Crenshaw Communications Joins Digital Marketing Agency Mod Op

“What’s a Mod Op?”

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

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

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

An instant expansion of services

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

A greater depth of talent

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

An entrepreneurial culture

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

An eye on the future

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

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

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

7 Occasions When PR And Marketing Must Work Together

Between the PR and marketing functions of any organization there can be creative tension or even competition. Sometimes that’s because each team struggles for their rightful piece of the same budget pie, especially during lean times. But the conflict typically runs deeper. PR and marketing are perceived very differently, especially in a corporate environment. Marketing is a line function responsible for generating sales, business growth and profits. PR, on the other hand, with its ties to reputation and crisis management, is thought to play a more defensive role, designed to protect the corporate brand.

This isn’t really the case, of course, or at least it’s not that simple. A strategic PR campaign can build real corporate and product brand value, especially over time. A great brand marketing PR campaign can even drive leads and sales. But it’s not a contest. The smartest organizations know that both marketing and PR are essential and that the two should work in concert. And there are specific situations when it’s particularly important for PR and marketing functions to team up.

A new product launch

A solid marketing strategy can drive quick awareness for a new product or service. That’s because paid advertising generates reach and frequency of message to inform specific audiences. As a complement, a strategic PR campaign is also valuable, especially for a complicated or high-end product launch. PR-generated content offers a depth that helps educate customers about a complex product or a new category. Earned media stories and interviews bring credibility to the more commercial ad and marketing messages. This is particularly true for B2B categories where products or services need explanation and customers face a learning curve. It’s also the case with tech products that must continually improve and innovate to meet customer needs and take advantage of emerging technology. You basically can’t have one without the other.

A sudden market shift or crisis

Perception can lag reality, and no brand wants to be left behind when things turn. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, big brands instantly adjusted advertising to suit a more sober public mood and show empathy for customers. At the same time, they needed to make sure that their customers, employees, and communities heard from the companies behind the brands. Corporations raced to tell their publics what they were prepared to do to support them. Any crisis situation, loosely defined as a circumstance likely to negatively impact reputation, calls for an all-hands-on-deck response that integrates paid, owned and earned media to meet the moment. Even common market shifts, as when a nimble new competitor steals thunder from established players, call for a cooperative effort to communicate that a brand or a business has adapted to market changes.

A milestone event

A corporate celebration or brand anniversary is a time-honored example of the power of PR and marketing working in concert to tell the same story. Most such occasions are foreseeable, so there’s usually ample lead time to align the various corporate functions, from HR to PR and beyond. In reality, most corporate anniversaries don’t have deep inherent news value. Yet they can offer a great excuse to launch a celebration or frame a new positioning. Savvy marketing and PR teams will dream up tactics that take advantage of the anniversary hook to tell a story about the organization’s history and values. Or they may tie it to new announcements, success metrics, a timely rebranding, or exciting future plans. It calls for a multi-layered campaign supported not only by traditional and digital PR tactics, but with special events for employees and stakeholders, paid and earned social media campaigns, executive visibility, and new creative concepts designed to move the brand forward. The options are endless, and it’s a time to think big, which means involving the best brains.

A major market research initiative

Lots of people think market research is just for marketing, naturally. But it can be advantageous to loop in the PR team before data parameters and goals are set. For one thing, good PR campaigns are increasingly informed by data. Research into audiences and issues that impact a brand category can help us understand our publics and keep things on track. But it’s also likely that with a few tweaks, the PR group can add elements that can turn an inside-baseball component into a mediaworthy story or a way to frame a campaign. This usually involves minimal added cost. For example, a pharma brand may mount quantitative research around an emerging health condition to assess attitudes around key symptoms. With the addition of a few closed-ended questions that invite respondents to make analogies for their illness or rate their emotions around flareups, a fresh storyline around the condition may emerge based on the data.

An influencer marketing campaign

According to a new report from marketing consultancy Ebiquity, influencer marketing often starts with the PR department, particularly when budgets are constrained. But as it matures and budgets grow, the branding team often takes over. “The longer brands work with influencers, the more confident and competent they become in running those relationships themselves, and the more comfortable they are navigating a key part of the influencer marketing challenge, managing the content and creative output.” Influencer marketing may belong in the brand group of many organizations, yet it’s most effective when it’s credible and authentic. A PR sensibility can help ensure both. From the personalities or experts involved to the content and media contact that is orchestrated, the two can and should work together on the overall plan, no matter who’s in charge of the care and feeding of influencers.

