Crenshaw Welcomes New Client Adslot

At Crenshaw, we’re excited to add another great new B2B technology client to our roster. Adslot is an ad tech and marketing company that offers two solutions, Adslot Media and Symphony, that work to simplify media and increase the value of advertising for marketers.

Adslot is a publicly listed company on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX:ADJ). With offices in New York, London, Shanghai, Munich, Sydney and Melbourne, it serves market-leading Brands, Agencies, and Publishers all over the world.

Bnai Zion Hosts Panel On Anti-Semitism

Crenshaw client Bnai Zion Foundation hosted a stimulating panel discussion Tuesday night in New York at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the important topic of anti-semitism entitled “From College Campuses to Horrific Headlines.” The lineup of eminent panelists included author and historian Deborah Lipstadt, Special Envoy for Anti-Semitism Elan Carr, President of the Board of Bnai Zion Steve Savitsky, and Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz.

Moderator Rabbi Elle Abadie guided a spirited discussion on the growth of anti-semitism and debated ways to combat it. Bnai Zion Foundation is a U.S.-based nonprofit that identifies and funds capital projects in Israel in the areas of healthcare, education, community, seniors, and family across the age spectrum.

When PR People Should Step Out Of Line

Can PR people do right by doing wrong? Or at least by breaking with convention?
In any business there are rules — spoken and unspoken. Yet, sometimes, if you muster the nerve to color outside the lines, you can achieve more than you thought. Here are some examples of times when I broke the PR or media relations “rules” and was rewarded. The common thread here is about being human instead of robotic.

Rule #1: The shorter the pitch, the better.

Brevity is generally a good idea. If you’re on the receiving end of thousands of daily pitches, you need to skim fast, or ignore most of your email. But sometimes we need to tell a story. A well-written narrative can draw a producer or a reporter in. Check each sentence to make sure it builds your case. Is it compelling? Does it make you want to read further? Then go with it, even it it’s more than a paragraph.

Rule #2: Never follow up with media. And certainly don’t do it by phone.

No one wants to talk anymore. I hear that all the time, and I see it. In fact, at our office we still have desk phones, but when I once asked to transfer a call, no one knew how. Many people rely on a high-quality conference setup and their mobile phones for text and social media communication. But has that producer even seen your email?  Since no one else is calling, you actually may stand out. Hone your elevator pitch and, for goodness sake, if someone answers, be personal. It’s your moment. Don’t blow it.

Rule #3:  Never say “no comment.”

A literal response of “no comment” isn’t a good idea, because it has become a cliché of media stonewalling. Yet there are times when a simple, “I don’t have any information to share” is the best recourse. These include crisis situations where a company simply doesn’t have all the facts, or one where legal liability is an issue. Yet this kind of situation can also be an opportunity to weigh in on background with information that a reporter can use if she can verify it through other sources. If it can serves the client as well as the relationship with the journalist, that’s a good thing.

Rule #4: Don’t get emotional at work.

PR people, like all business people, want to maintain a professional demeanor. But sometimes, being human can bring you closer or build mutual respect. A colleague shared a story of a tough conference call involving a long-ago client with an anger management problem. The client was openly berating her, in front of her full team (some of whom had privately thought her standoffish and cold.) As the irate client raged, the boss’s eyes filled with tears, and she struggled to maintain composure. A staffer reached over and placed her arm around her boss. The incident brought the whole team together, and they bonded for years. (The client in question was later fired for abusive language with an internal colleague.)

Rule #5: Focus on the decision-maker.

This is particularly relevant to new business development and competitive pitch contests among agencies, and for good reason. The agency review process can be confusing and time-consuming, and it helps to focus on the single individual or handful of executives with real decision-making power. Yet, today’s intern might be tomorrow’s communications director. The same is true in media relations. The broadcast network receptionist could be an assistant producer by next year. Everyone starts somewhere. Even the lowest person on the org chart may have greater access to the people you want to reach than you do. Yesterday a newsroom intern ran my message over the a morning producer, who then called me back. It pays to make friends and contacts with everyone along the way.

Rule #6: Scale your pitch.

In public relations, and especially in my area of media relations, we need to cover a lot of bases. There’s not usually time for a highly personalized pitch beyond a well-written email. Yet a hand-crafted and delivered pitch can be very powerful. I once worked on a campaign to promote a new pink women’s razor. A certain TV personality happened to make a comment about how much she hated to shave her legs. Her comment dovetailed with our 10-city contest and pink Cadillac giveaway to celebrate summer. We rushed over a pitch attached to a sand pail filled with a Barbie dolls’ bare legs entwined around a pink toy car. It was pretty nifty to hear Oprah speak our copy aloud when she awarded the winner her new car.
As they say, each according to its needs. Don’t be robotic. Be human. Be creative. Sometimes, you should step out of line.

