Top B2B Conferences For PR Visibility

For our high-growth B2B tech and SaaS solution provider clients, conference speaking, exhibiting, and sponsoring represent crucial PR tactics for thought leadership visibility and business development. Conferences are a good way to set yourself apart in a sector of similarly positioned companies in a given category.

Early-stage companies in particular can build awareness for a new category by having executives speak on panels and keynotes at relevant conferences. They can also build credibility and visibility for their brands by taking a booth. There’s just no doubt about the benefits of the exposure that can be generated by speaking opportunities at major business conferences. The earned visibility can drive brand differentiation, help recruitment, reinforce a leadership positioning, and even influence buyer decisions. See our post on How Speaking Opportunities Support B2B Companies for insights on how much we and our clients value speaking opportunities.

One of my duties as manager of Conferences, Awards, and Employer Branding is to provide guidance on which of the numerous B2B industry conferences are most relevant and worthwhile for a client’s particular PR needs. Here are six key B2B conferences companies should have on their radar for potential attendance, exhibition, or speaking.

B2B Sales & Marketing Exchange (August, Boston)

B2B media outlet Demand Gen Report produces this and the winter B2B Marketing Exchange events annually. Sponsors are a who’s who of big B2B tech brands. Session content revolves around demand-gen, ABM, sales enablement, content strategy, and more. “Representing some of the largest and fastest-growing solution providers in account-based marketing and demand generation, B2BSMX provides attendees the opportunity to meet with experts to tackle challenges such as how to optimize revenue operations and fine tune their go-to-market strategies to adjust to new realities.”

HubSpot INBOUND  (September, Boston/Hybrid)

This is HubSpot’s annual event that unites thought leaders from over 161 countries across marketing, sales, customer success, revenue operations, and more. It’s a marquee event with over 20,000 attendees, and it offers earned speaking opportunities for prominent B2B executive thought leaders. Be ready to submit early since the call for speakers takes place in late winter of the calendar year before each conference.

Salesforce Dreamforce  (Autumn, San Francisco)

Everyone knows Dreamforce, of course. This is Salesforce’s annual mega event that brings together the global Salesforce community for learning, fun, community building, and philanthropy. It’s the largest B2B tech conference in the U.S. Previous years have hosted more than 170,000 registered attendees from all over the world, across every industry and every line of business. It hosts thought leaders, industry pioneers, and notable luminaries who share their perspectives and expertise.

Forrester B2B Summit North America (May, Austin/Hybrid)

Formerly the SiriusDecisions Summit, now produced by the eminent industry analyst Forrester Research, this premier event for B2B marketing, sales and product leaders sets out to empower their strategies, fuel the revenue engine and drive the business forward. “Explore ground-breaking research, models, and frameworks, designed with your organization’s priorities in mind. Insightful breakouts, hands-on case studies, lasting peer connections, and inspiring keynotes all contribute to preparing you with the actionable advice you need to increase your impact, foster measurable results and surpass goals.”

MarTech Conference (March & September, Virtual)

Third Door Media’s biannual MarTech Conferences used to be in-person on the East and West Coasts. Now a free-to-attend, fully-online experience, MarTech “attracts forward-thinking, senior-level marketers obsessed with driving business transformation and retooling their organizations with marketing technology, and connects them with innovative technology companies sharing their new tools, applications, techniques, strategies and solutions.” For companies that could be described as “vendors,” your innovative tech may not be enough. To win an earned speaking gig, a solutions provider will typically need to co-present with a big brand client.

Content Marketing World & Expo (September, Cleveland)

B2B companies focused on brand and content marketing should have this Content Marketing Institute event on their radar. It attracts 3000 attendees, over 200 speakers, and over 500 brands annually. Brand strategists, CMOs, content marketing coordinators, SEO analysts, and social media managers from big brands like Walmart, Volvo, and Nestle attend to form new partnerships and expand their professional circles.

 

 

3 PR Tips For Better B2B Media Placement

A B2B PR firm looking to promote a specific idea or story might think first about pitching large, mainstream media outlets. Why not? Splashy national coverage is terrific, of course, and everyone loves a big name. But not every story is national news. And a story in a publication with a high UVM (unique visitors per month) may not attract as engaged an audience as a more narrowly focused one. In fact, a strict focus on “greater audience reach = better” can mitigate opportunities for exposure in more relevant outlets that will cover the story more fully and be more searchable by the right prospects.

