Challenger Brands: Here’s How To Win At PR

Regardless of the industry, a challenger brand can have a natural PR advantage. Challenger brands can shake things up through unique points of view, innovation or a better story. Media like underdogs, whether they’re Casper challenging the mattress industry, TikTok going after Facebook or the Dollar Shave Club taking on Gillette.

But many brands don’t have Casper’s $240 million venture funding. And to raise visibility with press, it’s not enough to simply be a successful challenger. Your brand needs to do more than that to build inroads and tell your story effectively. Here are some tips based on tech PR experience.

Be bold.

Dollar Shave Club didn’t build a billion-dollar business and sell to Unilever in 2016 without throwing a few bombs. Everyone remembers their viral, bro-y YouTube ad in 2011, for example. It helped the brand build a billion-dollar business by being bold and aggressive, highlighting the pitfalls of the traditional razor industry and punching up at massive CPGs like Unilever and P&G. Gillette, a P&G brand, even sued them in 2015, citing patent infringements. This allowed Dollar Shave Club to be even more aggressive in positioning its brand against CPGs, claiming that the incumbents were out of touch and threatened by change.

Previous Crenshaw client Sundial Brands, makers of inclusive personal care and beauty products, is another example. Sundial (marketers of  the Shea Moisture and Nubian Heritage lines) identified an underserved market and developed products for it. Equally important, the brand spoke out about CPGs overlooking women of color. They also made the story bigger than the company — broadening out to themes on inclusion, gender, and more, which can be controversial. Rather than compete with Sundial, Unilever went the Dollar Shave Club route and acquired them. If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.

Show the receipts.

Media are naturally skeptical of commercial claims — and for good reason. They’re always getting pitched by PR people who say they represent the next Facebook or WeWork or Airbnb. More often than not, these claims are wildly embellished or even fabricated. The last thing a journalist wants is to bring a bogus challenger brand story to their editor or readers. So, if they express any interest in hearing more, challenger brands need to anticipate probing questions about scale and growth. That means being prepared to “show the receipts” and peel back the curtain. It will inspire confidence with media and create credibility for the brand.

For example, our tech PR team at Crenshaw supported the U.S. launch of WeTransfer, the popular file-sharing service from the Netherlands. As part of our strategy, we went after market leaders like Dropbox and Hightail. In stories we pitched to outlets like Business Insider (“This Dutch startup is designing a plan to beat Dropbox — and it’s already profitable”) and Forbes (“Dutch File-Sharing Startup WeTransfer And Its 80 Million Users Are Coming For The U.S. Market”), for example, we talked up WeTransfer’s start-up persona and its appeal to the “creative class” versus bland competitors, but we made sure to mention its 80 million users and status as a profitable business. We had to if we wanted to be taken seriously.

Take advantage of social media. 

For challenger brands, social media can offer powerful PR and marketing opportunities, particularly when it comes to real-time marketing responses to news events or competitive moves. Smaller brands are usually more nimble and faster to pull the trigger when it comes to social content because they don’t typically have teams of lawyers approving every tweet. Savvy challengers also use social media to capture audience attention in innovative ways, interact with press on a one-to-one basis, and create a distinct voice and brand personality compared to category incumbents.

Take Taco Bell. It has built an outspoken and irreverent social media persona across a number of platforms, from Twitter to Snapchat. As a result it’s created a foothold with younger consumers while more dominant QSR players like McDonald’s have failed. Away, the luggage company, is another example. In just four years, it has used social media, particularly visual storytelling on Instagram, to create a globally-recognized travel lifestyle brand. The team clearly realized that the luggage industry had become too commoditized and built an identity that sets the brand apart. Their sales are now surging and longtime market leaders like Samsonite are feeling the pressure.

Challenger brands might think that, because they’re challengers, big PR wins are harder to generate. That’s largely true when it comes to most challengers. But there are storytelling opportunities that the incumbents don’t have. All it takes is a creative team, a willingness to take risks, and serious commitment to PR.

