Why PR And Marketing Matter Now

It used to be that when things got tough, the tough cut marketing and PR budgets. “Below the line” spending was lopped off the spreadsheet faster than you could say “recession.”

But that conventional wisdom was from a time when PR and marketing worked through one-way channels. They were designed to push out businesses messages through traditional media to customers. Today, brand communications is much more of a two-way street. Customer engagement isn’t something you can turn on and off. In a depressed economy, a business that maintains marketing and communications will bounce back more quickly than one that cuts its budgets.

That’s easier said than done. But there are good reasons why brands should stick with PR and marketing as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, even if in a modified way.

To be sure, the pandemic has changed everything, including how businesses market and promote their brands. In most cases, scheduled campaigns went out the window. So-called traditional marketing gave way to empathetic customer messaging around the impact of the virus and subsequent lockdowns.

A pause in ordinary, pre-COVID marketing has frozen many brands in place. There’s little new product news outside of entertainment, no innovation to announce, and no launches planned unless they’re for antibody tests or the like. Paradoxically, this has made smart PR more important than ever for brands. Here’s why.

Customer communication has never been more important

In an uncertain situation, communication matters. We’re struggling to reopen, with the virus spiking in new areas just as it settles down in others. Businesses must communicate proactively to employees, customers, and stakeholders about practical matters like business changes, measures to protect health, and the eventual return to business. It’s even more important to connect with customers about intangibles – what a business values and prioritizes as employers and corporate citizens.

Now is the time to ramp up customer-centric measures like community service and thought leadership – which classic PR programs deliver very well.

A business pause means opportunity for smaller brands

As many states contemplate reopening, smaller businesses have an opportunity to be creative. Some have already mastered new business models involving apps, customer deliveries, or new products adapted to home consumption. Some cafes and restaurants are using parking lots and sidewalks to build outdoor service opportunities. Salons have adjusted hours and redesigned to accommodate pent-up demand from clients.

Empathy is also a two-way street. The COVID-19 pandemic is unusual in that no one was spared, and no business is seen as responsible for what happened. The crisis threatens the survival of many smaller businesses, so everyone is rooting for recovery. Most people aren’t worried about whether P&G’s brands will survive the pandemic, but they’re concerned about the corner restaurant, or even the tech startup they read about last month. Some of the largest brands in the world have paused ordinary communications, which offers opportunities for smaller brands to stand up and differentiate themselves through strategic PR and marketing.

Leaders are more visible, for better or worse

In times of crisis, change, or transition, leadership is critically important. For most organizations, that means C-level communications is under scrutiny. Even in pre-COVID times the CEO had become a public spokesperson about critical matters, whether for a private or public company. Now, the spotlight shines even hotter for business leaders. A well-crafted executive PR campaign can help convey a business’s core values and future intentions through its leadership.

This is apparent in the many large-company CEOs who have pledged not to cut jobs during the COVID-19 downturn, as well as several who have taken voluntary salary reductions, like Yum Brands’ CEO David Gibbs and Marriott’s Arne Sorenson. The good will generated will pay reputation dividends for their brands long after the COVID-19 crisis has eased.

PR and content offer long-term value

Finally, many businesses, like most Americans, face an uncertain future. The go-go economy of the past decade has sharply retrenched, and it’s time to prioritize. PR, content marketing, and social media marketing offer a relatively budget-friendly and measurable way to define a brand through its own actions as well as leadership communications. This is particularly true in the high-value sectors of healthcare and crisis management, but it can hold for nearly any kind of proactive PR.

Experienced communicators know that businesses can’t turn PR and marketing on and off in a crisis. Tomorrow’s leaders should use this time to offer empathy, resilience, and leadership in their industries and communities.

PR Tips And Tricks For Landing Bylined Content

PR professionals are constantly on the hunt for ways to get their clients and brands media coverage. And with a 24-hour news cycle, publications are always searching for fresh content. One staple from the B2B PR toolbox is contributed content. A piece of content like a guest post, bylined article, or op/ed is a useful way to keep a brand executive relevant and generate exposure for his organization. Not only that, but a bylined article, in contrast to an editorial piece, typically allows a brand to take control over its own message.