Message planning

There’s nothing worse than when one corporate function’s messaging dilutes or conflicts with that of another. The PR outreach may emphasize product exclusivity and premium quality, while advertising and promotion are running a monthly discount to boost sales. Not exactly contradictory, but not the best timing. We all know we should integrate planning and ensure alignment. Yet the best intentions to map PR to a marketing calendar can be sidetracked when things are siloed and everyone is rushing to hit metrics and meet deadlines. But at least one joint planning meeting per quarter can pay off for most brands, and information-sharing should be the norm. Marketing teams have regular access to information like analytics, leads, conversions, and sales trends. PR and social media staff, for their part, are the first responders for brand reputation changes, customer complaints, or opportunities for (positive and negative) social virality. In an era where information and opinion are often intermingled, PR and marketing should share data and coordinate on a regular basis. Otherwise they are throwing away opportunities.

A brand relaunch or comeback

When Patrick Doyle took the helm at Domino’s Pizza, the brand was struggling with poor reviews of its mediocre pizza. To make things worse, a couple of rogue Domino’s employees had posted a video where they put nasty things on the pizzas before baking them, and the prank went viral. Yuck. Doyle mustered the troops and made plans for a brand transformation that turned out to be historic. It led with an unprecedented ad campaign in which Domino’s admitted its pizza simply wasn’t very good and pledged to reformulate its recipe. It changed not only the product but its website, pizza boxes, and brand. To top it off, Doyle himself became the ambassador for the new and improved Domino’s through a kind of PR apology tour of one-on-one media interviews and high-level speaking opportunities. It combined all the ingredients for a successful brand recovery.

Top Ad And Marketing Podcasts For PR Pros

The golden rule of public relations is to stay current and relevant. For PR pros, it’s not only expected, but part of our job to stay up-to-date on all industry trends and current affairs in the U.S. and beyond. While we have access to a wide breadth of digital platforms to consume our daily dose of news and information, let’s not ignore an essential medium for staying smart – podcasts.

Podcasts are mainstream

62 million Americans listen to podcasts each week, and the first ten months of 2019 saw a record 192,000 new podcasts launched. Because they’re easy to consume and offer a certain intimacy, brands are using podcasts to inform, entertain, and be visible. With WFH a new normal in the COVID era, listeners are consuming a vast array of podcasts across business, finance, education, entertainment, and more, and at different times of the day.

Here’s a roundup of some top advertising and marketing podcasts. It’s by no means is a complete list, but a good starting point if you’re looking to raise your podcast game.

AdExchanger Social Distancing With Friends

As most people stay home and practice social distancing, AdExchanger (the leading voice in ad tech) was quick to adapt and start a new podcast series titled, “Social Distancing With Friends.” In this new series, AdExchanger editors invite top industry newsmakers and practitioners in digital and data-driven advertising – all while under social isolation. They’ve featured a stellar lineup of industry experts including Innovid Founder Tal Chalozin, advertising legend Martin Sorrell, marketing veteran and DoubleVerify interim CEO Laura Desmond and many more. Each episode reflects on the company’s business, opportunities, and challenges as well as how they’re navigating these unusual times.

AdExchanger The Big Story

Yet another AdExchanger weekly series, hosted by the seasoned editorial team and featuring discussions and compelling conversations on the week’s top news stories affecting the industry.

AdAge Marketer’s Brief

Hosted by industry veteran and AdAge Assistant Managing Editor E.J. Scultz, this weekly podcast offers insights from industry leaders and looks at stories making waves across the marketing sector. It features brand marketers and CEOs in travel, retail, FMCG, health and wellness, among other high-growth and heavily COVID-affected industries.

Adweek Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad

Launched in 2016, Adweek Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad features co-hosts David Griner and Ko Im debating the highs and lows of creativity, advertising, marketing, media and technology. David and Ko are joined by Adweek’s news team every week in deep dives into a wide range of topics, including diversity and inclusion, social media influence, streaming media, women empowerment, etc.