Vertical trades are a PR gold mine

The right media strategy hinges on understanding your industry or niche within it. An underrated aspect of our role as PR professionals is to think about how a client’s brand is perceived not only to the writers we contact, but also their audiences. By understanding what compels an outlet’s audience to keep returning for new stories, we can better shape a pitch to hook a writer’s attention.

If a company focuses on B2B tech services, we may naturally target outlets like BizTech or MarTech. Mainstream business outlets like Forbes can also be good targets, but only if the writer’s beat is relevant to the pitch, and the resulting story is searchable. Some journalists receive over 500 emails per day. With so many people contacting them, it’s no surprise they ignore pitches that aren’t suitable.

If you narrow your outreach, you’re more likely to catch a writer’s attention, simply by keeping their audience in mind.

Go narrow, but go deep

Even a clearly superior product or service may not be compelling enough to generate interest from the press, especially in larger outlets, who tend to be pickier about which pitches they read and proactively cover

But for any topic, from ad tech to supply-chain technology, there is someone who covers it and an audience who reads about it. This opens opportunities beyond the conventional product or service announcements. Most senior executives at high-performing businesses are actually subject-matter experts who hold interesting opinions about industry trends or who may offer stellar insights about their sector. Those views can be parlayed into interviews, bylines articles, op-ed pieces, and other contributed content.

Or, broaden out to the culture of business

Then there are the factors common to nearly every business. Not every story needs to be about a specific industry; in fact, it could be about leadership, culture, team-building, or community. Those topics can seem “soft,” but supported with the right data points and a charismatic founder or senior executive, they can be very powerful.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Is my company or client involved in philanthropy or community work?

Have they adopted strong diversity or ESG initiatives?

Does leadership offer bold, interesting or contrarian opinions on topics of interest to their industry? 

If you answered yes to any of these, consider broadening future media outreach. Think about what your company has done differently from competitors and what initiatives they’ve taken to improve company culture. 

By exploring social or personal initiatives, you create more opportunities. Crenshaw Communications client Chili Piper is a prime example of a company that pushed traditional boundaries to launch the Citizen of our Planet (COOP) foundation. By extending their workplace culture beyond the company to the broader community, Chili Piper shows its human dimension and comes across as more than just another B2B tech company.

Taking advantage of trades, homing in on industry-specific topics, or, conversely, going outside typical industry stories to engage more broadly, can engage media and their audiences to drive new levels of awareness for a campaign or brand.

What PR Agencies Should Be Thankful For

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, it’s a good moment to reflect on the past year and what we’re thankful for. Personally, I’m grateful for a year of change and the possibility that after a tough  year in many ways, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

As a PR agency team, we also have a lot to be thankful for at our firm. Besides the opportunity to work in a fast- paced and ever-changing environment, what else can we call out as a blessing this Thanksgiving? 

Amazing clients

Working in PR, you hear stories about challenging clients, but they are rare. While nothing’s easy, the companies we work with are high-growth businesses, and in many cases, leaders in their industries. Working to elevate their visibility feels meaningful and significant. This past year, our team has supported two IPOs for ad tech clients, with another on the way! Our goal is to work with companies as an extension of their internal marketing team, and hitting those milestones together makes all the difference. 

A strong news cycle

Who doesn’t love a news cycle that invites timely story ideas? PR people often plan out pitch calendars months in advance. Holidays like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday shopping (for example) present both B2B and B2C PR teams with strong earned media opportunities. Our team is pitching away this week for last-minute Black Friday coverage — from tips on how retailers should offer Buy Now, Pay Later to commenting on recent supply-chain issues. The newscycle is 24/7, but opportunities like these are easy wins for coverage. We’re grateful for opportunities but work to make the most of them! 

Media moves on Twitter

An updated and current media list is a PR person’s best friend. Platforms like Cision or Muck Rack are great tools for collecting emails and researching new journalists, but in the current media landscape, information may not be updated as quickly in these databases. Pro tip: to stay up-to-date on media moves, keep an eye out for announcements on Twitter. Journalists are more likely to tweet where they are going or what their new beat will be in their next job. It pays to stay knowledgeable on where your “go to” journalists are working.

Feedback on pitches

Over the years, PR people have learned that not every pitch will generate immediate interview opportunities. While this is frustrating, there is a way to turn it from a negative situation into a positive. Instead of throwing in the towel, it helps to take feedback from media contacts – whether it be negative or positive. This feedback can also help client executives understand why they aren’t (or are) seeing immediate coverage. For example, we worked with a smart home device company and the goal was consumer media placements on the day of launch. Any good PR person knows that consumer publications have long lead times and are often tricky to crack. The media responses helped our client understand the landscape, and we did manage to secure top-tier consumer tech coverage!   

