As a PR professional, one of my favorite things to do is study bad media interviews. If you’ve ever been on the internet, chances are you’ve probably seen some examples – think Sarah Palin, Charlie Sheen, and Kanye West. Aside from the obvious entertainment factor, these case studies are solid proof of why so many business executives are hesitant to put themselves in front of the media. Reputation matters, and a media misstep in front of the wrong person can spell disaster for a company that’s already fighting for the edge over their competitors.
At Barokas PR, we know that face time with the media doesn’t have to be scary – that’s why we love media training with our clients. It provides the opportunity for us to get on the same page in regards to key messages, our spokesperson’s starting skillset, and areas of improvement. Not everyone will approach media training the same way, but a good program should give your spokesperson the opportunity to do the following:
Develop a sharp media toolkit
Ever heard of bridging, flagging, hedging, hooking, or framing? They’re all tactics interviewees can use to maintain control of the conversation, regardless of the direction the reporter tries to take the interview. A well-trained spokesperson will understand how to transition away from tricky topics, highlight important messages, buy themselves time to think, or lead the reporter into a new set of questions without breaking the pace of conversation.
Practice your messaging
The worst media interviews meander around key talking points, which is why it’s important that your spokesperson goes into each interview with a defined purpose in mind. A well-trained spokesperson will tell your story in a conversational, engaging tone and back it up with the proof points that journalists crave. Ultimately, they’ll provide a call to action so compelling that your audience knows exactly what you want them to do. Perfecting this craft takes time, so the more practice you provide your spokesperson, the better off they’ll be.
Anticipate the reporter playbook
Your spokesperson won’t be the only one with a few tricks up their sleeve – reporters have their own ways of getting what they need for a story. A good media training program will anticipate tough interview situations ahead of time so your spokesperson isn’t blindsided when the reporter asks a loaded question or tries to put them on the defensive. When your spokesperson has a good idea of what’s coming, they can practice using their media toolkit to craft a purposeful response.
PR is all about relationships, and interviews are the best tool we have for building rapport with the media. They give us the chance to be personable, memorable, and in control of our story. With a good media training experience in their back pocket, your spokesperson can go into each interview with confidence knowing they’ve prepared themselves for success.
Valentine’s Day is a day filled with love, romance and…PR? Let me explain. While the average American is perusing OpenTable reservations or stocking up on ice cream for their date with Netflix, PR pros are spending their time brainstorming. How can we leverage this holiday for our clients? And, how do we position it in a way that makes our client stand out?
Take BPR client, Ibotta, for example. Ibotta is a mobile shopping app that delivers cash back to its users on everyday purchases. So think, how can we capitalize on Valentine’s Day for this client? Our team at Barokas PR did a Valentine’s Day shopping analysis, and discovered that Virginia is the most romantic state and that the cheapest days to buy wine and chocolate are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, respectively. Take that information, share that story with journalists and voila, coverage for Ibotta. Ok, so it’s not as simple as it sounds (there are many more working parts to a PR campaign) but, hey, we got Ibotta coverage in USA Today so something worked, right?
Another great example of Valentine’s PR done right is Lush’s #BetterTogether campaign. The main message behind this campaign is that love transcends gender. While the campaign received some backlash (surprise, surprise), the end result clearly promoted the company’s value of equality, along with its bath products. Lush received coverage and high social engagement across all channels. We love brands like Lush that take a stance on issues and do it well.
Last, but never least, is Netflix. The streaming conglomerate released a video in advance of Valentine’s Day that suggests the way into someone’s heart is simply by liking the same shows as them. Couples who binge watch together, stay together right? Cheesy I know, but Netflix has never had trouble retaining and gaining subscribers and 65,000 views later proves the success of its campaign. A great reminder that digital media is our friend!
As you can see from these examples, PR can quickly drive buzz for your brand around a national holiday, especially if you do it right. Now let’s all reminisce in the power that is PR and be left with the words of John Lennon – all you need is love.
As many of you now know, Barokas PR came together for a company All-Hands meeting last month – more info on that in an earlier post by Karli. One speaker that resonated with me was Seth Levine, Managing Director at Foundry Group. Seth discussed the changing nature of PR and how it is no longer a business molded around “media access.” Instead, public relations specialists need to show our value by measuring the success of the opportunities and hits we secure for our clients.
