How Jeff Bezos Scored A PR Win

Not every billionaire CEO needs a big public relations team, apparently – just ask Elon Musk. But many successful founders do have an innate grasp of PR and media strategy. Sure, communications skills are learned, and years of experience really count in the PR biz. But when it comes to the hand-to-hand combat of media relations, an instinct for the game surely helps.

That’s the conclusion that Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Stone came to about Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and his tangle with the National Enquirer in 2019. In an excerpt from his new book, Amazon Unbound, Stone offers a fascinating tick-tock on the PR melodrama that played out after the Enquirer published salacious photos and texts involving the then-married Bezos and paramour Lauren Sanchez.  The story reads like a thriller. In Stone’s words, “It’s a tale that involves a scheming Hollywood manager, desperate tabloid newspaper editors, and spurious claims of political intrigue and international espionage. It’s also a look into Jeff Bezos’s mind and how he thinks unconventionally and always manages to come out on top.”

Precisely. Now, I don’t agree that Bezos is a PR mastermind in every sense of the word. In the first place, he could have likely avoided the scandal if he had behaved with more circumspection. It doesn’t take a media relations genius to figure that the press would at some point be all over the details of a new relationship that he didn’t bother to hide. But maybe that’s how moguls are.

The fascinating aspects of the Bezos tabloid scandal are instructive. If you unpack Stone’s behind-the-scenes story, you’ll spot some familiar and not-so-familiar PR rules about how to turn around a negative story. And Bezos played them perfectly.

Preempt bad news where possible

“Get ahead of the story” is time-honored advice offered by PR experts to public figures on the edge of a nasty revelation. It nearly always holds up. On Monday, January 7, the Enquirer emailed Bezos “to request an interview with you about your love affair.” Bezos didn’t know it yet, but someone had tipped off the tabloid about the relationship. Sanchez’s own brother slipped it cozy photos of the couple together, screenshots of sexy texts, and details of future assignations so the paper could get its own photos. Bezos had to have been caught off-guard, but he didn’t flinch. He moved quickly, instructing his PR team to announce the news of his divorce by Wednesday morning. He thus gained a measure of control over the story and was able to lay it out on his own terms. The Enquirer, a weekly with a Monday pub date, had to rush out a special issue to protect its scoop. Bezos wasn’t able to stop the stories, but he avoided a reactive announcement of his marital status with a dignified statement about the couple’s decision to split.

Negotiate well

What followed the first flurry of stories about Bezos and Sanchez was a classic tabloid quid-pro-quo. The Enquirer wanted fresh material to move the story forward. Bezos decided to negotiate, but from a point of strength. The tabloid ultimately agreed to stop running the old photos and texts in exchange for an exclusive paparazzi shot of Sanchez in an airport. It was a low-stakes concession by team Bezos. The assurance that no more surprise photos or story angles would pop up — at least for a while — enabled Bezos to plan his counteroffensive.

Exploit your opponent’s weakness

This is a business maxim as old as Machiavelli, but it’s often relevant in a tough media relations situation. When Bezos was originally ambushed by the Enquirer, the tabloid held most of the cards. But it also had a big problem. Its shenanigans around “catch and kill” stories about ex-president Trump had caught the attention of SDNY prosecutors who smelled a possible campaign finance violation. The publication was on thin ice, financially weak and fearful of prosecution. Bezos was able to exploit its vulnerability in his ultimate response. That turned out to be a masterstroke, even though it wasn’t wholly true.

Tap specialist expertise

Suspicious about the leaked photos and worried about what was next, Bezos involved his longtime security consultant, Gavin de Becker, in his media counteroffensive. de Becker was more than a hired gun. He boasts a distinguished career and is a published author and recognized security expert. In an interview granted to the Daily Beast, de Becker fingered Sanchez’s brother as the tipster, which only elicited sympathy for the couple. More importantly, he implied that Bezos was targeted because of Trump’s resentment of him as the owner of The Washington Post. The security consultant’s status lent credibility to the accusation and focused attention on the Enquirer’s reputation as an apologist, and possible bagman, for former president Trump.

Disintermediate the press

They call it “media” for a reason. But today it’s easy for a powerful personality to disintermediate the MSM and go directly to the public with a message. It’s a strategy that arguably propelled Donald Trump – another high-level PR practitioner — to the presidency. Trump famously maligned the mainstream media and used Twitter as his direct platform of choice, and his example wasn’t lost on the rich and powerful. Bezos didn’t need to disparage media as Trump did; after all, he owns one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world. But he responded publicly to the National Enquirer’s offer of a “deal” not just in the media, but in a powerful personal essay on Medium, the social publishing platform. Of course it was picked up by every media outlet in the country.

Change the story

This was Bezos’s slam dunk. After skillfully using earned media to highlight his own version of the story, he went for the jugular in the Medium post. He used emails from the Enquirer’s owner, AMI, to his attorney to accuse the tabloid of extortion. As a coup de grace, he reported on his own embarrassing texts and suggested that the leaks amounted to political retribution. Astonishingly, he implied – without evidence — that the texts and photos were accessed by people with links to the Saudi Arabian government. The theory was that the Saudis were angered by WaPo’s reporting that Prince Mohammed bin Salman was linked to the murder of columnist Jamal Kashoggi. The bold charge that the Enquirer was trying to wreak political payback for Trump, and that a foreign actor might even be involved, was devastating.

