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    1. PR Advice From a Serial Journalist

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      Pitching journalists is a little like meeting with a hiring manager for a job you really want. Before you reach out or meet with them, you spend time researching the interests of someone you never met so you can better anticipate what will appeal to them.

      But wouldn’t it be nice to get inside the head of a journalist so you can discover what motivates them to respond to your pitches? More often than not, whether they reply is one part quality of pitch, one part chance i.e., if their editor has been craving more of a certain type of article and you’ve hit the nail on the head.

      The second best thing to being a fly on the wall in a journalist’s office is getting an intimate understanding of what excites them, which is why I sat down with serial journalist and media entrepreneur Lorraine Sanders.

      You may recognize her from The San Francisco Chronicle, Women’s Wear Daily, and a number of other publications for which she’s written about FEST, a term Sanders coined for her coverage of fashion, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and technology.

      Sanders’ most recent foray in the media takes shape as a podcast and media consultancy: Spirit of 608. Now that the podcast is more than a year strong, she sees the media landscape from seemingly every direction: print, digital, broadcast, and (the flipside) PR. She also recently launched PressDope, an interactive, community-driven alternative to working with agencies that’s catered to the specific needs of FEST companies.

      Here, Sanders shares a bit about how her background as a journalist informs her work as a media entrepreneur, what brands can do to cultivate meaningful thought leadership, and a few things PR pros can do today to make her life as a journalist easier.

      Rebekah Iliff: As a content-producing machine, which platforms do you feel are most effective for building a client’s reputation as a subject matter expert?

      Lorraine Sanders: That definitely depends on the client and brand’s goals. But in every conversation I have about platforms and strategy, it always comes back to this: ultimately, the source of the original content, whether it’s posts on Medium or doing the speaking circuit, has to be comfortable and “into” the process. It’s all well and good to tell someone she’s got to write a guest contributor post for a major website once a week, but if she doesn’t actually connect with the process of doing that, it’s like pulling teeth for everyone involved.

      As long as you’re picking a method and working on a consistent basis to become a real part of conversations that affect your industry, that’s far more effective than choosing a certain platform because it’s the hot place to be for the moment.

      RI: Our data show that when a company is educating the market, showcasing customers, and ultimately being a helpful resource, the effectiveness of their content/PR increases exponentially. What’s one tip you have for helping a company cultivate a reputation of meaningful thought leadership?

      LS: My best advice for brands is to be thoughtful, strategic, and targeted in what you produce. At a time when so many brands feel pressure to sell AND be content machines, it’s important to remember that it’s pretty unusual to be everywhere and do a really good job of it.

      I am a big believer in the power of strategic collaboration through creative events and cross-marketing efforts. If you’re a mission-based brand, pooling efforts with other likeminded companies is a great way to introduce yourself to the exact audiences you want to reach. Often it’s much more interesting to journalists than whatever piece of news you happen to be touting at the moment because it signals something bigger than your company’s agenda is afoot.

      RI: As a journalist, media strategist, and podcast producer at the intersection of fashion, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and tech, what is it about this hybrid space that excites you most?

      LS: There are two primary reasons this space excites me. First, the intersection of fashion, entrepreneurship, sustainability and tech has the power to change the fashion industry for the better, and ultimately make fashion and apparel producers better global citizens.

      After more than a decade writing about the fashion industry, it’s abundantly clear to me that change is needed in all areas from workers’ rights to environmental safety. Luckily, technology is revealing better methods of production and is making the ability to grow new brands not only feasible, but also attractive to independent entrepreneurs.

      That brings me to the second thing I am really excited about: increasing entrepreneurship opportunities for women. It has never been easier to start a business and build a customer base around niche, creative products. That is extremely exciting and uplifting because of what it means for those who produce most of the world’s textiles and for women who deserve economic opportunity outside of the traditional corporate model.

      RI: I love that you say you can’t live without the chance to hear and tell other people’s stories. How does storytelling fit into your workflow and can you give us an example of a recent brand story that blew you away?

      LS: Pretty much every guest of the Spirit of 608 podcast has a brand story that fascinated me, and I try to bring entrepreneurs’ stories into what I do because, honestly, there’s always a good anecdote when a person has gone down the risky road of creating his or her own company.

      I spoke with Olatorera Oniru, a female founder building a Nigeria-based ecommerce company that’s been called the Amazon of Africa. Her story is pretty incredible in and of itself, but it’s also eye-opening in terms of what entrepreneurship and technology could mean in many emerging and developing economies. I literally had chills after we spoke.

      RI: Put your journalist hat on. What are a few things great PR pros do that make your life easier and your stories better?

      LS: The best PR professionals I know have these things in common: they only contact me when they are convinced a story is right for me; they are aware of what I have written recently; and once we are working together, they are responsive and trust me to do my job i.e., they aren’t breathing heavily on the other side of the call I’m supposed to be having with just the source.

