At its core, public relations are about storytelling and now more than ever brands need to have a powerful and compelling story to engage and mobilize their audiences.
The trouble is, storytelling has its limitations. In today’s saturated communications marketplace, where information is digested in smaller sizes and competing against more channels, the ability for a story to engage and retain an audience is becoming increasingly difficult. Furthermore, technology has expanded the ability of audiences to digest information, so brands must find a more meaningful means to deliver a coherent and credible message.
Moving beyond storytelling
Brands today must move beyond segmented campaigns and episodic storytelling and develop a narrative, an central thematic that is the basis of the brand’s identity and strategy. A foundational idea that encompasses and forms all areas of a brand’s engagement across its myriad of channels and stakeholders, be it employees; consumers, traditional media, social influencers, policy makers, etc. A company’s narrative should tell everyone what it stands for and offers an idea for those stakeholders to connect with and align behind.
Today, public relations, corporate relations, publicists and marketers are all competing to engage the same audiences through more integrated means – paid, earned, social and owned – meaning that messaging needs to be not only engaging but also consistent across the various streams, and most important of all, in real time.
Brands must lead conversations
Digital and social media platforms have changed the way brands engage with their audiences. Communication no longer flows in a single direction; audiences are now feeding back to companies on a constant basis. Brands must now lead “conversations”, interacting with their audiences in real time, which has quantifiable impact on their reputation.
Proactively driving engagement is now an absolute. While engaging with audiences across these various channels, brands need to utilize a coherent narrative, one that provides clarity and consistency of that engagement. The ability to communicate a compelling, inclusive and consistent narrative has the power to inspire, energize and mobilize an audience in ways our industry never thought possible.
How to develop a strong narrative
Have a real understanding of the brand’s purpose and its values. Consumers today are more value driven than ever before. How a company is trying to achieve its objective, is as important as what it is trying to achieve. Ensure your narrative seeks to explain what the brand stands for and what is it is seeking to achieve.
The narrative must be relatable and easy to explain. To maintain the attention of audiences, a narrative cannot be bogged down in jargon. A strong narrative is based on fact and is not only persuasive but also easily repeatable.
Be inclusive and insightful. Narratives need to evoke an emotional connection and invite participation. It presents an idea for an audience to believe in, support, and ultimately recommend.
In our hyper-completive, over-saturated communications environment, being able to portray a potent and authentic narrative has the power to genuinely connect with an audience, inspire them to action, and lead them on a journey.
Take the case of the Sunshine Coast Health Centre, a well-respected addiction treatment centre in Powell River where 20-year-old Brandon Jansen died of a fentanyl overdose last March. The centre was getting a lot of bad publicity with family members saying it was easy for Brandon to get contraband drugs within three days of entering treatment.
But investigations by both the RCMP and the regulator – Vancouver Coastal Health’s Community Care Facilities Licensing authority – determined there were no contraventions of rules and regulations.
In fact, the facility had consistently maintained a low risk rating with no other critical incidents or any drug-related incidents reported since the facility was first licensed in 2004. Yet, the centre’s reputation was taking a beating.
CEO Melanie Jordan has much to say about what treatment is – and what it isn’t. Addiction treatment centres are not prisons or lockup. Clients have rights and freedom.
Accredited staff members treat people for many types of addictions including alcoholism and prescription drugs abuse. Root causes of addiction are addressed including mental health and physical issues. Melanie Jordan wanted to speak publicly about the tragic death in her facility and have a voice in the search for solutions to stop the unprecedented number of deaths caused by fentanyl.
She enthusiastically embraced the concept of being front and centre at a news conference to be held November 14th. A Media Advisory was sent out inviting reporters and videographers to attend.
As the news conference got underway, news cameras quickly swung to the doorway where three visitors had appeared: Brandon Jansen’s mother Michelle, her son Nicholas and her lawyer.
They politely listened as the news conference went forward with Melanie Jordan providing reporters with the written investigation reports that found her centre was operating within the regulations.
But her most important message was aimed at the government and the medical profession.
Staff at the centre had not been permitted to administer the opiate antidote naloxone and it was possible that could have saved Brandon’s life.
