Building Global Visibility for Your Brand

Reprinted from PR News, February 26, 2017

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

Here are 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 leadership to determine what a successful outcome looks like. In addition, decide the long-term level of financial and resource investment the company or organization is willing to make. Will you be able to expand the team by hiring staff? Can you afford to hire a global agency or will your budget support a regional firm? Be pragmatic in determining what combination of tools, agencies and staff you will require to be successful.

Establish metrics: Collaborate with leadership to establish the goal(s), audiences and priority markets to target and develop a timeline. Reach agreement on what metrics will be most effective to measure success and 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 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 there government-owned outlets that need to be considered and managed differently? Do the research or hire an in-market PR agency to help you develop an in-depth understanding of where and how your audiences engage with media in key markets and which media outlets are most trusted.

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. External representatives could be brand ambassadors in the form of board members, celebrities or even digital ambassadors – popular digital stars or platforms that appeal to your target markets.

Determine messaging: This is vital. Conduct messaging exercises with senior leadership covering organizational narratives and those for key projects/products. Ensure spokespeople are well versed and messaging is consistent across owned and shared media platforms. Provide on-camera and off-camera media training for all spokespeople – including media veterans – to ensure they stay up-to-date and comfortable with your messaging.

Audit your content strategy: You will need to develop content and expand your approach so that digital content supports 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. What appears in the media should be reflected on your digital properties. Your owned and shared content must reflect earned and paid efforts.

Try to remain as flexible as possible. Each market is different and approaches 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 PR talent to help build trust with local, national and regional outlets.

New Year, New Crisis Plan

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.

 

When Apologies Backfire

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.

The Fiat Public Relations Campaign

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.

Five Tips for Working with a PR Agency

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.