How To Spot The Story: A PR Primer

In public relations, our job is to spot, shape, and communicate our client’s story. That task typically starts with an information session, often before the letter of agreement is signed. We download information and ask questions, probing for the key points of the narrative we envision will make the company stand out.

So we may ask, “What’s different about Typical Software Co.?”  Here are some classic responses:

“Our people set us apart. We work hard to recruit the best.”

“Our products are very high quality. We’re better than competitors.”

“We offer great customer service/value/reliability.”

These statements are usually true. There may be evidence to support them, which always helps. They’re also important; in fact, a company shouldn’t be in business if it can’t point to high quality and talented employees. But, they’re not unique. They’re not even very different. Who doesn’t claim to have the best people, products, and value?

So how should communications professionals work to identify the story we suspect is buried under the day-to-day business processes?

Look for the turning points

Change is interesting. So is adversity. A history of setbacks, or even failure, is more memorable than the typical success tale. In the moment, a business pivot might be gradual, but in hindsight it can become a dramatic turning point. We represented a technology company that had almost closed after its preloaded audiobook business failed to catch on with readers. It made a last-ditch effort to sell to the library market instead – a move that was successful enough to offer a bridge to its ultimate digital strategy. That turning point became part of a narrative that perfectly captured the maturation of the audio content sector. It made the brand more interesting, and best of all, media loved it.

Insist on examples

As storytellers, we’re taught to show, not tell. The same goes for identifying the story. Don’t let the business owner brag about his penchant for risk or generous attitude without getting the examples that illustrate it. A delivery guarantee is pretty boring, but an example of how a business put an employee on an overnight flight to the West Coast to help a customer make a deadline to make good on that guarantee could be interesting. Examples are not only demonstrative, but they’re often visual. If we can visualize it, we’ll remember it.

Be curious

Open-ended questions are particularly useful. “What do people not understand about your job/business/category?” is a good thought starter. Sometimes a marketplace misperception is the trigger for bringing on a PR firm, but often it’s the smaller and more individual insights that can make a story come alive. “What keeps you up at night?” “What is no one else seeing?” “What’s your biggest headache/success/challenge?” help to tap the human element of any business story. A recent prospect caught my attention when he confided that he founded his company out of frustration that no one else was offering the service he needed. It was just one word, but “frustration” helped us craft the broader story about his business.

Get personal

Not every sector is exciting or accessible, especially in B2B technology. We represent a tech company that helps sales teams book meetings with prospects instantly. The software can make a huge difference in revenue, yet the category is narrow. So we delved into the personal story of the founders. One of them grew up in a country with a repressive, Soviet-influenced government. When Russia invaded Ukraine last February, she organized resources, transportation, and shelter for those fleeing the war. It galvanized the entire company. Not only was it a great story, but it showed something about the culture and values of the business. In another case, we learned that a client company CEO had narrowly escaped a terrorist attack many years prior. It affected him so deeply that he quit his job and founded a business. In each case, we were able to tell the story in a way that attracted top-tier media coverage, while staying relevant and treating serious topics with sensitivity.

Strip away the technical details

In the tech sector we hear a lot of puffy descriptors, trade jargon, and convoluted language. Along with that, there’s something psychologist Steven Pinker calls the “curse of knowledge.” We see it when technical or academic experts are so immersed in their field that they can’t step outside it to convey the real narrative beneath the technical benefits, like use cases and hero employee stories. In our role, sometimes it helps to play the “non-expert.”  When we ask a client to “explain it like I’m in kindergarten” we’re actually more likely to get to the core of the story.

Dig deeper

If all else fails, keep digging. Ask every key officer about their own personal backstory. Delve into market research data. Look up analyst research about the sector. Develop key customer personas. Study competitors for differentiating factors. Analyze trends and note how the business conforms to them. If it does, it’s a solid example for a broader category story. If it doesn’t, it may be a maverick – and who doesn’t love a contrarian?

5 Reasons Not To Cut PR In A Recession

As any ad or PR agency knows, our budgets are vulnerable when the economy turns soft. We’re seeing it now. Facebook parent company Meta has warned of an advertising slowdown. Broadcast outlets and publishers also report headwinds, though the views are mixed.

On the bright side, a Muck Rack study shows PR expenditures may rise in some sectors, including travel and energy. And in the UK, some speculate that businesses will “trade down” to PR by cutting more expensive marketing programs. In PR’s favor, we’ve seen the power of brand visibility during a crisis; I’d argue that many PR winners of the early Covid years – like Apple and Amazon – are well positioned to weather a coming storm.

But let’s face it, recession worries are often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Businesses anxious about the economy may opt to “pause” their PR program, to use my least favorite euphemism. They can always resume when the storm has passed, the reasoning goes.