Tech tools for staying connected 

From Slack to Zoom, PR pros have gotten creative about how to stay connected in a remote environment. We still love monthly Zoom happy hours, and have explored new features on Slack for productivity. But we should also be thankful for technology that connects us to breaking news. PR people are naturally attached to the news 24/7, and there are so many different ways to stay on top – news aggregator apps, mobile alerts, social media, and Google alerts. All these tools can help PRs find new opportunities for quick comments and reactive response to breaking stories.

Hardworking PR team

This one may seem cliche, but our team really is some of the best talent in B2B PR. Every day our team amazes by going above and beyond what is expected of them. In 2021 we added several new team members who have brought extra dimensions and new perspectives on media relations and teamwork. Without them, we would not have seen such growth through the year. 

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Crenshaw Communications!

PR Tips On Industry Awards For B2B Tech Companies

As high-growth tech companies expand their public relations efforts, they often want the recognition that comes with industry accolades. But for the uninitiated, the vast awards ecosystem within different industries can be a mysterious black box. To help PR/marketing execs succeed in earning awards, here are a few fundamentals and insider tips to know. Let’s use a variation on journalism’s 5Ws to share insights.

Why should I enter for awards?

Like analyst reviews, industry award wins can serve as evidence of the worth of a tech solution or growth record for an organization. Product awards confer invaluable third-party endorsements because they feature a real-world case study of the solution’s use in the field. When a company shows how a known brand like Home Depot or Mercedes has achieved business objectives using a software solution, for example, it gains instant credibility.

B2B buyers looking for the best SaaS solution, for example, will review all collateral and communications, including analyst reviews, online explainer videos, customer reviews, case studies, white papers, etc. Awards wins can be another credible weapon to keep a company’s product or solution in the highest consideration set. Industry award wins are proof points for investors, new business, and even talent acquisition.

Which awards should I enter?

Awards do not stop at product solutions. A B2B tech company should submit for in categories wherever their excellence lies. In this current environment of competition for tech talent acquisition, many clients are prioritizing entering for recognition of their company culture as in AdAge Best Places to Work. Those looking to attract more diverse talent (and who isn’t?) can show an inclusive and progressive environment through awards in the DEI and women in technology spaces. Tech providers can demonstrate their excellent customer success by earning awards for client service. Our clients Chili Piper and Innovid planted their flags as Inc. Magazine’s Best WorkPlaces 2021 – earning visibility for job seekers who can now afford to be selective about where to grow their careers.

Who should I enter?

Individual awards are great morale builders, and they can showcase a company’s diversity and inclusion. Individual recognition for thought leadership is also an excellent way to build visibility for executives looking for a higher profile. Most award programs have individual categories like the CEO of the Year or Rising Star for earlier career superstars. At Crenshaw, we enjoy helping our amazing female adtech executive clients win recognition in awards like Cynopsis Top Women in Media, Advertising Week Future is Female, Campaign US Female Frontier Awards. Awards like these help showcase a company’s dedication to change the gender imbalance in the technology industries. Our client LiveIntent’s CMO Kerel Cooper took home Tech Diversity Advocate of the Year in the Campaign Tech Awards 2021 – which supported his personal brand as well as the company’s forward-thinking reputation.

Where should I look to find the good award targets? 

First there’s the matter of geography. A U.S. company should obviously enter awards from inside the country only – except some programs are global, so the decision hinges on whether client work is strong enough to compete around the world. Awards produced by U.S. based pubs Digiday and AdExchanger are actually global . By the same token, U.K. based pubs like The Drum and Campaign are also open to companies and campaigns around the world. Entrants should definitely read the fine print in the rules/guidelines before entering . Sometimes, a program is looking strictly for companies operating in certain regions. There is also the question of which award programs are tier 1 and which are less legitimate money-generators. At Crenshaw, we tend to favor the awards produced by relevant tech media outlets like those mentioned above – since there’s a built-in media opportunity. An award program not associated with a media outlet could still be worthwhile; but beware of awards that seem to have a thousand categories and a stout entry fee. The ones where everybody wins don’t hold much legitimate PR value.

How do go about entering awards?

Industry awards take real time and effort. Submission forms range from 450 to 1500 words. If you have a PR agency, definitely get them to do it! The key to all tech industry product awards is a fully realized case study narrative — and here’s the tough part – approved for use by the client. Some Customer Success/Sales departments are better than others at convincing clients to allow their brand name to be used in award case studies and in the media. Framed correctly, a tech vendor can persuade a brand client of the PR benefits of prestigious award recognition. The right category can make a difference. If you enter a category such as ‘most innovative use of technology’, a brand takes top billing and looks like a leader while the tech solution can also bask in the glow. For info on what makes up a great case study, see my earlier post.

