How to Be Productive When Working From Home

For many of us in public relations, the idea of working from home may sound like an ideal situation —  until we realize its drawbacks. If you’re not used to the WFH life, it can be tougher than expected. Now that most organizations are asking employees to work from home due to the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic, it will quickly become a new normal. For our team and other, it’s important to create a new routine similar to the one established in years at the office. It may be clunky and can take some getting used to for those who like to compartmentalize their life.  

Now more than ever, our clients need to know that we’re here to support them, and that holds true for nearly any professional services firm. So how can PR pros be productive while they work from home? 

Create a new workspace – Create or designate a space that will be your new office. Avoid places like the bedroom or your comfy couch. Spaces that are too comfortable won’t be the most productive places for that Zoom call with a new client. For those who live in small spaces (like most of us in New York), it can be enough just to set up an area on the dining table that can be cleared when the work day is over. Try not to have anything in your workspace that you wouldn’t have at the office (with the exception of pets, who can fit right in and keep you company. 

Pretend like you’re going into the office – The best things about working from home is avoiding the headache of a daily commute and sleeping in for a few extra minutes. Consider setting an alarm for a half-hour later than when you normally wake up and get ready like you were going into the office. Get dressed (as opposed to staying in sweatpants) and clock in as usual. Some women who regularly wear makeup like to take that extra step for psychological reasons, and also to look professional for their next video conference.

Remove distractions – This may be the toughest rule to follow when working from home. Let’s face it, home can have its distractions. When in the office, do you take a 3 PM coffee break, or run through a fitness routine during lunch? Then feel free to do it at home. But if you wouldn’t ordinarily start bingeing a Real Housewives reunion or Schitt’s Creek (a great choice for this weird time, by the way), don’t do it during working hours. Finish that strategy memo and then reward yourself with an Instagram break! 

Set boundaries – For some of us, the blurring of living space and workspace can mean we work too much and don’t draw the line when the work day is over. Those of us in public relations and related businesses are trained to be on email or slack 24/7, but we rarely have to respond to every email. Don’t do that at home either; save it for the next morning. 

Stay calm – During this time of uncertainty, it’s natural to worry about the unknown and what-ifs. Stick to your routine. Remember that, even if this period of social isolation is longer than we’d like, it is temporary. Communicate with your colleagues as you normally would. They’re probably thinking the same things as you and can’t wait to be back to normal. Until then, keep a positive outlook on a less-than-ideal situation and don’t forget to wash your hands.    

Crenshaw Team Adapts To The WFH Life

With New York named the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Crenshaw team, along with so many other local businesses, will follow the lead of our governor and leading health experts. With upgraded remote server access and a positive attitude, we’ve left our Flatiron office to work from home until the social distancing protocol is eased. Luckily, we’ve been able to maintain high client service and productivity standards, and no one needs to commute, so there’s a savings on that front. For those of us still in the city, there’s always that 7:00 pm cheer for our amazing healthcare providers. Here’s to those on the front lines! Meanwhile, we’ll keep busy and carry on. See you on Zoom!

PR In The Time Of Coronavirus

It’s a tough time for business leaders. The rapid rise of public health warnings about COVID-19 and the ripple effects of the pandemic and our coping strategies pose a particular challenge for any organization, especially its communicators. The news cycle is dominated by the spread of the coronavirus and its repercussions. The effect on employee health is still unclear, and the full business impact has only begun. Here is some commonsense PR advice about communicating during a pandemic.

Make a plan

As with any emergency, communicators need to draw up a plan for the next 30-to-45 days. This is surely easiest for businesses that can continue operations with employees working remotely, but it’s even more critical for those who can’t. Which operations can continue over the next six weeks? What do employees and customers need to know in the short term? What measures are in place to protect those at risk? It can be helpful to set artificial parameters around an uncertain situation even when it will surely change. So, a notice that a small business will operate with a skeleton staff, or that all employees should plan to stay home until mid-April, for example, is clearer than an open-ended advisory.

