Beyond buzz: Building value through thought leadership

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  • When I say the words “public relations,” what comes to you mind? I often find that when executives think of “public relations,” they think of things like wacky PR stunts, fluffy press releases and unwanted scrutiny. While I do believe those “stunts” can have a place for the right organization, they’re not the core of a strategic public relations program. Instead, a solid PR program is built on thought leadership.
  • So, what is thought leadership… Thought leadership is identifying what makes you an expert and sharing that with the audiences important to your company. It’s getting quoted in news stories within your industry and authoring articles in trade publications. It’s leaving smart comments on blogs and writing poignant posts of your own. It’s pursuing (and winning) industry awards and recognitions and, in general, being recognized as a respected company. Thought leaders serve as the voices of their industry, advance philosophies that benefit their businesses and earn respect – and more opportunities – as a result. That is what strategic public relations can do and I’m going to spend today telling you how.
  • It’s my hope that you’ll walk away from this presentation today with:* An understanding of the various types of media that can be used to create thought leadership for an organization or executive;* Specific guidance for using public relations (or “earned media”) to achieve that goal; and* Recommendations to measure your public relations program and make it a success. 
  • So, let’s begin with the many ways that your organization could engage with its audience. There are four general categories: Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned.Paid media is any medium where you pay to be featured and where you have full control over the content. That includes traditional advertising, such as television, radio and outdoor, as well as online advertising, like display ads, pay-per-click advertising and others. Advantages to paid media include full control of the message and implementation on your terms. Earned media is exactly what it sounds like – you earn it, rather than pay for it, by saying something newsworthy or doing something interesting. This primarily entails editorial coverage in news outlets. It’s riskier than paid media – because the news outlets control the message, you do not – but there is also potentially greater upside in the “third party credibility” you enjoy when you’re covered in the news. Shared media entails any media that offers the opportunity for two-way interaction between you and your audience (or between members of your audience without you). Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the best-known examples. Like earned media, you can attain shared media with very little out-of-pocket cost, but you lack control over your message and brand. Owned media is the medium in which you have the most control. For example, each of you already take advantage of one owned media and that is your website. Other common examples include blogs that you author, newsletters you write or, for the more progressive among us, social communities you create and manage. Owned media offers you a great deal of control, but it also entails a substantial amount of resources to attract and audience and maintain a “sticky” presence. As you might suspect, the best organizations use a combination of all of these media to communicate their message. Fortunately, the same content can often be leveraged across multiple platforms. 
  • For example... M.P. writes articles about small business marketing a few times each month that are well-written, interesting and entertaining. So much so, they “earn” her publication in the small business section of The New York Times. I know that because I received a notice about it from Door Number 3’s email newsletter, which is an “owned” media. Information about M.P.’s articles are also “shared” via Door Number 3’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. So, one product and one message shared three different ways, reaching different portions of Door Number 3’s audience each time. 
  • I’ve seen that Goodwill also does this well. For example, last year I heard a lot about the organization’s Brand U campaign. First, solicitations for Brand U applicants were “shared” with me through Facebook. When users clicked on them, they arrived at the website Goodwill “owns.” Next, I heard “paid” commercials promoting Brand U. Finally, I saw “earned” media coverage of the winners and their makeovers on a television newscast. Because I was touched so many times through so many different mediums, the message cut through the clutter and was memorable for me, which is the goal of all communication. 
  • So you’re probably thinking… “Super. For well-known brands with big marketing budgets, that all sounds fantastic, but what about me?” Well, it’s about choosing the tactics that are most likely to influence your audience. The big idea here is to realize that you don’t have to engage in all of these media simply because they are all there. You should choose the media that is most important to you.
  • For example, we have a client with a purposefully under-the-radar business model. The best way to describe what they do is that they use their training from places like the CIA and the State Department to help their clients gather intelligence to protect their organizations. It’s “I could tell you but I’d have to kill you” kind of work. One of the big downsides to a business like this one is that you can’t shout from the rooftops about your latest client success and you’re not going to find your clients through billboards on I-10 or clever posts to Facebook. It’s a small, targeted group of people who need what you can provide, so you must find a way to attract them to you. All that being the case, earned media was the way to go for this client, relying on a strong expert positioning strategy. Knowing that this client needs attention, but that we can’t talk about their clients or their business, we had to find something we could talk about and that was their expertise. In this case, that’s international affairs, foreign diplomacy, corporate corruption and the intricacies of oil & gas deals. So, we earned them news coverage in publications like Oil & Gas Investor and Energy & Mining International. They’re not places you’ll find millions of readers, but they are places you’ll find CFOs, risk managers and other corporate executives likely to face the same challenges as our client’s customers. We then secured opportunities for them to contribute articles on newsworthy topics relevant to their business – like understanding Nigerian conflicts – to demonstrate their expertise and raise awareness among their target audience. By focusing on one strategy – earned media – and implementing it in a way that was appealing the client’s unique target audience, we were able to achieve their goals. 
