Unpacking The Away PR Disaster

DTC luggage company Away replaced Steph Korey as CEO just days after a PR trainwreck of an article by The Verge exposed its punitive work culture. Korey will be kicked upstairs to take an Executive Chairman post and former Lululemon executive Stuart Haselden will step into her old position.

To be clear, Haselden’s hire must have been planned before the “toxic PR” generated by the Verge story. But it’s a perfect time for fresh leadership, and a good way for Korey to be sent packing as a public face of the brand. It didn’t have to be that way.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Yet my first take on the Away reputation mess wasn’t just that workplace culture impacts brand reputation, although that’s true. It’s not only that muzzling workplace dissent is a terrible idea and often backfires, though it does. Or that Korey’s apology was inadequate. Or even that warp-speed growth goals and cult branding pervert work culture — though they often do.

The entire episode tells us something else, too. It’s about one of the key departments Korey oversaw – customer service – and its seemingly impossible standards.

PR, CX and ever-higher expectations

These days, customer relations is public relations, especially for high-growth DTC brands. You can tell a lot about a company by how it handles customer complaints. Businesses spend millions on brand reputation and community service. They hire high-powered PR agencies. But a reputation can unravel quickly when a public-facing employee mistreats a customer, and the customer takes the case to the social mob. In many ways PR and customer relations are two sides of the same coin.

Even more, the Away fiasco shows how brutally hard it is to maintain the CX standard that most of us have come to expect. It’s a standard largely set by Amazon. Lydia Polgreen said it well when she tweeted that “the CX expectations set by behemoths like Amazon are impossible to meet in a humane way and yet set the standard for any DTC business.”

It probably hit me then because I was in the midst of a 9-day effort to cancel, then return, an incorrect Black Friday order from National Grid Marketplace. (National Grid is a company that’s good at getting your gas turned back on after a storm but is comically inept at e-commerce.) My experience involved seven real-time chats with different customer service reps, 14 emails, three phone calls and 29 minutes of phone waiting time. To top it off, each interaction triggered an automatic email customer service survey, but no one addressed the actual problem.

That CX experience was objectively terrible, but most companies are not terrible. Most are even pretty good. Yet given customer expectations, they’re hard pressed to meet an Amazon-like level of customer service.

Remember the New York Times piece that peeled back the wrapper on Amazon’s own cutthroat, exploitative work culture?

(Employees) are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs, one employee recalled. When they “hit the wall” from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: “Climb the wall.” To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming, “I’m Peculiar” — the company’s proud phrase for overturning workplace conventions.

At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)

Sounds like the Verge article. This is not to excuse Korey’s creepy, abusive cult-leader-like tone or her use of “empowerment” language and “brand values” to manipulate employees. Yet we assume that businesses, especially retailers, will strive for an Amazon-like level of customer service because it’s the only way to compete. That comes at a cost, even for well-funded DTC companies like Away. Especially for those companies, because they’re slavishly following the model. For high-growth businesses who need to hit their goals, the customer service bar is forever rising. The only way to balance it with growth demands is to push workers harder. There is a model, and the model is Amazon. Give them part of the credit, and some of the blame, too.

The PR Winners Of 2019

For most experts in public relations, it’s easy to identify episodes where companies or individuals made mistakes, often making a bad situation worse.

But what about the successes? Those are harder to assess. They may be about the brand that punches above its weight, one that makes a comeback against the odds, or even the crisis that didn’t happen. Here are my nominations for the PR Winners of 2019.

Gillette Gets Woke

This one’s a controversial entry for the winners’ column because reaction to the brand’s 2019 ad campaign was sharply divided. The commercial Gillette debuted in January was a different type of ad for the men’s razor category.

Instead of touting the product’s advantages, it tackled “toxic masculinity” just in time for the Super Bowl. Inspired by the #MeToo movement, the two-minute spot depicts boorish or sexist behavior by men, then cuts to a celebration of “woke” men and a challenge to do better. It ends with a twist on the brand tagline, “The Best A Man Can Get.”