The Mumbrellacast

Moving beyond the US, The Mumbrellacast from Mumbrella – Australia’s key ad trade media, this podcast throws light on the latest news in the Australian media, marketing and advertising industries. Every week features a rotating panel of hosts including Mumbrella’s news team, and they invite the adland’s key newsmakers to share their take on news and trends dominating the region.

AW 360 Great Minds

This is a fairly new podcast, but it looks promising! Matt Scheckner, widely recognized as the producer of Advertising Week (the world’s largest and premium advertising, marketing, media industry summit) sits down with great minds from all walks of life for thought-provoking conversations. The list of remarkable featured guests includes Martin Sorrell, Ndaba Mandela (Nelson Mandela’s Grandson) and Lisa Gilbert, CMO at IBM Japan, among other industry leaders.

The CMO Podcast with Jim Stengel

Hosted by industry trailblazer Jim Stengel (former CMO of the largest marketer in the world Procter & Gamble), the CMO podcast holds intimate style conversations with the industry’s most dynamic leaders. Highly rated and inspirational, every episode is packed with real-life experiences of business and success, sharp insights and storytelling. Jim goes deep into the thought process and motivation of the CMO and offers a unique perspective on their pivotal role that touches every facet of customer experience. His list of inspirational guests includes CMOs of Uber, Roku, KFC, Lowe’s and the list goes on.

Renegade Thinkers Unite

Renegade Thinkers Unite focuses on marketing innovators, uncovering the how, what and why behind their ongoing success. Hosted by award-winning marketer, author and entrepreneur Drew Neisser, this podcast is considered consistently refreshing and is packed full of marketing lessons that you can use in your day-to-day work.

AList Daily’s Marketing Today With Alan Hart

Alan Hart, host of Marketing Today, goes behind the scenes with the world’s best CMOs and business leaders. Alan does an excellent job bringing strategies, tips and advice from the marketing stalwarts. Each episode takes a deep dive into what makes a great brand, marketing campaign, or turnaround. His recent guests include Petco CMO, Head of Brand Marketing at Oreo and CMO Planet Fitness, to name a few. Alan keeps his conversation style quite casual and offers great takeaways on how to build a successful business.

Marketing Over Coffee

Weekly podcast Marketing Over Coffee covers both new and old marketing. Hosted by John Wall and Christopher Penn, each episode covers all aspects of marketing and business, SEO, analytics, email marketing and more. Regarded as the go-to-destination for people with no marketing background, this podcast offers guidance on how to build and market your brand. For someone with a small business, it’s a definite asset for learning marketing fundamentals and shaping a successful strategy.

Sure, I’m missing many other influential podcasts. While we all can only hope to go back to our normal lives soon and tune in to our favorites while commuting or running errands, for now, we can tune in from home and plan for the future. Happy listening!

5 Ways To Nail Your Brand Story

Business storytelling has become a buzzword in PR and marketing, because, when done well, it works. But what some communicators don’t realize is that a storytelling approach can work throughout the marketing journey, from prospecting for customers to closing the deal. I recently refreshed my skills and point of view at a workshop sponsored by Engage, and the session offered food for thought. Here are some quick takeaways and observations based on experience with storytelling for B2B brands.

It’s not about you

This runs counter to the typical PR approach used widely by tech startups and entrepreneurial companies. New companies naturally want to make the brand story all about them, and a colorful narrative about a bootstrapped business can be a powerful media pitch in a PR campaign. But the overarching brand story shouldn’t be about the company. If we consider the most powerful archetype to be Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey,” that hero is invariably the customer. Remember, the customer doesn’t know what you do and probably doesn’t care. The goal of the brand story is to reach and engage her where she lives and works.

Tell, don’t sell

PR professionals know this intuitively. Most of us have been trained to engage journalists with the lure of a good story, not a commercial message. But when we take the story directly to customers and prospects in the form of email or content marketing, it often loses that nuance. Marketers want to make sure they take advantage of the time and budget invested in tactics like newsletters, collateral, and paid content, so marketing becomes selling. But that approach will shut down communications. Jeff Loehr of Engage likens the hard-sell storytelling approach to a marriage proposal at a first meeting. It’s bound to be a turnoff. The goal instead is to strike up a conversation that might develop into something deeper and better.

What’s at stake?