It was a pretty cynical move. Instead of a tawdry backstabbing by his girlfriend’s brother, Bezos implied that foreign actors were trying to destroy his reputation for geopolitical reasons. Even today, there’s no evidence of that. But its impact was like a one-two punch. It was a twist on the game that celebrities play to challenge and blame powerful media brands for negative coverage. In this scenario, Bezos is the rich and powerful one, but he deftly turned the tables on the tabloid and used its sleazy past against it. By coming clean about his personal situation, he cast himself as a principled defender of journalism, truth, even democracy.

There’s a lot to question here, because the whole things boils down to a shady little shakedown of an indiscreet business mogul. But it’s also a pretty impressive master class in PR and media relations, or at least, tabloid relations. Bottom line, the whole messy episode is a footnote in Bezos’s life and career, and his reputation has probably never been stronger. That’s power.

5 PR Tips To Boost Your Company’s Media Appeal

In B2B public relations, we’re always trying to find ways to drive business and trade media interest for clients. Yet as every PR person knows, there isn’t always a timely newshook for the story you want to tell. And not every business is a household name. When gaining media traction is challenging, how can PR pros generate media attention for the stories they want to tell? Here are a few shortcuts that can help B2B PR pros spiff up their pitches, think creatively, and drive media coverage.

Look globally for reactive news

U.S. headlines can be a gold mine for reactive news opportunities, where a company latches on to a breaking news story with a smart take or point of view and gets coverage for it. But with many companies doing business internationally it’s smart to look outside our own media market for openings. PR pros and comms teams should consider developments in relevant international regions as a way to expand thought leadership for company executives. Moreover, given how interconnected the business world is today, international news stories, trends, and policy changes often have ripple effects that impact the U.S. market. Just because a political or economic movement was rolled out in the EU doesn’t mean that it won’t impact your stateside business or client.

Broaden the narrative

When it comes to offering content and commentary, most companies focus on a certain aspect of their industry. Yet, the knowledge pool within their organization likely extends far beyond that one area. For example, a retail tech business may focus on price optimization technology, but it may have executives who can speak to broader trends within certain retail verticals or retail as whole — trends like multichannel retailing; micro-fulfillment; or artificial intelligence applications. By looking to leverage diverse knowledge, PR pros and internal comms teams can dramatically raise the thought leadership profile of an entire organization and also generate new ideas for content and pitching. The key is to choose a relevant area and bridge back to your core product or service.

Don’t fear the vertical

It’s always great to generate coverage within top-tier technology publications like TechCrunch or VentureBeat. These outlets, however, tend to stick closer to high-level announcements or end-user benefit stories versus the nitty-gritty aspects that potential buyers study before making a significant B2B purchase. So it pays to go to overlooked areas; one of those within tech media, at least in my view, is developer and IT media. Granted, the data integration capabilities of a digital transformation tool may not be at the top of most executives’ reading lists. However, if a client is producing breakthrough technology and results — and they likely are — developer and IT media publications can really resonate with CIOs and work wonders when it comes to product reputation. Vertical stories can be powerful sales tools, and higher-order tech media tend to follow the key sector publications. So don’t be afraid to build pitches and content around the nuts and bolts specs of a product’s technology — they may be way more interesting to media than you think.

Use data and assets — or create your own

Whether in business, technology, or professional services media, one hugely attractive asset that can really bring a story to life is data. Almost all businesses are sitting on data that can be used to position themselves as a key media resource for information, trends, and forecasting. And if there’s not enough current data, it’s easy to create fresh assets by investing in a proprietary survey. Beyond just the immediate media benefits, data insights can be parlayed into white papers, supporting points for awards submissions, and bylined pieces that work to raise executive and brand visibility as well. 

Content, content, content

No one gets hits for every pitch they throw, and “no, thanks” is a common response in the PR world. But just because a journalist may not want a briefing with a company spokesperson doesn’t mean that a story or company point of view is weak. Instead, it actually opens up a whole new avenue to explore with a given pitch: bylined content. It’s true that bylines need to be “vendor- neutral” – that is, they can’t boast about a company’s product or service. The point of a good bylined article is to express a smart opinion on an issue of relevance to its customers, or offer solutions to an emerging problem or challenge. A deep-dive, long-form POV that a business spokesperson can offer is sometimes just as valuable — if not more so — than a quote or two in a broader media story.

How To Convince A Reporter to Cover Your Story

One of the most frustrating parts of working in PR or media relations is getting the “too busy” response. You have a solid pitch or a compelling announcement, but the feedback from media is that they have too much going on to cover this story. While breaking news will often take precedence, skilled PR teams will do everything they can to nail that interview or story.

People who move up at PR agencies know the best tips and tricks for persuading media why a story is newsworthy. We know what makes the perfect pitch. Still, we avoid using words like “guarantee” or “definite” when predicting media coverage. In the end, it is up to the journalist or their editor if our news is worth their time. 