Unlike a traditional article written by a reporter about a person or company, contributed content is written directly by a brand or company executive and submitted to a publication. This is clearly a big advantage, but because this piece isn’t being filed by a journalist, the brand executive must work hard to make it a high-quality and interesting piece that meets editorial standards. The best bylined articles offer insight and first-person perspective on issues or topics relevant to a specific industry or community. They may contain advice, a call-for-action, or express an option on a burning business or social issue. Through such content PR professionals can position clients as thought leaders in their fields.

Pitching for contributed content like bylined articles can be tricky. Here are some tips and tricks for landing bylined placements.

Do your research: Most publications that feature contributed content have a dedicated editor working on these pieces. Usually the piece must meet specific guidelines for word count, format, style, subject matter, and target audience. 

Study key outlets: Note the subject matter and scope for the publication you’re pitching and be cognizant of topics they’ve recently covered to spot the best opportunities and avoid duplicating efforts. Pay special attention to opportunities to zig where others zag.

Take a strong point of view: It’s important to express a viewpoint that’s strong and distinct. It helps if it’s contrarian, or if it’s considered unique or unusual by most readers. If it’s an opinion or analysis piece, the angle should offer a new perspective and insights. If it’s an article about trends, it must contain a surprise factor and/or tell readers something they don’t already know.

Don’t be self promotional: When crafting a contributed piece, you should not mention your own brand. Instead the piece will typically identify the contributor with a one-line description of his or her affiliation. But the implicit positioning is as an expert in a given field. For example, a client in the professional services category may address the legal or security implications of widespread remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The author might offer meaningful advice to business owners or share a point of view about the impact of the pandemic on productivity and service. Whatever the case, its publication helps establish the writer as an expert.

But don’t be afraid to be personal It can be refreshing for a bylined article to contain a reference to a personal situation or observation – if it’s relevant to the topic at hand. One of our best and most widely read executive bylines started with a reference to the executive’s young daughter and her reaction to a digital advertising video slogan. The writer quickly moved on to make a point about good and bad digital advertising, and you didn’t need to be a parent to understand his point.

Be audience-driven: Consider the ideal targets for the piece and what their takeaways will be after reading. Know your audience and be mindful of their needs and time.

Sharing thoughts, experiences and hard-earned problem-solving techniques establishes industry executives as educators and helps make connections to strengthen their personal brand all while gaining thought leadership and brand exposure.

 

 

 

Why B2B Brands Should Be Active on Social Media

As most PR agencies know, social media is not just for B2C companies anymore. The B2B landscape is changing, especially for technology brands. B2B tech companies typically deal with sophisticated and knowledgeable customers. They’re under pressure to differentiate their brand communications to reach high-priority audiences in more thoughtful and effective ways. With the help of social media, a B2B brand in the tech sector can establish a distinctive voice and build a unique community of followers. Most importantly, social media helps B2B companies gain the trust of their audiences and gives them a reason to keep coming back.

Reaching the right audience

The B2B marketplace is shifting – starting with customer demographics. With an audience now younger than ever, B2B communications is almost fully digital. There’s a misconception, however, that only high-level executives at customer businesses have purchasing power. B2B tech brands are sometimes hesitant to dive into social media, as they may not see its value. For those who do take part, they may limit involvement to LinkedIn, where business leaders tend to engage most frequently. 

But the reality is that B2B companies can benefit enormously from being active on a range of social platforms. Now 81% of millennials have a say in company purchasing decisions, according to ThinkWithGoogle. And social media can play a large role in reaching that younger, more empowered business customer. 

Finding the right platforms

The first step for many B2B brands is knowing where to reach their business customers. A platform like Facebook, for example, may not be a fit for a business audience, but that can only be determined through demographic data. Only by analyzing the data do we learn where prospects engage on social media, where website visitors learn about a business, what type of content works best, and what, if anything, they’re saying online about a given brand or category.

While data alone will not provide all the answers, asking the right questions to collect the data will. For example, a question as simple as where customers get their news –through their phones, TV or elsewhere — can reveal a great deal about where and how to focus digital marketing efforts. 

