Why Business Leaders Need PR

I recently had a call with a Founder/CEO of a multi-million a month company who complained of the need to constantly prove himself in first introductions with major industry players.

This surprising admission came after we had discussed his background – from serving his country to founding a business that quickly grew to #4 on the Inc 5,000 list a couple years after launch – this CEO not only had a great American success story but was also frequently invited to Washington D.C. to weigh in on the benefits and pitfalls of ecommerce before Congress.

Yet. When meeting with future partners in the supply chain, he found himself explaining who he was and why he was important enough to warrant the meeting. One hundred percent of the time his self-sales pitch never failed to impress, and the decision-makers would proceed with the deal eagerly. Great, right?

Not so much. He asked me “Why are these other companies who are marketing-over-profits (and maybe never will turn a profit) getting all the attention? Their CEOs are prominently featured in every WSJ article and invited on Squawk or Mad Money and they aren’t proven viable!”

The answer to his question is as simple as it is intangible. In the ecommerce world of data and customer conversions it’s often easy to roll your eyes at PR. If your stuff is selling and you can track what’s working, why invest in PR? Afterall, everyone knows you can’t really measure it.

I won’t get into all the benefits of PR in terms of the sales-marketing funnel. Way more people have written better pieces on the topic, but I will breakdown why even a small local business owner should invest in PR.

  • Reputation, like branding, is all about perception and, as with branding, you can and should build your reputation strategically. It may feel awkward to hire a PR firm to literally build your local/national/international reputation through calculated communications strategies and thought leadership PR but your competitors are doing it and they are taking your place at the table.
  • Life gets easier when people know you by reputation. They are asking for meetings and interviews, not the other way around. There is no more need to explain who you are and why you’re important (one less thing, right 🙂
  • You have an automatic platform for your company news. Guess what? When no one’s heard of you or your company it’s hard to get media or consumers to care about your news. When you’re well known, it doesn’t matter how small your news, it will be shared and celebrated.
  • You attract employees. If you live in a rural area, you can actually boost the local economy by attracting and hiring fresh transplants.
  • You get awards. You get on business 500 and 5,000 lists; you get named Entrepreneur of the Year and make your employees proud (‘I work for the Entrepreneur of the Year!’)
  • This one is most important in my humble opinion. You inspire people. You accept the award because you’ve earned it but be sure to let people know it’s possible for them to be in your shoes one day. Explain your failures and hardships. To me, that ability to propel people forward filled with hope and admiration, is the true power of PR.

To wrap up, I want to share a quick success story about one of our longest client partnerships (indeed since 2011).

When we started working with the founder of an organic baby food brand she had just pulled off the feat of parlaying her baby food offering from her local farmer’s market to a huge national retail chain with absolutely no retail experience (or experience running a business with employees and partners).

She had to learn fast and at the same time she recognized the value of being the face of the company. She was a real mom who wants to feed her babies real food that she would eat herself and took action. Within a year she was featured in every parenting and business magazine, in all the national daily news sites, in the popular blogs and on morning shows. She guest judged on Dragon’s Den, mentored startup founders at a competitive accelerator, got paid to speak internationally to tell her story and her company made many millions because of the trust from one mom to another.

Today she is CEO of three brands – from baby to teenager – and has helped inspire many would-be entrepreneurs by not sugarcoating the bumps in the road, speaking honestly about the hustle needed, and the power of humbling herself to all our PR advice 🙂

Social Enterprises Should Be Prioritizing PR & Marketing During the Pandemic

Chaos is a ladder” – Littlefinger, Game of Thrones

It may seem counterintuitive but now is the time for social enterprises and nonprofits to put some muscle behind their Earned, Owned and Paid Marketing efforts.

While many for-profits and small business are (understandably) minimizing their marketing runway and ad spending in an effort to stay afloat during Covid19, social enterprises are generally used to operating on an often shoestring budget when it comes to…. well, everything. It’s time to take advantage of the ad vacuum lack of competition to raise brand awareness, make money through digital channels and capitalize on a captive audience.

In this article I’ll breakdown quick tips and strategies for marketing your goods and services digitally to a national audience, and locally to your dynamic community.

National Campaigns

Even in 2020 many of our social enterprise clients still consider online selling a distant second to bricks-and-mortar or fundraising/donor dollars. That said, if there is any silver lining to the pandemic for nonprofits, it could be the forced catalyst needed to prioritize a shift to digital.

People are increasingly looking to support worthy nonprofits with their wallets, going out of their way to buy gift cards and products online. And now more than ever, they are responding to ads that show a real need. Acknowledging this, an Adtaxi survey found that 68% of people find it helpful when ads show regard of the current scenario and 62% know that brands mean well.