Did the campaign boost sales? It’s hard to say. Some men were angered by it and vowed to toss out their Gillette products in protest. In its July earnings report P&G took an $8 billion writedown on the Gillette division. Yet the charge was due to currency fluctuations and a shrinking U.S. market for men’s shaving products — beards remain popular, and the competition from upstart DTC brands is still keen. All in all, I’d say that if the campaign’s goal was to drive conversation and engagement, it was a clear win.

Popeyes Scores In Sandwich Wars

The great Chicken Sandwich War of 2019 probably boosted sales for several fast food chains, but Popeyes came out on top both in PR and product quality. (Yes, we did our own taste test in the office.) What’s more, the brand took advantage of a summer news lull and punched above its weight in the social media arena. The feathers started flying when Popeyes launched its first nationwide chicken sandwich, directly targeting Chick-fil-A, but pulling in Wendy’s and even Boston Market and KFC into a Twitter food fight. Celebrities and news anchors weighed in as the sandwiches sold out and customers rushed to find it. Someone even tried to sell one for $7000 on eBay.

When Popeyes ran out of product six weeks early, it hatched a clever plan to invite customers to BYOB (Bring Your Own Bun) and come for its still-plentiful chicken tenders. And according to the Apex Marketing Group, it served up an estimated $65 million in equivalent media value for Popeyes. More importantly, the brand scratched its way to one of the most significant improvements in YouGov’s Ad Awareness metric among consumers throughout September. And the fight lives on today.

Capital One Deals With A Data Breach

In general, companies do a poor job reporting on security breaches. When a hacker accessed personal data from the Capital One account of more than 106 million people, however, it fared better than many before it. The breach was potentially very serious, involving the Social Security numbers and Canadian Social Insurance numbers as well as bank account numbers of Capital One customers. Yet in many ways the company was lucky; the hacker was arrested after she bragged about her exploits on Twitter and on an open slack channel, and she didn’t seem interested in selling or otherwise profiting from the data. And Capital One got credit for addressing the breach less than two weeks after it was discovered.

Capital One’s handling wasn’t perfect, and it initially offered incomplete information about the hack. But when it comes to this kind of disclosure, speed trumps specificity, and it moved quickly. Within two weeks of learning of the hack, CEO Richard Fairbanks released a statement about it, apologizing and assuring customers that it was fixed. The company’s website directed customers to updates on the breach as they became available, detailing what happened and promising to make free credit monitoring and identity protection available to all affected. Months later, reports surfaced that the hacker, a former Amazon Web Services employee, may have obtained sensitive data on other companies, so there may be more challenges to come, but for Capital One, the worst seems to be over.

Barilla Pasta Comes Full Circle

The reputation journey of Barilla Pasta has taken years, and that’s precisely why its recovery deserves recognition. The brand stepped in the sauce in 2013 when company chairman Guido Barilla made anti-gay comments on Italy’s best known radio talk show, publicly praising “traditional families” and criticizing gay adoption. His remarks quickly reverberated across the Atlantic, where LGBT activists called for a boycott and celebrities tweeted in protest. Competitor Buitoni took advantage with a Facebook ad proclaiming “Pasta for All” with images of tortellini pairs featuring gender symbols of opposite and same-sex couples. An Italian-American mother of a gay son started an online petition to ask Stop & Shop to pull Barilla from its shelves.

CEO Claudio Colzani told Bloomberg that he planned the brand’s comeback in three chapters: apology, investigation, and promotion. It started with several video mea culpas from Guido Barilla. But the brand also put action behind Barilla’s words. It appointed a chief diversity officer and set up a diversity and inclusion board of outside experts and well recognized advocates. (Barilla’s attempts to win the trust of LGBT activist and author David Mixner is a great story all by itself.)

It then launched a D&I training program for employees and joined the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which evaluates companies for LGBT-friendly policies. Five years later, Barilla has nearly pulled itself out of the reputation hole. In fact, it launched a special limited edition of spaghetti in a package featuring two women holding hands and a pasta strand in their mouths, Lady and the Tramp-style. Colzani summed it up this way: “We were simply trying to be a good citizen. Now, we’re trying to be a role model.”

