Crenshaw Clients Garner Awards Recognition

Crenshaw B2B tech clients seem intent on filling up trophy cases in 2019. Event success company Bizzabo added to their 2019 winning streak by taking home two wins from the Event Technology Awards including Best Event Management Platform; plus it won Best Overall Event Management Platform in the MarTech Breakthrough Awards. Bizzabo will also travel to London in December for the Drum Experience Awards as a finalist nominee for Event Technology of the Year.

Client Uberall won a prestigious Digiday Technology Award as Best Location-Based Platform. Uberall also took home the SIINDA Digital Marketing & Innovation Platinum Award for Best Location Platform.

In September, interactive content & gaming company Arkadium picked up a Digiday Publishing Award in the Best Custom Advertising category for its work for its NBA client.

Lotame won a MarTech Breakthrough Award for Best Remarketing Platform.

Cybersecurity solution provider SecureAge Technology was named to the Red Herring 2019 Top Companies in Asia 100 List; and was recognized by AISP (Association of Information Security Professionals) as SME Vendor of the Year for 2019.

Verizon Media was named Brand of the Year at the 2019 Digiday Awards.

A PR Guide To Surviving Thanksgiving

 

The Thanksgiving holiday always requires advance preparation, but this year, we’re adding expert PR and media training advice to the list. With wall-to-wall press coverage of impeachment hearings and the runup to the 2020 election, it’s a tricky time for families who disagree about political issues and candidates. Here are some follow-ups to last year’s advice from Richard based on our typical press interview tips and techniques. As in public relations, it all comes down to having a plan.

Know your audience

In this case, that means the Thanksgiving guests. If you already know you and Uncle Fred don’t see eye-to eye, you may want to be seated at the other end of the table. And just like we prepare a briefing sheet for a client before a media interview, why not do a little research on Fred’s plus-one? Some light stalking can help with advance prep, just as asking about dietary restrictions informs your pot luck recipe. If you can’t predict political and social opinions for most of the guests, stick close to one of your key stakeholders, below.

Identify “key stakeholders”

This is classic PR tactic. It makes sense to team with your hostess and other family members who have a large stake in a harmonious family celebration. Just like in public relations, you should advise them of strategies for avoiding disaster, and make sure they buy into your plan. Then, identify potential advocates and make sure they’re aligned as well. Bear in mind that in the event of a blowup, as operations leader, the hostess will be unavailable to serve as the crisis manager, so that role must fall to someone else. (See below)

Master “bridging” and “flagging”

So if Uncle Fred asks what you think of the latest White House episode or a certain Democratic candidate, consider the time-honored PR technique of “bridging” to another topic. “Well, I’m not sure about that, but isn’t it fascinating that we can get our news from so many different sources today? What would Walter Cronkite think?” And if someone presses you to say whom you’re planning to vote for, feel free to explain that until next November, you’ve been advised to “avoid hypotheticals.” That might get a laugh at least.
Bridging’s close cousin is “flagging.” It’s a similar technique but designed to distract or focus on a message you advocate, as in, “What I really want to know about is how many jewel-colored blazers does Elizabeth Warren actually own?” If that doesn’t work, mention how thankful you are that the third season of  ‘The Crown’ is now on Netflix.

Have a (family) crisis plan in your back pocket

PR best practices dictate that you have a plan for the rare occasion where things go very wrong. It’s good to hope for the best, but to be ready if all hell breaks loose – a shouting match, flying drumsticks, or tears in the sweet potatoes. Our advice: designate a crisis team leader (your always-steady brother-in-law); an excuse for a cool-down (have you seen the paint job on the outside porch?); gentle message points for the opinionated cousin on keeping her views private; and an emergency cutoff of wine and cocktails if things go awry. Black coffee and a rich dessert can help here, too, as long as things aren’t yet violent.

The great distraction

If all else fails, you can distract from politics with a big announcement — you are newly engaged, pregnant, adopting, dying, or planning a major life change. Of course, it’s best if the revelation is real and true, but even if not, you can always admit to the joke after everyone has been diverted from arguing about Kellyanne Conway’s marriage.

