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Tag Archives: marketing

PR Pros: Start Thinking Bigger Before It’s Too Late

November 24, 2014

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This article originally appeared in PR Daily.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at PRSA Pittsburgh’s Professional Development Day  where I spoke about some of the changes that integrated marketing is having on the PR industry. The part of my presentation that drew the greatest reaction from the mostly entry level and student attendees was when I said that the industry has to stop the incessant whining about how PR doesn’t have a seat at the table or how people just don’t “get PR.” I even shared a great quote from my friend Rick Rice that raised some eyebrows –

“The PR industry is in need of disruptive change and none of this generation are even willing to try.”

All of the issues with today’s PR industry – that we’re an afterthought, that people don’t understand what we do or the value we bring, that anyone can do what we do – are nobody’s fault but our own. For years decades, many public relations professionals have chosen to complain about their lack of participation in the big picture rather than taking charge and forcing their way into it. Here’s a hint for all you young PR pros out there:

Kids Table

Image courtesy of Flickr user terren in Virginia

If you want to sit at the big kid table, start acting like one of the big kids.

What does this mean? Well, to start, it means that you have to start speaking their language. Stop talking about hits, placements, and impressions and start talking about share points, aided and unaided awareness, conversions, leads, and sales. That doesn’t mean that PR is going to be directly responsible for any of these, but it does show that you are invested in the whole of the business, not just your specific workstream. It shows that you can add value beyond the PR section of a deck. Every time a PR pro says “I hate math – that’s why I went into PR,” the industry gets pushed further and further down the ladder.

It means that you have to stop talking about how the sausage is made and start focusing on the impact to the larger business. Have you ever watched a presentation from a brand planner? Compare that to a PR guy’s presentation. The brand planner focuses on the big picture. She gets everyone excited about the insights, the winning strategy and how it leads to the overall end result – the impact that it’s going to have on the business. It’s quick. It’s to the point. It’s visual. But most of all, it’s interesting throughout. The PR guy, on the other hand, will feel the need to justify his existence by diving into the nuts and bolts of each individual tactic. He includes all kinds of bullets and charts and graphs. By the time he’s on phase 3 on slide 14, all of the excitement has been sucked out of the room. He’s now trained everyone in the room to believe that PR is small and tactical rather than big and impactful.

It also means that you have to stop rushing to quick wins and slow down. Before launching into your PR ideas, strategies and tactics, ask to see the overall marketing plan. Ask to see the brand’s business objectives. Ask to see the proof behind the copy points in the ads. Ask if you can talk with customers and employees to learn more about what makes the brand unique. Stop trying to rush around so that you can get some results, any results. Slow down, do your research, understand the business. Make it a required part of the PR process. Don’t give in. As an industry, we have to stop asking “how high?” anytime a client or account manager says jump or we’re never going to get the respect we deserve.

Now that brands can pay to secure native content in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Wall Street Journal that achieves similar (if not better) statistics as traditional editorial content, the value proposition of a PR pro has to change. As publishers get better and better at integrating native advertising both effectively and ethically, the PR pro’s old standby – “earned coverage has a lot more credibility paid media” – starts to erode. Given the choice between reallocating some of my paid media dollars to native advertising content, where my impressions, message, and CTAs are guaranteed, in a format that is achieving similar traffic, what’s the incentive to trying to earn editorial coverage where I have none of those guarantees and potentially open my brand up to a negative article? Saving a few dollars? That might work for smaller brands without a large media budget, but what about the big brands with millions of dollars?

Some of us have added things like social media, content marketing, media buying, and SEO/SEM to our resumes to try to stay ahead of the curve but these are short-term, tactical solutions. We have to think bigger, beyond the execution of these roles. We have to understand consumer’s entire journey with the the brand’s category and what, if any role, the brand should play at each stage. In a world where transparency and authenticity have become marketing hallmarks, PR has to think of itself less as a workstream and more as a mindset that’s integrated across everything a brand does.

Someone needs to understand how all of these different parts work together. Why can’t PR assume the role of multi-channel quarterback?

