As we adjust to the immediate impacts of COVID-19, it is not business as usual. Marketing and PR pros are tasked with communicating up-to-the-minute plans and precautions. We are navigating an unprecedented time, requiring measured and informed communications. With this in mind, we’ve prepared a special issue of The Spark to serve as a communications resource. Wishing you all good health in the days and weeks ahead.
Editorial calendars help lay out a given publication’s planned editorial topics and are a great opportunity to sync up with editors and reporters on aligned topics that our clients can address with news, trends and other points of view. Some publications follow their editorial calendars to a tee while others use them more loosely. Regardless, it is wise to track editorial calendars to understand priority publications’ planned focus areas.
As an example, we worked with University Business on a story about enterprise technology, securing interviews and quotes from our client Campus Management and their customer Central Arizona College.
Today’s marketers and communications professionals have been told countless times that they need to create a personally-connected narrative that bridges the company with its buyers. Coined “brand storytelling” in the early 2010s, the phrase and resulting approach has taken on a life of its own as marketers and consulting firms make word salad of overall corporate messaging, marketing content and even press releases, in an attempt to differentiate an organization from the pack.
The challenge with this approach is that the practicality of what the given organization does is often lost in self-serving jargon that no one understands. Case in point: After driving by an enormous construction site, I asked my 14-year-old to Google the name of the company. She began reading some of the site’s descriptors like “Making the complex seamless” and “transforming potential into power.” Huh?
While it’s extremely important to ensure that messaging connects with the reader, what often is lost is the clarity and practical definition of what a company does. The best way to connect with key audiences is through your customers – let their voices tell the story.
Building a Customer Advocacy Program
The push and pull of when, where and how to tap into the power of customers for marketing and sales purposes is always a balancing act. Customers who are happy to sing your praises are certainly a goldmine but can also quickly accumulate “request fatigue” with too many reference and marketing requests. Also, as the holy grail of customer testimonials, household brand names are often the most difficult to entice into public sales and marketing efforts.
Following are a few tips to cultivate and nurture the right mix of customers for a well-balanced customer advocacy program:
It’s All about Process
Customer participation requests are aplenty across organizations, but often happen without proper transparency across the requests. For example, one person might pursue a customer for an award submission or speaker nomination, only to discover that said customer has already been tapped for two analyst references and three RFPs in the last month. A living master list of all referenceable customers should be maintained to avoid tapping into the well too many times and ensuring other possible customers can be nurtured.
Start Small, Go Big
Although the most prominent brands are often avoided given their proclivity to sidestep support for vendors, awards that highlight the brand rather than the vendor – and in particular the project lead – are excellent ways to begin nurturing the client to participate in more joint marketing activities such as speaking engagements and even case studies.
Some customers are glad to participate in anything. However, for those more conservative with public displays of affection, reserve them for more intimate reference requests such as analyst research reports and RFPs. This will allow the marketing team to tap into the outspoken advocates for higher-profile opportunities without overfatiguing them.
The WeWork corporate debacle has become a cautionary tale for the ages. Following a successful build-up in marketplace prominence, cache and value since its 2010 launch, global shared office space company WeWork’s reputation came tumbling down after a botched attempt to take the company public earlier this year, followed by its largest investor SoftBank buying 80 percent of the company in October. Then, it was announced that founder Adam Neumann would step down and receive a $1.7 billion payout while the company would lay off 2,400 employees.
While the layoff is unfortunate, the real issue lies in how the company presented itself as ethically driven and then turned on the very people who helped build its success. On WeWork’s website, the “Our Mission” page still describes the organization as, “A place you join as an individual, ‘me’, but where you become part of the greater ‘we’. A place where we’re redefining success measured by personal fulfillment, not just the bottom line.” That’s a tough pill to swallow.
From a PR perspective, I see several lessons. First, despite its clear success in building a community-centered corporate culture, most companies including WeWork are in business to become profitable and then either continue growing or thriving or pursue an exit strategy. When WeWork’s exit strategy was mismanaged, the wheels of its carefully curated brand came off. As PR professionals, this is the time for crisis communications. Proactive, frequent and clear communication is key for sharing employee impacts and resources.
Additionally, in handling the news of Neumann’s payout and transition into an alternate role with SoftBank – in which he largely remains unscathed from consequences financially – the public and employee fallout is massive. The amount of proactive communications work that the communications team will need to do to rebuild trust in its (reduced) employee base cannot be underestimated. Also when a company takes a fall of this magnitude, communications strategies must include aligned messaging for all executives involved.