Strategic silence

We all know those who like to stir the pot – literally and figuratively. In the world of PR, some journalists will try to press a company rep on a controversial issue, hoping to generate a good sound bite. We counsel clients that thoughtful silence can be a defensive weapon. So, if you feel cornered, this is the point where you smile, point to your mouth, and signal that you can’t possibly answer while chewing….very, very slowly.

With these tips, we hope your Thanksgiving is a personal and professional win!

FedEx Response To Tax Story Is A PR Fail

FedEx CEO Fred Smith’s overheated response to a New York Times story about its tax bill – or lack of it – offers a PR master class in how not to react to an investigative piece.

The NYT story packs a punch. By taking advantage of the 2017 tax legislation that cuts corporate rates from 35 to 21 percent, FedEx managed to reduce its tax bill from $1.5 billion that year to exactly zero in 2018. That’s right, zero. All perfectly legal, of course. The piece illustrates how many major corporations benefited from the tax cuts and what some did with the windfall, using FedEx as an example.

FedEx is a logical company to carry the broader story in part because Smith lobbied heavily for tax reform, flogging it conversations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in op/eds and in media interviews as a way to stimulate capital investment by companies like his. He even floated the tax bill as a way for companies to offer higher wages to its workers.

Yet the article reports that, like many other corporations, FedEx invested primarily in buying back its own stock rather than in capital expenditures or even wage increases. It mentions previously scheduled pay raises for some employees and modest capital investment in 2018 but notes that FedEx actually reduced capital spending by $240 million after the tax policy changed.

The point is simply that the tax bill probably isn’t working as intended, or at least as promoted. It’s far from the first article to point this out, but the FedEx example gives a lot of weight to the story.

FedEx may get it done for customers but its own message delivery has fallen short. When the story hit, it fired back quickly with a letter from CEO Smith. The response is a study in protesting both way too much and far too little. It’s over-the-top on anger and accusation but empty of substance or facts. In an almost Trumpian display of whataboutism, Smith calls the story an “outrageous distortion of the truth,” then slams the New York Times company for its own “zero” federal income tax bill and reduced capital investment. Smith signs off by challenging the newspaper to a debate about tax policy along with his vice president for tax.

In short, as a corporate communications response, it’s reactive, defensive, and needlessly combative. Here are a few ways FedEx could have handled things differently in order to support its reputation and offer relevant information to the public.

Point out any inaccuracies

As we counsel clients, no journalist wants to get facts wrong and most will correct any errors. The thing to do is to point out wrong or misleading information respectfully and promptly. But here, despite calling the story “an outrageous distortion” and “inaccurate,” the letter never challenges a single fact. That makes FedEx look defensive and even hypocritical. And the surest way to pick a fight you probably don’t need is to cry foul on facts when the truth is you don’t like the coverage.

Acknowledge what’s true

FedEx is hardly alone in taking advantage of the tax cuts. Though the tax reform bill has been controversial, it was welcomed by many business leaders and it did offer a boost to the economy, or at least to the stock market. It would have been smarter to acknowledge FedEx’s duty to its shareholders to reap all possible benefits from the legislation, which Smith championed openly. Most of it is public information anyway.

Fill in the blanks

What about future plans? What did the piece leave out? Only one full tax year has passed since the bill went into effect. It’s highly possible that FedEx intends to spend on capital investment in the future. And wage increases may have been limited by the economic slowdown abroad. Maybe some aspects of the company’s position on tax policy were left out of the piece. If so, this is a golden opportunity to shine a light on future plans. Instead of seizing it, Smith squandered the opportunity with a juvenile-sounding challenge.

Lead the discussion

Smith calls for a debate focused on “federal tax policy and the relative societal benefits of business investments and the enormous intended benefits to the United States economy, especially lower and middle class wage earners.” This is actually a fine idea. Smith was an open champion of tax reform and he should be able to defend it as well as identify areas for improvement. The problem is that he sets up the discussion as a kind of boxing match where his company goes one-on-one with a national newspaper, as if they are equivalent businesses with parallel roles in the dialogue. Not only is that asymmetrical, but it’s needlessly antagonistic.

