PR Looks At Top Brand Stories

In public relations we are on a constant quest to tell resonant, compelling stories that the media love and people will share. In that spirit, here’s a look at a few companies really killing it in the storytelling game.

Is your brand telling its best story?

Take some tips from some stellar standouts and to further improve your storytelling prowess, please download our tip sheet, Once Upon a Time…PR Tips For The Best Brand Storytelling available at the end of this post.

The accidental hit that is Casamigas Tequila.

Although co-founder George Clooney calls the creation of his billion-dollar brand a “happy accident,” Casamigas had the makings of success from its inception. Celebrity cachet, plus a very, very good product and a cool backstory equaled hot sales. The tequila grew out of casual conversations Clooney had with friend and restaurateur Rande Gerber. The celebrity entrepreneur also took a laid-back attitude toward success, which most traditional entrepreneurs can’t afford to do. But not all celebrities can turn star power into selling power. Retail is littered with the detritus of boldface-name-backed product failures. Anyone remember Steven Spielberg’s submarine-themed “Dive” restaurants? Or a credit card known as the Kardashian Kard? Even president Donald Trump – an experienced licenser of his brand – had his share of blunders, including Trump Airlines, Trump Steaks and the now-infamous Trump University.

Oreos: old school brand owns modern marketing.

Ah, Oreos, the little cookie that could! Between its savvy social media content and ever-expanding list of crazy flavors – everything from Banana Split to Limeade, the brand has overhauled its image and become culturally relevant across generations. The marketing pros behind Oreo’s transition from 100-year old institution to digital darling say they treat the brand like a startup. We’ve written on the subject before –– treating an old school brand like a hungry newcomer inspires new thinking and helps break bad habits associated with bloated brands. The results have been stunning and continuous. Did you try Fireworks Oreos this past 4th of July?

Mailchimp makes “weird” work.

Late in 2014, many in marketing and PR and other businesses were fairly familiar with MailChimp as a reliable email provider. But that year, when the wildly popular podcast “Serial” took the world by storm, things changed for the company with the weird name and monkey mascot. MailChimp sponsored the podcast with a simple, yet offbeat ad featuring a girl who mispronounced MailChimp as “MailKimp.” The ad was almost as talked about as “Serial” and really helped put the brand on the map. This past year, MailChimp’s ad agency, Droga5 devised a campaign inspired by the mispronounced word – to great success. The “Did You Mean MailChimp?” campaign, which reimagined the brand name in playful and creative ways. Featuring invented names like MaleCrimp, MailShrimp, KaleLimp, SnailPrimp, JailBlimp, and NailChamp, it included all sorts of wacky ads and activations and paid off with the line “Did You Mean MailChimp?” Droga5 picked up a Grand Prix trophy from Cannes for a campaign that’s helping the brand remain at the top of its game.

Tesla creates a category…and a fan base.

We often caution our clients about being alone in an industry; investors and media often wait to cover upstarts until there’s a real category there. But there are exceptions, and Tesla is a brilliant one. With its latest model, Tesla is ushering in a new era, where budget won’t stand in the way of owning a quality, mass-produced, fully electric car. Even though other legacy brands have electric vehicles, Tesla is creating an entirely new category and dramatically affecting perceptions on energy consumption. In the past two years, it’s the only auto brand to see a positive change in market cap even though its production, sales, and profit numbers aren’t quite keeping up. It just goes to show that despite tepid sales to date, the company’s success with investors is partly the result of strong branding and excitement around new technology. Tesla’s new Model 3 and the company’s underdog narrative has the media buzzing. It hasn’t spent a dime on traditional advertising, and it doesn’t need to.

#JusticeforBarb, the simple hashtag helping “Stranger Things” keep the vibe alive.

The Netflix original series “Stranger Things” took the world by storm with its quirky 70s-set mystery and terrific kid actors. So, it had a lot of critical buzz and great reviews. But the time between the first and second season is well over a year, which raises the question of how to maintain interest during the downtime. No one is saying whether it was planned or not, but the brilliant social media campaign #JusticeforBarb – which capitalizes on the mystery of whether fan favorite Barb is dead or alive – has trended consistently. Today it received a huge shot in the arm when Shannon Purser, the actress who plays Barb was nominated for an Emmy – and social media went wild. It makes the wait for Season 2, which drops in October, all the more exciting and helps assure brand staying power.
Want to learn to make your brand stories sizzle? Download your tipsheet to learn about powerful PR tips for brand storytelling!