Manage expectations

We all want to assure customers or clients that nothing will be interrupted, and for many companies, that may be true. For PR agencies like ours, we can work from home offices and conduct business as usual, adapting our plans to the news story of the day. But this is not the time to overpromise. It may be an opportunity to get feedback through one-on-one conversations, but ultimately it’s the time to communicate the plan, make it clear that things may change, and promise prompt updates when they do.

Overcommunicate

Uncertainty is hard, so don’t be afraid to reach out more regularly than necessary to customers and stakeholders. Ensure consistency of message by coordinating website notices, customer and staff emails, employee calls with customers, and virtual meeting updates. Even with a staff that is very accustomed to today’s remote/distributed workforce, an unusual situation like a pandemic can be isolating and scary when so much is unclear. The coronavirus pandemic will pass eventually, but it’s a good reminder to everyone that direct communication helps people feel like part of the team and go about their routine in a relatively normal way. Out of sight can’t mean out of mind.

Stick to the facts

Nature hates a vacuum, and so does a “viral” news story like the COVID-19 outbreak. Business communicators should point employees and customers to good third-party information about the pandemic, like cdc.gov, but they can also be vigilant and proactive about rumors and fears of exposure. Yesterday I heard from a partner company with a client who recently visited their office and has since been diagnosed with the virus. Everything was disclosed fully, the office shut down and cleaned, and the staff directed to work from home for at least two weeks. The company leadership took charge of the situation before crazy rumors could start or spread.

Give people things to do

People need practical information, like where to go to get factual updates, how to upgrade home office tech, or what to do when ordinary work isn’t possible. Sharing specific information like keeping the “six-foot distance” from others, curbing nonessential travel, or pointing to sources of that kind of information is most useful at a time when there’s a lot of general information but things are changing rapidly. It’s also helpful to offer ways to maintain contact with business customers, be helpful in the community, or go the extra distance to support colleagues.

Keep your routines

For desk workers, it’s easy to keep scheduled calls and meetings and worthwhile to connect on Slack or Google hangouts where colleagues normally collaborate for work. But what about after-hours routines? It’s not always possible, but it’s worth the effort to find substitutes. (I was just invited to my first Zoom coffee.) Our staff has a standing date for Thursday-afternoon drinks, for example, but with most working remotely, we’ve planned a virtual Happy Hour with everyone chipping in on Venmo. It’s not the same, but it keeps the tradition alive and has everyone connected!

“Tread lightly”

John Michael, Associate Director of Public Relations at education management company EAB, warns that a situation like the COVID-19  pandemic is a serious one, and it’s a good time to take extra care with media outreach. He’s limiting his scope to insights from internal subject-matter experts who can help campus and school district leaders manage disruption and make better decisions. For most of us, this is not a time to be newsjacking the outbreak with off-target or opportunistic media pitches. Similarly, it’s a good idea to suspend any automated social media updates and review blog and other thought leadership content for relevance and tone to make sure it’s appropriate in this news cycle.

Starting A New Job, But On Zoom!

It’s safe to say that things have changed dramatically for most people in just three weeks. For me, they’ve changed even more.

It was only 12 days ago that I began my first week at Crenshaw Communications, a technology PR agency in Manhattan. I was really looking forward to starting my new job, getting to know everyone, and joining the company’s Thursday happy hours.

For three glorious days I commuted to the office. Around the third day I noticed my fellow commuters were taking precautions — wearing masks, gloves, and using hand sanitizer more often than usual. In the office, various client and tech industry events were being canceled; in fact, there was a cancellation nearly every day. Wednesday night, after Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive for the virus and the NBA cancelled the rest of their season, I wondered if I should ask to work from home.

I felt a little uncomfortable about the idea, even though the company has a very generous work-from-home policy. But I needn’t have worried; by the next day, nearly everyone was working remotely. With our IT provider’s help, the agency upgraded our remote desktop application setup, and it was quickly decided that we would do so indefinitely.

A crash course in working remotely 

Despite the liberal WFH policy in the pre-pandemic days, I had planned on coming into the office for a while to become acclimated and have a full grasp on what was needed when I later chose to work from home. I’ve never worked remotely before and I had only spent three days in the office. I was worried about not being able to access necessary items, afraid of potentially doing something incorrectly, and wondering how productive I would be. Communication was a concern— what if I got stuck on something and it was more difficult to explain the problem remotely versus in-person?