Twitter and LinkedIn are two of the most commonly used platforms for B2B brands, as they typically attract more business-focused audiences. Yet with more than one billion users and counting, Instagram is quickly becoming a very effective social media platform for companies of all kinds. With B2B audiences now skewing younger, Instagram can be powerful. For a bold content strategy, some even argue that Tik Tok should be in the consideration set because its clever, entertaining content reaches a whole new generation. A Tik Tok campaign can potentially separate a B2B brand from the pack, as it shows a willingness to take a risk, be bold and creative, and deliver content on a more personal and engaging level. 

Producing the right content

How can B2B brands take full advantage of social media? The first step is to understand the best environment for sharing content. It’s essential to be community-minded. Sharing content in an educational and service-oriented tone, rather than a sales-driven one, will help build trust with an audience. Unique, inspirational stories and content that reveals a brand personality can grow a community of followers and keep a B2B company top-of-mind and relevant.

Some B2B tech brands that have done a great job establishing a distinct social media presence are Adobe, Google, Cisco, General Electrics (GE), and Salesforce, to name a few. Cisco, for example, stands out on YouTube with a variety of videos on service providers, business trends, industry solutions and product training. GE’s Twitter account invites user engagement with entertaining content that is more informative, rather than sales-related. 

The B2B tech landscape includes social media 

In B2B tech, there is a myth that social media won’t work because the industry is just too “boring.” That is simply not true. If anything, this stereotype should serve as an incentive to take full advantage of social media and what it can do for your business. A “boring” B2B brand that embraces Instagram or TikTok is anything but that. With more than one billion people around the world on social media, a slice of that population will engage with your business, but without social media you may never reach them. 

 

Can Technology Companies Achieve Diversity?

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, corporate America is trying to walk the talk when it comes to matters of racial justice and equality. This time it’s bigger than press releases or PR-driven diversity pledges. Early efforts have been led by African-American CEOs, entrepreneurs, and companies that serve a diverse customer base, but nearly all major brands have stepped up. Nike pledged $40 million over four years to support black communities. Comcast has committed $100 million over five years in grants to equal justice groups and support for small businesses owned by people of color. Wal-Mart has ponied up $100 million in community grants… and the list goes on.

Big Tech struggles to reach DEI goals

Yet businesses continue to fall short when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. One glaring example is the technology sector. From startups to enterprise companies, tech just can’t seem to make measurable progress when it comes to greater black representation in senior management and on boards. Venture funding, too, goes mostly to youngish white men.

Make no mistake, just like other businesses, Big Tech has stepped up with financial pledges to antiracist causes and statements of commitment to racial justice. But six years after their first diversity reports, a string of technology players have seen only marginal increases in the number of black employees. Overall, nearly every company on the top-tier list has fallen short of their announced goals. Facebook went from having a three percent black workforce to 3.8 percent over a five-year period. Amazon’s numbers are better, but they include warehouse and delivery personnel who typically don’t enjoy the salaries and benefits of office employees.

Data-driven — except when they’re not

Diversity experts say that part of the problem is these large tech companies just weren’t designed with diversity in mind, so efforts now amount to a “retrofit.” If that’s the case, one would think that the startup and venture worlds would offer greater potential for progress against DEI metrics. Yet, there, too, the news isn’t very encouraging. The progress reported is around women entrepreneurs — good to hear, but it’s not enough.

Clearly, for the tech world to become more diverse, there should be not just metrics, but consequences for falling short of DEI goals. As Bari Williams, former senior counsel at Facebook puts it, “These companies are data-driven, but if people are not hitting their diversity metrics, where’s the downside?” There seems to be none.

Start with startups

And in the startup world, there will never be equal investment in black-founded startups until and unless venture capital companies are more racially diverse. TechCrunch reports on a rush by VCs to support black founders and investors since the protests began. SoftBank, the world’s single largest tech investor, has announced a $100 million Opportunity Fund that will invest exclusively in black startup founders and other entrepreneurs of color.  Andreessen Horowitz has followed with the unveiling of its Talent x Opportunity Fund established with donations from a16z partners for all-important seed capital to entrepreneurs with non-traditional backgrounds.