4 Ways PR Creates Brand Attachment

While top-tier marketing and advertising are valuable, associated PR campaigns can help propel a brand to the next level of emotional attachment. It’s that anticipation you get when you hear the three-note music intro before a Netflix movie or the warm recognition of a classic Mickey Mouse logo. You feel connected to these brands. They’ve become an enduring part of your life and are woven into enjoyable memories or happy experiences.

Some customers are initially attracted to certain brands because they like their ad message. Others are loyal because of a good experience with product quality or customer service. But sometimes the emotional connection between us and a brand is hard to define, and even harder to achieve. For companies looking to differentiate themselves from the pack, PR (integrated with advertising and marketing) can help build a foundation of brand love.

4 ways PR creates brand attachment

PR gives voice to brands

Especially in today’s atmosphere of increasing corporate activism, a company that takes a stand on a controversial topic can create lasting bonds with customers – even if it alienates others in the process. It is well documented that today’s rising generations value a company’s ethical stance and an authentic commitment to social responsibility. PR is a primary tool for corporate speech on social issues. In 2016, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook took a controversial stand (on its news site and in TV interviews) against the U.S. government when it refused to unlock the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone. The shooter’s phone was ultimately cracked without Apple’s help, but its stand on privacy was consistent with long-held principles and arguably those of its core customers. Patagonia, a smaller, privately owned company, has earned a loyal customer base by making good products, but its communications has also played a big role in engaging consumers. The brand’s book publishing and filmmaking arms help convey its position on environmental issues that are also important to stakeholders and customers. When brands like these take a stand on social issues, they are humanized, making it easier for like-minded consumers to engage.

Storytelling brings brands to life

When a company tells the story of the human beings behind the corporate logo, it brings the company to life. But the storytelling should go beyond the founders and employees. A great PR initiative will allow its other stakeholders (like employees, customers and third-party influencers) to tell their stories. In the B2B sector, Salesforce excels at storytelling and has a team dedicated to it. Its website has a success stories page, with well-produced articles and videos featuring “trailblazers” – Salesforce users. CEO Marc Benioff’s outspoken leadership on the topic of management always goes hand in hand with the Salesforce story – making him an outstanding CEO brand evangelist. His storytelling prowess combined with his corporate activism makes it obvious why Salesforce is such a beloved B2B brand.

PR helps differentiate

People gravitate towards uniqueness. Customers cannot fall in love with just another face in the crowd. They fall for the disruptors like Apple and McDonald’s (back in the 50s, it was radical). Differentiation is key to gaining competitive advantage over crowded markets. In B2B, ads alone may not inspire the confidence a customer needs to make a high-priced decision in a long sales cycle. Third-party endorsements like consultant reviews, analyst reports, and executive bylines help to explicate a company’s unique attributes for the potential buyers.

But sometimes a company lacks a true differentiator when it comes to its product or service. With all things being equal, intangible attributes become a source of differentiation: values, ethos, management philosophy, corporate culture. Public relations programs are designed to bring such values into the public conversation. Certainly, Airbnb has gained separation from competitors like VRBO/Homeaway through its marketing/PR activations. REI’s “opt outside” campaign, in which it closed its stores on black Friday and urged people to go outside, was a compelling social activism campaign that in turn helped REI separate itself from other outdoor retailers.

PR helps fosters brand immersion

Marketing, advertising, and PR should work in combination when tying to take brands to the next level. Experiential marketing generates the kind of customer interaction that is key to attachment. When brands create immersive experiences that are so compelling and unusual, they earn media placements from the press, adding a whole other dimension to the marketing campaign. These activations allow customers to participate in the brand story, as well as capture and share unique and memorable experiences.

Netflix partnered with Lyft to create some mildly scary, but amazing experiences for Lyft customers in promotion of the second season of Stranger Things. Borrowing a page from Walt Disney’s playbook, the Lego Group, which was named #2 most reputable company in 2017, created LegoLand theme parks and a Legoland themed hotel. Airbnb opened a pop-up open house for four days in London as part of its 2016 “Live There” campaign. Over 1400 people ventured in to see how locals live. Not only did Airbnb give people fun and informative experiences, but the event incorporated its messaging — the resonant theme urging travelers to ‘live like locals.’

