Scary Similarities Between Halloween And PR

What do PR and Halloween have in common? They can both be scary as well as fun. Here’s what I mean.

Planning is the key to both

Ever wait for the last minute to plan your costume and feel like a loser at the party? It’s the same way in public relations. For fans of Halloween the planning starts weeks or even months in advance. There’s thought and research put into the ideal costume, candy, décor and celebration. There’s even healthy competition in the suburbs around who can have the most ghoulish yard decorations! In PR, we spend time planning before the “fun” part happens, too. Those plans may be for 90 days to six months, complete with realistic KIPs, media expectations, and outcomes. (Check out some more ways to create that PR plan in this post.) Then we’re ready to dive in and make things happen. Later, we celebrate success. 

Group efforts make the party 

At Crenshaw, we pride ourselves on a company culture that recognizes each person’s successes. We work through things as a team, much like group costumes where everyone has an individual look but together they make up an idea or team, like a LaCroix package or the cast from Schitt’s Creek. Similarly, we hold each other up in public relations. In a pre-COVID office, we could even shout out a question and get multiple suggestions on how to solve the issue. It’s corny to say we have the best team in PR but everyone knows when they walk in the door they are part of an amazing group. Even during these past few months of WFH, we always know our team is just a Slack or Zoom call away.  

PR pros often wear lots of hats….or costumes

During my time in PR, I’ve worked on many different accounts in all different industries – ad tech, retail, cybersecurity, consumer tech, the list goes on. There were days where accounts across the board had major announcements happening, making me feel like I was changing costumes all day depending on what I was doing. Sometimes walking into the office, you never know what ‘costume’ you’ll be wearing. You could be moderating a media interview, holding media training for a CEO, or manning a check-in table at a panel event. Just like for Halloween, we pull out ideas or tricks on a moment’s notice.  

We get very crafty

Some of my favorite costumes were the ones that were homemade and had a lot of thought and time behind them. PR pros are very creative and have the skills to take something bland and make it exciting and relevant. One of our former clients was an emergency “panic button” marketed to women, college students, and runners. After successfully securing reviews in many major consumer tech pubs, our team hit a roadblock – what now? To gain more traction around the importance of being safe when running, we took advantage of Daylight Saving Time. We developed a DST-themed survey and pitched the exclusive to women’s health and fitness publications. Through our creativity we secured an exclusive in Women’s Running Magazine that sparked national TV segments. Without creative thinking, it would have never happened.      

Some tricks, hopefully lots of treats!

One of my favorite parts of PR are the tricks and treats. There are some days where we feel like nothing can go our way. Ask anyone in the business, and they’ll have horror stories about disastrous media events, missed opportunities, or scary clients. Then there are the treats. There is no better feeling than being praised by your boss and colleagues for a job well done, or getting a positive email from someone who is usually hard to please. These little moments of praise and treats remind us why we love working in PR. 

Happy Halloween! Hope your day is filled with lots of PR treats!   

Secrets To A Successful Veterans Day PR Campaign

As a public relations opportunity, Veterans Day offers a legitimate news hook, yet a campaign or pitch built around the occasion can be tricky. Certainly, it’s not to be confused with last week’s “National Cat Day” or the upcoming “National Square Dance Day” — celebrations that beg for B2B and B2C PR teams to newsjack them with crazy, creative pitches.  Veterans Day, by contrast, demands a serious and thoughtful campaign. If you’re building a corporate social responsibility program around our nation’s observance of the day, it had better strike the right tone.

Do a deep dive on what’s already out there. The last thing any good PR professional wants to do for a Veterans Day effort is to copy something already in the works. Obviously there is room for more than one “buy x and we’ll donate to y” but an original idea will be more successful. It’s often helpful to scan newswire releases from previous years to determine levels of commitment and PR strategy.

Partner with a reputable organization.  For so many reasons: to vet a concept for appropriate theme and messaging, to lend a campaign credibility and for “boots on the ground” in staging an event or other massive undertaking. We conducted an effort for an e-commerce site with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a wonderful organization with deep resources, PR savvy, and refreshing honesty when it came to brainstorming ideas that would work to benefit all parties.

Avoid campaigns that pander or pity. Every year there’s an editorial advising us to stop either putting vets on a pedestal, or pitying them. It’s true that many veterans have a hard time readjusting to civilian life. And we should recognize servicemen and women for their sacrifice, but the tone is important. The best campaigns are positive; it can even be lighthearted as long as its “heart” is in the right place. This underscores the value of setting up a partnership with a credible organization.

