How To Take Control Of A Media Interview

The headlines, social posts and PR takes were fascinating.

“Guyana president blasts journalist when discussing country’s oil reserves”

“BBC journalist humbled by Guyana’s president…”

Last week international communications expert (and my friend) Bob Pickard posted an extraordinary”train wreck” excerpt of an exchange between Guyanese President Irfaan Ali and Stephen Sackur of BBC World News. Mr. Sackur interviewed Mr. Ali about his country’s vast oil reserves and their impact on both the country and the climate. The full exchange is well worth a look, but the two-minute portion that has gone viral is a must-watch example of how to turn the tables in an adversarial media interview.

The excerpted video has a special significance given its geopolitical context. Historically, Guyana has been a net importer of oil whose citizens mostly live below the poverty line. But the discovery of huge reserves of high-quality, oil-bearing sandstone off its coast may transform the former British colony into one of the richest countries on the globe. There will be $150 billion worth of oil and gas extracted from its waters, which will create enormous wealth, and in doing so, release an equally huge amount of carbon emissions.

How to push back – from the start

The social takes were one thing, but the full interview between the two men is far more nuanced. The BBC’s Sackur puts President Ali on the defensive when he points out that his country may have lost as much as $55 billion in potential revenue by giving away too much to large international petroleum companies. There’s also an ugly border dispute with Venezuela, which has tried to lay claim to some of the oil profits, to which President Ali has no real answers.

But Ali uses some time-honored PR techniques to turn things in his favor. The situation offers real learnings for PR and communications professionals, especially those who specialize in media training.

Lead with your strongest moments

This one’s obvious, but its success in this case is absolutely stunning. The great majority of those aware of President Ali’s interview will only have seen the two-minute clip that circulated on social media. In the attention age, the sound bites and short clips will always get the most attention. There’s no time for lengthy analyses or room for subtle distinctions. Like any political leader, Ali surely knows this, and he knows how to take advantage of it. The viral clip was irresistible to mainstream media and opinion leaders precisely because of the historical, racial, and geopolitical undercurrents.

Challenge the negative premise

A skilled respondent is prepared to challenge a question whose underlying assumption contradicts his message. As Sackur leads into a query about the climate impact of Guyana’s oil extraction plan, President Ali pushes back – literally. He holds up his hand in the “halt” gesture. He raises his voice and says, “Let me stop you right there.” The two men then talk over one another for a few seconds, but Ali does not give ground. He makes it clear that he does not accept Sackur’s premise and begins to turn the discussion around by recounting the reasons in a single uninterrupted flow.

Insist on having your say

In the age of cable news, interrupting the host or interviewer can be a tricky proposition. Many discussions devolve into an on-air argument where both parties look like squabbling children. In this case, President Ali is successful because he refuses to be interrupted and appears well prepared with facts, statistics, and an audible degree of righteous indignation. The emotion in his voice lends weight and dignity to his argument. Sackur, to his credit, holds his own and presses the zero-emissions issue, but Ali is unrelenting. Sackur’s elegant, informed approach is no match for Ali’s passionate defense of his country’s right to chart its own course and profit from its prized resources.

Reject hypotheticals

When asked about the potential repercussions of Guyana’s oil extraction, Ali counters with facts about the current situation. He is firmly focused on the here and now, not the predictions for 2035 and beyond. He staunchly defends his country’s plan with facts about its biodiversity, low deforestation rate, and responsible stewardship of its resources. Most of all, he goes on the offensive. When it comes to oil extraction and climate impact, he reasons, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Why should Guyana be held responsible when so many affluent countries have failed to follow their own rules?

Call out bias

The most powerful part of the interview, and the portion that went viral, was Ali’s charge of hypocrisy on the part of Sackur, the BBC, and the West. In a classic DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender) pivot, Ali seizes on the colonial history of his country and attacks the BBC, and by proxy, Europe and the developed world. He quite literally turns the tables and vehemently responds, “does that give you the right to lecture us on climate change? I am going to lecture you on climate change.”

The world in the last 50 years has lost 65 per cent of all its biodiversity. We have kept our biodiversity, are you valuing it?