Companies not only create immersive experiences with events and attractions, but also with dialogue. Netflix frequently invites two-way conversation and participation of its customers, especially on social media. For its show Orange is the New Black, it created a photo-sharing app on which viewers could make their own show-related memes. Users get to feel as if they are in on the joke and in on the fun. Experiences are not easily forgotten, and they break the barrier between brand and customer. For more on experiential PR, see this PR Week article.

However, if substance does not back up a company’s storytelling, it’s unlikely to make customers fall in love. There must be a great story to tell; the commitment to values must be sincere and relevant; and the interaction must be honest. Whether for a mid-sized B2B or an early-stage consumer brand, a solid PR approach can build brand attachment as well as growth. See our earlier post for more on 7 PR tips for brands to woo customers.

Five Bad Reasons To Rebrand A Business

Word is that, in the wake of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, The Weinstein Company is looking to escape its PR disaster with a rebrand. According to Adweek and other trades, the company is quietly reaching out to agencies to discuss a possible assignment, with some accounts saying it wants to change its identity “within 48 hours.”

It seems unlikely that any business would try to rebrand in two days (and the rumors have been floating for at least that long), but no brand image expert could blame Weinstein senior management for wanting to distance the company from the name. Although the Board was smart to terminate Weinstein quickly and condemn his behavior, a rebrand probably won’t accomplish their goals until the crisis is over, and there are signs that more shoes will drop.

A rebranding can be part of a smart strategy for moving past a reputation crisis. The low-cost airline Valujet became AirTran after a fatal crash that was found to be the result of negligence. Who would want to fly Valujet after such a disaster? After Lance Armstrong admitted to years of doping, his foundation attempted to move forward under the Livestrong name, with mixed results. Even the former Kentucky Fried Chicken seemed to take on a slightly more health-oriented image after it slimmed down to become KFC.

But a rebrand isn’t a magic bullet, especially if nothing else has changed for the company involved. And The Weinstein Company’s rush to rebrand in the wake of scandal offers an opportunity to visit each of the circumstances that don’t really stand alone as a rationale to change one’s visual or brand identity. Here are some of the top reasons not to rebrand.

To distract from internal problems

Internal problems are, by definition, inside an organization, so a rebranding to move past institutionalized behavior is like a band-aid on a bullet wound. No rebranding can rebuild a reputation if the would isn’t disinfected and treated. In the case of The Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein’s termination may not be enough in the face of signs of systemic tolerance of sexual harassment by its cofounder.

To generate publicity about the business

If the issue is an absence of news, there are far better and more long-lived ways to generate positive visibility for a company. Only in the cases of extremely large, multinational organizations is a rebranding big news, and in many cases there’s a risk of backlash. Occasionally marketing or communications executives cook up a rebranding because they want to signal a new direction, or even to distract from sluggish business indicators, but it’s nearly always a bad idea.

To signal new management

Sometimes a new CMO will call for a rebrand in order to make his mark, or the arrival of a CEO from outside the company induces thoughts of a new identity. But if the Weinstein lesson tells us anything, it’s about not letting an individual dominate the brand’s identity, or even its strategic direction. The most effective rebrandings are rooted in a company’s business goals and the brand’s relationship with its key audiences, including customers, stakeholders, partners, and employees. If the new arrival doesn’t change the company’s mission, strategic direction, or value proposition, there’s no compelling need to rebrand.

Because everyone’s doing it

Competitive pressures or even category changes can make senior management think a rebranding is in order, but, again, a vague sense that the brand could be left behind isn’t necessarily enough to warrant a full-scale restage.  In the case of a rapidly evolving industry, a new brand identity should symbolize how the business is actually meeting changes and challenges, instead of being a statement on industry status or a shallow marker that it’s up with the times.