When should I enter awards?

At Crenshaw, our conferences and awards department flags award opportunities as they come up, based on submission deadlines. Media outlets like the Drum and Digiday have published award calendars similar to ed-cals for their numerous programs that run through the year. Over a period of a couple of years, an aggressive B2B company can rack up enough wins to populate an awards page on their website, or a crawl across the bottom of its home page, dazzling business buyers with a litany of laurels trumpeting their solution or services, workplace culture, or individual executives.

For info on how to write a winning award submission, see this earlier post. Now let’s get that trophy case filled with hardware!

Announcement From Our Ad Tech Team

Crenshaw Communications Grows Ad Tech PR Team

Caroline Yodice named Director of Ad Tech to support expanding client roster

New York, NY, October 14, 2021 — Crenshaw Communications, a leading New York-based public relations agency specializing in PR for B2B and SaaS technology brands, today announced key personnel moves in support of its growing ad tech PR unit.

Caroline Yodice has been named Director of Ad Tech, reporting to Partner Chris Harihar. She was previously a Senior Account Supervisor. 

“As a category, ad tech has exploded over the past few years,” observed Chris Harihar. “At Crenshaw Communications, we have a history of successfully supporting a range of ad tech brands, from high-growth startups to larger public companies. Caroline’s expertise and experience in this space are matched only by her enthusiasm for it. She’s already killing it as Director of Ad Tech.” 

Caroline Yodice added, “There’s not a more exciting industry right now than ad tech. I’m delighted to lead our team and eager to support the expansion of our account roster and status as the top ad tech PR agency in the US.”

Additionally, Hannah Kasoff has joined the agency’s ad tech group. Hannah was most recently Associate Marketing Manager at Mediaocean, where she managed demand generation efforts for the US. 

Crenshaw Communications has also recently added new clients, including Connatix, the next-generation video technology company for publishers, and BrandTotal, a leading social competitive intelligence and brand analytics platform. Longstanding clients include Yahoo, DoubleVerify, Innovid, Lotame, and LiveIntent. 

For more information about Crenshaw Communications and how it can support ad tech brands and businesses, contact Chris Harihar at chris@crenshawcomm.com

About Crenshaw Communications

Crenshaw Communications is a New York PR and content agency specializing in B2B 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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PR Tips For Navigating Interview Roadblocks

For PR specialists, few things are more exciting than landing that media interview. Every journalist interview, whether it’s a top business pub or a targeted trade outlet, is a win. But an interview isn’t a story until it’s posted.

To expedite the process and ensure a positive outcome, it’s standard practice among PR teams to prep executives with a briefing document highlighting details about the interviewer, the nature of the conversation, possible questions, and recent pieces by the journalist in question. 

But things do not always go as planned. What happens when something goes off track? How can PR specialists handle tricky situations that threaten a great story?

Someone is a no-show

This is a rare occurrence, but it happens. Is there a worse feeling than sitting on a conference line or Zoom call waiting for someone to show up? If after a few minutes you are still getting radio silence, end the call and work on rescheduling. If the journalist is working under a tight deadline, offer a written statement to be included in their piece. If the piece is not as timely, reschedule for a time that works for everyone. Being stood up by a journalist is embarrassing, and it can even make the PR rep look bad, which is why meticulous confirmation in writing is always necessary. However, it can be rescheduled. If the corporate spokesperson is a no-show, however, that will require real damage control absent an emergency situation. Always make sure your spokesperson is fully available and prepared.

Spokesperson isn’t a good fit

Often a CEO or founder will be in demand as a media spokesperson, especially at high-growth technology companies. Realistically, however, a spokesperson matrix may be needed. A new product launch interview needs a senior product specialist, a change in strategic direction a C-level executive, a technology exploration a chief engineer, and so on. It’s important to match the right interview opportunity with the correct and appropriate spokesperson.

Media prep didn’t stick

Formal media training can be helpful for executive spokespersons who are new to giving press interviews or who need a quick prep for a new announcement or tricky situation. It typically covers anticipated questions, ways to stay on-topic, and on-camera tips for remaining calm and engaging. But sometimes it doesn’t stick. General shyness, language barriers, or lack of experience can pose obstacles to a productive interview. In that case, it helps to conduct interview over email. A written Q&A can allow the time and care to manage responses and ensure there will be no misunderstanding. 

