social situations. Grab a drink if the client seems like the type, and prove yourself a presence that exists outside of the email inbox.

A personal touch

Elevating a client relationship past the level of email creates human connection, and seeing each other as people makes client services all the more smooth. Congratulate clients on an award win. Adding a personal touch to the relationship such as a hand written Christmas card or an email about a work anniversary shows that you care, and enforces your position as the top of mind choice for your customers.

Smart Speakers Offer A Clear Opportunity For PR

Alexa, will technology change the public relations industry?

It already has, of course. We use data analytics to inform our campaigns and to measure campaign outcomes like message delivery or perception change. Social listening and media monitoring is key for many programs, and PR pros have used email marketing for years, even for targeted media pitches. Some forecasts say AI will replace a significant part of human interaction of public relations, too.

That’s unlikely; however, automation can and will help us sift through data, target client customers and, to a degree, optimize media relations.

The real change upon us may be due to the growth of smart speakers and voice search. Voice marketing has the potential to transform what we do as profoundly as digital and social media did. Voice is more than another channel; it will change how we produce and distribute content and it’s another emerging opportunity for PRs to interact directly with end users.

Speakers like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri, and others use artificial intelligence and Natural Language Processing to make interaction with devices more effective and intuitive. This isn’t new technology, of course, but it has only recently become reliable enough to reach a tipping point in consumer adoption.

Brands are already gearing up to use smart speakers for voice search optimization. Alexa, of course, is ahead of the competition in offering seamless purchasing within its “skills,” the thousands of app-like voice-driven capabilities, from daily flash briefings to 5-minute workouts. Other marketers are embracing voice as an accessible way to deliver immersive brand experiences. For Johnnie Walker Scotch, Diageo translated a real-world guided tasting experience with a whisky master into an Alexa skill called “Mentorship.”

Audio is a fascinating medium because it’s natural and familiar, but can also feel highly personal. And early research indicates that our relationship with our speakers is somewhat unique. According to a report conducted by Edison Research and NPR, 61% of users say having a smart speaker is like having someone to talk to, suggesting that smart speakers are ideal vehicles for influencer marketing of the type that Diageo has undertaken.

At a basic level, interactive skills and other voice content offers a new area for PR and promotion, since discovering the content is an initial challenge. But the real opportunity for PR and marketers may be voice storytelling. After all, it’s the easiest form of human narrative, and now that technology has caught up with creativity, the sky’s the limit. The podcast explosion shows the public appetite for voice stories, and smart voice takes that convenience a step further. And so far, smart speakers are severely limited when it comes to ads, which means the typical PR mindset of collaboration and creativity can lead.

Duplo, Lego’s line of large-sized toys for toddlers, lets kids choose among ten themed stories, each interactive and meant to help them learn through play. On Google Home, Estée Lauder’s “Liv” dishes out personalized beauty tips, advises on skincare and sleep, or can answer a distress call if your facial mask is too tight. These types of branded content initiatives are just the beginning; it doesn’t take much to envision larger opportunities for advice or stories from third-party experts, B2B tips from CEOs, or full-blown AI-driven features based on highly personalized queries or needs we didn’t know we had.

Are there privacy and security issues here? Yes, plenty. The concerns are complex, and for an excellent long read on the topic, check out this piece. The major tech companies have only recently started grappling with data privacy, the implications of GDPR, and security vulnerabilities. Yet as challenging as these issues may be, they won’t stop the category expansion.

Every new digital technology frontier has been disruptive to marketing and to a lesser extent, the public relations industry, but each has brought unprecedented opportunity and driven growth. It doesn’t appear as if the smart voice era will be any different.

8 Common PR Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

There are all types of PR problems, but one of the most troubling is the public relations program that just isn’t generating traction, or one where outcomes fall short of expectations by the client or PR agency. What happened, and what are the best mid-course corrections? Here are some of the most likely mistakes.