Stay calm and civil

The hyper-defensive tone of the response suggests that FedEx is ashamed of its actions. And hurling similar accusations at the Times about its own tax payments is not only an obvious deflection, but could be construed as a tacit admission that both companies are bad actors. It certainly doesn’t help clarify the situation or enlighten anyone on what FedEx might be doing right, or what it plans in the future. Public examples aside, staying calm in response to unflattering coverage is a sign of strength, not weakness.

PR Tips On Being A Quotable Media Resource

To promote professional expertise and build visibility, it helps to be a media resource – that’s what keeps PR agencies in business. It’s also why it hurts when, after investing in researching and shaping a potential story, an interview doesn’t make its way past the initial phone call. How can subject-matter experts maximize their chances of success?

Understand the opportunity

All media opportunities aren’t alike. One interview opp may be for a quick comment on a breaking story in your industry, which means a short, colorful observation is in order. A different one would be for an in-depth feature or segment, where you’ll need to prepare a richer story featuring statistics and examples. It’s important to know and understand the planned story, the reporter’s beat, context, and deadlines involved. This is where having a PR agency or internal expert comes in handy.

Be available

Someone said that 90% of life is showing up. It’s not the sole factor in PR success, but it’s astonishing how much of getting in the news comes down to being available at the right time. Yes, I know you’re busy and important and you don’t want to seem too eager. But today’s reporters work against hourly deadlines, and sometimes the first three qualified people to return their calls are those who make it into the story. So if an interview opportunity is important, you’ll need to prioritize your availability, even on short notice.

Be prepared

Of course, being available on short notice and being prepared for an interview don’t go together. Yet this is why subject-matter experts are in demand, so they can share expertise unique to them or their profession. The good news is that you don’t typically need to learn something new (if you do, it’s probably the wrong interview opportunity), but only how to shape and deliver a quote, recount an example, or offer an informed opinion. It also helps to use visual and colorful language, as per the next point.

Use visual language

One of the most powerful things you can do in a media interview is use a visual metaphor. I was told this by media and leadership coach Don Rheem, and it holds up well. A visual image almost always sticks in the mind – and stays in the final story. Don’t just refer to the congressional investigation; condemn it as a “political strip search.” Don’t spend precious seconds explaining why the bridge repair is hard; instead, call it infrastructure “open-heart surgery.” In adtech, we advised a client to criticize the opaque or “black-box” solutions of competitors and brag about its own “glass box” technology. Each evokes a mental image and is far more likely to be used by a journalist or producer and remembered by readers or viewers.

Be bold

To be quotable, you must have an opinion or point of view. If that view contradicts prevailing wisdom, that’s okay. In fact, it can be an asset. Just be prepared to explain your opinion and offer evidence to support it. Or make a bold prediction about the future. Think about filling a hole; what’s missing or overlooked in the industry conversation? If there’s no good advice to share, a vivid depiction of a situation or challenge can also work. Think about visual comparisons to unrelated but analogous activities, like landing a plane or looking for “a polar bear in a snowstorm.”

Be helpful

Another way  to score in a press interview, particularly with print or digital media, is to offer something of value. Occasionally clients worry that they’ll reveal proprietary information or tip their hand to competitors. That’s unlikely in a short interview, and if you sound smart and authoritative, people will seek you out. Look to offer advice based on expertise, practical tips, little-known “secrets,” or expert observations.

Be an authority

That’s why you’re being interviewed, of course. So, it’s important to reference your authority in a casual way and to convey it in the insights, data, and/or examples you cite.

7 Common PR Mistakes Startups Make

In general, startups make great PR clients — especially those with a story to tell. A high-growth tech company with financing behind it is in a perfect position to make the most of a public relations agency partnership. For the PR team, it’s rewarding because PR is typically a top priority, and the work is exciting. As I’ve outlined, it differs significantly from other types of client work, but mostly in good ways.
A new company has very distinct needs and goals, however. The stakes feel higher than at a more established business. And not all startups understand how best to take advantage of an investment in public relations. Here are some of the most common mistakes made by new businesses.