But when it comes to the typical public relations investment, it’s a bad idea to hit the pause button at the first sign of trouble. PR has unique advantages and challenges, and a suspension can cost more in brand trust and reputation than it saves on paper.

Yet why should anyone take a PR person’s view on this?

What the data shows about marketing in a recession

Research data offers a more objective view. In response to an absence of rigorous research on the topic, Harvard Business School’s Ranjay Gulati and Nitin Nohria ran an ambitious study of recessionary periods. Over a full year they analyzed the strategy and performance of 4700 public companies during three global downturns, from 1980 to the 2000 dot-com bubble collapse. In the fascinating piece “Roaring Out of Recession,” published in 2010, the authors call their findings “stark and startling.”

Defensive strategies don’t pay

The HBR co-authors divided corporate behavior in an economic downturn into four groups, from most reactive (“preventive-focused”) to those using an “optimal combination” of offensive and defensive strategies. What stands out is how poorly the “preventive-focused” companies fared in comparison to others. They averaged 6% in sales growth and 4% in profit growth, compared with 13% and 12% for companies deploying more offensive strategies. The most successful businesses? Measured by sales and EBITDA growth post-recession, those who did best cut costs by improving operational efficiency while investing in R&D and marketing as well as assets like plants and machinery.

Where does PR fit in?

The HBS study looked at the big picture. But, when it comes to proactive public relations in particular, why should businesses continue to invest when a downturn looms? Here are the most compelling reasons in my view.

Gain an edge over competitors

It stands to reason that some businesses will cut back on marketing, advertising and PR when a downturn approaches. A company that invests, by contrast, is poised to pull ahead of quieter competitors. It’s an exceptional opportunity to gain share of voice. And public relations in particular simply doesn’t lend itself to sudden starts and stops. Media relations results can lag activity by three months or more. Unlike digital advertising, turning the “PR spigot” back on after a hiatus won’t instantly increase sales. A business can easily lose a year of momentum and share of voice by suspending PR efforts.

The opportunity cost

And that lost momentum isn’t just due to the price of inactivity. Falling behind is costly, and there are practical concerns around a resumption of efforts that make a PR pause particularly counterproductive. Pulling an entire team off a PR program, whether through an outside agency or internal layoffs, means that team may not be available once PR resumes. We’re not talking about a highly automated practice, like digital advertising. The institutional experience,  knowledge, and relationships that make PR work well are lost or at least disrupted. In a fast recovery, this is a disadvantage.

Brand trust isn’t discretionary

In uncertain times, intangibles like brand trust are even more valuable.  No amount of paid advertising can buy trust. And I’d argue that no marketing function confers the credibility and SEO impact of earned media. In comparison to advertising, PR is both more cost-effective and more flexible. Dropping proactive media relations can also pose a reputation risk. “PR cannot fix an economic slump. What it can do is insulate a company, to a meaningful degree, from the reputational impacts of one,” explains former PRSA president Andrew Graham.

All recessions aren’t alike

The downturn we face is an unusual one – a blazing-hot employment market tempered by slowing GDP growth and inflation. But consumer spending has continued to grow. It’s a puzzle that has stymied the forecasters and defied historical trends. If economists can’t even predict what the future brings I know the rest of us can’t, but the unique combination of indicators poses a red flag to reflexive budget-cutters.

PR powers a strong recovery

Most importantly, an ongoing PR program can power a leap forward once the economy recovers. Companies who invest in media and influencer relations will be well positioned to build upon the customer engagement that ongoing PR helps drive. Every component that shores up relations with media, stakeholders, customers and employees lays the groundwork for the future.

Rather than turn off the PR switch, most organizations are better served by making surgical cuts or thoughtful budget reallocations over wholesale eliminations of key programs and tactics. By maintaining a proactive PR engagement, companies can project strength and financial stability in the face of uncertainty and be poised to win where others falter.

How Strategic PR Supports Employer Branding

As the “Great Resignation” gives way to “Quiet Quitting,” worker engagement and employer branding is bigger than ever, and so is the PR that drives it.

That wasn’t always the case. Time was, we’d have a full-blown PR strategy meeting, and employee recruitment would be in an internal comms section, reduced to a single bullet point in a slide deck. Or it would be siloed in the HR department, who never spoke with PR or communications.

Today, employer branding is a business imperative. For any organization that prizes an engaged workforce and recruitment of talented and committed employees, their image as an employer is a make-or-break proposition. And the right PR program can amplify the efforts and outcomes for most organizations. Here’s what to keep in mind.

C-Level visibility is a talent magnet

A charismatic CEO is a powerful employer branding asset. So is a strong roster of articulate C-level executives. The CEO is often the public face of the enterprise, especially for entrepreneurial companies, so their participation is critical to successful employer PR. C-level thought leadership, driven by major media and conference speaking opportunities for senior leaders, sends a compelling message to employees and prospective recruits. It typically results in quality coverage on the business pages of news outlets that conveys the values, vision, and future plans of the organization. It can also humanize it through the real-life stories of the successful execs that have climbed the ranks over time. Who doesn’t want to work with business rockstars?

