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.

 

WWTT? Draper James’ Free Dress for Teachers Giveaway Debacle

Sometimes well-intentioned plans can land a brand in hot water with customers and prospects, especially when there is a fail regarding the plan’s execution. Such is the case of Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James fashion line and the debacle it’s facing with the free dress for teachers giveaway launched earlier in April.

As I began to work on this week’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I dug through my inbox, looking for a campaign that celebrated solidarity, creativity, or just something worth talking about this week in the world of marketing. Then I saw an email from Target Marketing friend and blogger, Chuck McLeester, and down the rabbit hole I fell as I read The New York Time’s article, “Reese Witherspoon’s Fashion Line Offered Free Dresses to Teachers. They Didn’t Mean Every Teacher.” with my morning coffee. The debacle involving a free dress for teachers giveaway brought this to mind:

The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew

Who knew that on Day 36 of quarantine/isolation/social distancing/THIS (gestures wildly), I’d be quoting a Robert Burn’s poem in a “What Were They Thinking?” post, but here we are. So let’s look at the issue of not thinking through your well-intentioned plans enough, and the kind of havoc that can cause your brand, your marketing team, and your reputation in the long run.

On April 2, Reese Witherspoon’s fashion line, Draper James, shared the free dress giveaway via the following Instagram post:

Draper James Free Dress Instagram Post

Now, as my Mom has always said “It’s the thought that counts …” and while it certainly is a nice thought to offer a free dress, there are NO expectations for giveaway applicants set in the post. The post reads:

Dear Teachers: We want to say thank you. During quarantine, we see you working harder than ever to educate our children. To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress. To apply, complete the form at the link in the bio before this Sunday, April 5th, 11:59 PM ET (Offer valid while supplies last – winners with be notified April 7th)

Yes, the post states “while supplies last.” But c’mon. If there are a set amount of dresses, SAY IT. Especially when the line before reads: “To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress.”

What did most of these people see? “To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress.” Their expectations soared, and while most people would realize that there probably weren’t enough for all applicants, there also wasn’t a single expectation set. A lot of teachers — who have been working their butts off, are most likely exhausted, burnt out, and worried about their own host of concerns — got their hopes up.

What would I have done, had I written the copy? Made it really clear. Maybe something like: “To show our gratitude, Draper James is offering 250 free dresses to teachers who apply to this giveaway as a thank you. If you are not selected as a free dress recipient, we will be providing discount codes, should you want to purchase a dress from Draper James.”

Because without setting clear expectations, you have these sorts of conversations and complaints cropping up:

That’s right … when teachers signed up for the giveaway, they had to include their email address (that’s standard for most giveaways, so no issue there) … however, my question is will Draper James be using them to market to these teachers now? In most cases of giveaways, this is not a big deal because it’s in the fine print (and I’m sure it was included here, too). But the way this was executed has really turned off a lot of individuals.

In an attempt to address this and apologize, Draper James did reach out to those who applied for the giveaway and added the following messages to its Instagram story (now a highlight called DJ <3 Teachers):

Draper James Free Dress Instagram Story Part 1Draper James Free Dress Instagram Story Part 2Draper James Free Dress Instagram Story Part 3It’s something, but honestly, it feels a bit too late. There are a lot of disappointed teachers right now, and the partnership and offering of funds to the nonprofit might not be enough to completely remove this scuff from Draper James’ brand reputation.

Look, it’s hard right now, and there are so many people at brands who want to do good things for others; that is a great mindset and spirit to have. Fashion designers have shifted over to creating masks for healthcare workers; meals are being donated; there is a lot of good being done. And I think the decision makers at Draper James had very good intentions. Quoted in the New York Times article I mentioned above, Draper James SVP for Brand Marketing and Creative Marissa Cooley said:

“We felt like we moved too quickly and didn’t anticipate the volume of the response. We were really overwhelmed. It was way more volume than the company had ever seen. We expected the single-digit thousands.”

Even when you want to help, you still need to stop, think through the plan, and figure out the best way to execute it in a sustainable way.

As Chuck said to me in our email exchange about the story:

“My take on it was purely from a metrics standpoint. 3 million teachers, 77% female, 2.3 million prospects, a free offer of a valuable item — even at a paltry 1% response rate that’s 23,000 responses or 100x the number of dresses that they had to give away.”

