Communications teams are increasingly pressured to own their brand’s earned media space beyond their borders to keep up with – and stand uniquely apart from – their competitors. This is increasingly true for non-profits competing for donor dollars and has always been a constant for the private sector.

Here are six steps for building and increasing global earned media visibility for your brand:

Understand the “why”: What is prompting this need for more global visibility? Based on the answer, work with your leadership to determine what a successful outcome looks like and what investment your company or organization is willing to make over the long-term.

Establish agreed upon metrics: Collaborate with leadership to establish the goal(s), audiences and priority markets to target and develop a timeline for that approach. Reach agreement on what metrics will be most effective to measure success, how often and in which form those metrics will be produced.

Understand the media landscape in priority markets: What are the prevalent outlets? How do your target audiences get their news? What angles/stories appeal most? Will the approach be entirely earned or is there a pay-to-play model? Are their government-owned outlets that need to be considered and managed differently? Do the research or hire an in-market agency to help you understand where and how your audiences engage with media in your priority markets.

Plan your earned media strategy: Determine what pitches and storylines are most relevant for each market and what spokespeople will appeal – either internal to the organization or external. What combination of tools, agencies and staff will you need to be able to penetrate these markets?

Determine your messaging: This is vital to your success. Conduct messaging exercises with senior leadership for your organization overall and key projects/products. Ensure spokespeople are well versed and messaging is consistent across your owned and shared media platforms.

Audit your current content strategy: You will need to develop content and expand your approach so that your digital content supports your earned media campaigns, targeting audiences where they engage. In some countries, the web is still king as it is seen as a source of trust. Your owned and shared content must reflect your earned and paid efforts.

Try to remain as flexible as possible. Each market is different and their approach to earned media may be very different from what you are used to. Leverage your country offices or local vendors for their knowledge and hire or contract local media talent to help build trust with outlets.

When was the last time you reviewed your crisis response plan?

Whether they would admit or not, many organizations either do not have a crisis response plan or have one that is barely, if ever, reviewed. In the changing political and global context of today, having a dynamic crisis response plan that aligns with your business and is integrated across channels is critical to your operations.

In my experience, crises have a higher tendency to occur as a result of actions taken by an organization or in response to their mission or philosophy. You may, without realizing it, trigger a crisis by your actions – the releasing of a statement, a comment, a change in direction, an exit from a country, an issue with a program, funding, etc.

Rule number one with a crisis is that it will be incredibly fast-moving and will involve both digital and traditional media. Rule number two is that the issue that becomes a crisis will shock you – it will not be what you expect. Rule number three is that the press will seek comment from anyone with a relationship with the organization, past and present.

Some important tips:

  • Ensure senior leadership is committed and involved in the development of your plan (or updating your existing plan) and is actively engaged in live drills across the organization at least twice a year.
  • Be ready to respond and take control of the message with prepared spokespeople – not associated with the organization – who can speak on your behalf and to have supporters counter accusations on digital or start counter campaigns if needed.
  • Respond quickly – do not sit on the issue or bury your head in the sand – the longer you wait to respond, the more intense the crisis will become. Publicly provide action steps that you plan to take, the timeline in which you will take them and keep apologies short, and only apologize once.
  • Avoid becoming social shy – several recent crises showed that organizations and individuals tend to avoid digital when the heat is turned up, locking comments or maintaining scheduled posts throughout. You cannot – no matter how negative the comments or the campaigns or the memes – avoid your digital platforms.
  • Monitor digital, emails and calls so that any press that contact you are directed to the media team taking charge of vetting incoming calls and one spokesperson who had previously been trained and selected as the crisis spokesperson.
  • Stick with your talking points each time your spokesperson is interviewed to ensure that they are consistent with the facts. If an error has been made, admit it and state the necessary steps to ensure it will not happen again in the future – and make those steps publicly known.

The more visible you are, the more others may try to use your visibility for their own objectives and to advance their own agendas – for both positive and negative reasons. Recognizing the power of the collective and engaging with it will enable your brand to stay flexible and aware of changing trends and sentiments. But being prepared, and ensuring your leadership is prepared, is your ultimate strategy.

 

Do you have a speech on the horizon? Do you feel prepared? Are you anxious?

It’s normal to be slightly anxious and nervous prior to a speech. It happens to everyone although it comes out in different ways. Some boast of how terrific they are, others ask other presenters if they are nervous, some go buzzing about, others sit quietly and everyone has their heart racing and rate of breathing increase. Anxiety around speaking is a normal human reaction and everyone – I mean everyone – experiences it, some have just mastered how not to show it.

