The Best PR Agency Asset: Flawless Media Contact Lists

For a PR agency team, few things are more important than having media contacts at the ready. In fact, a media placement strategy with the perfect balance of quality and quantity is one of the unsung secret of great PR and media relations.

Media contacts aren’t magic….they’re work

But media contacts aren’t magic. They’re a resource requiring constant maintenance by users. In fact, part of the “perfect balance” strategy means treating your media spreadsheet with the care, focus, and obsessive attention to detail of a NASA rocket scientist preparing for a space mission.

The first order of business is making sure all contacts are up to date. That may sound easy enough, but check out any reporter’s Twitter feed and you’ll probably see complaints about agencies who reach out to irrelevant or outdated contacts, or target their pitches in clumsy ways.

According to the 2021 State of Journalism study, 61% of journalists agree that the way most companies share information with the media is outdated. It’s likely that outdated lists are at least a contributing factor. Regardless, reporters are all but telling PR agencies that they need to up their outreach game and take steps to stay current and relevant, from their strategies to contact lists. Here are some simple steps PR reps should take to maximize success.

Research, research research

The simplest way to keep contacts up to date is through simple research. For example, if you haven’t contacted a certain reporter in a while, look up whether they’re still in the same place and on the same beat. Take a peek at some of their recent pieces. Study the depth of coverage and the tone of their pieces. Even if a reporter regularly covers a relevant topic, they might not showcase your information or spokesperson in the way you’d imagine. It sounds obvious, but not enough people browse reporters’ recent pieces, especially for the broadest beats, or, conversely, the specialized ones, like technology or, say, the Apple or Amazon beat.

Verify information before you press send

After authenticating the status of specific contacts, you need to verify contact information. Before beginning the search manually, savvy PR professionals should use the services at their disposal. For many, this includes media relationship management software Cision, which can help confirm email addresses by simply plugging in the name of the reporter. Other media resources that can be used to verify contact information include Muck Rack, Prowly and Anewstip.

However, Cision and media softwares should not be the first step in building a media list. Rather, think of them more as a last, but helpful, resort. Software often has outdated information on outlet, subject matter and even contact information. Overreliance on software tools can result in a subpar outreach. Even though it may be time-consuming and at times grueling, the best PR agencies consistently check the web to confirm email addresses, starting with the outlet’s or reporter’s website.

Update and delete bouncebacks

One of the biggest differences between PR agencies that run efficient media contact programs and those who don’t is consistent updating of contact lists. That’s right, it’s not glamorous or brilliant, but it works. It’s just essential for team members to update the shared spreadsheet following every outreach. If you are reaching out to a wide variety of media contacts, you are bound to get a few undeliverables. Make sure to remove them. It saves the next team member time, energy and a host of similar bouncebacks. Additionally, PR agencies are often hesitant to reach out to a group of journalists from the same outlet. Leaving an outdated reporter, or at least their contact information, there can mean that a colleague fails to connect with the right contact at that particular outlet. We can all help one another.

Record reporter responses 

Every piece of information you receive after pitching serves a purpose. Following a pitch, you may see auto-responses like an out-of-office message about a vacation, family leave, or departure. Again, share the information on a centralized sheet. And if your pitch leads to an interview, coverage, or simply use of background material, note that in the spreadsheet. This is especially useful for unpleasant experiences. There are always journalists who simply don’t want to be contacted about certain topics, or at all. Others are on book leave and only want to tell you once. When in doubt, err on the side of including the information and letting the next user make the decision on whether it’s relevant.

Media list access is vital

Sometimes we spend days making perfect contact lists and they’re not easily accessible. Using outdated lists, either by accident or because someone was in a rush, is actually a common problem for subpar PR agencies. Make sure your lists and documentation are easily accessible to everyone in the shared resource. Regular training sessions on software are a useful habit of successful PR agencies. Finally, any and all team members should feel free to let the entire team know of a major change regarding a reporter or outlet. Our agency Slack is full of this kind of news, especially in the key sectors we cover regularly like adtech and cybersecurity.

For a PR team or agency, reputation is everything. Thus, how reporters, clients and even your own colleagues view you will have long-term consequences. Being slightly obsessive about your media contacts and your team’s system for keeping them in perfect shape will help bolster your standing, and, more tangibly, yield excellent outcomes. Media contacts will be happier due to more consistent and relevant pitches, clients will be happy about increased coverage, and your staff will be grateful for the team effort.

A PR Spring Cleaning Checklist

Finally after a long winter (at least here in New York), the change in weather means it’s time for PR professionals to refresh their plans and get re-organized. Just like the tradition of ‘spring cleaning’ a home, PR teams should consider cleaning up daily tasks to start the new quarter and season on a fresh note. 

Media lists 

We all have “master” media lists for different verticals but as any good media master knows, journalists and reporters move around, frequently changing publications or beats. We have a Slack channel where we exclusively update our team on media moves, which is a good tactic for updating lists. Another great source is a journalist’s personal Twitter. They will often share announcements on job changes or even upcoming story needs. 