Since Brandon’s death, the centre has received permission to train staff to administer naloxone and the staff physician can treat clients with Suboxone that takes away the craving for opiates.
With more than a dozen news organizations present at the news conference, this important information was received by the public across Canada. The record was set straight. The way forward was articulated. The news went out – all at once.
And the voice of Brandon Jansen’s family was also heard. They held their own media briefing following the news conference so as much information as possible surrounding this tragic death would be in the public forum.
Melanie Jordan and the Sunshine Coast Health Centre have standing at an inquest into Brandon Jansen’s death scheduled for January. This will be another forum where voices will be heard.
As we usher in 2017, the impact of digital and social media is only going to continue to grow. As digital news is more instant, searchable and accessible, more and more people are gravitating to the online world and using social channels to find content specific to their interests. Newsrooms also shrank in 2016, allowing for less specialized journalists and the rise of influencers. So what do we foresee coming ahead for 2017? Below is a list of what to look for and how to prepare for it.
Finding authentic advocates who already connect with your followers, and who are within your brand’s target audience, will increasingly become the best option for earned media. How do we prepare for this? Start doing some research into which influencers reach your target audience, and reach out to them. Figure out what they like and what they post, and tailor pitches to meet their needs.
Contributor marketing and thought leadership will grow
As audiences trust influencers more and more, it will be integral to build thought leadership for your brand, positioning yourself as an influencer in your field. If the audience feels that your brand/spokesperson is a subject matter expert in the product/service you are offering, you will remain top of mind.
Further, as newsrooms continue to shrink, a trend we have seen for the past few years, more content will be created by contributors who are thought leaders in their field. With less staff to conduct research and dedicate time to individual stories, many news teams are also looking for expert advice in their pieces. Positioning yourself as a thought leader will not only allow for earned media coverage and brand recognition, it will allow you to influence how the story is told.
Visuals will become a necessity
Over the past year we saw a rise not only in social media, but in live video. Snapchat (or Snap Inc. as it’s now referred to) became a force to be reckoned with and Facebook Live and Instagram Stories were born. As live video exploded in 2016, we can only see it continuing to dominate conversations this year as more news moves to the Internet. In an era of information overload, brands will have to provide content that is simple to grasp, personable and compelling enough to capture the short attention span of the audience today. That can be done most efficiently through strong visuals and live video. Videos and visuals are also easily shared through social media, allowing for a wider reach.
Facts and case studies are a must
If there was one lesson learned in 2016, it was that fake news will not be tolerated. With the many fake news scandals this past year, news outlets are going to be much more diligent about the information they put out. News stories are going to now be backed up by industry specialists, and articles are going to be written by contributors with knowledge in the specific area. Additionally, pitch notes are going to have to be supported by solid facts, and new products accompanied by user reviews and well researched case studies.
In 2017, news and online content will only become further curated for individual audiences. As a result, influencers will be the gatekeepers for brands, and content must be engaging and factual. Our advice? Brush up those social profiles, build strong relationships with influencers, establish a thought leadership program and create engaging, thoughtful and compelling content.
Last year I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the Canadian Public Relations Society’s (CPRS) AGM to share my public relations CSI experience on the African continent. This is my story….
Before we get started let’s clarify the definition of CSI and CSR, which are sometimes used interchangeably. CSI, or corporate social investment, is the organization’s contributions (either monetary, employee time and resources, or gifts in kind) which bring benefits over and above those directly associated with the core business activities. CSR, or corporate social responsibility, on the other hand is a corporation’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the company’s effects on environmental and social wellbeing such as companies “going green”.
Companies need to invest in CSI as it ensures their contribution towards building and enhancing the quality of life for the people in the communities that they operate in, both internally and externally. When companies involve themselves in CSI programs it improves the recognition of their brand and can contribute towards brand loyalty.
CSI provides a social return on investment
Corporate social investment is more than just financial spending; it can also intensify a company’s commitment to its own mission. Global pharmaceutical company, Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), for example, launched the “Secure the Future” program in 1999 offering grants to countries in Africa for women and children living with HIV/AIDS. To date, this has made a positive and lasting difference in the lives of more than 1 million women and children. The information that BMS has access to in the pandemic, as a result of their social investment, may also prove to be helpful in their on-going research and product development.
