March 21, 2016

Crisis Communications: What today’s news cycle looks like

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By Amanda Kerr, Consociate Media Writer and Media Strategist

In the days before the Internet and 24/7 cable news, a reporter had all day to finish a story. Big news came on the 6 p.m. television and radio newscasts and replayed at 11 p.m. For newspapers, the story didn’t actually reach readers until the paper hit newsstands the next morning.

Ah, the good old days! In today’s highly digital world, the news cycle is constant, driven by immediacy, the urge to be first and the desire to maximize audience reach on website and social media platforms. So what does that mean for public relations and corporate communications?

It means managing social media, websites and mass media. It means reaching reporters for each cycle on each deadline of the day: writing for the web and social media posts while also writing for print, radio, TV and online. It means you’ve got to keep up.

Communications in a Crisis

“If it bleeds, it leads.” That’s the long-standing mantra driving news coverage. The day’s latest crisis, whether it’s a chemical fire at a plant, a security scare at a college, an airplane crash, or layoffs at a local factory, will set reporters swarming for facts, information, context and commentary.

Effective communication during a crisis is based on preparation. A business or organization shouldn’t be coming up with a crisis communications plan as the crisis is unfolding. Having systems, protocols and timelines in place long before an unfolding crisis – big or small – is the best way to prepare.

It’s imperative a business can respond quickly, accurately and effectively under duress. Knowing which audiences you need to reach, how you want to reach them, who you want to be the voice or face of your company and the type of information you’ll need to gather is essential to successfully managing a crisis.

Having prepared statements geared toward specific incidents is key. These statements are essentially templates that can be quickly edited to address the specific situation at hand and then pushed out to your website, social media and news media. These are critical to responding quickly and effectively.

Immediate Response

If a crisis breaks internally, be ready to put out an initial statement as soon as possible. Don’t wait for a reporter to call if you can avoid it. Directly addressing a negative situation head on builds trust with the press, consumers and clients.

Should a reporter obtain potentially damaging information before you’ve had a chance to prepare an initial comment, don’t wait too long to respond. Call back within the hour if you can. Waiting to comment won’t delay the story until you’re ready. If your business doesn’t speak to the media, there’s a good chance someone else will.

Don’t expect reporters to show patience in a time of crisis. Remember, they’re under a lot of pressure to get something online so it can get pushed out on social media. Then they’re expected to update the story on their outlet’s websites throughout the day as new details become available.

But keep in mind reporters also don’t necessarily expect you to have all the answers in that first phone call or news conference. They just want to confirm the facts and offer context for how the business or organization is addressing the issue or emergency.

When a crisis is unfolding, the story is likely to change and develop throughout the day. Reporters understand that.

Transparency

The primary goal of crisis communications for any business is to ensure consistency of message and mitigate negative publicity due to speculation. The best way to do that is to be honest and transparent.

Attempting to cover up the magnitude of a situation can only make a business or organization more vulnerable. The absence of the truth tends to drive others with information to the surface. A concealed fact that end up shared on Twitter or Facebook can go viral in minutes, and all that will do is make you look guilty.

Be clear about the situation. Don’t hide the bad news. Speak with empathy and sensitivity. Offer information about how the company is handling the situation and what type of services will be made available to those who are affected. If you aren’t clear on the facts of an incident or if a response plan hasn’t yet been finalized, don’t speculate or guess. It’s better to say you don’t know or that a plan is under way than to offer up information you’ll later have to take back.

While it may be tempting to breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the first day of a crisis, it’s not over. Don’t stop communicating. Continue to share updates and information on your company website and social media as well as with the news media. That way you’ll continue to have a voice in the ongoing coverage and avoid negative press due to lingering unanswered questions.

And remember to stay calm, stay confident and remain professional at all times. Managing a difficult situation with integrity is the best way to communicate in difficult times, get through it and come out stronger on the other end.

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Why SEO is a key component of a PR plan in 2016

By Amanda Kerr, Consociate Media Writer and Media Strategist

Public Relations is a time honored pillar of entrepreneurial endeavors for any business.

The role of a PR team is to nurture and maintain a favorable relationship between consumers (i.e. the public) and a company. Traditionally PR has taken the form of messaging, branding, press releases and earned media through news outlets, such as newspapers, television or radio.

