No, DEI Isn’t Dead. But No One Wants To Talk About It.

Much of the recent news surrounding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of late is negative. DEI programs have been banned in states like Texas, and the backlash hasn’t stopped there. Axios reports that businesses have “backed away from DEI programs over the past two years in the wake of widespread attacks from lawmakers, high-profile rich guys and conservative activists.” 

NPR, which ramped up diversity efforts to combat Covid-era viewership decline, is facing a double-whammy of stagnant business results and criticism over its own DEI moves. Chief Diversity Officer, once one of the hottest job titles, is today more likely a ticket to early burnout, according to a recent Harvard Business Review piece.

Diversity isn’t dead; but it may be hiding

So it was refreshing to see the results of a new study conducted by Chief, the private executive network for women, showing that fully 80% of C-suite executives remain committed to DEI initiatives and will continue to invest in them. Only 20 percent of the 600 leaders surveyed said they plan to cut back on DEI in 2024. Most strikingly, 44 percent say they plan to increase existing DEI initiatives or create new ones. Forty percent view understanding and promoting diversity and inclusion as among the most important leadership attributes for those in their position.

They just don’t want to talk about it.

Many C-suite leaders fear backlash in 2024

That’s right, what might interest PR and communications execs is that, while the majority of C-level leaders are committed to diversity and inclusion, they fear that a public stand on potentially divisive issues poses more risk than staying quiet. In an age where the country’s best-selling beer can see its market leadership evaporate over an influencer promotion, it’s hard to stick your neck out. So, corporate leaders are now less likely to use acronyms like DEI, or, heaven forbid, ESG. Some corporate programs targeted to Black communities or women have changed their language to ward off anti-DEI litigation. It’s hard to know if these are merely “lawyerly tweaks” or something more substantive.

A cause for quiet optimism?

It’s a mixed bag for sure. On the one hand, it’s discouraging that business leaders feel they need to hold back or risk criticism. But I choose to look at the Chief study more optimistically. The commitment at the top is the most important thing; the PR is secondary. As Cinnamon Clark of Goodwork Sustainability, a DEI consulting firm, said, “Companies are really starting to look at other ways to do the work without saying that they’re doing the work.”

Diversity isn’t going away. The U.S. in particular is diversifying rapidly, and rising generations have high expectations for inclusion and social purpose. With so much performative purpose-driven rhetoric in corporate communications, I’m hopeful that C-level leaders are resolving to focus on less talk and more action – in the form of real, measurable diversity initiatives that go beyond press releases and annual reports.

The Risky Landscape of Public Statements: When Silence Isn’t Golden

In a recent piece published in New York Magazine, Just Stop Making Official Statements About The News, Jonathan Chait argues that organizations should “stop trying to settle our moral beliefs and instead establish rules of the road that let people peacefully coexist with their disagreements.”

He’s talking about statements by businesses, universities, and celebrities around the October 7 attacks in Israel. Many have sparked a severe backlash. It’s a good article that every corporate communications person should read and an interesting take to us who work in PR. We sometimes counsel clients to take a stand on social, cultural, or political developments, or press them to react to major news events. Some organizations feel their employees, customers, and stakeholders want them to speak out in a crisis situation.

But have things have gone too far? Even well-intentioned statements can fuel controversy or be seen as inadequate. Should PR and corp comm teams advise businesses to keep their own counsel and shut up when sensitive news breaks?

Moral clarity is rare

I’m biased, but I don’t think so. Chait argues that the murder of George Floyd had a “moral clarity” that lulled executives and others into speaking out about everything. He may be right, but it’s the precise lack of moral clarity around many events that can make public discourse by influential leaders valuable. Any organization must carefully consider when and how they speak out on such fraught issues. A shallow response to a current event is harmful, yes, but it’s also dangerous to generalize here.

The argument for taking a stand is well known. At a time when public trust in institutions has deteriorated, a strong social position can be a powerful differentiator. Some research suggests that customers want brands to take a position on the issues that matter to them. Younger demographics in particular — especially the prized 24-to-40 segment with years of spending ahead — are more likely to say they want brands to share their values. But other studies contradict that premise.