Check in with reporters

A big part of PR is having strong media relationships. It helps to have contact that you can pitch informally and know you will get a response – either a yes or a pass. But what about the ones with whom you want to form a deeper relationship? Shoot them a friendly email checking in and ask for an informal conversation. Chat about what they’re working on and how you can help. This can also put you on their watch list for a go to source for a quick comment.

Email inbox

Personally, I love newsletters as a way to start my day (check out this list of some of my favorites) but more is not always better. After being out of office for two days, I came back to an inbox that was almost 300 emails – half of them being newsletters. It took me longer than it should have to sift through the clutter to catch up on necessary messages. Think about what newsletters are most important and best for media opps. I ‘m also a big fan of folders for organizing and quick searching based on different email groups. Wouldn’t it be much better to come from some time off, or the weekend, with a clean and organized inbox?!     

Refresh PR plans

As the first quarter of year ends, so do Q1 PR plans. Pitches and announcements from last quarter are yesterday’s news and it’s time to plan for the next few months. Schedule separate planning meetings with executives to find out about upcoming announcements, initiatives, or speaking engagements. It will spark ideas for pitches and targets that PR can go out with throughout the quarter.  

Social media audit

Social media is a great tool for corporate and personal branding. Before scheduling that post on Twitter or Instagram, think about your goals and what message you want to convey. Do you want to gain more followers or increase engagement? These are all great questions to consider before creating social media goals for the next few months. There have been times when I go through people I follow on Twitter and curate who you are actually following. Interest change over time and people you once followed may not be relevant anymore. Another great clean up would be to polish that LinkedIn profile. In the business world, LinkedIn is the go-to place to present yourself. Take a new profile picture, update your job description – keep it up to date as possible!    

Desk organization

My WFH desk is a mess. I have papers, pens and old copies of Adweek lying there with no rhyme or reason to them. There is no reason for it; sometimes things just land there and stay until I get a spark of motivation to do a deep clean of my apartment. If you have a similar situation, consider inexpensive filing cabinets and folders. Waking up each morning and starting the day at a clean and organized desk will make you more productive. Vow to clear the desk before walking away from it at the end of the day and your future you will thank you. 

Set new goals

A new season brings a blank slate of possibilities. One great way to become a stronger PR pro is to set goals outside your comfort zone. Have you never tackled a PR plan on your own but want to get involved with this? Connect with your team and talk about ideas for getting stronger in your position. It shows you want to grow and gain skills that will help your career. If the goal seems intimidating, go for it! Going outside your usual lane is a good thing! 

Schedule that overdue PTO

With warmer days coming, we all have a bit of spring fever – longing for time away from the computer and emails. If you spent your winter cooped up inside, look at your calendar and plan some much-needed days off. It doesn’t have to be any extravagant trip (unless you want to) but get some fresh air and disconnect – you deserve it.  

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Happy spring cleaning! What are you cleaning up this spring? Let me know on Twitter @colleeno_pr

How To Build A Purpose-Driven Brand

In the years since “purpose-driven” brands have become hot among marketing and PR people, one thing has become clear – having a well communicated purpose is good for business. As Joanna Seddon of Presciant brand consultancy puts it, “Purpose-drive brands are more successful (than others) in every way.” An organization linked to a coherent purpose can make better products, offer better services and attract better employees. Her statement is backed by impressive research.

Seddon recently joined Craig Charney of Charney Research and Sarah Colamarino, former Vice President of Corporate Brand Equity and Partnerships at Johnson & Johnson, to discuss the hows and whys of successful purpose-driven marketing. At a webinar presented by the American Marketing Association New York, the three shared experience and insights on the relationship between brands and customers today.

Seddon noted that the 1980s were characterized by an emphasis on shareholder value. But when Jim Stengel and Marc Pritchard rose within the marketing ranks at Procter & Gamble, things began to change. Together with consultants like Joanna Seddon, they demonstrated how the fiscal benefits of true purpose-driven marketing to a team of financial executives with absolutely no background in marketing.

Here’s what marketers need to bear in mind when building and growing a purpose-driven brand.

Purpose is different from values

An organization’s values should act as the pillars that support its purpose, but that purpose itself is bigger and exerts more impact than principles like a commitment to DEI. As Colamarino explained, J&J’s purpose was changing the trajectory of health. For Google, it’s “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” These are often huge and in many ways challenging ambitions.

Purpose isn’t created in isolation

Sarah Colamarino pointed out the value of “co-creation” of corporate brand purpose during her J&J years. It cannot come down from the C-level without the buy-in of the rank and file, for example. She explained that a true brand purpose comes both from the bottom up and the top level of the organization and warned that recruitment, hiring, and HR policies must match a company’s values and dovetail with its purpose. Her challenge in owning J&J’s purpose mission was in integrating it across all company sectors, an enormous but richly rewarding goal.

A brand’s purpose depends on its customers

Know your customer. “KYC” is a critical tenet of purpose-driven marketing. As Craig Charney reminded us, when Nike chose to embrace former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick after he refused to stand for the national anthem, calls for boycotts followed. But after a drop in its stock price, Nike rebounded and blew through its earnings targets shortly afterward. This was because Nike’s core customers supported its stance. We see this time and again when it comes to potentially controversial brand positions. Brands who understand the values of their core customers are far more likely to weather a backlash to a stance that is unpopular among some.