Choose an early start date…and start earlier than that. This is a very competitive time period with many vying to “own” not just Veterans Day, but the start of the holiday season as well. A smart start will include communications as early as September, but at least by Columbus Day.

Choose a cause that aligns with the company mission.  Sure, it’s great to offer veterans free meals or train tickets, etc. but a greater impact can be achieved with a more strategic, long-lasting effort. Two campaigns gaining traction last year were devoted to providing jobs. Starbucks and Uber, huge employers already, made ongoing commitments to hire veteran workers and Starbucks is more than a third of the way to its goal, which is a true win-win.

Secure a fitting spokesperson. Seems obvious, but sometimes companies choose sizzle over substance, and it doesn’t always work out. If the budget only allows a celebrity spokesperson to do one broadcast appearance, will it really be worthwhile? Is a boldfaced name even right for the cause? Might a hands-on VA expert or, of course, someone who served, be the best person for the job?

Make a lasting impression. Assuming there are clear goals for the campaign, they don’t need to end the day after the holiday. It’s a better idea to revisit the partner organization to determine the campaign impact and make future plans. If sales (and therefore donations) increased, that may be a trade or business story, of course. Even better is a testimonial from someone positively touched by the campaign. A single example is more powerful than a hundred press releases.

5 PR Strategies For Today And Tomorrow

Top PR professionals are always sharpening their B2B or B2C PR skills, whether it’s developing messaging, creative program ideas, or specific tactics for earning media coverage. Creating owned and paid content that works to engage customers and meet business goals is now also an important part of the PR team’s objectives. So, in this evolving landscape, what are some strategies the successful PR team must implement for today, and for the future?

Decode your target audiences

Are you constantly putting yourself in the shoes of your target? To effectively communicate, PR teams have to know not just who they’re trying to reach, but what story to tell them and where to tell it. Traditionally, PR teams have tried creating noise to attract the attention of the crowd and persuade them to care about a product or service. The data is now available to move from broad target views to more pinpointed ones.

Let insights drive thinking

While insights have always been a part of smart PR, there has been a huge shift in how data is collected, and how insights are generated and used. Surveys have and continue to be the most common way to know the pulse of consumers. But with social media, we get real-time data. PR teams must work alongside data scientists and other marketing partners to understand the market and collect and leverage these insights to create messaging with real impact.

Generate and leverage loyalty

Sure, the world is a fickle place, but savvy PR teams know that their internal and external clients live and die on customer loyalty. With increased competition and an ever-more-cluttered marketplace, it’s harder to stand out and reach the right set of customers. Understanding what it takes to appeal to and keep loyal customers is the best way PR can turn these customers into brand advocates who share their positive experiences, drive conversations and continue to engage.

Advocate for PR’s place

The rise of ad blocking is a huge source of irritation for advertisers. Some in the PR industry take a real “glass-half-full” perspective here – more earned media and native content may be the best way for advertisers to reach audiences they could lose through blocked ads. It’s a challenge PR can rise to, both in terms of selling in smart campaigns designed to generate more earned and working alongside advertisers to help with smart native and other content.

Nurture a passion for collaboration

Whether you are in PR, marketing or advertising, the battle cry for collaboration has been popular for awhile. But has it been realized? Not fully enough, we would argue. As the ways to reach target audiences evolve to include more and more overlap in the disciplines, there should be healthy overlap in the practice groups as well. Healthy camaraderie can lead to breakthrough thinking that benefits all.

How B2B PR Techniques Can Work For B2C Campaigns

B2B PR and its counterpart, consumer public relations, are sometimes thought of as worlds apart, requiring different strategies and skill sets on the part of PR professionals. This divide is driven in part by the sales methods for each type of product or service.

The B2B selling cycle tends to be longer, the buyer learning curve steeper, and the marketing spend often richer per customer acquisition.

But as Ryan Johnson notes, the B2C customer journey is looking more like the B2B one. And the marketing and PR tactics behind the labels aren’t so different anymore either. I blogged a few weeks about about how most B2B programs can benefit from a dash of consumer PR flair, and the reverse is also true. In fact, the two areas seem to be moving closer as time goes on.

This is in part due to the endless amount of information about products and services available to customers. There was a time when only a large business purchase required, or could easily access, the specialized data needed to evaluate and select the right products. Today the ubiquity of information available to everyone for just about any category has made shopping and buying more customer-driven and democratic. My mother can become an expert on sizing up vacation resorts, and my daughter’s a software maven.

There’s no type of product or service that can’t be researched, vetted, compared, and spreadsheeted. The data and experiences are everywhere: new product ads, earned media coverage, media and customer reviews and ratings, category whitepapers, analyst vendor recommendations, side-by-side demos, and individual user experiences, all amplified by social media.