PR showcases workplace culture, credibly

In a candidate-driven market, culture matters. Talented employees are attracted to a standout workplace experience. That used to mean free lunches and a pet-friendly office, but today it’s more likely to reflect a sense of purpose, or a signature quality like innovation or inclusiveness. Most tech PR campaigns, for example, focus on innovative products. But a more robust PR program will highlight the very culture, processes, and workers behind that great product or service. Talented tech workers like engineers and programmers want to be part of a culture that fosters innovation, and the real-life narratives can be very persuasive. GE has been telling the story of its engineering talent for years through social content, with great success. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been open about his company’s need for drastic cultural change to recapture its own heritage of innovation. The same tactics can work for startups and SMBs.

External recognition drives interest

Awards and honors are another piece of the PR picture that work hard to add luster to an organization’s image and support its recruiting. Best Places to Work, 40 Under 40, Women to Watch, Entrepreneur of the Year — there are a wealth of lists and awards that will not only make a splash but be searchable for months and years. A smart internal or external PR team will invest the time to scout for opportunities and craft entries to win external recognition, often in concert with Human Resources. Entering many of these awards takes a heavy lift, so it’s essential to put in a consistent effort and to be strategic in selecting the opportunities that make sense and are worth the time and effort. But there’s nothing like the credibility of a prestigious workplace award or the recognition earned by employees.

PR and HR are better together

Even the most brilliant PR team can’t transform a destructive or problematic culture, nor should it. If the stories and messaging put out by PR don’t match the employee experience, the effort is wasted, or worse, it can backfire. That’s why the HR and PR functions should work together. This is particularly important for an external PR firm. An outside agency will bring the benefits of objectivity and experience, but it won’t know the company’s DNA. At the outset, both teams should be privy to how current employees and prospective recruits perceive the company. They should review core values to identify gaps with a company’s policies and reward systems, or the actual experience of current employees.

The full recruiting experience, from ads to interviews to job offer, is obviously key to company perception, as is the pace and cadence of its processes. (How often have you heard stories of people who feel disrespected by multiple rounds of interviews, followed by….silence?) Every link in that chain should reflect well on the organization and be consistent with the culture PR is boasting about. Any red flags — negative comments on Glassdoor, an uptick in job rejections, or a change in employee survey results, for example — are cause for greater scrutiny and quick escalation. PR can’t prevent bad reviews or complaints, but it can encourage happy employees to share their experiences. More importantly, it can work with HR to identify and address any bubbling issues that will impact employer reputation.

On the upside, PR + HR is a winning equation. When recruiting and personnel processes are in sync with company culture, and that story is amplified through PR and thought leadership, the organization is far more likely to attract quality employees who stick around.

What Does Top-Tier Media Mean In PR?

In the PR world, when we kick-start a new engagement we may ask a client, “Where do you want to see your brand? When it comes to media, do you have a ‘wish list’?” Naturally, the initial response may be a preference for splashy stories in top-tier outlets like The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Times, or Fortune. And we agree that nothing is quite as rewarding as securing that one BIG media placement. 

While those outlets are undeniably desirable for B2B PR, the definition of top-tier media Isn’t the same for all programs. The media landscape is cluttered, and it’s always changing. The migration of news to digital platforms has disrupted the news business, and new outlets are always coming on board. So, there’s not a one-size fits all approach to PR or media relations. What may be one company’s tier-three can be another brand’s tier-one. 

To execute a strong PR program and target the media outlets that will work best for your brand, assess your goals. Only then can you make meaningful recommendations on outlets that would be most influential.

Assess your audience

In B2B PR, you come across different audience segments, but the three main audience groups typically are: stakeholders, customers and reporters.

A private company or startup wanting to catch investor attention has different objectives than a public company looking to increase their customer base and market share. The audiences are fundamentally different. Industry-specific publications, whether healthcare, retail, or financial services, may lack the overall readership numbers and broad reach of a national news site, but they resonate with a given target audience and engage decision-makers that can impact an organization’s growth. For example, Street Fight covering local marketing, commerce and advertising may not generally be considered a top-tier outlet, but for our client Uberall, Street Fight is a very valuable trade and always gets the attention of audiences who count. 

Make vertical trades a MUST for PR strategy

While we cannot deny the power of a top-tier national media coverage, vertical media has proven very meaningful. Why? Vertical outlets allow more in-depth and targeted storytelling, focus on stories that may be too complex for a bigger outlet, spotlight the C-suite executive bench and drive demand-gen efforts.