This could have been avoided, and I bet if applicants had known there was a limited amount, it would have been received in a much better fashion. But what do you think marketers? Drop me a line in the comments below.

Brands Need to Keep Engaging – Don’t Just Stop Because of Crisis

We are in extraordinary times – and it’s only prudent to recognize this. While the Fed may be doing everything possible to keep our economy afloat, we likely will remain in limbo until a public health victory is apparent. It’s time to take stock of what we do on behalf of our brands and clients, to immediate effect.

Among thousands of businesses these past two-plus weeks, many of us have effectively handed our marketing decisions over to finance and accounting. Which means, if you’re not producing an immediate revenue gain, you’re probably being cost-reduced to the bone, if not entirely out of work. Such is the illiquidous, flash-frozen effect of COVID-19 on our economy. We’ve lost more U.S. jobs in three weeks than we did during the expanse of the Great Recession.

Cash is in crunch, and though The Fed may be doing everything possible to keep our economy afloat (will it work?) we likely will remain in limbo until a public health victory is apparent. That could be months. It may yet take longer to resume growth – and who knows how business and consumer behavior may have changed by then? We are in extraordinary times – and it’s only prudent to recognize this.

It’s time to take stock of what we do on behalf of our brands and clients, to immediate effect. There is much work to do.

Marketing Must Continue … With Prudence

  • Every pharmacy, drug store, food store, and big-box retailer – and the agencies that support them – should proactively communicate store safety measures, and elevate “conveniences” such as shop-online-and-pick-up-in-store to the preferred method of distribution. This is an opportunity to build consumer and brand trust.
  • For financial marketers, the need to connect with consumers right now regarding savings, budgeting tools, and capital preservation should be a high priority. Make it happen.
  • On television, I’ve seen the messages of optimism from the likes of Walmart, Toyota, and Ford. (Post your inspired ad in the comments section below to share, please.) We need these messages right now. Beyond our own mortality, we will emerge on the other side of this. Brands need to be megaphones for hope and empathy. And certainly not insensitivity.
  • Perhaps TV spending is too steep for many brands’ budgets. In my email inbox, my favorite restaurants offer meals-to-go, my coffee house enables virtual tips for unemployed baristas and healthcare workers, and nonprofit organizations are postponing their live fundraising events with an online ask for the here and now. Needs don’t stop, in fact, the chronic has become acute. For those of us who can afford to help, there’s a collective mood to give. There are reasons to keep relevant communication appropriately flowing to audiences.
  • My previous post addressed data quality. Let me repeat: all those mobile and data visitors to your sites right now must not go unrecognized. Ensure you have a data and tech plan to identify (perhaps in the form of free registration, analyze, and engage accordingly.
  • Respond to the Census. Yes, do it for democracy. But we in the marketing business also know how invaluable Census data is to the economy, and the strategies we map for our brands.

So, yes, we’re all facing a flash freeze. And marketing-as-normal needs to be re-calibrated. So let’s re-calibrate … show our CFOs the likely payback, and let’s get going.

 

 

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.

What I Hope to Learn in Orlando’s Magic ‘Data’ Kingdom

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) inaugural 2020 Masters of Data and Technology Conference kicks off today. It will be interesting to learn how brands see themselves transformed by all the digital (and offline) data surrounding prospects and customers at this Magic Data Kingdom in Orlando.

As I get ready to embark to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) inaugural 2020 Masters of Data and Technology Conference (beginning today), I’m very curious to listen in and learn how brands see themselves transformed by all the digital (and offline) data surrounding prospects and customers.  With CMOs telling ANA that this topic area is a strategic priority, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed this week in Orlando’s Magic Data Kingdom.

Are “they” — the brands — finding answers to these questions?

  • Do they have command of data in all the channels of customer engagement?
  • Are they deriving new sources of customer intelligence that had previously gone untapped?
  • Can they accurately map customer journeys — and their motivations along the way?
  • Are they truly able to identify customers across platforms accurately with confidence?
  • How do data science and creativity come together to make more effective advertising — and meet business real-world objectives?
  • What disruptions are shaking the foundations of B2C and B2B engagement today?
  • Are investments in data and technology paying dividends to brands and businesses in increased customer value? Do customers, too, value the data exchange?
  • Is there a talent pool in adequate to deliver data-derived, positive business outcomes? What more resources or tools might they need?
  • What impacts do barriers on open data flows — walled gardens, browser defaults, privacy legislation, “techlash” — have on relevance, competition, diversity in content and other business, economic and social concerns? How can these be managed?
  • Are “brand” people and “data” people truly becoming one in the same in marketing, and in business?