CSI initiatives have to be sustainable to be effective
In order for a CSI initiative to be sustainable, it needs to be treated like a business initiative. It cannot merely be an investment with no financial return. Even the most innovative, well-received CSI initiatives will eventually fizzle out if not directly tied to the business motives of the company. It will only continue for as long as the company has the appetite for spending money. As soon as the economy suffers or profits drop, CSI will be the first thing to be cut from a company’s budget. CSI program stand a much better chance of survival if they are tied to the profitability and sustainability of the company itself. Therefore, due diligence should be performed on all CSI initiatives: there should be a strong business case, and like all businesses, there should be a business plan with clear, measureable outcomes.
One company that has succeeded in proving a sustainable CSI campaign that is tied to its organizational goals is McDonald’s McHappy Day. In South Africa, for instance, this is a global charity event that aims to raise money for HIV/AIDS orphanages in South Africa. In the past, celebrities have enthusiastically worked at McDonald’s restaurants nationally over one weekend to raise the targeted amount of money while customers flooded the restaurants to meet their local celebs and to buy a meal.
CSI campaigns have to be authentic to survive
CSI activities cannot be a smokescreen for an organization’s real social or environmental impacts. For example, a company that sells designer clothes that runs an excellent CSI programme aimed at looking after HIV orphans, while most of its clothes are made through child labour in textile factories that use and pollute water unsustainably and foster corruption, is not accomplishing anything but setting themselves up for scandal.
While companies can contribute through CSI initiatives, the impact is far more significant if it is integrated into its core business at a local level, such as its procurement and employment practices.
At the end of the day, a well thought out and executed CSI campaign can work wonders for one’s brand identity and help the brand achieve PR exposure far beyond their expectations. Combined with public relations, a good CSI campaign can take a company to a completely new level and even establish it as a leader and innovator in its industry. As such, companies should consider investing in a reputable CSI campaign to share the love, spread the love and organically boost their brand identity too.
In just a handful of years, the Canadian media landscape has evolved by leaps and bounds. Traditional media outlets like print and television are beginning to give way to digital media, resulting in a significant and dramatic shift in the way media is produced and consumed. Newsrooms have consolidated as digital media continues to change and develop at a faster pace than ever. As more millennials enter the workforce, we’re starting to see brands rely more and more on social media tactics right alongside traditional media.
So, let’s take a look back at a brief timeline of the Canadian media landscape:
It all starts with a strong story: one which not only shares the vision of the brand but is relatable to the audience. This is followed by a commitment to maintain and enhance that story with all other public relations efforts. The Ladurée brand story is intertwined with Parisian history and refinement, and through that story they invite the audience into their world of French luxury and elegance.
The ‘je ne sais quoi’ factor
An important question to ask once the story is defined is, “what makes your product more unique than similar products also on the market?” Ladurée has been able to differentiate themselves through the idea of authenticity, elegance and sophistication, and by being an active part of the definition of Parisian haute couture over the years through partnerships with high fashion houses and like-minded celebrities.
Old world meets new world
For any brand to be strong, it must be an important part of modern culture while still holding true to its own story and uniqueness. This is done in different ways, but most commonly through celebrity endorsement, social media, word of mouth reviews and of course, PR. From a brief sweep of the 20+ official Ladurée Instagram accounts, it is apparent that they have managed to keep the old French sophistication at the forefront, while still being culturally relevant – from creating decadent macarons based on Disney’s Frozen, to featuring celebrities such as Pharrell and Blake Lively, to partnering with Vogue magazine.
Ladurée is also the first of its kind to open in Canada, and with its choice to be on Robson Street, a street known for having high class designer shops and restaurants, it is also culturally positioning itself in Canada as being more than just another macaron shop, but a standalone designer store.
Personality always wins
The product has to appeal to their target audience and allow them to be drawn into the world the brand has created. At this point three questions must be answered – Is the brand appealing? Will I purchase it? And if so, why? In addition to a strong product, Ladurée has surpassed all expectations on this by answering all three questions. Ladurée has created an experience that is not only appealing to a wide range of people, but is an experience people are willing to pay money for in order to gain something they cannot get anywhere else. Macarons can be bought in many places, but curated Parisian culture and art cannot.