A spokesperson makes a mistake

Occasionally a corporate spokesperson inadvertently offers inaccurate information. In that situation it’s important to correct the mistake as soon as possible, even if it’s after publication. What’s trickier is if a spokesperson lets a confidential piece of information slip out. If someone mistakenly reveals a confidential launch, future merger plan, or other piece of proprietary information, there is no guarantee that it won’t be in the story. It’s generally best to play it cool, and, in the case of truly significant news, try to negotiate a deal with the journalist in question so that he will get first crack at the story once it becomes public.

Interview is deadly dull 

PR specialists cannot always predict how a spokesperson and journalist will interact. Some spokespeople have charismatic personalities and can talk to anyone in an engaging way while others may need a bit more prep. If you don’t have a naturally engaging spokesperson, or if he rambles into irrelevant or technical topics or is long-winded, the interview can be dull. In that case it’s appropriate for the PR person staffing the interview to gently redirect the conversation to focus on the most cogent and relevant points.  

Journalist seems unprepared

I’ve hosted media interviews more than once where the journalist has said, ‘Remind me what we’re talking about again?’ It happens more often than you think. Media are often crunched for time, with multiple interviews in a single day, and they may need a reminder on how to start the conversation. For journalists new to the space, this may actually be an opportunity to educate them on your industry or issue and allow you to tell the story the way you want. The short-term  goal of every interaction is to get a good story, but an equally important longer-term one is to help the journalist keep you on file as a good source for future pieces.  

Better Internal Comms Tips For PR Teams

As PR professionals, we are meant to be experts in communication. We focus on choosing the right words, where to substitute more meaningful or original turns of phrase, and how to deliver messages that make an impact. Sometimes, especially within public relations teams, we strive to make our external communications to journalists and executives look nearly perfect, while we use shorthand internally. Messages can be lost or misunderstood. 

Internal communication should be as important as external comms. If PR team members are feeling a disconnect, consider the following tips for better internal comms.

Use tech tools for meetings

Admit it – we have all zoned out on Zoom calls! Two useful tools to liven things up are Loom, a video recording service, and Huddles on Slack. Loom allows teams to share their screen to review a document and record a video offering feedback. Users can view this video as many times as necessary, ensuring they don’t miss any direction from team leads. In addition, we at Crenshaw have been enjoying Huddles on Slack. Simply connect with your colleagues on your team channel for a quick voice call. No phone numbers are needed as long as you have a Slack account; it will automatically connect you to your team. It’s a great way to debrief after a client meeting or to handle questions with a smaller group after a larger session. 

Define roles

Often among PR teams, you will hear the phrase “titles don’t really matter here.” While this may be true for many (including ours), the roles should still be defined. If you have junior staff doing tasks that more senior team members could be doing on one project and a completely different situation on another front, there will be a disconnect. While PR people do like to give junior team members occasional high-level tasks to challenge them, it helps to create an internal document outlining roles and tasks, such as “Kate is the day-to-day contact on the launch project, while Ben oversees all media activity and Eva records all activities for reports.” Keep it updated, share within your team and have it handy when new team members join so the transition will be smooth.

Create a (virtual) open-door policy

As someone who is very social, even 18 months later I am struggling by not being in an office space 100% of the work week. It was so easy for team members to pop in and out of conference rooms to sit down and talk through announcements that needed more media attention, new business brainstorms, and everything in between. Having team members scattered throughout the country can make that a bit trickier. Team leads should set aside time either weekly, bi-weekly or monthly to let junior staff members connect with them one-on-one to discuss any issues both professionally and personally. Sometimes in WFH there is a thin line between work and home life. Create a space for candid and informal conversations – sometimes they can be better than formal meetings. 

Cut down on emails

According to a recent study of email inboxes, the breakdown of important vs. unimportant incoming email was 42% to 58%, meaning today’s typical inbox has shifted toward more noise than before. This number may be higher for PR teams who are essentially glued to their emails. Inboxes can get messy with unnecessary emails,  which affect time management and organization. Take a few minutes out of your team’s day just start mass deleting any emails you don’t need. If you haven’t opened that newsletter in weeks, maybe it is time to unsubscribe from it. Encourage people to use collaboration tools, like Google Docs or Slack to track progress on  projects. Leave inboxes as clean as possible so messages from executives or media are never missed. 

What are some tips and tricks your PR team uses for better collaboration and communication? Let me know on Twitter @colleeno_pr

5 Pitch Ideas For PR Pros When There Is No News

PR firms live and die by news. But there are some weeks, especially late in the summer, when the news cycle is slow and companies are in a lull between announcements. Despite this, there are ways for PR teams to get their clients in the news by basically creating it themselves.