Moreover, these trades are an excellent avenue for vertical-specific reporters at bigger business publications like Bloomberg or The Wall Street Journal. Top-tier beat reporters tend to follow trades in their sector to keep a pulse on the topics beyond the high-level announcements and breaking stories.

With publications like Morning Brew generating multiple vertical-specific publications (across retail, tech, HR and finance among others) and Time magazine’s dedicated business vertical, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to build their coverage pipeline. 

Newer forms of media – a game changer

As with vertical trade press, other forms of media are evolving to yield excellent outcomes. Some of the most important are newsletters and substack, a venture-backed platform allowing writers to connect with their audiences directly through their inbox. They offer new access points for earned media hits. Readers can select the topics and reporters they like, which presumably helps fuel engagement. In the middle of the pandemic, we saw a number of established reporters leaving for newsletters and creating their own ‘mini media empire’. Such platforms have created an industry not only for the writers but also a perfect opportunity for PR teams to connect their clients directly with their desired audience. 

The paywall conundrum

Let’s face it, paywalls are becoming the future. Name any top-tier pub — NYT, WSJ, Forbes, Insider and Washington Post, among others – and they’re likely to be inaccessible to readers without a monthly subscription.  Some allow non-subscribers to see a limited number of articles before directing to the payment channel, but the limits are there. 

During the pandemic, many media groups dropped paywalls for a time, but we’re now seeing paywalls re-emerge. Last year, Reuters restricted its free online content and unveiled a new subscription website. Sports Illustrated also launched its new digital premium membership. Paywall methods like this one weed out many readers that some argue represent a gateway to an engaged, loyal audience. But no matter how you feel about it, this changing business model is important to consider in determining your editorial media plan to secure coverage and maximize reach. Consider exploring and pivoting to tier-two media, as they often can be just as useful, if not better, than top-tier outlets to drive new levels of awareness for a campaign or brand.

PR teams must work with the brand team to shape the messaging strategy to reach the right media and ultimate audiences in a timely fashion. We’re the experts here, so understand the business involved, ask questions and don’t shy away from recommending new media targets beyond the top tier. 

How Not To Get Cancelled: A PR View

After four months of ostracism for slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards, Will Smith has posted a video apologizing for his behavior. As apologies go, it’s late, but not bad. Yet as a PR observer, I’m not too concerned about Smith’s future. He’s a hugely successful actor with access to the best advice and a pretty smart guy. His career will probably recover.

But cancellation isn’t limited to celebrities. And internet justice can be even more consequential for ordinary people whose offenses fall short of slapping someone on live television.  Just ask artist Mary Purdie, who was accused of plagiarizing a meme featured in a design she created for OK Cupid. (The accusations were false, but many of those who attacked her didn’t stop to verify them.) “I’ve survived five miscarriages and breast cancer and this was still the worst thing that’s happened to me,” she told “Good Morning America.”

When it comes to brand cancel culture, there’s often a constructive goal – to correct mistakes or encourage change. That’s empowering to regular consumers. Whitney Dailey of Porter Novelli describes it as “a way for individuals to hold companies accountable in a way they previously weren’t able to do.”

Yes, social media pushback can be constructive, yet it often spins out of control. When that happens, it can wreak personal and professional damage. So how can you avoid being cancelled?

Be thoughtful about sensitive issues

We encourage brands to take a stand on relevant matters, especially those aligned with the values of their customers. The companies that pledged support for female employees after the Dobbs decision, for example, are expressing an authentic position in response to a court ruling that will affect millions. They’re backing their content with action, too. But don’t jump on issues for the sake of notoriety; it will eventually backfire.

Avoid hashtag hijacking

In the same vein, hashtag hijacking is risky. In the first place, it steps on the toes of the legitimate owners of the topic, which looks bad. But cancellations result when hashtag-jumping is obviously for a quick visibility hit. It’s even worse when a brand ignores the context. Someone who worked for pizza company DiGiorno noticed #WhyIStayed trending on Twitter and smelled an opportunity. It’s unclear whether the brand realized the hashtag was for stories of domestic violence survivors, but it jumped on it to promote its pizza. Bad idea. The reaction was swift and harsh.

Be careful with humor

Humor is a fantastic way to humanize a brand, but my rule is to resist joking when the context is sensitive. Duolingo, the language-education app, recently learned this the hard way. “Y’all think amber watches tiktok?” it posted beneath a clip of Amber Heard referring to online harassment she’d endured on the platform. It was a pretty mild quip, and Duolingo probably thought it was a harmless way to be relevant. But the joke infuriated many TikTok users, including our very own Chris Harihar, whose tweet went viral. To its credit, the social media manager for Duolingo posted a heartfelt apology.

The same rules apply for sarcasm and snark in my view. Until Twitter launches an official sarcasm font, it’s just too easy to misunderstand a post or tweet in the heat of the moment. A final pro tip: stay away from  social content about domestic violence unless it’s directly relevant and in a stone-cold-serious context. Same goes for the Holocaust. Not funny. Ever.