If the hero-customer’s most compelling dilemma is pedestrian, it won’t be powerful. Maybe your prospect is a small business owner who is unhappy with her IT services — a common problem, but one that’s not very interesting. On the other hand, if she runs a wealth management business with access to confidential client information, but her creaky IT infrastructure leaves her business at risk, that’s a more potent story. The point is not to use fear-mongering in storytelling, but to create a credible narrative where the stakes are reasonably high.

Appeal to emotions, not just intellect

To go back to the hero myth, he/she is called on a journey of adventure, undergoes trials, and is transformed in the process. To be compelling, the stakes must be high and the journey must be fraught with real risk or conflict. Take my favorite political ad, MJ Hegar’s Doors. Hegar is an Air Force veteran who’s running a longshot campaign to win a House seat in Texas, and whose video story went viral earlier this year. What’s compelling about the video is that she’s not running on the issues; rather, she’s running on her story. Hegar weaves an irresistible tale about achievement, rejection, and resilience. And, yes, this one’s about her own personal narrative, because her “product offering” is herself, but as a constituent of the incumbent. And I guarantee you that the “door” that slams in her face because of her gender is something that every woman understands.

Make them see it

People don’t read much anymore. So, most marketers are looking for striking images, video, and illustration to hold the viewer’s attention and add impact to the message. We must go beyond the talking head video to feature a customer discussing their pain points or sharing an experience about a business pivot.

Yet visuals don’t always have to be super-slick to be memorable. I recently heard best-selling novelist Judy Blundell speak at a gathering of fans. Her new book is set on the North Fork of Long Island, a narrow strip of beachfront whose location and relationship to the more glamorous fork to its south is key to the novel’s plot. If you want to learn about storytelling, talk to a novelist. Judy explained that she’d been traveling on her book tour. To help non-New Yorkers understand the geography in the novel she used — wait for it — “a sophisticated visual aid,” her two fingers, separated to represent each skinny slice of Long Island’s East End. It’s what I remember about her talk, and it still makes me smile.

6 Ways PR Builds Brand Marketing

Some say the goal of a great public relations program should be to build brand reputation, while sales and marketing actually drive sales. The reality is that the lines between PR and marketing are getting blurrier all the time. The two can and should work together –  much like brick and mortar.

A strong public relations program lays the groundwork for the marketing that comes later, conditioning prospective buyers for sales messages conveyed through paid media, email marketing, or price promotions. In turn, paid media can amplify the implied third-party endorsement that PR achieves in the form of content like product reviews, influencer posts, and feature articles.

There are many ways to use PR initiatives to add depth, color, and cohesion to the building blocks of brand identity. Here are some of the most powerful.

Generating credibility for the brand message

This is why earned media – the stories and interviews produced by PR – will always be relevant. Earned coverage offers the kind of credibility that can’t be matched by paid media like ads or “owned” content like company blog posts or creative social videos. PR and marketing will continue to overlap as marketers allot a greater share of the budget to their own branded content, but the third-party endorsement – either implied or explicit – of earned coverage is very effective. It’s even more powerful when generated coverage includes specific details or proof points that reinforce a brand proposition or identity, like a user testimonial or a behind-the-scenes feature on product development.

Creating depth of message

Some products are complicated. Looking to buy enterprise software? How about a new car? Today’s  buyers are more educated than ever, with vast informational resources at their fingertips. Look no further than a smartphone to access expert opinion, analyst reports, reviews, or social media discussions about specific brands or products. Likewise, there are companies with multilayered stories that are best told through long-form content, or explained in a narrative form typical of a business or consumer magazine feature. This is where PR excels.

Showing a brand’s humanity

A mega-brand like Amazon has many facets, from Jeff Bezos, whose long-term vision and relentless determination helped build it, to the warehouse workers whose stories offer a different side of Amazon’s growth. A successful narrative doesn’t have to be about a Bezos or a Branson, but it does usually need to involve people – customer testimonials, community impact, employee motivation. That is another benefit that PR delivers very well. In fact, employees can be both a rich source of stories and a powerful channel through which to tell them. One of our clients is a company that has landed on a few “Best Places To Work” lists, but it wanted more visibility for a key R&D unit that has been important to product development and innovation. When we were able to place a trade piece about that division (which struggled through disruption due to conflict in another country), it added color and credibility to the client’s reputation as an employer and an innovator.

