The Value of Brand Communications During Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Corporate bankruptcy does not mean a brand will become extinct or that it’s time to halt all marketing and communications. Instead, a Chapter 11 filing is an opportunity for a business to restructure debt and remain in operation. A strategic approach to brand communications leading up to, during, and following a Chapter 11 filing is key to successful emergence.

The United States saw a 26% increase in Chapter 11 business bankruptcy filings, in the first half of 2020, according to legal-services firm Epiq. Many retailers, travel companies, and oil and gas companies were among the over 3,600 companies filing for bankruptcy protection, including Brooks Brothers, Ascena Retail Group (Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant), Hertz, 24 Hour Fitness, and Frontier Communications. In the coming months, there will likely be many more companies that are significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and changing consumer behavior, filing for bankruptcy protection.

However, Chapter 11 is not all doom and gloom. The objective is often to reorganize the business, not liquidate it entirely. A company going through Chapter 11 typically downsizes its operations. For example, many retailers who’ve announced Chapter 11 filing are closing down select stores and selling off certain brands.

There are many misconceptions about bankruptcy. Therefore, there’s a critical need to reassure a variety of audiences throughout the process. Brand communications play a vital role in sharing important information about the future of a business as it enters, manages through, and emerges from bankruptcy. 

Here are several central pillars to effective brand communications in support of Chapter 11 filings.

Create a communications task force. 

Internal alignment requires close coordination across leadership, legal, sales, marketing, and client-facing teams. Consider engaging outside communications counsel in the form of a specialized PR agency or consultant with relevant experience.

Craft the narrative. 

The brand should own the present and future narrative. Don’t let others tell your story. Communicate new information along the restructuring journey to guide the media, partners, and customers regarding your transformation. 

Find your allies.

Share and back up your story through parties who can support your communications, including analysts, influencers, partners, and ‘friendly’ reporters. Focus on the markets where you have a strong presence because of the vested interest in your future success.

Lean on leadership.

The CEO’s role is to set clear expectations and reassure customers, employees, and the general public. The top executive should focus on transparent and open communications that outline the organization’s future. Leadership can draw on brands who’ve successfully restructured and refocused their business.

Be consistent.

There are typically many audiences who will be following Chapter 11 developments and information. Orchestrate consistent communications that mirror your filing but tailor these themes by the audience.

The Chapter 11 process is not a time to neglect your brand communications and marketing. Rather, it’s an opportunity to provide information reflective of the company’s new direction. 

What’s in a Name? A Lot. Here’s How to Successfully Rebrand Your Business

Rebrands of companies, products, and services are not uncommon. A company may choose to rebrand to refresh a stale image. Often a rebrand is triggered by a merger or acquisition. A scandal is also a catalyst for a rebrand. For example, increased focus and sensitivity surrounding brands with controversial roots like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s have led to recent rebrand announcements.

Successful rebranding, regardless of the impetus, starts with a thoughtful assessment of why, what, how, when, and where.

  • Why rebrand now?
  • What aspects of the brand need a refresh?
  • How will the rebrand work be done?
  • When will the new brand launch?
  • Where will you represent your new brand?

Why Rebrand Now?

A new marketing leader or executive looking to institute change may request a rebrand. But is that the right reason? Your brand wasn’t built in a day. Before rebranding, it’s worth taking stock of your brand, its history, market perception, and current value.

Weigh the pros and cons of moving forward with a rebranding effort along with the anticipated cost. Get input from a cross-section of the company along with end customers.

What Aspects of the Brand Need a Refresh?

Most people outside of the marketing community would associate a rebrand with a name change, but there’s much more to it. Determine if you’re reimagining the brand’s visual representation, language, story, or a combination of these elements. Create a complete list of all the brand aspects you wish to revamp.

How Will the Rebrand Work Be Done?

Companies of all sizes have been through the rebranding process. While many, such as Google/Alphabet, have significant in-house marketing staff, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a rebrand should be executed entirely by an internal team.

Outside perspective and expertise can provide an unbiased point of view and more in-depth experience related to rebranding. This sounding board and external counsel can also help to sell through ideas to leadership and management without jeopardizing relationships.

When Will the New Brand Launch?

