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There are some unique things you can do to position your PR agency appropriately.
One of those is to not be a full-service marketing agency. It may be unwise to be all things to everyone: instead, you really want to have a niche that will set you apart.
In this episode Drew Porcello, Founder and President of Pivot PR, gives some firsthand advice on how to position your agency around a specific area.
[Tweet ““We’re not trying to be all things to everyone; we really want to have a niche.” – Drew Porcello”]
[Tweet ““If you present the right story to the right person at the right time, then they’re going to cover it too.” – Drew Porcello”]
Chipotle. Home Depot. H&M. Abercrombie & Fitch.
As huge as these companies are, as well established as they are, as long as it took to build up their world-class reputations, they were all undone by one thing: the crisis.
In part 3 of our interview series with Mike Swenson from Crossroads Communications, Mike was kind enough to discuss crisis communications with us. If you missed the first two episodes, be sure to go back and listen to our episodes on PR in the 21st Century and Cause Marketing.
Crisis management means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The majority of the people you talk to see crisis management as handling crisis at the moment it happens. With information moving as fast as it does now, thanks to things like Twitter and Facebook, it’s more critical than ever to be prepared. You’ve got to be ready for things when they happen. The worst thing that can happen to your company is to not be prepared for a crisis.
Not being ready will cost you your reputation, in addition to the money you’ll lose. Warren Buffett has famously said,
[Tweet ““If you lose money for the firm, I will understand. If you lost reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless.””]
Reputation is the most valuable thing your brand has. Reputation takes twenty years to build, and five seconds to destroy.
The common misconception about crisis preparedness is that it has to take weeks or months to implement, but in all reality, it must be simple. Mike laid out 4 steps to take to establish a crisis preparedness plan.
Who is your team? When you start building your team, make sure that they represent every major function in your company. You get a reach into all areas of the company.
Identify all the risks that can occur. Get every team member into a room, and have them all bring their “what’s the worst thing that can happen” scenarios to the table. When everybody comes together, you will get a totality of crisis and really see what you’re working with.
Map your most recent crisis. Sit down and map it from the moment it occurred, all the way through every communication, to the conclusion. Once you’ve mapped it out, create a process for moving forward. Remember, don’t reinvent the wheel. 80% of the steps you need to take are identical regardless of what the crisis is, and only deviate from your plan as needed based on specific events.
Create three to five key messages for every risk. This way, you can have at the ready a statement that can go out immediately. Don’t get stuck not responding. Make sure you have something to say.
Your crisis management team should meet at least twice a year to tweak the processes and key messages as needed.
When companies stop to think about it, crisis is far more “front burner” of a concern than people realize. Companies need to be constantly thinking about what they can do not only to manage crisis, but to stop it from happening in the first place. Maybe policies need to be changed. Maybe a factory needs to be visited, or a supplier switched, or any other number of things. Whatever you need to do to right the ship.
Crisis is never something that a company wants to happen, but with the right mindset, your company can be prepared for whatever may come.
This post is based on an interview with Mike Swenson from Crossroads Communications.
Listen to the episode that this post was based on here:
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In a world where PR agencies are required to deliver more and more complete solutions that leverage digital technologies, an integrated agency can be a very productive environment.
In a recent interview on The PR Executive Greg Loh, Managing Partner of Public Relations and Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, explained why one executive can’t do it all anymore, and why an integrated approach is just what the doctor ordered for today’s PR clients.
Because they’re a mid-sized, integrated agency, the Mower PR team has access to the highest-level quality of creative services, digital marketing expertise, cutting-edge media buying . . . all of it with teams that are used to working together and well-honed systems that deliver a high-quality product to clients.
What is it that makes an integrated agency the way to go in today’s PR? Let’s take a look.
Requirements of PR practitioners have grown exponentially. Digital technologies haven’t replaced traditional PR, but have only been added to it. Therefore, the old way of doing PR is not enough to cover the needs of the modern client.
The traditional account executive in a PR agency was deeply skilled in writing/media relations across traditional media (radio/TV/magazines, etc.). He or she also had to have strong event-planning, project organizational skills, and a high level of knowledge around reputation management and being a keeper of corporate reputation.