Felicity Huffman Does Her Time

Of the 50 people charged in Operation Varsity Blues, as the college admissions bribery investigation was known, Felicity Huffman may have faced it best. Her handling of the situation was right from the crisis management playbook. First, she issued a well-crafted mea culpa for her actions. Huffman took full responsibility for the bribery and cheating that she enabled, making it clear that she alone was to blame. Looking wan and decidedly unglamorous for her court appearance, she apologized to her family and children (whom she asserted were unaware of the scheme), but that’s not all. She also expressed contrition directly to “the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.” That’s the part of the bribery scandal that so infuriated regular people.

Huffman then proceeded smartly and swiftly with a guilty plea and served a 14-day prison sentence, admittedly a very light punishment. Since her release she has been involved in court-mandated community service and has wisely given no media interviews. I predict a Martha Stewart-style comeback by 2022.

Which organizations fared worst in 2019? Check out my nominations for the PR Losers of 2019 and let me know if you agree.

The PR Losers Of 2019

Who had the worst PR of 2019? Yes, it’s that time of year when we evaluate the mistakes, stumbles and train wrecks of public reputation over the past 12 months. There’s lots to choose from, including fresh blunders by the usual suspects like Uber and Facebook. But for this post we’re focusing on truly terrible reputation reversals compounded by poor handling. Below is my list for the year’s worst.

Boeing’s reputation disaster

“If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going,” was how one pilot summed up the company’s onetime reputation among his peers. Of course, that was before 2019, when we learned that design flaws in Boeing’s 737 Max contributed to two fatal air crashes. What’s more, the company’s handling of the tragedies also crashed its credibility. A government task force faulted Boeing for failing to adequately educate pilots on its automated safety system known as MCAS. Later reports revealed that Boeing rejected a safety system that might have mitigated the problems for cost reasons.

The airliner’s issues would have been a serious business problem for Boeing in any case, but its communications with regulators, stakeholders and the public worsened the impact. Rather than grounding the jet until the accidents were investigated, Boeing insisted the Max was safe. Its CEO reportedly lobbied the president to keep it flying, which was a particularly bad look given the $1 million the company donated to the inauguration. As more information came out, it seemed clear that Boeing had simply put profits ahead of safety.

Boeing also seemed to de-prioritize the flying public in its response. This happens with B2B companies whose customers and stakeholders are other businesses and governmental organizations, not consumers. But there’s no excuse. This week Boeing CEO Dennis Mullenberg was pushed out, the Max is still grounded, and so is Boeing’s reputation.

Tech unicorns stumble

Led by the dramatic meltdown of WeWork just weeks before a planned IPO, 2019 was a real year of reckoning for so-called technology unicorns. This year’s unicorns lost $100 billion in value. The WeWork disaster is particularly instructive for communicators because its crisis was in some ways a matter of PR succeeding too well. In other words, WeWork was a victim of its own hype. The company was built out as a high-growth technology startup but it was really just a dressed-up real estate business. Its CEO basked in his role as media darling and would-be visionary even as the company burned through cash and its liabilities soared. When it tried to divert attention with a shallow rebranding strategy and a prospectus filled with fuzzy, culty language, investors laughed, then punished the company harshly.

WeWork wasn’t the only unicorn to be smacked down in 2019. Even post-IPO companies like Uber and Lyft saw significant drops in their market cap. Maybe unicorns are named after a mythical creature for good reason.

Scandals swamp McKinsey

In 2019 the hits kept coming for consulting powerhouse McKinsey. It has had PR troubles in the past, but things started up again as The New York Times launched a series of investigative articles on the storied consulting company.

A deeply reported piece by ProPublica (in partnership with the Times) recounted McKinsey’s role helping U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deport migrants and manage the care of those in custody. Proposed spending cuts for food, medical care and supervision reportedly caused even career ICE workers to be “uncomfortable.” McKinsey quickly issued a detailed rebuttal, shrewdly paying to have it appear in the top position for keyword searches for “McKinsey ICE.” Yet the rebuttal was swiftly challenged by ProPublica, which produced evidence from McKinsey powerpoint presentations that was presumably obtained from employees. McKinsey looked defensive or even misleading in characterizing its relationship with ICE.