From the pretty pastels, fine china and floral patterns to the visually appealing deserts, the brand has curated a story that the public wants to not only buy into, but to share with their friends and on social media. As a result, Ladurée and other brands with similar buzz are not only accessible, but they create an experience worth coming back to, again and again.
Donald Trump is breaking every conceivable PR101, 202 and even PR PhD rule and remains completely unaffected by it. In fact, the more he breaks the rules, the more popular he becomes. So, are those basic public relation rules that we all know outdated? His communication style is aggressive to the point of stand-up comedy; more propaganda, less public relations. But, for argument’s sake, should we throw out what we know and adopt the shoot-from-the-lip style Trump embodies – especially in the face of a crisis?
In a political nomination campaign, particularly in the United States, you can do the following, apparently without fear of law suits or reprisals:
Call opponents liars
Threaten to punch protestors in the face
Be yourself – no matter what
Make fun of the media who carry your message
Say Trump wins the election. Should you or your company adopt his style and become more aggressive in the face of attacks by the media or critics? Should you go on the offensive to try to galvanize your supporters? Should you simply thumb your nose at powerful media and treat it and your detractors with disdain?
Consider this: If “the Donald” was your CEO in a crisis and talking about your company’s critics or competitors as he is talking now about his opponents and others, how do you think it would affect your brand? I suspect his board of directors would be the first to say, “Donald, you’re fired!”
In the real world of business, you simply can’t do what “the Donald” is doing. Why? Because politics is not business reality. So, in light of Trump’s recent antics in the media spotlight, here are some lessons we can all learn:
Never attack your competitors
The first rule of good public relations is you never attack competitors. Exxon didn’t gloat publically when BP sprung a leak in the Gulf of Mexico. When Walmart parmesan cheese was found to contain cellulose recently, Safeway didn’t run attack ads about it. When you begin throwing stones it’s too easy for the media or the public to pick up some of those same rocks and toss them back at you.
Don’t call opponents liars
“The Donald” calls his opponents liars. He does this often. It’s his go-to pitch. In a heated public debate which your company may be involved in, calling opponents liars will galvanize opposition and lose you public support. When you lose your cool, you lose – period. The best strategy is to stick to your facts day in and day out and to let your facts ultimately win the day. Keep a level-head because the more nasty and out of control your opponents get, the more support you will get.
Don’t threaten to punch protestors in the face
When asked, many a CEO might agree privately, that in certain instances they’d like to punch a protester in the face. Now imagine a big project, like B.C.’s pipelines and Site C dam proposals. Imagine a CEO saying on TV, “I’d like to punch that protestor in the face.” They’d be looking for a new career immediately and the project would be dead.
You can be your own worst enemy
In Trump’s case, this means his shoot-from-the-lip style is not a good idea in a crisis. Being yourself is actually good advice for a CEO facing a crisis, as long as being yourself means you show that you care, admit your mistakes, are truthful and outline a plan to make things right. If you are shaken by what happened, allow it to show, allow your concern to show through – be human. But, if being yourself means you go on the offensive and attack everyone in your path, then save that for the boardroom.
Media don’t like to be made fun of
The media, including social media, carry your message. Making fun of media pundits, reporters, bloggers and analysts is never a good idea. It may feel to you like you are winning but the “win” is temporary. They always get the last word. You should correct factual errors they have made, point out your positive message, and then take the high road. The public is smarter than you think. They will get your message and understand when the media is being unfair.
The bottom line?
Everyone likes to copy a winner; business schools teach investment success models such as Warren Buffett’s. But, we also laud those who break the mold and go against the establishment. Case in point? Donald Trump.
If you copy Donald Trump’s nomination strategy in your business I would say that you do so at your own peril. Right now, Donald Trump doesn’t need real answers, he just needs one-liners, of which he seems to have an endless supply. When pushed into a corner he goes on a personal attack, calls someone a liar, raises a boogeyman or mentions 9-11.
A nomination campaign is not the business world or even the real world. It is more like reality TV. There is only one measuring stick: winning, and the focus is extremely short term. There is no tomorrow.