Purpose is a strategic management tool

Purpose has its own business purpose. And nowhere is this more evident than in Pfizer’s quest to create a COVID-19 vaccine, as recounted in CEO Dr. Albert Bourla’s book Moonshot. Bourla shares that the most critical factor in Pfizer’s success was the sheer impossibility of the goal.

When you ask people to do something in eight years that normally takes 10, they will find it challenging, but they will think of solutions within the current process.

I didn’t ask people to do it in eight years. I asked them to do it in eight months…. I insisted that these targets were not negotiable. Saving as many lives as soon as possible was our priority. The team recognized this, went back to the drawing board and came back with a completely new way of working – and the results were simply phenomenal.

Harnessing the power of purpose

After her 14-year stint at J&J, Sarah Colamarino says, “I look at purpose as a powerful management tool.” But its strength isn’t limited to mega-brands. Joanna Seddon’s most memorable experience with the influence of corporate brand purpose isn’t about P&G or Coca-Cola, although their programs were impressive. It came when her team was engaged by MD Anderson Cancer Center, whose purpose is reflected in its tagline, “Making Cancer History”. The CEO was leaving late one evening and he fell into conversation with a janitor who was cleaning up after a long day. When the janitor mentioned that he’d been with the company for 10 years, the chief executive asked why he had stayed so long. “Because I know I’m doing my part in making cancer history,” was the response.

That’s the power of purpose.

Best Practices For Starting A Killer PR Program

Any good PR agency team wants to get a new engagement up and running as quickly and as well as possible. A strong start on a PR program makes for a more lasting and fruitful relationship. Yet getting the ball rolling is easier said than done. The first 90 days of an engagement can be the most hectic time of an entire client-agency experience. There’s an endless list of priorities, from onboarding and immersion to setting expectations and navigating the processes within a new company or organization. There’s also lots of pressure to make things happen while you get smart.

With that in mind, here are a few best practices that we find to be helpful when it comes to launching a new PR program and a budding relationship.

Build an asset request list

To build an effective PR plan, agencies need any relevant – or potentially relevant – assets so they can quickly onboard and understand the nuances and factors at play. This includes material like past PR coverage, product spec sheets, blog posts, preferred talk tracks, conference and award wins, executive bios, and marketing calendars, just to name a few. The agency’s first step should be to create a consolidated list of deliverables to serve as a central reference point for clients to populate. The list will not only be an educational resource for the agency team, but it can spark thoughts about “out of the norm” assets that have been overlooked in the past.

Set workflow and communications processes right away

Each client is different and prefers to work in certain ways. Understanding how they work is essential for an agency to jumpstart a PR relationship and build trust. We like to sync with clients even before an engagement “officially” begins to hammer out how they like to work, preferred communication channels, ideal weekly call times, team roles and other specifics so everyone can hit the ground running on day one. This not only shows that we are keen to meet clients where they are, but that we also take process seriously.

Use the RFP process as research 

Though not every agency search involves a formal RFP (request for proposal), many do, and the document is generally an excellent guide to goals and priorities. Its style, tone, and length will reflect the organization’s culture, whether it’s highly detailed and jargon-y or light and breezy. And the search process itself, from initial conversations to building the presentation, offers opportunities for agencies to gain insight about a company, its sector, and idea of success. The early RFP discussions and research that goes into a winning proposal also yield good and valuable information that can inform an agency team’s strategies and communications style.

Do a deep dive

“Deep dive” onboarding sessions with product teams, comms teams and other internal client stakeholders provide the next-level specifics that help build detail and substance for the PR plan. We like to plan a full or half-day session that ideally brings together different client-side executives for briefings. These meetings are also the PR team’s initial opportunity to assess potential B2B spokesperson, define their “lanes,” and gauge how comfortable and effective they will be in a media interview or keynote situation. 

Be curious

You never know which bit of information will be helpful in driving PR results down the road. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions – especially open-ended ones. This is your chance to pose “stupid” questions because the relationship is new. The client-side team members are steeped in both the industry sector and their particular company’s operations and processes, so use the time to pull out their insights about the organization as well as their own SME (subject-matter expertise.) This will show a keen interest in understanding the finer points of a business but also a nose for each stakeholder’s areas of interest and proficiency. Moreover, it allows agency teams to expand their knowledge around particular categories that lead to creative pitch ideas.

Use your proposal as a guide

This one sounds obvious, of course, but it’s funny how often an initial proposal is put on a shelf after the agency team dives into the program. Unless the strategy or circumstances change, the proposal should be the basis for the PR plan. It’s also interesting to periodically review it as a kind of blueprint for expectations, deliverables, and story ideas. In certain fast-moving tech sectors original proposals can quickly become outdated, but we’ve occasionally flipped through a one or two-year-old deck and realized that there are some strong ideas buried inside it!  

Can PR Agencies Protect Their Ideas?