Then came reports of the firm’s role advising Purdue Pharma on how to “turbocharge” sales of OxyContin. Court records from lawsuits against Purdue implicate McKinsey in Purdue’s efforts to boost OxyContin sales even after its abuse was widely known, including an exchange on “how to counter the emotional messages from mothers with teenagers that overdosed.” The story doesn’t suggest criminal conduct by McKinsey, but it’s a horribly distasteful account.

On top of everything, the Justice Department is investigating the firm for violation of bankruptcy laws. Taken together, the stories give the impression McKinsey is greedy and callous, if not dishonest, and its public response has been uneven.

The Sacklers fall from grace

Embarrassing though they were, reports of McKinsey’s helping boost OxyContin sales are nothing compared to the PR fallout experienced by manufacturer Purdue Pharma and the family who owns it. After years of legal wranging, Purdue filed for bankruptcy protection and settled lawsuits with 23 states. Yet more than 20 states have declined to settle, and the injured parties are pressing for a larger piece of the profits from the billionaire Sackler family.

For the Sacklers, 2019 brought new revelations after a judge ultimately ordered the release of previously redacted records. Even as the company publicly denied its opioids were addictive, its officers acknowledged the issues internally and at one point even designed a plan to profit off addiction treatment. And as lawsuits piled up, the Sacklers took billions from the company in order to shelter their assets. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey called it “the very definition of ill-gotten gains.”

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong was even harsher. “Purdue and the Sacklers had a real opportunity to begin to make restitution to victims and their families and people across Connecticut and this country, and to begin to make it right. Instead, they again chose to prioritize themselves and protecting their wealth instead of meeting their responsibility to provide treatment and prevention. Purdue and the Sacklers could have helped put out the fire that they started and that has engulfed the nation. Instead, they choose to watch it burn.”

Several family members are known as international art patrons and generous enough museum donors to have an entire wing of the Met named after then. Until recently, that is. As damning information continued to emerge, the Sackler name was stripped off buildings at the Louvre and Tufts University and protesters targeted family members. The Sacklers have not changed their offer of a $3 billion settlement, but additional lawsuits await.

Prince Andrew is canceled

It was a royal disaster. At best, the interview was startingly tone-deaf. Duncan Larcombe, former Royal Editor at The Sun, called it a not just a car crash, but a “ten-car pileup.” Charlie Proctor, editor of the Royal Central website said, “I expected a train wreck. That was a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion level bad.” (You have to love the British flair for language.)

PR associates the world over were wondering why Prince Andrew agreed to a lengthy sit-down interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis. The reasons are pretty clear, actually; rumors involving the Prince’s association with notorious predator Jeffrey Epstein and allegations of sexual abuse had been growing over the course of the year. The Queen herself approved the interview. But it was Andrew’s demeanor and his insensitive comments that were so damning.

Though he called it a “wrong decision,” the duke didn’t express any real regret for his long association with Epstein, even after Epstein’s conviction as a sex offender. When asked why he was a guest at Epstein’s Upper East Side brownstone in 2010, the duke responded, “it was convenient.”  Critics labeled it “aloof, out-of-touch, and self-important.”  The backlash was so severe that Prince Andrew was asked to move out of Buckingham Palace and relieved of his royal duties. The best thing he can do now is to lower his profile.

College admissions scandal fuels outrage

No one died, but for sheer, irresistible outrage, not many 2019 stories beat the college admissions scandal. It achieved saturation coverage because there was something for everyone — celebrities, college sports, a social media influencer, and wealthy helicopter parents willing to bribe and cheat for their already privileged kids. The scandal was so diffuse that it’s hard to pick any winners, but some of those indicted handled things better than others. The institutions involved, including USC and Stanford, weren’t named in the criminal indictments and there’s no evidence that they knew what was going on. Virtually all are conducting internal investigations.

The chief targets of public anger were the celebrities, particularly Lori Loughlin, her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, and their daughter Olivia Jade, a budding Instagram  and YouTube star. In my view Loughlin would have been far better off following the path of her fellow perp Felicity Huffman, who pleaded guilty, served a minimal sentence, and can now begin to rebuild her reputation. But in any event, the admissions bribery story had the kind of memorable detail that just confirms what many suspect about the system – that it’s rigged in favor of the rich and famous, or at least the rich and corrupt. There were photoshopped sports photos, faked SATs, and bribed proctors. Olivia Jade’s posts about not wanting to attend classes just rubbed it in for ordinary parents and kids who work like crazy to win acceptance at a decent college.