Unless you’re a household name, most of the general public will have little interest in your new brand. However, employees and loyal customers may be more invested. Be sensitive to the audiences that will care most and consider timing the rebrand to something meaningful like a corporate anniversary, large company or industry event, or another milestone.

Where Will You Represent Your New Brand?

Orchestrating the new brand launch requires a coordinated effort across your brand channels. If you send a customer email introducing a new brand, but your website still aligns with your retired brand, the rebrand is incomplete and ineffective.

Take stock of your current marketing resources – both digital and offline – as well as your internal materials and training efforts. Ensure that all of your employees, especially those within sales, marketing, client services, and leadership, understand how to express the new brand. An end-to-end rebrand can’t happen overnight. It will require support from many departments, from HR for training and onboarding to technology for digital representation.

Be Thorough and Patient.

A rebrand is typically a massive undertaking. Make sure you have a plan and secure buy-in from the critical stakeholders. Take your time to do it properly and ask the right questions from the start.

Brands Cannot Be Silent and Ignore Injustice

While some brands may be reluctant to enter political discussions, the state of race, racial violence, and police brutality in America is more than politics. And your consumers and employees care deeply about combating violence and racism.

Following the horrific death of George Floyd, which sparked protests not only in the U.S. but around the world, countless influencers and celebrities spoke out across social media and online platforms to fight racism and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

While some brands may be reluctant to enter political discussions, the state of race, racial violence, and police brutality in America is more than politics. And your consumers and employees care deeply about combating violence and racism.

One brand that continues to demonstrate bravery when it comes to addressing race relations is Nike, who released a new ad across its digital channels. The ad featured plain white text over a black screen stating:

For once, don’t do it.

Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America.

Don’t turn your back on racism.

Don’t accept innocent lives being taken from us.

Don’t make any more excuses.

Don’t think this doesn’t affect you.

Don’t sit back and be silent.

Don’t think you can’t be part of the change.

Let’s all be part of the change.

Nike doesn’t shy away from taking a stand on issues of race, evident from their Colin Kaepernick ad in Sept. 2018. There were many other brands that made statements on social media in response to the tragedy, including the NFL, Netflix, and Ben & Jerry’s, to name a few. Following its original May 30 post, Netflix shared the following on June 10, letting followers know of its intention to highlight Black storytelling:

There also have been brands that have pledged significant donations to related organizations and initiatives, including Warby Parker and Peloton.

Standing up and addressing societal issues isn’t a new concept in marketing. Marketing leaders have been talking about and advising brands to be brave and bold for years. But there are still some brands too hesitant to speak out and take action. Why?

You don’t need significant resources to communicate your support and condolences, but you must be genuine and authentic in however you share your message. Accept that you can’t please everyone and there will be critics, but sharing your support and values is important. When speaking out about social issues, consider the following:

  • Talk to your employees: Use internal channels to reach employees and initiate a two-way conversation.
  • Think about the appropriate channels: Social media can be an ideal place to join the dialogue, but you may have a good reason to email your subscribers.

And where it’s possible, find ways to align with a cause that complements your brand’s values and focuses on supporting racial and social justice.

Consumers and employees want to know that brands are paying attention and will not tolerate inequality, violence, and prejudice. Now is the time to make a statement and help facilitate change.

What Brands Need to Know About the Current State of Earned Media

The news cycle is overwhelmed with pandemic-related stories. Media organizations are facing trying times, and it’s hard to get the attention of reporters to pitch your company’s latest news. Yet, earned media remains an essential strategy for brands who want to reach their customers and prospects with trusted information.

The news cycle is overwhelmed with pandemic-related stories. Media organizations are facing trying times, including managing remote staff, a reduction in resources, and anti-press attacks. It’s now harder than ever to get the attention of reporters and pitch your company’s latest news. Yet, earned media remains an essential strategy for brands who want to reach their customers and prospects with trusted information.

To be successful at securing news coverage, brands must understand the current state of media and how to best engage the press.

Find the Right Audience

Before a brand can pursue earned media, research must be done to know the reporter and publication and ensure it’s an appropriate match for your story.