6 Ways To Break Through The Noise In PR

Public relations professionals are always seeking new ways to get their clients’ stories out – from pinning down the right message to crafting a perfectly tailored journalist pitch. It’s not always easy. If you have a client or your business is looking to build buzz, here are a few ways to break through the noise and be heard.

Use strong language

It’s critical to know where your business sits within its category. At Crenshaw we work with clients in B2B technology industries like adtech and cybersecurity, and it’s a challenge to understand every specific niche and sub-niche. But good messaging is based on a deep understanding of key audiences and influencers and a thorough exploration of the company history and its value proposition. To be meaningful, company messages need to go beyond jargon. Translate them into relevant language that isn’t techspeak or a list of corporate buzzwords. Use examples. Look for analogies and emphasize benefits, not just features.

Tap your inner contrarian

It pays to be different. An unpopular or contrarian opinion can help you stand out or inspire support from others and start a whole new conversation. Agencies and clients alike need to be monitoring current trends in the industry. If the business is acting differently than others, that can be a story, but even a different opinion about industry trends, the future of your business category, customer behavior, or the financial markets can help distinguish a business leader as an interesting thinker. The opinion, however, must be authentic, well-founded and well articulated.

Turn over every stone

In our experience, something the client company has overlooked might resonate big time with media. We had a entrepreneurial client who had been approached at a very early stage in the life of his business by a much larger company, but he turned down their offer to acquire his business. That inflection point in his company’s history and his personal reasons for deciding as he did became the basis for our storytelling. Another client narrowly survived a terrorist bombing while traveling for vacation. The experience led him to question what he was doing in his life and career and became a motive for what he did later – launch an entirely new business.

Stalk journalists

Not literally, of course. Yet understanding the top journalists in your industry helps cut through the noise. It’s good to start with 20 media at first-tier publications, whether it be at a mainstream outlet like the New York Times or a trade like Adweek. Grabbing their attention can be tricky but is made far easier by studying their coverage and engaging with them personally or on social platforms. Setting up in-person meetings over coffee or food will give the client face time to sell their story. If a company wants to be in a specific publication, agencies should find the best journalist and sell a story perfectly catered to their beat. PR professionals need to constantly study those relevant journalists, understanding what stories they’re planning and building rapport. To sum it up, help the journalist help you.

Have an engaging pitch

This one’s obvious, but it’s easy to fall short. The art of writing a pitch is one thing, but having the journalist actually engage with the pitch is a different beast. After pulling in the journalist with a catchy subject, it’s best to follow with a pitch that’s pithy, direct, and easy to understand. If the pitch goes too far into the weeds they may not even finish reading it, leaving it with the hundreds of other mediocre pitches they saw that day. Stick with useful information that imparts the right messages and let the journalist take it from there. Once an interview is set up, it’s important to prepare the spokesperson in a similar way. Gently keep them from going off on tangents and focus on colorful language and snappy quotes.

Be visual

Striking visuals are a great way to make an impact. Not only are they attention-grabbing, but the right visuals will be more engaging for viewers. When we hear information, we’re likely to remember only 10% of it three days later. By contrast, we will retain 65% of the information if paired with a visual. Taking advantage of infographics, still images, and video will be much more eye-appealing, and it makes a journalist’s job easier if strong visuals are involved. Accompanying data reports with graphics can offer a big boost to a story, too. General rule of thumb, if a visual makes sense for the story, go for it.

Can A PR Plan Succeed Too Well?

It’s fascinating when a company’s public relations gets ahead of its reality. Any strategic PR or marketing plan should emphasize an organization’s strengths and rebut weaknesses and threats, but there’s such a thing as too much hype. This is particularly true in the tech sector.

Case in point: WeWork. The Gizmodo headline, “WeWork To Delay IPO Amid Suspicion It’s Not Actually A Tech Company Worth $47 Billion” sums it up nicely.

Was WeWork the victim of its own PR? In part, yes. Like Uber before it, it was hyped relentlessly as the next unicorn, attracting buzz for the hip decor of its workspaces, the entrepreneurial types it attracted, the communities it built, even quirks like vegetarianism. The stories were interesting, and they said a lot about the future of work, at least for the short term. But they didn’t dig very deep.