So, the evidence is mixed. For companies that see the expression of corporate values as a strategic advantage, there is a way to go about it that maximizes the upside potential and minimizes risk.

So, what’s an organization, and its PR team, to do?

First, they need to approach sensitive issues with a deep understanding of the history and context, an appreciation of their own stakeholders, and a commitment to informed dialogue, well after any statement or position is communicated. Here are my “rules of the road.”

Prioritize relevance

The first crucial aspect of a decision about a public statements is relevance. Organizations recognize that their stakeholders have diverse values, expectations, and geographic ties. A business with ties to Israel will naturally have stakeholders who expect the company to address a catastrophic event. Silence can be perceived as a lack of engagement or a disregard for the welfare or concerns of those affected. This doesn’t mean that organizations should make knee-jerk communications. Instead, they should carefully assess the relevance of an issue to their mission and stakeholders and make a statement that aligns with their responsibilities to those with ties to the company.

Know your audiences

This is easy if you’re a brand like Patagonia that has a history of activism and an engaged customer base. But most businesses serve a broader market. Knowing when to speak out takes a mix of market research and gut-level decision-making around both customers, employees, and partners. But in the end, it’s a question of company values. In my view that’s why Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would stop selling assault-style weapons after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, despite likely knowing it would be targeted by opponents of its position. Over the long term, it didn’t hurt the company and may have helped its business.

Tap into your expertise

Credibility also counts. When former president Trump cracked down on immigration tot he U.S., tech employers like Google and Apple objected publicly. They rely on a highly qualified workforce that includes immigrants and are credible opponents to such policies. Self-interest and expertise in these situations work well precisely because they go beyond “feelings.” I was surprised to see JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Diamond this week urge Democrats to support Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign as a way to stave off another Trump presidency. In the same conversation, he urged New Yorkers, especially liberals, to stop looking down on those with “ultra MAGA” sensibilities. It was an unusual use of reputation capital, but one backed by Dimon’s status and credibility and consistent with his track record of speaking out on key political and economic issues.

Prepare for pushback

This is where many companies stumble. Even a “balanced” statement can draw criticism. If a brand decides it must express outrage and sorrow about the attack on Israel or support for Palestinians fleeing their ruined homes, it should expect feedback. Too many companies flinch at the first sign of backlash and some give in to the temptation to modify their statements or stance. Often it’s better to respond to civil comments, ignore trolls, and weather the social storm.

In short, for any organization that sees itself as a category leader and good corporate citizen, it’s hard to avoid public dialogue. Smart businesses will weigh their options, set their course, take the temperature of their own employees, and align their marketing and communications with their values — before communicating anything externally.

2024 will bring another U.S. presidential election, and our divisions aren’t likely to heal any time soon. But in situations where ongoing news stories impact discourse and politics, businesses can show leadership by speaking out. History has shown that corporate influence can drive positive change. For instance, corporate support played a pivotal role in advancing LGBTQ rights and defeating discriminatory legislation like the bathroom bill.

Has there been backlash since then? Sure, just ask Bud Light. But I maintain that businesses and others can navigate uncertain terrain and contribute to the public discourse while building their own brand or corporate position.

Imposter Syndrome – An Ad Tech PR Love Story (Ending With A Breakup)

Let’s be honest – those that say they’ve never known “Imposter Syndrome” are lying. Whether you experience these feelings regularly or not, we’ve all been there. Yet for me, “Imposter Syndrome” has contributed to my professional success in tech PR. At the same time, I think the term should disappear entirely. Post-blog, I will remove this word from my vocabulary, and passionately challenge those who say it exists.  

Defining Imposter Syndrome 

To understand “Imposter Syndrome,” we must first identify its general meaning and impact. According to Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey at Harvard Business Review, “‘Imposter Syndrome’ is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they’re deserving of accolades.” For more context and insight into the term and its flawed foundation, see their piece. 