The result of the information explosion is that the B2B customer education curve has flattened, while the consumer buyer has more information at his disposal than ever before. So, shopping and buying habits have grown more similar.

A strategic PR program can support business goals in either case, but here’s what the two have in common as the lines blur.

It brings in customers through targeted content. So-called “inbound marketing” has been the purview of B2B marketers, but don’t forget the long tail. There are opportunities to attract consumer customers with keyword-rich content marketing programs, particularly in niche categories like pet lovers, classic rock fans, photo collectors, and the like.

It’s based on an understanding of customer segments. Time was, B2B customers were highly specialized, but consumer prospects were reached through this huge monolithic thing called “mass media.” Remember those days? They’re pretty much gone, and today there’s no such thing as a prototypical buyer. Marketing and PR strategies must begin with a more sophisticated understanding of the specific customer segment(s) who should be reached, and they need to include media plans that reach those segments.

It offers category insights that put a brand’s advantages into context. Media love to cover new categories, so if a startup business or a new product company can build a category story around its particular innovation and add insights on the business, customer behavior, or financial implications, that’s a win. And a business-page category can advance a leadership position. Consumers read about new trends and categories just as do business customers.

It supports customer expectations. B2B customers have typically enjoyed a more service-oriented and personalized relationship with business brands, due to the typical sales rep structure and the cost and long-term nature of B2B transactions. Yet buyers of consumer brands today have similar expectations; they want personalized communications, excellent service, transparency about problems, and quick fixes or makegoods when things go wrong. They don’t want to hear from brands too much – except when they do, in which case it must be timely.

A sound PR strategy must focus on the “new” customer expectations, listen closely to what key customers and influencers are saying and how they experience the brand, and be ready to respond when needed to head off problems.

It helps close the sale with help from credible third parties. The use of third-party experts or boldface names remains a stalwart PR practice, but the digital toolbox contains far more than just pricey celebrity personalities used to push consumer products. We borrow from B2B practices by tapping journalists, reviewers, analysts, and emerging social media stars for a fraction of the old-school appearance fees.

It leverages the business culture as a B2C advantage.  Customers don’t care much about business ethics and culture – that is, until they do. Until something goes wrong. But a smart corporate communications campaign takes advantage of differentiators like the CEO’s personal story; employee-driven changes to the company; or an original business model that supports a better product or service.


Declare Your Independence From These PR Misconceptions

It’s our nation’s birthday, and July 4th is a good time to take a step back from the 24/7 PR madness and re-examine some widely held notions that may hamper an agency or a client’s efforts to conduct business and leverage the true value of public relations.

Break free of some of these accepted “truths” and see if doing so helps focus on true priorities!

PR = advertising. One would think that informed clients would completely reject this false equivalency, but you’d be amazed how many do think PR can accomplish the same things that advertising may, such as reliably driving sales. Without being too pedantic, use select client interactions to demonstrate what PR does and doesn’t do.

PR is “cheap.” Yes, PR campaigns can be more cost-effective than advertising, but it’s a matter of apples and oranges. And the “work” is not cheap. Successful implementation often requires a team of specialists, as well as a healthy and realistic out-of-pocket budget. Often successful case histories are the best tool to illustrate value and what it takes to secure meaningful results.

PR is easy. No, it isn’t. But many clients feel that their story is so compelling and media are so easily won over that agencies should actually “guarantee” their placements. We have even had a potential client ask if we’d agree to a refund if our team didn’t produce the earned media they expected. While it’s always a positive to show confidence in outcomes, the point is the PR often sacrifices message control, in exchange for credibility.

PR has been replaced by content marketing. Content marketing is a terrific means for disseminating thought leadership and extending the reach of any PR campaign, but it is not a replacement for PR. The creation of great content that can be re-purposed for speaking opps, white papers, blogs etc. is a necessary addition to any successful plan.

Don’t hire a serial “job-hopper.” Today the adage of “stay in each job at least a year” is no longer realistic or even a good idea if said job is holding you back! Each candidate needs to be assessed individually and seeing more jobs than years on a resume should no longer mean automatic rejection. What is of more value on a resume is whether the candidate advanced with each move and what they can tell you about the factors that precipitated them.

Just give the social media to an intern. Unbelievably, some practitioners and clients still haven’t “gotten the memo” that social media is a major marketing force for B2B and B2C brands and must be managed as strategically and professionally as any other aspect of a PR campaign. While it may make sense for interns to be part of a social media team, the strategy and content should be handled by account pros.