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was by a director when I studied acting in my early days of college. He said to me “everyone gets nervous and anxious before a public performance, your job is to accept that as a normal human reaction and use that nervous energy to improve your performance.”

Here are some tips on preparing for speeches and dealing with the anxiety that comes along with it:

Watch the pros. Before a speech, I often go straight to YouTube and watch several public personalities deliver speeches over the life cycle of their days in the public spotlight. You can learn a lot from their evolution – from speed, intonation patterns, emphasis points to speaking aids.

Practice to build your confidence. But not so much that you are emotionally divorced from your words while actually delivering the speech to your audience. We’ve all seen that happen. The person is there in body but their personality has left the room. Breathe, take a pause, and remember that your goal is to inspire, educate and motivate. Smile, make eye contact, release your hold on the speech and remember why you are there.

Connect with your audience. Interact with them by involving them in your speech. Mention several audience members by name, ask questions, or poll the audience through a show of hands. Constantly take the pulse of the room so you can react to the audience by changing your speech and your approach.

Know when to stop talking. Have you ever been in the audience when a presenter fell in love with the beauty of their own words right before your eyes and forgot you where there? Or perhaps it was a meeting. Painful, wasn’t it? Don’t be that person. Watch body language clues for audience reaction and respond appropriately.

Seek feedback either through videotaping your speeches or by surveying your audience afterwards. Incorporate what you learn into your next speech and remember that the more speeches you give, the better you will become.

When Apologies Backfire

December 27, 2016 — Leave a comment

What do architects and supermodels have in common?

Beyond being generally approved of by the general public, they were the first to experience reputation damage in the wake of a growing, global culture shift.

The day after the US presidential election, The American Institute of Architects released a statement expressing their willingness to work with the Trump Administration. For the AIA, it was business as usual – a statement that is always released after a presidential election.

The groundswell was immediate and vocal, leading to the launch of the #notmyaia digital movement with members voicing long-term concerns that the Institute had been tone deaf. The AIA released an apology two days later but it did little to stem the tide. Four days later, they followed up with a second video apology that fed the media storm further, and finally a third apology to their members that went public.

Several days later, supermodel Gigi Hadid hosted the American Music Awards. In her opening monologue, she mimicked the future First Lady, Melania Trump – the backlash was sudden and even more vocal, forcing herself and her mother to lock down social comments.

In reaction, the supermodel released a hand-written apology letter through her father’s Instagram account. The apology letter received more criticism as it failed to apologize directly to Mrs. Trump.

In both cases, the apologies created more problems than they solved, why? Here are three guidelines when considering whether to/to not apologize after a crisis you caused:

  • Is it warranted? This will take some hard thinking internally to determine whether your actions align with your mission or business philosophy. Is it a market over reaction? Will time be beneficial to you and your brand? Don’t immediately issue an apology until you have assessed the context completely.  Shoot from the hip apologies don’t work.

 

  • Is it sincere? If you are going to apologize, you must really want to and it must really show. This is where acting will fail you. Audiences are smart, people are smart, they will see right through the veneer which will further inflame the situation. Only apologize if you truly mean it and you are comfortable doing so.

 

  • Is it owned? Will your key audiences agree with your apology – the approach and the content? Have you checked in with them? This could be loyal customers, partners, investors, Boards, and employees. If not, they could turn against you under the pressure of a growing call for action.

Are you challenged with extending your company’s brand awareness through global media with a small staff and budget?

Last year, I spoke with the head of media relations for one of the largest tech firms in Silicon Valley. To my surprise, they faced the same challenges as smaller firms and non-profits – how to effectively manage media relations in multiple countries.

Outreach to journalists in multiple countries needs to be handled differently in order to develop effective relationships around the globe. A brush stroke approach will never work and may even set you back. Do not assume what works in one country or region will work in others.

Here are five tips for working with journalists globally:

Know the media culture. Your in-country staff and/or consultants are the experts. Have conversations with them to understand how press operate, how they view the work of the organization, who the most prominent journalists are in your subject area and what interactions they have had in the past.

Approach journalists as is expected in their country. Find out from your own research, in-country staff, partner organizations and other experts on how journalists prefer to be approached. Your professional network can be extremely valuable here – mine it for those who have worked in-country.

Hire a local consultant to initiate relationships. A local consultant will often be a former journalist with existing relationships with the press. They can help with introductions and with briefing you and your team on how to best approach the media to ensure a successful foundation.

Have a member of staff present for informal and formal briefings. If you have a country director/manager, they will have the history and the context of the organization’s work and how it has been covered by the journalist and perceived in-country. They can serve as the content expert and prevent you from falling into any traps.