Imposter Syndrome in Practice 

I’ve held “Imposter Syndrome” closely throughout my entire professional career – from when I was proofreading newsletters, to managing email campaigns, to communicating with clients, to managing a team. It’s always been there. It also reared its head as I settled into my new role in ad tech PR. Because of my client-side background and dedication to my work, I’ve moved up quickly in a high-growth environment. It’s a new and ever-changing role, and I find myself occasionally not accepting how far I’ve come in such a short period of time. And – for those wondering –  specializing in a male-dominated field like ad tech does not help.

Let yourself feel things in the workplace. Don’t lump them into a diagnosis. 

Upon further reflection (and after reading Ruchika and Jodi-Ann’s piece) I realized how demeaning the term is. It not only implies a disorder, but also a fraudulent act, and I treated it as such. I was giving it the power to take over my thoughts rather than allowing myself the joy of just doing a good job. But, while recognizing the impact of the term itself, I can’t help but notice the positives. Uncertainty offers the motivation to exceed the expectations I’ve set for myself, cultivate supportive environments for others, and develop a managerial style that is open and transparent. 

Yes – people have feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, and self-doubt in the workplace as well as in social situations. But, rather than trying to coin a term for these feelings of insecurity, let’s advocate for discussion about them. Ask your employees how they’re feeling, what areas they’re not as confident in, and share your own uncertainties. In turn, managers will better understand the needs of their employees, employees will feel heard and supported, and everyone will recognize the value of vulnerability. 

7 PR Tips For Nailing A Media Interview

Your B2B PR strategy is working and the press is interested in knowing more about your expertise. Congrats! Wondering what to do between now and then? Here are a few tips on preparing for a media interview so you can absolutely nail it.

Remember your media training 

If you haven’t already undergone formal media prep, ask your PR team to set up a session when possible. For more on mastering your media training, check out this post. If you can’t fit in a whole session before the upcoming media interview, make sure you have a one sheet-with interview tips/tricks to review prior to meeting with the reporter. 

Study the briefing doc

Our clients agree that briefing docs make media interviews a breeze. What’s a briefing doc? Typically prepared by a PR team, it’s an overview of recommended messaging, the topic at hand, and the reporter leading the interview, including his or her last five stories. This document also acts as an easy access to the interview details–  meeting time, link to the meeting (or phone number), and even a photo of the reporter to help with prep. It should offer key messaging and quotes for consideration during the interview. We like our clients to use their own words, but for most of them, bullet points or suggested phrasing helps keep their thoughts in order and the interview on track.

Practice answering questions out loud

A briefing doc often includes a Q&A section with written-out responses to the questions the PR team anticipates. It’s smart to take the time to fully review and practice answering the questions aloud. Try standing in front of a mirror and reciting key points, as if you were explaining them to a friend or neighbor. It will feel awkward, but it’s very helpful. If the language isn’t comfortable, change it so that it flows naturally. Practicing with the PR-approved language goes a long way in building confidence and ensuring a smooth interview.

Match your  language to your audience

In technology PR, it can be challenging to explain technical issues or products to a general audience. Conversely, if you’re talking to a journalist from a sophisticated trade or tech outlet, you’ll need to communicate at the level of its audience. That’s why advance preparation is critical. For a less savvy audience of readers or viewers, take care to use accessible language and avoid acronyms or jargon unless you can explain it quickly and smoothly.

Prepare examples and analogies

One way to explain a technical product or avoid a long-winded explanation is to use an example. We work with many technology companies who partner with well-known brands, so one way to shortcut a lengthy response is to cite a positive outcome in a customer situation (e.g., “Warby Parker drove a 32% sales increase with our contextual technology.”) But of course, any customer mention must be approved in advance, and that approval might be time-consuming or impossible. Another excellent way to make an impact is to use an analogy. In adtech, for example, we might talk about a “clear box” as an antidote to the convoluted tech some call a “black box,” or we might use a “passport” analogy to explain the opportunity that Web3 offers for brands to market in the metaverse. Common analogies help audiences understand the relevance and impact of a company’s offering.  