Don’t over-delegate social content

Social media marketing has matured dramatically over the last 15 years. Yet brands who routinely ensure several management levels and pairs of eyes view press statements will give a 24-year-old autonomy on a huge platform like Twitter or TikTok. Of course, speed and relevance are all-important in social media, but staff experience counts, too. Duolingo’s social media manager’s situation is clear from her response to the backlash.

“I made a mistake,” she said. “It’s deleted and I’m listening. I’m 24 – a yr out of college – managing an account that I didn’t expect to grow how it did & learning social responsibility on a curve. Taking full ownership. It’s an early career lesson for me and I’m learning to be better.”

It’s a good statement, but I’d argue the responsibility is not all hers.

Build social allies

Once you’re cancelled, it’s too late to reach out to friends and allies, and if the situation is radioactive, they’ll go radio silent. It’s more constructive to build relationships from the start. Even if there’s no budget for formal influencer or content creator relations, cultivate engagement with relevant social figures by engaging and appreciating their content. Again, this mirrors traditional media relations; top media contacts won’t guarantee a positive story, but media relationships will help you get a fair hearing.

Be prepared with a response

So what should a brand or person do if they’re cancelled? I’ll flesh out strategies in my next post, but the steps toward cancel club redemption are similar to any reputation crisis playbook – but on steroids. Speed is of the essence, which is why PR teams and agencies should be prepared with the right listening and monitoring tools and, critically, a plan for quick response. No one can predict the nature or severity of a reputation crisis, but most brands understand their own vulnerabilities and social communities. A good social media response plan will focus on a small number of likely scenarios; the key decision-makers; and logistics – who monitors for sentiment, who responds on which platforms, and who the deciders are.

Few cancellations are permanent. But the best reputation crises are the ones that didn’t happen.

How To Work From Anywhere As A PR Pro

Over the last three years remote work capabilities have transitioned from a work perk to an industry-wide expectation, especially among PR agencies like ours. Now let me clarify something – working remotely isn’t the same as working from home. While working from home has traditionally meant the temporary ability to work from one’s house for a day or two each week, working remotely is a constant. And there’s an increasing number of digital nomads like me pursuing the latter. 

Generations currently rising in the workforce like millennials and Gen Z are increasingly looking for these remote capabilities when searching for jobs. We’re seeing big companies like Twitter, Spotify, Pinterest, and Shopify blazing the trail for work-from-anywhere capabilities and proving that operations can still be conducted smoothly and effectively. The PR industry, being completely digital now, is an ideal career for those wanting to become digital nomads. 

As long as you’re keeping up with the news cycle, remote PR work can happen from a variety of places – a dedicated co-working space, a coffee shop, an airplane – all either domestically or internationally. My remote experiences have taken place at my dedicated co-working space in Charleston, SC, seaside cafes in Mexico, hostels in Brazil, airplanes on the way to Spain, coffee shops in Portugal, a friend’s home in France – the list goes on. 

The biggest draw in being a digital nomad is the freedom and global experience it brings. Suddenly you’re writing a press release from a foreign country, having a real French press instead of a k-cup at your house, and taking meetings with new cityscapes in the background. However, there are also many skills required by those who choose to go this route, especially when abroad and/or in a different time zone. 

Informed by my own experience, here’s how to work successfully from anywhere.

Adopt a self-starting attitude 

The camaraderie and momentum of a shared office have helped colleagues keep each other motivated for decades. By contrast, those who transition to remote work definitely feel the change in their environment and pace of work. Chances are, there’s going to be no one to physically hold you accountable outside of the office. There’s no one to notice if you’re napping, sight-seeing, or in transit during work hours. So it’s important to have the motivation and discipline to produce the work consistently and well. People who feel they lack that sense of initiative usually find it helpful to structure their days as if they were in an office, with a consistent start and stop time and regular breaks to refresh. Some even set alerts to remind them to move on to the next task.

Sharpen your time-management skills

Often the main reason employees choose to work abroad is to experience a new culture. So how do you manage the time to indulge in new experiences and surroundings but also keep up with the fast-paced world of PR? I won’t say it’s simple, but it’s definitely possible. Some of my days spent abroad were calm, and I was able to multitask by working from my phone while on a train to the next destination. Other days were chaotic, following unexpected breaking news and newsjacking. The PR industry will always keep you on your toes, so it’s important to manage your time accordingly and prioritize work first. Scheduling recreational activities outside of your eight-hour work day will allow you to really focus on work during the designated time to keep clients on track. 