Always follow-up. Distance should never be used as an excuse not to continue a connection. Use Skype and email. Send thank you notes at all times. Keep the conversation going and keep them up-to-date on your company’s work globally so they feel included and valuable.

Remove geographic borders from your planning. Include these journalists in your overall media outreach strategy. Do not think in terms of geographic borders, planning just within the boundaries of where you are headquartered or located.  Think globally every time you plan media outreach and develop a strategy for each country. It’s time-consuming, but it is an investment that will pay off in the long-run..

Missing the Message

November 9, 2016 — 2 Comments

As last night’s election coverage results came in, many were shocked, none more so than the media.

In real-time, we watched many network reporters struggle through their emotions with dismay written all over their faces and haltingly in their voices. The failure went deeper than a campaign, it was a failure of a profession to adequately deliver on what it was created to do – to understand the pulse of the people.

As the graphics in the background depicted the march of the red, the verbal commentary seemed not to match the reality of what was happening.

How did we get here?

Not very long ago, journalism was a revered profession. In journalism school, reporters were taught to do the hard work – to research and get to know their local communities, what people were thinking, what challenges they were facing. To get out of the newsroom, talk with people, ask the hard questions.

As newsrooms were privatized in the 1980s, the profit agenda began to rise within newsrooms. Jobs were reduced, beats were reduced, and investigative reporting was no longer the norm. As a result, journalists began to spend more time in the newsroom seeking out other stories online to expand on – not spending as much time out in communities, interviewing and understanding what people were thinking.

Over time that has expanded to become the media bubble that is New York and Washington with an over reliance on pundits and the pressure of the 24/7 news cycle to seek out experts who may not truly be so in their field.

How do we move on from here?

The chasm between those covering the election and those voting was obvious. To close it, national media outlets must strive to reconnect with the American people – to understand their lives, their challenges, their hopes and dreams from all corners of the country. They must re-invest in the basics of reporting and recommit to the ethics of journalism – to present the news in a fair, impartial manner.

In short, they must re-invest to regain their relevance in the eyes of the public.

We’ve all seen it – the Fiat travelling the streets of Washington and New York with the Pope waving from the back seat.

I was on my way back from a meeting – Starbucks in hand – when I encountered the Pope and his Fiat.

What struck me was the respect shown by the motorcade – the slowest moving, most silent motorcade I had ever seen – and this little Fiat with a very hunched over Pope (he looked uncomfortable) surrounded by numerous SUVs.

It was clear from the reaction of the people around me that he is adored and is creating a new awareness and affection for the Catholic Church among all denominations. Just a few years ago, the Church was beset with scandal and the Vatican was appearing increasingly out of touch.

So what have they’ve done to change perception?

Establishing a Strong, yet Simple, Brand. Pope Francis is very much the everyman Pope. Taking seriously a vow of poverty and becoming the voice of the voiceless. That is his brand. With every speech, he exemplifies and expands upon his brand, and with every appearance, he symbolizes his brand.

Using Symbolism to Reinforce Message. The Fiat exemplified symbolism in action. It was simple and everyman while also underpinning the message of his visit – addressing climate change. It was a powerful message that was shared via social countless of times – further extending the message.

Ensuring Image and Actions are Aligned. There is a story making the rounds that an aide to the Pope carried his luggage on board one of the flights. The Pope asked him to bring the luggage back so he could carry it onboard. He is very aware of his image and works to ensure his actions are consistent with his image.

Being Straightforward and Honest. The Pope has been straightforward on the issues facing the Catholic Church and has taken these issues on directly as opposed to ignoring or hiding from them. By doing so, he has engendered trust and respect among the public not only for himself, but also for the Church.

Late on Saturday night after a hectic day in Manhattan, I hailed a cab on fifth to take me to the airport. The first thing I noticed was how clean it was – I had never seen a cab so clean.

The driver was also dressed immaculately and was very calm. I thought to myself, “Is this real?”

Lou the driver explained that he had been driving a cab in New York City since 1969. He considers himself an ambassador and his cab an embassy. I wanted to ask if he offered asylum as well. It was as if we were driving around the city in an oasis of serenity.

As a little boy growing up outside Guayaquil, Ecuador, he had dreamed of a job and a city where he could meet many people around the world.

He achieved his dream and has shared advice on how he aims to be the best in his job every day through the brand experience he creates:

Create the experience from the beginning. From your first interaction with a brand you should feel – and notice – the difference that sets it apart from other similar brands. Of the 13,600 licensed cabs in New York, Lou is able to set himself apart from the start.

Engage with your customers. At this point in his career, Lou is a great psychologist and knows how to subtly get his customer’s attention. And he starts with the customer’s favorite topic: themself. He is not overbearing in his approach.