Do your research

Even if you know the reporter, take the time to be up-to-date on their recent pieces. Be familiar with recent changes in your industry’s media landscape. Again, a good briefing doc will summarize (and link) the reporter’s most recent, relevant articles and include relevant background for the upcoming interview’s topic. Getting a sense for the journalist’s writing style and knowledge of your industry will help everyone align during the interview.

Beware lengthy tangents

Definitely take a little extra time to connect with the reporter during the call. Feel free to make small talk, compliment them on recent stories, or to ask about recent work. But avoid rambling about topics that haven’t been approved or discussed internally. The last thing you’d want is to give too much away that could jeopardize a future announcement. Or, worse, giving the reporter an opening to flip the sentiment of the upcoming coverage on its head. In short, stay on script without forgetting to be personable and helpful. Often, the PR rep will sit in on the meeting to help keep the conversation on track.

At the end of the day, the most important thing when preparing for an interview is to remember that you’re the expert. Share what you know and have fun doing it!

How Ukraine Is Winning The PR War

As Russia prepared to invade his country, many feared Ukraine’s president, former comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, was in over his head. Before his election Zelensky was best known for starring in a popular TV series about a history teacher who wins the presidency after a video of his anti-government rant goes viral. And like his sitcom character, the real Zelensky was swept into office as an outsider who promised to end corruption. But he soon ran into obstacles, and his popularity suffered. Even after Putin began threatening aggression against Ukraine, Zelensky seemed unsure of himself; first, he sought to calm things down and avoid panic. Then the threat worsened, and he seemed to realize the stakes involved.

From everyman to wartime leader

Novelist James Lane Allen said that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. That may be a fair description of Zelensky’s improbable rise.

Less than a week into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Zelensky is a wartime president, and one who is deftly using his performance and communications skills to inspire not only his own people, but the Western world. His status as an icon of leadership under fire peaked last week when Russian forces began to assault Kyiv. As the U.S. government and others urged him to evacuate and offered help, Zelensky refused to budge. “The fight is here (in Kyiv); I need ammunition, not a ride,” he said.

Ukraine has a natural advantage when it comes to perception. As a smaller country attacked by a cartoonishly autocratic dictator, it’s the David to Russia’s Goliath. But the rush of support wasn’t inevitable. (See: Yemen, Bosnia, and Crimea.) Zelensky and his advisers have deployed classic PR and propaganda tactics to win public opinion at home and abroad.

And at least some of the young president’s winning style is innate; he’s a performer after all. What’s fascinating is that he has harnessed his personal talent and bolstered it with sophisticated tactics to wage a credible PR war. Here’s how.

Speak directly to your audiences

Zelensky is a little like Donald Trump in that he has disintermediated the press. Trump famously derided the media and used Twitter as his platform of choice, going directly to his base. Zelensky has a similar reputation in Ukraine. His electoral campaign was almost entirely online. On rare occasions where he used the national media, he did so shrewdly, even hijacking the traditional New Year’s Eve address of the then-president by announcing his own candidacy. According to The Atlantic, his people maintained that “they do not need journalists in their efforts to communicate with the public, opting instead for social media and slickly produced ‘interviews’ carried out in-house.”

Since the invasion Zelensky has used messaging platform Telegram to speak directly to the Russian public to counter Putin’s version of events and urge them to protest the invasion. He continues to post short videos that reinforce his presence and the determination of Ukrainian citizens to defend their home. He has humanized Ukraine’s crisis and invoked powerful support.

Understand the power of imagery

A single screen-grab of Zelensky on the streets of Kyiv or huddled inside with his military staff is worth a thousand thunderous speeches. Contrast images of the young president with those of Putin — seated yards away from his generals at the end of a long table as they consult about war strategy. The Russian president is literally and figuratively isolated. Zelensky, by contrast, looks like an everyman, a relatable guy who is simply doing what anyone would do to protect his family and home. He could be your neighbor.

Be authentic

When it comes to authenticity, Zelensky was made for this moment. From his street selfies to his formal video appeal to European leaders, he comes across as the real deal. Russia has tried to foil his outreach by spreading rumors that Zelensky had fled, but the videos don’t lie. There’s just not much Putin can do to counter compelling images of a young leader, unshaven and exhausted, but calm and determined in the face of grave personal danger.