Are you ready to pay for it? When is this developed world going to pay for it or are you in the pockets… of those who have damaged the environment? Are you in the pockets… you and your system in the pockets of those who destroyed the environment through the industrial revolution and now lecturing us?

The words are powerful, but the visual image may be even more so. Fair or not, it is one of an older (white) man representing a faded colonial power attempting to school the youthful leader of an emerging and diverse nation. It has resulted in enormous positive PR for President Ali as well as mainstream editorials advocating for Caribbean leaders to stand up to the “condescending” West.

The fact is, Guyana’s President Ali faces some tough questions and real challenges. But based on his handling of the BBC interview, you’d never know it.

Kate Middleton And The Palace’s PR Problems

PR and Royal-watchers were shocked – and chastened – to learn of Kate Middleton’s cancer diagnosis late last week. In a beautifully simple video message delivered as she sat on a bench against a spring backdrop, the Princess of Wales explained why she’d been out of the public eye. She shared that after tests showed the presence of cancer following her abdominal surgery in January, she was undertaking “preventative chemotherapy” on the advice of her medical team.

The heartfelt video statement instantly quelled the furious conspiracy-mongering that had consumed coverage of the Royal Family – at least for the time being. It also unleashed a wave of support for the Waleses from around the globe. Shortly after the video’s release, Kensington Palace posted a statement thanking the public for its response to her diagnosis and “the understanding of their request for privacy at this time.”

The Princess’s actions contrast with The Firm’s

The Princess clearly has the moral authority in this situation. And her statement was nearly perfect – candid, touching, yet deft, dignified and other-centered. Most moving, she ended the video by encouraging all whose lives are touched by cancer (and whose aren’t?) to not “lose faith or hope. You are not alone.” It was a powerful message of solidarity, and it resonated. The global community has rallied to the side of the Princess, and rightly so.

Yet the interlude was only a pause in the struggle between the Royal Family’s PR operation and the rumors and backlash that have dogged its nearly every move. “The Firm” has unfortunately made many self-inflicted wounds even as many sympathize with its travails.

One problem? The Palace seems to have ignored some simple tenets of PR and communications, as well as the reality of being royal.

Do not expect privacy

The harsh truth about being a member of the Royal Family is that you can’t expect any privacy. And by now, the Palace surely knows that the tabloid press can’t and won’t play fair. This is particularly true a scant 18 months after the death of its longest-reigning monarch, and in the wake of the news that her heir, King Charles, also has cancer.

Kate’s explanation that the family needed time to explain the situation to their children was very understandable — for any other family. It has made her extremely sympathetic as a mother of three. But the delay in explaining the Princess’s condition to the public had repercussions. A more timely disclosure could have prevented a couple of weeks of speculation about everything from extramarital affairs to plastic surgery.

Anticipate scrutiny

The much-discussed photoshopped image of the family that was released for UK Mother’s Day was an unforced error by the Palace. Was it a scandal that the Princess had touched up family images? No, but in this case, it was clumsy and poorly timed. Catherine seemed gracious in taking responsibility for it, but her admission only made things worse. To most observers it seemed that the Palace intended to hide something from the public, stoking existing suspicion. The public, and the press, naturally sensed that something wasn’t being shared, which only fueled more skepticism and fed rumors.

Be proactive, not reactive

The photoshopped image was released on March 10 by the Palace and “killed” by news agencies later that same day due to obvious alterations. The Princess’s apology came the next day, in response to the furor. Yet the full story wasn’t disclosed until March 24. Yes, it takes time to grapple with a public disclosure of personal health news, but two weeks is an unacceptably long time. Again, conspiracies that could have been nipped in the bud instead ran wild.

Consider the bigger picture

Despite the obvious bad faith of much of the British tabloid press, not to mention conspiracists on social media platforms, the Palace must look at the situation for what it is. Two members of the British Royal Family have been diagnosed with cancer. That’s a potential crisis, or at least it signals a period of serious uncertainty about the future.

Social chatter and tabloid culture will always fill a vacuum. This isn’t new, and the Palace surely knows it. What’s more, in uncertain times, people want reassurance. If total reassurance isn’t possible, they need verified information. In other words, when the stakes are high, offer the truth.