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PR Tips For Building Your Personal Brand

Throughout the past decade, public relations pundits have trumpeted the rise of the personal brand in the digital era. By now we expect that many have mastered the basics of personal branding, but it’s not as easy as setting up a social media presence and hoping an audience finds you. There are concrete steps to take to build and extend your brand once you’ve established an initial presence.

Steps for Extending Your Brand

Ask this bottom-line question: have you created an online presence that conveys credibility and authority or expertise in a given area? Does it tell a story about who you are?

To find out, do an informal brand audit

Whether a marketing firm handles this or you opt for the DIY approach, the idea is to analyze how your “brand” is performing compared to its stated goals. A personal brand audit can include the following steps:

Creating a personal “mission statement” and goals

Identifying your place in the marketplace compared to competitors and colleagues; what are your strengths and weaknesses in light of your goals? What do you do better than most? What do you want to be known for?

A look at your audience and their expectations; what does your audience want? Where does your offering overlap with your audience’s needs?

The audit’s results can inform tactics for attaining visibility, engaging visitors and growing followers.

Set content goals

Begin with a content plan. This should encompass key topics related to your expertise, content frequency, and the most relevant social platforms. Monitoring content performance will help determine whether the content you’re producing is helping you meet your goals. Consider relevant content marketing metrics like leads, UVM and social media engagement. And if you’re not where you want to be, there are other ways to increase your brand visibility. For example, consider adopting a regular commenting strategy to help demonstrate your expertise. As we’ve written, commenting can be useful for engaging peers and prospects and, over time, for content ideas. Think about adding value with a sharp observation or question. Commenting on blogs helps define your brand, and when done well, attracts visitors to your site  Add this to a revised brand plan, with an achievable goal – like becoming a community member of the top five blogs in your industry.

Share parts of your journey – good and bad – as they happen

Every brand should have a story. Yours is likely a mix of your personal narrative and the career steps and experience that have informed the insights and expertise you offer. If you’ve experienced a critical turning point and what you’ve learned is helpful to others, share it. If you have practical pointers on securing financing, hiring hints or partnership advice, share that as well. Tales of adversity along a journey also make for great content, because everyone can identify. Jim Curtis, President of custom healthcare publisher Remedy Health Media, loves to tell the story of how a mistake he made at his brokerage firm made him realize his real passion, healthcare, and start a new career. These stops along the way are fodder for multiple content options like speeches, blog posts, bylined articles and more.

Show off in a smart way

When your brand has established a foothold, it’s time to crow a bit. Showcase the knowledge and experience that has brought you to this point. Importantly, “show off” in a voice that’s truly yours. We aren’t all brash risk takers like Elon Musk or committed philanthropists like Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby. Although “be authentic” can be overused, it has never been more relevant than in the era of fake news. Think about who you are and embrace the voice that is yours once you find it.  Then take it out for a spin. Step up your speaking game. Invest in trade or business PR to tell your story to the press. Partner with complementary businesses to create content and other marketing initiatives such as co-sponsored panels and other events. Find dynamic and interesting ways to display your thought leadership and draw traffic to your profile and website.

Have a differentiated point of view

There’s no better way to stand out than by developing a distinct point of view. It might be contrarian or revolutionary or just outside of mainstream thinking. A new business book poised to hit the bestseller list is called Lovability: How to Build a Business That People Love and Be Happy Doing It touting the importance of turning business strategy and product roadmaps into customer love. You may not be ready for a book, so use your comment strategy and your social profile make your voice heard. Daily writing like this will help prepare you to tackle longer content, like a research-based whitepaper. Well-written long form content can be effective no matter what kind of business you have; the best content offers solutions to business problems without being self-serving.  But it should be persuasive, urging the reader to take action, like identifying expert resources like yours.