While many brands are pulling advertising across all mediums, we’re advising clients on a shoestring to create and share simple yet targeted social ads as an inexpensive way to let people know they would be supporting a great cause by buying your products or gift cards at this time.

Social ads are also a great way to increase your social followers and build the foundation for future selling. Adtaxi found that “more significantly, 53% plan to do more of their shopping online after the crisis is over.” Now is the time to start flexing your online muscle while targeting new consumers.

You have a captive audience. According to ClickZ, people are spending anything between 3 to 7 hours on social media in a day. This is your opportunity to pivot your owned social media content and increase PR outreach to further grow your audiences and position for present and future selling.

One of our CPG clients began sharing tips for entertaining kids at home and started hosting #LivingRoomDanceParties on their social channels every Friday, encouraging fans to tag them in fun videos of their own for a chance to win product. If possible consider offering a contest to your fans every once in awhile. People love receiving a prize and contests are huge engagement spikers. We recommend using the contest to share your mission and ask your audience which charities they support or what is important to them during this time.

Don’t forget to add trending hashtags to each post such as #inthistogether #keepingitreal #yougotthis #stayhome #Covid19

As the top of the sales funnel, PR is more important than ever. Media are interested in hearing from businesses on how they changed their protocols to protect their teams. They want to write about companies with a purpose who are finding creative ways to raise funds or are willing to speak to their unique struggles during this time. Simply, many are writing on how consumers can support nonprofits, especially on a local level.

Local Campaigns

Many of Remark’s social enterprise clients are already leading authorities in raising awareness in their local communities, so we’ll keep this part brief. All we’ll say here is be sure to save some social ad budget to target your local demographics and make sure to emphasize how your nonprofit is helping the local community. Reach out to local press and ask them to share how consumers can support your organization.

The need to celebrate local businesses and nonprofits during this tumultuous time has never been more strongly felt on a global level.

In Summary: BRAND

Build brand awareness and social audiences through increased Earned, Paid and Owned Media

Reap the benefits of an engaged online audience and the increase in online sales it brings in the present and future

Advertise your mission and need

Nonprofits are uniquely primed to break through the clutter on shoestring budgets

Digital selling is the future

In Between PR Campaigns? Here are 3 Simple Tips to Maintain the Buzz

Many companies can’t afford consistent Public Relations, or simply won’t spend marketing dollars on a neverending monthly retainer for their PR firm. This is especially true for social enterprises and nonprofits. Instead they may hire an agency for special projects, launches and announcements ranging from a few months to a year enjoying the buzz created by the campaign. Then the agency wraps up and poof! The steady stream of media attention dwindles and dries up.

I have good news! This doesn’t have to be the case. We tell our social enterprise clients all the time how they can keep the momentum going until we meet again. It only benefits us when we pick back up again.

  1. Invest 5 hours per week in PR outreach. Spread it across Mon-Fri or reserve one day to wear your PR hat, but this should be the minimum you dedicate to keep interest up in your company. Even if you don’t have any new products up for review or announcements, you should still be reaching out with your company’s core story and offer up different topics your C-level can speak to. Trust us, we get some of our best profiles out of evergreen pitching!
  2. Keep a Rolling Update. Anyone who has ever worked with Remark knows we love our RUs. If we’ve worked together, continue to use our template. If we haven’t, simply log into Google Drive and open an excel sheet. We usually reserve the first tab for coverage which has posted and list out the columns: Outlet, Writer Name, Date, UMVs, notes and link. Then we also have a tab dedicated to coverage still pending. If we have a brand ambassador program, we have a tab dedicated to recording their content as well. We update this document in real time and then pull our weekly reports from it. Which brings me to
  3. Weekly reports. Send these to your team strictly for external communication programs. If you already do a larger Marketing report, be sure to include a section to recap PR efforts and wins. Our weekly updates apprise our clients of pitch angles we’ve taken, angles we’re thinking about, PR coverage/interviews that hit this week and PR coverage/interviews we have coming up and overall feedback from our contacts.

This simple maintenance will work for you even without a fancy (read: expensive) media database and you’ll be astonished at the relationships you’ll build and the stories you’ll inspire and influence.

Got a huge project coming up or simply don’t have 5 hours a week? Drop us a line!

Remark Team Builds Out Social Good Program for Baby Gourmet

What an incredible opportunity! It’s not everyday a PR and Marketing firm gets the chance to build an important and impactful program from scratch for a client (in another country nonetheless.) Perhaps we owe this huge vote of confidence to the long history behind Remark and Baby Gourmet’s partnership which began near the end of 2011 (almost eight years and counting!) We’ve launched countless product lines, researched and executed Brand Ambassador programs, attended expos, supported the founders and C-level, been stopped in customs in the Calgary airport, had a few beers and a lot of laughs.