According to Cision’s “2020 State of the Media Report,” the No. 1 thing that PR professionals could do to help reporters is to understand reporters’ target audience, and what they find relevant. Of the over 3000 reporters surveyed by Cision, only one percent consider 75% to 100% of the pitches they receive as relevant.

To ensure relevance, read past stories and look at what reporters are sharing and discussing on their social handles, in particular Twitter, where many reporters and publications have an active presence.

Keep in mind that coverage areas of reporters and publications are changing in the face of COVID-19. For example, the New York Times has scaled back its Travel and Sports coverage and introduced a new section called At Home.

Be Strategic With Your Communications

Cision’s study emphasized that reporters feel bombarded with pitches and prefer email: 51% of respondents said they get from 1-50 pitches a week, 25% receive 51-100 per week, 10% receive 101-151 per week, and 14% receive over 151.

You need a good pitch, sent to the right contact and publication. If you don’t hear back right away, be patient, and send only one follow-up within a few days of your initial outreach.

Perfect Your Pitch

A pitch should be concise and include supporting information such as links and a press release. According to Cision, 72% of journalists said press releases and news announcements were one of the kinds of content they wanted to receive.

Within the pitch, let the reporter know the source available to comment, as well as when and how (video or phone) an interview can take place.

Put your news into the context of a bigger story or trend. You shouldn’t treat earned media as an advertisement or promotion (save this for owned and paid content). Therefore, do not fill your pitch with marketing speak and jargon.

Find Virtual Ways to Build Media Relationships

Your pitch is more likely to be read if the reporter knows you and your brand. Getting to know reporters is an integral part of securing earned media now and in the future. However, COVID-19 has halted our ability to network with reporters, and the broader marketing community, at conferences and events. In this environment, there are no face-to-face coffee or lunch meetings taking place.

You can, however, find creative ways to develop relationships. Social media is a valuable platform to explore shared interests with reporters. I’ve connected with reporters on topics such as cooking, fitness, parenthood, and music.

Now is not the time to abandon an earned media strategy. Instead, to break through the news clutter, brands should be strategic, flexible, and informed.

 

6 Tips for Brand Communications on a Budget

We are facing a bleak global economic outlook due to the spread of COVID-19. For many brands, recovery will take time. However, an economic downturn is not a reason to halt all brand communications and public relations activities. There are many things that brands can do to raise their visibility with limited investment and strategic allocation of resources.

We are facing a bleak global economic outlook due to the spread of COVID-19. For many brands, recovery will take time. However, an economic downturn is not a reason to halt all brand communications and public relations activities. There are many things that brands can do to raise their visibility with limited investment and strategic allocation of resources.

Take Advantage of Free Content Platforms

If your business is not able to invest in paid advertising or promotional content, there are great platforms to share thought leadership and increase visibility with current and potential followers. Medium and LinkedIn are sites that provide an opportunity to build reach with your audience, as well as the chance for compelling content to become viral.

Find Passionate Writers Within Your Organization

It can be challenging to lean on your most senior executives to serve as subject matter experts for brand communications when these leaders are focused on keeping the business afloat. However, there are typically many other SMEs that are untapped who can be a valuable asset when you’re developing content. Ideally, these folks are looking for professional development and advancement opportunities, and you can increase their visibility in the organization and industry. In all pockets of the companies I’ve worked for, I’ve found former journalists and passionate writers. To identify these individuals, consider an internal poll or leverage LinkedIn and Twitter to see which employees are actively blogging or sharing insightful articles.

Use Social Media to Find and Engage Reporters

There are many PR tools available today that help you identify reporters, contact them, and track stories and coverage. However, if you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend, Twitter is a great free resource. Reporters are very active, and many include their contact information, or you can reach them via direct message. Through reporters’ social media accounts, you can easily see what they cover as well as what interests them on a personal level to help build your relationship with them.

Lean on Corporate Partners, Clients, and Industry Organizations

Your business partners are likely facing similar circumstances and are trying to do more with less. Consider collaborating with like-minded clients, industry organizations, and vendors on communications and PR activities. Together you can make your resources go farther and tap into each other’s reach.

Look for Hungry Consultants

PR agencies carry a hefty price tag and may not be right for your needs or your budget. A consultant can be a cost-effective alternative and a way to get traction quickly. Agree upon goals, the scope of work, and metrics for success to make sure your investment aligns with your strategy.