PR And SEO: Why They’re Better Together

As someone who started my career ghostwriting blogs at a PR agency, I’ve long been fascinated by the relationship between PR and search engine optimization (SEO).

While many see PR and SEO as two separate and unrelated disciplines, there are many places where the two overlap. In fact, brands can actually improve SEO with a thoughtful PR program.

What is SEO?

Moz, a leading SEO tool, defines SEO as “practices designed to improve the appearance, positioning, and usefulness of multiple types of content in the organic search results.” In other words, SEO is a technique to increase the likelihood that brand content will rank highly in organic search.

Gareth Cunningham, director of SEO at Mod Op – our parent company – and his team develop SEO strategies that take into account three pillars: technology, content and authority.

Technology – For a website to be successful in terms of SEO, it needs to be search-engine-friendly and technically sound.

Content – To see success with SEO, a brand needs to have focused content that holds relevant search intent.

Authority – The third pillar for SEO success requires authoritative inbound backlinks with a correct internal linking structure.

According to Gareth, PR has an outsized ability to positively impact the authority pillar. As he shared with me recently, “PR validates a lot of what every other [marketing] discipline provides or does. [From an SEO perspective] there are so many off-page strategies that work amazingly well if PR is involved.”

The good and bad of backlinks

In the world of SEO, there are lots of different backlinks, or hyperlinks that point back to a brand’s website. Some backlinks are good – increasing the likelihood a website will rank well in search. Some are bad – causing Google or other search engines to penalize content. The kind of backlinks most likely to be created by PR efforts are known as “editorial links.”

Editorial links are arguably the best kind of backlinks – Google considers them an example of a favorable linking strategy. These links exist on websites other than your brand’s and, as the name implies, are given editorially by other website owners.

As Moz explains, editorial links (especially the kind you don’t have to ask for) are hard to achieve. “Big brands can do it relatively easily, but that’s because they’re a big brand. To use an extreme example, Apple doesn’t have to ask for links when it releases a new iPhone. Journalists, writers, and bloggers will write about it and link to Apple because, well, it’s the iPhone.”

Can PR teams “earn” backlinks?

Many PR teams don’t work for brands like Apple. So if we want someone link back to a brand’s website, we have to give them a good reason. Earned media coverage lends itself well to editorial backlinks, because these articles ideally tell a story. When that earned coverage includes a narrative about a brand, the journalist may choose to link back to that brand’s website to provide more context or access (similar to the iPhone example). When the coverage presents expertise related to an industry, the journalist may opt to link back a resource on a brand’s website. We often generate this kind of backlink through our PR work when we release data from original research.

A word of caution: In PR, links aren’t guaranteed. And reputable PR professionals are wary of asking a journalist for a link unless they absolutely know it will bring the reader value. So, although it may be tempting to follow a PR strategy with the goal of improving SEO, link-building shouldn’t be the sole reason for investing in PR.

Earned media coverage without backlinks

What about earned media coverage without a backlink? Does a great piece of coverage, including target keywords and messaging in a top-tier publication, do anything for SEO?

You might be surprised to learn that earned media coverage without a backlink still benefits SEO.

While it doesn’t substitute for the value of a backlink, earned media coverage that speaks to the specific keywords or larger messaging can help boost the visibility of a brand’s website for those keywords or related terms. As Gareth explains, “the search engine, in their move toward a semantic web, is now more intelligent than we would ever understand and can pick up on these things. A search engine allows specific value for brands that are identified as not manipulating search engine results in any way, shape or form. It will then portion authority and kudos to that piece of work.”

Yes, PR and SEO are two separate disciplines. But when it comes to authority, the overlap is clear. Like other areas of marketing, if you’re implementing both, it might be time to consider breaking down the silos between them and exploring the value they can bring one another.

Why CEO Visibility Still Counts

Imagine Facebook without Mark Zuckerberg, or Tesla without Elon Musk. Even thinking about JPMorgan Chase without picturing Jamie Dimon is hard if you follow Chase even casually.