What if PR served as a kind of corporate ombudsman, there to call bullshit on the hyperbolic marketing language and “hit you over the head” marketing tactics?

What if (gasp!) PR led your creative?

What if PR, the people who know the public better than anyone, helped shape a brand’s products and services?

What would happen if we started thinking bigger?

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Running a PR Department vs. Running a PR Agency

September 15, 2014

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Picture courtesy of Flickr user popculturegeek

The PR skillsets and attitudes differ whether you’re leading a PR agency or you’re leading a PR department in an integrated agency

Running a PR department within a larger agency is very different from running your own PR agency. From the employees that are hired to the way PR is even talked about, the skillsets don’t necessarily translate from one to the other. Try to run your department like an agency and watch as you slowly isolate your team from the rest of the agency, leaving adversarial relationships in your wake. Run your agency like a department and get ready for lots of frustration when you’re unable to expand and scale your work. After leading a number of PR and social media teams within large organizations as well as working with a number of people who run their own agencies, I’ve realized that while both roles may have the Director title, the two roles are very different in a few fundamental ways.

  • Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Doubling the number of people on my team isn’t a success metric. Sure, I’m always looking to grow the agency’s business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the PR business should also get larger. Sometimes, growing the PR business on a particular account may not be part of the agency’s strategy. Sometimes, securing another PR-led account might mean I’m not able to dedicate the time/talent to other integrated accounts.
  • PR vs. PR. There’s no single definition for what PR should or shouldn’t entail. In many organizations, it’s everything – media relations, investor relations, events, social media, web content, etc. In others, it’s only one or more of these. In an integrated agency, you have to understand what aspect of PR you’re responsible for and what other agencies are responsible for and work with them. In many cases, I’ve found myself working right alongside another PR agency because they’re responsible for the client’s overall corporate communications whereas my team is responsible for the earned media portion of an integrated campaign.
  • PR isn’t always the answer. There’s no hammer searching for a nail here. When you’re leading your own PR agency, you’re always advocating for your agency and trying to secure additional hours/scope. In an integrated agency, you have to not only understand PR, but also paid media, SEO and SEM, Digital, Social Media, User Experience, etc. You have an entire toolbox of capabilities at your disposal and you have to understand how and when and where to leverage them all.
  • Learn to give to get. Sometimes when I’m part of these huge client meetings, I’ll say something like, “you know, I’ve got $10K in my budget that I could slide over to the Digital team if that would help get the site up and running on time.” People will still look at me like I have three heads. “You’re giving away the PR budget????” Well yeah, if there’s another strategy or tactic that will help meet our business objectives, why wouldn’t I? When you’re working in an integrated agency, you have to understand that whatever money you take is coming from someone else’s budget. Show a willingness to share budgets and resources with other departments and it’ll come back to you, often from departments with much deeper pockets.
  • Your clients are brand managers, not PR people. There are going to be times where you absolutely kill it from a PR perspective and it won’t matter one bit to the client. You might be uber-excited about that opportunity you’ve secured with that morning show, only to have your client shrug his/her shoulders and say “eh, we’ll pass.” The hits, the placements, the coverage that gets PR people all excited doesn’t always have the same effect on people who are responsible for the overall marketing campaign. To them, every dollar that gets spent on trying to earn media is a dollar that could be spent paying for guaranteed media. You have to understand and empathize with their plight and figure out ways to fit PR into that mindset rather than getting frustrated that they “don’t understand PR.”

As more and more agencies integrate paid, owned, earned, and social media in their own ways, the PR professional needs to evolve accordingly, especially those in senior level positions. It’s one thing to have a leadership role at a PR agency, but unfortunately, many of those lessons learned and best practices no longer apply to leadership roles at a PR department in an integrated agency.

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A Partial Reading List for PR Students

August 23, 2013

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Students in class

Image courtesy of Flickr user vasta

College students across the country are in the midst of moving back to college for the fall semester. In between partying, traveling, club activities, sports, Greek commitments, and jobs, some will also be attending classes. Those lucky enough to be taking a PR class should be looking forward to discussions about an industry that’s being turned upside down by technology. You’ll learn from brands who have made mistakes. You’ll learn from brands who have succeeded. You’ll learn about laws governing social media. You’ll learn how to use social media for yourself. You’ll learn how social media is being integrated into areas beyond just marketing and PR. And you’ll also probably learn plenty of tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts, all in the name of efficiency, scalability, or optimization.