Here are five pitch ideas for when there is no news that can work particularly well for B2B PR campaigns. 

Meet and greet!

If there was a recent senior leadership hire or promotion at your organization, it can sometimes be leveraged into news, or at least background information for later news. We do this through a meet-and-greet pitch. The executive addition doesn’t even have to be that recent and even if it was covered by the news, a meet-and-greet will often be welcome. 

In this type of pitch, we introduce the new officer and explain what their new role is at the organization, highlighting their accomplishments in past roles. The goal of this pitch is to offer executive time to reporters for introductions, background material, and to share a POV on the industry and its future.

It’s so simple, but you’d be surprised how many reporters can be interested. The informal meetups often lead to meaningful relationships where the reporter will reach out to get the exec’s opinion on certain topics down the road. 

Data points drive press

Often companies have surveys or case studies that contain great data points. Research, when well packaged and communicated, can be just the thing for a slow period. When pitching case studies, it is important to offer a spokesperson from both the customer organization and the one that offers the product or service. Each must be willing to speak with a journalist, as some journalists will want to hear from the customers directly. We work with our clients to stretch the data into something newsworthy and add their insights to garner interest from the media. 

Data points can go a long way. In some cases, it’s suitable for a quick media alert or even a press release. There are many news outlets that have columns focused on numbers and data, like eMarketer and The Drum’s “Week in Numbers.”

Use the news that’s already breaking

PR pros have been “newsjacking” for decades but it wasn’t until 2011 that David Meerman Scott penned the term. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “The practice of taking advantage of current events or news stories in such a way as to promote or advertise one’s product or brand. 

When news breaks, reporters and analysts often look for experts to comment on the story. That’s why we in PR need to stay on top of relevant news. Luckily, there are so many ways to consume news that it’s pretty hard to miss it. You can set up Google alerts on your phones and laptops, listen to daily podcasts and sign up for newsletters in pertinent industries. The keys here are relevance and speed.

Reactive media outreach needs to happen within hours of a breaking story. The best pitches will offer insightful commentary driven by relevant expertise. If you can package it well, you may just grab interest from a reporter.  

Our Crenshaw team executed a reactive pitch about a recent data breach which resulted in our client, NCSA, being featured in the coverage about it. The team reacted quickly and garnered information and a quote from NCSA to offer to the media. The work paid off as they secured numerous stories for offering insight on the data breach. 

Capitalize on recent trends

Another way to establish relevance for an organization or expert is to take advantage of recent trends that apply to their business. This doesn’t have to be groundbreaking or even a solid announceable piece of news, but it can be a way to offer an opinion on how a company is using trends, or, conversely, how its business is actually bucking a trend in spite of conventional wisdom. 

For example, the use of newsletters has ramped up in the last year. We represent ad tech companies and media brands, and the shift to newsletters has real implications for them. There’s not a single, breaking story to react to, but rather a steady stream of developments in the category that makes it a natural trend for commentary and content.

Recently, we sent out a pitch offering our client LiveIntent, to discuss the importance of local newspapers and their email newsletters amid changes due to COVID-19. We were able to secure a Q&A feature opportunity with this pitch as well as inclusions in ad-tech newsletters. 

Thought leadership

Most PR pros work with their clients to create plans where they outline pitch angles and content topics they want to execute over the course of a couple months. These plans are helpful when the news cycle is slow. 

Having a thought-leadership pitch angle ready, complete with approved quotes from company executives will make it easier to reach out to reporters. Thought-leadership pieces should offer insight for readers from new perspectives and commentary that contributes to a larger conversation that is relevant at the time. 

A thought-leadership angle that can garner interest can include commentary on the third-party cookies saga. The phasing out of third-party cookies has shaken up digital advertising and media, and with recent pushback regarding privacy issues, there is much to talk about. Offering an opinion and thoughts on the ongoing cookie delay is going to be relevant in ad-tech for a long time. 

When we reach out to journalists with pitches about something other than an announcement, they take notice and particularly appreciate fresh ideas. If the content or commentary is compelling, relevant, and timely, it will grab the attention of reporters. 

What Thought Leaders Have In Common

In B2B public relations, there’s a lot of talk about thought leadership. Agency teams promise client executives that they’ll be positioned as thought leaders, we throw the term into proposals, and we call our content “thought capital.” Granted, good executive content is a very useful component of a B2B PR program, but that doesn’t necessarily make the author a thought leader. They might be an expert, which is a fine thing, or a business leader, which is terrific, or even a brilliant and charismatic speaker.