To hasten the end of a reputation crisis

The worst thing a company can do is rebrand during a crisis situation. An identity change can certainly work to help signal a fresh direction after a period of reputation damage, but only if the business has legitimately turned the corner on its problems. A sudden rebrand to hasten the resolution of a crisis, at best, won’t take, but it’s also likely to be seen as an attempt to run away from negative publicity or pressure.

When Brands Take A Stand: PR Advice For Issue Campaigns

Staking out a position on a high-profile issue is a time-honored public relations strategy. When done well it creates a public platform and builds brand visibility designed to resonate with customers. The right campaign can also humanize a corporate brand and engage individual customers and stakeholders in a powerful way by tapping their emotions.

Most importantly, a well designed brand platform linked to a topical issue can differentiate a brand among a sea of competitors. But in today’s divided social and political culture, is it always a good idea?

Studies show that Americans are 8.1% more likely to buy from a company that shares their opinions and are 8.4% less likely to purchase from a company whose stance diverges from theirs. And according to research by the Global Strategy Group, 56% of Americans now believe corporations should engage in dialogue surrounding controversial social-political issues.

I’m not always convinced by research that asks consumers how they feel about corporate behavior, or that poses hypothetical questions about unnamed companies. Much of the research touting corporate social responsibility is fielded by consultancies and PR firms who market such programs to clients. It seems more instructive to look at the data, and certainly there’s evidence showing principled companies can and do succeed.

Issue Campaigns Have A Bottom-Line Benefit

A study by McKinsey offers hard evidence of the bottom-line value of social responsibility. It shows that companies gain through four key metrics: growth; return on capital (through workforce and operational efficiency); risk management; and ability to attract quality senior talent.

It’s also been noted that a sizeable segment of the population feels that public-company CEOs have an obligation to speak out on important issues. We’ve witnessed the rise of the “activist CEO” in the actions of chief executives like Marc Benioff and Howard Schultz. This is primarily in response to the dominance of social media, and with it, a heightening of public expectations. There was a time when a corporation, as embodied by the chief executive, could keep his head down and quietly deliver quarter after quarter for shareholders. No more.

Millennials Rewards Principled Brands

Then there’s the millennial factor. Study after study confirms what we know intuitively — that younger adults are more inclined to reward corporations that seek to “make a positive impact,” as long as they perceive it to be sincere.

Of course, simple social responsibility may not include an embrace of a potentially divisive issue or movement. A company that takes a stand on marriage equality, Black Lives Matter, or even global climate change may find itself facing controversy. Yet I’d argue that a well-articulated position, even on a debatable issue, is a viable communications strategy for many brands today. To stake out a middle ground on minimum wage, or transgender rights, is increasingly tough. It’s no longer safe. So you may as well embrace a position, as long as you can do so with eyes open.

Here are some broad parameters for brands adopting an issue-driven campaign.

Make it relevant.  The success  of an issue or cause-driven program often hinges on its relevance to core customers. Advocacy works as a blunt instrument and as such may not be as useful for attracting new customers as it is for deepening relationships with an existing base of users. If a brand truly knows its customers, it can create powerful connections.

Know your customers. This is marketing 101 for most brands, but occasionally an activist CEO will wander off course to embrace an issue that’s not only controversial, but seems to contradict customer values. When Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy came out against marriage equality, it generated bad PR but probably didn’t hurt its business. On the flip side, when Whole Foods founder John Mackey opined against Obamacare, it provoked boycott threats because it went against the grain of Whole Foods’ mostly progressive customers.

Engage employees. Employees have enormous power as evangelists, both for good and for ill. Any position on a hot-button public issue should dovetail with how rank and file staff feel about the matter. A thorough audit among internal constituencies will minimize risk and can even galvanize employees to help carry the water.