It’s a move in the right direction. In addition to diversity within VCs, formal and informal mentorships and accelerators for nonwhite founders would seem critical channels for building truly diverse organizations from the get-go. Starting with startups is a real key to building a more diverse technology sector and community.

The commitments amount to a big step forward, and the intentions are good. But reaching real DEI metrics in this sector, as in others, is a whole lot harder than it sounds. The protests will eventually fade, and the economy could slip into recession, or worse. But commitment to racial diversity and equality is now inextricably linked to business reputation. And now the world is watching.

Crenshaw Announces Staff Promotions

Since the beginning of 2020 we have recognized several stellar players with well-deserved promotions.

Cliff Maroney has been promoted to Senior Account Supervisor. Cliff joined Crenshaw as an intern back in 2012 and today is a critical member of the team. He manages several B2B tech accounts, including Syncron and Smart Communications, and has established himself as a respected leader among staff. Cliff inspires his team by holding himself to a high standard of work and responsiveness to client needs. 

Erica Schain has been promoted to Senior Account Supervisor. When Erica joined Crenshaw, she immediately took control of accounts and helped grow our business. Erica has spearheaded successful programs for MediaRadar and Fractal Analytics while maintaining great relationships with clients and media. She is an excellent mentor and asset to our team. 

Caroline Yodice has been promoted to Account Supervisor. Caroline is among our resident ad tech experts and has brought her deep knowledge to accounts like LiveIntent, Lotame, and DoubleVerify. She continues to be proactive across the board and offers expert guidance on every engagement.

Bindi Saikia has been promoted to Account Supervisor. Since joining Crenshaw, Bindi’s hard work, leadership and understanding of media strategy have made her a rock among her assigned clients. She contributes significantly on Verizon Media, and Lotame (APAC), in particular and is indispensable to the Crenshaw team.

In PR, Press Releases Still Matter

If you’re working in public relations, or even if you simply follow companies out of personal or professional interest, you understand the press release  — an announcement prepared in a semi-journalistic format for use by media. But in our business the role of the press release is up for debate. Journalists are finding less value in press releases with only 3% saying they heavily rely on the document for their writing. Plenty of companies are opting to use social media to share company news instead of the classic release. Yet a press release can still  offer benefits. Here’s why.

It tells the story the way you want to

A press release is useful for many things beyond large company announcements. For example, working with B2B tech companies, we often push different forms of data to journalists to encourage coverage. Of course we can offer data alone, but by sharing it in press release format, we shape the story and allow room for the client to offer their commentary through quotes in the release. It helps PR professionals allow greater context for the story and helps the journalist by painting a clear picture of what the data or news means to a given company or industry.

Quality writing rises to the top

One reason the press release has a bad reputation is that it’s often drafted by a PR agency or internal officer but touched by many hands along the way, from marketing to legal counsel. As a result, some releases are stuffed with jargon and confusing language and read as if written by committee. Any communication will be far more effective if written clearly and concisely with the key news in the lead. Executive quotes should add to the story rather than offer meaningless puffery.

Press releases can drive search

All companies seek ways to improve their website’s search rankings, and press releases are a good resource for doing that. A release shouldn’t be distributed strictly for SEO purposes, but it should be a consideration. Apart from being truly newsworthy and well written, they should be written with keywords in mind to maximize the search value. When a release is distributed through a paid service, it runs in hundreds of online outlets and will typically enjoy a temporary SEO bump.

Releases work with branded content

Distributing a press release is another way to begin a conversation. not only with the media, but with the general public, depending on context. It opens doors for new forms of content to cover the same subject — like blog posts, white papers, webinars, and social media posts. For example, a company can distribute a press release for a new product, followed by a series of blog posts that detail specs or testimonials. Additionally the company can host a webinar with industry professionals for an even deeper dive into the product and use the best segments in a social campaign. These forms of content can be created on the heels of a successful press release to reinforce the organization’s message and help tell a broader story of success, growth, or maybe corporate values. 

It can build credibility

Not only does the press release do its job of spreading news about company activity, but it adds credibility. A company can easily spread news and announcements through social channels, but a series of tweets and LinkedIn posts won’t always clearly communicate the message at hand. By compiling into a press release, any announcement big or small is given a professional look, builds credibility for the company within their respective industry and adds to the company’s growing footprint of progress.