Do me a favor this semester. If your PR professor starts sounding like a Buzzfeed article sharing all kinds of tips and tricks advocating how to get the most fans, followers, retweets, likes, or views, tell them that you want to stop taking the easy way out.

If the books and blogs you’re reading for your PR or marketing class start to sound too much like late night infomercials extolling get-rich quick schemes, here’s are some resources I’d recommend sharing with your professor and classmates this semester.

  • The Cluetrain Manifesto  – I’ve talked about this book a lot for a reason. It’s one of the first books I read when I first started in social media back in 2006. It’s as relevant now and it was then, and is a great foundation for any PR or marketing professional.
  • Humanize – Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter provide a fantastic how-to on making organizations not just seem more human, but actually function in a more human way. It tackles the hard people side of change that most organizations seem to think is taken care of with a memo or a training class.
  • Marketing in the Round – Marketing and PR are no longer the only organizational touchpoints with the public. Customer service, marketing, PR, operations, executive leadership – the public doesn’t care about your org chart. Successful marketing is integrated marketing.
  • Social Media Strategist – There’s a difference between being the millenial who is handed the keys to an organization’s social media accounts and being a business leader who uses social media to change an organization. FYI – the latter is who you want to be. Read this book and learn how to do that.
  • Spin Sucks – One of my favorite blogs for years – Gini and her team are whip-smart PR practitioners who understand there’s no technology replacement for good PR.
  • The BrandBuilder Blog – You’ll hear people whine and complain about the difficulty in measuring the ROI of social media ROI. Don’t be one of those people. Read Olivier’s blog and book.
  • Shel Holtz – I’ve been a fan for more than five years. Shel’s one of the smartest PR practitioners you’ll ever meet.
  • Shelly Kramer – I’ve just started reading Shelly’s blog over the last year or so, but I love her matter-of-fact approach to marketing and conversational tone.
  • Doug Haslam – I love Doug’s sense of humor and willingness to call BS on marketing “best practices” that have pervaded this industry.
  • Rick Rice – Rick and I share very similar views and frustrations with the PR industry – the PR practitioner as consultant and adviser, not as publicity hound.
  • Geoff Livingston – I’ve known for a long time too and have always admired his commitment to his beliefs and his broad knowledge of everything from marketing to branding to PR to social media.
  • Jeremiah Owyang – one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in this industry. His blog, presentations, and dozens of research studies have been immensely helpful to my career.

There are a lot of other great resources out there (please share them in the comments), but sadly, even more that will lead you down a path full of shortcuts and hacks.

This semester, avoid taking the easy way out and remember that establishing and maintaining relationships are supposed to be hard. As any college student will tell you, creating and maintaining any relationship isn’t easy. It’s not easy in our personal lives, and it’s certainly not easy in our professional lives. It takes time and commitment. There’s small talk, awkward silences, disagreements, reconciliations, and long conversations. This is the case whether it’s girlfriends, boyfriends, roommates, customers, reporters, or employees.

Through all the tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts, remember that at the end of the day, successful PR really comes down to basic interpersonal communications. Listen more than you talk. Empathize with the other person. Add more value than you take. Say please and thank you. Be honest. Apologize when you’re wrong. Keep the basics as your foundation and you’ll do just fine this year and into the future.

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Using Social Media to Reach the Hard-Working Class

June 1, 2013

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How are you engaging with the new "hard-working class?"

How are you engaging with the new “hard-working class?”

They’re not part of the 99% or the 1% or the 47%. They’re not part of the East Coast Elite or the Bible Belt or the Sun Belt or the Rust Belt. They’re nurses, office administrators, housekeepers, entrepreneurs, waitresses and stay-at-home moms. They’re told they’re part of the middle class, but they sure don’t feel like they are. They’re part of a growing class of people in this country making between $30K and $50K a year, aren’t eligible for government assistance (and wouldn’t take it even if they were), are married with kids, and are working their butts off to make things work any way they can.

