July. Yes, we are now over halfway through 2017.
Frightening, isn't it?
Where has the time gone? With most communications programs, it usually has been taken up by reactive and urgent projects. Occasionally, you are able to sprinkle in a few proactive and long-lead activities if you are lucky.
Regardless of where your time has gone so far, it is important to reflect and prepare. Similarly to how you need to prepare for the upcoming year, take stock in what's working (and what's not) and adjust accordingly.
A few things to think about: Have any of the themes and priorities changed for the business as a whole or an individual segment? Have any of the stakeholders changed? Has the product roadmap or merger/acquisition strategy shifted at all?
What's going on with the competition? Have there been any major shifts or milestones in the industry?
What's important for customers and partners at this stage in the year? Have their priorities changed at all? Are your messages resonating with prospects?
While consistency is important in any communications program, there is no point in continuing messaging or campaigns that keep the team spinning without true results or just don't resonate. Take the rest of the summer to reflect and adjust the program for the remainder of the year.
Content is king. No one disputes that.
There are more than 1.2 billion websites on the internet (and counting). YouTube currently reaches 1.5 billion users each month and their users consume roughly an hour of videos per day. More than 300 million tweets and 2.2 million blog posts have published today alone. Snapchatters watch more than 10 billion videos per day.
But with so much content out there -- from articles and video to infographics and social media -- how do you get your content to stand out from the rest?
Mike Isaac of The New York Times made a few good points the other day on Twitter about blog posts.
This same perspective can be used across pretty much all platforms -- social media, blogs, press releases, videos, infographics, etc.
We need to start being more thoughtful about the content we are producing and publishing. Yes, an announcement might be important to us as a company or to a partner or customer, but we need to acknowledge who our target audience really is and what channels are most appropriate to reach that audience.
Maybe a Tweet, Medium post or short post on the company blog is sufficient to get the news out to a particular audience this time. There might be another time where it does make more sense to push a stronger communications strategy including embargoes or exclusives. But we need to set expectations.
Reporters, just like our customers, partners and investors, are all inundated with content throughout the day. We need to cherry pick the right moments to share information that is relevant to them. They will appreciate the information -- and the company -- much more for it!
To have the most success with your PR team, you need to communicate with them.
This may seem like common sense when said out loud or written down, but then again, common sense isn't necessarily common.
Communication is critical to any successful communications program. The team needs to know what is going on with the company, products, customers, partners, leadership, etc. They need to be aware of both the positive and the potentially negative. Believe it or not, PR professionals are not mind readers nor can we create press coverage with a snap of our fingers.
To get the biggest bang for your buck on a positive announcement or to help prepare for any negative new cycles, the team needs to be given a heads up well in advance when possible. The whole "need to know basis" approach helps no one if your communications team isn't in the loop. Now, it doesn't have to be the whole PR team but at least someone from the team should be aware of what is going on.
Schedule weekly check-ins with your PR team to ensure that everyone is on the same page about hot topics, worry basket issues, the latest on product announcements, customers wins, etc. The more information the communications team has and the sooner it gets the details, the more prepared and successful they can be when it comes time to make an announcement.
Always be prepared. Always communicate with your PR team.
We all want press coverage. That's just natural.
But as we've discussed here before, not all press coverage is good. And not all press coverage will drive your overall business objectives. Which is why it is absolutely critical to be strategic on where you and your team invest time and resources as it pertains to media relations.
As a small start-up (and this can be the case for larger organizations too), your reaction may be to take any and all inbound press opportunities. But it is important to ask yourself what impact that story could have on the business.
Is that outlet's audience our target customer demographic? Do our investors read that publication regularly? How has that blog covered our industry and competitors in the past?
Not only complete the due diligence on all inbound press inquiries to make sure they are worth your communications and leadership teams' time, but also do some proactive research to ensure your teams are on the same page around priorities.
What outlets are "must-haves," meaning they cover your industry and competitors regularly and are a must-read for your customers, partners and investors? What publications would be "nice to have," meaning they are stretch goals for the business either because they are top-tier (and everyone wants a mention), tend to cover just outside your industry, or cover a very wide range of topics?
Create your lists and then work backwards on what storylines might work for those particular publications and what pieces of the puzzle (metrics, customer testimonials, third party research, etc.) you might need to place the right story.
But do your research and make sure story opportunities are going to help drive your business objectives, not just get a story for the sake of getting a story.
It's everywhere. And it's at the forefront of many conversations these days.
But there are different ways to gather, analyze and distribute this data -- and, depending on your industry and audience, some approaches might be better than others.
In traditional enterprise settings, analyst firms like Gartner, Forrester and IDC tend to still dominate the third-party research arena, while on the consumer side, organizations like Omnibus have been the go-to to help create quick data points. Each of these can be expensive and time-consuming.
So are they worth it? It, honestly, depends.
In some cases there are cheaper, more DIY alternatives, but it ultimately depends on several factors including your audience and what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes a quick SurveyMonkey survey will do the trick but in others, having an independent, unbiased research team engaged provides more legitimacy to the project.
Regardless of your approach, it is important to be transparent. If you are sharing data points and survey results with members of the press, clearly explain your methodology and whether you sponsored the report. Just like with their regular reporting, journalists will come to their own conclusions and share their perspective with their readers accordingly (remember... this is earned media, not advertising).
Many people in the marketing and communications world have heard the acronym PESO (paid, earned, shared/social, owned) to talk about the different types of media out there in the world today. For this particular article, we are going to talk about the first two since they are so very often viewed as interchangeable by people both inside and out of the industry, resulting in lots of frustration and miscommunication around results.