      A version of this post appeared on Bulldog Reporter.

    2. Were our 2016 PR predictions spot on?

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      Oh, the last few weeks in December — that special time of year when industry prediction posts become as ubiquitous as ugly holiday sweaters and peppermint-flavored everything.

      While I’m certain there will be plenty of articles about what’s next for the world of PR and communications (like this one from the incomparable Gini Dietrich) I’m going to take a different approach.

      Last year, my colleague Rebekah published a swell overview of everything a PR pro might need to know at the onset of 2016. Rather than gaze into the distance, let’s shine a spotlight on past predictions to see which were on the money, didn’t take root, or are starting to blossom but haven’t quite come to fruition.

      Here are a few PR behaviors Rebekah flagged as “ready to be retired” in 2016:

      Rebekah said… “Stop calling journalists you don’t know out of the blue thinking they will call you back or be happy you called.”

      My take: PREACH! These days, pitching is all about personalization, and personalization can only occur when PR pros do their homework. The good news? This is a lesson many PR peeps took to heart in 2016. The bad news? There are still plenty of spammers out there. Let’s keep making headway on this in 2017, shall we?

      Rebekah said… “Stop reporting headline impressions and AVEs as key metrics.”

      My take: Impressions are merely the number of opportunities to be seen, not what was actually seen. Impressions, however, do have their place if, and only if, you’re employing a funnel approach to PR measurement.

      Sadly, PR is having a hard time letting go of these metrics as the gold standard, so let’s hope there’s more of a move to embrace a spectrum of metrics instead of continued rigid adherence to impressions and AVEs in 2017.

      Rebekah said… “Stop writing press releases for the express purpose of making an executive happy.”

      My take: Our customer data shows that the ROI of press releases is consistently underwhelming considering the amount of money and resources they require. That’s not to say that the press release is dead; its function merely needs to be reimagined. There is a time for the press release, but it’s probably not as often as you think.

      Rebekah said… Stop believing that you are supposed to like analytics and numbers, when in fact, you probably never will. That’s okay. But it’s an important part of the PR function, so figure out a hack for it.

      My take: The most innovative PR teams are doing one thing differently than the rest: they have identified someone to own measurement and data analysis. And that person is empowered to call out the good, the bad, and the ugly, so their team can integrate learnings into future PR campaigns. Data is useful, but only if insights from data are put into action.

      Now that we’ve covered PR behaviors to drop once and for all, let’s analyze the accuracy of Rebekah’s PR predictions for 2016.

      PR Predictions

      Rebekah predicted… “For B2B businesses, LinkedIn Pulse and Medium are a boon for marketing and PR and will continue to gain traction as leading publishing platforms.”

      I say: +1 to LinkedIn being a leading publishing platform in 2016! Our customer data consistently shows LinkedIn to be a primary driver of both brand awareness and traffic back to site.

      We haven’t seen quite the same return from Medium, but we are noticing that traditional media outlets are providing exciting opportunities to brands via the self-publishing platform.

      Rebekah predicted… “Data first: PR pros need to include data in the content planning phase, then track all the way through outcomes.”

      I say: -1 for the fact that data still must fight for its place in PR. The objectivity and accountability data provides cannot be overlooked, so let’s all check our data bias and embrace the fact that data is here to stay.

      Rebekah predicted… “Influencer endorsements will become even more important. If you can’t get them organically, brands will have to pay for them.”

      I say: Spot on, Rebekah! Influencer relationships are the new black. They are becoming as important as relationships with journalists, so knowing how to establish and deepen these connections is paramount. This trend isn’t going anywhere so bone up and get ‘er done!

      Rebekah predicted… “Virtual reality will heat up and meet the desire for data as well as brand experiences.”

      I say: Another notch in the PR prediction win column! It’s not just virtual reality (VR) that’s transforming brand experiences, it’s augmented reality (AR) too. (Think Pokémon Go.)

      These two technologies are poised to fundamentally reshape brand communications and introduce a whole new playing field when it comes to customer acquisition and retention.

      Looking back, I’d say Rebekah was pretty spot on with her 2016 predictions! But I have a feeling a lot of these nascent PR trends will evolve into stronger versions of themselves in the year ahead. What do you think we’ll see more of?

    3. Strategic Public Relations Leaders Are All of These Things

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      Do you like taking assignments or leading the charge? If the latter, good for you! My guess is that you already embody these oh-so-necessary PR leadership characteristics; But in case you need a few reminders for staying on top of your game, read through these traits of highly effective strategic public relations leaders.

      Strategic PR leaders are…

      1. Self-aware: They understand how their role fits within the organization.

      Today’s PR professionals understand the interconnectedness of the tech, marketing, advertising, content, and strategy functions of their organization, including how they fit in among them. Aligning public relations with other aspects of the business allows them to amplify everyone’s efforts, not just their own.