What can PR pros do to convince reporters to cover their story when they claim they are too busy?

Show them how the story fits with their audience

Why is this newsworthy or timely? Put yourself in the shoes of the publication’s audience. Who is reading this potential article, would it be interesting to them? Give useful information for their readers will want to know. We want to keep and form relationships with key media. Help guide them on the possible story you’d like to explore. Grab their attention with that snappy subject line and prove to them in the pitch why you are a credible news source. We know everyone is busy in the news world but with the right attention grabber, you’ll never have to worry about someone being too busy for your story.    

Have supporting assets 

They say a picture is worth a thousand pitches. You don’t want to miss out on that opportunity if a journalist asks for additional assets like images or graphics. When preparing to pitch this story, think about what assets the media could use in addition to commentary. For larger announcements, create a Dropbox file with anything media could use in addition to the usual executive headshots, visuals, and company logos. Journalists are often juggling several stories, and sometimes great visuals can make the difference.  

Be flexible 

Are you pitching a timely story or trend that won’t be relevant in a few days or a founder story that can be discussed at any time? If it’s the latter, consider revamping the timeline for a quieter news cycle. Any good PR pro knows when not to pitch company profile pieces. If a journalist says no, tell them you understand and ask if you could check back in a few weeks to revisit the conversation. Work with them and keep them on your radar for a better time.  

Shift gears as a last resort 

If after all, your PR tricks for convincing journalists don’t work but you feel strongly that your company is a great resource, offer your spokesperson to talk about another topic within their area of expertise. Gauge the journalists’ attention by asking what else they’re working on and how you can incorporate your company into that article. As PR pros, we understand the value of the “thought capital” that executives and subject-matter experts offer. We should bank a full roster of topics that they can easily discuss with media with little prep time. Just because a journalist said no to the topic you originally pitched them does not mean no to future conversations. Try to convince them that you have new data coming out soon that you’d love for them to get a first glance at, when the time is right, or tease an exclusive story to them. Journalists love having the opportunity to break a story first and by dangling something in front of them, you may have them on the hook for your next story. 

How do you work with media in covering your story during a busy newscycle? Let me know on Twitter @colleeno_pr

5 Tips For Killer PR Case Studies

Every PR person knows that strong customer case studies are powerful additions to the B2B PR toolkit. They also work well for sales and marketing. A great case study can actually help move prospects down the sales funnel to the point where they’re ready to buy. Ideally, it serves as a third-party testimonial for a company or its product, building credibility and demonstrating key product attributes.

Most customer success stories are written to generate earned media coverage, or to run as bylined pieces in trade or business media. They’re also an asset for industry award submissions. But what makes for a stellar piece of case study content that will win awards and attract media attention? A big part of my job is writing award entries for our various ad tech, martech, AI, and cybersecurity clients. Their customer success stories make up the substance of almost all our submissions. Here are a few fundamentals I’ve gleaned by crafting award entries for our B2B technology clients.

Anatomy of a successful B2B case study

Virtually every case study contains the same basic structure, and the order should be logical to guide the reader. As Digiday explains, “using our prompts to prove how X client was able to achieve Y through the use of your platform.” That sums it up nicely.

First, state the problem that the customer needed to solve with the use of your company’s technology. Second, outline the objective of the campaign. Next, detail the strategy used to achieve campaign goals, followed by a description of the actual execution of the campaign, which is where the tech solution gets the spotlight. Finally, summarize the success of the campaign in both qualitative and quantitative terms, citing as many success metrics as possible. Additionally, every great case study includes one or more testimonial quotes from the user.

Quantifiable success beats anecdotal info

The most important case study ingredient is its demonstrable success. Even the most well-written and compelling story won’t succeed if the results aren’t evident. The case must show the customer’s success in the language of hard metrics. Anecdotal descriptions along the lines of “campaign achieved a great increase in inbound leads and awareness” will not bring home the trophy. It’s not likely to attract the attention of reporters, either. For most major industry awards, the ‘tangible results’ portion represents 40% of the judges’ criteria. The KPIs can vary depending on the the technology spotlighted. In martech and ad tech, metrics such as CPM, impressions, CPA, lift, clicks, and cost-per-lead are common. While these are all excellent measures of a solution’s effectiveness, judges tend to value metrics like ROI and ROAS (return on ad spend) the most. While it can be challenging for solutions providers to get customers to agree to go public with ROI and revenue numbers, they should make every effort to capture such proof points.

Tell a compelling story for the win!

The above elements of a case study may appear coldly methodical, but they’re not the only key ingredient. To make the content live and breathe for journalists, prospects, and judges, package them in a story format with a beginning, middle, and end. Especially in the B2B tech world, where software and data solutions are festooned with esoteric, highly technical jargon, the PR writer must translate abstract concepts and algorithmic technology into easy-to-understand language. Even in high tech, a case study is simply people trying to solve a problem and finding a way to success against obstacles.  An award submission should be tough to write, so that it’s easy to read. Judges see hundreds of entries, so the narrative must keep them engaged. Poor storytelling will make an entry dead on arrival.

