Who’s Winning The PR Space Race?

The new space race is on, but this time, instead of a PR challenge among competing governments and clashing ideologies, it’s a pissing contest among billionaire entrepreneurs…with phallic imagery to match. Or so it seems.

The national press has chronicled the space flights with live saturation coverage so far. Maybe it’s a welcome break from political squabbling and divisive COVID-19 stories, but the fawning by broadcast media is almost embarrassing. Yet I admit to following the billionaire space race, if only to observe the comms strategies behind each brand. Who’s coming out on top?

Branson takes the early lead

Among the contenders, PR stuntmeister Richard Branson was first to launch into space on July 11 — at least figuratively. Technically, Branson’s Virgin Galactic fell short, because it never made it past the internationally recognized space border known as the Kármán line. But Branson wins points for being clearest when it comes to messaging. His goal is to launch space tourism as a global industry, period. It’s one more commercial enterprise for him and Virgin, so there’s been minimal posturing about saving the planet or promoting scientific breakthroughs. He also deserves credit for skillful and compassionate handling of the fatal crash and death of a test pilot 7 years ago. The tragedy could well have killed his space ambitions.

Yet despite his first-mover advantage, I found Branson’s optics a little lacking. I’m old enough to remember the glory days of the NASA program, with its thrilling rocket launches and cinematic splashdowns, so a choppy video of zero-G inside a plane felt a bit like a bad Zoom. Branson nearly made up for the lack of visuals with the swashbuckling enthusiasm he brings to everything he does, however. He’s his own best brand spokesperson, and he always delivers. It’s hard not to admire it, mostly because it feels real, and that makes it infectious.

Bezos delivers on optics

Yesterday Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin took its turn. Here, the visuals were much stronger, and the storyline was an updated version of the space programs of yore. It wasn’t subtle. The rocket system is boldly dubbed New Shepard, after the Mercury astronaut, and its maiden voyage crew included something for everyone, PR-wise. There were plenty of sidebars! Bezos himself was the star, along with his brother, which tugged at the boyhood-dream heartstrings. Then there was the 82-year-old woman who was denied a place in the U.S. space program of the 60s, making the flight a deferred dream and her the oldest person in space. Rounding things out for Gen-Zers, there was a Dutch teenager who qualified as the youngest space traveler to date. Great stuff.

The New Shepard spacecraft itself was tricked out with comfy and luxurious reclining seats and massive windows to better gawk at the view of Earth from the edge of space. Most importantly, we watched a real NASA-style liftoff (which also launched a thousand penis jokes on Twitter). The payoff was the capsule’s graceful glide down to a Texas desert landing as it was held aloft by parachutes. It was beautiful stagecraft.

The media trumps the message

For me, however, Blue Origin’s messaging was more muddled than Branson’s. Bezos started with vague comments about important discoveries that space travel might bring, followed by hollow statements about making it “accessible” to everyone. (This, after an anonymous billionaire paid $28 million at an auction for the privilege but didn’t show up due to a “scheduling conflict.”)  After the flight, he rambled giddily about the population potential of the solar system, explaining that if we had “a trillion humans, we would have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts and unlimited, for all practical purposes, resources and solar power.” Come again?

Meanwhile, the Blue Origin video about the flight was a stilted, lengthy, and overproduced chore. On the positive side, Blue Origin claims the funds raised from the auction will support a nonprofit called Club for the Future that supports STEM careers for kids. The Club for the Future website focuses on future space travel, so it’s unclear if there’s a commitment to other STEM studies.

More memorably, Bezos himself capped things off with a bizarre cowboy hat and a tone-deaf thank-you that backfired. In a post-launch presser, he exulted, “I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this.” It served only to dredge up stories about harsh working conditions at Amazon and highlighted the contrast between Bezos’s status and that of the average Amazon worker.

So, who’s the winner? So far, I’d say it’s a draw. But the good (or bad) news is that the PR space race is far from over. It will fuel countless stories as we all stay tuned to see what kind of spectacle Elon Musk will dream up for later this year. But Musk’s SpaceX is already functioning as a government contractor, hauling NASA astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, deploying satellites to enable internet, and setting its sights on a mission to Mars. Its role in the bigger picture is clear.

In search of our mission

There are a thousand reasons to be cynical about the new space race. It’s staggeringly expensive, and the funds aren’t limited to private investment; taxpayer dollars are involved, too. Many note that the money devoted to space tourism could be better invested in solutions to pressing problems here on earth. If you look at it literally, a handful of superrich white guys have spent millions on joyrides that accomplish a fraction of what our government did decades ago. But there’s potential for so much more.

Above all, the new space travel contest is in search of a mission. If the mission is simply to popularize and privatize space travel, that’s great. Watching the birth of a new industry is exciting, and it comes with lots of benefits, like jobs, investment, and the potential for new discoveries. But I can’t help but think the whole thing cries out for a higher-order benefit, or at least a unifying principle that binds us together when we need it most. I’ve always thought of John F. Kennedy’s moonshot speech as a classic example of thought leadership. In that case, the young president’s words were designed to inspire business and technical innovation, a popular interest in science, and a sense of being all in it together.