In today’s social media and technology landscape, any company can quickly find and contact a reporter or analyst – whether this be through a quick Google search, by visiting the publication’s masthead, or even sending a quick DM on Twitter. Our role as the access-granters is no more. PR must embrace its primary role of communications strategist. This includes advising clients on the right messages, placement of those messages (traditional media, social, etc.) and how to measure the effectiveness of those placements.
Since this conversation less than a month ago, I’ve already had multiple conversations with clients about this very topic. Recently, one of my clients reached out to her colleagues internally, asking for feedback around a coverage report. While all the feedback was positive (great for us, right?) the one common variable that kept coming up was the action taken by the publication’s readership. Beyond visibility, clients want to understand how articles are leading to overall engagement with their audience (clicks, shares, etc.) and ultimately, customer acquisition.
PR needs to do a better job of providing insights on coverage to show clients how stories align with the company’s mission. How many times did this article lead to a click-through to the company website? What is the readership of the publication? What is the SEO score of the link present in the article? These are all questions that should be answered when it comes to coverage.
Another example from the same client — this time in the social media landscape. The company recently announced a new executive in Chicago and wanted to make a big splash in the media. We worked hand-in-hand with the newly-named executive on the media outreach strategy and landed awesome hits for him in Forbes, PitchBook, Venture Pulse, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Business Journal, to name just a few.
While the media hits were high profile and the executive was happy with the media’s reception of his new position – it’s the engagement he received on social media that really made the announcement impactful. The published articles spread on Twitter and were retweeted by prominent VCs with large followings in the tech industry on a national level. The viral nature of these stories resulted in the announcement becoming a trending topic on Twitter in Chicago.
The key takeaway for PR folks is this: while top-tier media hits are great to gloat about on a company website, don’t count the smaller pubs out of the picture. These stories could ultimately deliver a larger impact via the social media landscape. You never know, they may help your client become a trending topic on Twitter!
In a recent post from our dear friend Sam Whitmore, titled ‘Trump and You’, he shared insights from a slew of high-profile reporters, analysts and other business-minded folks on the increasingly politically charged media landscape, and the challenges it creates for us as communicators. In fact, in the first few paragraphs, he asks the rhetorical question, ‘how should PR proceed’ amid the current political chaos, and that got me thinking. While it’s true we’re now competing against a seemingly impenetrable news cycle courtesy of the Trump administration, we also deal with ever frequent layoffs at top-tier publications and changing reporter beats. And now, there’s “fake news” and “alternative facts” to sift through on a daily basis. It certainly makes for a dizzying time to be a PR pro, huh? With so much media clutter, it can be challenging to communicate a story in such a way that it breaks through the noise. So back to Sam’s question…how should we proceed? I’ve got some thoughts.
Have a point-of-view
Like Bloomberg tech reporter Sarah Frier said, “every journalist, no matter the beat, covers politics now.” It’s an unavoidable truth. Sam even went so far as to compare the current landscape to the aftermath of 9/11, when the explosive media scene that ensued lasted for weeks after the attacks. And with reality TV style antics hitting our screens daily, there’s a lot to read and watch, leaving very little time left for the public to consume anything else. For us in PR, that means, ‘rock, meet hard place.’
In times like these where one storyline dominates the news cycle, our clients are often best served to develop a point-of-view on the matter at hand. That said, the POV must make sense for the company’s brand. Like Sam said, we don’t have to pitch anything proactively, but having a few pointed thoughts in our back pocket, is best case scenario in the event we’re thrown a curve ball. Then in those moments where it makes sense to insert our client’s opinion into the story, we’ve already put pen to paper.
Work in a little SEO
Once considered starkly different disciplines in the marketing world, today the combination of PR and SEO is key to developing stronger, more targeted PR campaigns. We were treated to a little download on SEO during the All-Hands a couple weeks ago, and the power of SEO is undeniable. SEO can help a client’s story reach a broader audience, and ensure high rankings in searches related to key topic areas important to their business.