Boosting message resonance

Advertising offers the benefit of repetition – we hear a tagline or brand promise often enough, and we start to believe it – or at least, remember it. “A diamond is forever” evokes the long-running DeBeers product campaign, while “Fly the Friendly Skies” is linked to United Airlines, though today it sounds ironic.
But in the digital age, such resonance is hard to achieve, given our fragmented media environment and the battle for customer attention. Most shopping trips today start with Google. So, when Google changed its algorithm to reward mentions in high-authority domains several years ago, it vaulted earned media stories to a higher level, thereby rewarding quality PR outcomes. Digital “resonance” means a brand that will move to the top of the search queue by virtue of its inclusion in content from trusted sources (like top media domains) as well as shareable content on popular social networks.

Educating prospective customers

Some of the most successful PR campaigns look to change behavior to promote the public interest, like   the wireless industry’s #itcanwait campaign against texting and driving. We represented a credit union through a strong campaign around financial wellness. It sponsors a series of Financial Learning Seminars, underwrites research about the cost of financial stress in the workplace, and raises funds for financial wellness causes. Of course the campaign promotes the brand, but it offers plenty of educational content that conditions the market for the CU’s products and services while actually helping the community in the process.

Promoting leadership

Staking out a position on a topical or important issue and offering insights or ideas can yield far-reaching brand benefits. Today, given our politicized culture, where it seems everyone is taking sides on hot-button issues, a failure to communicate values can actually harm a brand. When Starbucks’ Howard Schultz weighs in on marriage equality, or Sheryl Sandberg urges us to “lean in,” it’s more powerful than a corporate reputation campaign. It’s an example of thought leadership around a key issue relevant to many customers that has nothing to do with coffee or social networking. Yet, I’d argue that it has a strong impact on the brands attached.

The Five "Rs" of PR: How PR Can Boost Brand Marketing

Although they’re sometimes confused, marketing and public relations are very distinct. Marketing builds brands by communicating directly to the customer, while PR drives reputation through third-party endorsement, among other techniques. But in the ideal world, the two work together and reinforce one another to reach business goals.

The visibility generated from a smart PR program can enable a B2C brand to move into the consideration set in a shopper’s mind, or help fill the funnel for a B2B company offering products or business services. The results of earned media coverage in top-tier media may lack the scale or reach of paid advertising, but they’re like fuel for the marketing engine. Here are my “five R’s of PR” – a few reasons why PR and marketing can and should work together.

Reputation. Paid media and direct marketing are powerful ways of communicating brand benefits. But the third-party endorsement that comes from earned media creates a type of credibility that marketing typically can’t generate. A reputation – driven by credible customer reviews, industry awards, and media features about an organization or its product – can be harnessed for marketing campaigns where PR and marketing truly work in concert. Again, it’s fuel for direct marketing and paid media efforts.

Recognition. Positive brand visibility helps build familiarity and trust, and it can be accomplished in many ways. In its early days, Starbucks actually based its marketing on its own storefronts rather than paid advertising. “Our stores are our billboards,” said CEO Howard Schultz, and he was right. Other brands create exposure with subversive ad messages or clever promotional offers. But the buzz that comes from word-of-mouth (or its digital equivalent) by influential people, favorable mentions in the press, or positive social media posts is often the outcome of pure PR.

Resonance. The practice of public relations got a big boost several years ago when Google changed its algorithm to reward mentions in high-authority domains. It meant that earned media stories and relevant branded content are likely to place higher on internet searches. So by “resonance” I’m referring to a brand that will move to the top of the search queue by virtue of its inclusion in content from trusted sources (like well-known media brands) as well as shareable content on popular social networks.

Reach. In my experience, the earned media results of a media relations campaign will fall short of paid media or direct-marketing when it comes to reach. We offer quality over quantity. Yet, when earned media is amplified through paid efforts – content syndication, or social media advertising, for example – it’s a powerful boost for both. Even a modest budget can extend the reach of earned media or guest posts with impressive results through simple tactics like sponsored posts or syndication.

Return-on-Investment. The ROI of public relations has historically been difficult to define, particularly when it’s used – as it should be – with other marketing and promotional techniques. This is why the PR industry introduced revised principles for evaluating PR outcomes. Our point of view is summarized in a recent post about the latest industry thinking, combined with practical ways to set KPI’s for what PR does best. In short, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, but with pre-PR benchmarking, and a modest budget allocated for analytics and message analysis, public relations and marketing can work together in ways that neither is likely to do alone.