Be prepared for pushback. It doesn’t always happen, but it pays to be ready for those who disagree. A strong brand can typically weather some debate in the face of a thoughtful and well articulated position on an issue of substance. But some companies are ill prepared for pushback and are tempted to reverse course when it happens, with poor results. Nothing is worse than a flip-flop. Wells Fargo showed some grit after it ran an ad featuring a gay couple that sparked boycott threats from Frank Graham. If you’re going to take a stand, be ready to double down.

Can PR Rebrand Hillary Clinton? Advice From Millennials

Does Hillary Clinton need to refresh her brand? Can brand marketing PR and social media strategies help?

In announcing his own candidacy, GOP hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio took a none-too-subtle swipe at Mrs. Clinton by declaring, “Yesterday’s over.”

Ouch. It’s true that the 67-year-old Mrs. Clinton is a familiar brand – some would say too familiar. One marketing consultant compared her image to that of McDonald’s – worn, tired and beset by

challenges from newer and fresher competitors.
But Mrs. Clinton has only just begun her campaign, and her team has already assembled a creative brain trust of marketing talent to help represent her to the voting public and ensure relevance as the GOP field of hopefuls grows.

Pundits are falling over themselves to offer counsel, so why shouldn’t we? Given the importance of the millennial sector, I polled some staff members and colleagues about what advice they would offer Mrs. Clinton and distilled the details into some PR-driven branding techniques.

Repackage the product. Some millennials feel Mrs. Clinton should take a cue from Michelle Obama and begin to wear up-and-coming designer clothes and a new, youthful hairstyle. An update isn’t a bad idea, but any radical change is bound to distract from the Clinton 5.0 message and could make her look insecure. In my view, a Clinton makeover should start from within.

Find your true voice. Authenticity is everything in communications, right? With the help of branding gurus Wendy Clark and Roy Spence, Mrs. Clinton needs to home in on why she’s worthy of becoming the next chief executive and what her brand promise is. If, as her speeches suggest, it’s about income inequality and economic fairness for ordinary Americans, she needs to move away from the perception of entitlement and differentiate from GOP candidates who are already trying to own the issue.

Build bridges to key constituencies. A good way to tap into America’s future leaders – while creating new voters in the process – might be an advisory board comprised of college students. This might dovetail nicely with her ideas about the affordability of education, employment trends, and hot-button issues like STEM and LGBT rights.

Engage on social media. Obviously @HillaryClinton has an impressive social following, including nearly 3.4 million Twitter followers. But as one millennial staffer here points out, “Her content is too hard-sell and hence, dull and scripted. Also, what is up with her only following 14 people on Twitter and zero people on Instagram?” A more inclusive social strategy may be called for to reflect her focus on fairness for ordinary Americans.

Create fresh content. Stump speeches are fine, but what about tackling intergenerational topics through a mother-daughter blog with Chelsea? A Buzzfeed listicle on the top ways to address domestic problems? Regular infographics that explain complex issues like banking regulation or the history of ISIS? A short video series featuring the ordinary Americans she meets at campaign stops?

There’s no shortage of advice for Mrs. Clinton, and I take issue with the notion that a presidential candidate is like a fast-food brand. But, just as Barack Obama triumphed by mastering digital and social marketing and creating new voters, the next president of the U.S. will need to apply new communications tactics informed by classic brand marketing strategy.

Five Brand "Disasters" That Built Positive PR

In the world of brand PR, change is risky. Even a tweak to a product that enjoys a loyal following must be managed deftly. Case in point: the feeding frenzy after Cadbury altered the recipe for its classic crème egg.  The brand’s switch from dairy milk to the more standard cocoa mix chocolate for the egg’s shell resulted in a PR meltdown.  The UK Guardian termed the change “an abomination” and called for fans to “fight for chocolate justice.”

The “shellshock” recalled other cases where well-intended updates or other changes were greeted with customer revolt.  Yet, sometimes, what seems like a PR crisis can have a paradoxical effect. It can rekindle dormant public sentiment, nostalgia, or even positive visibility for a brand or product.

Ever since the launch of New Coke in 1985 — arguably the most storied, and disastrous, product update in U.S. history, marketers have occasionally tapped deep reserves of consumer loyalty that they may not have even known existed. Here are some recent and classic examples.