Get creative with solutions

Although 40% of award criteria are judged on the hard numbers, the other important factor to a winning case is the creativity of the campaign. Again, judges in major media and tech awards like The Drum and Digiday read lots of entries that may sound similar. If the approach was truly innovative, the case has a greater chance of making the shortlist. Case study writers should accentuate any creativity or innovation used to achieve the user’s goals. We can’t control the innovation quotient, but it should be a key factor when considering whether to submit for an award.

Big brands use cases are often winners

If a well-known brand has used your solution in an interesting way to meet business objectives, you should prioritize getting approvals on a public case study with them.

When it comes to both winning awards and generating media opportunities, the marquee brand names attract attention from media and awards judges. Asking for a customer’s permission to brag about their solution can be daunting for a B2B marketing or PR team. Yet awards can be an easier sell, since the brand will earn exposure if they win. So, customer success teams that are adept at gaining approvals for public case studies set their brands up for greater success in PR. Plus, awards wins and glowing mentions in the press can improve client relationships, so it’s worth the ask.

Robust public-facing case studies are critical to a B2B company’s success, especially in competitive sectors that feature a lengthy buyer’s journey. Case studies are absolutely compulsory when it comes to competing for tech industry product awards. While early-stage companies and startups may not have the customer track record to produce such success stories, they should be proactive in setting the stage to create them down the road, building client relationships that will make it natural to ask for approvals when the time comes.

You can check out some great customer success pages of our clients like Verizon Media and event success platform Bizzabo.

PR Tips for Planning a Virtual Panel

As most PR agencies know, a speakers program is an excellent tactic for building thought leadership and brand recognition in the B2B space. A well organized panel discussion around a key industry issue or trend lets a leadership team showcase expertise to clients, prospects and often trade journalists. By targeting prospects, it can also help fill the sales funnel.

However, putting together a panel can be complicated at a time when most of us are still staying put at home, juggling childcare, work, and life all at once. While many elements are the same, there are some key differences to consider when developing a panel that will be hosted online as opposed to in-person.

Here are some tips for PR professionals to plan and successfully execute a virtual panel for their executives.

Schedule it during the work day

In the old days before the pandemic, most people would attend industry panels after office hours in order to network. It was a fun way to catch up with colleagues and contacts, learn something new, and grab a drink to decompress after work. That is not the case today. People are tired of screens and want to sign off after work to be with their families or just relax (the Clubhouse trend aside). To accommodate zoom fatigue, virtual panels may attract more attendees when they’re scheduled in the afternoon.

Diversity is pivotal

This point isn’t limited to virtual panels, but the problem of all white male panels —sometimes known as “manels” — has come to a head during the pandemic. No one wants to be part of a discussion in front of a Zoom screen filled with people who look exactly the same. A lack of diversity will detract from the topic at hand and could even have a negative impact on the reputations of those involved. 

Diversity isn’t limited to race and gender either. You also want panelists of different business backgrounds who can offer a variety of viewpoints. In ad tech, for example, we (ideally) want to include the perspectives of analysts, agencies, vendors, publishers, and brands to get a full understanding of a topic.

Start promoting early

Your panel will be competing with other online events and work responsibilities. The best way to get ahead of that is to promote early and often so people remember to make the time to listen in. This means your companies’ social handles should promote it, all of the panelists’ social handles should promote it, and it should go out to your email distribution list at least two weeks before the event. An email reminder one or two days before is also recommended.

The power of the prep call

PR should set up a prep call for all panelists to make sure everyone is comfortable and has an idea of what the moderator will ask in front of the audience. It benefits the moderator as well, who is more likely to get an informed answer if panelists can prepare. Preparing also includes making sure everyone’s tech works. No one wants a Zoom audio issue! 

Plan for unforeseen circumstances

We’re in an unprecedented health emergency and things can come up, so it’s important to be prepared and flexible. Get the contact information for all panelists in case something arises at the last minute, whether an ill family member or a technical problem. This is also why it’s smart to secure four diverse panelists (in addition to your executive) in case one has to back out. That way you still have a robust panel. 

Interactivity is key

The potential for attendees to multitask in an online panel is much higher compared to an in-person event. The panel needs to be able to hold audience attention, which makes engagement key.  Consider the use of topical virtual polls to keep the audience focused throughout. In addition, encourage audience questions and have the panelists answer them.

To that end…

Ask panelists to keep answers brief

Attention spans are short so having panelists keep answers brief will ensure that the audience stays engaged. It will also ensure that the panelist’s messaging is heard, making the most of the panel opportunity for them as well. 

Record the conversation

Ensure that the panel is recorded so you can repurpose the content in several ways. You can send the recording to everyone who couldn’t make it, including reporters, who can hold onto it for future articles. PR and marketing can also use the insights discussed to develop other content such as pitches, bylines, blog posts, and more.

Think about providing extras

If you have a little extra budget, it’s a nice touch to send out a small gift card to the attendees. This shows them that you appreciate their taking time to engage and fosters a positive relationship. You could also have the panelists provide company swag to attendees who ask questions. There are different ways to be creative with this.