In today’s business and media landscape, the CEO role extends far beyond the traditional confines of boardrooms and executive suites. An analysis of articles written about current Fortune 100 CEOs and their companies shows a strong correlation with those CEOs who are quoted in the press and the position of their organizations.

It’s difficult to separate the cause from the effect here (large and successful companies are media magnets after all), but successful CEOs use various PR strategies and channels to engage with stakeholders, share insights, and shape narratives. The trend toward increased CEO visibility isn’t merely a matter of ego, or personal preference, though it certainly might feed their vanity. But at a corporate level it’s a strategic imperative with real implications for company reputation and even performance.

A visible leader is an engaged leader

Eleanor Hawkins of Axios highlights the growing prominence of CEOs in the Fortune 100, noting their heightened presence across social media platforms and in long-form media interviews. According to Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth College, such visibility can be a critical component of effective strategy execution.

CEOs have a key role as conduits to various stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, and the press. By proactively engaging with them, business leaders can foster transparency, build trust, and shape perceptions of their companies. In particular, the C-level bully pulpit can be a powerful tool for amplifying corporate messaging and generating buzz around key initiatives.

But what exactly does CEO visibility entail, and why does it matter? An effective approach involves more than just making occasional public appearances or issuing carefully crafted statements. It’s about actively participating in conversations, sharing perspectives, and demonstrating leadership on issues that resonate with stakeholders.

Avoiding pitfalls isn’t that hard

What about the risks? It’s essential to strike the right balance. While being outspoken can garner attention, it also means thoughtful planning and a willingness to take some criticism—especially for leaders representing large brands with diverse customer bases.

Nevertheless, CEO visibility doesn’t have to mean provocative commentary or grandstanding. Instead, it’s about engaging authentically and meaningfully on relevant issues of the day.  The MuckRack analysis of CEO media coverage shows that while political comments or crisis response drove some stories, “most executives were simply weighing in on 2023 industry trends.” Whether it’s commenting on changes, addressing corporate challenges, or championing social causes, CEOs have a unique opportunity to shape narratives and influence perceptions.

Stakeholder engagement and success are correlated

The data speaks for itself. CEOs who embrace visibility and engage actively with stakeholders often enjoy greater corporate visibility and, by extension, enhanced business outcomes. Take Elon Musk, for example, whose prolific presence on social media has helped propel Tesla to the forefront of public awareness. His visibility on X, the social platform where he reigns as the de facto CEO despite lacking the title, by contrast, has not worked well, depending on what you think his goals are. But that’s because his most obvious role on X has been Chief Troll.

Other Fortune 100 CEOs, like Satya Nadella and Bob Iger, have done well by leveraging their visibility to drive corporate narratives and shape public discourse. By commenting on industry trends, sharing insights, and demonstrating thought leadership, they have solidified their positions as influential voices in their sectors.

In essence, CEO visibility isn’t just a vanity metric or a passing trend—it’s a strategic imperative with tangible benefits for companies and their stakeholders. By embracing transparency, authenticity, and proactive communication, CEOs can enhance corporate reputation, drive engagement, and ultimately, achieve sustainable business success. As Argenti puts it, “It’s really a shortcut for an organization to communicate their strategy.” So, to all the CEOs out there: It’s time to step into the spotlight and make your voices heard. Your stakeholders—and your bottom line—will be the better for it.

How To Measure The “Hidden” Value Of PR Work: Contextual Value

We’re in the middle of the first quarter, which for many PR and marketing teams can mean close budget scrutiny. But unlike marketing, where we can count whitepaper downloads, webinar attendees and inquiries from marketing content, proving the ROI of PR can be a little more obscure.

One of the biggest trends we’re seeing in PR is a focus on the innate value of PR – and not just in meeting KPIs. Numbers are helpful, but it’s the context behind those numbers that should truly make them resonate with brands. There are three simple ways to measure the value of PR this year.