All of those responsibilities still exist and are just as essential today—even managing traditional media. But the world has doubled . . . tripled . . . quadrupled the responsibilities that PR practitioners need to know and understand.”
[Tweet ““The world has quadrupled the responsibilities that PR practitioners need to understand.””]
This is particularly true in technology, in the ability to execute programs that deliver SEO benefits to clients, and in managing initiatives that drive prospects or people seeking more information directly to your clients’ own web properties.
PR people now need to be able to shoot and edit their own video, and to produce content across a wider range of platforms. Most good PR practitioners can build their own websites quickly for clients. They can also establish analytics programs that are tied to search performance.
There are a ton of new opportunities, but the old stuff didn’t get set aside. It’s all still there as you work through this transition in the PR industry.
Even the greatest professionals have some limitations in their bandwidth.
It’s not realistic today to expect that a practitioner will be fully conversant in all of the nuances of rapidly changing technology and social media. It’s nearly impossible to find a first-rate social media community manager who is also the most astute advisor to clients on crisis communications issues and can also expertly manage a modern marketing event for a client.
This presents a problem, doesn’t it? What to do?
The answer: Agencies have to look at how to bring together the right team, the right people to be successful in all those areas.
When Greg started in the agency business years ago, it was complicated to create a mock-up for a brochure that was ready to go to print. That was only two decades ago.
Obviously, all of that has changed. Clients and agencies have the same tools available to them, so PR professionals need to deliver a higher level of expertise than ever before.
Otherwise, they won’t be relevant.
The Mower team addressed the problem of relevance by asking this: “Do we really need a traditional account executive track in every one of our positions?”
The answer was no. Instead, it was specialization of skills that would give their clients the highest level of expertise from their service.
So instead of using account executive titles, they built four families of jobs:
Strategists are charged with designing programs and initiatives for clients, establishing measurable goals, optimizing programs that track real-time performance, and reshaping those programs as they go.
These two roles work together. Content managers bring together the skills of today’s sophisticated content marketing programs with media relations work. Content creators have the ability to develop content across multiple platforms—in words, video, and pictures.
Activation managers are particularly strong at combining experiential event marketing with social media community relations and also media relations. There is some overlap between content managers and activation managers.
A big part of their business is crisis and reputation management and public affairs. Clients need good counselors who will tell them how to make the right decisions or how to address actions where things haven’t gone the way the client hoped or things are out of their hands.
With a quick look at job titles, their clients are able to know a practitioner’s expertise and what he or she will be able to accomplish. And the Mower team are able to advance the requirements of different roles as clients require new areas and platforms.
The integrated agency setup is borne out of a belief that the most important services clients are coming to agencies for today involve an interplay between strategy, content, and brand activation. This is especially true in the world of marketing PR. Connected is the role of helping clients manage reputation, hence the counselor role.
Today’s PR work is too much for a few shoulders to carry. Hire smartly—and expansively—and you’ll be a one-stop shop for everything PR clients require.
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Cause marketing is a partnership between a for-profit company and a nonprofit organization to do good in their community.
For the last three decades cause marketing has become more and more of a normal partnership, beneficial to both sides.
For the company, it’s an opportunity to organize and formalize their philanthropic activities. They may be writing lots of checks, but cause marketing allows them to partner with a nonprofit in a different way. For example, physically doing something in the community, getting their employees involved, or helping the nonprofit through an event to raise money.
For the nonprofit, cause marketing offers an important avenue to talk about their mission, build awareness about it, gain volunteers, and of course get those all-important dollars that will help their mission come to life.
We had the privilege of interviewing Mike Swenson, President of Crossroads Communication, for a second time (you can view our blog based on his first interview here). This time around, Mike shared his knowledge about successful cause marketing partnerships, and how PR professionals can facilitate them.
American Express is credited with getting cause marketing going, back in the early ‘80s. They put out a program that promised to donate a penny towards the renovation of the statue of liberty every time their customers used their American Express cards.
It was most public displays a company going out and saying, “We want to get our customers involved” instead of just writing a check. It changed business and branding dynamics. Every since then, cause marketing partnerships have taken off.
So what makes a good partnership? The following three things, at the very least, need to be in place.