Honorable mention goes to Peloton for a defensive response to its much-criticized ad; luggage company Away, Nike (for clumsy handling of its maternity policy for female athletes), and Juul, who targeted teens in its marketing even while insisting otherwise.

Next up: The PR Winners of the Year.

5 Ad Tech PR Predictions For 2020

Not every tech PR agency is familiar with the ad tech category, but it keeps growing in size and significance. The boom comes thanks to data privacy concerns and the call from major advertisers for greater transparency and control over their digital advertising.

To some, ad tech is a baffling alphabet soup of acronyms, like DMP, DSP, SSP, and CCPA. For us, it’s a huge and growing part of our business and an exciting category. The opportunities are expanding.

Ad Tech Industry Changes Drive PR Opportunities

As an industry, ad tech saw considerable change in 2019. A patchwork of privacy regulations has challenged all the major players. At the same time, browser companies like Apple, Mozilla and Google have taken aim at cookie-based tracking. These changes set up occasions for lively public discussions for clients. As channels, Connected TV (CTV) and streaming media (over-the-top, or OTT) surged this year, with more advertisers investing in these platforms than ever before.  CTV ad spend alone will rise to $7 billion by year’s end.

Media covered these areas accordingly. Compliance, privacy and ITP/cookie-tracking weren’t just the domain of marketing and ad tech trade press. The issues drove headlines more broadly, across business and top-tier technology media. The power of CTV and OTT advertising was also covered as consumer adoption has grown. Savvy PR pros took advantage of the storytelling opportunities, inserting a client point of view on large issues and building thought capital to distinguish them from competitors.
But what can we expect in 2020? What industry changes will drive the news cycle and create ad tech PR opportunities for companies in the category? Here are four predictions based on conversations I’ve had with clients, colleagues, journalists, and analysts.

CCPA is the latest privacy regulation

The California Consumer Privacy Act or “CCPA,” finally takes effect on January 1, 2020. Like GDPR, it will dominate the news cycle for months, with media wondering about enforcement, who’s compliant (or not) and overall industry impact. In fact, a quick scan of Google Trends shows us that consumer interest in CCPA is rising as we approach January — so media will follow.
Ad Tech PR Predictions For 2020It’s a fertile newsjacking opportunity for ad tech companies who want to present themselves as good corporate citizens, or to downplay the business effect of CCPA, or simply to show leadership on the issue of privacy. My recommendation: rather than conduct phone interviews around a topic this sensitive, develop prepared content in the form of a whitepaper or blog to share with media contacts.

DOOH is hot

Digital Out of Home (DOOH), ads on digital signs in subways, airports, shopping centers, and more, will step into the spotlight in 2020. It’s taking a bigger chunk of Out of Home (OOH) ad spending as more inventory becomes available. Buyers are also ramping up their DOOH investments as the targeting and buying options become more programmatic and data-driven. Ad tech players who offer capabilities and solutions in this emerging channel will be in demand in 2020 and should take advantage.

SPO is the new ad tech buzzword

Supply path optimization or “SPO” might be the buzziest ad tech acronym of 2019. SPO refers to DSPs and ad buyers being choosy about specific content. In doing so, they get more efficient and transparent routes to media. This cuts down on the volume of queries for buy-side vendors while lowering prices for potential inventory. It boils down to streamlining how the demand side and supply side interact.

As the ad tech landscape has become more convoluted, SPO will be a top ad tech PR trend in the New Year. However, ad tech PR pros should keep in mind that it’s a fairly technical topic and not likely to drive interest among mainstream business publications — at least for now. Alternatively, ad trade media have been all over it with great explainer articles. In 2020, I expect media to seek out companies claiming to “clean the supply path.” Adtech companies can make use of this trend.