Own the information

Zelensky himself has morphed into an icon of leadership, but Ukraine’s sophisticated approach to information is also critical. And it has powerful allies. In a refreshing change, the big social media platforms have cracked down on Russian misinformation and many have banned Russian media outright in Ukraine. Aided by U.S. intelligence, Ukraine was able to expose a fake video of a Ukrainian “attack” on Russians, intended to provoke outrage and offer an excuse for the invasion. Social platforms are filled with posts about the heroic exploits of a legendary Ukrainian fighter pilot known as the “Ghost of Kyiv” who probably doesn’t exist. But much of the reporting is real. Look at the extraordinary recording of Ukrainian guards for an isolated outpost on Snake Island. The video features the Ukrainians cursing the Russian fleet in open defiance of warnings to surrender. It was everywhere on social media platforms and amplified on media channels in American living rooms.

Leverage your moment

A good crisis shouldn’t be wasted, as political experts say, and Zelensky has seized his opportunity to try for things that haven’t previously been possible. He is petitioning loudly for military support as well as quick entry into the European Union, which would be unprecedented. Addressing the European Parliament this week, he said, “We have proven our strength. So do prove that you are with us. Prove that you will not let us go. Prove that you indeed are Europeans.” Ukraine has inspired not only NGOs and ordinary citizens but businesses and brands that don’t normally wade into geopolitical issues.

Of course, inspiration may only go so far. Ukraine’s perseverance may not be enough for it to prevail, and the odds are long. But the massive outpouring of emotional, material, and financial support has been heartening, and it makes it impossible for us to turn away.

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

PR And Communications Trends For 2021

In PR and elsewhere, 2020 has been a year like no other. Even the Oxford English Dictionary is at a loss for words to describe it. If we could wipe it off the calendar and start again, most of us probably would. So, the sooner we finish our 2020 roundup posts and 2021 forecasts, the quicker we can turn the page, right?

Seriously, not all the news is bad. The year of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, assorted climate disasters, and a historically divisive presidential contest has accelerated existing trends. It also opened new opportunities for professional communicators. Here are some observations on what we can expect in 2021.

Work will be fully digital

The pandemic fueled the digital transformation already underway in most business sectors. Gartner predicts that an “anywhere operations model will be vital for businesses to emerge successfully from COVID-19” in 2021. This is particularly true for marketing, brand and corporate communications. Remote work is now a permanent option for many office employees, and all internal and externally focused campaigns must be fully digital. The rush to digital operation has obvious ramifications, including a greater emphasis on digital security, and automation of repetitive tasks that frees up humans for higher-touch communications.

Livestream goes mainstream

2020 brought innovation in communications tactics, especially the use of live/streaming video platforms like Twitch. We’ll see lots of new ideas and platforms for customer and employee communications. One likely trend will be a continued mainstreaming of tactics like live digital events, podcasting, and real-time chat for routine programs. The future of event marketing growth will be in hybrid happenings that attract both physical and virtual participants and attendees.

DEI becomes mission-critical

There are no more excuses. No more talk of empty pipelines or hiding behind a revolving door of diverse candidates whose needs aren’t met by the organization. Agencies and clients alike need to walk the talk when it comes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Promises and pledges that were made in a reactive way in June of 2020 won’t be forgotten in 2021.

The stakes rise for employee engagement

For similar reasons, stakeholder communications will become more important, but nowhere more than for than the new, distributed workforce. With remote work and fully digital programming becoming common. corporate communications will be challenged to involve and engage employees, with an emphasis on mental health and wellness, team-building, and creativity. It will require new technology tools as well as unprecedented involvement on a strategic level by corporate communications pros.

Our work will be bifurcated

Repetitive tasks and back-end office functions will be more automated. COVID proved that we don’t need constant travel any more than we need to deposit paper checks at the bank. At the same time, the pressure will grow for highly personalized media, customer and stakeholder communications. For example, content campaigns will be informed by customer data and therefore must focus on topics that truly resonate with specific segments, based on where and how they consume it. This means quarterly or even monthly adjustments, because few things are more valuable than agility in communications.