Develop rich content
Maybe you’ve heard, but these days content is king. And the ability tocreate thought-leading, thought-provoking content is perhaps the single most valuable tool in our PR arsenal, and also an essential component to creating a strong media presence today. As the public’s media tastes and expectations change, so too do the types of content we create. The rapid rise of social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram is due in large part to the younger generation’s affinity for consuming media ‘right here, right now.’ It will be especially important to pay close attention to the content-consumption behaviors of future generations if we want to continue connecting with these growing audiences through PR efforts.
Produce good work, consistently
Implementing successful PR campaigns relies largely on our ability to build a deep knowledge base of the client’s industry and strong relationships with clients and stakeholders. Producing high quality work takes a full understanding of the subject matter and it’s a non-negotiable in our efforts to position clients ahead of their competitors. The challenge in today’s news cycle, is producing high quality content in an often short and condensed timeframe. A fast pace is the key to seizing the right opportunities that deliver the most impactful results.
Staying on top of current news, client news, industry news, etc., is a job in and of itself. As PR people, we’re tasked with telling powerful stories in a constantly shifting media landscape. No pressure, right? Nah, we’ve got this!
Welcome to Cannabis Corner, a weekly column on the “No BS” blog where we look at relevant stories, people, and products in the cannabis industry.
Alright, you got me. The BPR “All-Hands” meeting this last week in Colorado wasn’t solely dedicated to cannabis market research – and you can read about how awesome our company get-together was from Karli’s post. That said, the trip offered the opportunity for our expanding cannabis team to check out the epicenter of the recreational marketplace. Here are some quick thoughts from Washington natives on how Colorado stacks up:
Vertical integration is SWEET…
I won’t attempt to sugarcoat it – being greeted after the customary ID check by a row of plants behind a glass wall is a satisfying sight for us WA folks, where regulations prohibit retail locations from growing their own product. The overwhelming majority of WA consumers rarely come that close to the plant. Being able to open a jar, smell and examine the product outside of individually packaged and sealed bags is a great perk.
…but it doesn’t fundamentally alter the experience as a consumer.
At the end of the day, this feature, while unique, doesn’t revolutionize the buying experience for most consumers. It only affects those purchasing flower (1 in 5 from our group, admittedly lower due to impending travel) and I would wager the novelty wears off by the fourth or fifth trip to the shop. Many other products – edibles, concentrates, and pre-rolls – follow the same format as the WA market. It is great to physically see the source of the cannabis – flower also seemed to be of higher quality than that of WA, specifically denser buds. Better trimming and curing processes? Alternative packaging methods? I’ll let the strain experts figure that one out…
Image: Lodo Wellness Center, Twitter
It’s clear CO was first
Sheer number of dispensaries. Public attitude. Marketing and branding differences. Did I mention there are dispensaries EVERYWHERE? There was no doubt after spending time in Colorado that their market is simply more mature than the market in Washington.
One member of our group remarked that Colorado dispensaries seemed to be “more secure” than Washington. Multiple locations had front office people checking IDs from behind glass. It was common to enter a shop and then proceed to be “buzzed in” through another door to the actual place of business. Early thoughts trend towards public concerns about large cash sums and therefore burglary. Or, this could just be an observation due to the limited about of dispensaries we were able to visit.
Minor diction changes
Newsflash for you Pacific Northwest folks – dispensaries refer to both recreational and medicinal access points. We in Seattle seem to refer to retail shops as, well, just that – or “pot shops” if you’re my roommate, with dispensaries being reserved for medical-only facilities.
“Budtender” education (and level of highness) continues to wildly vary
An uphill battle for much of the cannabis industry continues to be education, and budtenders often serve as the primary instructors on that point. As others have noted, this isn’t always a positive. Many employees have deep personal experience with cannabis, but that doesn’t always translate over to sales/customer service. A male budtender at one dispensary wasn’t able to answer basic questions about their production operations such as yield, harvest schedule, or ratio of in-house to out-sourced product. On the other hand, the female budtender at an access point described to me by a third party as the “McDonalds of Weed” was able to provide terrific insight into their operations and also point us towards some great recommendations.