ACR data will be a key focus

The beauty of ad tech and digital advertising in general is in its targeting. But what happens when consumers migrate from traditional TV to smarter devices? In 2020, everyone will be talking about ACR data. ACR data allows marketers to understand viewership behavior across CTV inventory and devices, so it’s core to targeting ads on CTV. Yet ACR data currently faces several challenges. It’s hard to scale, although that will change quickly as CTV grows. Other issues, like device fragmentation, are more entrenched. Different CTV product manufacturers have different ACR guidelines in place. End-user privacy is also an issue, given new regulations.

This is an obvious PR opportunity for ad tech companies in the CTV space. Most advertising reporters, especially on the trade side, know about ACR data. But they may need more background on ACR challenges, particularly as new privacy regulations go into effect. There’s also an opportunity to brief ad tech reporters at business publications, because they might not yet be focused on ACR data.

As we head into 2020, these are some of the top ad tech PR trends to watch out for. What am I missing? Let me know on Twitter at @chrisharihar.

Can Big Business Save America?

We seem to be in a crisis of confidence. Public faith in many institutions –  organized religion, Congress, and the news media — has eroded over four decades. According to Gallup, only the U.S. military has enjoyed a fairly consistent upswing in public confidence since the 1970s. The change seems particularly acute lately in our politically polarized environment.

But there is some good news. Corporate America is stepping up. This comes as a happy sign for public relations professionals who preach corporate responsibility or even strategic activism to clients. Yet the need here is not mere public relations messaging, but leadership and action.

Business Must Serve Stakeholders

This is not to say that business will solve every ill. And Big Tech, especially Facebook, has accepted responsibility in fits and starts, and only after a public and regulatory backlash. But a time of relative prosperity, when talent is scarce, a handful of business leaders are uniquely positioned to bridge the “trust gap.”

Increasingly, Americans expect companies to act on those issues they can impact. According to Fleishman Hilliard’s Authenticity Report, consumers care most about issues like affordable healthcare and education. Yet they don’t expect business to solve those matters; rather, they want them to attack problems they create or can change, like the environment, skills development, and wages.

It’s not just Big Business, but medium-sized guys who are taking action. Dick’s Sporting Goods comes to mind. It moved to drop sales of assault-style rifles after the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting and has stuck to its guns, despite pushback. Publix, one of the largest grocery chains in the country, followed Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Wegmans, and Kroger in asking customers not to openly carry weapons in stores. Most actions came in response to steady public pressure. It’s a small step, but a significant one at a time when public support for gun safety is rising, but Congress is gridlocked.

Even more businesses are galvanized by the existential threat of climate change. Where individual governments have failed, some companies have taken action. The September UN Climate Action Summit failed to generate commitments by global leaders. Yet 20-plus multinational corporations pledged to use renewable energy for 100 percent of their electricity. According to Andrew Steer of World Resources Institute commented, “In many cases, the private sector and subnational actors are moving faster than national governments.”

2020 Brings A Leadership Test

The corporate responsibility trend peaked this year when 200 major companies signed on to the Business Roundtable statement supporting “stakeholder value.” CEOs from Apple to JPMorgan Chase agreed to invest in employees and customers as well as shareholders.

It’s easy to dismiss the Business Roundtable pledge as toothless. There were critics on both sides — those convinced that shareholder interest should remain the only corporate priority, and those who dismiss the whole thing as an empty PR exercise.

Yet it’s not about just optics. For most businesses, the motive is enlightened self-interest. When it comes to climate and energy, these companies are living in the real world. They know the price of inaction. They’re also answering to a customer base and workforce that want sensible steps to protect communities. At a more basic level, they’re looking to the private sector for consistent leadership, positive social impact, and stability.

That’s precisely why the intentions of corporate America may be sincere. Because they are self-serving. Businesses can serve their own interests as well as those of stakeholders and shareholders by stepping up in the coming year and beyond. It’s not about philanthropy, activism, or even social responsibility. It’s leadership – which is what is sadly lacking in many of our institutions. Leadership is hard to define, except when it’s absent. Here’s hoping corporate America can bridge the gap in the decade to come.

Let’s End The Year With Gratitude, PR Style

As we head into the final months of the year and get ready for 2020, public relations pros are looking back on the year and taking stock of what means most to us in our work lives. Here’s what the Crenshaw team was most thankful for in 2019.