Sentiment and tone make all the difference

We intuitively know if an article or interview is positive, but an analysis of sentiment and tone offers insights into the qualitative impact of PR efforts. This means evaluating whether brand mentions in the media and in social chatter are positive, negative, or neutral, and how this affects public perception. Advanced tools like Muck Rack, Critical Mention and Hootsuite can examine articles and social media posts to provide a sentiment score. The contextual value is higher when the coverage aligns with the organization’s desired image and messaging, even in the face of challenges or crises.

What placement? Where?

PR teams should consider how to evaluate the prestige and relevance of the publication to the brand’s target audience. A placement in a highly-respected, widely-read publication within the client’s industry can have significant contextual value. In some cases, while a Tier 1 win like a Wall Street Journal piece is great for the brand, the Tier 2 media placement in the Retail TouchPoints is the one that drives prospects and customers.

Where a brand appears in an article also affects the value of a placement. A mention at the beginning or within key sections can have more impact than a minor one that’s buried with industry competitors. PR teams should also evaluate whether the brand is featured as a primary subject of the article or merely mentioned in passing. The context in which the brand is discussed – for example, as a solution to a problem or as a market leader – clearly also impacts its value.

Does it reinforce the brand story?

Finally, evaluate how well the brand mention aligns with desired messaging and goals. The contextual value increases if the article communicates or supports specific messages, such as innovation or sustainability, or an origin story that makes the company stand out.

PR analyses should also consider the article’s reach and how likely it is that the desires audiences will see it, of course. This involves assessing the outlet’s circulation, online traffic, and social media sharing potential. High visibility in a context that aligns with the organization’s values and messaging boosts the placement’s relevance and value.

Considering the contextual value of earned media and social content offers a more holistic view of a strategic PR program, including its longer-term impact on brand reputation, awareness and customer retention.

Changing Content Consumption Trends And What They Mean For PR

The way we consume media – in terms of formats, channels, platforms, and more – is in a state of constant evolution. For PR professionals, it’s not enough to be “on social,” “into video,” or “always on mobile.” PR teams need to note what’s driving trends in content consumption – whether it be convenience, price point, overall user experience, or anything else. Only then can we understand where brand conversations and messages make sense.

In the media business, we talk a lot about how brands can get into those conversations through advertising. But what about PR?  PR and other media professionals think in terms of paid versus earned media – but consumers don’t. They care about media that speaks to their interests. For an imaginative PR team, this opens up new avenues presented by current media consumption trends.

Mobile usage remains strong

Whether it’s earned or paid, more people are reading and viewing content on their mobile devices than ever before. Account Supervisor Alysha Duff expanded on this phenomenon in a recent post. Mobile ecommerce is booming, with 54% of millennial and 55% of GenZ shoppers saying social is their preferred channel for discovering brands. So for PR, there are opportunities to connect with relevant influencers, or to place branded content, or, where applicable, to take advantage of the growing popularity of click-to-buy mobile ecommerce.

But beyond that, PR teams need to step back for a moment and think about mobile UX on the media outlets they’re targeting, and to consider what the mobile experience means for overall quality of media. How does the outlet’s content render on mobile? Do its pages load quickly? Do ads or permissions interfere with the content? Media must be visually appealing on mobile, and that stands whether a PR team is strategizing for TikTok or Instagram, or for trade publications. As we all know, seamless UX just isn’t a given across all the industry publications where B2B brands want to be heard.

Podcasting is still huge for PR

Digital audio listenership only continues to trend upward, with nearly 75% of US consumers listening on digital channels in 2023. A lot of that growth is driven by podcasts – and the intimate nature of the medium, plus the trust audiences place in their favorite podcasters. That engagement presents prime opportunities for branding and thought leadership. PR teams are naturally intrigued by how precisely podcasts target audiences, and how varied they are in subject matter, tone, and length. And in PR, it’s always important to look beyond the most famous podcasters to understand which personalities have celebrity status within their sectors. Choose an industry, and you’ll find it has its own stars. Often, they’ve built their audience through a distinct voice and ability to speak authoritatively. That’s true even if they’re not the most senior professionals in the industry – or, in the case of someone like AdTechGod, even if their real-life identity is secret.

Where’s that “replacement Twitter” we asked for, anyway?