A Victim of Its Own Hype

Uber — another shiny unicorn that has stumbled recently — truly turned the taxi category on its head by solving its inherent supply and demand issues. By contrast, WeWork didn’t exactly disrupt its industry. Temporary office-space has been available for decades, led by Regus, which was founded in 1989.

But it was WeWork that packaged its offering as something new — coworking, tapping into the power of community. For entrepreneurs and other solo or small businesses, it was a great way to leverage the sum of its parts and create an ecosystem. That was truly innovative, and it was a real part of the business offering.

Yet the real PR coup was WeWork’s positioning. It held itself out as a technology company. And that positioning – as a high-growth tech startup serving other high-growth tech startups, or at least wannabes – is how it was able to lure so many investors.

It had all the trappings of a Silicon Valley start-up, yet WeWork was always a real estate company, with the typical risks of a real estate company, like high fixed costs and vulnerability to market cycles. When investors and industry-watchers finally read the prospectus put out by WeWork in advance of its planned public offering, it triggered plenty of concern. It was stuffed with vague language, empty industry jargon (“space as a service”) and showed no clear path to profitability. It’s valuation promptly plummeted, and the IPO is on hold.

All unicorns start off losing money. Amazon didn’t turn a profit until 2017. But you could cut the last three words off the Gizmodo head and it still makes sense. WeWork will delay its offering in part because a positioning ultimately needs to be grounded in reality.

Bloomberg points out that for such filings, Rule 421 of the Securities Act requires companies to use “plain English.” That can go a long way in PR and marketing, too.

Why Most Boycotts Fail But Others Win

When is a boycott more than just PR? What makes it work?

Recent reports of a slowdown in SoulCycle’s business made me wonder about the staying power of customer boycotts. Why do most fade while others gain traction and even force change? If you missed it, famous SoulCycle fans were outraged when billionaire Stephen Ross, who owns both SoulCycle and Equinox, among other companies, hosted a high-dollar Hamptons fundraiser for Donald Trump on August 8th.

Led by Chrissy Teigen and other celebrities, Twitter erupted against the brands. Rival fitness companies lunged at the chance to pummel them. Crunch Gym launched a Summer Break-Up promotion, and some less luxe gyms ran snarky ads tweaking their tony, Instagram-ready image.

Like most brand-watchers, I expected the boycott to fizzle like a summer fling, but I was wrong, apparently. Data analytics company Earnest Research accessed SoulCycle’s August signups and compared them with those of a year ago. Even adjusted for a seasonal dip, SoulCycle showed a marked slump in class attendance. Average enrollment dropped a whopping 12.8 percent across all U.S. locations, compared with a “normal” five percent dip in August in a typical year. That’s unusual.

Why Most Consumer Boycotts Fail

Well-organized corporate activism, like the 2017 campaign to pull sports and business events from North Carolina after its “bathroom bill,” can be very powerful. Backed by the NCAA and high-spending corporations, the bathroom bill boycott hit the state in its wallet, and it worked. But consumer boycotts are a dime a dozen today. Experts say most don’t hurt the bottom lines of the brands or companies targeted, and barely a quarter of boycotts result in desired change.

So, what makes the difference? Why is SoulCycle feeling the burn? It may be because it and Equinox are lifestyle brands. SoulCycle adherents in particular enjoy strong social bonds and bragging rights that were dampened by the Ross fundraiser coverage. Who wants to Instagram their workout now? Most importantly, both SoulCycle and Equinox convey their social responsibility in their marketing, with sponsorships and positioning that embrace diversity and LGBTQ rights. So, the behavior of their corporate owner can seem flabby and hypocritical to members.

That’s the risk, and the irony, of corporate social responsibility. If a brand spends to build a reputation as a social advocate, it stands to lose more than if it had never invested. According to Mary Hunter-Dowell and Brayden King, who studied activist targeting of major companies, “Building a strong reputation as a socially responsible firm creates certain expectations, making incongruent behavior more noticeable and damaging to the firm’s image.” That’s logical, and it’s why some brands approach any kind of advocacy with caution.

The study also shows that the key to a successful boycott – if success is defined as desired change – isn’t financial pressure. It’s – wait for it – negative media headlines. “The no. 1 predictor of what makes a boycott effective is how much media attention it creates, not how many people sign onto a petition or how many consumers it mobilizes,” notes King. The bad PR is typically most effective when it targets a high-profile company, because reputation damage is perceived as notably harmful over the long term.

