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TODD SMITH — Communicators Help Brands Influence Real Change


Recently, Cision, a leading media monitoring service, hosted a webinar titled “Demanding Change: How to Best Communicate Brand Action,” which focused on best practices for internal and external communications in challenging times.

The two featured panelists were Laura Peterson, public elations (not a typo!) manager of North America at Ben & Jerry’s, and Pablo Toledo, executive vice president at Camino PR, both dedicated to brands doing good in the world.

Here are some key takeaways that can help PR professionals worldwide, according to a blog written by Cision’s Marisa Hernandez for the Public Relations Society of America:

  1. Organizations must be transparent with their clients, partners and customers.

When asked what the most important thing PR and communications pros can do right now to support diversity and inclusion, both panelists stated the importance of transparency.

“This is really the answer to most PR questions: Be honest and be transparent,” said Peterson. “It’s very important for companies to communicate their efforts along this journey. Racial justice is still in front of us and there’s a long way for a lot of us to go.”

Toledo followed up by noting that we must ensure that crisis communications efforts go beyond having good talking points. It’s about participating in honest conversations and providing tangible actions with a clear timeline so brands are held accountable and real change will be implemented in a given time frame.

  1. It is key to understand the public conversation.

Releasing a statement for the sake of releasing a statement will not help your organization and, in many cases, it will actually hurt your brand. When it comes to issues of racial injustice especially, PR professionals must think more along the lines of how organizations can add real value to the conversation:

  • Understand what conversations and actions are taking place. What pain points does your organization and industry face?
  • Check in with your competition. How are your competitors framing the issue and where can you complement it to help drive the conversation further? Are there important points they may have failed to address that your brand can? At the end of the day, it’s about making real change, and you should look to competitors as partners in these conversations.
  • Monitor social media. What are people expressing? Address any issues that may arise from your followers. Now is the time to listen and learn.

“Understanding what is happening in your sector, in your narrative and how your competitors approach it can only help you as you craft your communications strategy,” Toledo said.

  1. PR professionals should earn media opportunities that keep their brand accountable.

As PR leaders, we need to provide powerful messages around important issues and ensure that employees have the tools they need to speak powerfully and accurately, Toledo said.

Getting leaders at your organization in front of the media to address the issues your brand is taking on is a clear way that PR practitioners can ensure their organizations are held accountable, Peterson said.

“One of my most influential levers to pull is messaging and interviews,” she said. “The more I can get my CEO in front of journalists saying things about our commitment to racial justice and equality, the more he’s going to be expected to follow through on those issues.”

While a lot can be learned from Ben & Jerry’s and Camino PR’s communications strategies, the discussion made it evident that PR pros have the power — now more than ever — to guide their companies and organizations in a direction that creates real change.

Social Media is Most Popular Way to Engage with Brands

Salesforce​ surveyed more than 3,500 consumers worldwide to gain a pulse check on how consumers engage with brands, focusing on the channels, messages, and promotion types that are resonating during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Social media is the most influential channel for communicating with consumers, according to the study.

Earlier this year, Salesforce collected data from 7,000 marketing leaders across the globe for its sixth annual “State of Marketing” report.

The report demonstrates the values that will remain critical as marketers and their businesses recover. The report notes that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, standards of customer engagement are shifting yet again, and marketers are at the forefront of innovation. Here are the three key takeaways of the State of Marketing 2020 report:

  1. Marketing transformation takes on new urgency. The expectations and behaviors of consumers, businesses, and society at large are shifting with unprecedented speed and magnitude. Marketers are under tremendous pressure to overhaul their organizational models and use of technology to provide differentiated, digital-first customer engagement. Innovation is marketing leaders’ number one priority.
  1. Customer data sets set the stage for empathetic marketing. As customers navigate a series of “new normals,” personalized, empathetic engagement has never been more important. Delivering messages and offers that resonate with an individual’s unique needs and expectations requires deep insights. Marketers are shifting how they source and manage customer data and ramping up the use of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) that help them make the most of it. Marketers report a 186% increase in AI adoption since 2018.
  1. Marketers double down on business value. As businesses shift from crisis triage to recovery and adaptation, marketers have a unique opportunity to turn trusted customer relationships into business value. Marketers increasingly track metrics like customer satisfaction, digital engagement, and lifetime customer value to gain a holistic picture of what’s working and what isn’t across the customer journey. B2B marketers have a particularly strong role in business growth through account-based marketing (ABM). Ninety-two percent of B2B marketers have an ABM program.

Every two weeks, Salesforce Research surveys the public to discover how consumers and the workforce are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Social media is the most interesting and most noticed channel across all demographics.
  • TV ads are the second-most noticed channel – quite interesting given how investment in TV ad spend has fallen in recent years as media consumption patterns changed
  • Personalized offers are generally favored over product-specific and brand-wide discounts, but not universally.
  • Millennials are the most interested in personalized offers.
  • Gen Z is the least interested in personalized offers.
  • Brands face a conundrum in that consumers want a greater variety of brand content, but less volume of brand content.
  • Despite their appetite for discounts, most consumers believe brands should forego customer discounts if it means they can retain staff.
  • Consumers are generally eager for brands to move forward with holiday promotions – signaling an appetite for some semblance of traditional and normalcy

Hero Mic: John Lewis Was a Civil Rights Legend

U.S. Rep. John Lewis – the human rights lion who demanded change on societal attitudes on racial injustice and police brutality – died recently at age 80, leaving an incredible and lasting legacy on civil rights.

When he arrived in Nashville at age 17 to study at American Baptist College, the ambitious leader was forever changed by the stances he made in Music City.

His activism is embedded in the DNA of the city where he came of age, learned the language of protest and joined forces with an army of civil rights luminaries who harnessed their potential in local churches and at downtown lunch counters.

“Nashville prepared me,” Lewis said in a 2013 Nashville Tennessean article. “If it hadn’t been for Nashville, I would not be the person I am now.”

Lewis, was a leader of the sit-ins that desegregated those lunch counters in the 1960s. Physical violence and arrests were no match for his deep faith in the cause.

Together with a core group of Nashville students, he changed the face of activism in America, embracing nonviolent civil disobedience that became the bedrock of the modern fight for racial equality.

From Nashville, Lewis went on to participate in the Freedom Rides, to speak at the March on Washington, to cross the bridge at Selma and to enter the halls of power in Congress. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 for his work.

And this week, his larger than life impact was felt in poignancy even in death – as the first Black lawmaker to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Rest in peace, visionary leader. Your movement continues to make the world a better place!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» TODD SMITH is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Deane | Smith, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm – based in Nashville, Tenn. – is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, follow him @spinsurgeon and like the ageny on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deanesmithpartners, and join us on LinkedIn  http://www.linkedin.com/company/deane-smith-&-partners. 


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