Admittedly, that’s a lot of questions — and perhaps the answers to some of these may be elusive. However, it’s the dialogue among industry peers here that will matter.

The mere emergence of this conference — “new” in the ANA lexicon — is perhaps a manifestation of where the Data & Marketing Association (acquired by ANA in 2018) hoped to achieve in its previous annual conferences and run-up to acquisition. The full promise of data-driven marketing — and “growth” in an Information Economy — can only happen when brands themselves (and, yes, their agencies and ad tech partners, too) have command of data and tech disciplines, and consumers continue to be willing partners in the exchange.

Imagination lives beyond the domain of the Magic Kingdom (where we all can take inspiration from Disney, nearby). Likewise, aspirations can be achieved. Let’s listen in and learn as ANA takes rein of this brands- and data-welcomed knowledge share. Growth is a beautiful thing.

 

What Sports Teams Teach Brands About Lovemarks

Back in 2004, Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, put out the idea of Lovemarks: Brands that rise to such a high level of love and respect that they separate from the rest of the pack. There are a lot of brands out there — most of them are ones that we might like, but not really love.

Back in 2004, Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, put out the idea of Lovemarks: Brands that rise to such a high level of love and respect that they separate from the rest of the pack. There are a lot of brands out there — most of them are ones that we might like, but not really love.

Think of a graph, with axes going low-to-high with love and respect. On the lower-left quadrant is a commodity. On the highest end is the Lovemark.

The easiest example is thinking of coffee. In the low end of love and respect, the coffee is a commodity. On the high end is, of course, Starbucks. But, there’s a place that’s high on respect, but lower on love … that’s where Folger’s lives.

Folger’s is an iconic, well-established, and long-lasting brand … people like Folger’s. But in today’s crowded space of higher-end tastes, liking a brand oftentimes isn’t enough. Because while people like Folger’s, people love the premium brand Starbucks has created.

One of the concepts of Lovemarks is that people have “loyalty beyond reason” to these kinds of brands. We have relationships with them. After teaching brand strategy for 10 years to hundreds of students, I can confidently think everyone has a Lovemark brand. Each person has a brand they pull into their heart, and show to the world as an expression of who they are. Like a form of self-expression, we choose to show the world glimpses of our inner selves by the brands we choose.

And one of the kinds of brands that many of us use to define who we are is a sports team.

I recently attended The National Sports Forum, an incredible event founded and lead by Ron Seaver, who created an annual gathering for sales and marketing talent in the sports industry. People who work for teams from NFL, NBA, MLB, MiLB, NHL, MLS are there, sharing stories and techniques that work and don’t work, and generally learning and meeting with one another in an environment that’s best described as “The Forum Family.”

What is beautiful about the event — besides the people — is it reminds me what I teach in my class: sports teams are great examples of Lovemarks.

Because I grew up in Pittsburgh, I’m a big-time Steelers and Penguins fan. Even though my entire adult life has been in San Diego, the roots of these teams are so deep in my mind and heart that I’ve held a life-long adoration for these brands. Now, it’s not reasonable for me to expect them to win championships each year, but I still buy in, and believe in the teams. Even when they lose. Even when they break my heart.

I have loyalty beyond reason.

Just ask a green-clad fan going to last year’s Seattle Sounders title game, or the die-harder attending the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl parade. These championship teams seared enduring, unabashed, deep loyalty that goes beyond reason, into memory and emotion, of every single one of those fans. Or, ask fans of the Los Angeles Galaxy or Cleveland Browns, who didn’t enjoy the championship revelry this past season. These teams still generate love and loyalty, even through some disappointment or despair. The loyalty transcends rational thinking, and drives to the heart of a person’s identity.

I teach that you don’t have to be a big brand to be a great brand (one of my favorite brands Vibram’s is great, but not big). The great brands communicate with both love and respect to its “fans,” and the fans bring that love and respect back to them. The brands move to a place where they become part of someone’s expression of their life.

So, how can consumer, business, or nonprofit brands create this kind of loyalty? How can they become a Lovemark?