Expectation are related to what each party can do in the partnership. For the company, what time and money are they willing to put towards creating a program to support the nonprofit?
Likewise on the nonprofit side. Often there is a misconception that nonprofits will take over everything. But typically, they don’t have a big staff. So how much effort can they put towards the program?
Both parties must understand what the other has to give in order to have successful cause marketing.
What can be expected on the awareness side of the cause? Is the program unique enough that it will create news? Will bloggers and media latch on?
Some ideas/causes are more newsworthy than others.
If it’s a fundraising program, set expectations there too.
At the end of the first round of the program, will everybody be happy? Will goals be reached?
These three contribute to a good partnership. As with everything in public relations, everything comes back to setting great expectations at the front (and following through).
There are literally hundreds of thousands of great causes. All of us as individuals and companies have the causes that are near and dear to us—and they may never overlap.
That is perhaps the biggest change in cause marketing over the last 20 plus years: sheer volume.
Another major change is the adoption or abandonment of controversial causes by today’s companies.
A company may not feel comfortable digging into a cause that may be perceived as controversial among their customers. That’s understandable. Obviously, a company at the end of the day is in business to do business, and to make a profit and reinvest those profits into their people. Plus, their customers are going to have as many viewpoints as they do.
Yet other companies encourage controversy, stepping out and showing boldness by putting their brand behind a potentially controversial cause. This makes an important statement about who they are as a brand: “We’re going to get behind a cause, even if some of our customers don’t agree with it, because it’s the right thing to do.”
For example, when the AIDS epidemic arose in the ‘90s, many brave companies put their brands behind causes that dealt with it. That was a big step.
We’re starting to see that more and more. As a result, cause marketing has become more than something a company does just to make themselves look better. A “cause done right” is one in which a company proclaims its values and wants people to know who they are at their core.
So we’ve seen a step from cause marketing to cause branding, because that cause is part of who they are. They’re able to go out and talk with confidence and credibility about their DNA.
To Mike, a lot of companies. He specifically praised American Express and Target, but the common link between companies who utilize cause branding well is when brands take it seriously.
Today, when a company is obviously just trying to sell more products through cause marketing, it doesn’t generally sit well with consumers. That’s not “cause done right.”
On the other hand, Crossroads Communications did a centennial with Blue Bunny, who partnered with Make-a-Wish that year to grant 100 wishes to children as part of the program. That’s “cause done right.” They wanted to celebrate a milestone—their own centennial—in a meaningful way.
Here’s what it comes down to: cause marketing is done right when companies celebrate who they are as a brand. Same goes for nonprofits: they should aim not only to make money but also to have their brand portrayed right.
The best partnerships are the ones you don’t have to think about long, because they just make sense.
[Tweet ““The best cause partnerships make you say, ‘I want to be a part of this.’””]
Here’s the cool thing for PR agencies: Mike’s company helped create many cause marketing programs, and while they’re no longer with some of those clients, the programs have continued.
If you can create a cause program that lives year after year, you know you have something special—something that’s cause branding and not just cause marketing.
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For PR clients to gain the trust of Wall Street, they need one thing above all else: to build credibility.
In making an investment decision, investors are essentially making a bet on management as much as they are on the company’s market opportunities, product, technology, etc. They want to invest in companies that are managed by people they can trust to deliver.
As companies execute on their strategy, they build credibility, and over time that translates to improved valuation and ongoing access to growth capital. Credibility is the driver.
We recently interviewed Moira Conlon, Founder and President of Financial Profiles, about how to build credibility and gain the trust of Wall Street investors. Moira has an extensive background in helping clients communicate to investors and establish themselves as credible, even through disaster scenarios.
Based on that interview, we’re going to go over five ways in general to build credibility with Wall Street, then five ways to gain trust even as you share bad news.
Credibility starts by providing consistent information, and by telling investors what you’re going to do, doing it, and then reporting back that you did what you said you would do. It’s a simple formula, but a hard one to execute on.
There are lots of opportunities to lay this foundation into your communications (e.g., investor presentations, earnings calls, annual shareholder letters). All these communications vehicles are opportunities for management teams to lay out their strategy, tell investors what they intend to do, and follow up with a progress report for meeting objectives.