Positive PR Driven by Loyal Customers: Trop’s Packaging Loses Its Juice

Tropicana never even saw it coming.  When the brand moved to refresh its iconic packaging, customers reacted sourly. They criticized the carton as “sterile” and “generic” and complained that it didn’t stand out on the shelf. Plunging sales figures seemed to confirm the disaster. Feeling the squeeze, Tropicana’s marketers wisely restored the original packaging and apologized to consumers. Trop’s marketing head explained in major media interviews that the brand had listened to its customers and even thanked them for the renewed attention. Crisis averted.

Maker’s Mark Waters Down The Brand Image

This one played out almost like a PR ploy by the bourbon distiller—and, who knows, maybe it was.  Maker’s Mark announced that it would lower the alcohol content of its bourbon to stretch its supply in the face of anticipated product shortages.  Loyal Maker’s customers found the change hard to swallow.  They responded with such outrage that the bourbon retreated on the change within days.  “What we’ve learned is that this is the customer’s brand,” summed up Maker’s Mark COO Rob Samuels. I’ll drink to that.

Trouble Brews for Twinings

Another PR tempest in a teacup occurred when Twinings tinkered with its 200-year-Earl Grey recipe. Despite a successful market test, the new blend had a bitter reception from Earl Grey fans, some of whom threatened to throw a Boston-style tea party. Customers created a Facebook page dedicated to restoring the original brew. It succeeded, with one comment calling the campaign “democracy at its highest level.”  Smart marketing, too.

Gap Returns to Classic Form

The backlash against Gap’s refashioned logo is familiar to most brand marketers and visual identity experts, and it’s a quintessential case of unintended consequences. A stark new Gap logo triggered a harsh reaction from the social mob, and traditional press was quick to pile on. At first Gap tried to tailor a solution by crowdsourcing new logo designs, but the search only spurred more scorn.  It ultimately reverted to the classic logo, and “Gapgate” faded into brand history. But the irony is that the uproar – which was probably confined to design and marketing professionals – gave its brand currency and may have made it more relevant than it had been in years.

Chevy Hits a Roadblock

Chevy’s backfire wasn’t a product change, and it really didn’t amount to much, but it reawakened some longtime love for the brand. A GM marketing executive tried to mandate the use of “Chevrolet” (instead of “Chevy”) in the name of brand consistency, obviously not realizing what a huge asset a nickname can be. When his private memo became a public joke, Chevy quickly shifted gears to welcome back its old moniker.

A version of this post originally appeared on January 27th, 2015 on MENGBlend.

Better Brand PR: How To Work With A Third-Party Spokesperson

Brand spokesperson. It’s a time-honored PR strategy, and for good reason. The right spokesperson can add depth to your message, help tell a story, and confer appealing attributes that the brand may lack or need to amplify.

But borrowing expertise, or sheer glamour, from a third party always carries risks. Just ask Samsung, which suffered embarrassment when director Michael Bay walked off the stage after a teleprompter snafu during the unveiling of a new curved-screen TV at CES. But while the problem there may have been one of preparation over temperament, the most common challenge is typically the choice of spokesperson.

Here are some tips to mitigate risk and maximize the upside of a third-party spokesperson.

Make it credible. If you’re going to link your brand to an external person, there needs to be a credible tie to him or her. The equity of each “brand” needs to mesh so that they are congruent in imagery and “personality.” Market research and “Q” ratings are helpful, but in the case of a celebrity, the reason for the choice should be intuitive not just to marketers and PR people, but to your sister-in-law.

Consider an expert over a celebrity. A celebrity isn’t right for all situations, of course. A credible subject-matter expert may represent your client’s interests with greater authenticity when it comes to earned media interviews. They can also offer an easier and more cost-effective working relationship and are often more motivated to do a better job delivering messages in interviews.

You cannot over-research. Once you have a workable list of candidates, find out everything you can about each of them: their background, credentials, experience, history and particularly any red flags that may be a clue to how a working relationship could fail. Everything is online now, so be thorough!