PR professionals and journalists alike are still grappling with what to do when a platform that had been a central conduit for information becomes a minefield of brand-unsafe content and unreliable narrators. It’s even more urgent when the platform keeps losing the users PR teams want to engage. In the case of X, formerly Twitter, no single social platform has emerged where PR pros can simply port over and replicate their Twitter strategies. PR leaders need to grapple with a digital landscape where media interactions take place on a platform that may not look like Twitter. This is actually an opportunity to shift PR/editorial interactions to a platform engineered to facilitate those interactions. Patrice Gamble, Director, Public Relations, recently told us about how platforms like Discord and Media.com give PR teams the means to meet on equal ground, and to work together to build shared trust and elevate storytelling.

Tracking trends in media consumption means we’ll recognize where messages can contribute to the conversation organically and intuitively. It takes dedication and imagination, but that understanding is necessary to successfully adapt PR strategy for the way people consume media today.

Top PR Insights From 2023 – It’s More Than AI!

This year, our PR team published dozens of blog posts, sharing PR insights and unpacking trends from a variety of perspectives. They’re based on the experience and direct observation from people at all staff levels. And 2023 has certainly been a year of wild experiences for PR professionals.

We’re not just talking about ChatGPT – although the Crenshaw team has been early and vocal in proclaiming Chat GPT’s usefulness for PR. We’ve explored imaginative ways to frame narratives, take advantage of new social channels, ride the waves of change in tech PR, and more.

Here’s a countdown of the five Crenshaw blog posts that have attracted the most attention throughout 2023.

Top PR Insights from 2023 that PR Professionals Need for 2024

  1. Five Essentials for PR Campaigns Tied to Holidays

Holidays offer great opportunities for PR teams and the brands they represent, but it’s also easy to slip and see your message get lost in the chatter. To connect a campaign to a holiday, there must be a purpose, a relevant message, and of course a thorough plan. In this post, Sasha Dookhoo explains how PR teams can set themselves up for success in holiday-themed campaigns – and to recognize what success looks like.

  1. Triggers, Myths and Archetypes for Powerful PR Storytelling

PR is evolving beyond pitching stories for reporters to tell. More than ever, PR professionals are telling the stories ourselves. And to tell memorable stories, we need to understand how to make emotional connections with the audience, and to present a story that holds their attention. Where better to look for those narratives than Joseph Campbell’s own Hero’s Journey? There are reasons why these familiar story lines continue to resonate over millennia.

  1. For PR, Is ChatGPT an Asset or a Threat?

AI has been positioned for years as a tool for automating repetitive tasks. But ChatGPT marks a clear leveling up of AI’s potential for business. Here, Dorothy Crenshaw lays out what ChatGPT is and how it differs from earlier AI tools, complete with a demonstration. PR professionals can use ChatGPT to gain a competitive edge, but it’s important to understand the limitations to the technology. Otherwise, we risk declining professional standards.

  1. What ChatGPT Brings to Public Relations

ChatGPT is a powerful tool – but in PR, we need to use it thoughtfully, and without devaluing human creativity and oversight. When we look at how ad tech and B2B tech businesses use AI for their own benefit, those uses are often well-suited for PR work. Here are some examples of how Cooler Screens and other leading digital brands are making good use of AI, and some recommendations for further reading.

  1. How PR Teams Can Use ChatGPT

It quickly became obvious that ChatGPT would have the power to impact the work of PR and our entire industry. But it was also clear that we have many reasons to feel optimistic about these changes. At Crenshaw, we’ve seen so many valuable PR use cases for ChatGPT – from saving time on routine tasks, to brainstorming ideas and angles, to making video production feasible. Adam Brett shows us seven strong examples of how ChatGPT is empowering PR teams.

The PR insights we’ve gained will certainly be welcome food for though for those aiming to accelerate their teams and their innovation in 2024. Here’s to putting the knowledge to good and constructive use!

Sam Bankman Fried, FTX, And The Limits Of PR

Of all the opinion journalism about former FTX CEO Sam Bankman Fried’s quickie conviction, Ginia Bellafante’s article struck me. It explores the gap between how tech insiders and investors saw the tech whiz kid and the way a jury of regular people did. It even includes accounts of testimony at his trial that Mr. Bankman-Fried refused to wear a suit when investor Anthony Scaramucci asked, because, he claimed, “T-shirts were crucial to his ‘brand.'”