The billionaires and their PR storytellers have taken pains to appeal to different audience segments. The messaging is polished, but it’s hollow and self-serving. They offer an entertaining spectacle, a polished press outreach, and high production values, but the mission is anything but inclusive. As Talia Lavin writes of the latest space flights, “While the rich sail to the stars the rest of us are left to toil in gravity’s bounds.”

PR Tips For Announcing A SPAC Transaction

Anyone who has been watching the tech PR space has noticed a huge rise in companies going public through Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs). For those who aren’t familiar, these are “blank check” investment firms that acquire a company with the goal of bringing them to the public market. It’s not a traditional IPO, but the end goal is the same. Companies like Taboola, Group Nine Media, and Buzzfeed have all either gone, or declared their intention to go, public via SPAC. And, just recently, we here at Crenshaw Communications helped our client Innovid make the announcement of its intention to merge with ION to go public in this way. 

It’s huge news for any company that makes this decision, and the coverage needs to match the excitement! While many elements are the same as a traditional IPO, there are some key differences to consider for SPAC announcements. Here are some tips for PR professionals to plan and successfully execute an announcement around the intent to go public via SPAC. 

There is no quiet period with a SPAC

One of the benefits of choosing the SPAC route is that companies don’t have to follow the dreaded PR quiet period once they file. This means PR can make a big splash on the day the intention is announced and continue to push out news in subsequent months to maintain the momentum in the market. It’s a good idea to plan several announcements after the big SPAC splash to keep media excited about the company- anything from partnerships and new hires to data or product news works well here. This is the time to pour it on.

Start pitching early

Big news is breaking every day, which means reporters are always swamped. To make sure they have enough time to cover the announcement, PR should start pitching at least 72 hours before the release goes out. The goal should be to line up several interviews ahead of the release so the official announcement day starts with top-tier stories that have the executive team feeling good and lay the foundation for more stories.

But be careful with embargo pitching

If you’re pitching your SPAC announcement globally, it’s important to understand that no one can break the embargo. If they do, coverage could be compromised, especially in the U.S. where press are sensitive about embargo times. If that means not pitching certain markets until the day of the announcement, it may be necessary to get the most mileage out of the news. Like many media strategy calculations, it’s something of a tradeoff.

You won’t get every outlet to cover

Some media will only cover a SPAC if they get the exclusive on the announcement– and that’s okay. If one of those publications is high-priority, an exclusive strategy can work to ensure they cover the news. Expectations should be set ahead of time to make sure there are no disappointed stakeholders on the day of the announcement. 

Media training is a must

Even for a CEO who is extremely comfortable with the media, we recommend a refresher session to go over the approved messaging and prepare for any tricky questions. Anything said can now impact stock price, so every spokesperson must be buttoned up, able to articulate the value proposition of the company, and navigate hard lines of questioning to ensure the best outcome. The good news is that, after a series of investor conversations, media prep might actually be easier. Obviously, if you’re going to media outlets outside the business/financial sector, you will want you avoid jargon, acronyms, and other financial-speak to make the story relevant to a broader audience.

Leave time for lawyers to review

It’s wise to have communications material drafted and circulating as soon as possible to avoid delays on media outreach due to legal review. This is a new process for many people, and they don’t realize how much time it can take. (HINT: It takes a long time) Build in extra time for the back-and-forth. 

You need to explain what SPAC is and how it works to media

It’s not as straightforward as you think. Many reporters still don’t understand how SPAC works, and what the advantages are for a company to go public that way. Executive spokespeople should be prepared to walk through the explanation in layman’s terms, pausing often to make sure the audience understands the company’s strategy, the advantages of the SPAC, and the quality of the partners and the backstory.  

If your company is considering going public through a SPAC, we’d be happy to discuss the process and the role of PR and media relations. We’ve also supported the traditional IPO route and can offer objective advice on the pros and cons of each.

How Speaking Opportunities Support B2B Companies

B2B companies who have just begun to use strategic public relations may not be know the full value that conference speaking engagements and industry awards offer. Here at Crenshaw, our client base of high-growth tech organizations have found that earned speaking opportunities and industry recognition build credibility and visibility for their brand. In many cases they support a path to a market leadership position. Here’s how it works.

Influence buyer decisions

The B2B buyers’ journey is famously long-tailed and competitive. Software solutions are expensive, and buyers under pressure to make the right choice seek as much information as possible to vet the quality of a SaaS, AI, cybersecurity, or data product. Young companies need to find ways to earn endorsements from a reputable third-party. Awards demonstrate — in an unbiased manner — innovation in the form of impact on an industry, a benefit to others, or a trend-setting practice that has been successful in the field. Similarly, if a buyer’s internet search turns up informative commentary from a tech executive that helps them make a decision, that company’s product will definitely bump up into the higher consideration set. If a new company’s brand name and an executive’s name turn up over and over at industry conferences, on podcasts or webinars, visibility and credibility will naturally grow in the minds of buyers. For more on how PR turns prospects into customers, see our earlier post.