Spell everything out in the agreement. The odds are, whether the spokesperson is an athlete, author, or a physician, they have a healthy ego. This may be what helps make them a good choice, but take care in working with this type of individual. Do your due diligence, and make sure every detail is spelled out in your legal agreement, down to the specific number of brand mentions. Be sure that your personality is accompanied by a pro to everything they do.

Conduct a message training. It doesn’t matter how experienced your spokesperson is with public speaking or media interviews. S/he cannot possibly master brand messages without formal prep. Build in rehearsals and contingencies, particularly in the case of events and conferences. A dress rehearsal in the actual venue is ideal where possible, even in a forum where there’s a teleprompter, as Samsung’s experience shows.

Have a Plan B and C. Begin by discussing internally what to do in the event of mechanical or human malfunction and have scenarios in place. Consider appointing a company rep to act as back-up spokesperson in case of a last-minute change. At the venue, arrive early, spend time there, meet with the staff and have back-up auto-cue, laptops, thumb drives or whatever it will take – the show must go on!

If all else fails? Have a sense of humor and go with the flow. Unless you’re giving a life-or-death White House briefing, any smart PR or marketing person can make the requisite PR lemonade out of lemons. As a case in point, Samsung’s Joe Stinziano managed to gracefully close out his press briefing, and the whole episode may have even drawn more positive attention to the TV than it would have otherwise received.

Public Relations Is A Powerful Storytelling Tool

Brand storytelling and PR – what’s really new here? The truth is, marketers have been telling brand stories through paid media, branded events, and, lately, brand journalism, also known as owned media. Make no mistake, a well-crafted 30-second television spot can tell a resonant story. But the heart of brand storytelling lies with public relations.

I first heard the term from my friend Robbie Vorhaus, at least a decade ago. Robbie was ahead of his time. It took a few more years for storytelling to become a buzzword, and for public relations to realize that it’s what we do.  To paraphrase Seth Godin, “Marketing PR isn’t about the stuff you sell; it’s about the stories you tell.” Here’s why.

PR breaks news. A new product or, even better, a new category, means a fresh story. Traditional public relations tactics are therefore inherently valuable in helping to break and shape those stories. While true category creators are rare, any business or brand that disrupts the status quo has a huge opportunity to define its category and own the narrative over the long term.  Think about Amazon, Starbucks, Red Bull, and Facebook. Different categories, but each was a creator, and each was able to craft a unique brand narrative through traditional and social media. In most cases, it happened without benefit of advertising or direct marketing.

PR digs deep.  A well-crafted public relations campaign can typically go much deeper than paid media. Advertising space and time comes at a cost, so explanations about brand origins, background, or how things work take a back seat to a sales message. The backstory is particularly valuable in healthcare and technology PR sectors, where products often require a degree of education. Storytelling naturally lends itself to earned media, including long-form journalism and blogging. As a bonus, it’s often more credible.

Brand trust is at a premium. Corporate scandals, executive misbehavior, privacy breaches – these and more have been amplified by the relentless news cycle, and they’ve threatened public trust in major brands. Moreover, millennials, the largest demographic in the U.S., are known to be skeptical of traditional marketing and advertising. It adds up to a picture where brand stories told by others – customers, stakeholders, partners, and journalists, – have greater resonance than those told by the companies themselves.

PR blends creative packaging with a journalistic sensibility.  We specialize in grabbing the attention of journalists and influencers with a story pitch that plays up what is relevant and compelling about the narrative;  in other words, we package the story. Yet, to rise to the top, it needs to conform to a journalist’s needs; the classic “who, what, when, where, and why” that seizes an editor’s attention and makes it legitimate.

PR connects the dots. A skilled practitioner knows how to make connections between brand messages and attributes and other, larger stories. And its outcome is ultimately about building a bridge between a brand and its audience.

Download your tipsheet to learn about five powerful PR strategies for brand storytelling.