Vaccines are rolling out, but we aren’t yet at a point where we can return to in-person gatherings. If your execs are eager to speak to audiences, we highly recommend a virtual panel with a timely topic. Reach out if you’d like help putting the event together!

Crenshaw Nominated For 2021 SABRE Award

The Crenshaw  team is delighted to have received a nomination for the 2021 SABRE Awards North America. The  SABRE Awards recognize Superior Achievement in Branding Reputation and Engagement from among more than 2,000 entries. 

This year, we have been nominated in the Business-To-Business Marketing category for our work on behalf of the National Cybersecurity Alliance “#BeCyberSmart” campaign. The NCSA program highlights the importance of digital security hygiene with a month-long promotion in October. In 2020 Cybersecurity Awareness Month focused in part on the importance of securing connected devices used at home and at work, given the surge in work from home for many people. The campaign generated 55+ media placements with more than 400 million media impressions in CNBC, USA Today, Politico, Washington Post and Digital Trends.

SABRE winners will be announced May 11 during a virtual awards ceremony. Good luck to all who are nominated!    

Big Tech Has A PR Problem. Can It Close The Trust Gap?

A new survey of 31,000 people in 27 countries has documented what most of us in PR know – Big Tech has a reputation problem.

For years, the enormous role technology plays in our lives and our reverence for brands like Apple and Amazon shielded the sector from greater taxation and regulation. But things are changing, and shifting public opinion is one reason why. According to reports on the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, public trust in tech companies has “cratered.” The sector has dropped from being seen as our most trusted industry in 2020 to only the ninth most trusted business category in 2021.

As a sector, technology has lost its luster

Favorable views of tech companies on a worldwide basis fell six points, from 76 to 70, based on a scale of 0-100. It’s the lowest point for technology in the 11-year life of the survey in 17 of 27 countries, including the U.S. Worse, social media companies averaged a score of just 46, below all other business categories. At a time of huge partisan polarization, one thing that brings people together, it seems, is resentment of Big Tech, especially the Big Four —  Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon. Throw in Twitter for good measure.

The news isn’t all bad. So far, Wall Street isn’t too bothered by the reputation hits. And even in the Trust Barometer, businesses in the tech sector performed better than some other industries, including financial services and automotive. And the industry’s reputation problems in matters from data security to diversity are well known. When called out, CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg apologize and pledge to do better. Sometimes they do make positive changes, like Facebook’s plan to combat misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.  Yet it’s hard to escape the impression that the companies are led there kicking and screaming.

Can Better PR Solve Tech’s Reputation Problem?

Of course the PR folks at Edelman had some advice for the prominent tech companies whose reputations are now suffering. The firm advises them to “share prosperity” by offering new jobs and presumably skills training; to communicate more clearly about “fairness” and use “explainability”;  and to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. We’ve heard this before, of course.

But the trust dilemma, as in most cases, goes beyond what PR can fix. Big Tech’s problems are a reflection of its failure to grapple with problems and issues resulting from their power and influence. There’s more that technology companies can and should do.

Show transparency

One industry that’s a match for Big Tech may be the one that funds it — Big Advertising. P&G’s Marc Pritchard led the call for change, claiming deep-pocketed marketers are left in the dark on matters of data collection, privacy, and billing across the media supply chain. P&G spoke for Big Advertising when it called out “massive media waste, outright fraud and issues of brand safety,” among other things. Pritchard was targeting the ad tech ecosystem, not necessarily giants like Google and Amazon. Yet the big guys, too, are feeling the heat, and they’ve responded with greater transparency. That’s because big advertisers are taking control back, bringing in their own data scientists, and managing their own platforms. As Pritchard notes, “For too long, we’ve been wowed by shiny objects, overwhelmed by big data and intimidated by algorithms. We outsourced too much work, taking the head fake that media was so technical and advanced we couldn’t possibly handle it ourselves. No more.”

Take responsibility

There’s another kind of transparency that leaders of any tech company would do well to adopt – open and transparent communications. Anyone who watched a recent legislative session involving the heads of Facebook, Google, and Twitter knows that the goal is to obfuscate rather than inform. It doesn’t help that most of Congress is pretty clueless about the sector. But you don’t need to be a PR expert to spot the problem. It goes beyond PR to the core issue of accountability. The social platforms in particular are still trying to have their cake and eat it, too. They want the stickiness and clout of a top media company, yet with all the freedom of an “agnostic” platform. That implies no responsibility whatsoever for its content or the impact of that content, no matter how toxic. It doesn’t work that way.

Redefine data ownership and privacy

This is the issue that grabs the headlines. The sector’s reputation slide accelerated when Cambridge Analytica allowed the personal data of millions of Facebook users to be used for political advertising without their consent. Though the coverage at times exaggerated the depth of the scandal, it pointed to a very real problem. And things have changed since then. Google and other browser companies have pledged to stop supporting cookies, those pieces of data that websites store on your browser to track your activity. Yet what they haven’t fully reckoned with is the value of customer data and the customer’s right way to share it. Some experts believe that the large tech companies should simply share profits from monetized personal data with those who give them permission to use it. Those schemes don’t seem realistic (or very profitable for consumers). But the point is this: the companies who step up with reasonable positions on data ownership and regulation will win, even though critics will never be satisfied. It’s a question of good-faith action.