Drive differentiation – or establish a new category

Solutions providers typically face fierce competition in a crowded marketplace. They want to pursue every conceivable tactic to set themselves apart within a sector of similarly positioned companies. A fundamental impacts of well-conceived PR program is differentiating from the competition; impact that advertising and marketing cannot do with the same potency. To win an industry software product award, you must show how the SaaS has performed in the real world using the case of an actual user, via the case study narrative. Award entries give the opportunity to tell the story of how a software offering works differently from others, and award wins allow more opportunities for a company to tell their story and deliver their message of differentiation. Further, an early-stage company can introduce and build awareness for a new category by having its executives speak in panels and keynotes at relevant conferences. Customer relationship management (CRM), local search optimization, and digital product catalogues were all once new product or service categories, which are now widely known.

Support employer branding

Awards in particular can be great ways to generate a morale boost for both leadership and staff. Who doesn’t like winning? Product awards are excellent ways to build credibility, but there are worthwhile awards that focus on a company’s customer service, workplace culture, or individual accomplishments. In the same way early-stage companies must earn credibility for their products, they should also find ways to show their industry (instead of merely telling it) how well their customer service and customer experience departments perform. Especially in the B2B tech space, buyers are seeking partners that also provide great service in addition to a great product. Plus, in today’s employment market, B2B companies are always fighting for tech talent. Millennials are famous for desiring progressive employers who care for their employees’ experience and value a diverse and inclusive workplace. Winning DEI and best places to work awards like Inc., Glassdoor, and Crain’s are essential to talent acquisition.

Create a leadership positioning

As the conference and awards manager, I am tasked with helping our high-growth tech clients build speakers’ bureaus. It’s a long-term proposition that sets them up for market leadership. Startups with an eye to a future of IPOs and category leadership should begin now to create a speakers’ bureau. While they may not have the resources to sponsor 20 industry conferences a year, they can assemble an executive spokesperson roster and speaking resumés by winning earned speaking engagements. Earned speaking ops are won by submitting non-promotional topic ideas to tech conferences, usually featuring a top company executive, a founder/CEO, CTO, or Chief People Officer, depending on the targeted audiences. If you look at the speakers list for any tech industry conference, you will see the same brand names across the board – names who are invariably leaders in the category or aggressive challengers. Success breeds success.

Generate case study content

Most winning award entries require a client case study that includes quantifiable success metrics. This is an early-stage tech company’s opportunity to bolster client relationships, since they are in essence gaining visibility for the client brand’s innovative approach as well as their own solution. Many startups are in the nascent stages of preparing customer success stories. Award entries, handled by a PR team or internally, are a great way to begin the process of crafting the narrative and doing the actual writing of valuable case study content. The content can nearly always be purposed for multiple PR tactics, from media pitching to white paper and blog content. The cooperation between solutions provider and customer to build these case studies can help fortify client bonds. Speaking gigs can also offer opportunities for repurposed marketing and PR content. Especially in the virtual and hybrid events era, recorded webinar/conference videos can be used after the event for PR and marketing. Further, the associated digital content has the added benefit of boosting SEO with higher domain values.

Tier-one tech industry awards linked to media outlets like Digiday, the Drum, AdExchanger, and AdAge are outstanding channels to prove a young company’s worth. Key conference speaking engagements help a young company insert itself into relevant conversations in its category, ultimately establishing its brand and executive leaders as authorities in the sector. For more on crafting a winning award submission, see our earlier post on how to execute a top conference and awards program as part of your PR campaign.

6 Things PR Agencies Should Never Say

PR agency teams, like all creative services people, love to keep our clients happy. That’s a good thing, except where the drive to please leads us to say things we shouldn’t. Who here hasn’t uttered something on an update call or dashed off something in an email and then thought better of it? 

I don’t mean careless wordplay, but rather promises or commitments that we likely can’t keep. Here are some of those phrases that should be erased from a PR specialist’s vocabulary. 

We can definitely generate XX earned media placements

Nothing in this world is for sure, and we shouldn’t treat media interviews and articles as such. In PR, we of course want to get as many quality stories as possible, and we typically have a good idea of what will result when we’re managing a news announcement, for example. But playing the numbers game isn’t a good idea. In the first place, quality usually beats quantity when it comes to earned media. Then there’s the risk of being misinterpreted by clients. It’s better to suggest that the team has a goal of a certain number of placements or interviews, but never guarantee anything!  

We have a relationship with them so it’s a done deal

PR is all about building connections, especially with media. At Crenshaw, we work hard to create those bonds with journalists. In a pre-pandemic world, we would socialize over happy hours and karaoke. Why bother? To put a face to our emails. To build trust, and to encourage a response to a solid pitch, even if the answer is no. The truth about media relationships is that they’re most valuable in generating a fast answer, not a guarantee of coverage. 