To my surprise, I fell into the swing of things rather quickly. Luckily, we use Google Documents for everything, so I’m able to access my Outlook account via my home computer and mobile, and Slack has been helpful in allowing me to chat with coworkers throughout the day to ask questions. I always know what’s going on in real time on our different channels. Our daily check-ins on Zoom are also helping me remember everyone’s name and to put a face to the voices I hear on daily calls. I’ve read countless articles on how to successfully work from home and I’ve followed most of the suggestions — like, having a routine and creating a to-do list for tasks. Some also recommend dressing as though you’re heading to the office and going outside, but due to recent events, I’ve opted out of that one!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been working more from the desk in my living room than the one in my new office and I’ve seen my coworkers through a screen more than in person. Although my start at Crenshaw didn’t go as planned, I feel lucky that I’m able to have a job with the ability to work remotely — I just didn’t foresee the possibility of having to do it indefinitely. I guess those Thursday happy hours will have to be over Zoom for the time being. Cheers!

Zooming Into Coworkers’ Lives Is Revealing

In two short weeks our world has been turned upside down. And yet, even this crisis offers a silver lining, or maybe a new perspective. It’s because of Zoom.

Remote conferencing is hardly a new concept. Thanks to technology, meetings have been held business-to-business across states, and yes, oceans, now for quite some time. They usually originate in conference rooms, assembled with one’s team, all seated together. But work in the time of coronavirus cannot allow for any on-site seating – not even six feet apart.

As COVID-19 rages, Zoom’s user-friendly platform has fast become the go-to experience for a sense of normalcy. But I ask, how normal is it to see inside your boss and co-workers’ homes? What about that of a political pundit or host on national TV? And, here’s the bigger question. Do we even want to?

While social media has already made our lives seemingly accessible, Zoom conferences and interviews now feel reminiscent of the more relaxed workplace, symbolized by what was once known as Casual Friday. A relaxed dress-code in businesses made the workplace feel oddly familiar on days men would forgo a tie and women dressed down.

But if every day now is Social and Casual, is there an added allure when we get to Zoom in?

Everything You Did – and Didn’t – Want to Know During COVID19

Here, in no particular order, are things I have seen these last handful of days:

My colleagues’ adorable dogs

A teammate in her pajamas

The really good sandwich in my manager’s kitchen

Someone’s dad

Someone’s spouse

Someone’s roommate

French doors

Kelly Ripa when she does her own hair and makeup

Debi Mazar’s peacock-blue wall

The orange bath towel belonging to a rabbi at my temple

And here are the things I’ve noticed are amplified:

The commitment of each of my colleagues

The organizational skills that enable our company to run remotely

Personal responsibility to do the best for one’s clients

Camaraderie

An appreciation for working

The affection behind our team’s teasing

Pride

Our fundamental need to connect

How we sense we’re to be forever changed, but in ways don’t yet know

I don’t mean to cut this short, but we have a Zoom check-in meeting in five minutes, and I need to put on some lipstick and move my office from the bed to the couch. You don’t think I want everyone seeing me in my…. TMI, I know.

Stay safe! Be strong.

6 Social Media Trends That Businesses Should Know

For most people social media is a great way to follow trending news, post food pictures and, most importantly, share memes. For PR and marketing folks, it’s a key part of business communications. Social media helps us and our clients connect to customers, drive web traffic, and even develop or convert leads.

71% of social media marketers say social media channels offer consumer insights that benefit other departments of their business, while 93% of all marketers cite more exposure for their business as its number one benefit.

Yet the social media landscape changes constantly. Here are some of the key trends all businesses should be #following this year.

TikTok: Capturing Gen Z and beyond 

It’s not just a fad. The TikTok train has taken off and if you’re not on board, you may be missing out. The app, which delivers short, addictive video clips that are influencing both pop culture and digital content, caters to an audience looking for a new, exciting, and entertaining way to connect.

TikTok may seem almost exclusively used by Gen Z, as 69% of users are between just 16-24 years old, but it has captured the attention of the public and marketers alike. It has more than 800 million monthly active users who spend an average of 46 minutes per day on the app, according to Hootsuite.