Create data

Think of ways to generate data or statistics in your area of expertise. This could be a survey of industry colleagues or an online poll or petition geared toward a key population. The more provocative and newsworthy, the better. Media love data, so look for ways to generate publicity for the effort. Data can also be useful in planning your content program. Review your own analytics to see what’s working and what can be improved. This can lead to some tough decisions like overhauling your social presence and your website, but evolution is part of branding success.

Consider a “next act” 

This doesn’t mean give up your day job. But having mastered personal branding, it may be a good time to consider branching out in a complementary way. For example, many professionals harness their skills and begin teaching or coaching as an avocation. These endeavors broaden experience and offer fresh ideas to communicate through content and discussion. Still, others opt to go headlong into a meaningful mission or cause beyond business. If feasible, elevating your sites through philanthropic work by joining a board or volunteering for a high-profile event is a win-win because it will raise your personal profile while satisfying your idealism. Then there are those who make a complete 180, who abandon lengthy careers to pursue the arts or travel. As romantic as that seems, however, there are pitfalls, as this Medium piece points out, so think long and hard about a total personal rebrand.

Social Media Tips For Millennial PR Pros

By guest blogger Heather Scott

Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Tumblr? For at least 25 hours a week? Do you think you have phantom phone syndrome?

If so, you are probably a millennial, and if you can claim that you do at least some of this social sharing for work, then you are more likely a millennial at a PR firm! Members of this cohort seem to share more intimate details of their lives via social media than other generations, leading experts to advise caution in how and how much they express themselves.

In this time of high unemployment and an economy that is only slowly recovering, millennials must learn how to use social media to advance their careers. Here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to smart social media activity.

Profanity. Sometimes you just want to let your anger and frustration out with a four-letter-word tirade. While the occasion “hell” or “damn” is okay, keep the others off the internet. There are more articulate ways to express yourself.

Pictures. As with profanity, keep the drunken antics off social media. And profile pictures should be of you in career wear, not a halter top or a bridesmaid gown. This is not to say pictures containing alcohol should be kept off social media entirely (college students, proceed with caution), just keep it professional. A picture of yourself and friends enjoying a glass of wine says you’re a social person and that there’s more to you than your work.

Networking. Use your social media accounts to help get your foot in the door. Follow companies, employers, experts, etc. on sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn. If you want to go a step further, try to actually connect with them. Respond to a discussion post on LinkedIn or comment on an article they tweeted. Engagement shows employers you’re not afraid to speak up and interact.

Expand your social media skill set. While it is presumed that all millennials know how to work every social media site in existence, it isn’t always the case. Take time to learn all the ins and outs of the social media sites you frequent. Know how to start a discussion post on LinkedIn or tailor trending topics on Twitter to a specific region. Know how to set up a Google+ chat. You never know when these skills may come in handy. More importantly, familiarize yourself with the most successful PR or marketing campaigns with social media at the core. That way, you can converse with prospective employers on the merits of “Dumb Ways To Die” vs Virgin’s #fitfoo campaign.

Politics and Religion. There’s an old saying: you should never discuss politics or religion at dinner parties. This also generally applies to social media. Until you’re the next Rachel Maddow or Ann Coulter, keep your personal feelings/stances on these topics to yourself. If your comments are too extreme, future employers could be hesitant to hire you.

What other social media practices would you recommend to millennials? Leave a comment below.

PR Tips For The Big Media Interview

Successful media coverage is a defining component of a successful PR plan, and the most straightforward way to get it is a client interview. These opportunities come in all different shapes and sizes, from casual coffee shop background briefings to in-depth phoners. Though every interview may not carry the same clout as “O’Reilly-Obama,” that doesn’t mean your executive or spokesperson can afford to squander an opportunity to present and position themselves in the best possible light. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure that they knock their interviews out of the park.

Prep. Start preparing your spokesperson by highlighting the story’s objective, the reporter’s background and outlet reach and focus. Gather as much information as you can, including what questions will be asked, how your client’s insight will be used and target audience details. This advance legwork will enable you to focus on appropriate messaging points and present them in a way that is relevant to the audience. Remember, interviews can always shift, but in-depth preparation helps maximize the chances of success.

Practice. The time leading up to a media interview is no time to just go through the motions. Suggest a (or multiple) face-to-face meeting in which you can provide constructive criticism and offer role-playing exercises along the way. Consider using video recording and playback to provide your client with a view of their media skills and areas for improvement.