In other words, it’s all about image. The most important corporate function? PR.

Apparently Bankman Fried took that literally. According to The New York Times, FTX lacked crucial elements of corporate governance, including a chief financial officer, a human resources or compliance department, or a board of directors. Instead, a significant portion of its resources was dedicated to a public-relations manager who arranged interviews and managed Bankman Fried’s public appearances.

The Lessons of Theranos, Unlearned

The quick collapse of FTX and its boy wonder is also reminiscent of another high-flying tech CEO who prized personal PR above all  things — Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of Theranos. Anyone who works in PR for high-growth tech businesses knows that the media are eager to cover colorful founders, especially if they’re young. If they’re female, they’re irresistible. Investors were taken in by Holmes’s charisma, and even tech journalists showed surprising credulity when it came to the Theranos blood-testing story.

There’s also a media herd mentality in sectors like Silicon Valley. Media coverage brings more media coverage. Holmes became a business celebrity, and everyone wanted a piece. Few questioned the absence of peer-reviewed research on the Theranos technology, and the culture of secrecy was covered as a Holmes quirk. It took a hard-nosed investigative reporter outside the bubble, John Carreyrou, to bring down the house of cards.

Don’t Use PR for Evil

It’s true that in the exalted world of high-growth technology companies, public image can make a brand. In a new or emerging sector like biotech or crypto, it’s particularly compelling. A public face can make the esoteric accessible and build confidence in a brilliant future even if the products or underlying tech isn’t quite there. The promise of positive media coverage and a strong brand reputation can seem like the keys to success.

But Sam Bankman-Fried’s crash and the collapse of FTX serve as stark reminders that the image, and an excessive focus on optics, can hide a much uglier picture.

Strategic PR can position a young business in a new or emerging sector. It can help build credibility, attract investors, and lay the groundwork for market demand generation. But it should never come at the expense of core operational functions. And it certainly shouldn’t be used as a smokescreen to hide critical deficiencies or mask a charade.

Obviously, a high-growth tech company, like any organization, should prioritize accountability and sound corporate governance. A public image should reflect a foundation of ethics and good business practices rather than paper over failures. In the long run, it is the substance of a company’s operations and its commitment to delivering value that will determine its success, not a glossy exterior.

A preoccupation with PR over essential governing functions is empty and fruitless if there’s no substance behind it.

Five Things PR Teams Should Know About Voice Search

As PR pros, we must continually adapt to emerging technologies that impact consumer behavior. One new kid on the block that’s still underused in PR is voice search. Voice search is reshaping how people seek information because of its ease of use and flexibility. According to Demand Sage, there are 4.2 billion voice assistants in use as of 2023, and the number will reach 8.4 billion by 2024.

As voice-enabled devices and virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant become common, voice search is also transforming how consumers interact with brands and information. For PR pros, understanding and adapting to this shift is crucial for maintaining relevance and delivering value to internal and external clients. Here are five ways to consider voice search in a PR program.

Conversational content

Voice search queries tend to be more conversational and long-tail, reflecting the way people naturally speak. PR pros must optimize content to align with these conversational queries, ensuring that it ranks well in voice search results. Voice searches also often have a strong local intent, such as finding nearby businesses or services. PR pros should prioritize local SEO efforts to ensure their clients’ businesses are discoverable through voice search.

Content marketing

Creating high-quality, informative content that answers common voice search queries can position a company or their leader as an industry expert and increase its chances of being featured in voice search results. Tech PR pros in particular should also consider how to simplify a lot of the complex, jargon-filled content that fills so many websites. Simple, effective content will aid voice search queries and help with discoverability.

Reputation management

As voice search relies on providing quick, accurate answers, PR teams need to help companies enhance their authority and build trust online. This includes maintaining a strong brand reputation that is accurate and positive. A negative online reputation can be detrimental for brands and decrease voice search results. As such, PR pros should proactively help brands mitigate potential damage.