Marketing and corporate communications will overlap

There’s always been a tension between marketing and PR/communications within large companies. This is because the two compete for budget, and because marketing is seen as a proactive discipline responsible for driving growth, while communications is considered more defensive, involving crisis and reputation management.  The smartest companies will ensure that the two work in tandem to meet customer expectations for values-based marketing and communications.

PR must communicate values, not just message points

Of course it’s not new, but all evidence points to continued pressure on brands to align their marketing and communications with corporate values even beyond diversity, equity and inclusion. 2020 has seen a great deal of norm-shattering, and only some of that is for the better. We’re beset with deep divisions over culture, politics, and even the nature of objective fact. The loss of trust in institutions means that businesses will play a larger role in expressing brand and corporate values than ever before.

New social platforms drive influencer culture

A year ago, who would have thought Charli D’Amelio would hit 100 million TikTok followers by November? Actually, anyone following influencer culture probably should have. The pace of social influencer growth had accelerated even before the pandemic; on YouTube it took 14 years for a single channel to reach 100 million subscribers. Yet social media usage rose even more sharply during the lockdown periods after COVID-19. It’s a sure bet that trend will continue, and that by this time next year, fresh names will hit new milestones. Brands that catch rising stars as new audiences emerge will benefit.

Innovation still rules

It never went away, of course. But big ideas that drive media attention, bridge the virtual and physical, engage customers and employees, and extend marketing budgets will be more important than ever in a fractured and fragmented attention economy.

The Cost Of Losing Credibility

A former PR agency boss once told me, “You don’t win by being right. You win by being credible.”

That’s been ringing in my ears since the White House COVID-19 credibility crisis shifted into high gear. Credibility is among the most valuable currencies of any leader. It’s tough to watch it squandered even on an ordinary day. But in the midst of a global pandemic that has triggered a host of additional worries, it’s downright scary. And while it makes us feel clever to parse the press secretary’s statements and tweet snark about the handling of the president’s illness, it clearly goes beyond a PR problem.

White House fails transparency test

The lack of transparency around the spread of the coronavirus at the top levels of our government has further tarnished the Trump White House, our CDC, and even the Walter Reed Medical Center, among others. A September poll by ABC-Ipsos showed that 68% of Americans don’t trust the president when it comes to updates about the pandemic. Some even doubt the diagnosis itself, suspicious that it could be a stunt. Videos of the president posted from Walter Reed were parsed for edits and timestamps with a zeal that would make QAnon followers blush. No one seems to believe anything anymore.

The news that the president and several members of his inner circle have contracted the virus resulted in “worst-practices” communications by the White House. The government clearly had no plan to deal with a COVID infection in their midst. It started with a leaked story about Hope Hicks’s positive test results, followed by several hours of suspense about the president’s health status. Then, like dominos falling, the bad news just kept coming.

Yet four days later, we still don’t have answers to crucial questions about how the president contracted COVID-19 and who else was exposed. The initial briefing about the president’s health was dodgy; Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, seemed to cast doubt on the timeline of events released by the White House. He was notably evasive when asked about the president’s oxygen levels. To compound the problems, after Conley’s upbeat report, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows released a statement “on background” that indicated the president’s condition was far more serious than reported.

Contradictions undermine credibility

Granted, there’s a long history of obfuscation when it comes to the health of a U.S. president. But in this case, the clumsy handling of the situation reflects the flawed management of the broader COVID-19 national health crisis. The administration and members of Trump’s family and inner circle have openly flouted the guidance from his own CDC. They have politicized the simple safety measure of wearing a face covering while denying ambivalence about masks. The key message point adopted by the administration over the weekend – that we should “live our lives” and not fear the virus – comes in direct and stunning contradiction to national guidelines. It will do nothing to protect public health.