Lean into communication with colleagues 

Since in-person interaction is diminished, it’s important to lean into communication with colleagues to ensure that everyone is in sync on tasks and the work is getting done. Radio silence while working from different geographical locations can create weariness among the employer and confusion by peers. I’ve personally found that engaging in all Slack conversations, showing up to meetings on time, responding to emails in a timely manner and having quick huddles are the best way to keep in touch with my team and prove that I’m still doing my part, whether near or far. 

Invest in the best technology, leading with Wi-Fi 

When your industry relies on the internet, it’s critical to have a strong connection from wherever you are working. Pro tip: research Wi-Fi speeds before you travel. No matter where you are in the world, there’s bound to be a hotel, hostel, co-working space or restaurant with high-speed internet. Mind you, it’s normal to have Wi-Fi trouble every once in a while, but it shouldn’t become a regular issue. Constant lack of internet connection is unprofessional, unreliable and ultimately less productive. In a similar vein, if you’re not storing documents on a company server, use cloud storage and above all, make sure you can tap reliable backup technologies like a mobile hotspot in case of Wi-Fi failure or even a small chromebook in the event your laptop crashes. Let me tell you, I’ve learned from experience. Glitchy Wi-Fi and calls dropping have caused me great stress in the past – there is a level of professionalism we digital nomads must uphold if we want to have our cake (see the world) and eat it, too (maintain and grow in our jobs). 

Find a quiet and reliable space for meetings 

One good piece of advice I heard before my travels was, “don’t work where you sleep.” Even if that’s not possible, it’s often important to have a quiet spot for meetings. Some employers are more relaxed than others when it comes to meeting environments, so read the room. If your colleagues are taking meetings with minimal background noise, it’s respectful to do the same. Sure, spontaneous huddles or phone calls that weren’t on your calendar may catch you at a noisy coffee shop, but for the regular meetings, plan accordingly. It’s wise to appear engaged and focused when interacting with your colleagues face-to-face or over the phone. Sometimes though, the quietest place is in your bed, and that’s not an ideal camera-on situation. In this instance, I’m hoping your employer is understanding of the circumstances – whether you’re on or off camera – acknowledging that you’re still there and working, which leads me to the below. 

Ask for trust and support from your employer 

Employees work most productively when they feel trust, support and empowerment by their employers. I’ve held jobs in the past at companies that claimed “work from anywhere” but I felt judged when I was working from anywhere but home. Any employer who currently operates or is considering operating remotely should choose trustworthy talent to produce work and support them in whichever environment they choose. Support from an employer while working abroad plays a significant role in an employee’s mental health and level of production.

The shift toward remote workplaces and work-abroad capabilities is offering a bold future with greater freedom than has previously been possible with a full-time, salaried job. This study conducted by MetLife proves that offering employees the opportunity to work abroad boosts loyalty and retention; I can vouch for this immensely–being empowered to work abroad keeps me fulfilled both personally and professionally. In the digital age where we’re all connected by Slack and email, I don’t think we need to be in the same location or even time zone as our colleagues to still work in sync and effectively. Gone are the days of vanilla cubicles and stale coffee. Hello Parisian french presses and airplane Wi-Fi. 

PR Tips For Using HARO, Qwoted and ProfNet

For PR teams, the most common way to secure media coverage involves announcements, data and proactive pitches. Yet there are always times when proactive pitching doesn’t work, or when announcements and data are relatively light. It’s times like these when PR folks must figure out how to supplement their planned pitching to continue to drive media interest at a good pace. And there are a number of tools – both free and subscription-based – that help generate a steady stream of opportunities. Examples of these include HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and Qwoted, which are both free, and ProfNet, which requires a subscription for those wishing to respond. 

For those unfamiliar, these platforms allow reporters to post requests for commentary from sources they can use for a specific story. PR folks can sign up for e-newsletters that are usually delivered multiple times a day with more information about the requests, including contact info, story description and deadline. Taking a few minutes to browse these lists is a good practice for identifying story ideas and interview opportunities.

While they’re a great tool for PR people, it’s easy for your submission to be overlooked. With that in mind, there are ways to increase the likelihood that the reporter will see (and hopefully use) your client’s comments. 

Pick your spots

The number of inquiries served up by these platforms, especially when you subscribe to several, can be overwhelming, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to respond to all of them. Nor should you try. When reviewing them, you want to be selective and pick the ones that are the best fit. Since each receives so many responses (anywhere from 10 to nearly 100, depending on the topic or publication), you might think that submitting for as many as possible will increase your chances of inclusion. In reality, it’s likely a waste of time. A better strategy for sifting through the dozens of requests in each newsletter is to search for topics and keywords that you know are relevant to the stories you want to tell. 

Be first to the punch

Queries on these sites are all given deadlines that presumably coincide with the reporter’s editorial deadline for each piece. If you think one of the brands you represent is right for a given opportunity, submit as soon as possible. Waiting means the reporter may have everything they need for the story before they get to your submission. Being first to the punch is one of the easiest ways to improve the chances of being included in the piece. 