While it is impossible to control all aspects of a business and its ultimate success or failure, internal and external PR teams do have control over the way information is presented to employees and external audiences (besides regulatory filings, of course). Unfortunately, in the case of WeWork, their business leaders presented one PR story, while another version of reality played out when things took a downward turn.
I know, it sounds dramatic. Don’t worry though — this isn’t another post about the death of the press release. However, I do believe we are experiencing a significant shift in the way PR is viewed overall and how companies approach it to get more value and visibility out of their marketing investments.
Despite these changes, PR offers a reliably classic communications foundation that re-appears in many different forms over time based on evolving tastes, trends and business models.
The real question is not whether what we did before worked, but rather, how we can build on lessons learned and use new resources to incorporate yet-to-be-invented ways of reaching and genuinely connecting with the people who comprise a given target audience of customers, prospects, influencers, media, and others.
Part of this means leveraging tech and automation to synthesize current market data and customer experiences and preferences. The resulting insights can certainly inform new and improved thought leadership and media angles that can integrate with marketing campaigns.
But it’s also about organizations reflecting on their identity and noticing whether their PR voice comes across as human and relatable so that the right people pay attention.
It’s is the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. Better than fine, actually, because I know we can still trust in the premise of the PR that we’ve practiced for decades, while expanding into new ways of delivering effective communications and strengthening an organization’s visibility and connection with the markets it serves.
Over the last few years, podcasts have exploded in popularity for both consumers and businesses. Many publications host their own podcasts, while others offer standalone programs through podcast apps. Either way, participating in podcasts can help extend a businesses’ thought leadership reach by introducing another valuable channel into their integrated marketing communications strategy. Here are three tips for achieving success with podcast interviews.
Do Your Research
Listen to sample podcast episodes and evaluate the hosts’ personalities before offering your company’s spokesperson as a proposed guest. This will help you determine the podcast’s style and the types of topics that resound most with the host.
Package Your Content
Similar to broadcast interviews, podcasts rely on the power of the sound byte. Once your interview is confirmed, request topical questions in advance to help your spokesperson prepare meaningful content that can be delivered in a distilled, conversational format.
Use a Landline
It may seem old-school, but using a landline in a quiet room and avoiding blue-tooth headsets are best practices in ensuring your spokesperson’s side of the conversation is clear and crisp during the recording. Quality matters!
This article originally appeared in an issue of The Spark newsletter.
Thought leadership is one of the oldest – and most effective – practices in the books for PR and marketing programs but in recent years it seems to be wrapped in with the latest content marketing fad. “We need more thought leadership!” screams senior leadership. So, marketers and their content developers run off and produce oodles of generic content marketing pieces and then slap an executive’s name on it. While that’s fine for a company blog or resources page, it doesn’t pass the smell test for true thought leadership.
The basis of thought leadership includes developing meaningful ongoing content that reflects the thought leaders’ real and diverse opinions. The thought leader shouldn’t only address “how” a particular problem is solved but also “why” it needs to be solved. Above all, thought leadership pieces need to explore more than a thinly veiled attempt at self-promotional, benefits-statement content; they should clearly illustrate to their audience why they should care. Also thought leaders do not become established after just one or two published pieces or speaking gigs, but rather after a series of well-planned and well-thought campaigns — which often take months or years to build. Ultimately, the goal of building thought leaders is not only to help drive sales and awareness within the organization but to push the overall market forward.
PR is traditionally categorized as earned media. Unlike advertising, there is no fee to share your thought leadership content, speak at a conference or win an award — you earn those opportunities based on merit. But the solid Sharpie lines between editorial and advertising have become dotted pencil lines. And while the trained eye can typically tell whether a placement falls in the paid category, many do not recognize the difference.
As a result, PR and marketing professionals have to be savvier about their marketing and editorial spend. News outlets are desperately in need of content to fuel their 24/7 news channels and, facing reduced editorial budgets, they are competing with self-publishing opportunities aplenty.
All this is not to say that paid opportunities are bad; in fact there are more sponsored opportunities than ever. Rather, in today’s dynamic media and marketing environment, companies that want to get aggressive about PR must also consider quality paid content opportunities as part of their budgets. Because today, most everybody looking to maintain market prominence has to pay to play in some way.
Investment funding announcements can be a powerful and proactive way to demonstrate company momentum through media relations. Rather than waiting for a filing to hit regulatory websites, companies can get ahead of the news by optimally framing funding messages through a press release and media interviews.
Young & Associates recently managed a media relations campaign for client Terra Dotta’s growth capital investment from LNR Partners and generated an array of positive coverage from media outlets including Triangle Business Journal, WRAL Techwire, Fortune and EdSurge.