      2. Data-driven: They use data to drive everyday decision making.

      Practicing PR without data is like skipping sunscreen: It’s totally feasible, but not recommended and will soon become a thing of the past. Without data or metrics, you are essentially practicing old-guard PR that doesn’t position you for leadership or prove your value. Tracking results and gathering data enables you to make informed, forward-looking decisions — something that effective PR leaders “get” innately.

      Strategic Public Relations

      3. Constructively opinionated: They speak up.

      How can we give a voice to clients for whom we work, if we don’t have our own? If we want to lead companies and clients in the right direction, we must speak up. We must build trust by making sound decisions consistently, then develop our own voices — without giving into our smaller selves and cowering in the corner. Get really good at voicing your opinion via thought leadership opportunities, and you could even influence public opinion!

      4. Thoughtful: PR leaders plan with purpose and think outside the box.

      Leaders don’t just do things to check a box off a list. They critically think about why they are doing something before aiming and firing. I have data to support that when you send a thoughtful, targeted story that gets a journalist 50% of the way there, your shot at landing that story increases exponentially. This is a big boost, and it illustrates how spending a little more time on your work in the beginning pays off.

      5. Brave: They aren’t afraid of getting fired or finding a new role elsewhere.

      If you’re working for someone who is demanding you do arbitrary tasks with no foresight, then you should question whether or not your workplace is a fit. This “activity-based approach” to PR is one of the reasons the industry is criticized — it implies to others that we’re all tactics and no strategy.

      You can’t be afraid to point out fault, even if the thought of doing so is scary. In a nutshell: If the agency you work for isn’t being strategic and you continue to work there, your reputation is on the line just as much as the agency’s. And we all know a leader doesn’t hand over the reigns to their personal brand or reputation.

      Continue to speak up, take charge, and forge your way at companies where leadership and innovation are encouraged. Fulfilling tasks and assignments without a greater purpose is just-plain boring anyways. (And you are far from boring.)

      A version of this post was originally published on Bulldog Reporter.

    4. How To Best Manage Outsourced PR

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      Whether you’re on an in-house PR team that occasionally outsources specialized work or you’re engaging with a PR agency for the first time ever, there are a handful of best practices for optimizing outsourced PR to keep in mind. The goal of these practices is to provide a view of how it’s all supposed to work while setting proper expectations for all parties involved. 

      Once you have vetted candidates and found the perfect PR pro/team to help make your comms dreams come true, here’s what to do next:

      #1 – Develop a clear and detailed strategy.

      In a typical scenario, it can take two months to begin to see press coverage. This means the first 30 days are reserved for strategy, message development, positioning, and media research. This is also an ideal time to set your outsourced PR person or team up for success by giving them access to your product; Have them test it and allow them to give you feedback. Their input can be invaluable when it comes to key message or value prop development. Plus it never hurts to have another set of objective eyes.

      how to manage outsourced PR#2 – Ask for a weekly status call.

      Even if you don’t have anything to talk about, regular check-ins are a great opportunity to touch base, voice concerns, and ensure everyone is on the same page. Developing a close rapport with your partner helps them to feel invested in your business, and they’re likely to be more enthusiastic when they conduct outreach on your behalf because of it.

      #3 – Set expectations for bi-weekly or monthly reports (via email).

      Regularly updated documentation will keep you informed as to what outreach is being done and where your PR pro is currently focused. It also helps everyone stay on track or identify potential gaps in strategy. Sometimes monthly is enough, but if you want to see this stuff weekly or bi-weekly, your PR pro should be able to show you the goods (without getting heavy-handed on hourly billing).

      #4 – Provide your PR pro with what they need in terms of content, feedback and access.

      Without you, your PR pro may find themselves working with limited resources thereby undermining your potential success. Arm them with what they need to work their magic. This means data to help round out stories, access to the C-suite for media opportunities/interviews, and the list goes on. Help them help you.

      #5 – Be quick to respond.

      Respond to your PR pro within 24-48 hours when they have requests that will enable them to do their jobs better. Failing to get them what they need quickly is a lose-lose situation and, honestly, it’s just plain unprofessional.

      Conversely, if your PR pro takes more that 24-48 hours to respond to you, that’s a problem. Their primary function is to push things through the funnel and if they’re not doing that, it could be cause for a larger concern (i.e. a waste of your money).

      #6 – Agree on measures of success from the get go.

      The worst thing you can do when working with an outsourced PR pro or team is not having a candid conversation about your PR expectations and measures of success. It is most important that both parties agree on what’s feasible and what the outcomes of the PR outputs should be. This conversation must fall out of your overarching business goals and should be a dialogue that may or may not evolve when the work starts.

      Got more tips for those looking to outsource PR? Keep ‘em coming → @AirPR @LetaSoza

      Thanks, (author) Leta! Meet another bright mind behind the scenes at AirPR…

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