Perfect the message. Once you have the interview details buttoned up, make sure your client is well-versed on the most relevant messages. Work to identify the top three aspects to highlight and flag for repeated mention during the interview; supporting them with facts, headlines and quotable language to establish your client as an expert in their given field.

Plan for the unexpected. Interviews can veer in any direction and thus may not always present the perfect opportunity to incorporate a point. Help your client keep in mind flagging techniques and phrases to bridge naturally to key points even when the opportunity isn’t obvious.

Person-to-person. Offer strategies to incorporate some of the “personal” into an interview to break the ice or establish some common ground. With advance organization and practice, they can relax a bit and inject an anecdote or ask questions without losing sight of the interview goal. After all, an interview is about relationship-building as much as anything.

It’s Award Season – Even In PR

by guest blogger George Drucker

We’re getting into awards season. . . in film, television, even public relations. It reminds me of a learning from years ago that has affected my modus operandi for business development and client relations ever since.

Winning awards for creativity is great for the ego. But it’s not necessarily what clients want. At least, it’s not everything.

I will never forget my shock and surprise when Tom Harris – of Golin/Harris fame – published the first of his client surveys of perceptions, wants, needs, and  interests in hiring and retaining outside public relations firms.

Through the years, I had the good fortune to win several PR Awards for creative programs and implementation, from PRSA Silver Anvil to CIPRAs, Golden Apples, Golden Trumpets and everything in between. I thought creativity ruled, that original thinking, tactical implementation and creative results were what impressed and motivated clients to hire and retain their agencies.

It came as an eye-opener to me that, according to Tom’s first study, the #1 priority for clients is actually SERVICE. No matter how you sliced and diced the data, responsiveness and service level were the most important factors in prospect and ongoing client decision making. Out of Tom’s “Top 10 Needs” for clients, creativity ranked #9. It was a factor–but not a vitally important one.

His ongoing surveys through the years have borne this out, and it certainly changed my perspective. Creative product is very important, but not at the expense of client service.

Whether you’re an agency working with corporate communications or marketing departments, or an internal PR function whose “clients” are inside the company, keep in mind that returning phone calls promptly, anticipating client needs, and essentially crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s might be among the most important things you do.

When you can combine that service ethic and flawless execution with inventive thinking and a creative package, you’re running on all cylinders. But start with the basics, and show your clients where your values lie.

Logo Logic

There have been many logo debacles over the last few years. One of the more recent and notable uproars occurred within the University of California statewide system.  UC officials decided to change its look after 144 years by “quietly” unveiling a new logo this past November. As casual as that may sound to some, it was in no way a small change that went unnoticed.

After much student and public outcry, UC went back to the original logo and suspended further use of the new one, removing it wherever they could.

So what can your brand do to avoid a logo no-go?

If it ain’t broke…
How cliché.  But it’s the truth, sometimes modern and fresh can’t replace classic and beloved and you should stick with the traditional.  Remember what happened when Gap changed its logo?

Ask yourself why.
Why do you and others in the company think the logo needs to be changed?  Let your goals inform your plan of action. Is your company going in a new direction? Or has the look simply become dated? Some situations may call for a small evolution of your original logo, rather than an overhaul.

Put your money where your mouth is.
A company’s logo is its visual representation, however small, and it’s often the public’s first impression.  A well designed brand image is critical and not something that “your old college friend the graphic freelancer” should undertake. It’s best to let the pros take the lead in developing one in partnership with marketing and other professionals within your company.

Look to your customers.
Consider setting up a focus group to learn more about your customers, what they think of your brand, what appeals to them, etc.  If it makes sense for your company, ask your social media followers to weigh in.  After all, these are some of the biggest supporters of your business and crowd-sourcing has become a viable way to vet VIP opinion.

Don’t stop there.
Chances are, if you’re considering a logo change you should also consider taking another look at your brand strategy.  Has your overall objective changed over the course of time?  Rebranding efforts don’t start and end with a new logo!

Any new logos you love… or loathe? Let us know in the comments section.