Revisit Past Successes

Look back on your past brand communications and PR successes. Often there’s an opportunity to update and refresh successful content and PR strategies, especially thought leadership, research, and pitch angles.

Brand communications and PR belong in the marketing mix during economic ups and downs. There are plenty of ways to build and protect your reputation without a hefty investment.

 

How Brands Should Communicate During Uncertain Times

Today, every company is dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak in some way or another. Companies need to be thinking about their brand communication with stakeholders and how they manage their reputation during these challenging times.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the greatest reputation risks brands face in 2020. At the time, the threat of COVID-19 — the 2019 novel coronavirus — wasn’t prevalent, as it is globally today. I emphasized in my post that compromised health and safety poses a threat to brands, and negligent companies will face devastating reputational consequences.

Today, every company is dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak in some way or another. And it has nothing to do with negligence.

For starters, the coronavirus has an impact on employee well-being, leading many companies to put travel restrictions in place and encourage remote work. Additionally, there is significant impact on customer relationships and financial performance. Therefore, companies need to be thinking about their brand communication with stakeholders and how they manage their reputation during these challenging times.

Start by Communicating. Period.

Now is not the time to stay silent with your employees, customers, and other stakeholders. While you may not have all the answers, rapid and regular communications can help alleviate potential concerns. If you don’t let your employees and customers know how you’re handling the current state of affairs, they will wonder if it’s a priority to you at all. Reassurances matter.

Employees will want to know how expectations are changing and about accommodations to keep them healthy and safe.

Customers also will want to know how brands are addressing the risk of COVID-19, at brick-and-mortar locations, with their employees and otherwise.

Make Responsible Decisions

My inbox is flooded with communications from companies I have relationships with providing information about their new protocols due to the coronavirus.

For example, my local health club shared information about how they’re increasing their cleaning and sanitization procedures. I received a similar communication from a transportation company, highlighting the precautions they’re taking with their vehicles and drivers.

Near-term expenses, such as additional cleaning, added resources, and paid leave for sick employees, will ensure the health and safety of customers and employees. These investments will also help to maintain and improve brand reputation and increase customer retention and loyalty.

Use a Variety of Brand Communication Vehicles

Brands tend to over-rely on email because it’s inexpensive, and production times are short. However, consumers’ inboxes are overwhelmed with marketing messages. To ensure you reach your audience with time-sensitive, developing information, leverage a variety of owned, paid, and earned channels.

Post updates on social media and create a destination on your website to reflect the latest information. Train your employees on the front lines so they can deliver reassurances to customers directly.

Be Earnest, Helpful, and Sensitive — Don’t Exploit the Epidemic

I’ve written about Elon Musk’s poor judgment as a brand spokesperson, but continue to be shocked by behavior like his insensitive coronavirus tweet.

For most people who contract COVID-19, it will be like a mild flu. Some populations, however, are particularly vulnerable, and brands need to be sensitive to the fear, anxiety, and threats many people currently face.

Certain brands and categories, such as hand sanitizer, are subject to strict FDA regulations in terms of how they communicate and market concerning the coronavirus, so it’s essential to understand what’s appropriate and permissible.

Now is not the time for coronavirus discounts or apocalyptic sales. Brands should focus on providing helpful information and reassuring their stakeholders. Clorox, for example, has created valuable educational content on its website.

Leverage Reliable and Credible Sources

It’s always important to present factual and accurate information — but right now it’s crucial. The speed and availability of information in times like these is unprecedented, thanks to social media and digital platforms. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of misinformation circulating. Corona beer has nothing to do with coronavirus. Lysol didn’t know about the outbreak before it happened.

The CDC and the World Health Organization  (WHO) provide the most accurate and timeliest information.

As a brand, take this time to commit to a communications strategy that informs, educates, and provides reassurances. It will make a difference.

10 PR Don’ts That Will Tarnish Brand Reputations With the Media

If you follow reporters on Twitter, inevitably you will encounter a frustrated post condemning the behavior of a PR pro or company. Experienced brand communicators should have enough understanding of journalism that they wouldn’t intentionally exhibit this behavior.