For almost as long as they’ve been in business Baby Gourmet had been giving back through food donations, big and small – from sick babies and toddlers to displaced flood victims – which eventually came to be known internally as Heart of Baby Gourmet (#HOBG). The problem here wasn’t about making giving back a priority, it was a lack of defined mission and consistency.

As a firm who has worked with dozens of nonprofits, social enterprises and B Corps over the years, we couldn’t think of a better compliment than when asked to develop HOBG. It turns out this program is timely too. According to Food Banks Canada, 13% of Canadians live in a state of food insecurity, which means they do not have reliable access to adequate amounts of safe, good-quality, nutritious food. Each month, over 850,000 people turn to food banks for help; more than one-third are children and youth.

After creating our mission – stating our company-wide conviction that Canada’s most vulnerable population: babies, toddlers and children, should have access to the highest quality organic food, snacks and nutritional beverages available on supermarket shelves – we have ourselves a goal to strive for: One Million HOBG Meals donated by 2025. 

Then we began the search for partners we could work with to both provide much needed monthly baby food and snack donations but also to leverage Baby Gourmet’s robust social channels and Ambassador networks in order to spread the word about each organization’s good work. We wanted to reach smaller community organizations in Calgary, AB (where Baby Gourmet is HQ’d) and around the Toronto/Hamilton area which is home to many amazing food aid programs.

As we head into ‘Back-to-School’ season we are preparing to donate over 160,000 Slammers Snacks to school-aged kids through food banks across Canada which will put us well over 400,000 meals donated to date by September! Almost halfway to the Million Milestone in less than one year of consistently giving back!

Stay tuned for more updates on #HOBG and check out our PR tips for social enterprises.

The New PR 101: Don’t Confuse Influencers With Journalists

The New PR 101: Don’t Confuse Influencers With Journalists

How scammers are taking advantage of the changing media landscape to blur the lines of journalistic integrity

One of my favorite things about human nature is our ability to adapt and evolve. In the PR industry, our evolution has been predicated mostly by the changing media landscape starting with the switch from print to digital that began almost two decades ago (and a little bit by Google Analytics). The latter topic I’ll save for another article because what I really want to focus on in this piece is how we, as Media Relations professionals, have adapted to the era of the Influencer.

While often owned by social media and/or PR teams, the influencer isn’t necessarily a blogger or a writer or even a professional photographer. Often this person has developed and grown a successful brand for themselves on a social platform. As a crazy pug person, I’ll offer up Doug the Pug as an example of this.

Sometimes, it seems like the era of the social media influencer, similarly to the era of the blogger circa 2007, has become a Wild West free-for-all while lawmakers and key players in the space struggle to catch up. What standards and responsibilities fall to Joe Smith with a large Instagram following when he shares a picture of his favorite beer brand? He may have been paid by the brand or he may just be sharing his happy hour beverage of choice.

Is it common practice for PR and social media representatives to pay an influencer to post about a brand? Yes. Many of our clients have budgets for these folks. Does the lady responsible for Doug the Pug get paid by Netflix to produce videos promoting its original series Stranger Things? Probably. And that’s fine. What’s not fine is when the lines become blurred between Influencers and Traditional Journalists.

One of the inspirations for this post came this past holiday season when my team responded to a HARO query from a Buzzfeed Contributor. The Contributor was looking for best-in-show products for his 2017 Holiday Gift Guide roundup. One of my PR Coordinators responded to his query and was excited when she received the news that yes, Buzzfeed would feature our client in the gift guide pending a product sample. Done and done. When the article went live, it was indeed on Buzzfeed and was the longest Gift Guide I had ever seen. The Contributor listed about 250 products grouped by category; to find our client I had to scroll continuously for five minutes. I didn’t even want to share this piece of junk coverage with our client and wasn’t surprised two days later when the Gift Guide was wiped from the Buzzfeed site altogether.

Something felt fishy so I decided to investigate this Contributor a little. That’s when I came across a Cracked.com article written by the would-be Buzzfeed Contributor titled “How I Used Fake Reviews For Tons Of Free Crap”. In it, he described in detail how he successfully scammed companies – from those on the Fortune 500 list to entrepreneurs crowdfunding their first product. And the even crazier thing is that he didn’t just scam the PR people representing these companies, he scammed legitimate media outlets into giving him a platform. Explains Brian Penny:

“I was given the latest phones, laptops, speakers, IoT tech, headphones, the finest whiskies, wines, and rums, music instruments, baby gear, jewelry, vape pens, cameras, appliances, collectibles, home furnishings, camping gear, drones, clothes, even food. Overall, I was able to sell over $3,000 worth of merchandise on eBay, and made another $2,000 on Craigslist.”