I don’t see the news hook in this announcement

Is every announcement a NYT A1 story? No. But a reflexive objection about news value isn’t a good response to a client announcement. While news comes in all shapes and sizes from acquisitions to product updates to personnel moves, there is always some way to make little news into a splash. A great example was a French company we worked with that was launching their competitive pricing tool in the US market. This was not new technology and the name was virtually unknown in the States. We recognized that the launch alone was not going to make much of a splash, so we created a survey around retailers and their fear of being outpriced by Amazon. The data was the perfect companion to the launch story! While most news isn’t always flashy, adding new elements can secure media attention.

You should see the ROI on this immediately

Wow! Really? Immediately?! Tell me, what is your secret! This one is hard because it’s natural for marketing or sales teams to look for a guarantee on lead-generation or conversion. PR and sales are not the same thing, however. If a company thinks all PR efforts will directly lead to sales, it may be time to explain the difference. Through tools like SEO and lead-gen tactics, PR pros can help move the needle by making sure company messaging is aligned to increase visibility. The ROI may not happen overnight. 

Do you have any news for us to pitch?

If you hear this from a PR person – run away. Of course there are plenty of times when companies do not have any major announcements, but this doesn’t mean we sit back and wait for hard news to fall into our laps. The best PR specialists know how to use creative tactics, research, and data to create newsworthy stories. Growth milestones, new research, founder stories, newsjacking — all present opportunities for exposure. Never ask an executive if they have anything for us to pitch. We should be approaching them with new ideas on engaging media. 

PR is about getting hits

While a big part of what our clients ask of us is generating media coverage, what any agency team does will go way beyond that. PR is about brand reputation and helping companies become industry leaders in their space. How do PR pros do this? Thought leadership in the form of bylines, webinars, speaking engagements at conferences, and award submissions are a few common elements of a PR plan. It pays to think beyond only media interviews and coverage. 

A Toast To Independent PR Agencies

It’s nearly Independence Day, which is a good time to reflect on what independence means in the business of public relations. Lots of ad and PR agencies tout their independent status in their marketing. Judging from a quick review of the websites of midsize PR firms, most think it’s a differentiator. But what does the label really mean? Is independence a meaningful benefit or just so much PR?

Early in my career, after stints at two very different independent PR firms, I worked in the PR unit of a large ad agency. It was a dramatic contrast from my previous positions in that the PR team was expected to dream up stunts and tactics to support ad campaigns. We had our own clients, but we depended on “below-the-line” budgets of large integrated marketing clients where the relationship was owned by our advertising siblings. My advertising colleagues were delightful and talented, but they had no incentive to understand PR and what it brings to the table. In joint presentations, my time was typically cut from 20 minutes to 5 as we worked through rehearsals. In the end, they usually told me just to promise awesome media coverage and leave it at that — no separate strategy or even tactics. It was laughable.

What does independence mean in PR?

So much has changed since that time. Traditional ad agencies like the one where I worked have been badly disrupted. Most have been replaced by creative digital marketing companies. Meanwhile, public relations has grown and matured as an industry. Our agency largely focuses on an ecosystem of high-growth technology clients for whom PR IS marketing. So, what does independent status mean today? Is it just a nicer way of saying cheap?

There’s more to it than price. An independent PR agency will probably have a lower overhead than a mega-agency, but many are substantial in size and depth. In my view, independence is cultural. It connotes a certain agility, an openness to new approaches, and a certain resilience when it comes to change. What’s more, it translates into real and tangible benefits for clients. Here are the most important ones in my view.

Breakthrough creative

In an “integrated marketing” environment, the ideal outcome is a bold campaign idea that can be executed across multiple channels. The Always “Like A Girl” campaign, for example, blends paid, earned, owned and social content to deliver a resonant branded message about empowering girls. Yet, that very campaign was executed by different agencies, as great campaigns often are. The problem is, an “integrated” team means that the highest-margin service can dominate the client relationship, and even the creative product. That means risky ideas are discouraged. This is suboptimal because, in PR, which is typically more tactical than message-driven paid media, ideas and their execution really matter.

Honest counsel

Objective advice is not always easy or reflexive in a politicized corporate environment. Any recommendation that shifts budget from one column to another is fraught with peril, and subject to multiple approvals. But undiluted and objective feedback is, above all, what clients ask of their agencies, and it should not be compromised by internal politics or bureaucracy.

Fast execution

An entrepreneurial agency culture rewards initiative and quick execution. Most clients appreciate this, but its value really depends on the nature of the client and whether there is cultural compatibility in the relationship. For an agency like ours, which works with high-growth technology companies, it’s essential.

Individual accountability

An owner-operated agency is in a better position than most to create that entrepreneurial environment. An entrepreneurial culture incentivizes not only proactivity and fast action, but individual accountability. That goes hand-in-hand with risk tolerance. A risk-averse team will be afraid of big ideas or contrarian strategies. A punitive or bureaucratic culture will reward a herd mentality that hews to the safety of what has worked in the past. At worst, it frustrates star performers and creative types who will inevitably look elsewhere for their psychological career rewards. An independent environment, by contrast, promotes top performance and independent thinking.