Crack down on misinformation

Misinformation is the pernicious problem in my book due to its toxic impact on our culture. It’s complex because even the definition of misinformation is divisive. Some conservatives accuse large social media platforms of de-emphasizing or shadow-banning their content. But lies are lies. There’s still such a thing as objective truth.  The bad-faith protests amount to “working the refs,” and it’s a tired tactic. As the Capitol attacks and the explosion of the QAnon following have shown, social media is like gasoline for lies and false propaganda. Social media has given birth to a monster, and everyone knows it. Balancing content moderation with censorship is a tough and complicated problem, but it’s well within these companies’ power to improve the situation. And it’s the biggest single thing they can do to restore Big Tech’s reputation.

Be a part of the solution

The large technology companies have, in fact, made progress in each of these areas. But there’s one commonality. Each step forward has come in response to the threat of real business consequences – more stringent regulation, or even a breakup of the giants. Nothing is proactive. Nothing seems done out of good faith.

When an industry is attacked, there’s a natural tendency to close ranks. Often critics don’t understand the ins and outs of the business nearly as well as insiders, and at times they’re flat-out wrong. I’ve seen it myself in occasional “exposés” of PR tactics that distort what we do. It’s easy to portray a nuanced situation with a big brush. So the defensive posture is understandable. But it’s the wrong attitude for an industry that’s being scrutinized from all sides.

Ex-Googler Jessica Powell said it well. “We discredit the outsiders rather than admit their overarching point is directionally accurate (even if their solution is silly—which, yes, almost all solutions involving only human moderation are.” She favors a cross-industry approach that has a precedent in collaborative efforts to tackle child sexual abuse content, for example.

I don’t have the answer, but this argument is the only realistic one. Some kind of regulation of Big Tech is inevitable, so it makes sense for the industry to come together, embrace it, and be part of the process. In good faith. It’s the only way out of the reputation hole. And it has the additional benefit of being the best and most feasible solution to the challenges that face all of us.

PR, Clubhouse, And The Coming Social Audio Wave

People in PR and media circles have been excited about Clubhouse for at least six months. That’s partly because it represents something new – an audio-only platform for real-time conversations within groups of up to 500 people. But the real appeal was Clubhouse’s exclusivity. As the name implies, it launched as an invite-only social media app and quickly became known as a hangout for venture capitalists, tech entrepreneurs and other Silicon Valley elite. The tech types were followed by artists and entertainers, including Drake, Tiffany Haddish, and Joe Budden. There was a healthy amount of  FOMO among influencers as well as marketing and PR folks. And the content is ephemeral; you have to listen in the moment, because the chat will not be repeated. Just like real life.

Clubhouse’s “drop-in” feel is also a big part of the allure; it lets you listen, participate, or just leave quietly if a particular conversation isn’t for you at a given moment. The real-time aspect offers an element of spontaneity over other audio platforms like podcasting. It’s a bit like a conference where you can choose to attend lectures from among multiple tracks, but the commitment threshold is very low.

Its pedigree, too, generated buzz. The series A funding was led by Andreessen Horowitz partner Andrew Chen, and in January Clubhouse closed a Series B round of $100 million for a valuation of $1 billion. Pretty impressive for an app that started only a year ago in March of 2020.

As Colleen O’Connor from our team puts it, “It seems like Clubhouse gained massive popularity just when everyone has major Zoom fatigue and the last thing they want to do is log onto another video meeting. But hitting ‘join conversation’ and listening while multitasking is more desirable for a busy person.” 

Clubhouse can drive PR thought leadership potential for PR

For PR agencies and their clients, Clubhouse is a new platform for promoting what we call thought leadership — a positioning as a source of leading-edge information and expertise. For B2B tech clients in particular, thought leadership drives the right kind of visibility and is a part of many successful PR campaigns.

We started watching Clubhouse late last year and studied it for a while, in listening mode, before involving clients. So far, it’s limited to opportunities for visibility that involve senior executives who have expertise to share – in the case of our clients, about securing funding, leadership, work culture, the future of workplace, and other relevant topics. The corporate presence is there, but through company executives and founders, not logos.

No metrics, no worries

As for metrics, there really aren’t any. It’s kind of like the out-of-town tryout before you get to Broadway; it’s okay if not too many are listening, since it’s still new and we need to work out the bugs. But we’re bullish on Clubhouse for clients who are subject-matter experts and therefore well suited to host rooms and later start their own clubs. Last week, a senior client executive moderated a Clubhouse discussion that exceeded all expectations. The topic was CTV, and the meeting was well attended, with 100+ listeners and even a few media dropping in. But the most important metric for us was how long the conversation ran. It started at 8:00 and went for two and a half hours, with quality discussion throughout.

Clubhouse growth spawns imitators

The Clubhouse hype has continued into the spring, but lately the buzz isn’t all positive. First, there was a natural backlash to its exclusive status and the celebrity buzz. Clubhouse has been compared unfavorably to Discord, the group-chat app originally built for gamers. Most concerning for Clubhouse, though, is that its growth has slowed. (It’s only available on iOS for now. Android is in the works, but it had better hurry.)