While they work well together, paid and earned media are still separate entities. Many online news outlets, in order to bolster revenue, have been incorporating paid media outside of the traditional banner ads -- sponsored content, native advertising and/or advertorials -- on to their sites, making it difficult for readers to tell the difference between what was written by their staff and what was paid for and placed by a sponsor. In some cases, contributed articles can be viewed as paid media but that has started causing a backlash by editorial teams who want to ensure that their readers are getting expert opinions on timely topics, not just a self-serving corporate message.
Earned media centers around your traditional articles, Q&As and profile pieces, written by a journalist from their perspective after speaking with a variety of sources and experts. Unlike paid media, where you know when, where and what will be published, earned media is at the discretion of the journalist and his/her editor. Unless there are factual inaccuracies, stories are rarely adjusted. This is why is it "earned" media -- it is critical for your communications team to build the relationships with reporters and clearly understand what the story is about.
If it is a proactive pitch to a reporter, collecting all of the pieces of your ideal story in advance -- spokespeople, messages, data, external sources, etc. -- is vital. But even then, journalists have their own sources and views on various topics so their written words may not be exactly what you and your team were envisioning.
They could be worse -- or they could be even better. This is the gamble you take with earned media. If you aren't willing to take the risk, you and your team might be better off focusing resources on the other pieces of PESO.
This may seem obvious but it is a critical and sometimes overlooked step for many businesses. Identifying, and more importantly understanding, your audience can make or break your business. Yet many organizations tend to skip or gloss over it.
Dig in deep here. Yes, you may be excited to get to market with your product or launch to press but you need to get it right for the people that matter most: your customers.
Who are they? What problems are you facing and how does your product/service help solve those issues? What are their priorities? What values resonate most to them and why?
If you are planning to service different countries or industries, the answers to these questions most likely will be different for each segment. While your overarching points should be universally consistent, you will need to factor those differences into your messaging and value proposition for each market. This will affect everything from your website and your sale collateral to your executive talking points and advertising campaigns.
Taking the time to learn about your audience early on will make a world of difference in the long run. (It is also important to reevaluate your audience over time, as it could shift as your company and/or markets evolve.) Your customers will appreciate that you truly understand them and want to help them accomplish their business objectives.
There comes a time for every company and every PR professional, where a story has published and we don't like how it has turned out. Sometimes, the reporter decides to take the story in a completely different direction than originally discussed and it may not put the business or its leaders in the best light. Other times, the story is just downright inaccurate. And then there are times when it is just a difference of opinion.
PR professionals spend a lot of time combing through these stories, ensuring their accuracy. We have absolutely no problem reaching out to a journalist to correct errors in their reporting. And most reporters appreciate it when we flag these errors so that they give their readers the most accurate perspective possible.
But we also try to be mindful of these reporters' time when we reach out for corrections, only flagging actual factual inaccuracies. If it is a difference of opinion or issues with wording, more likely than not, it isn't worth pushing a reporter for changes. Why? Because 9 times out of 10, they won't make the changes and, even worse, they will just get irritated. That irritation could possibly cost the PR pro their relationship with the reporter, and the company future stories as well.
It just isn't worth it.
We all want stories about our businesses to be positive, but we also need to be realistic. If you are looking for your company message and narrative to be published word for word, you aren't looking for PR, you are looking for advertising. And there's a difference.
You have a PR team!
Whether you've hired a full-time in-house PR person, a part-time contractor or an agency, you and the business have committed to a PR program. This is a great first step. But the work doesn't stop there.
A responsible leadership team will not simply hire a PR person or team, walk away and assume that press coverage will start appearing overnight.
While there are no guarantees in PR, there are certainly steps that you can take to ensure you are getting the most out of your team.
While press hits and social media tend to dominate the conversation when it comes to communications programs, there are still a few more traditional elements that always seem to fall by the wayside.
Two of these are unsexy, foundational pieces to the PR puzzle, particularly when the business lacks news: speaking and awards.
Speaking opportunities allow company leaders to serve as thought leaders amongst their peers at industry events. These events happen year-round. It is important for the PR and marketing organizations to coordinate efforts around events in order to maximize opportunities where the business is already invested (e.g. sponsorships). While some speaking opportunities remain earned -- through submissions, abstracts and networking -- many are becoming pay-for-play scenarios (read: sponsorship is required for a speaking slot). Keep this in mind as you pull together budgets and plans for the year.
It is also important to keep in mind that once an executive has been selected to speak, the work isn't over. In fact, it has just begun. There will be prep sessions, calls to coordinate with your moderator and fellow panelists if it is a panel, presentation development, and practice, practice, practice, particularly if you are doing a keynote or solo talk.
Awards opportunities, like speaking, happen throughout the year. Given there are fees typically attached to each submission, it is important to understand budget allotment for the year as well as priorities. What honors mean the most to you, your customers and your partners? Are they industry-specific, product-based or leadership-focused?
Both speaking and awards programs take time and creativity to create but also need longer lead times to complete and secure. Most speaking opportunities have a 6-9 month lead time, for example. Keep this in mind as you incorporate these elements into your PR program.
Welcome to ROAMings, a compilation of thoughts and musings about the PR and media industries. This is an opportunity to discuss the “here and now” of the industry, interesting events or case studies, pivotal moments that affect how we approach PR, etc. It isn’t about brand loyalties or preferences -- and we will not be publishing self-promotional materials or talk about our clients in this setting -- but how those brands, individuals and events are leveraging (or in some cases abandoning) PR.