Value

I resist equating independence with small fees or smaller programs, because I’ve  seen huge campaigns come out of small, independent PR firms. But the trappings of global status and integrated services, coupled with the demands of holding-company margins, can absolutely undermine client service. It can also inflate costs. It’s the most common complaint we hear from clients who switch from large, intergalactic agencies.

Having worked at a midsize owner-operated agency, followed by the largest independent PR firm, and then an integrated ad and marketing agency before starting my own business, I’ve seen a lot. There is no one model for a creative services or PR advisory business. But I’m biased in favor of less bureaucracy, greater simplicity and flexibility, and fewer deciders. At a PR agency, independence is not about size or business model, but about culture.

PR Advice For Building Better Media Relationships

Every PR agency team appreciates the importance of relationships with key media outlets and personnel. This is particularly true in B2B PR, where we tend to approach the same business and trade journalists on behalf of client executives and their brands. The most successful agencies have contacts ready to go for any type of announcement or story, but making a connection with a reporter is only part of the equation. Building it to ensure a long-lasting relationship is the real trick. That requires thoughtful attention and a strong sense of how media work. Below are 7 ways that PR professionals can tighten those all-important journalist relationships.

Stay up-to-date

Occasionally checking a reporter’s recent work is not enough. The best PR professionals know what journalists are planning before they actually publish the piece. First, have a clear understanding of the reporters you work with most frequently and try to check what they’re writing about, even if you don’t have an urgent media inquiry. Often a journalist will hint at what they plan to cover next, offering the opportunity to give client commentary. It’s also helpful to understand the reporter’s perspective on the major topics in the industry. For contacts you don’t know, this is essential so your spokesperson can understand whether the interview will be easy or could present challenges. But for familiar media contacts, knowing their interests and thoughts on major topics can expedite media opportunities. This is because you not only know what stories they will cover instantly when a story breaks, but how they’re likely to approach, which enables a more targeted pitch.

Understand and manage deadlines

Working at the convenience of the reporter and the client can be a tightrope walk. Often between gathering commentary and trying to meet a deadline, the reporter will be nearly as stressed as the PR person. Offering timely and relevant commentary is a great way to improve a relationship, but we’re often stuck waiting on commentary from a client. Although there isn’t a golden rule, keeping the reporter up-to-date on the status of the information you’ve promised is a good idea and helps build trust.

Be first

Building better media relations means making reporters’ lives easier. One of the best ways to do this is by being the first to offer a spokesperson’s thoughts for newsworthy stories. This can be done through close monitoring of important dates like company earnings reports and major tech events where commentary is useful. Often during major announcements, reporters won’t have time to reach out to their reliable PR contacts, so the onus is on the PR team to be proactive. It’s helpful to make a note of any feedback a reporter shares about the next major story, event or announcement they’re planning. You can then take the initiative to offer commentary as soon as a the story is relevant.

Be transparent

Be honest about what you’re offering, especially if it isn’t a perfect fit with the reporter’s needs. It also pays to be truthful about deadlines. If your expert spokesperson can’t meet a deadline, or even if it looks like they might be late, it’s a good idea to let the reporter know. Otherwise, it’s likely the reporter won’t reach out again as they now think you’re unreliable. Being upfront with reporters will lead to more coverage in the long-term even if it means missing an opportunity in the short-term. 

Think outside the brand

A big misconception among PR people is that they can only offer up a spokesperson to speak about the company’s story of the day. Our job is to think outside the strict product news parameters, and that creative thinking can benefit journalists. For example, a tech company focused on connected TV can offer thoughts about what the company did to keep their employees engaged during the pandemic. While you certainly want to pitch and focus on the areas of client expertise, it pays to expand the definition of expertise beyond self-serving announcements. 

Interact on social media

Interaction with a reporter on social media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn can be beneficial. First, it’s a nice gesture. Social likes and shares will be noticed and appreciated. Successful PRs can also learn a great deal about a reporter’s interests that go beyond simply looking at their recent pieces. Journalists often announce they are switching outlets on social media, providing an opportunity to not only wish them luck on their new endeavor, but also build a relationship with a new publication. It also gives you a heads-up to start looking for new go-to contacts at the media outlet the reporter left so you’re building relationships without losing any. 

Use email well

PR people often struggle to find a middle ground between pitching a reporter too often and failing to pitch them enough. There are ways to work around this dilemma. First, make sure the agency team is coordinating outreach so they aren’t contacting a given reporter too much. Second, make sure to acknowledge or thank the reporter following an interview or inclusion in a piece. Finally, make sure you’re only emailing them about relevant content. This is essential for every pitch, but emailing a contact about a story that clearly isn’t up their alley could burn that bridge and hurt future opportunities. 