“You give away your best thinking on spec.” My husband once said that as he watched me sweat a high-stakes new biz proposal that hinged on The Big Idea. That observation bothered me for years, because it was true. But how does a PR or ad agency avoid it?

A recent Twitter dustup highlighted the dilemma. The CEO of crytocurrency exchange Coinbase tweeted about its wildly successful Super Bowl ad. You know the one…it featured a simple QR code floating about the screen, changing colors against a music track. The ad won raves within the industry and subsequently crashed the Coinbase website. The QR code thing was a great match for crypto enthusiasts, and the accompanying PR didn’t hurt.

CEO Brian Armstrong is proud of the ad’s success, naturally. He tweeted over the weekend about how it came to be, crediting his team with a bold departure from “traditional” Super Bowl spots. His final tweet concluded that “no agency could have done this ad.”

Coinbase CEO tries to weave a compelling story about how their own team came up with a Super Bowl ad that "broke the rules on marketing", is quickly revealed to just be

CEO called out on Twitter

Except according to Martin Agency CEO Kristen Cavallo, an agency did. Or, at least her team presented the idea to Coinbase in a pitch meeting back in August, which she helpfully notes in a tweet, complete with dates and deck page numbers. Awkward.

To make matters more interesting, Coinbase CMO Kate Rouch jumped into the feed with her own version of events. She explained that multiple agencies pitched a QR-code idea but that it was “inserting a QR code in a popular meme” that won the day, crediting Accenture Interactive with the work. This led some ad-watchers to conclude that after Accenture was engaged, they looked through old proposals and adapted Martin’s idea.

Creative minds can think alike

Every agency person has pitched to a prospective client, only to see their idea executed months later – by another firm. I’ve honestly thought there should be some kind of “Hall of Shame” site that embarrasses clients who steal ideas from spec pitches. It’s why lawyers advise agencies to copyright their proposals and trade groups urge them not to participate in spec creative presentations for free.

But the thing is, more than one agency group may pitch similar or even identical ideas in a competitive situation. In fact, it happens all the time. You can copyright a tagline, a creative execution, a storyboard or a script, maybe. But there’s simply no way to own an idea. This is particularly true in the PR business, where a presentation might rely on a great brand or media strategy, a clever angle or an unexpected juxtaposition of ideas rather than a graphic or copy line. Then, too, timing can be a huge factor. What seemed off-strategy in August can be brilliant by December. In public relations especially, the news cycle is critical.

Don’t give away your best thinking

That’s why in my experience most of the advice is sensible, but a bit beside the point. It’s tough to sit out all agency reviews on principle. And as much as I admire those classy companies who pay competing agencies for the creative that the company will then own, that doesn’t really solve the problem. You may get $5000 for the work, and that helps restore some of the billable time sucked away by spec pitches, but it’s cold comfort if someone else executes your idea.

It also strikes me that what really set off Kristen Cavallo was the Brian Armstrong’s dismissive attitude (“No ad agency would have done the ad”) when he actually used an agency for the execution and probably the idea, too. It was not only untrue, but smug and disrespectful.

So, what’s the answer? It helps to be selective about RFPs for big competitive searches, and most agencies are. And it might help to throw a copyright symbol on the last page of every proposal, as my supervisor at Edelman routinely did to try to deter idea theft. Most clients are fair-minded and want to make the process less painful for everyone; for ways they can help fix the broken RFP process, this post holds up pretty well.

But that observation – “you give away your best thinking on spec” still bothers me. Maybe the best antidote to losing your IP is to try to generate your best ideas for existing clients – you know, the guys who are already paying, with whom there already exists a relationship based on a certain level of trust, and yes, respect.

A PR Storm Brews For Edelman

The PR industry has spent decades proving that PR really works. The fruits of a quality PR campaign aren’t always easily measurable or even obvious, but we’ve made great strides in demonstrating the power of PR and the value of its outcomes.

Climate-change politics and PR

That’s why it strikes me as ironic that some of the largest global PR firms may be wishing they could claim otherwise, at least when it comes to climate science and PR. Edelman, the largest U.S. firm, in particular is under fire for its work shaping perception and policy around climate change. The problem is, it has done so in ways that many feel are designed to obstruct action and hide the truth.

The tempest around climate science and PR blew up recently after publication of a peer-reviewed paper on the role of public relations in the climate policy debate. Published late last year in the journal Climatic Change, it studied the cozy relationship between Big PR and Big Oil. The authors call out several PR giants for creating and promoting “front groups” (with misleading names like Foundation For Clean Air Progress) that actually oppose clean-air legislation. Such firms also get credit for oxymoronic industry terms like “clean coal” and “renewable natural gas.” Co-author Robert Brulle has fiercely criticized fossil-fuel companies for “efforts to greenwash their reputations and shift public opinion” and wants to shine a light on the role of PR agencies.

Edelman under pressure

Things got hotter when the group Clean Creatives and more than 450 scientists signed a letter calling for PR and creative agencies to drop fossil-fuel companies that seek to “obfuscate or downplay our data and the risk of the climate emergency.” The group fingered Edelman for its work for many brand-name fossil-fuel companies and trade organizations.