  • On the other hand, I occasionally have companies approach me interested in public relations for whom that strategy is not the best fit. These companies tend to be in commoditized industries and compete based primarily on price. I ask them the big question every company should consider before beginning a public relations initiative, “What do you have to say?” Essentially, their answer was, “Buy my stuff.” While that might be the underlying goal of all of your communication efforts, if it’s your only message, public relations is probably not the right strategy for you. This could be a time when paid media should be a bigger focus. A killer advertising strategy could create a unique, memorable identity for your company and gain attention where a public relations program would struggle to gain traction. You will not earn media if the only story you have to tell is about your company or your products. You must offer readers, viewers and listeners something in exchange for the unpaid exposure you hope to gain and that “something” must be valuable. Things like commentary on new trends within your industry; unique or controversial positions on industry issues; or access to well-known individuals can all deliver that value. However, “Buy Widget 2.0 because it’s better than Widget 1.0” will not and if that’s all you really want to talk about, consider a different approach.
  • Monitor industry news and follow key reporters on social media to understand their interests and tailor pitchesCollect the editorial calendars for your target news outlets and pitch media opportunities around relevant planned features (For example, the ABJ will feature “Tech Innovations” in December)Solicit speaking engagements at industry events and conferences, ideally in combination with a well-recognized clientEngage clients in media relations through interview opportunities or case studies that are pre-approved for release to the media (Odyssey: Limo services company)Leverage breaking news on relevant issues or trends, offering organization spokespersons for expert commentary (Pitching a client today that does exit planning, given Steve Jobs’ resignation yesterday)When attending or exhibiting at trade shows or other industry events, request informational meetings for spokespersons with industry media participating in the eventIssue news releases regularly (assuming you have news) to demonstrate success and growth 
  • Public relations is notoriously difficult to measure and the only fool-proof was is to conduct market research of awareness, attitudes and opinions before and after a campaign. However, the cost of such research usually outweighs the benefits and there are other things that will provide meaningful indicators of your success. They include:* Advertising equivalency times three, which is to equate the value of editorial coverage as compared to advertising in a particular outlet and multiply the value times three (to account for the additional attention and credibility of being featured within editorial instead of advertising);* Monitoring for increased traffic to your website when media placements occur, especially those in daily or weekly news publications;* Assessing the evolution of search engine results for your company and improvement over time as news stories appear (replacing irrelevant or negative search results);* Anecdotal feedback from clients and prospects (while not scientific or statistical, this informal feedback can be a great resource to know whether your program is making an impact or not); and, of course* Direct new business opportunities.
  • SummaryThere are four types of media: Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned. For most organizations, these media work most effectively when implemented in an integrated, simultaneous fashion. Depending on your objectives or resources, however, selecting one or two media may be the best way to achieve your goals.Earned media (public relations) has low out-of-pocket cost and can yield high awareness and credibility, but it requires that you give up some control of the message. It works well for organizations that seek to educate, inform, entertain or engage their audience.There are many things that will make your program successful, but the most important are: (1) tie your PR program to your broader marketing goals; (2) invest the necessary resources, which is typically more time than money; and (3) give your program time to work before pulling the plug or switching gears.


  • 1. Beyond…
    “Building value with thought leadership”
    By: Stacy Armijo
    Vice President, Pierpont Communications
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  • 10. Who should consider PR?
    Influence within your industry
    Stakeholders don’t know or understand you
    Shape or respond to regulations
    Online reputation is a priority
    Employee recruitment or retention
    Vulnerable to crisis
    Seek “third party credibility”
    Generally, more awareness and reach
  • 11. Who should not implement PR?
    Nothing newsworthy to say
    No committed to the rhetoric they espouse
    Seeking a “quick hit” or short-term sales boost
    Unwilling or unable to invest the time
    Uncomfortable giving up control
  • 12. How to generate PR opportunities
    Celebrate anniversaries and company milestones
    Apply for industry awards and promote wins
    Identify core issues and proactive pitch reporters
    Solicited contributed article opportunities
    Publicize charitable activities
    Celebrate relevant holidays
  • 13. Generating PR opportunities (cont.)
    Monitor news & “friend” key reporters
    Collect and pitch editorial calendars
    Solicit speaking engagements
    Engage clients in media relations
    Leverage breaking news for media interviews
    Request media briefings during trade shows
    Issue news releases
  • 14. During a media opportunity
    Explicitly state your objective (to yourself)
    Research the reporter and news outlet
    Plan you key points strategically
    Anticipate questions and practice answers
    Be friendly and conversational, but professional
    Bridge back to key messages
    Solicit feedback from the reporter
    Follow through with anything promised
  • 15. Things to Avoid
    Issuing “news” for no reason
    Lying or exaggerating
    Flying blind into an interview
    Making your salesperson your spokesperson
    Using meaningless buzz words
    Giving up after two months
  • 16.
  • 17. Control
  • 18. Beyond…
    “Building value with thought leadership”
    Stacy Armijo
    Vice President and General Manager, Austin
    Pierpont Communications
    Public Relations • Public Affairs • Marketing
    Austin • Houston • Dallas • San Antonio