Five Ways PR Can Build Brands

It’s been said that PR drives reputation, while marketing builds brands. But that simplistic premise defines both PR and brand far too narrowly. It may not always take the lead in brand-building, particularly with large, global companies, but there are many ways in which the classic PR approach and tactics help defend, deepen, and even create an indelible brand identity. Here are some of the most common.

Storytelling.  This sums up PR’s advantages. A corporate or brand story might be threaded through all aspects of its marketing, but only PR can tell it in depth. Those stories aren’t just the splashy entrepreneurial chronicles, like Steve Jobs’ life or Richard Branson’s latest exploits. The most influential storytelling might involve how an innovation saved a business, improved a life, or rehabilitated a community, and it can usually be done in far more detail and with greater authenticity through social and traditional media relations than through paid media channels.

Third-party endorsement. To be strong, a brand promise must be credible. The essence of good PR is having someone else talk about your brand rather than the company itself. The third-party endorsement – either implied or explicit – is often very effective, sometimes more so than paid media. It helps when the publicity results include “proof points” that reinforce a brand proposition or identity.

Thought leadership. Staking out a position on a relevant issue and sharing new insights or ideas can yield far-reaching brand benefits. When Starbucks’ Howard Schultz weighs in on healthcare reform, or unveils a jobs program, for example, it’s more than a corporate reputation campaign. It’s an example of thought leadership about a critical matter relevant to most customers that has nothing to do with its products, but everything to do with its brand.

Education. In PR, “education” usually evokes unbranded behavior modification campaigns that seek to impact public safety or health, like obesity prevention or safe sex. Yet for companies and brands in “high-involvement” categories like automotive, technology, and some luxury industries, the depth and detail that product education provides can be a strong brand differentiator and a way to inspire customer confidence.

Creating advocates. This is where branding and reputation come together. Social media is like word-of-mouth on steroids, and its ubiquity brings an explosive acceleration of the cycle whereby regular citizens become passionate advocates, either for or against a brand. Through the power of social sharing, every customer interaction is potentially a public one, and a brand reputation can be formed – or dismantled – in a matter of days.

A PR Guide To Naming

We’re sometimes asked to participate in naming blogs, products, or even brands. I usually begin by thinking about some well-known media and corporate entities with truly standout names (good or bad) and wondering how they were chosen…

Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me
Along with several other memorable and cleverly named NPR properties (“Here’s the Thing,” “Tell Me More”) I imagine that the smart marketing folks at the station listen to the way people really talk and take notes. This elicits names that adhere to a theme but are distinct to each offering.

Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23
Like “@#$% My Father Says,” these names employ some “shock” value in the hope of becoming part of the pop culture vernacular. I have no issue with “colorful” language but I think its usage is kind of lazy when it comes to names, particularly since media standards and practices folks won’t even allow the actual names to be printed!

Rules of Engagement
I am particularly fond of double entendre names – smart, to-the-point and often funny. From the beginning of TV time – “Bewitched,” say, through “Arrested Development,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and many others, these thoughtful and layered names are both descriptive and memorable.

What, you don’t know Mondelez? This roundly criticized moniker will take over all of Kraft global snacks soon and suffers from disconnects beginning with merely pronouncing it!

So, as you engage in brainstormings with colleagues and other creative endeavors to develop worthy names, here are a few tips from Entrepreneur Magazine to get you started.
• The name needs to sound good when it’s said aloud
• Use a name that has meaning to it and conveys a benefit
• Avoid weird spellings
• Beware initials
• Be specific
• Test it out on Google AdWords

How To Create A Successful Facebook Contest

by guest blogger Sodelba Alfaro

It’s been fashionable of late to bash Facebook, but here are the facts. Nearly half of 18-34 year olds check Facebook as soon as they wake up.  Those are huge numbers, and brands are taking advantage of this by launching promotional campaigns on the social network.  With a Facebook contest, a brand can easily increase its number of fans, create brand awareness, and engage their consumers.

The following tips will ensure that you get your next Facebook contest right:

Define your audience – There are several types of contests that can be run on Facebook, and each speaks to different audiences.  Video, photo, and essay contests can be a great way to gather content for your page, although they are generally created for highly engaged users.  If this is the audience you are trying to reach, go for it.  However, If you’re trying to reach a new audience by gaining fans, try a promotion with a simpler method of entry.