Under pressure, Edelman announced a “review” of more than 330 companies on its roster, presumably for potential violations of its stated principles. But there’s no evidence it ever dropped any clients. CEO Richard Edelman offered a feeble defense common among those who align with unpopular businesses. He explained that the fossil-fuel industry is “in transition” and therefore needs his agency’s services more than ever. In an even weaker response, he claimed he couldn’t divulge client names or discuss decisions about representation due to confidentiality agreements.

The crisis playbook doesn’t call for evasion, but that’s what Edelman’s responses sound like to me. Most disappointing, Richard Edelman reiterated an earlier pledge not to work with climate-change deniers – a promise that sounds pretty hollow today. As Christine Arena, a former Edelman executive who resigned over its work for oil and gas clients, told The New York Times, “It’s a convenient thing, to say they don’t work for climate deniers, because none of the big trade organizations for fossil fuel corporations are saying they believe climate change is a hoax.” It’s a straw-man defense and not even a very good one.

Trust experts who inspire none

But the deepest irony, and the reason Edelman’s failure to respond with transparency is so maddening, is that the agency has done excellent work to align its brand with a priceless brand attribute –  trust. Its eponymous Trust Barometer has tracked public confidence in institutions for 22 years. It is eagerly covered by top media and disseminated at prestigious meetings. The latest release is unveiled in lofty terms on the agency’s own website.

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. Adding to this is a failing trust ecosystem unable to confront the rampant infodemic, leaving the four institutions—business, government, NGOs and media—in an environment of information bankruptcy and a mandate to rebuild trust and chart a new path forward.

The description of our national trust deficit is so dramatic that it practically cries out for a strong, strategic partner to help fulfill the  mandate of our institutions – a partner, of course, like Edelman itself. I worked at Edelman for five years over two decades ago and have always been proud of that experience. Yet, when it comes to handling its own reputation threat, Edelman is part of that failing “trust ecosystem.” As a steward of brand reputations and a leader of our industry, it can do better. And as an industry, we deserve leaders who are up for the challenge.

The PR Winners And Losers Of 2021

It’s only the first week of 2022, but the PR scandals and triumphs of last year already seem distant. But before we let them fade into the rear-view mirror, I couldn’t resist one last list about 2021. Here are my  nominees for the PR Winners and Losers of the year.

The PR Winners

Britney Spears

The pop princess was a double beneficiary of a long-overdue PR redemption. First, there was revisionist history in a documentary about her early career. It highlighted the relentless tabloid scrutiny she endured at a time when she was suffering severe emotional distress. When it comes to her treatment by the press, things look very different today. Matt Lauer asking her on-air if she’s a bad mom, or Diane Sawyer making her the bad guy of her breakup with Justin Timberlake seems tacky, if not outright sexist. But Spears triumphed when she won her legal bid to end the conservatorship that mandated tight control of her life by her father. It was helped by a groundswell of social media support from fans posting to #FreeBritney, and egged on by a suddenly sympathetic mediaverse. It only took them two decades.

NFTs

Most people barely knew what non-fungible tokens (NFTs) were a year ago. But by the end of 2021, at least $27 billion was spent on NFTs in the form of digital art and collectibles. Speculators spurred on the NFT craze and early adopting celebrities in music, art, and sports drove constant media coverage. Even former Melania Trump wants a piece of the action. NFTs benefited further from press attention to the metaverse, driven by Facebook’s very public commitment and rebranding as Meta. Of course, NFTs are also ideal tools for scammers, fraudsters, and even money launderers, so they could easily end up on next year’s Losers list. But for now, they’re winning.

QR Codes

The emergence of the humble and once obscure QR code as an essential digital tool is probably the most unexpected success story of 2021. QR codes have been used in Asia for years, but here in the U.S. they weren’t even integrated into the iPhone until 2017. QR code usage first soared after the COVID-related lockdowns, of course. But it was last year that they went beyond restaurant menus to became truly mainstream. Was is positive PR and resulting media coverage that drove the change? Not really, but in vertical business sectors, plenty of digital content has educated managers on QR’s uses. And QR codes are likely here to stay, as they’re increasingly being used in the U.S. and abroad for contact-free transactions and many kinds of public information campaigns. Marketers love the codes due to their tracking abilities, and consumers don’t seem to mind one bit.

Billionaire Astronauts

Jeff Bezos had a good year. He started 2021 fighting off a sleazy tabloid scandal about his love affair and divorce but emerged as the leader in a new kind of space race among billionaires. For that matter, all three of the uberrich entrepreneur astronauts — Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Bezos — reaped a payload of PR for their space joyrides. The billionaire space race is pretty self-indulgent, but it’s also entertaining and it fills a gap that government programs can’t. Presumably it has the potential for tangible benefits, like jobs, investment, and new scientific discoveries for 2022 and beyond.