Creating a brand strategy plan around this is the first step, of course. But a plan starts with the end in mind. Instead of thinking about “gaining mindshare” or “increasing awareness,” go bigger. Think about “We want to become a part of our customers’ lives.”

To do this, every interaction needs to originate with an attitude of love and respect. It seems perhaps over-simple, but think about how you write website copy, respond to emails, answer the phones, etc. Are you acting with the highest Love and Respect for your audience? Is that what they feel when they engage with you?

No matter the size of your business, become a brand that is highest on the axes of love and respect. Become something that instills Loyalty Beyond Reason. Because when you go beyond reason into memory and emotion, you can rise up into that rarefied Lovemark status for your customers.

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.

Branded Content: Possibilities, Pitfalls, and Predictions

Branded content business models are evolving and it’s important for publishers to stay on top of brand expectations in order to stay competitive. Moreover, with audience control shifting from content creators to walled gardens, paid distribution of the branded content needs to be baked into the plan from Day One.

A seismic shift happened in the 2010s: Platforms took control of audiences away from publishers and brands. The result is the need to pay-to-play, which comes with a host of challenges. Brands need to find ways to efficiently expand their reach, while publishers need to create sustainable revenue streams that don’t fully rely on volatile organic traffic sources.

Enter branded content. Not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, but one that is increasingly becoming a key pillar of revenue for a lot of publishers.

On the surface, branded content is a win-win for all sides. Publishers use their core skillset (storytelling and content distribution) to give brands reach that they can’t achieve on their own. In return, brands pay publishers for their expertise and access to their audiences.

With that being said, branded content business models are evolving and it’s important for publishers to stay on top of brand expectations in order to stay competitive. Moreover, with audience control shifting from content creators to walled gardens, paid distribution of the branded content needs to be baked into the plan from Day One.

Impressions Alone? 

Publishers use a variety of models to package their branded content offerings. Those can be anything from selling based on pageviews on their site to video views on Facebook. The focus does, however, tend to revolve around soft engagement metrics (views and impressions) across the publisher’s channels. There are publishers who work on lead generation and other concrete goals, but those still tend to stay within the publisher’s ecosystem, rather than working with the brand’s own site.

This is advantageous for both sides: For publishers, it helps maintain their tone of voice and trust among their audience — they don’t need to incorporate a “hard sell” into the content, which can be a turn-off for readers. For brands, there aren’t necessarily any concrete goals, and general “brand awareness” metrics can often be enough. When brands want to measure activity and business goals on their own site, they are generally hesitant to share those metrics with external partners, including publishers.

That’s not to say that sales-heavy content pieces don’t exist. Affiliate content, for example, has been on the rise over the past few years. Publishers showcase a range of products in an article and link to an online retailer, which in turn pays the publisher commission for any sales that result from the referral traffic. Most commonly, these affiliate links lead to Amazon, where publishers get a small cut of the sale. Branded content models are evolving to include this approach as well. For example, Walmart partnered with Popular Mechanics to sponsor an article that featured 15 bike camping gifts for outdoorsmen alongside links to their respective product pages on walmart.com.

Synergy Is Key to Success

When it comes to branded content, synergy is much more than a buzzword. An alignment between the brand and the publisher is absolutely critical for success. Users engage more often when a publisher’s tone of voice meshes well with a brand’s core values and audience. Here are a couple of examples of this synergy in action:

National Geographic with Brita

https://www.facebook.com/23497828950/posts/10156676165733951

 

In this partnership with Brita, National Geographic created a beautiful content experience that educates users about the consequences of bottled water. The piece is fully aligned with National Geographic’s reverential coverage of nature. On the brand side, Brita positions its water-filter products as alternatives to bottled water. This combination creates a value powerhouse for everyone involved and engages Natgeo’s user base in an innovative way with content that is unique and engaging.

Win Schuler’s and Food Network

https://www.facebook.com/FoodNetwork/videos/1220718271463314/

 

In this branded video, Food Network does what it does best: shares a yummy recipe with its audience. Adding Win Shuler’s cheddar into the mix feels natural, and the result is fantastic engagement numbers for the post, bringing value to the publisher, the brand, and most importantly, the user.