The SoulCycle and Equinox boycotts may run out of steam as time passes. Yet the short-term success offers a lesson about social activism and PR. It’s about making it a story, and refreshing that story when the initial news cycle is over.  To succeed, a social action must be orchestrated to create press coverage and social media noise above all. For major brands, reputation damage may be more important and more effective even than damage to the bottom line.

Don’t Fear The Robot: Why AI Is Good For PR And Marketing

We’re hearing a lot about how automation and machine learning can make our lives easier, as well as how they may threaten our livelihoods in the future. Even in PR, an occupation that’s known as hard to scale and relatively labor-intensive, there are new opportunities to automate large parts of what we do.

Entrepreneur and presidential contender Andrew Yang has used his 15 minutes to warn us of the hollowing-out of key industries like retail, customer service, and trucking as a result of AI. It’s not hard to envision the rows of self-checkouts in stores, corporate chatbots, and fleets of driverless trucks, because it’s already happening. As machine-learning algorithms grow more sophisticated, it’s natural to assume the worst.

Of course, the growth and speed of real artificial intelligence and its impact may well be overblown. If you ask AngelList CEO and cofounder Naval Ravikant, the hype about AI supplanting higher-order human thought and judgment is greatly exaggerated. In fact, Ravikant has interesting views about the dire predictions associated with AI, pointing out that older industries have always given way to newer ones that didn’t exist previously.

The impact of AI is debatable, but in one respect at least, Ravikant is on to something.

Compared to humans, neural networks underperform when it comes to recognizing symbols, grasping concepts, and understanding social context. Most experts doubt that neural net-powered artificial creativity can ever equal true human creativity. “Creativity is hardly possible without one’s capacity to think metaphorically, to coordinate proactively and to make predictions that go beyond simple extrapolation,” argues Anton Oleinik in a recently published paper in Big Data & Society. Ravikant, too, believes that automation, and eventually artificial intelligence, will usher in a new era of creativity and inspiration that sounds positively utopian.

So, why aren’t we lucky creative services types taking advantage of this? Those of us who work in public relations and marketing can benefit enormously from automation of rote tasks. The more we’re freed from repetitive work that is easily automated, the more time and mental space we have to do those things that – at least for the near future – only humans can. That means creative work, like generating innovative ideas for programs, and like — storytelling.
Shaping and telling stories has been around as long as humans have, but stories have a new resonance today. And the heart of public relations is in storytelling. To paraphrase Seth Godin, “Marketing PR isn’t about the stuff you sell; it’s about the stories you tell.”

Today, the connection forged by a great story is even more valuable than it has been in the past. For one thing, a new generation of consumers are demanding more than just a bigger smartphone or a new flavor of sparkling water. They want to know why a company exists and what its brand stands for. What does it value? How are its employees treated? Why does it matter? In an environment where media, information, and entertainment is atomized and highly customized, the power and ritual of a great story can engage us on an individual basis and maybe even bind us together. There are a few things that PR-driven storytelling does that will never be mechanized or automated.

Turning customers into fans

One diehard fan is worth a thousand casual ones. I’m not talking about a social media upvote or a Facebook “like.” True fanship is a passion, and it can bond you, both to a brand and to fellow fans, like nothing else. Most importantly, fans like to share their passion with others. They become the most important advocates for a brand, cause, or candidate because they just can’t shut up. “People are hungry for a true human connection,” says Fanocracy author David Meerman Scott, with emphasis on “human.”

Building trust

Divided government, privacy breaches, corporate scandals — amplified by the relentless news cycle, they erode public trust in institutions and brands. Millennials are now the largest demographic in the U.S., and they’re skeptical of traditional marketing and advertising. It adds up to a picture where brand stories shared by others – customers, stakeholders, partners, and journalists, – have greater resonance than those told by the companies themselves.

Offering insight, not just info

Everything’s available at our fingertips, so information isn’t always the point. Sure, we’re motivated to gather as much data as possible when it comes to products that require education, like software or probiotics. But inspiration is harder to come by. The right kind of storytelling can add the intangible factor of motivation, insight, or just plain fun.

Connecting the dots

Artificial intelligence can blow away humans when it comes to intellectual power, but it’s pretty poor at putting things into context, which we humans do unconsciously as we go about our lives and work. AI fails to grasp metaphors and archetypes, which are the fundamentals of storytelling, and it may never be able to connect two utterly disparate things to form something new — the very essence of creativity. That’s why it will always fall to humans to innovate in meaningful ways.
So, relax and don’t fear the robots for at least another hundred years. In a hopelessly crowded attention marketplace where the emphasis is on speed, efficiency, and productivity, we should free ourselves to do what we’re uniquely qualified to do.