But in today’s digital world, those time honored methods just aren’t enough to make sure your business’ message is being heard. Search Engine Optimization, commonly referred to as SEO, must be a key component of any PR plan in 2016. It’s the only way to make sure your company isn’t getting lost in the Internet jungle.

Goals and strategy

The intersection of SEO and PR is a natural one when you think about it. Much like PR, maximizing SEO requires understanding your audience and setting clear goals and objectives.

What is it that you want to achieve with your digital presence? What do your website traffic numbers look like now and how can they be improved? All of these questions must be answered in order to define your SEO strategy.

Then you have to take that data and merge it with the tastes and preferences of your audience. What kind of information do you want to share with consumers? What kind of platforms does your audience prefer? And what tone and style should your content contain that will appeal to potential customers, while meeting your SEO goals?

The best way to create a PR plan that incorporates SEO is to think about each campaign as it comes. If a campaign includes an upcoming event, think of real phrases people may search for and incorporate them as part of your SEO and content strategy. Then concentrate on maximizing content reach by promoting the event on the website and through social media.

Now you’re creating a partnership between SEO and PR.

Technical challenges

Just blending SEO and PR strategies isn’t enough, however, to guarantee success. SEO can become a little tricky in the ranking systems and algorithms search engines use to position a company’s website.

Researching keywords and searcher intent are critical to having solid SEO performance. But remember words and tags you incorporate into your content should be authentic and carefully selected. Wildly peppering your website with keywords can actually hurt more than it helps. Search engines, such as Google, penalize websites that overuse keywords.

How well your website functions can also impact SEO. Things like user friendly features, speed, design and conversion rates matter, too.

And are you successfully using link backs to drive web traffic? Search engines evaluate incoming links when ranking a website. High quality SEO content can help attract incoming links from social media, bloggers and news outlets. Getting those links in front of the right audience can improve your SEO success.

Content matters

Once you fix any technical barriers to SEO success, then you’re back to matters of PR. In the world of the Internet and SEO having fresh, organic content is crucial to keeping your business’ website relevant to search engines.

What does good content look like you ask? Well, it could be blog posts, press releases, website content, white papers, case studies, product copy, podcasts or visual content. But don’t go crazy. Keep any content, whichever form you decide to pursue, meaningful, informative and valuable to your audience.

Having reputable content matters in the world of SEO. A plethora of marginally useful copy laden with keywords isn’t the way to go. Quality over quantity should always win out.

Good content should bring consumers to your website, keep them there and hopefully convince them to make a purchase. Regardless of what form that content takes, it must effectively communicate your business’ values, services and brand.

The most important thing to remember is this: tell your story well. When you do that, the rest will fall into place.

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The ROI of marketing in 2016: Some expert insight

Compiled by Matt Sabo, Consociate Media Writer and Strategist

To get a sense of what marketing return on investment looks like in 2016, we picked the brains of our own Consociate Media Partner Rudy Heinatz, as well as Nix co-founder Josh Rowe.

Both Heinatz and Rowe have MBAs — Heinatz from the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary and Rowe from Northeastern University — but they have very different professional careers.

Before joining Consociate Media, Heinatz spent 10 years as a healthcare executive where he researched gaps in the market to develop new service lines, led a team of 100, oversaw a seven-figure construction project and ran a multi-million dollar operating budget. He earned his undergraduate degree in business and marketing from Christopher Newport University.

Rowe has spent a career in sports marketing, working at Nike for more than a decade in various marketing capacities to include managing Nike’s stable of elite track and field athlete, to managing the sports federations of countries, to overseeing Olympic Games marketing efforts. At Nike, Rowe co-founded the popular BorderClash event and created the Nike Cross Nationals. In 2009, Rowe moved to Boston to drive marketing for New Balance. Last year, Rowe left corporate America to co-found Nix, a sports-related startup out of the Harvard Innovation Lab.

Consociate: What’s your big-picture view of marketing ROI?

Heinatz: For me, the ROI is so much about brand building. The metrics that we traditionally use for ROI are arbitrary to a great degree. It’s nearly impossible to calculate, unless you have very specific parameters, like an all-online retail outlet and a true e-commerce business if you are viewing ROI simply in terms of dollars. Then that’s easy to calculate. You can see that you had $10,000 from a specific post, for example.