Creating a channel and producing relevant content for a brand are just the start. B2C marketers will want to grow a list of followers that they closely and frequently engage with. The platform is now offering new advertising options, making it easier to reach specific customer segments. Additionally, partnering with TikTok influencers can open brand content to a much broader, but well-targeted, audience.

What about B2B marketers? Before you dismiss the idea, remember that many B2B decision-makers are millennials. They, too, want engaging and entertaining content. According to a study of “millennial” buyers by Merit, nearly three-quarter of 20- to 35-year-olds are involved in product or service purchase decision-making at their companies. One third say they’re the sole decider.

TikTok’s global reach and popularity make it hard to ignore, and its growth isn’t expected to slow any time soon. Businesses who haven’t already incorporated TikTok into their marketing strategies may be forfeiting the opportunity to connect with the next generation of social media users. 

Influencers get smaller….with bigger impact

Despite skepticism about the ROI of some influencers and changes in metrics, influencer marketing is still a powerful tool and an important complement to paid advertising. We’ve seen the rise of “micro influencers,” defined as those with small-to-mid-sized social media followings (10k to 99k), as well as “nano influencers,” (1k-10k followers). They can be terrific partners within a specific niche, focused passion or topic.

Micro and nano influencers consistently have high engagement rates, particularly on Instagram. CreatorIQ and Influencer Marketing Hub’s annual “State of Influencer Marketing” report finds that brand marketers are “increasingly showing a strong preference for such smaller-reach influencers vs. so-called mega influencers with a million or more followers.” For example, four in 10 millennials say their favorite YouTube content creator understands them better than their friends.

Rather than focusing on pricey celebrity-level talent and vanity metrics, marketers can use influencers who will actually reach their target audience on a closer, more organic level. What’s more, the removal of “likes” from Instagram means that more granular metrics will take priority, and it may lead to better and more diverse content.

Social Commerce: Instagram as storefront 

Instagram is no longer just a place for selfies and stories; it has become one of the best social media platforms for brands to actively engage with consumers and sell products. Instagram’s shopping feature makes the app an easy, exciting and user-friendly way for shoppers to quickly browse and make purchases from their favorite brands.

By tapping a product tag on your post or a product sticker in your story, a user is taken to a product description page where they see an image and description of the product, the price, and a link to a brand website where they can buy. Instagram says its shopping features “give your business an immersive storefront for people to explore your best products.”

Two hundred million Instagrammers visit a business profile every day and 77% of consumers say they are more likely to buy from a brand they follow on social media over one they do not. Additionally, 75% of Instagram users take action – like visiting a website or making a purchase – after seeing an ad on Instagram. Instagram’s shopping feature (including the “swipe up” story feature) is one of the easiest ways for marketers to use social media to increase sales. 

Tech takeover

Technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have made a big splash, especially over the past year. Because of this, social media users now expect better, more engaging experiences.  Facebook has already followed the trend with the introduction of Horizon, their social virtual reality world where people can connect, play games, and explore. Horizon is a prime example of next-level social connection and this type of platform could certainly be the future of social media.

AR is also common, as with Snapchat’s Lenses and Instagram’s AR filters, which enhance users’ visual content on “stories.” These filters are insanely popular and offer an opportunity for businesses to take advantage with branded filters. Top brands like Gucci, Nike, and Disney have already used Instagram’s AR filters for social media campaigns.

In 2020, visuals in content are only going to get more interesting. For B2B businesses, Instagram TV (IGTV) will be a great platform to share tutorials, in-depth videos about your product or service, interviews, tours, etc. For example, General Electric is showing users the exciting work they do around the world— even allowing users to see the inside of a volcano.

Short-lived content with lasting effects 

Ephemeral content is growing. It started on SnapChat but is now seen on TikTok and Instagram Stories. This temporarily available content – often in the form of Stories — feels more spontaneous and personal, probably because it is. A video that disappears within 24 hours would seem to break all the rules of marketing, but brands have used ephemeral content in a variety of ways – with informational stories, quizzes, interactive contests, and “behind-the-scenes” interviews and videos. Even B2B companies like Intel and Hubspot have used Instagram stories successfully.