5 Traits Of A Top B2B PR Specialist

There are many skills that are valuable at a B2B (business-to-business) PR agency. Whether it’s that keen news sense or superb research chops, it’s important for B2B PR teams to master a diverse skill set and to have an aptitude for fast learning. Yet at many specialist agencies, some characteristics are more important than others. Here’s our nominations for desirable traits of a PR person who is focused in the B2B sector.

They’re always up-to-date

What’s the top priority of a PR person, if not making staying on top of the news? Without it, there’s nothing to track or pitch. Of course, this is true for nearly anyone on the front lines of public relations, but it’s more specialized in B2B. It’s why they’re always checking for updates, even off the clock. 

We track major media outlets and writers on Twitter, subscribe to scores of newsletters, buy analyst reports, and follow whitepapers on relevant topics. We also use monitoring services to catch breaking stories in areas of interest to client companies. On our team we’re following trends and breaking news in ad tech, digital security, SaaS, and more. Then there are the trends in our own PR and comms industry, so there’s plenty of information to digest. 

They’re geeks at heart

Supply chain optimization PR? Monetization tech for convergent media? What about automated customer communications management for highly regulated industries? In B2B especially, understanding a given industry can require a deep dive. Not everyone comes in as an expert in, say, ad tech or cybersecurity, but after a thorough onboarding (and a few years of experience), it comes more naturally. Above all, it’s essential to understand the revenue model(s) of a given business, its competitive sector, and the problems and challenges they solve for their customers, because they can be quite complex. 

Since many B2B agencies work in the tech space, they’re also fans of clients’ technology, and sometimes their best critics. You don’t need to be a programmer or a data engineer in this business, but it pays to be fluent in tech and to understand the rapidly accelerating cycles that drive the business economy. 

They know how to harness research 

Knowing how to create, interpret, and communicate research findings is an essential PR skill. Here again, it’s more detailed and specialized in B2B work. Familiar with the Gartner magic quadrants? Know how to synthesize market data in a single slide? Happy to structure a business customer survey to assess the value of key service differentiators? Then you’ll probably do well in B2B public relations. Data often drives news, so B2B PR requires expertise in interpreting it as well as creating it. We collaborate with survey and other market research partners to create relevant insights and fresh data for clients to make news, share with customers, or drive a leadership position in their sector. 

They’re excellent writers

A PR expert HAS to be an excellent, fast, and productive writer. Even in the age of Tik Tok, one of the most important parts of the job is producing clear and coherent content, especially if it’s about technical products or services. There’s a good reason for the cross-pollination between journalism and PR, because we produce a great deal of content, from press releases and bylines to pithy email pitches. 

Yet there may still be a skills gap when it comes to quality writing. A Tech Marketing Council study shows that 62 percent of B2B tech organizations struggle to find writers who can deliver thought leadership content. Which leads us to the final trait on the list.

They grasp “thought leadership”

You’ll often hear B2B PR agencies promise to make key executives “thought leaders.” It’s true that tapping the expertise and point of view of a business principal or entrepreneur can be transformative for a business brand. But making a thought leader goes beyond excellent writing. It’s more than getting a client executive in the news. Real thought leadership is about harnessing the power of ideas, insight, innovation, and influence. Check out Richard’s post on PR tech and tools for thought leaders, or  Dorothy’s original thoughts on how great thought leadership campaigns are made.

3 Emerging Social Media Platforms B2B PR Pros Should Know

Remember when the only social media platforms considered significant by PR pros were Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn? For many, they continue to be the trinity of social media. But by the end of this year, an estimated 3 billion people will be using social media, and not just on those three sites. What’s more, new platforms are popping up regularly.

New platforms can work for B2B PR 

That means there’s greater potential for B2B brands to reach an engaged audience of business users. The opportunity to reach specific audiences goes beyond the social sites that currently dominate. For example, TikTok has taken the world by storm and no one wants to miss newer sites that could gain similar prominence. Here are three emerging platforms that PR pros should track. They can work particularly well for B2B visibility programs.

Clubhouse

Clubhouse was launched in 2020 and breaks the mold of traditional social media platforms. It’s audio-only and connects the audience and speakers by letting them share information in real time. What kind of conversations take place on Clubhouse? A little bit of everything! Topics range from relationship discussions to starting a business.

Another thing that sets Clubhouse apart is its exclusivity. It’s invite-only – at least until its official release. Users act as gatekeepers for the platform’s daily ongoing conversations by holding three invitations that will allow new users to join. Those who don’t have invitations will have to join the waitlist until the official release. Having said that, it’s fairly easy to score an invitation.

Since its launch Clubhouse has become a hub for tech types, artists, and entertainers. Can B2B senior executives also find their niche here? Yes. For B2B clients Clubhouse can be another social media tool used to drive thought leadership, especially those who are subject-matter experts. Savvy business leaders are well suited to host rooms and later start their own clubs. The platform offers PR teams a new way of storytelling for organizations and gives business personalities who are talented speakers with a strong point of view about industry trends an opportunity to ride the social audio wave.