As investor Shaan Puri points out in a thoughtful Twitter thread, live content can be compelling, but only if it’s truly interesting. It has to capture those “magical moments” like Elon Musk interviewing the Robinhood guy. Yet it’s tough to find top-notch stuff right in the moment. There just isn’t that much of it. As Puri puts it, “multiplying ‘content is interesting’ and ‘content is live’ doesn’t just make the problem 2x makes it 200x harder.”

But maybe that’s not even Clubhouse’s biggest problem. There’s also the competition. New players are jumping into social audio, attracted by its success. Last week Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield made news by saying that Slack will be adding audio features to its business message app – and he announced it on in a Clubhouse room, naturally!

This week Spotify said it has acquired live sports audio app Locker Room. Not to be outdone, LinkedIn just confirmed it’s testing a “social audio experience” for its own app. And of course, Facebook is reportedly working on a Clubhouse killer of its own, which TechCrunch likens to “an extension of its Messenger Rooms” rather than a standalone app. It seems that rather than compete one-on-one, Facebook intends to integrate audio into many of its products. Social audio is officially the next big thing. Where that leaves Clubhouse is anyone’s guess.

I hope Clubhouse succeeds. It’s encouraging to see momentum for a new platform for PR teams to tell stories for organizations, even if – or especially if – it isn’t about brands. The Clubhouse experience plays naturally play to the strengths of business leaders and personalities who are talented speakers with a strong point of view about industry trends, but with an extra spark of spontaneity in the bargain. But the most important thing about Clubhouse is that it started something, and the social audio wave is only just beginning. It’s like podcasting and live conferences had a baby. For PR teams as well as business leaders and creators, that means an entire new social channel and lots of fresh opportunity.

Amazon’s New PR War Isn’t Working

Picking a public fight with powerful legislators isn’t a typical PR strategy for a giant corporation, but that’s Amazon’s latest move as a crucial union vote deadline arrives. Over the past few days, the retail giant has turned into a Twitter troll. Amazon has tweeted childish insults about Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who chairs two banking and finance subcommittees. The fallout has been ugly — and puzzling.

An emotional response to a business threat

Amazon-watchers are wondering exactly what it hopes to achieve with the Twitter war. It’s an emotional and undisciplined communications approach, to say the least. And as Kara Swisher opined, it’s pretty clear that founder Jeff Bezos is pulling the strings. (Swisher calls it “top-level chucklehead.”)

Amazon has always been sensitive about bad PR around its treatment of workers, of course. And the optics have not been good since it doubled down to meet record demand fueled by the COVID lockdown. Last March Amazon fired a New York warehouse worker who organized a walkout over safety issues and even leaked an internal email describing the employee as ”not smart or articulate.” It also terminated two Seattle workers who spoke publicly about warehouse conditions.

Alabama union vote triggers reactive PR response

Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama have been voting by mail for the past seven weeks on whether to organize. As the voting period ends, the company has ramped up public attacks on its critics. If the union prevails, that warehouse will be the first among Amazon’s US workforce to organize – but perhaps not the last. And that appears to be Bezos’s fear and the reason many speculate he urged his team to lash out on Twitter.

The Twitter war started last week when Amazon CEO Dave Clark zinged Senator Bernie Sanders just before Sanders’ trip to Alabama to meet with a group of pro-union workers.

United for Respect (@forrespect) | Twitter

Things escalated after Senator Warren accused Amazon of paying “close to nothing” in taxes. At that point @AmazonNews got into the act, firing back to defend its tax payment history claiming Warren was trying to “break up an American company so that they can’t criticize her anymore.”

Mean tweets undermine Amazon’s story

The trollish tweets undermine the messaging that Amazon spends millions in PR and lobbying to communicate. And it does have a case to make – a minimum $15 wage, worker benefits, hazard pay, millions spent on worker protections during the pandemic, and more. But the Twitter war has sparked a backlash, as well as nasty new stories about Amazon workers not being able to urinate while at work, and, well, worse. Are tweets about peeing in bottles better than the noise about a union at the Alabama warehouse? Yech.

Senator Elizabeth Warren Goes Over The Line; Threatens To Punish Amazon For 'Snotty Tweets' | Techdirt

Amazon clearly sees the Alabama vote as a make-or-break moment in its drive to quash union activity. The vote count starts tomorrow, and over the past month an array of celebrities have spoken out in favor of the union or visited the warehouse to show support. President Biden notably mentioned it in a video address on March 1. Given the timing, the nasty-tweet offensive makes the company seem almost panicky.

Amazon is the Goliath here

Attacking one’s critics can work when there’s a David v Goliath situation. But a company Amazon’s size just looks thin-skinned. It’s the second-largest private employer in the country, for heaven’s sake, and trolling legislators in public is just counterproductive. At a time when Big Tech is under real pressure, “snotty tweets” aren’t a viable PR strategy. They don’t set up the company for any future attempt by Congress to regulate or break it up. Besides being a bad look, its public posture also conveys fear, which isn’t good for future union negotiations. No matter how the Alabama vote turns out, the retail giant would do well to listen to its critics, get off Twitter, and focus on more proactive and productive ways to tell its story – both privately and through strategic PR.