To use ephemeral content successfully, marketers should tell a story, be consistent and show authenticity. The short-lived nature of ephemeral content brings higher engagement, wider reach and trust.

Listening in 

As easy as it may sound, one of the best social media strategies for marketers is still simply listening to consumers. Social listening is important because it tells you people are saying about your brand in real time. In fact, 63% of social media marketers believe listening will become more important than ever over the next year.

Influencer Marketing Hub declared social media “a goldmine for data and insights that businesses can use to refine their social strategies.” But to access this gold mine, marketers must have the right tools. Some of the most popular, well-designed social listening tools include Brand24, YouScan, Buzzsomo, Sprout Social and Hootsuite Insights. They give marketers a better understanding of how their brand or business is perceived, the impact of a social media campaign, and other valuable insights. These types of tools must play an essential role in marketers’ social media strategies.

How To Supercharge B2B PR With Newsjacking

“Newsjacking” is how public relations people secure reactive coverage by jumping on a story that’s already in the news. Unlike proactive pitching, where we push out client data or offer a company announcement, reactive pitching leans on the news cycle to maximize coverage.

A fast news cycle invites B2B newsjacking

Today’s news cycle is ultra-fast, and the number of unfolding stories, like the presidential primaries or the spread of Covid-19 Coronavirus, is almost dizzying. It’s challenging to find a place for a business story, and one way to do that is by newsjacking. For us in the B2B tech space, riding a news wave can be very successful. The year has already brought huge changes in many digital technology categories, like the news that Google will end cross-site third-party cookie sharing. The announcement may mean nothing to most consumers, but for our clients in media, ad tech, data privacy, and digital security, it’s a big deal. It’s also an opportunity to communicate a strong point of view and offer insights about what it means and what business customers should do. Here’s how to take advantage of newsjacking for B2B companies.

Have a plan in place

Advance planning will streamline the newsjacking process and shorten reaction time. It’s best to make sure that key players are aligned ahead of time on which types of stories are relevant, and which exec will be offering quotes and availability for interviews when news breaks. We can’t anticipate when a relevant story will break, but having to track down the right expert in another country, or reach someone who is unprepared to speak is a good way to lose opportunities. It’s useful to create a spokesperson matrix involving several SMEs (subject-matter experts) who can be tapped on short notice.

Stay alert for B2B technology changes

Being able to identify which stories to jump on is a key skill for PR pros. Even with strong quotes and a speedy reaction time, it will not be an effective newsjack if you’re not working with the stories that flag reporters’ interest. Google alerts and news apps are a great way to stay on top of important industry-related news, and it helps to monitor tech pubs like TechCrunch and WIRED on at least a daily basis. It’s also helpful to keep up with reporters on Twitter, to see what they are interested in right now and which industry events they plan to cover.

Act quickly 

To work as a newsjacking opportunity, a piece of news must be relevant, and the media outreach around it must happen within hours. The nature of the news cycle is that it’s constantly changing and if you’re late to a story, the cycle will move on without you. To react in a timely manner, after identifying a cycle, immediately flag it to relevant clients and begin implementing your newsjacking plan.

Build a library of prepared content

A working library of client quotes that hits home and is media-ready once a story is out speeds up the newsjacking process, making commentary readily available. Ask your clients in advance for general quotes that can be tailored later to be more exact to the breaking news you’re jumping on. For companies in cybersecurity, for example, where reacting to security breaches or commenting on hacks might happen on a regular basis, it helps to have pre-approved language to describe the nature of various threats and solutions. Or, if you know your client is attending a conference like SXSW, be sure to get quotes well before. Then after the conference, you can get more “canned” quotes by working in takeaways from the event.

Be quotable

The point, of course, is to be quoted, so you must be quotable. As with pitching in general, newsjack pitches should grab reporters’ attention by leading with a punchy subject line and including short and sweet content and commentary that adds value, color, or insight to a story. Pitches should be easily digestible and generally limited to 100 words or less. Also make sure that you’re pitching relevant reporters at a relevant outlet, of course.