If you follow reporters on Twitter, inevitably you will encounter a frustrated post condemning the behavior of a PR pro or company. Experienced brand communicators should have enough understanding of journalism that they wouldn’t intentionally exhibit this behavior. However, lapses in judgment may be the result of colleagues or leaders disregarding the advice of the PR expert.

Here are 10 “don’ts” that will alienate reporters and put a company’s reputation at risk.

No. 1: Asking to See a Reporter’s Article Before It Publishes

If you’re lucky, a friendly reporter may let you review your quote. But if you’re interested in seeing a full article before it publishes, then your best bet is writing a contributed piece.

No. 2: Pitching a Story, Getting Interest, and Then Telling the Reporter That Your Spokesperson Is Unavailable

Make sure your spokesperson, or spokespeople, will be available to speak to reporters before you begin to pitch the story. If your subject matter expert is traveling, on vacation, or unreachable, make sure you have a backup plan or delay your outreach until the SME is available.

No. 3: Providing Misinformation

A spokesperson may not have every answer and that’s okay. In pre-interview preparation, instruct your spokesperson on how to handle a situation where they are unsure of a response. A spokesperson should ask if they can check on the answer and follow up with the reporter. They should never guess or provide incorrect information.

No. 4: Requesting a Correction on Something That’s Not Incorrect

A correction should only be requested if the information in an article is wrong. Asking for changes to anything else is an insult to the journalist. If the article is not what you wanted it to say, use this experience to inform your future PR efforts and strategy. Sometimes you just need to accept the outcome and move on.

No. 5: Asking Why You Weren’t in an Article About Your Industry or One That Featured a Competitor

You’re not going to be in every article and, of course, it’s frustrating and disappointing to be overlooked. However, instead of lobbing complaints at a reporter, use this experience as an opportunity to develop an education strategy so you’re top of mind the next time they write on the topic.

No. 6: Sharing Embargoed Information Before Agreeing With a Reporter That the Information Is Embargoed

This is not how embargoes work. You should reach out to the reporter, tease the announcement and ask explicitly if they would like the exclusive and/or embargoed announcement. If the reporter says “yes,” then you agree on the restrictions, such as the timeframe and exclusivity.

No. 7: Being Disrespectful

Treat reporters with respect and act professionally. You are a reflection of your company. Be on time. Appearances matter. Profanities are unacceptable.

No. 8: Following Up Too Many Times or Too Frequently

I find that one follow-up email or phone call is appropriate. As a best practice, give reporters at least 48 hours to respond, unless the news is time-sensitive. Reporters receive hundreds of emails per day and they can’t possibly respond to everyone. If you don’t hear back, they are likely too busy or uninterested. Move on, seek out other outlets, or look for a more compelling angle.

No. 9: Bribing a Reporter or Other Illegal Behavior

It’s shameful to offer money or other payment for a reporter to write about your company. Reporters will accept an invitation for a meal or coffee. But if you’re looking to pay for coverage, opt for an advertorial or sponsored article, instead.

No. 10: Confusing PR With Marketing

The reporter’s job is not to give you free advertising or marketing. They are reporting the news. A completely self-serving pitch is unlikely to generate interest. If you want to advertise your business, paid opportunities are more suitable.

Do Better

Public relations is all about relationships. Reporters have a job to do and so do PR pros. Let’s strive to make interactions mutually beneficial in 2020 and use social media to commend one another.

Reputational Risks Brands Face in 2020 and What to Do About Them

The CMO Council touched on many of the reputational risks that marketers need to have on their radar in 2020 and beyond. Below are five brand risks that I believe will be widespread in the year ahead, along with a bit of advice for marketers.

Marketers are responsible for building, managing, and protecting corporate brands. Considering how quickly a brand can go from loved to loathed, being a brand custodian is a daunting task. With a tarnished reputation, companies lose customers, employees, investors, and value.

In a recently released pictogram and listicle, “Bruised, Battered, and Embattled Brands,” The CMO Council highlighted 20 of the most challenged brands in 2019 and 15 of the most critical issues impacting brand perception. The CMO Council touched on many of the reputational risks that marketers need to have on their radar in 2020 and beyond.

Below are five brand risks that I believe will be widespread in the year ahead, along with a bit of advice for marketers.