Offer a unique perspective 

If your spokesperson has an original or contrarian point of view or an unexpected take in response to the query, by all means submit it. With reporters receiving so many replies, sharing something you think could be different will help it stand out in the crowd. Also, feel free to bring suggestions or guide your spokesperson’s responses in a direction that works for the story. Most PR people spend lots of time reading and researching stories, so chances are they have ideas about the commentary that can improve a story. Use this knowledge to make your submissions as strong and insightful as possible.  

Keep responses tight

Reporters aren’t looking for you to write the story for them, but rather for help enhancing it. They’re on deadline, so they can’t spend time reading pages of insights from a single company. So when submitting, it’s best practice to keep your responses short, punchy and no longer than a paragraph or two. When you bring a journalist query to an expert spokesperson they might look at it as a time to show off everything they know about the topic. Help them trim the fat and figure out what’s most important to include in their response to make it less overwhelming. 

Manage expectations

Just because you submit something doesn’t mean it will be used. In fact, it would be reasonable to assume that more submissions will be skipped than not. When bringing the opportunity to a spokesperson or client, it’s a good idea to use words like “potential” and “consider” so they understand that the reporter is collecting responses from many people to consider for inclusion in their piece. It’s okay if it doesn’t get used! 

Repurpose commentary

It’s smart to limit the time you spend responding to reporter queries through these services by being short and selective. But don’t assume that submissions that aren’t used are wasted. Many can be repurposed into another pitch or byline, or they can spark another idea. Save your pitches for adaptation to your media story calendar, reactive response pitching, or bylined content.

While these platforms will never replace PR plans, they can bring opportunities. Focus on a fresh take, then be short, selective, simple, and swift, and you will see a better ROI for the time spent. 

Navigating Media At High-Profile Events

The bread and butter of B2B PR? Industry events. Whether your brand is making a splash at a trade show or an executive is speaking at a conference, professional events combine direct customer contact with press opportunities. And the biggest of these events – like the Cannes Advertising Festival, the Consumer Electronics Show, or the E3 Expo, attract equally high-profile media. Here are some tips to both landing media interviews and making sure they’re successful.

Target relevant press

If you’re tackling an industry event without a full PR team facilitating outreach, pitching and planning for press interviews can be daunting. The key is to offer a conversation that’s intriguing enough to be worth the time within a busy schedule. First, align the expertise of brand executives in attendance with the news beats and interests of your media targets. You can typically use the media lists provided by the event host to determine which reporters will be attending, whether virtually or in-person. You can also research past event coverage, taking note of which media contacts have covered the event in previous years. Finally, ensure you package the offer in a compelling way that doesn’t reveal too many insights that would potentially preempt any information in the interview.

Plan well and double-confirm

Securing media interest is only the first step. Schedules fill up quickly, and firming up details promptly is important. It’s also wise to double-confirm all information and make sure both parties can contact one another directly. Locations and logistics at conferences and trade shows can be confusing and traveling from one point to another is often slow, so build in extra time. If your executive team is “off-campus” (or on a chartered yacht in the Mediterranean!) you will obviously need to arrange transportation. Make every step as painless as possible. Planning your meeting around a meal, or offering refreshment in a private room at your booth or hotel is often a good idea.  

Make interactions memorable 

Not that gimmicks are everything, but it’s important to make the reporters’ time worthwhile. Think in terms of not just one, but two or three potential stories. Media spend time at trade events to make connections, but they’re also after daily stories. It couldn’t hurt to give them a sneak peak of an innovative new product or simply introduce them to newly hired (relevant) C-suite members. Make sure all brand spokespersons are well prepared with necessary background and that they understand what the reporter needs.

It’s all in the briefing book

In the craziness surrounding traveling to and navigating an event, executives will likely be preoccupied leading up to their scheduled press interviews. Set them up for success by prepping a comprehensive briefing book well before the event. A briefing book will break-down the appointment times, media attendee’s background and the key topics for discussion. It’s designed to help break the ice, make both parties comfortable, and keep the conversation on track.

Accommodate COVID considerations

Even if you have past experience hosting media interviews at industry events like Cannes or CES, attending in 2022 and beyond will present new challenges. Don’t take them lightly.

The global COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over. And though many IRL events have come roaring back, they can still be tricky. Hybrid events, cancellations and last-minute attendee dropouts due to pandemic spikes have left organizers and sponsors scrambling to maintain decades-long industry traditions. Consider carefully when considering brand presence – in-person or otherwise – at future events.

As you schedule interviews, be sure to make adjustments to reporters or executives attending virtually. Taking time to maintain an organized system of scheduling and information-sharing will make a good impression. Everyone should be accommodated – no matter their location.