So, what’s magical about thought leadership?

“Expert” or “authority” just aren’t good enough, and “pundit” can hit the wrong note. It was an economist, Joel Kurtzman, who is actually credited with popularizing “thought leadership” in business circles. Kurtzman, who died in 2016 and also coined the term “economic headwinds,” was clearly a thought leader in his own right.

So, what separates mere experts from thought leaders? As business professor and author Dorie Clark says, the emphasis here is on “leader.” Lots of us have interesting or provocative thoughts, but the delivery and amplification of such concepts is critical. Maybe that’s why we PR people just can’t stop talking about it.

In my view, true thought leadership is typically a blend of insight, inspiration, and influence. The good news is, it can be easier to grab attention for leading insights during a time of disruption, when specific audiences like customers or employees are hungry for new ideas or solutions to problems.  That describes the present, of course. And today’s digital media environment, which makes building virality easier than ever, also comes into play. Now is a great time to be a thought leader.

How thought leaders are made

How does that happen? One way to be a thought leader is to be first with a striking new concept or insight, like digital marketing guru Seth Godin, or the person I think of as his latter-day counterpart, Gary Vaynerchuk. We see it in first-mover companies as well. Look at Salesforce, which pioneered modern CRM, or Starbucks, which Americanized the concept of cafe culture in the 1990s. In the spirit of thought leadership about, well, thought leadership, here’s my adapted list of qualities common to people and brands who qualify.

Key traits of thought leaders

They talk about ideas

The young U.S. president John F. Kennedy was a thought leader when he rallied Americans to put a man on the moon, and in fact, the term “moonshoot” has been used to express an idealistic goal ever since the first Apollo moon landing.  In Kennedy’s day, it wasn’t a new concept, but it captured the public imagination and was a metaphor for American ingenuity, competitiveness, and idealism. It’s interesting to see space travel adopted as a personal and business mission by billionaires Bezos, Musk, and Branson today, although I’d say their “moonshots” fall well short of Kennedy’s example. But the fact remains that true thought leadership is about ideas that demand attention from relevant audiences, that spark inspiration and discussion, and that can lead to new ways of thinking about and achieving our goals.

They’re specialists

Most thought leadership arises from deep expertise, usually the result of immersion in a singular area. Many experts cement their reputation in a vertical area, then apply their ideas more broadly. It may be less about answering the obvious questions (“How to unify our country?) than it is about asking a different and more specific one (“What are the things we dream of doing but have not done?”). Expertise comes from immersion in a narrow area, and most PR people will agree it’s easier to differentiate ideas when they are specific.

They’re bold

Many true thought leaders are naturally contrarian. If that tendency to zig when others zag is authentic, it can offer a quick route to recognition.  The quintessential example is Steve Jobs, who took risks by rejecting market research and other conventions of product development. Of course, Jobs reportedly took his inspiration from Henry Ford, who is rumored to have said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” A true visionary follows his own path.

They’re hopeful

I don’t think personal optimism is necessary to an effective idea or leadership platform, but people will naturally respond well to a concept that offers hope. Part of inspiration is to offer a path to progress, particularly in a dynamic, troubled, or rapidly transforming industry where stakeholders feel uncertain or if they fear change. That’s one reason why Vaynerchuk, who transformed from a social-media wine expert to a business leader after the 2008 downturn, achieved such startling success. He offered advice to recession-battered strivers on how to take advantage of social and digital media to pivot away from traditional jobs and create new-economy gigs.

They’re different

True thought leadership is unique and ownable. That sounds daunting, but differentiation can come down to a twist in an existing idea, or the juxtaposition of two seemingly dissimilar things. Which is where the packaging and communication of  a single, coherent and well-articulated thought are critical.

How they get the message out

Even the most inspiring idea is only as good as its delivery. How can true thought leaders start an authentic conversation around their message? This is where the PR and digital marketing magic kick in, — or so we hope. But in addition to a sound communications strategy, targeted audiences, and quality content, message differentiation and amplification here are key.

Package the idea

Often an idea or trend has grown up around us, but we haven’t noticed it and have no language for identifying or discussing it. Malcolm Gladwell had some excellent and insightful observations about the spread of ideas and memes, and they were truly original. But it was only after he packaged his observations under a label borrowed from epidemiology that “the tipping point” was born.

Build a community

According to Dorie Clark, the first step here is in building a network of receptive and knowledgeable people who will listen to the idea. That network, which typically combines business and personal contacts but may extend deeply into a given industry, serves to plant the seeds for conversation. If properly nurtured, it will grow into a group of advocates and eventually, propelled by digital and social platforms, a community. Good leaders will listen to that community. After that, things become like a boulder running downhill; an idea generates its own momentum.