Weed is weed. Both Washington and Colorado have similarities and differences in their approach to cannabis, and the maturity of each market is evident in a variety of these factors above. It was an awesome experience to check out how another state operates their marketplace. For those interested, we will plan to put together a similar comparison this March for the Oregon market when our team heads to the TechNorthwest conference in Portland to hang out with some other cannabis entrepreneurs.
A while back, Constance, a Senior Account Executive in our Seattle office, asked the leadership team if she could to take some time off to fly to Washington DC to be a part of the Women’s March. Hardworking, thoughtful and determined, Constance is the type of individual who always stands up for her beliefs. Constance kept her upcoming political plans to herself, but more and more staff members began to ask her about the march and expressed their support of her activism. Not only did BPR’s leadership team accept her time off, they encouraged it, and gifted her a “protest kit” full of hand warmers, gloves, markers, and a poster board during the annual holiday party (Howie also offered to bail her out of jail if that situation arose, thankfully it didn’t). Constance, alongside hundreds of thousands of others, marched in DC on January 21st to make her voice heard on causes including rights, safety, health and families.
From Constance McBarron
Our CEO’s encouragement of Constance’s call to march led to a piece of coverage by BBC that focused on companies granting paid time off to their staff to let them participate in protests and demonstrations. Not only did our CEO’s comments lead the article, but we were proud to be named alongside business giants including Starbucks, Lyft, Google and Apple for this notable cause.
The article discusses how encouraging activism can help employees feel like they are genuinely cared about, but it also asks, is it a good idea? On one hand, companies that support time off for political activism may retain their employees for a longer period of time. If you feel supported as an individual at your place of work, you’re less likely to leave. To some, it’s the same as offering paid time off to volunteer (which Barokas PR does too). On the other hand, businesses need to be prepared to deal with activism as employees will not always be on the same side of an issue. Howie summed up our approach by saying, “We’re not going to impose our political beliefs on employees, but we believe that activism is important.”
From Getty Images
Bottom line – activism is a part of our culture and more and more people are grabbing their clever signs and warm gloves (and hats) to take to the streets to stand up for their beliefs. While encouraging activism in the workplace is unchartered territory, many trailblazing companies are standing proudly next to their employees and saying, “Go for it”. And that, is a company I am proud to be a part of.
I have dealt with a few crisis situations during my career and no matter how much you prepare or how deep your experience, “we are in crisis mode” are still the most dreaded words you will hear, or say, as a PR person.
Our panel of industry experts included Michelle Baum, Steve Krizman and Michele Murray. Their crisis experience spans the gamut, but most notably, one of our panel members dealt first hand with the Mad Cow Disease crisis (I haven’t been able to eat beef since).
They all provided great insights into the best ways to identify if you are in fact in a crisis or simply dealing with an issue, and the best strategies to execute if a crisis is imminent. The three things that stood out most to me include:
Crisis Philosophy Before a crisis, draft a Crisis Philosophy Statement – something you can refer back to that guides actions during an intense, tough situation. It’s essentially a mission/vision statement for the characteristics you and your company want to embody during a crisis.
Keep the crisis to 24-48 hours Customers and stakeholders want to hear from the company as soon as possible otherwise, they’ll start to make up their own scenarios. That doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers, but communicating that you are aware and working to resolve the issue is called a ‘holding statement’ and is the first step. Addressing the crisis head on and working to bring the situation to a close, allows you to limit the crisis to a 24-48 hour cycle, also known as ‘containing the timeline.’
Avoid Absolutes Once you begin communicating to the public, your verbal and written statements will be referred to until the cycle ends. Avoid using absolutes such as ‘we always…’, ‘we never…’, because things will evolve and change throughout the process and if you give misinformation, it will look like you’re hiding or covering something up.
Be proactive, even if you don’t have to There are too many cautionary tales of companies thinking they can sweep something under the rug only to have it blow up in their faces later. It’s always in your best interest to be proactive and communicative even if you don’t think you have to.
When initiating a response, you should:
Be honest and accurate
Provide updates on the recovery process
Announce the cause as soon as it is known
Tell stakeholders what actions will prevent crisis from happening again
Identify and promote third-party support—if there is data or research that supports your efforts, be sure to utilize the third-party support to help strengthen your recovery process
Breathe When a crisis hits, it’s not uncommon to forget everything you know and practiced. It’s reported that in a crisis you only use 20% of your brain. So, take a deep breath before making any emotional decisions, refer back to your Crisis Philosophy and have your team ready to initiate your crisis plan.