According to new research released today by Cramer-Krasselt (disclaimer: I work there), more than 75% of lower-middle income moms are more likely to identify themselves as part of a new group called the “Hard-Working-Class. These are people, specifically working moms, who don’t identify with the any of existing consumer segments. They’re technically middle-class, but middle-class doesn’t reflect their reality.

“I’m technically middle class, but I don’t feel that way. If you’re middle class, you should be able to have a home, be able to save for college. I’m barely able to make ends meet. Every day is just a struggle.”

The study found that these moms are re-defining themselves into a new social class and social mindset. For marketers, these moms don’t represent just a new, sizable consumer segment, they wield a lot of influence within their families and with their friends. And while they are price sensitive, they also have many smart strategies for making ends meet.

  • They use coupons…a lot
  • They like/follow/subscribe to brands in social media…if there’s a deal involved
  • They get together with friends…to share and trade clothes, food, and coupons
  • They use coupons to save money…but also to get that feeling of “getting a deal”
  • They buy generic brands…but will spend more for “tried-and-true” brand names

Marketers have to not only better understand this new segment of consumer, they have to find out how to help them. It’s not just about getting these “masters of making it work” to buy your products, it’s about identifying ways to help them out. They’re looking for brands to do more than just offer them a deal or a coupon. They’re looking for acknowledgement, recognition, and most importantly, support.

For members of this hard-working class, they use online communities, forums, Facebook, and Pinterest to create these communities and support systems and conduct the research that allows them to make their dollar work as hard as possible for them. For brands, social media allows them to connect with these moms…if they can stop the hard sell and be helpful and supportive.

  1. Go where they are. Hard-working class moms realize they can’t do it all by themselves. That’s why they’re constantly scouring message boards, forums, and other social media for tips, tricks, and deals. Rather than creating your own branded online communities, consider first actively participating in existing unbranded communities by answering questions, solving problems, and offering discounts to those who need it. Why do you think Best Buy employees frequent online electronics forums or car brands actively participate on top auto blogs? Not to drive customers to a branded site, but to solve problems and answer questions where they already are.
  2. Instead of begging for likes, ask for feedback. Stop using social media to grovel for likes and instead use it to ask what your brand can do to help these moms. Is it making smaller, less expensive SKUs? Is it offering payment plans? These moms have been misunderstood by brands for years. Use your social media channels to ask them for their thoughts and really understand their situation. The trick then, of course, is that you have to actually do something with this feedback once you get it. 
  3. Help her use what she already has. Take a page from Patagonia, who explicitly told their customers that they didn’t have to buy a new jacket just because it was the holiday season. They realized that by helping their customers understand how to do more with what they had, they actually increased loyalty and sales.
  4. Demonstrate the versatility of your products. Campbell’s has realized these moms are always thinking of ways to stretch their budget so they are helping customers understand new ways to use their products. Their Chunky Dinner Creator allows moms to stretch that one can of soup into a whole dinner for her family. Brands should use social media to demonstrate unique uses of their products and encourage their customers to share their discoveries too.
  5. Evolve the coupon. Brands have used coupons to instill customer loyalty by offering a discount. But these women aren’t looking for handouts – they’re looking for hand-ups. They’re looking for more value, not just lower prices. What if brands flipped the coupon and instead of lowering prices, they offered more value at the same price? What if brands took all that big data everyone’s talking about to identify and reward their loyal customers with insider access, limited edition products, or sneak peeks into new plans?
  6. Show how your products work in conjunction with others. Are you a fashion brand? Use Pinterest to show these moms how your shirts, pants, or accessories can be matched up with other clothing items they may already own. A food brand? Help them craft entire meals for their family. A car brand? Instead of talking about horsepower and torque, show how your cars can fit a soccer team’s equipment in the trunk or how kids can stow their toys in the backseat.

What do you think? Has the term “middle-class” become an anachronism? Is it too broad to actually mean anything to anyone? Do you know anyone who identifies more with the hard-working class? Do you?

For more on the study, check out the articles below:
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