Privacy and Security Incidents

Trust is fundamental to brand reputation. Companies want their customers to trust them and feel secure transacting with their company. Maintaining data privacy and keeping information secure is a customer expectation, and rightly so. And while privacy and security are not new reputational risks, CCPA ups the ante and no company wants to be the first company penalized and publicized for failure to comply.

Advice: Build alignment between marketing and privacy teams, with a focus on transparency, trust, and preparedness.

Polarizing Politics

2019 brought to light many politicized issues in workplaces, such as the Wayfair worker protest against the sale of beds to migrant camps. As we embark on an election year, companies will continue to be thrust into the political divide, whether they like it or not.

Advice: Companies need to establish their political boundaries and clearly communicate any limitations to their stakeholders; in particular employees, or they risk being the next brand battleground.

Marketing and Advertising Fails

Brand snafus are identified and discussed at an unprecedented rate across social and digital channels. Peloton’s holiday advertisement is a prime example of an ad campaign turned viral branding criticism. The Peloton scrutiny expanded well beyond social, with coverage across national news outlets and even an “SNL” skit.

Advice: Test your marketing programs with a wide audience before launch. Monitor social and digital conversations about your brand. When all else fails, apologize sincerely.

Compromised Health and Safety

PG&E, Boeing, and Juul failed consumers and their brand reputations have taken a massive hit. All three landed on the CMO Council’s list of companies in the crosshairs. A company that is negligent about health and safety will face devastating reputational consequences.

Advice: Hurting people (or any living thing) is never OK. If your company is careless and harmful, get your resume in order, immediately.

Management Missteps

Behavior in the corner office is under the microscope like never before. Executives are (finally) being held responsible for how they treat employees and for their ethics. With CEO turnover at an all-time high, far too many of these changes are being driven by misconduct, as we saw with the abrupt departure of McDonald’s CEO over a violation of company policy related to a consensual relationship.

Advice: View leadership changes as an opportunity to redefine the brand. Follow a clear playbook to reassure internal and external stakeholders.

No Risk, No Reward

There will undoubtedly be brand reputation winners and losers this year. However, responsible marketers understand the risks they may face and can learn from the mistakes of those who’ve suffered before them.

To Find Your 2020 Agency Partner, Look Beyond ‘Agency of the Year’

There’s no shortage of agency rankings, highlighting the “agency of the year” for advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing technology vendors, and more. Accolades are important, but often to the agencies themselves, where recognition serves as a recruiting tool and validation.

There’s no shortage of agency rankings, highlighting the “agency of the year” for advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing technology vendors, and more. Accolades are important, but often to the agencies themselves, where recognition serves as a recruiting tool and validation.

When selecting agency partners, you should focus less on who’s the “best” and more on what a great agency partner means for your brand. Look beyond “agency of the year” and strive instead for compatibility.

Finding Your Agency Mate

Before even beginning the search, you need clear goals and must identify what you are trying to achieve by bringing in an outside resource.

Word of mouth, reputation, and recommendations can help narrow the field to a shortlist of potential partners. But what happens next?

5 Focus Areas for Agency Selection

From my experience on both the client and agency side, I recommend focusing on five areas as you assess potential partners: cultural fit, talent, success metrics, adaptability, and unique, specialized expertise.

Cultural Fit

Cultural fit is perhaps the most challenging criteria to define. Agency-client compatibility requires a set of shared beliefs and behaviors. If you aren’t able to see eye-to-eye with your agency, you won’t be able to work together successfully.

Assessing cultural fit requires spending time in-person with the agency team, ideally in their office, and getting to know individuals across levels and functions. There may be people outside of the day-to-day agency team who could shed light on the company culture, including HR and communications. Speaking to client references is another important culture check.

Talent

Strong agencies attract strong talent — at all levels. You need a consistent, tenured team that understands your business. If talent comes and goes, it is a huge strain on the relationship, because you need to invest time and energy in building new relationships at your agency partners.

During the selection process, ask about the average tenure at the agency and learn about their recruiting and training policies. These questions will help you uncover how the agency hires, invests in and retains talented employees.