Twitter Spaces

In a bid to get in on the social audio experience, Twitter released Twitter Spaces in December 2020. It’s still in its early stage, but there are new features and updates in the works. One driving force behind the creation of Twitter Spaces seems to be the challenges Clubhouse faces regarding its community standards. Unfortunately, Clubhouse’s conversations on sensitive topics such as identity, ethnicity, gender, and racism have led to abusive behavior by some users. Twitter Spaces is seeking to offer a more inclusive environment.

So how does Twitter Spaces work? Those who want to host a conversation must have a Twitter account. They can create either impromptu Spaces or schedule them up to 14 days in advance, all within the Twitter app. Up to 10 people can be invited to speak in a created Space at any given time. Spaces are public, so anyone can join as a listener, including people who don’t follow you. To issue invitations, hosts can simply post a link by tweeting it, sending it through Twitter’s direct-messaging, or posting it elsewhere. 

Like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces is an emerging platform that can work well for thought leadership. It features live discussions, training sessions, and Q&As, among other things. The hosting capacity for Twitter Spaces is still limited, but in May Twitter announced that accounts with 600 or more followers are now able to host a Space. According to Twitter Spaces, these accounts are likely to have a good experience hosting because of their existing following. Audience quality is another thing to consider on top of having a charismatic speaker host. Though Twitter Spaces is still in a fledgling stage, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on for PR plans as it picks up steam.

Instagram Reels 

There’s no denying TikTok’s influence on the launch of Instagram Reels. This new feature is actually in competition with TikTok as it offers similar video creation capabilities.  

Instagram Reels can be used to promote brand awareness and even recruitment. The feature offers a fun, creative way to display your brand’s product releases, how-to’s, and even its workplace culture. There’s no need for a production team – all you need is a smartphone. You can also reach out to an industry influencer to create reels in your interest.

Finding which new social channel to onboard 

Being one of the first to join an up-and-coming social channel and learning the lay of the land can place you ahead of competitors who lag behind. However, time spent experimenting with new platforms must be balanced with refining strategies on already established ones. 

Determining which new platforms are worth the time and effort of watching and experimenting might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! We recommend keeping the following in mind when navigating new channels:

-Track growth. Big numbers signal that the platform is gaining momentum and that the chances for engagement with a broad swath of users are high.

-If a platform doesn’t offer specific metrics (like Clubhouse), but it has buzz, it’s probably worth a trial.

-Pick platforms that your audience can easily use and enjoy.

-While you should pay attention to the level of adaptability, you should consider how your audience wants to consume media. If you’re looking to target business decision-makers they’re more likely to sit in on a discussion of industry trends on a platform like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces.

-If you can’t come up with any interesting ways to tell your brand’s story on a niche platform, you might want to hold off on making an account. A boring or dormant account can signal that the brand isn’t ready to engage.

How To Work Across Multiple Time Zones

In PR as in every office-based line of work, the pandemic has forced a remote-work experiment on a scale never seen before. As a result, how and where we work has been transformed. A new location can bring a new time zone with it. As an East Coast employee now working on the West Coast for the past eight months, I don’t face the kind of challenges as teams who span several time zones across many global regions. Yet my situation has made me more aware of the pros and cons of working in different time zones. Here are some key takeaways on being productive and connected to colleagues no matter your location.

Be transparent

Before making the move to another time zone, it’s important to keep open communications with your team. Let your employer know what you’re thinking of doing and feel them out. Come at it from a productivity standpoint and make a mutual decision about your hours. For example, I made a deal with my team that I will continue to keep East Coast hours while I’m here in SoCal.  Keeping the same hours works well for me; however, in a different scenario, it might be useful for our East Coast team to have someone covering key accounts after working hours in their time zone. The point is to figure out what works for you and stick to it. For me, an early start to the day is offset by the advantage of being able to sign off by mid-afternoon.

Be mindful of time zones

When setting deadlines or arranging meetings and phone calls, be mindful of time zones and always specify it in your emails or messages. There have been times when I thought I was late to call, only to realize that I had spoken in PST times to colleagues instead of EST.  Google calendar has a setting that lets you choose your home time zone so appointments will always be scheduled in that zone unless you choose otherwise.

For international meetings, remember that the world clock app is your friend. It’s essential for scheduling meetings but also comes in handy when setting deadlines and planning projects. We have a client, DoubleVerify, who has comms teams across the globe. When they have a global announcement, it is good to have a quick conference call to make sure we are all aligned on the launch time across all regions including North America, Europe and APAC. This is also second-nature to our cybersec team because they work with Singapore, and our AI group originates in India, but it does take some mental reframing at the outset. 

Align with your coworkers

It’s important to note cultural differences across international time zones. Work habits in Europe may be different from those in the U.S. or Southeast Asia. Holidays around the world are different and some regions even take lunch at different times, take longer breaks, or don’t work traditional hours. Keeping this in mind will prevent misalignment and confusion on deadlines in the future. 