Navigating a crisis is a tough job for everyone involved and it’s naive to think you and your company are absolved from ever dealing with this type of situation. Take the time to prepare, practice and most importantly, use your PR team.
In late January, we held our Annual All Hands at our Denver office (insert screams of excitement from our Seattle team that had never been to Colorado!). In a day and age where virtual workplaces are more and more common, nothing can replace the relationships and deep bonds that are formed through some good old face-to-face interaction. Over a three-day period, we laughed, we debated, we brainstormed, we ate, we drank, and yes, a certain CEO even shed a few happy tears.
In past years, we focused the content portion of our All Hands on short Lightening Talk presentations from our team. This year, we decided to change things up and feature a few in-depth sessions by expert speakers including Seth Levine, Managing Director at Foundry Group; Sam Irwin, SEO and SEM master at Eastern Star Marketing; and an all-star Crisis Communications panel featuring Michelle Baum, Steve Krizman and Michele Murray (more on their backgrounds below).
PR from a VC Perspective
PR has always been centered around the art of storytelling and creating a human to human connection. While this foundation remains steadfast, we discussed how the role of PR has evolved due to the growth of social media and the widespread availability of information. Instead of selling access to reporters, PR’s role has made a fundamental shift towards communications strategy. Included in this shift is a greater focus on measurement and the ability to showcase how placements are impacting a client’s goals (customer acquisition, brand awareness, etc.). Counting outcomes, not media hits, is what matters for companies today and moving forward.
SEO for PR
Sam Irwin from Eastern Star marketing walked our team through the nuts and bolts of onsite and offsite SEO best practices. We took a look at how strategies, from link building to keyword research and development, affect a company’s traffic rankings, and ultimately sales. Sam emphasized the importance of syncing with a client’s SEO team at the end of a campaign or launch to gain a greater understanding of how PR contributed to website traffic, adjustments that need to be made on link building and keyword strategies, and successes that can be replicated for future initiatives.
Crisis Comms 101
In planning our All Hands, the Barokas PR team expressed a particular interest in taking a deep all things crisis PR. While we’ve helped clients manage several situations on this front, we also believe in the power of learning from other experiences. Michelle Baum, co-founder of Moxie + Mettle; Steve Krizman, a health care marketing andcommunications consultant and public relations teacher at Metro State University of Denver; and Michele Murray, Director of Communications for the Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation, treated us to a lively discussion on how to prepare for and manage a crisis. My favorite tip from the session was on “Containing the Timeline.” If you can keep the crisis situation to a 24-48 hour window, you can help your client minimize financial costs and damage to the brand.
And last, but not least, our fabulous HR partners at SkyeTeam led us through a Market Maze team building activity in which we had to communicate without speaking (insert look of fear on our team’s face). While we had a few slips here and there, our team came through with flying colors and learned a thing or two about each other in the process.
To kick off 2017, I was fortunate enough to spend some time meeting with entrepreneurs, journalists and old friends while exploring Brooklyn and New York City. Two of my favorite experiences from the week came from Techstars and NY Tech Alliance events.
Barokas client, Techstars, the global ecosystem for startups, hosted a wildly successful demo day for their inaugural IoT program. Ten startups converged for (what I’m told) was a 15-hour day of pitch after pitch after conversation after demo. I caught the last pitch of the day, hearing founders speak about real problems related to healthcare, construction, food and fuel waste, and how they hope to solve these costly, unsafe issues. Two startups really struck a cord with me.
Union Crate: Aims to eliminate food waste and overstocking in grocery stores by helping grocers make sense of customer purchase-behavior on a hyperlocal level. Food waste is something I constantly think about, given the undeniably unequal distribution of access to quality food across the globe. Enabling grocers to eliminate over-ordering so those items can go towards other grocers and areas just makes so much sense.
Galaxy.AI: Uses AI to change patient healthcare from reactive to proactive prognosis identification and treatment. Starting with heart attacks and strokes, Galaxy.AI’s technology reviews patient imaging to predict future hospital visits, so doctors can treat for symptoms before the patient returns to the hospital. This saves the patient from unnecessary hospital visits which directly translates to lower healthcare costs and reduced intake burden for understaffed hospitals. A noble endeavor.