Billboards are the classic example of ROI you can’t measure. Someone along the line used a clicker to count cars and exposure. But these days, for the most part, cars are single-occupancy. And if there is someone else in the car, the chances are pretty good they’re on their smartphone or tablet or whatever and not even paying attention to billboards on the side of the freeway. The ROI metrics on billboards are completely speculative.

Print ads are another example. With a print ad, whether it’s a magazine, or newspaper, you hope that someone will land on your page and that one single exposure will promote action. But with digital, you can do demographic targeting and measure the metrics to gauge reach, audience, response, click-through rates and many other things. It’s a whole new paradigm. Because so much of our lives are spent online, the targeting can go well beyond age and gender. Information such as personal interests and spending habits are now in play.

Companies need to view to a certain degree that most of what you’re doing is brand building and use topline revenue increases over time as the ROI.

Rowe: In my mind, marketing and brand building are long term investments.  So often executives look for marketing to drive sales and they look for a vehicle that says, `I’m going to invest X and get Y.’ It’s not easy.

For me, the key to ROI — or measuring the success of any marketing effort — is clearly defining the goal of the campaign or marketing effort before the investment. This is the only way to identify if the effort was successful or not. If the goal is brand awareness, do some research to find out what the current brand awareness is, then put down a measurable goal for what you want awareness to be after the campaign.

If the goal is a positive sales increase, this is easy.  Did sales go up more than the marketing investment? If the goal is drive traffic to our website, that’s pretty easy to measure. A successful “return” doesn’t always need to mean immediate sales.

Consociate: If you don’t have a positive ROI on a campaign, does that mean it’s a failure?

Heinatz: That all depends on what a company is using as the ROI. For instance, if a campaign produces no significant increase in customer base long term, but has a short term impact on sales that may or may not be considered a success. On the other side, a campaign may produce zero short term sales gains but could have a significant impact on brand reach and recognition that produces new sales in the future. Is that a failure or is the lifetime value of a customer more important than the projected goals of a campaign?

So much of this involves the goals of the company, the targeted outcomes of a campaign and, to a large degree, the type of business. A cereal brand can much more effectively gauge the success of a specific campaign based on the immediate impact on sales versus a luxury automaker.

Rowe: No, positive ROI doesn’t mean it’s not a great program. ROI is only one metric in the marketing evaluation tool box. Brand engagement, brand affinity, willingness to consider or willingness to purchase are also critical long term metrics.

If you find a marketing vehicle that actually drives a positive direct ROI — I would not call this a unicorn, but definitely an elusive rare bird — hold onto it and treat it well. So often brands kill it by doing too much with it or trying to replicate it. Nike and their `Run Hit Wonder,’ for example. It was a great race concept that worked perfectly in Los Angeles. They took it global and simply couldn’t replicate the magic they made in LA. On the other hand, there was so much demand to do BorderClash’s all over the country (BorderClash is an annual post-season high school cross country race held at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., pitting All-Star teams from Oregon and Washington against each other for state supremacy) but we knew there was no way we could replicate the magic, so we said no. That event today stands as one of the best Nike events they do. In footwear, Nike is also the master at allocation and keeping demand strong. They could make millions of Jordans or Air Force Ones and kill the franchise. But by putting out only thousands each year — not millions — they keep them special.

Consociate: How do you measure the ROI on social media?

Heinatz: To a large degree ROI on social media is such a long term game that quantifying it is challenging at best with the exception of a very targeted ad campaign, – I want to sell 1,000 units in the next 90 days type of thing. Social is about putting in the time and effort to build your brand. Taking the time to develop interesting content that works within the specific platform to drive attention and awareness. With literally millions of sites, companies, platforms, etc. jockeying to win the attention war, it may take a company months to gain any traction – if not longer.

In looking at it simply in dollars, a company may have a negative ROI on social for six months to a year before it really starts to see positive revenue effects. Does that mean the first six months were a waste? Of course not, they are necessary to earn your place on the attention graph of he consumer.

Rowe: Social media is another perfect example of how marketing investment does not necessarily translate into direct dollars today. Brands with huge social media footprints have the ability to control and direct the conversations with consumers in ways that others don’t. This leadership is critical to long-term brand equity and therefore success of brands.