Common Distribution Pitfalls

As I mentioned earlier, paid distribution is usually a critical part of making branded content succeed. At Keywee, we’ve worked with hundreds of publishers over the years, helping them distribute their content on Facebook. As a result, we’ve pretty much seen it all, and the truth is that branded content done right isn’t as easy as it seems. Here are a few common pitfalls:

1) Going for the aggressive sell: Publishers don’t always create custom content. Sometimes they post a direct advertisement on their feed. This may fit within a brand’s reach demands, but it doesn’t do much for the publisher’s credibility. These posts diminish trust and are likely to grab more ire than likes or clicks.

Exchanging quality and value in return for a user’s attention is critical to keeping users around. If a publisher doesn’t want to go as far as creating custom content, a smaller-effort initiative like a sweepstakes in conjunction with the brand is a nice middle-ground solution that benefits the user.

2) Over-estimating organic reach: Most publishers commit to a set number of views when selling a content package. There’s usually no separation between paid and organic traffic. When publishers present the results to the brand at the end of an initiative, there’s only “traffic.” It’s not uncommon for a publisher to overestimate its organic reach and then, with a few weeks to go on the initiative, deploy massive paid campaigns to fill in the traffic gaps. The result is a hastily conceived campaign that can quickly become costly.

Fortunately, publishers can easily avoid this with a bit more planning. Whether running their own campaigns or buying through a vendor, it’s fairly simple to work more strategically. If they start executing a conservatively paced and well-planned paid campaign from day one of the initiative, the overall cost and performance will only benefit. The worst-case scenario is that the promised numbers are reached earlier than expected. Even in that situation, there’s a good chance that advertising dollars will be saved overall.

3) Limited reporting: The publisher-brand relationship is very similar to that between an agency and client; there is a customer who is paying for a service and requires proper attention. It’s incredibly common for a customer to want as much information as possible. If a campaign was sold based on impressions, that doesn’t mean that this is the only metric the customer will want to see.

When planning a campaign, remember that the customer will want to see deeper metrics. For example, a publisher could be promoting a video created for the brand. Even if the main metric is an impression, the publisher should keep an eye on the 3- or 10-second view numbers because the client will certainly have an eye on them. Another example is demographic breakdowns. If the publisher committed to a wide array of locations and audiences, and the content is being viewed only by a small subset, then pivoting the targeting strategy becomes critical for success and the brand’s satisfaction.

4) Publisher – brand misalignment: As I mentioned earlier, synergy between a brand and a publisher is critical for success. On the flip-side of this, misalignment can easily turn into a failure on all ends. When putting together branded content packages, the publisher should ask if the content would fit into their editorial vision if it wasn’t a part of the sold package. If the answer is no, then there’s a good chance the content won’t resonate with the user.

Looking Ahead

As long as digital content and advertising prevail, so will branded content. That being said, there are big changes afoot that will significantly impact the brand-publisher relationship.

1) 5G: There have been a lot of predictions about how 5G will affect everything from online shopping to people’s health. What branded content creators should probably keep in mind, at least in the short term, is that video streaming on smartphones will have far less friction than before. 5G is expected to be about 100 times faster than 4G, making streaming on mobile devices easier. Though earlier “pivot to video” pontifications were a bit overblown in hindsight, the strength of improved streaming options shouldn’t be overlooked. Publishers should expect brands to have more aggressive viewability demands as a result.

2) Performance content: Facebook has been encouraging brands to share select performance data with publishers and influencers. For Facebook the value is clear: Performance marketing usually leads to incremental revenue. For brands and publishers, these are choppy waters. Content plays a significant role in the buyers’ journey, but it’s still very difficult to fully attribute it to purchase decisions. A person reading an article about sneakers will not automatically go out and buy a pair. In other words, content consumption does not directly correlate to purchase intent. So far publishers have been hesitant to adopt this innovation, and brand adoption is yet to be seen. That being said, publishers will probably benefit from preparing themselves for a scenario in which brands will ask for more performance-driven metrics.

3) Shop the ‘gram: Instagram is slowly rolling out a new feature that creates a direct funnel to the brand checkout page on the platform. In other words, users will be able to click on a tagged product and immediately be directed to its checkout page. This allows for a seamless user experience and is expected to be a boon for ecommerce brands. Publishers should be on the lookout for requests of this type in the year ahead.

All in all, when it comes to branded content, the bottom line is simple: The combination of synergic content, expectation managing, and proper planning can create a value powerhouse for everyone involved. If publishers stick to these fundamentals, they can easily set themselves up for success.