What PR Can Do – And What It Can’t

Brand marketers often look to public relations to accomplish a great deal of “heavy lifting” in terms of creating awareness. When done well, a strategic PR program is good at achieving certain objectives while other disciplines fit different needs.
PR is most effective at:

Packaging a company’s story to resonate with reporters

The seasoned PR team knows how to reach media with a pitch that lets them know this subject matter will interest their audience, without reading like an ad.

Augmenting a sales and marketing effort

A good PR campaign is informed by and reflects messaging from marketing efforts but should never supplant those efforts. Look at the campaigns as complementary. For more on that subject, revisit this post from our Impressions blog.

Helping shape an image for a key executive

An exec I worked with once told me he didn’t exist until he saw his name in print. Good public relations takes an exec’s POV and character traits and introduces them to the world through a combination of personality profiles, owned content, a social media presence and speaking gigs.

Making news during “quiet periods”

Every company has downtime between new product and other  announcements. It is PR’s job to fill the space with “constant content” such as byline articles, lifestyle surveys, white papers and blog posts.

What PR does not do well

Substituting for advertising

When a company wants to control the content of the message, the amount of space or airtime and the frequency of the message, they choose advertising. When they want to achieve third-party, unbiased editorial coverage, (that can’t be bought) they seek PR.

Overcoming a bad product or faulty design

All the excellent PR strategy and close personal media contacts can’t solve the problem of a product or design that just doesn’t cut it.

Operating in a vacuum

PR output is as good as the input. We need to have ongoing conversations ideally up and down the organization about everything going on in a company’s business to be able to develop timely and creative story angles and effective bylines.

Guaranteeing outcomes

The final outcomes of any media relations effort are never 100% predictable. What the best PR pros can guarantee is 100+% effort to generate positive coverage, along with reasonable expectations based on a number of factors. And setting reasonable expectations is something the best PR teams always do.

7 Things Marketers Should Know About Public Relations

As a discipline, public relations is enjoying unprecedented attention. Depending on where you sit, PR agencies and their corporate counterparts have hastened the demise of traditional advertising, lured away all the good journalists, and flooded the market with branded content.

Some of these are exaggerated, but it’s a terrific time to be working in PR. The disruptive changes in both journalism and traditional advertising have opened doors and helped drive growth for our business. Now is the time for PR agencies and internal communications departments to reach for those fat brand marketing budgets.

But it’s not always that simple. Even savvy marketing professionals tend to oversimplify PR or reduce it to stereotypes. Sometimes we’re given too much credit, in other cases, PR is a “below the line” afterthought. Besides common myths and misperceptions (no, PR isn’t just about smiling and dialing for media hits) that have been well covered, here’s my list of what marketers should know about public relations as it relates to their role.

PR doesn’t replace sales.  Startup businesses sometimes see a PR campaign as a substitute for a robust sales and marketing commitment, but it’s unlikely to do the job. It can help build a reputation, influence stakeholders (like funders and business partners), and even differentiate a business or brand versus competitors. But it doesn’t usually close the deal.

Or drive demand during slow periods.  It’s been known to happen, but when it comes to demand generation, earned media is an unreliable tool. If you’re using PR to drive product sales or conversions online, for example, that’s a tall order and it’s unlikely to do the job without paid media or direct marketing tactics. It’s at the top of the funnel where the content resulting from a strategic PR program is likely to have an impact.

PR can and should be measured, but not as advertising. Most PR people will tell you that the “ad equivalent” metric that equates earned media outcomes to ad value is a flawed comparison. If they’re honest they’ll admit it gives an earned media placement too much credit while failing to capture what PR does well.

It’s nearly impossible to PR a sales promotion. It’s far better to bring in the PR team in advance of a special offer or product promotion than to expect them to generate media coverage or social word-of-mouth about a commercial offer. That’s where paid media can do the job better and more credibly.

PR needs good direction. It shouldn’t be relegated to stepchild status; in fact, your PR team, whether internal or on the agency side, can benefit from the same type of creative brief and data-driven audience analysis as any other part of marketing.