An announcement can hook in journalists

If news is being put into a press release, odds are it has enough significance to warrant a notable piece of editorial to be published alongside. For PR professionals, adding a portion of the release to the pitch can add just enough beef to hook in the right journalist. When the news is offered on an embargo or exclusive basis, a journalist is more inclined to check out the full release, which in turn leads to a better chance of receiving coverage on the announcement.

Releases burnish a company’s press page

A company’s website is the starting point for many journalists, so a proper press page with press releases that document recent milestones is very useful. A robust and informative press page can help close the deal for prospects and adds legitimacy for recruiting new talent for nearly any company.

PR Advice For Recent PR Grads

To the class of 2020, congratulations! This time has not been easy. You had to adjust to virtual classrooms when you expected to be enjoying the final semester in college on campus with friends. But the work and dedication you needed to finish your degree in a new and strange situation will help you in the next chapter.

Traditionally at Crenshaw Communications, our offices would be filled with recent PR grads eager to learn about life at an agency and the ins and outs of the public relations business. This summer may look different for both well established PR pros and new grads. But just because a new graduate isn’t working in an agency doesn’t mean they can’t learn about PR and start to plan a career. Here are a few ideas for recent grads or career-changers who want to prepare for a future PR career.

Flood your inbox with newsletters

Traditional learning has formally ended, but you can continue your education. Sign up for newsletters from PR publications like PR Daily, PR Week, and O’Dwyers. They offer useful content in tips, trends and recent campaigns by agencies. For a newcomer who wants to be more fluent in the language of agencies and PR professionals, reading up on the PR world will help in interviews and networking approaches. And it goes without saying that you should read major news publications like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Inc., as well as vertical pubs that match your interests.  

Network network, network

Take this time to identify a list of PR professionals you’d like to engage. Generating opportunities is all about connections, and the more people you engage, the more support you will have. Data shows 63% of job seekers found new positions by tapping their network of connections! Plan to network with those in different industries — in-house PR and agency people in vertical industries, from tech PR to hospitality. Having conversations can help you narrow your interests and options and there’s nothing like hearing a first-hand account of what a typical day is like. 

Clean up your online presence

Have you ever Googled yourself? What comes up if a future employer reviews your digital footprint? Will they see pictures or tweets that question your professionalism or don’t mesh with a company’s values? It may be best to set your Facebook and Instagram to private while you are actively interviewing. Your LinkedIn should be kept up to date as this will be one the first places companies look. It’s essential to show a professional demeanor through social content and interactions.  

Become a virtual intern

This summer we will see spikes in virtual internships as companies in some cities maintain a remote work structure. It’s a good time to research PR agencies in cities that are reopening as well as the PR capitals like New York, where virtual internships will be available. Although the number of paid internships may be lower than previous years as many agencies have cut back or frozen hiring due to the pandemic, things are picking up in the major metro areas. An internship remains a great opportunity to learn how to draft a press release, research media contacts and draft social media posts for brand campaigns. These tasks can be done digitally and a supervisor would be happy to jump on a video call to explain more.   

So class of 2020, learning doesn’t have to stop here. Spend the summer on all things PR so when the time comes, you’ll stand out from other job candidates. If you’re a recent college grad and would like more information or just want to talk about life at a PR agency, shoot me an email at colleen@crenshawcomm.com or tweet at @colleeno_pr.   

 

At Crenshaw Communications, We Stand For Racial Justice

The past week has been painful, disturbing, and enlightening. It’s time to speak up. With protests happening across the country, we need to make our position clear, as individuals, as a citizen of the New York City business community, and a member of the PR industry.

We at Crenshaw Communications stand for social justice and join our fellow citizens in demanding accountability for any action that disrespects the dignity and value of a black life. Whether in the streets or in the workplace, we support diversity, equity and inclusion and strive to conduct our business and our lives accordingly.

It’s a small gesture, but to demonstrate support, we will donate $5000 to the groups below. They are all highly rated by Charity Navigator and you can find more information about each and other worthy organizations here. 