Be sensitive

In the rush to position a client as relevant to the day’s news, some people become overeager. If a story involves death or injury, it may be wise to steer clear, unless the expertise offered is truly helpful. For example, an emergency services provider might legitimately offer information or assistance to businesses in the wake of a severe weather event, but simply promoting products while people are suffering will draw justifiable criticism. When in doubt, don’t jeopardize brand reputation by seeming to take advantage of a crisis or tragedy.

Leadership Lessons Of COVID-19

A crisis can bring out the best and worst in us — and in our leaders. In the weeks since the Coronavirus shutdown, Americans have experienced a crazy-quilt of messages from leadership at federal, state, and local levels. There are communications lessons about crisis leadership crisis in nearly every example.

So far, Congress has been battling over relief packages, and the White House daily briefings offer mixed messages. It’s the state and local executives who are winning the PR war. Governors and big-city mayors are in the strongest position to deliver clear, coherent communications and offer direction about the way forward. Here’s how the best communicators are navigating the crisis.

Leaders communicate decisively

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has a mixed relationship with his own constituents and the local press. But lately he’s the surprise star of coronavirus communications. Cuomo’s style is sometimes abrasive, and his relentlessness can border on bullying. But what seems like bluster and dogmatism on an ordinary day rises to resolute leadership when people are frightened and uncertain. Cuomo’s daily updates on measures to contain the spread of the virus at its U.S. epicenter are clear, coherent, and decisive. As his frequent adversary, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten explains, “This is a moment he was really built for.”

They don’t sugarcoat the news

“No-nonsense, high-fact” is how the Washington Post described Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s style in managing the pandemic in his state. DeWine won praise for his quick decision to shut down schools, restaurants, and, most controversially, the state primary election. He relies heavily on the advice of public health professionals and is straightforward in delivering his “daily dose of bad news.” DeWine explains his style this way; “I have a basic belief that if you have the right facts you’re probably going to make the right decision.”

They make it clear who is responsible

His choice may have been unpopular with some, but the president made a good move in putting the vice president in charge of the nation’s coronavirus response. In a crisis situation, the lines of reporting and lanes of responsibility must be clear. Unfortunately, since Pence was tapped to manage the pandemic response, those lines have blurred. It’s often hard to tell who’s in charge. Leadership communications is also about accountability. By contrast, when asked to explain his decision to shut down the biggest city in the country, New York’s Cuomo famously said, “I accept full responsibility. If someone is unhappy, somebody wants to blame someone, people complain about someone, blame me.” No politician is truly above politics, but it’s a strong communication of priorities and accountability.

They explain their decisions

Cuomo has been effective in reminding us that a private healthcare system has limited capacity to handle the kind of surge that a pandemic causes. He was also masterful in outlining why he continues to urge the president to act upon the Defense Production Act. Cuomo wants Trump to take action to mobilize and coordinate production of needed protective gear, test reagents, and other materials to help states manage a surge of ill patients. Here he invokes the nation’s World War II response as an analogy to the current situation.

Leaders are consistent communicators

The first rule of effective crisis communications it to offer accurate and timely information. When the facts are changing on a daily basis and public cooperation is crucial, credibility isn’t just the main thing; it’s the only thing. Consistent updates are particularly important in a situation like the COVID-19 pandemic, where there is no real end in sight and everything hinges on getting people to follow the rules.

They synthesize expertise

One key to success in a health emergency is to stick to your own expertise. In most cases leaders must rely on independent experts, but too many public opinions can lead to chaos. This is why the White House briefings have been confusing and incoherent, resulting in different messages from the president and members of his own pandemic team. When urging public calm and a “we’re in this together” spirit, it’s best to synthesize public health advice and communicate it with one voice.

Finally, leaders show their humanity

Back to Cuomo, who has at times been awkwardly emotional in sharing his worries. He fretted publicly about his elderly mother and his adult daughter after she was potentially exposed to the virus. But again, in the current situation, it works. Things are changing fast and the headlines around the COVID-19 situation are at times alarming. It helps to know your concerns are shared and that our leaders have the same priorities we do. Then there’s that extra dose of humanity – and humor – when the governor connects with his little brother Chris Cuomo of CNN live on-air and banters about which is their mom’s favorite. Who can’t identify with that?