Be generous

An idea at the right time has its own momentum, it’s true. That means you can’t own it. Thought leadership isn’t about profiting from ideas or selling products. Instead, it’s about sharing credit, encouraging reaction and discussion, and building a community around the central concept. Thought leaders literally give it away, but the rewards of their work include public recognition, deeper relationships with customers, and an invaluable platform for continued business growth.

PR Advice For Building Better Media Relationships

Every PR agency team appreciates the importance of relationships with key media outlets and personnel. This is particularly true in B2B PR, where we tend to approach the same business and trade journalists on behalf of client executives and their brands. The most successful agencies have contacts ready to go for any type of announcement or story, but making a connection with a reporter is only part of the equation. Building it to ensure a long-lasting relationship is the real trick. That requires thoughtful attention and a strong sense of how media work. Below are 7 ways that PR professionals can tighten those all-important journalist relationships.

Stay up-to-date

Occasionally checking a reporter’s recent work is not enough. The best PR professionals know what journalists are planning before they actually publish the piece. First, have a clear understanding of the reporters you work with most frequently and try to check what they’re writing about, even if you don’t have an urgent media inquiry. Often a journalist will hint at what they plan to cover next, offering the opportunity to give client commentary. It’s also helpful to understand the reporter’s perspective on the major topics in the industry. For contacts you don’t know, this is essential so your spokesperson can understand whether the interview will be easy or could present challenges. But for familiar media contacts, knowing their interests and thoughts on major topics can expedite media opportunities. This is because you not only know what stories they will cover instantly when a story breaks, but how they’re likely to approach, which enables a more targeted pitch.

Understand and manage deadlines

Working at the convenience of the reporter and the client can be a tightrope walk. Often between gathering commentary and trying to meet a deadline, the reporter will be nearly as stressed as the PR person. Offering timely and relevant commentary is a great way to improve a relationship, but we’re often stuck waiting on commentary from a client. Although there isn’t a golden rule, keeping the reporter up-to-date on the status of the information you’ve promised is a good idea and helps build trust.

Be first

Building better media relations means making reporters’ lives easier. One of the best ways to do this is by being the first to offer a spokesperson’s thoughts for newsworthy stories. This can be done through close monitoring of important dates like company earnings reports and major tech events where commentary is useful. Often during major announcements, reporters won’t have time to reach out to their reliable PR contacts, so the onus is on the PR team to be proactive. It’s helpful to make a note of any feedback a reporter shares about the next major story, event or announcement they’re planning. You can then take the initiative to offer commentary as soon as a the story is relevant.

Be transparent

Be honest about what you’re offering, especially if it isn’t a perfect fit with the reporter’s needs. It also pays to be truthful about deadlines. If your expert spokesperson can’t meet a deadline, or even if it looks like they might be late, it’s a good idea to let the reporter know. Otherwise, it’s likely the reporter won’t reach out again as they now think you’re unreliable. Being upfront with reporters will lead to more coverage in the long-term even if it means missing an opportunity in the short-term. 

Think outside the brand

A big misconception among PR people is that they can only offer up a spokesperson to speak about the company’s story of the day. Our job is to think outside the strict product news parameters, and that creative thinking can benefit journalists. For example, a tech company focused on connected TV can offer thoughts about what the company did to keep their employees engaged during the pandemic. While you certainly want to pitch and focus on the areas of client expertise, it pays to expand the definition of expertise beyond self-serving announcements. 

Interact on social media

Interaction with a reporter on social media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn can be beneficial. First, it’s a nice gesture. Social likes and shares will be noticed and appreciated. Successful PRs can also learn a great deal about a reporter’s interests that go beyond simply looking at their recent pieces. Journalists often announce they are switching outlets on social media, providing an opportunity to not only wish them luck on their new endeavor, but also build a relationship with a new publication. It also gives you a heads-up to start looking for new go-to contacts at the media outlet the reporter left so you’re building relationships without losing any. 

Use email well

PR people often struggle to find a middle ground between pitching a reporter too often and failing to pitch them enough. There are ways to work around this dilemma. First, make sure the agency team is coordinating outreach so they aren’t contacting a given reporter too much. Second, make sure to acknowledge or thank the reporter following an interview or inclusion in a piece. Finally, make sure you’re only emailing them about relevant content. This is essential for every pitch, but emailing a contact about a story that clearly isn’t up their alley could burn that bridge and hurt future opportunities.