The Matchbox.

Jun. 16

Keeping PR Momentum Going During Crises

The past few months have thrown companies many a curveball as the effects of COVID-19 reverberate with operational, economic and psychological impacts. While seemingly chaotic at first, the next phase required putting a new order into sustainably maintaining business operations. Fortunately many companies were able to quickly shift into work-from-home scenarios and – while far from perfect – enable their workforces to continue delivering work effectively. 

From a PR perspective, it has been a universal crisis requiring careful next steps. During times like these, maintaining a proactive voice in the market can play a critical and stabilizing role in the company’s ability to maintain market leadership with relevant, evolving messages. Following are some best practices that have helped companies sustain positive PR momentum during crises like COVID-19, whether for the short or long haul.

  • Stay Connected – While it can feel like a game of “Whack-a-Mole” during the early stages of a crisis, it is important to maintain regular connection among the PR team’s members. Whether establishing a weekly check-in Zoom meeting or a Google doc that tracks key program activities and outputs, having tangible, predictable ways to track progress can go a long way in helping maintain a productive direction during times of uncertainty.

  • Offer Thought Leadership – Keep a pulse on shifting client perspectives and news coverage related to your company’s industry. This will help identify new angles for thought leadership content that can be leveraged for media interview and byline opportunities. This proactive approach enables companies to stay relevant and show that they continue to understand the needs of their particular market.

  • Promote New Use Cases or Product Updates – If your product or solution has timely value during the crisis, e.g., helps drive cost savings or other major benefits, use this time to update messaging and pivot into new go-to-market opportunities. With the right PR support, announcing updated offerings that address customers’ quickly-shifting needs can be an effective strategy for strengthening market traction.
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May. 04

Communications: Remaining Nimble Amidst COVID-19

With the realization that work and life will be very different for the foreseeable future during the COVID-19 outbreak, most B2B companies are tackling challenges on how to effectively communicate both internally and externally. 

The marketing and communications team, which is often on the front lines for crises, needs to ensure that if they don’t already have a crisis plan in place, that they quickly develop one to be a guiding and calming force for leadership and the overall employee base.

As you are considering a communications strategy for the coming weeks or months, here are a few tips: 

1) Issue External Statement on Company Continuity and Employee Policy – Most likely, your company has established a policy for telework for employees and determined cloud-based operations to support ongoing customer efforts. It’s important to let clients, employees and partners know of your efforts and that you are taking the current situation seriously. 

2) Don’t Be Tone Deaf – In these initial days and weeks, it’s important that social media posts include a mix of COVID-19-related posts, such as the statement mentioned above, as well as corporate news and coverage. If employees or clients are taking extra steps to help in their communities, share those good news stories. 

3) Re-program Your Program – For the most part, press releases and other external efforts should be reevaluated each week. But that doesn’t mean PR efforts should come to a grinding halt. Use this time to recharge your content arsenal with contributed articles and blog content, and don’t forget awards. 

The most important aspect of communicating during a crisis – whether you have an official plan or not – is to be as nimble and as transparent as possible. 

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Apr. 01

This is No Coronacation

Week one of social distancing, working from home and homeschooling has been bumpy. Even though our team has worked remotely for 15+ years, work and life are anything but normal these days. With kids home from school, confused about why they can’t see friends or play video games all day, the universal struggle is real.

We have found some silver linings. My kids are reading a ton and creating forts and works of art. They even completed two loads of laundry, albeit with screen time mixed in. And, hey – I’ve accomplished some work tasks as well. A few days into this new dynamic with years of experience working from home, here are my two cents on smoothing out the bumpy ride we’re on:

1) Set your working hours but also carve out a chunk of time to recharge with self-care or an activity with the kids

2) Establish realistic daily goals – accomplishing short-term tasks can boost our moods and productivity

3) Long term outlooks are no longer clear – set short bursts of time to address what if scenarios, accept worries about the unknown and plan accordingly

4) Take breaks – this is even more important when there are few opportunities to get out

5) Calls and video chats will include more background noise like dogs and kids – appreciate the sounds of life and get to know your coworkers, clients and partners on a more personal level – we are all in this together.

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Mar. 18

Y&A Spark: Special COVID-19 Communications Newsletter

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.

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Mar. 02

Editorial Calendars 101

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.

2 big ways campus offices are collaborating in the name of student success
Enterprise system experts on working together for student success

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Feb. 20

When Brand Storytelling Becomes Word Salad

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.

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Jan. 16

Customers, Customers Everywhere

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.
 
Be Choosy
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.

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Dec. 03

What We Can Learn from the WeWork PR Nightmare

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. 

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Nov. 05

It’s the End of the (PR) World as We Know It

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.

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Oct. 18

Preparing for Podcast Interviews

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.

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