Could an administration known for a lack of credibility have done anything differently or better? Yes. A straightforward report on the president’s health status would have been a first step, followed by disclosure of others affected and news of real actions taken to manage the outbreak – remote work, masks, contract-tracing, and the rest. But that hasn’t happened.

COVID is reality, not a reality show

The crisis has done more than finish off the administration’s credibility. It could cost well-meaning behind-the-scenes staff and members of the press their health, or worse. It has done lasting damage to our institutions. And the worst of it is that the lies, half-truths and distortions will probably continue once the president is released from the hospital.

We’ll most likely start a new chapter of the COVID reality show with only our common sense and the free press to interpret what we see and hear. It’s not the way it should be, but it’s the price of an administration that has sacrificed all credibility in pursuit of political gain.

How Paid And Organic Social Media Work Together In PR

Social media marketing and PR have become inseparable. That’s because social media plays a large role in most consumer and B2B PR programs. Of course, the right strategy is key to success, but for amplifying or growing the results of a strong PR program, the best option is usually a blend of paid and organic social media. Fully 86% of B2B marketers combine paid and organic social tactics. Here’s why.

Paid vs. organic social

Organic content uses free social media tools to share posts, photos, videos, and stories with the people who already follow a given brand or individual. The only way social media users can see posts organically is if a brand’s followers share its content or they’re following hashtags used by a brand to attract those searching for a specific topic. 

Organic social is the best way to begin to establish a connection with relevant audiences, but it has other benefits.

  • There is no cost to use it

  • Builds brand awareness

  • Extends the reach of thought leadership content 

  • Helps build a community around common topics or interests 

  • Develops campaigns with custom hashtags 

The reach of organic social sharing, however, is self-limiting. That’s where paid social media programs come in. While organic posting is key to reputation and relationship-building, algorithms that drive social content have made the paid social necessary for many campaigns. Its benefits are obvious.

  • Paid social connects brands with audiences that would not have discovered its content 

  • Paid campaigns can reinforce or amplify the message of organic social content

  • B2B companies can use audience targeting to reach industry decision-makers 

Integrating paid and organic social programs 

Organic social media reach is dwindling across most platforms. Organic posts on Facebook only reach about 5.5% of brand followers since Facebook’s algorithm decides which posts users see, and in what order. Here are some tips on finding the equilibrium of paid and organic social tactics for your social media strategy.

Where to post

The balance of paid and organic social media in a given program should be determined according to the social platform involved. The mix should vary according to program goals, and you may choose to incorporate more paid media one platform while organic may better suit another. Promoting a webinar can benefit more from paid posts on LinkedIn compared to Facebook, and audience engagement can thrive on Twitter when using organic tools such as polls and hashtags. People visit different social platforms for different reasons, and knowing which content to share and where to engage will play to the strength of each platform. 

Serve targeted ads based on organic audience

By using organic social media to build relationships with a given audience, you gain data insights about them. Information such as job title, age, and location can help build ads that are as relevant as possible. 

The beauty of social platforms is that they create lookalike audiences according to the data that closely matches a preferred audience segment. This could be webinar registrants or people who have actively engaged with brand content. A lookalike audience consists of people with similar demographics but are new to the brand and thus very valuable.

All promotion isn’t equal

Ads aren’t always the way to go – a captivating, creative organic post can generate buzz and compel your followers to share. In our view, organic social is most useful for amplifying an announcement, namely earned media coverage, change in leadership, or a new partnership. Use relevant hashtags and tag companies, people, or media outlets to ramp up impressions engagement. That being said, if the reach of organic posts isn’t meeting your goals, then you may want to back your content with spend.

An organic post that performs well can be “boosted” by paying to get it in front of more people – one of the benefits of marrying paid and organic social. Boosting is the perfect introduction to paid social and is low-risk, since there’s no need to produce an ad designed for a specific campaign. A running of your weekly or monthly analytics report will include likes, conversions, and profile views to determine the top-performing posts for boosting.

A/B testing

Before finalizing the social media budget allocation, most of us will run different versions of an ad in front of a small audience to see which performs better. You will want to test copy, graphics, ad placement, and audience targeting before deciding on a set budget in order to maximize the campaign’s effectiveness. You can also test organic content performance by setting up manual split tests and tracking results by using UTM parameters.