Center for Constitutional Rights

CLASP

Equal Justice Initiative

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Minority Corporate Counsel Association

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

PolicyLink

Public Justice Center

Southern Poverty Law Center

We also pledge to learn more about issues affecting the African-American community in our country and encourage our employees, like-minded friends, and our community to do the same. Our goal is not just to espouse support for DEI, but to become an ally.

Some recommended reading for those interested:

Black Americans still are victims of hate crimes more than any other group (Public Integrity)

How You Can Be Ally to the Black Lives Matter Movement (Great Big Story)

Black People Need Stronger White Allies — Here’s How You Can Be One (Refinery29)

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor and How To Be An Antiracist

It’s painfully obvious that the public relations industry is lacking in diversity. There are many reasons for it, but this, too, should and can change. It’s a stubborn and multifaceted issue and a real problem that I have blogged about in the past. The good news is that client companies have led the way and the agency community has made a commitment to reversing our lack of diversity. We can accelerate that change.

We will continue to use this space for updates on our progress on this front and we’re open to constructive suggestions. We have witnessed tragic and terrifying events, but they represent a turning point in our history as a country and a business community. We hope to be among the many who are determined in ways large and small to make this crisis work for constructive change.

STUDY: A Third of Brand Emails Offer Free or Discounted Services Amid Pandemic

A Third of Brand Emails Offer Free or Discounted Services Amid Pandemic

Companies prioritize empathy in COVID-19 communications

New York, NY, June 2, 2020 — Crenshaw Communications, a New York-based public relations agency specializing in technology, today announced the analysis of dozens of B2C brand email marketing communications sent during the COVID-19 pandemic between mid-March and mid-May. Brands in the analysis include Dunkin’, Rothy’s, H&M, Anthropologie, Uber, Williams Sonoma, and Crate and Barrel, among others. In reviewing their communications, Crenshaw found that one-third of the brands offered free or discounted services, while almost all emails conveyed empathetic and encouraging words to subscribers.

“To strengthen relationships with customers and support sales, brands are wrapping deals and discounts in a care package of empathy,” said Dorothy Crenshaw, CEO of Crenshaw Communications. “We observed comforting and empathic language across all the email campaigns reviewed, from legacy retailers to newer DTC brands.”

A quarter of the emails spoke about being “home” or “indoors” to convey their understanding of customers being socially isolated, and/or having to work remotely. Another 20% emphasized that consumers were not alone in their predicament, emphasizing words like “together” and  “community.” Other emails mentioned the difficulty of “these times” (16%) and offered well wishes of “safety” (13%) and “comfort” (10%). 

Empathy wasn’t only conveyed through words, however; it was also seen through the creative content of the emails. Of the 75% of the email campaigns that included images, only two campaigns didn’t include images that reflect the current environment of social distancing. 

Additional findings include:

  • Subject line: The average word count was about 6 words, which is fairly standard. However, some campaigns had up to 14 words, which is far above the usual.

  • Overall Tone: About 50% of the campaigns analyzed were uplifting or upbeat in tone.

“Every business has been forced to reevaluate marketing materials amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Crenshaw. “Inappropriate or irrelevant copy or creative in emails, ads or branded content can turn off customers and even have a negative reputation impact.” 

According to HubSpot, email marketers are sending 27% more emails than they then did pre-coronavirus.i Even more significantly, people-based marketing platform LiveIntent recently released data showing email newsletter engagement has grown during the pandemic, with particularly sharp gains for email newsletters that cover finance (43%), hard news (38%) and especially shopping (83%). 

“Although marketing across the board has been affected by coronavirus, email has actually seen increased activity as consumers have stayed glued to their devices as they social distance,” added Crenshaw. “And as America begins to open for business again, the messages may change, but the email communications are likely to stay strong.”

To learn more, visit https://bit.ly/2Mo8pMx.  

About Crenshaw Communications

Crenshaw Communications is a New York PR and content agency specializing in public relations for high-growth technology companies. Whether the goal is to launch a new product, drive web traffic, or create a leadership brand position, Crenshaw extends PR tools and tactics beyond the limits of the traditional to create both earned coverage and word-of-mouth in order to build brands.

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iHubSpot, Deal Performance in April Yields Cautious Optimism for May [COVID-19 Benchmark Data], 2020