Be a great conversationalist. He is also a great conversationalist and a master storyteller. He provided me with many life lessons on my way to the airport. He also had me in tears laughing after I learned he was married to his fifth wife (he highly recommends marrying several times and advises to always have a bag packed in case they ask you to leave).

Listen carefully. Lou’s best tip was to remember that your mind and your words are connected – use them well and remember to actually listen to your customer. Find out what makes them tick, what their needs are from their perspective, not your brand’s perspective.

Lou has a manuscript about his life sitting in the passenger seat of his cab. I urged him to get it published. Hopefully, you’ll be lucky enough to meet Lou on your next trip to NYC. And if not, his book will be a riveting read.

Working with a public relations agency can help public relations professionals amplify and target their efforts more effectively. However, it can often times be a relationship fraught with ups and downs over its lifecycle.

Keeping the relationship – and the results – on an even keel takes work on both parts. The agency needs to understand your organization’s vision and goals and you need to understand the skills, capabilities and strengths of the agency.

Here are a few tips for managing an agency:

Do your research. From the beginning, try for the best possible match by researching agencies to ensure they have experience and media contacts in your field, they are the right size for your organization right now and their culture matches yours.

If you have a limited budget, you may want to choose a smaller agency that would not relegate you to the bottom of the client pile based on your budget but may give you more attention due to your potential.

Define success. Make sure you have a clear definition of what success would be from the relationship. Know what results you want and communicate that in the RFP process as well as in your agency interviews. It is okay to adjust these based on input with the agency you select – it is a two-way relationship. They may know the business better than you but be clear on what your organization’s expectations are.

Plan and measure. Develop a plan in coordination with the agency to reach your definition of success with effective measurement along the way. Have the agency offer advice and ideas on measurement and listen to them if they caution you that your plan may not be taking in real world implications. Develop a process on how to work through lack of performance or conflicts before you begin.

Communicate. I know this seems obvious but it often does not happen. Your agency should be kept up to date on your organization, changes in business, focus or new visions and plans that are being developed. The more aware they are of the changing needs of your organization, the better they will be at seeing opportunities and maximizing them for results.

Manage effectively. It is critical that someone from your team be assigned to manage the relationship with your involvement through at least the first quarter of the relationship. It is also critical that the agency maintains consistency with their account team and that the relationship between these teams is open with rules established from the beginning on regular engagements. Will there be weekly calls? Will there be regular report-outs on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis? Are there conflict resolutions set up in case the relationship goes off track?

Remember that it is a 50/50 relationship and a two-way communication channel must always be open for the agency to perform well and for you to get the results you and your organization expect. Most important, you must be comfortable with each other, honest and open sharing dialogue on ideas and potential obstacles for the relationship to work. If you are not comfortable picking up the phone and talking to them at any point during your day, you are with the wrong agency.

Is your brand recognized as a thought leader in its industry?

In today’s social age, potential clients are making business choices based on the quality and visibility of your brand’s thought leadership before they engage with you. Thought leadership is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity.

By sharing insights and ideas – online and offline – that are relevant to your current and potential markets, thought leadership can differentiate your brand from the competition.

Here are six steps towards building a successful thought leadership strategy:

Revisit your brand strategy. You will need to know the core offerings of your brand and how that will evolve in the future. Review your strategy with leadership and have a conversation about the future.

Identify the experts. Review the expertise and background of your c-level executives. Align their expertise with your core offerings now and in the future to begin to determine how their knowledge can be maximized to make your brand more credible and marketable. Keep in mind your most valuable thought leader might be the most unassuming person in the room who never ‘toots their own horn’.

Examine the playing field. Research the channels and opportunities available within your brand’s current and future target markets. Understand themes and content trends over time. Which are more successful than others? Which brands are well positioned and why?

Determine your timeline. How long will it realistically take for you to implement your thought leadership strategy? Your experts may need training first so you will need to allow additional time and you may need to socialize the importance of thought leadership throughout your company.

Develop your thought leadership strategy. Create strategic goals, a content plan and pipeline that align each expert with a particular market segment. Identify what mix of channels will not only be most effective but where the experts will be most comfortable. Ideally, it is a mix of both online (platforms and channels) and offline (speaking events and webinars). Determine how you will measure results and how often.

Take content risks. Clients and potential clients will want to know how your brand envisions the future. Your experts should be comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone to discuss what will be happening in the future within their market areas – whether right or wrong.

Remember to include your experts and leadership in the development of the strategy and to keep your content within your brand’s service areas now and in the future. This will enable you to establish your company’s commitment to thought leadership and to maintain content alignment with your brand strategy in the long-term.