Success Metrics

Great relationships are formed when the agency and client are jointly successful. Yet success can mean different things to different people. A shared point of view when it comes to measuring success is fundamental to closely aligned agency-client relationships.

Review how the agency has measured success with other clients and research the latest measures being used in your industry and adjacent industries.

Adaptability

If you want the relationship to be long-term, then the agency must be adaptable. Leaders change. Mandates evolve. The industry transforms. Agencies that are flexible and adaptable can serve their clients, regardless of the circumstances.

Request specific examples of long-standing client relationships and ask about the evolution of those relationships. Discuss scenarios that illustrate how their mandate might shift over time and see how the agency would respond to those hypothetical situations.

Unique, Specialized Expertise

Most agencies have a secret sauce — something that sets them apart. If the agency has expertise specific to your industry or competitive set, you will need to decide if the institutional knowledge outweighs the potential client conflicts.

Throughout your discussions with possible partners, dig deep into their unique and specialized capabilities — technologies, data, processes, knowledge, etc. These differentiators could be the determining factor in selecting your agency partner.

Keep an Open Mind

As you search for agency resources, consider unconventional solutions. An agency isn’t always the answer. For example, ask yourself, should I build this capability in-house? Additionally, for some brands, a consultant or group of consultants can provide a nimble, strategic support model.

Don’t get caught up in the “best agency” hype. Seek a partner that is best for you.

All’s Fair in Love, War, and Business — Addressing a Competitor’s Bold Moves

It’s no coincidence that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, announced that his platform would ban political ads less than an hour before Facebook’s much-anticipated Q3 earnings call. It wasn’t the first time that a competitor made a business decision that forced a company to either follow suit or defend its position.

It’s no coincidence that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, announced that his platform would ban political ads less than an hour before Facebook’s much-anticipated third-quarter earnings call. While this is a business decision, and Dorsey will forgo revenue as a result, his move had a broad-reaching marketing impact; especially given the timing.

Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t typically do well in the hot seat; however, he stood behind his policy, saying, “I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians and the news.”

I can only speculate, but it’s likely that Zuckerberg, his legal, marketing, PR, and investor relations teams held an eleventh-hour strategy session to prep and align on Facebook’s response ahead of the earnings call, and for the coming days.

Companies on the Defensive

It wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that a competitor made a business decision that forced a company to either follow suit or defend its alternate position.

In early October, Charles Schwab made a surprising announcement that it would eliminate commission fees on online stock, ETF, and options trades. Hours later, TD Ameritrade announced it would also reduce fees to zero. E-Trade did the same the following day.

All is fair in love, war, and business. When a competitor makes a bold move, business leaders must make tough decisions that have major ramifications — financial, moral, ethical, and otherwise. In order to address the competition’s news, a strategic marketing response is required.

Marketing and Communications Readiness to Counter the Competition

Whether or not your company plans to follow a competitor’s lead or chart your own path, marketing and communications readiness will ensure you communicate effectively with customers, prospects, and the general public surrounding the matter.

Close Alignment With Leadership

A response to the competition’s news is more successful if marketing has a seat at the table with leaders as they make any related decision. The marketing team can be a sounding board on the reputational impact of the business decision and can help with the planning and strategy for the response to ensure the company’s position relative to the competition is clear.

Real-Time, Multichannel Response

Following Charles Schwab’s announcement, the companies who reduced their fees in step with Schwab needed to move quickly to retain their customers and ride the news wave. Again, alignment with leaders is crucial, because marketing teams can only move quickly with marketing efforts if they have access to stakeholders and decision-makers.

Digital channels allow for the quickest turnaround for marketing efforts and a variety of levers must be pulled simultaneously to have the greatest impact. This requires a collaborative approach across marketing, sales, client relationship management, and other teams.

Strong PR Foundation

Well ahead of these circumstances, it is important to have a solid PR foundation, including approved subject matter experts who have been vetted, prepped, and coached.

Additionally, PR teams should be continuously building media relationships before there’s even news to share. Then, when it is time to participate in a relevant dialogue, the reporter knows your company and will be more likely return calls or emails.

Reclaim the Competitive Advantage

There’s no way to anticipate every move your competitor will make. However, if you’re strategic and prepared, you can use your competitor’s news to your marketing advantage.