Three Ways To Change Up Your Social Media Strategy

Every PR team knows that social media is more than simply a nice thing for companies to have; it’s an imperative. Fifty-three percent of customers who follow a business are likely to be loyal to that business, and 63% of consumers who search for goods and services online are more receptive to those with an engaging social media presence. 

While it’s important to identify and stick with a consistent brand personality for social content, there are times when social content becomes stale. Or, the social content strategy may lag behind trends. In addition to general social media tips such as posting at certain times for maximum views (we like 11:00 AM or between 1:00 and 2:00 PM), PR and social media pros are regularly challenged to tweak social media strategy to increase engagement and attract followers. Here are some ways to do exactly that. 

Mix up your posts

Part of any successful social media strategy includes drawing your audience in through a visually appealing, constantly changing page. If your posts are starting to sound a little repetitive, mix things up. Although voice and messaging may be a constant, one way to keep content fresh is by varying the type of media posted. Alternate between accompanying your post with images, gifs and videos. Definitely change up the images you’re posting on Instagram since it’s such a visual platform. Consider alternation coloration or tone – go black and white, or minimalist or psychedelic. 

Also keep in mind that short videos can be highly effective in engaging viewers. For example, LinkedIn launched LinkedIn native video in 2017, in an effort to expand from being just a long-form content site. With native video, you can record on your phone or computer and then upload recordings to the site. As LinkedIn video continues to grow in popularity, 87% of LinkedIn video marketers say it’s been an effective channel for them. In PR, we make sure to post earned media stories to amplify their reach and to keep our posts interesting – which is effective since LinkedIn posts with images, videos or links get 39% more engagement than text-only posts on LinkedIn. Since 57% of all engagement on LinkedIn is via mobile, the content has to be mobile-friendly – i.e., short and sweet.

Another idea is a social media takeover. If it fits with the tone of your page, have an employee run the social page for a day. Or, consider jumping on the ephemeral content trend, and create content that is scheduled to disappear after a certain amount of time. Ephemeral options are widely available on platforms including Instagram, WhatsApp, TikTok, and Facebook. In 2019, TechCrunch reported that there were 500 million daily active users of Instagram’s Stories features. By simply changing up your posts, you will notice an increase in engagement and followers. 

Give a go at interactive posts

As we saw in several Super Bowl ads this year such as Mountain Dew’s “Major Melon” ad offering $1 million to the first viewer to tweet the exact number of bottles in the ad, people like free stuff and competitions — and brands should deliver. An interesting way to maximize engagement is to run a contest or giveaway on your page. According to data from social media scheduling tool Tailwind, 91% of Instagram posts with more than 1,000 likes or comments are related to a contest, and accounts that run contests on a regular basis grow 70% faster than those that don’t. Or, consider creating a survey on your company’s Instagram page’s story, and keeping followers posted on results. Of course, having interactive posts also includes maintaining your company’s page by regularly responding to DMs and comments. 

Another great way to be interactive is with livestreams or Q&As, whether on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. Livestreams, or online streaming media simultaneously recorded and broadcast in real time, are a great way to highlight news for short, high-profile announcements or milestones. They work particularly well if a brand has an influencer or celebrity-driven initiative. Consider a Facebook Q&A, or going live on Instagram. Showing a face can make the brand come across as more authentic, and it will amplify your story. Remember to promote who is going to livestream and when, through banners on social media, email invites or paid ads on LinkedIn or Facebook. Since you have less control over livestreams than on other forms of social media, you will want to prepare for possible questions ahead of time. You can even ask viewers to send in questions beforehand. In 2018, HBO announced the air date of Game of Thrones season seven via Facebook Live – and attracted around 3.5 million viewers.

Be timely

Although a social media strategy requires advance planning, some of the best engagement may result from day-of content that reacts to real-time news events. Try ranking scheduled posts on a scale of importance from one to three, and then overriding some of the threes with more relevant content from that month, like responses to news stories, reposts, or other timely content. Remember, not all of the content on your page has to be generated by you! Peppering in timely retweets or partners’ relevant announcements will not only prove timely, but also help mix up your page’s content. It may be worth delaying that evergreen photo in favor of more pressing news, whether in the news cycle or from within the company. The goal is to maximize engagement and earn new follows. Jumping on relevant news is a great way of doing that, even if it means pushing off posting some of your planned content.

When social media users choose to follow your account, or when existing followers read and engage with your posts, they are giving you their time, even if it’s only a few seconds. Therefore, if you’re managing a social media page, it’s on you to make the content worth their time. When it comes to social media, the secret sauce is having both quantity and quality for the highest engagement. Meaning, post frequently but make sure frequent posting doesn’t come at the expense of quality content. By incorporating these tips into your next social media strategy, you can create a high-quality social media page that really stands out. And don’t forget to track social media engagement stats so you can figure out what works, and where you can improve next time.