And as your clients continually meet those objectives, you build credibility for them.
Wall Street isn’t really interested in one-sided updates that only present the positives. They are looking for straight talk on what’s happening in the business, both the good and the not-going-so-well.
During the great recession, many of Moira’s clients had a lot of bad news to report. The ones who tried to sugarcoat that news didn’t fare well, while the ones who told investors how things were really going came out on top.
Investors want to know which factors are in the management team’s control and which are beyond it.
For example, you’ve probably seen a lot of news lately about the price of oil, foreign currency, and the weather. Investors understand that those factors are out of companies’ control. But if a sales team didn’t execute, that’s another story.
In order to communicate credibly, it’s important to help investors understand those controllable/uncontrollable factors.
Relaying financial performance every quarter is obviously an important way for investors to track management credibility.
But there are other things to track as well. Financial Profiles works with its clients to form operational milestones, such as new customer wins, new product introductions, and technology investments. In conjunction with long-term operating models, they can explain how execution on the strategy will translate into stronger financial performance and returns.
Building credibility starts with managing expectations.
Companies should keep expectations at a reasonable level. It’s not the magnitude of what you promise that matters as much as delivering on what you promise.
Too many companies set targets that are unrealistic or overambitious. Then they take a credibility hit when they miss their earnings.
It’s difficult for companies to recover from an earnings disappointment. The old adage goes, “Credibility is hard-won and easily lost.” It’s true. You get credit for what you do—not what you say you hope to do.
Not all news is good. How can companies maintain credibility when announcing bad news?
First, understand that every company reports bad news at some point. Moira likes to say, “I’ve never met a company that hasn’t taken a round trip.” All companies need to be prepared to announce bad or difficult news.
Bad news can range from things like options backdating, to unexpected executive departures, to serious earnings disappointments, and a million more. There’s a whole range of potential disasters for companies, and it’s impossible to prepare for every kind of bad news.
But there are a few topline things to keep in mind for all bad news.
Transparency and complete information are critical in announcing tough news. Moira recommends that her clients announce as much information as they can, to control the message.
At the same time, it’s important for companies to avoid making statements that they will have to take back or change down the road. It’s a tough dance, figuring out when you have enough information to release a statement, but not losing control of the message.
But that’s where PR teams come in handy, right?
The goal here is to avoid a situation where the press/analysts have all written about the story before the company has given its own view. Again, it’s easy to completely lose control of the story.
You also don’t want to announce the news and have someone ask, “If you’ve known this for months, why are you just announcing it now?” It’s important to have a protocol in place for announcing bad news ahead of time.
[Tweet ““The best way to deliver bad news is with a solution.””]
No one wants to hear, “Gee, we no longer have a CEO. Oh, well.” They want to know what the interim plan is, and who will be stepping in, and the time frame for fixing things.
Whatever the news, it’s always a good idea to offer a solution. In certain bad news, for example, it’s important to explain that the company has put protocols in place so that the bad news won’t happen again in the future.
Some PR agencies spend a lot of energy on Wall Street audiences, but in many other cases there may be constituents who are more important and need to be considered in the communication (employees, customers, regulators, etc.). In certain bad news, you need to rank the most important audiences and deliver your message accordingly.
In some cases, there will be an announcement where news is good for one audience and bad for another. An example is a corporate restructuring, which is welcomed by Wall Street investors who are excited about reduced costs, while employees are wondering about their jobs and customers are wondering if their interactions with the company will change.
In a case like this, you need to consider communications with all audiences. Figure out which audiences are a priority, but consider every audience before crafting a message.
When does bad news become good news? When a company can communicate that they’ve handled a crisis.
Companies should take credit for the positive outcomes of a bad situation as a way to shore up credibility. Oftentimes, investors see a company as more valuable having survived a difficult time.
To build credibility for you clients, you must present a steady stream of balanced, complete, and timely information. By doing so, you give your clients the maximum amount of control over the message they send. More important, you help them store up “credibility capital” with their various audiences.
And while credibility is difficult to maintain, it’s absolutely necessary if you want to give your clients a trust to maintain in the first place.
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