Peloton

Peloton was riding high just before Christmas after its speedy response to a fast-breaking PR crisis. The brand had put the problem of a TV character’s fatal heart attack after an indoor cycling workout firmly behind it. And just like that….Peloton was blindsided again. But rather than belonging on the Losers list, I think it deserves credit for smooth handling of the sudden double-whammy. It all started with the sudden demise of Mr. Big on the HBO series And Just Like That. After completing his 1000th ride on one of the cultish bikes, Mr. Big dropped dead, and Peloton’s stock suffered a drop of its own. The brand recovered quickly by featuring actor Chris Noth in a clever campaign promoting indoor cycling’s very real health benefits. Yet just as the ad gained traction, two women came out to publicly accuse Noth of sexual assault. Peloton swiftly steered its brand out of trouble by killing the campaign. I think it will emerge in fine shape despite the ups and downs.

The PR Losers

Clubhouse

When was the last time you thought about Clubhouse? That’s the problem. The social audio platform didn’t suffer a PR crisis so much as a drop off the radar screen. After a frenzy of media attention and a peak of 9.6 million downloads in February, Clubhouse adoption started to slow. It dropped its invitation-only feature (a necessity), and suddenly the buzz faded. At the same time, a slew of competitors launched. While its downloads have risen again due to international expansion, it’s now looking like Clubhouse was the victim of its own PR – too much, too soon.

Gettr

Clubhouse wasn’t the only social platform to lose momentum in 2021. Remember Gettr, the oddly named Twitter-killer helmed by former Trump advisor Jason Miller? It was launched with fanfare but instantly met technical difficulties, including signup delays, a rash of fake accounts, and security breaches. Despite Miller’s shameless public flattery and repeated invitations to the former president to join the platform and put it on the map, Trump never did get around to it. He had his own plans, of course. Don’t count out Gettr just yet; Joe Rogan has joined, so it may have a second wind. But last year most people who heard about Gettr did so on Twitter, and the tweets weren’t nice.

Better.com

The online mortgage company has had better years. Its 2021 crisis was precipitated in December when founder Vishal Garg fired 900 Better.com employees on a Zoom call, just ahead of a $750 million injection by SoftBank. That was bad enough, but Garg told remaining staff that he wished he’d made the layoffs earlier and threatened them with termination if they failed to ramp productivity. When a backlash grew, he defended his decision on an anonymous networking site by accusing the laid-off staff of “stealing” from employees and customers. While Garg apologized and stepped down under pressure, there’s now worse news for Better.com. The blunder has drawn attention to “multiple legal liabilities, conflicts of interest and corporate governance problems” before the company placed him on leave, according to Forbes.

Activision Blizzard

The gaming company was hit with multiple investigations into alleged sexual assaults of female employees in 2021. Like most such accusations, the alleged incidents went back years. Company emails uncovered in an extensive Wall Street Journal article suggested that CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of many incidents. Instead of sharing what he knew with the board of directors, Kotick kept quiet as Activision settled with accusers. After an investigation, the state of California filed suit against the company over the workplace harassment. Employee reaction was also fierce, culminating in a walkout to protest the situation. Kotick ultimately issued a strong statement about the company’s commitment to a fair and inclusive workplace. He also put his money where his mouth is by taking a significant pay cut and pledged to invest $250 million in gaming and technology for underserved communities. But the scandal has been a huge black eye for the brand and it remains on the defensive. Badly played.

Facebook

Facebook scandals are so common they’re almost boring. But the news broken by whistleblower Frances Haugen is more serious than past PR crises. Haugen used internal company documents to show that Facebook knew its products and policies harmed the mental health of teenagers but prioritized profits over the public good. And never has a whistleblower enjoyed the kind of PR rollout of her revelations. Haugen’s team negotiated a media exclusive with The Wall Street Journal, then went wider by granting access to a hand-picked press consortium. The media blitz peaked with her primetime interview on 60 Minutes and testimony before Congress. Facebook pushed back against the allegations, but it doesn’t have a deep well of credibility to draw upon. Lawmakers are infuriated, and, in a rare show of bipartisanship, they’re united in a desire to punish the company. What’s more, Facebook’s adoption of the corporate brand Meta, while a reasonable move to acknowledge its future direction, was seen as an attempt to dodge the negative flak with a new name. Bad timing and clumsy execution. Facebook is on its way to becoming the new Big Tobacco.

Social Media Tactics To Leave Behind In 2021

The social media landscape is constantly evolving, and PR pros must stay in step with trends and tactics. 2021 saw emerging platforms that B2B brands were eyeing to for their marketing plans, and some may have been missteps. In fact, there are several social media approaches that should be reassessed as we enter 2022.

Filler content created solely for ‘likes’

Although content engagement is social media’s baseline for success, one of the top mistakes marketers make is posting content solely for the sake of comments and likes. The main goal of social media marketing is to generate a dedicated audience for your brand. Content for likes will at best gain a few followers here and there, but it’s unlikely to help establish trust with your target audience. B2B companies should be actively working to strengthen relationships with their current customers by creating well-crafted, and timely curated content that’s relevant to their audience. 

To ramp engagement, consider mixing the following into your content:

  • Personal observations and opinions on the latest news/current events 

  • Evergreen content that will be relevant for months to come

  • Polls to gauge where followers stand on industry trends or common obstacles

Adding a creative twist, like a compelling photo, chart, or real-time visualization, is another way to kick up engagement.