Consociate: What are some specific examples from your experience, whether it’s in health care, or athletics and running, or some other industry, of campaigns or brands and brand awareness that work or don’t work?

Heinatz: For me, one of the best examples of a brand that is crushing the awareness game is GoPro. Granted, as we live in such a visual world, they have a hefty advantage because of their product. But virtually all of their branding and marketing activities revolve around simply showing the audience what the product is capable of. This is really evident on their social platforms. There are very view sales driven calls to actions, they simply share great content based on the product. They do a tremendous job engaging with their communities and essentially invite their fans to be a part of the brand by submitting their own pictures and videos.

Rowe: Reebok is classic for mass media campaigns that drive footwear sales. The problem is, they have little brand equity, so as soon as you turn off the TV ads, the sales stop. Yes, they see an ROI from the campaign, but is that a good use of funds long term?

When it comes to sports marketing, Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Steph Curry are about the only professional athletes that drive a direct ROI for footwear companies. No Serena Williams. No Roger Federer. No Tom Brady. These three are among the largest global sports starts today, yet they do not directly drive purchases of shoes and apparel that equals their endorsement salaries. So why do Nike, adidas, Under Armour and others continue to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into sports marketing? Because it builds brand equity. And over time, brand equity builds businesses.

Another example. In the running industry, New Balance was known as an `old man’s shoe.’ And still is largely outside the vertical running world. New Balance knew that it needed to do something to get the brand younger and more gender diverse. So they invested approximately $1 million in young female distance runners. Stephanie Garcia, Kim Conley, Emma Coburn, Jenny Simpson, Brenda Martinez, Nicole Bush and Sarah Bowman do not sell a single shoe by themselves. Okay, maybe a few people buy NB directly because of Jenny, but that’s about it. BUT, together this effort completely changed the perception of NB. And NB running shoe sales went up by millions of dollars. Not `this quarter.’  And not `this year.’ But certainly over two or three years.

 

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Are you a leader? Or a fool?

By Matt Sabo, Consociate Media Writer and Strategist

Bad leaders don’t exist.

Let me put that another way. There is no such thing as a bad leader.

Either you lead or you don’t.

Being a leader conveys commanding a group, or organization, or team. Leading is guiding or directing in a course of action.

Let’s say I am leading a group of people on a hike on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. There’s well-marked and well-worn trails to follow. I know this because I’ve been privileged enough to have recently been there with my family.

There are signs of warning along the paths. That tell you to the effect that, as if you can’t see for yourself, rather severe implications and potentialities await for leaving the trail. There are also places that are particularly precarious that have railings. To keep you in. And safe.

Say I were to hop the fence in one of these particularly precarious places. As I was leading my group of hikers. And plummet violently to my death.

Would the people in my group, who I surely hope didn’t follow me, say, “Well, now there’s a bad leader.”

Probably not. They would say, “Well, now there’s a fool.”

But when someone who is supposed to be leading or commanding a group, or organization, or team does really stupid things and leads people over a cliff, we say, “That’s a bad leader.”

No. That’s a fool.

Don’t confuse leadership with foolishness.

Jocko Willink is built like an NFL linebacker. He is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a former decorated SEAL Team Three leader who led men into the darkest places of combat in the urban warfare of Ramadi, Iraq, in 2007. The city was retaken and Willink returned to train, instruct and mentor our elite warriors.

I heard him interviewed on Tim Ferris’ podcast and when asked what makes a good leader, he gave an answer that might surprise you: Humility. Leaders are humble, they listen and are coachable, Willink said.

There’s an absence of arrogance. They don’t point fingers. They accept responsibility.

Leaders serve because their interest is in elevating the group. Not themselves.

There may be times a leader will take his group into unpredictable, perilous places. It happens every day actually in business.

Maybe that’s you. Your are tasked with leading people. So then.

Guide them.

Lead them.

Direct them.

Show them the way.

Listen. Adjust. Move forward.

Leadership encompasses judgment, prudence and supervision. Which signifies actually caring for someone.

A fool lacks judgment and prudence. A fool simply doesn’t care.

Which are you?

The choices are: A leader or a fool.

Pick one.

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