Another powerful ecosystem out east, the NY Tech Alliance, hosted its monthly demo event where I found, what might be one of my favorite startup ideas ever.
DogParker: Creates internet-connected dog houses that live outside restaurants, shopping areas and coffee shops. Through a mobile app, dog owners can reserve an air-controlled, camera-enabled DogParker for up to 90-minutes while they enjoy a coffee with friends or run a few errands. Chelsea Brownridge, CEO/founder, noted that New York has more dogs than children. Keeping dogs and people safe, while making sure our furry friends get the outdoor time they crave and deserve led to DogParker. An idea I am 100% in support of!
Pundit: Brings the fun back to voice messaging with filters. Think Snapchat for voice communications. Co-founders Billy Shaw Susanto and Chris Aston demoed the app, showcasing “Hey Billy, let’s get milkshakes!” in chipmunk and robot voices.
Stay tuned as we explore other startup ecosystems across the country in the coming months.
This is Part 2 of the Cannabis Corner’s top marijuana industry thought leaders worthy of a follow on Twitter (link to part 1 above). The below list of influencers provide an educated voice for the relatively new legal cannabis industry. So, sit back, relax, and hit that follow button on the following accounts:
Tom Angell is the founder and chairman of Marijuana Majority, an organization that exists to help more people understand the simple fact that marijuana legalization and decriminalization are mainstream, majority-support positions. In addition to running Marijuana Majority, Tom serves as media relations director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of police, prosecutors, judges and other criminal justice professionals who have seen the harms of the “war on drugs” up close and are now pushing to replace failed prohibition polices with legalization, regulation and control of drugs. He also recently joined MassRoots as the company’s Senior Political Correspondent. If you’re looking for a “catch all” account to follow for cannabis related news – Tom’s your guy.
Brooke is a journalist covering cannabis for the Orange County Register, a daily newspaper published in Santa Ana, California, and is also a main contributor to the Cannifornian, a popular website dedicated to covering California’s legal cannabis industry. Brooke covers everything from breaking industry news to pieces that help you learn how to start your own cannabis grow at home. If you’re a Californian looking to keep up on your state’s cannabis related news, Brooke should be your go to.
Bruce Barcott is deputy editor at Leafly, one of the web’s largest cannabis sites dedicated to news, reviews, dispensary listings, and more. Bruce is also a distinguished Guggenheim Fellow in nonfiction, and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America. As deputy editor at Leafly, Bruce is at the forefront of breaking cannabis news and technology across the industry. Although he works for Leafly, the content on his Twitter is diverse and regularly touches on the legal aspects of cannabis. If you’re looking for an expert opinion on the daily news in cannabis – give Bruce a follow.
David Downs is the Cannabis Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, and contributes stories to SFGate.com and the SFChronicle.com. David also develops new media products, services, and events in the cannabis space – so he’s very well versed in all aspects of the industry. He is one of the more well-known reporters in the space, covering everything from breaking legislative news to interviewing some of the most recognizable names in cannabis. David is pretty conversational on his account, so don’t be afraid to @ him if you’d like to dig a little deeper on a given topic.
Ngaio is unlike any other person we’ve included on this list. Aside from being an activist on the front lines of the legalization battle, he’s also a comedian, musician, actor and author. He is well known for his some his film and television appearances, as well as for being a regular host of High Times events. He is also a frequent guest on the Getting Doug With High show, hosted by fellow comedian Doug Benson. Ngaio is one of my personal favorites to follow in the industry, as he doesn’t hold back any shots and is willing to insert his opinion into any and all major news driven conversations. His comedic background definitely comes out in his tweets, making him one of the more enjoyable people to follow on a day to day basis. For those looking for someone to follow who’s extremely knowledgeable, but won’t lose you in the weeds with legal speak, be sure to check out Ngaio’s page.
These are just a few of the many folks that we regularly monitor here at BPR to keep up on the ever-changing landscape that is the legal cannabis industry. Any of your favorites not on our list? Let us know in the comments!