Overlooking Facebook 

Because LinkedIn is seen as the top platform for business messaging, B2B PR and marketing teams have been on the fence when it comes to Facebook. But with a user base of 1.6 billion, Facebook is still one of the best platforms for building brand awareness. Advertising on Facebook also offers a better return-on-ad-spend with a lower CPM compared to LinkedIn.

Facebook Groups offer ways to locate a specific audience and direct commentary on relevant topics to its members. Also, business-oriented Facebook Groups give brands the opportunity to organically build engagement while discussing technical and insider information, with lead generation as an added benefit.

Facebook’s latest features have introduced ways for B2B marketers to share and engage with their target audience. Facebook may not be the first line of defense for B2B marketing, but the data shows its effectiveness. It may be time to revisit the platform and the ways you can work it into your social media strategy.

Not prioritizing video in content mix

We’ve witnessed the explosion of TikTok and Instagram Reels this past year as marketers have recognized the power of video. In 2020, 80% of marketers incorporated video into their organic efforts, and B2B companies are realizing that excluding video from the content mix is not a viable option. If video hasn’t been a staple in your marketing in 2021, 2022 is definitely the time to incorporate it.

Video works effectively across multiple platforms. Videos on your website or YouTube channel can be distributed on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. Marketers can now easily create and distribute videos with a variety of video editing apps at their fingertips – cutting a bit of spend from campaign budgets.

Live video is also growing in popularity, and it’s an optimal tool for driving B2B content like webinars and Q&As. Live streams give your followers an interactive experience in real-time with the content creator. 

Teaming up with influencers is another great way to create fresh video content.

  • Host a live Q&A on Facebook and Instagram

  • Have the influencer be a host for a webinar

  • Record a podcast episode together and have video to share 

See more ways influencers can elevate B2B PR campaigns here.

Video gives brands the opportunity to be personable with prospects and clients. It will continue to be the most advantageous way to build your audience’s trust. 

A stodgy or stiff brand voice

Some marketers believe that to stay professional there can never be any levity in social content. They choose to play it safe. But a bland brand voice is the biggest culprit behind boring content. Playing it safe means content to blend in when the goal is to stand out from competitors.

Enter 2022 by establishing a strong brand voice that has personality. Here are some the steps you can take to get started:

  1. Review your company’s mission and vision, and have your brand voice reflect them.

  2. Audit current content. Note the common themes and tone on your website, blogs, social posts, and other marketing material. Then determine if the current voice aligns with your brand’s mission.

  3. Assess your audience and list traits and common vocabulary to imply it in your brand’s content. Social polls are also useful, since they deliver feedback directly from your audience.

Be sure that you’re maintaining your brand voice across all of your social media channels.

With this in mind, you can adopt a clear perspective on which tactics to leave behind in 2021, as well as fresh takes on what to consider as you launch social campaigns for 2022.

5 Tips For First-Time PR Agency Clients

As 2022 planning continues, teams are seeing the value of aligning PR tactics with their marketing strategies. In fact, 60% of marketing executives believe that PR and digital marketing teams will work together more closely in the near future. The role of a PR agency in this alignment, and in building an organization’s reputation among customers, employees, and stakeholders, is central. So how do you get the most out of the PR firm relationship?

After selecting an agency partner, it’s imperative to lay out expectations, deliverables and success metrics for both sides. A PR relationship may be challenging for brands to manage if they expect to take a hands-off approach and still be successful. Here are five tips for first-time PR clients to achieve success.

Set Clear Objectives And KPIs 

PR objectives should be clear to both parties, and they should typically reflect the organization’s business goals. Clear goals will help define the PR strategy your agency will adopt. These goals should be both measurable and prioritized so that there is no misunderstanding.  They might include a change in brand perception, increased brand visibility, enhanced reputation, or engagement of a new target audience, for example. Each is supported by tactics designed to achieve them. 

The PR function contributes to business goals through the awareness generated by earned and owned media, among other tactics. But how to measure outcomes? Most teams track key performance indicators (KPIs) to quantify, measure, and optimize their programs. For example, a campaign might be evaluated based on a set number of brand mentions; social media engagement; positive sentiment analysis; or sheer reach. 

Be Open With The PR Team

It’s important to be transparent with the PR agency about the good and bad. On the positive side, something the client has overlooked or takes for granted could be useful information for media relations or storytelling. On the other hand, if there’s an internal problem, the agency needs to know about it and to prepare for any negative impact. PR firms are pros at handling negative news, and advance preparation is important if bad news is anticipated.

Make Onboarding Work Hard

Onboarding is where a PR firm really gets to know a business and its objectives and mission. A thorough onboarding can make the difference between a successful start and a mediocre one. During this process a PR team benefits from a full business overview (messaging, differentiators, competitors, etc.). It’s also an opportunity to meet brand spokespersons and the leadership team; learn their points of view about key issues; and review the marketing calendar, including product roadmap, upcoming announcements, content, and targeted conferences and awards. This is the time to go over everything in detail so both sides are set up for success. From this point the PR agency will build out their strategy and come back to the next meeting with a full plan in place.