PR can’t fix every reputation issue. When a company or brand’s image suffers due to nonexistent customer service or shoddy product quality, no amount of spin will change the situation. Often what we call a “PR crisis” is really a business problem that must be attended to before any effective fire-fighting can be done. A strategic PR campaign works best to promote (legitimate) product attributes or to help restore a reputation after measures have been taken to fix a problem.

Social media isn’t really ownable. At least, not by a given department. Social media can and should support customer service, HR, ad/marketing, and PR functions. I personally think a PR-savvy individual or team should be in charge of social media coordination within the organization. But the broader point is that like any other type of media, social media is a versatile and dynamic tool that touches all stakeholders and customers and should be treated as such.

7 Ways To Power Up Your Digital Brand Presentation

Is your brand presentation dull or fragmented? Are all cylinders firing? Here are some things to consider if you want to add power to the way your brand is presented online.

Do less. It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes it pays to do fewer things very, very well. Start with end goals. Then do a deep dive into the needs of target customers. What are they looking for? What is the primal desire, burning need, or insomnia-producing problem that must be solved? Very few brands can focus on more than one or two implicit promises to customers.

If it’s not broken... Some feel the need to constantly update a website – changing the design or functionality based on “site envy” or simple boredom. Others dread the process and put it off to avoid looking at the larger issues of audience and relevance.  But ask yourself about the overall impact of piecemeal changes or upgrades. Will they attract more serious traffic? Better quality prospects? A more searchable brand image?

Tie changes to business goals. Having an awesome website and a great PR campaign, though highly desirable, do not make a strategy. Similarly, if a month goes by and time is spent updating small features instead of moving forward on larger goals, such as a refreshed positioning, or announcement of a new service, then a reset is in order. Changes in the brand presentation should support end goals.

Be consistent. It’s tempting to run a sale or discount a product or service when you’re in need of a quick revenue hit, but it’s equally easy to go down the wrong brand path in doing so. Determine who you are: a premium brand that never discounts, a discount brand that always discounts, or somewhere in between.

Put PR in the mix.  Well, we may be biased here. But earned media coverage can add credibility as well as visibility when it comes to a new product or service or simply a fresh point of view about an industry topic or issue. Third-party coverage can be more influential than paid advertising, or at the very least, a necessary complement.

Connect the dots. Email marketing, digital advertising, content marketing, and PR should ideally work in concert. Every customer touchpoint should reinforce your brand promise and move a prospect further down the funnel to conversion.

Don’t be a slave to analytics. It can be addictive to check your analytics dashboard every week or even daily, and to be thrown by  small ups and downs of traffic patterns. For an ecommerce company, of course, traffic is the business lifeblood, but for other types of businesses,a longer time period is needed to truly assess change.

PR Pros: 5 Ways To Jettison The Jargon

Every industry has its jargon. B2B tech folks like their models to be “scalable” and e-marketers want promotions that focus at the “bottom of the funnel.” At its best jargon provides shorthand to let insiders communicate with ease. At its worst, some phrases bastardize the meaning of words and confer an air of truly unwarranted self-importance.  When deciding which words to use in business, we ask you to consider this line from the 80s classic “One Thing Leads to Another,” which asks, “Why don’t they do what they say, say what they mean?”

Adopt only those terms for which there are no substitutions. Obviously in a medical or technical field, specific terms are necessary to communicate properly. Be smart about learning and using those words correctly.

Less is more. True in so many business circumstances, but particularly when crafting a written or verbal recommendation. Make sure you are explaining what is recommended as economically and clearly as possible. Always edit written and oral presentations for brevity.

Persuade rather than impress. As you are writing, read your content aloud. See if you are trying too hard to impress with industry buzzwords and “marketing-ese” rather than creating sound arguments and rationales designed to result in a particular strategic outcome.

Say what you really mean. This can be hard given that some words in common usage are misleading. For example, a media “exclusive” actually means “first crack” and may confuse a client or prospect who interprets it literally. And I’ve always been bothered by “out-of-pocket” meant as “unavailable.” (To me, it will always describe reimbursable expenses paid by an agency and billed to the client.)

Communicate with empathy. Put yourself in your reader’s or listener’s shoes. Do you really want to come off as a showy know-it-all, forcing your audience to scramble to Google what you just said? Or do you want them to feel that you’re providing a very clear, easy-to-grasp message that puts you all on “the same page?” Oops, jargon alert!