Know the rules – Don’t get shut down before you get started!  Be sure to follow the Facebook Promotion Guidelines whenever you run a contest.  Facebook bans users from running contests that use any Facebook functionality and therefore, requesting entries be posted on your wall, announcing winners on your page, and asking users to upload pictures into Facebook are prohibited.  Save yourself the trouble and run your contest through a third party application like Wildfire or Shortstack.   Make sure to follow the rules as violating Facebook guidelines can get your page removed.

Cross promote your contest on other social media channels – Spread the word about your campaign by cross-promoting it on your other social sites such as Twitter or Pinterest.  This will help create buzz and awareness while carrying over those fans that may not yet follow you on Facebook.

Give away an awesome prize – If you want users to participate in your contest, the prize needs to be special.  When considering a prize, make sure it is something that will attract your ideal customer.  Say you’re running a contest for a fancy restaurant.  Why not give away a three-course meal?  A great prize will attract, and engage ideal users to your page.

What’s your favorite Facebook contest success story?

Paula Deen’s Diabetes Disclosure: A Recipe for Poor PR?

As the queen of “comfort cuisine,” Paula Deen has been a favorite among many members of my family, all of whom live in Georgia or the Carolinas. I’ve admired Paula for her unapologetic taste for indulgence, and for her Southern fried authenticity and down home charm. I’ve never even watched her show, yet I feel I’ve known her for years. I even took her side in her food fight with Anthony Bourdain, though Bourdain was largely in the right.

But Paula’s recent revelation that she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes has left a bad taste. And from a PR perspective, I’m not convinced that it’s been well handled. When I caught her “Today” show interview, I felt a little queasy, and since then I’ve been trying to sort out why. Here’s what it boils down to:

Timing – Paula admits that she was diagnosed three years ago. She says waited until now to reveal her illness, which has been rumored since 2010, because she wanted to “bring something to the table.” I want to believe her, but three years is an awfully long time. For someone who’s hallmark is authenticity, it’s hard to swallow. It doesn’t take a business genius to conclude that Paula and her management were worried about the impact of her illness on her show and brand.

Commerce – Paula also announced that she has signed a spokesperson contract with Novo Nordisk, a producer of the diabetes drug she now takes. There’s nothing wrong with being a paid endorser, but it leaves her open to charges of opportunism. Was she waiting for a fat opportunity to monetize her condition?

Paula and her sons, who are also Novo Nordisk spokespersons, followed Monday’s disclosure with a hasty and vaguely worded announcement that they would donate an unspecified portion of their earnings to the American Diabetes Association. When contacted for comment, the association had no knowledge of the plan. The whole thing looked like an afterthought, because it was. More poor strategy and lack of planning. A donation as a centerpiece of her education program would have softened the blatant commercialsim of her deal and sweetened the message.

Clarity – But, what is the message? That medication lets you ignore diet and exercise guidelines? That you can cut back and still enjoy life? Beyond her headline talking point, “Diabetes is not a death sentence,” there’s no call-to-action. With respect, it seems half-baked.

Commitment – Paula’s been opaque about any personal diet and lifestyle changes since the diagnosis. Perhaps she doesn’t want to offend food industry advertisers, but her reticence is confusing. I don’t think she can be a credible role model if she doesn’t talk about adapting to her illness beyond “moderation.” She’s a tremendous brand with the power to inspire millions, but that equity may be at risk, or at least underleveraged.

Brand identity – Brand experts have weighed in on any conversion to lighter fare, calling it risky. I think the risk can be managed, especially since any change is driven by an authentic, real-life event, – her health condition. There’s plenty of opportunity to adapt. (How about a side-by-side comparison, full-fat vs. substitutions?) The plan is to anoint son Bobby as the healthy-eating advocate of the family, but it remains to be seen if he can ride Mama’s apron strings to success.

Paula says her show’s focus won’t change, and beyond giving up sweet tea, she’s vague about personal lifestyle changes. Problem is, she isn’t serving up enough to be as credible and convincing as she needs to be. She seems to want to have her cake, and eat it, too. But as we’ve seen, that can only go on for so long without consequences.