Encourage Honest Feedback

To get the most out of any outside agency or consultant, it’s best to encourage counsel and feedback that challenges the status-quo. Let your team know you’re not afraid of ideas that fall outside the usual boundaries. They are bringing a fresh set of eyes and ears to the situation, and objectivity brings value. Their advice and judgment is informed by experience, and PR thrives on a blend of experience and fresh ideas. 

Be Responsive

In media relations, timing is everything. Journalists have deadlines and PR teams need to work quickly and efficiently to meet them. If a PR firm can’t reach a client about a fast-breaking opportunity, it may be lost, potentially affecting future ones. In addition to journalists’ deadlines, brands need to be available to participate in strategy discussions, review press releases and other types of copy, provide/approve reactions to news ideas, and more.  

By following these tips and using common sense, any organization can have a successful partnership with a PR agency. Be sure to stay engaged and foster open communication for the best results. At the end of the day, you want to hire an agency team you trust. Don’t be afraid to give your firm the space it needs to make moves on your behalf once you provide all the assets they need. Ultimately this is a partnership where both parties grow together.

 

PR Tips For Virtual Media Trainings

Any company can benefit from media training, but it’s particularly important for one that is new to public relations. For B2B PR, media training prepares company execs for press interviews and stresses how to make the most out of them. This is important because the typical interview situation contains many variables, including the journalist’s own level of preparation. They might be deeply informed about the topic at hand, or they could be new on the beat. Their goal for the interview might be simply to gather background for a future story, or they could be probing for sensitive information or pushing an angle. 

What makes a good media prep session?

A media training session can be with any number of people, whether it’s a single spokesperson or several media-facing execs. Of course, the length of the training will depend on how many execs are participating, but it can last from as little as two hours, to half a day. The key ingredient is the opportunity to practice in a setting that mimics the real thing.

Pros and cons of virtual media trainings

We’ve always felt that in-person sessions are best, but since the pandemic began, we’ve adapted to a new reality. The obvious challenges include technical issues with video playback, since on many platforms it’s necessary to log out and wait for a recorded interview to download, then log back on to view and discuss it. These and other factors can be mitigated with advance prep – using the breaks for pointers while another team member is downloading the recorded video, making sure mics are working well, and blocking practice interviews in short bites for discussion and critique. 

There are distinct advantages to virtual media trainings, of course. They are easier to schedule, more convenient and less stressful for the participants, and most importantly, they mimic how most media interviews actually take place today. So as long as most people aren’t meeting in person, virtual sessions make all the sense in the world.

First, break down the media landscape

It’s often helpful to paint a picture of the media landscape – i.e., the different media segments; reporters’ needs; potential interview styles; and common pitfalls. Often journalists are looking to gain as much information as possible, which is not always aligned with what a company may want. Additionally, in this part of the session, PR experts offer basic rules of media interviews: prepare your points in advance; learn to pivot if you don’t know an answer or can’t address it; and never speak “off-the-record.” Here, video examples of interviews, from terrible to terrific, can be very powerful.

Updating media interview best practices

Most old rules still apply – sit up straight, keep hand gestures to a minimum and below the face, and adopt a pleasant but natural facial expression without too much nodding. Smiling is good! While we like to keep distractions to a minimum, we help clients plan for them. The dog might start barking, a child could interrupt, or you might want to glance at your notes – all are normal and they represent an advantage for any interview on Zoom or another platform. 

A word about virtual backgrounds: while a branded background or step-and-repeat wall behind an interviewee offers brand recognition during an actual interview, an uncluttered real background often works better. Virtual video backgrounds can make people look distorted, and a sudden gesture can result in a hologram effect, where a dead plant suddenly appears where an arm used to be! If you plan to use a virtual background, make sure to check it in advance. (Updated software also helps.)

Even if the interview is on the phone, it’s a good idea to smile, since it can affect your tone of voice. PR pros share tips for responding in sound bites, using visual imagery, and emphasizing the points we hope to come through in the final story or segment.

Don’t skimp on the playback

Playback is typically the most crucial part of a media training. Some execs may want skip this part and review their videos later, but we find playback an important part of a digital media prep session. Here the company spokesperson puts what they’ve learned into practice as the session leader simulates a real interview. Of course, a pretend interview won’t usually last as long as a real-world sit-down, so it needs to contain several challenges. The session leader may want to make it tricky, much as a driving instructor will ask their students to turn right, turn left, and parallel park consecutively. The spokesperson will learn to steer the discussion back on track if it veers into irrelevant areas. He’ll need to convey his points while offering interesting, newsworthy and usable responses for the journalist. When the PR team replays the interview they will note successes, discuss wording of specific responses, and point out room for improvement, pausing the interview for points along the way. Don’t skip this step.

With proper digital media training, a spokesperson will feel more comfortable conveying their own expertise and be prepared to respond to questions confidently, factually, and gracefully, all while building rapport with the interviewer and the audience. Reporters can discern when an exec is prepared (but not programmed!), and they appreciate it. In the age of COVID-19, media training is more accessible than ever, making it a worthwhile investment for companies, and an important service for PR firms to offer.