“I continued pushing the boundaries and skipped the “review” process entirely, simply collecting products into “gift guides” and other listicles. HuffPost loves listicles, and the PR people couldn’t have cared less how they were featured, as long as they got that anchor link.”

It wasn’t just products for posts either, Brian Penny also found that eager brand representatives would pay him to simply post pre-written articles on his HuffPost contributor platform without lifting a finger or changing a word.

“I responded to a handful of offers explaining that I would happily post an article on HuffPost, but it had to be written for me, and I wouldn’t do it for less than $150.”

To my surprise, one very eager SEO consultant responded with several articles written and ready to post. I ran with it and put out feelers for more, gradually increasing my asking price each time to $200, $250, $300. By the end of one month, I was making $500 a pop to post articles I had nothing to do with. I did about a dozen of these articles in total, and made about $4,000 in 90 days. The articles were well-written, so the interns on the {HuffPost) blog team had no reason to question why a guy who’d previously blogged about whistleblowing was writing articles about Blake Shelton’s Pepsi concert series, artificial grass, or VOIP phone services.”

It turns out that Brian Penny isn’t the only imposter, he’s just loud and proud. The Outline published a full investigation describing how brands secretly buy their way into Forbes, Fast Company and HuffPost. Author Jon Christian writes:

“People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Inc, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites.”

This practice is not only misleading and illegal but it discredits distinguished publications that employ award-winning journalists. It also further threatens the entire media landscape in the era of ‘fake news’. These top tier publications don’t hesitate to take swift action against people on their staff who are caught accepting payment for coverage. Jason Feifer, editor in chief of Entrepreneur, was quoted in an email to The Outline stating:

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of thing, our writer’s guidelines strictly prohibit it, and we take swift action. In the past, when alerted to people selling access on our site, I’ve even gone the extra step of alerting editors at other publications where that person writes, so that these bad actors have nowhere else to go. We value our readers’ trust above all, and will always work to ensure that they’re getting unbiased information from people who have their best interests in mind.”

As PR professionals we too, should hold ourselves to the same standards as our editorial contacts are held. If someone at a reputable publication requests payment for posts, we should report that person. It’s also our job to know the difference between a self-employed influencer who can accept payment and a writer who is bound by his or her journalistic integrity to report objectively to the public.

Lastly, we’re human and we’re extremely busy. We tend to trust queries distributed through HARO ( the e-newsletter service owned by leading PR software platform Cison) and we also trust that a writer for Buzzfeed or Fast Company has been vetted by the editor at said publication. My goal in writing this is to bring some awareness to an opaque practice that is bad for business and encourage readers to put in some due diligence (at the very least a quick Google search never hurts). After all, our clients’ are trusting us to be the stewards of their brands. At the end of the day, I’m a huge proponent of the PR industry adapting and embracing new mediums for targeted, effective brand exposure but hopefully not at the expense of the credibility of traditional journalism.

 

Cheers to Our Q2 Coverage Recap!

It’s always nice to stop mid-year – as we are simultaneously embroiled in summer pitching and long-lead holiday gift guide outreach; product launches and trade show scheduling – and reflect on the excellent client coverage we’ve garnered the past quarter. Per usual our team has managed to secure earned media in some of the most recognized, respected and widely circulated outlets in the world from Mashable to Fast Company to Christian Science Monitor to Forbes.

We look forward to a successful second half! Prost!

Baby Gourmet: The Baby Spot; Emmits ABCs

Bright Endeavors: Christian Science Monitor; Newsday; Unite 4: Good Magazine; Earth911Celebrate Women Today; Michelle For Good; Beauty Brite; Conscious & Chic; Let’s Be Fair

Go Gourmet: Grocery Headquarters Magazine; Macaroni Kid ChicagoMommy on the MoundMagnolia Mamas; Bike Dads; Today’s Grocer Magazine 

New Avenues INK/dfrntpigeon: MashableFast Company; Hello Giggles; Yahoo NewsThe Portland Mercury; Oregon Live; Oregon Live; Portland Tribune; Special Events Magazine; Portland Monthly Magazine

PilotsFriend: City Parent Magazine; City Palate Magazine; Eating is the Hard Part

RecycleForce: TriplePunditForbes.com; American Recycler Magazine; Conscious Company Magazine; Waste360

Total 3D Solutions: Extreme Tech; Chip Chick; Air Vuz; Rotor Drone Magazine’s May issue

Women’s Bean Project: Weight Watchers Magazine, April issue