Fuzzy goals

Sometimes PR objectives are described in vague terms, like “increased visibility” or “greater brand recognition.” But most PR agencies have become more sophisticated about goal-setting and measurement. It’s better for everyone if objectives are precise. Think “increase awareness among prospective customers by 20%” and make sure there’s a mechanism to measure it. B2B brands can often rely on their own website analytics to gauge the power of earned media, while others use third-party vendors to conduct baseline customer research, or calculate share-of-voice movement within a category. It all comes back to accurate tracking of progress toward specific, measurable key performance indicators or KPIs.

Insufficient research

Many people who work in PR thrive on the creative nature of what we do; after all, not everyone can dream up a winning idea for a product launch, or the two-line pitch that will capture a journalist’s attention. It takes talent, and we’re proud of that. But the best campaigns are fueled by creativity, yet informed by research. The right research ensures that a PR program is strategic by targeting the specific audiences for whom the campaign is relevant, and the messages that resonate. It may also play a part in measuring a program’s success or impact, as in the example above. The only way to know if we’ve met the 20% awareness goal is to have a baseline at the outset. The right research – even when subjective – can also inspire great program, content and event ideas. Data can be an enormous asset to even the most creative campaign; check out Richard’s post on data-driven storytelling tips.

Muddling the message

We see this too often in technology PR. There’s a tendency to emphasize tech bells and whistles rather than the true benefit of a product or service. How is it relevant? What problem does it solve? No matter how awesome the tech is, it’s usually a trap to fall in love with it to the exclusion of other attributes. Unless the target audience is highly technical, the messaging will fall short. Another common mistake is to try to be all things to all people. It’s far better to target the message so that it’s germane to a specific business or consumer audience, with a plan to broaden or add new components once momentum is generated.

Bad timing

This occurs in media relations, where a PR pitches a story idea to a journalist who’s just posted a similar piece, or when we’re too late offering comment on a hot topic. But there are also initiatives that simply come too early in the life of a brand or company. For example, a brand new mattress brand wanted to stage a PR stunt in New York City to “protest” the clock moving forward for Daylight Saving Time. It’s a nice idea for a photo opp, but in my view such an event works far better for a known brand that wants to position itself an an advocate for better sleep. Even assuming heavy media coverage, it’s unlikely that consumers would learn or remember the new brand behind the stunt.

Getting lost in tactics

There’s often a tendency to jump into tactics first. That’s natural, because execution is the fun part, and clients are often impatient for media relations outcomes. But it pays to make sure the tactics are guided by the right strategy. This can particularly apply to media relations, where you typically get one shot at a story idea. Again, the mattress stunt example may succeed at generating coverage because it was well planned, visual, and clever. Yet if the brand identity is lost in the tactics, the whole campaign falls short.

Insufficient interview prep

Just because a reporter or content editor has been sold on spending 20 minutes with a client as an expert resource, it doesn’t mean the story is in the bag. It pays to treat each and every interview (and pre-interview) opportunity as an audition. At times a C-level executive will reject the idea of media prep, either because they lack the time or they feel they know the drill as well as anyone. But the PR placement graveyard is filled with examples of dull executive interviews, missed opportunities, and even a few disasters. Smart interview prep will create greater fluency in delivering two or three top messages, and practice interviews, though they may feel awkward, typically benefit the entire team.

Ignoring red flags

When it comes to reputation, you’d think professional communicators would pay attention to red flags, but it’s not always the case. We in PR should have our ears to the ground; we need to be skilled at listening and analyzing feedback as well as pushing out a message. Complaints that recur from customers online, or rumors that keep popping up are a warning sign. Other flags may come in the form of repeated questions about a troubling issue from employees, business partners, or other stakeholders. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually a need to address a simmering problem. Failure to handle concerns early can open a company to reputation harm and has the potential to derail a positive PR campaign.

There’s no story

If your story is about how many more or better features your product offers versus the competition, that’s not a story, it’s self-promotion that’s unlikely to get much attention among the people who matter. A good PR agency team will tap their own institutional experience and expertise to explain why a story will or won’t work and where possible, and how to take a bland or unworkable pitch and improve it. For more on classic storytelling motifs and how they translate to winning PR campaigns, check out this post.