Bad timing

Some startups make small timing miscalculations, like signing on an agency right after a major funding announcement. (Pro tip: professional help will nearly always amplify your funding announcement.) Worse, they may let the news trickle out without a proper media strategy. Or, they bring on a PR team just weeks before a key conference or product launch and expect a full plan rollout. Still others start with a PR firm too soon. If the startup doesn’t yet have a clear selling proposition, solid financing, and a good story to tell, the investment in PR is likely premature.

Unrealistic expectations

Some startups think an agency can work miracles without help or input from them. That isn’t true; earned media is generated by hard work, research, and creativity. Most importantly, it’s a cooperative effort. It’s the job of the startup – and their PR team – to identify and shape its story and serve it up to the right people. It isn’t always easy or quick, which is why many PR agencies spend the first month or more hammering out strategy and messaging.  A more common form of unrealistic thinking is the startup who’s convinced it takes one big feature to magically transform the business. That’s unlikely, because PR is best at building brand visibility and credibility over time. Part of the art of public relations is leveraging the initial stories into a longer, more important narrative for top-tier media and influencers.

Inadequate resources

Another key ingredient to PR success is a real commitment backed by necessary resources, both financial and human. An on-and-off approach to media relations and executive visibility will fall short. To support the ongoing operation of a PR program, a company needs an internal manager, C-level insights and participation, and a roadmap for a 12-month period. Does every startup need an outside agency? No. Depending on its stage of life, a competent internal professional or team with relevant experience can work just fine. Even a skilled freelancer is a better solution than an agency who can’t properly staff the account because the fees don’t warrant it.

“Me, me, me”

A reporter wants a good story, not a sales pitch or a founder biography. Yet some companies fall into the trap of just talking about themselves. Now, it may be that a new business is so disruptive that it can stand alone as a story. But maximizing visibility through earned media usually takes context. Positioning a new business within its category, as part of an industry’s growth or change, is a far stronger pitch. And don’t pretend you don’t have competitors. From a journalist’s point of view, one company is just a company, but a cluster of new competitors is a trend.

No differentiation

Here’s an exercise for a startup: take the brand name and corporate information out of your press release or media pitch. Is it still recognizable as your own? If not, more differentiation is needed. In some tech sectors there’s a pack mentality, with companies promoting their offering with similar phrases, or empty jargon that might impress engineers but is unlikely to sway journalists. They don’t respond to me-too pitches.
Remember, differentiation doesn’t have to be a technology product or service, although superior tech is an asset. It can come from a unique point of view, contrarian opinions, or bold predictions. In fact, those qualities may be more important for a startup founder, because thought leadership can carry a more substantive narrative than a new product. A compelling set of opinions or observations can make a brand memorable and relevant for nearly any audience – employees, prospects, VCs, and press.

A client-agency mismatch

It happens. A scrappy startup is dazzled by a top ten PR agency that trots out its superstars (who are never seen again once the agreement is signed.) Or, a high-growth tech business brings on a generalist team that doesn’t really understand its category. Before signing on an outside agency, every company should consider size, industry experience, track record, location, and culture. Meetings are time-consuming, but there’s no better way to check for compatibility. Instead of casting a wide net and skimping on every conversation, consider looking at only a handful of agencies but spending real time with each team.

Mutual commitment

Many startups are impatient. Some even cut off the PR investment if it hasn’t generated business-changing results in three months. This is usually a mistake. There are reasons to fire an outside agency or switch gears on strategy, but a hasty exit can cost a startup time and money in the long run. Then there’s the commitment by the PR team. Whether that team is internal or external, it must assert its needs, course-correct quickly, and market the PR function across the entire company. Like a marriage, both parties must understand that they share the same goals, invest in the relationship and accept responsibility – and credit – for outcomes.