CHRIS HARIHAR, PARTNER
“I’m thankful for ad tech.”
I’m thankful for ad tech. Even with consolidation in the market, ad tech PR has been a key growth opportunity for our business. We’ve consistently grown our ad tech PR practice, and today we support a wide range of innovative vendors. Our client roster (Verizon Media, DoubleVerify, Lotame, LiveIntent, etc.), and outcomes delivered have help establish Crenshaw as one of the top B2B tech PR firms and best ad tech agency in the country. And if you look at any Lumascape, it’s clear we have room to grow. Some of the most notable ad tech PR opportunities include businesses that specialize in native, video, CTV, OOH, social, and search. (If you’re an ad tech company seeking PR, email me at chris@crenshawcomm.com.)

RON STEIN, ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE 
“I’m grateful for my co-workers.”
Having a team of great co-workers makes coming into the office each day more enjoyable. Crenshaw’s company culture puts its employees in a position to form bonds with each other on a personal level. This closeness makes it easier for team members to work together to achieve a seamless workflow and better productivity. Great co-workers are critical to the company’s continued success.

BINDI SAIKIA, SENIOR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE
“I’m thankful for a work environment that embraces diverse cultures.” 
PR is a very dynamic industry and with work becoming more global, the opportunities are endless. Having worked in different places like India and New York, my experience has taught me a great deal, and I’ll be forever grateful. Bringing the lessons learned from a different country to a brand-new place is challenging, but when a workplace embraces those ideas, you know you’re in the right place. At Crenshaw, we’re looking to go above and beyond for our clients. Having team members with varied backgrounds bringing in different ideas helps us do that.

COLLEEN O’CONNOR, SENIOR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE
“I’m happy about our open work environment” 
I’m thankful to work in a place with an open work environment. Working the way we do here helps me bounce ideas off my co-workers in a casual setting. In other offices I’ve worked at it was a more corporate setting with cubicles and there was little opportunity for sharing ideas. At Crenshaw, we’re all so comfortable with each other to shout out an idea or problem and have an open conversation. It also gives us a sense of community. Everyone is working towards the same goals (getting results for clients) and an open space allows for everyone to cheer each other on.

KATHARINE RIGGS, ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE 
“I appreciate clients who genuinely care about PR and who value our work.” 
At Crenshaw we’re fortunate to have some amazing clients who really care not only about their company and employees, but also care about us! Because they understand the importance of PR and have seen the impact it can have on their business, they truly value our work and show their appreciation. Working with clients like these makes for stronger communication, more collaboration and lasting relationships.

ILANA WEINBERGER, ACCOUNT COORDINATOR
“I’m thankful for a constantly changing news cycle
The constantly changing news cycle is one way that PR stays exciting. Waking up and reading the news for that day and seeing some stories screaming clients’ names keeps you on your toes.

MIKE STOLYAR, SENIOR ACCOUNT SUPERVISOR 
“I love a diverse client roster”
A benefit of working at an agency is the diverse list of clients across different industries. It gives you the chance to learn more about how various business sectors operate and to deepen your expertise in each one. There’s a lot of “real world” value on topics ranging from retail and hiring trends to cybersecurity and gaming in the scope of a single conversation – whether it’s at work or in a more casual setting.

RICHARD ETCHISON, CONFERENCES & AWARDS MANAGER
“I’m grateful for super-cool client executive thought leaders”
It’s always a challenge to win speaking engagements at big tech conferences for clients, but one thing that makes it easier is when the executive/founder has a strong point of view and isn’t shy about sharing it. Our client executives are the ‘real deal’ —  dynamic thinkers who have a passion to change the way things are, and can articulate a real vision for doing so. It’s great when a CEO or CMO is willing to speak out boldly about a hot topic. Executives like these truly put the “leader” in thought leadership!

VERONICA AMENTA, SENIOR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE 
“I’m thankful for constantly learning new things and no dull moments.”
Working in public relations comes with many responsibilities. From problem solving and creative thinking, to developing strategies and writing bylined articles, PR keeps you engaged. We learn time management and how to adapt to tasks as they come up. At Crenshaw, we also get to stay on top of industry trends, which helps us be inventive with our pitches and programs. It’s rewarding when your hard work and attention to detail generates media placements that result in happy clients!