Optimize for success

A winning B2B social media strategy will typically include both paid and organic social media elements. Determining which approach works best for a given brand will take some testing and adjustment, but once you find what works, the results will be well worth it.

Five Types Of Bylined Content That Work For PR

As outlined in my post on PR tips for effective bylines, bylined content is a powerful part of a B2B PR plan. It can help deliver key messages, communicate expertise and drive thought leadership for business brands. But there are many types of content that build credibility and leadership as part of a strategic PR program. Here are five of the most common.

Traditional Trend Piece

Content that explains a new or emerging trend is among the most valuable for business customers because it helps educate prospects. Educational content is particularly useful for any category with a long purchase cycle and steep learning curve, like software or insurance. Executives who are subject-matter experts can share relevant insights on business happenings. These will typically include a specific point of view about an industry trend, what it means, how businesses should prepare or respond, and possibly even how they can help, although this may only be implied. For example, we represent several ad tech companies at a time when major browsers like Chrome are phasing out support for third-party cookies. What does this mean for digital advertising? How can marketers cope? What does it do for publishers? These issues seem arcane for anyone outside the industry, but they’re hot-button topics in the ad tech lane because the community is rushing to adapt. As in any category, change represents opportunity for those who can seize it.

Personal/Lessons Learned

We love this type of piece because we represent high-growth technology companies often led by entrepreneurs, and they all have stories to tell. What’s more, these pieces are usually both well differentiated and authentic. The important thing to bear in mind for “lessons learned” content is that the most influential and widely shared articles will offer insights for the reader as well as an interesting personal experience. Right now, many businesses have learned and changed enormously as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among our base of clients there are some excellent stories about what they’ve learned, how they’ve adapted and how they’re continuing to navigate the situation as business leaders and as citizens. A “lessons learned” piece is also among the most versatile, and it can usually be augmented or even replaced by a video version. 

Service Content

This type of content can overlap with the “lessons learned” category, but it is typically more tactical and less personal. It may also be far more grounded in research. An effective service piece can be in the form of a whitepaper that offers proprietary industry data and outlines key steps for customers who face a specific decision or business dilemma. The best service articles are generous with data but offer clear tips, steps, or checklists for moving a business forward, responding to customer preferences, or effecting specific change. Service content is among the easiest and best types of content for incorporating different types of visuals beyond text, including digital graphics, charts, and short video snippets. 

Opinion/Contrarian Piece

This type of contributed content showcases a personal opinion on an important business, social, or cultural matter. Op-ed pieces and bylined articles are a staple in politics, but they’re equally effective for entrepreneurs and business leaders who want to communicate their ideas and build a reputation for bold thinking. The most effective such articles set out a single take or point of view and back it up with statistics, experience, or other evidence. An op-ed is a perfect vehicle for experts who want to help shape a public conversation. A contrarian opinion and/or a strong call to action can help an op-ed writer stand out. In our world, a less popular opinion may have a better chance of being published in an influential business or trade outlet – but only if it is authentic. 


A Call To Action, or CTA, can exist in nearly any type of content but it’s worth calling out because it is essential to achieving content marketing goals. The CTA tells a target audience what action they should take after reading through the post. The most basic CTAs involve encouraging the customer to buy a product or service. Other types might involve asking readers to share the content, make a donation, subscribe to emails, and so forth. CTAs should be short and concise so the reader knows exactly what to do and can easily follow through. 

Leverage bylined articles for maximum exposure

After deciding on your content mix, it’s important to make sure it is seen by the most relevant target audience. Any business can ensure that its pieces are seen by those who matter most: clients, prospects, referral sources, alumni, colleagues, internal staff, and, of course, the media outlets that influence different segments. Promoting content social media and encouraging others to share it as well is important for gaining maximum exposure for your piece. Direct marketing to customers and employees through timely emails is also useful. We will explore the best ways to merchandise business content in an upcoming post.