Trustworthy sources

As voice-activated devices rely on credible sources to provide answers to queries, earned media coverage becomes very important. Earning media coverage in multiple reputable publications can increase the likelihood of being cited as a trusted source by virtual assistants. Collaborating with reputable influencers and thought leaders who have a strong online presence can also help PR pros establish brands as reliable sources of information in their respective industries.

Structured data and schema markup

Structured data and schema markup are foundational elements of SEO that are gaining more prominence in the era of voice search. These tools help search engines better understand the content on a website, making it more likely to appear as a featured snippet or a relevant answer in a voice search response. PR pros should work closely with web developers to ensure content structured in a way that’s easily digestible by voice-activated devices. FAQ pages, for example, are very useful. The goal is for sites to provide concise, accurate answers to common voice queries, aligning content with the conversational nature of voice search.

Voice search not only changes how consumers access information, but also how they perceive and trust brands. Since earned media builds credibility, it is very useful to creating trust. Embracing voice search optimization while creating strong content that builds positioning will ensure brands can navigate the evolving world of voice search. PR pros must consider voice search in their long-term plans to ensure continued relevance or organizations and their leadership as they work to establish them as industry experts.

Crenshaw Communications Joins Digital Marketing Agency Mod Op

“What’s a Mod Op?”

That’s the question I heard from clients, friends, and PR colleagues when I told them that Crenshaw Communications, the PR firm I founded in 2009, had become part of Mod Op, a leading digital marketing and communications agency.

Mod Op is on an impressive growth trajectory and its profile is rising fast, but it’s better known in marketing circles than in the PR business. So, I’ve had to spell the name once or twice. I’ve explained that it hearkens to the Latin modus operandi, which means “way of operating” and implies a distinct approach and commitment to one’s work. In that regard, the name is fitting.

But beyond the name, here is what Crenshaw’s acquisition by Mod Op means to us, our clients, and our future.

An instant expansion of services

As our base of B2B technology clients has grown, they need more than the earned media, executive visibility, and thought leadership positioning our programs provide. While we’ve flirted with adding new offerings and have brought in consultants for specialized needs, there’s nothing like the real thing. As Mod Op, we offer market research, SEO, data insights, website development, creative services, and a whole lot more. This, while maintaining our identity as Mod Op’s strategic business unit for public relations.

A greater depth of talent

In the short time we’ve been part of Mod Op, we’ve been wowed by the depth of talent here. It’s going to take time to get our arms around it, but it’s exciting to be part of this larger team. I feel like I learn something new every day, whether it’s about an amazing client campaign, insights from the AI committee, or just chat about the latest new business pitch. Sharing office space with Mod Op Strategic Consulting (formerly dPrism, a digital transformation consultancy) and learning about their work, which is at the intersection of data, technology, and business, has been fascinating and thought-provoking. It all translates into greater mobility and opportunity for our team and a deeper offering for clients.

An entrepreneurial culture

We’re a small and nimble team, and we represent high-growth businesses that prize independent thinking and proactivity. As a result, we’re an entrepreneurial group. We value that spirit and feel it has been a driver of our growth and success. Although it’s a larger company at over 200 employees, Mod Op’s leadership and culture reflect very similar values.

An eye on the future

Artificial intelligence is changing everything. It’s the biggest inflection point for business transformation, and we have only  begun to realize its potential. Our clients are grappling with its impact and implications, and so are we. We all need top-quality analysis, insights and objective advice to do that. Mod Op’s leadership team was quick to recognize the transformational nature of AI for marketing and PR, and they’re committed to scaling our expertise and our offerings. The agency’s tagline is “Accelerating Growth Through Data, Human Creativity + AI.” They take this mantra seriously.

As a PR team that serves high-growth technology clients, so do we. Mod Op’s emphasis on AI-driven solutions as a complement to human creativity and inspiration resonated because it’s aligned with our thinking. But it invites us on a bigger and broader mission. My partner Chris Harihar has helped drive our growth, in part because he understands the power of technology, especially AI. Our team has developed a reputation as an innovator for that reason.

We joined Mod Op so we can take things to the next level. It’s going to be an exciting trip.