Successful businesses have a long time horizon to consider because the public won’t forget and you don’t get to completely rebrand every four years like a political party does. Unlike a new political leader, a new CEO doesn’t make all the old negative news magically disappear.
Looking back on nearly two decades of public relations work following a 30-year career as a news reporter provides an opportunity to reflect on how PR and the media interact in 2016. The new reality for the news media is there are now fewer people employed to do what, in many cases, is much more work.
Television news that once was confined to slots at noon, supper hour and late newscasts is now delivered 24 hours a day in back to back ‘news wheel’ formats that stretch reporters, editors and videographers to new limits.
A new media frontier
The power of the internet continues to grow, with bloggers having as much or more impact than reporters for mainstream media.
So how does this impact the ability of companies, organizations and public relations professionals to get the message out in the media?
Simply put, the media landscape may have changed dramatically but there are more opportunities and channels than ever for publicity.
Everybody is talking about Donald Trump
Love him or hate him, Trump is a publicity machine. He is getting more media attention than anyone else on earth with radio, television, newspapers and social channels featuring what seems to be a play-by-play of Trump’s latest antics in the Republican presidential candidate race.
Getting noticed still makes or breaks reputations, makes the cash register ring and brings people to the door.
And so, getting your message out with ‘earned’ media – otherwise known as public relations – is still one of the best ways to become known. Although the number of reporters may be contracting, newspapers and television are still hungry for content. The number of social channels grows every day. Trade magazines also abound and every industry is supported by at least one that’s looking for stories.
If you can’t get the media to tell your story through positive news coverage, do it yourself. Have videos produced and tell the story of your own company, your product or your services with words and pictures that matter to your brand. Then, feature it on your website.
Do something amazing and put it on the web via Youtube, Vimeo or Instagram. Send this to everyone you know. If your story goes viral, everyone will know what you want to get across and good things can happen.
Today is our 13 year anniversary at Peak Communicators! Yesterday night, we hosted a wonderful celebration of our 13-year milestone and celebrated with clients – past, present and potential – as well as our media friends.
Stories were told, laughs were had, sushi and cheese were devoured and wine and beer were flowing!
Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate ‘#Peak13’ with us. Your support is what got us through the first 13 years and we’re excited to see what the next 13 have in store!
The lights, the decorations and the Christmas music are in full swing anywhere you go in the city these days. From big shopping extravanganzas to ‘stuff-a-bus’ campaigns to tree lighting ceremonies to the Starbucks red cup fiasco of 2015, it seems that the holiday season is always the time of year business after business tries to out-do each other for the PR spotlight. Case in point with WestJet’s admittedly impressive stunt in 2013.
This Christmas, forget the large-scale, consumer-focused, out-of-this-world PR campaigns to promote your brand and services. Because, let’s be honest, not many businesses have quite the PR/marketing budget that WestJet has.
Few things give people the warm fuzzies more than a simple heartfelt – and sometimes awkward – Christmas card in the mail. As the holiday season approaches, take this opportunity to send out festive cards (bonus points for snail mail!) to clients and business partners to nurture existing business relationships and to tip the scales in your favour for potential new business relationships in the new year.
In PR, we always talk about the importance of key messages. Don’t miss an opportunity to incorporate these in a company Christmas card! More than just wishing ‘Happy Holidays’ or saying ‘thank you’ via email or social media, use your card as a way to remind clients, past and present, of what makes your business unique and the value you can bring to help them meet their business goals. Think about the big themes that give your company its character and charm and use them as the foundation of your card.
Maybe all your employees are big advocates of health and fitness. Or maybe everyone at the office is an obsessive coffee drinker with an unusual love for cats. It doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to be flashy, but utilize your creativity to incorporate your company’s voice, personality and character into a holiday card without just relying on your company logo and tagline to do the talking.
From the message, to the wackiness of your graphic design, this is the perfect opportunity to capture your brand’s values and personality in a non-invasive, feel-good way. Be classy about it – no one needs to see your website URL in bold 20-point Arial font across the front – but use this card as a PR tool to reinforce your brand values and keep your business at the forefront of people’s minds.