Stick to your boundaries 

The boundary between our work and our personal lives has become blurred since we haven’t had the commute to divide the day. Working at the kitchen table or even from the couch is normal, and juggling the distractions of home life while trying to hit work deadlines has become a daily challenge. Set a routine, establish a workspace and set work hours for yourself. Keep up a dialogue with coworkers to update them with what you’re currently working on and what you will be doing throughout the week – this way nothing will slip through the cracks. You want to avoid the “out-of-sight/out-of-mind” mentality among team members!

Embrace technology

Technology has allowed teams to work from anywhere, anytime. Use this to your benefit and don’t take it for granted. Tools like instant messaging apps, video chats, task management software, and progress trackers enable anyone on your team to strategize and update teams on their progress at different times of day. Globally, teams can stay aligned on ongoing projects in real time. If an employee in Sydney is working while EMEA and U.S. employees are offline, those teams can see what their Australian colleagues accomplished when they sign in the next day and note what’s next.

Productivity levels are higher 

A new time zone may be a tough adjustment at first, but once you have a system and the proper communication in place, employees are finding themselves to be more productive and happier with their work/life balance. Research shows that we can get more work done remotely in some cases than when in an office. A Stanford study of 16,000 workers over nine months found that working from home increased productivity by 13%. “This increase in performance was due to more calls per minute attributed to a quieter, more convenient working environment and working more minutes per shift because of fewer breaks and sick days.”

We’ve learned a lot as a result of being in different time zones and working from home: meetings aren’t always necessary; working a standard eight-hour shift may not be the best schedule for everyone; and sitting at a desk doesn’t always mean you’re being productive. 

With fewer office distractions, the enhanced focus we get from wanting to get more free time back, or no longer having a commute, is borne out in the data. Workers are happier and more productive WFH, no matter the time zone. 

Questions PR Grads Should Ask In An Interview

It is that time of year again. The PR world has gained new fresh college grads eager to join the workforce. While searching for possible internships or entry-level jobs is exciting, it can also be overwhelming. Or even frustrating. According to Glassdoor, the average interview process from first contact to a possible offer can last up to 23 days – varying of course based on the industry.

Interviews are a conversation between candidates and employers to understand their experience better. Resumes can often look the same but they don’t necessarily tell employers about the person beneath the experience or how she stands from the crowd. It’s the interview where a candidate can show a company why they’d be an amazing addition to their team. 

One nerve-wracking part of any interview is when the employer asks if the candidate has any questions for them. PR grads, be prepared to ask questions! This is your opportunity to get to know a company better. With this in mind, what are the go-to questions aspiring public relations employees should ask in an interview?  

Why do you love this company and why should I want to work with you?

If a future employer cannot answer this question, that’s a big issue.  What is it about this job that would make others want to work here and with you? What is it about this company that sets it apart? Do they offer great benefits, fun and innovative clients, or is it the co-workers that make them stay? Future employees should be able to list several things they love about their company to make it appealing. If someone has to think about it, maybe that’s a sign.

Is there an opportunity to grow in this position?

One of the benefits of working in a small PR agency is the relationships you build with your co-workers and senior management. In larger agencies, you could be just a name on paper and get lost in a corner somewhere. Working in a smaller environment, an entry-level PR person should have an opportunity to work closely with team members across many levels. It’s also a fast way to learn your own strengths and preferences. Are you a strong writer, social media whiz or maybe have a special touch when it comes to media relations? It’s best to make sure you hear from team members who have been at the agency for a while to hear how they have grown and evolved.

Can you describe the company culture?

Culture can be hard to describe, but it’s important. In a traditional workplace, days can be filled with non-work talk or catching up with friends on downtime between calls and meetings. It is corny to say, but your co-workers become like family since we spend so much time together during the work week. Think about what’s important to you in a company culture. Do you want a place that values their employees as much as their work? One way to explore those values is to ask how a company stayed connected during the pandemic. At Crenshaw, we made a vow to continue up on Thursday happy hour Zooms where we have an activity planned. (Some of our favorites were Family Feud, Pictonary and Jeopardy.) 

Where do you see the agency in the next five to 10 years?

Growth is extremely important in any company. The PR industry is constantly changing with strategies, platforms, and tech tools. You want to be in a learning environment, and one that fosters that environment through growth. Does the agency plan to hire more talent? Expand horizontally to offer new services? Open new office locations? Things and plans that are working today but may not be relevant in the future. This can be a very open-ended question but it is good to get a sense of where the agency sees itself in the future and if that sounds like something you want to be a part of.

What is your timeline for next steps?

This is a valid question, and it shows interest. The interview process can be long and tedious. It can be a lot of back and forths of internal conversations evaluating candidates. Understanding the interview process can help ease your mind and manage your own expectations for the process. After hearing next steps, maybe offer writing samples or additional references to help speed the decision. If nothing else, it means you are serious.

To all the new PR grads, good luck interviewing and if you’d like to hear more about life and opportunities at Crenshaw Communications, get in touch @colleeno_pr