Consider the impact on local communities

Any corporate event attendance or sponsorship should consider its impact on the local town or community, particularly if it’s an international gathering. Think through the potential economic and health impact of physical attendance and be mindful that any decision you make may be a topic of discussion with the press. CES 2022 was labeled a high-tech ghost town after brands canceled their travel plans in the weeks leading up to it due to COVID-19 spikes. And maybe it’s better they did. A few months later, Upfronts in May was deemed a superspreader event

Be prepared for protests

More importantly for brand reputation, on-site protests or breaking news can shift the focus of discussion at a high-profile conference. This summer at the Cannes Lion Festival, for example, Greenpeace protesters made a splash in canoes to protest the fossil fuel industry’s greenwashing in advertising. Red-carpet protests against sexual violence and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine followed. Not only do such protests grab headlines, they sometimes invite media to query corporate sponsors and participants about the issues being highlighted. It’s important that any and all spokespersons are ready to comment if appropriate, and that they’re comfortable adapting messages to the situation. Above all, only authorized company representatives should address a controversial issue, and any brand spokesperson should take care not to appear insensitive to protesters’ concerns. For more on media training and brand messaging, check out this post.

With so much to do and consider when landing press interviews at industry events, it’s easy to forget about media or communities outside the “bubble.” But it’s your job to maintain a safe experience not only for your brand, but for all participants. Remaining socially conscious in post-COVID 19 times, while preparing and planning thoughtfully for attendance, can result with a huge win for your brand on the PR front.

5 Ways To Amplify PR Efforts

The right public relations strategy allows brands to build visibility while creating or deepening connections with key audiences. But tools like press releases and feature story placements are just the beginning. Here are five ways to amplify PR efforts.

Social media adds value

Social media posts can be more than company news and updates. Brands get creative on social channels. For example, if your brand just put out a report with interesting stats, the information can be turned into engaging graphics or charts to engage not only customers, but journalists. Brands can also use social media channels to share thought leadership insights. It’s common for journalists to pick up something on Twitter to incorporate into an article or research for further commentary, for example. Capturing interest from followers can also strengthen a brand’s relationships with key press.

Always be building…media relationships 

Media relationships, of course, are at the heart of PR plan execution. And social channels are a strong avenue for connecting with journalists and other news influencers who might be a resource for a future story. Engage with them on social media, email them offering kudos on a recent story, or schedule a coffee meeting or a virtual check-in. It’s useful to gain insight on planned stories and to let them know about your clients informally, but most importantly, you want to get to know them.

If you create that trusted relationship with journalists, they will start coming to you for help on stories – which is why it’s not only helpful for PR pros to have good relationships with journalists, but to also use the tried and true PR tool of reactive response, otherwise known as newsjacking, to amplify PR efforts.

Newsjacking seizes opportunities 

In responding to a breaking story with your own commentary or news, you can create additional, opportunistic coverage to augment proactive media efforts. But you need to be quick and efficient and  you must offer useful information. Breaking news happens fast, and reporters writing stories are looking for a quick reaction. Something we practice here at Crenshaw is having a document for our clients with approved commentary on several topics where they have expertise. That way we already have the shell of an approved response, and we can tweak the quote to fit the story. That’s how we can get as many as three clients quoted in a single piece on Apple’s announcement of new features for its SKAdNetwork. The key here is not only to be reactive but to offer insightful commentary to grab the attention from reporters. 

Data pulls go along way

There may be a month or two where a company has no immediate announcements or is in the middle of closing on a partnership deal or similar news item, which can take months. In short, there’s no hard news. Data pulls are a great way to get a quick hit, especially if the data reveals something new and relevant to targeted press. 

Last month, our client Innovid put out an annual benchmarks report examining key trends in streaming CTV advertising and more. The report is full of nuggets of information that we plan to use for multiple PR efforts. We have press releases, media alerts, bylines and prepared commentary lined up from all of the data, for the next three months. 

Email marketing connects the dots

Who says email is dead? In fact, it’s more effective than ever as a way to help brands amp their PR efforts. One best practice for email marketing is to push out a newsletter at the same time as a press release is published and news is posted on social channels. Even when there’s no announcement, PR pros should work to create newsletters with valuable content to share with subscribers. Quality and relevance will always get a positive response. 

2022 PROI Global Summit in Dubrovnik

Our CEO Dorothy Crenshaw is representing Crenshaw Comm at the PROI Global Summit in Dubrovnik this week.

PROI is the largest and most established international network of independent PR firms. The Dubrovnik meeting kicked off with a motivational presentation from the very dynamic Valorie Burton of the Coaching and Positive Psychology Institute. Valorie was followed by our new Ukraine partner Kristina Nikolayeva, founder of Be It Agency in Kiev. Kristina spoke very movingly about working in wartime – from setting up shop in bomb shelters to helping staff locate and reunite with missing family members. The theme of resilience was very appropriate.