United Breaks Guitars: Strategies for Avoiding a PR Crisis

Brands can’t always avoid a controversy, but they can control their response. Here are seven ways to minimize the impact of a PR crisis — or avoid one altogether.

In 2008, singer-songwriter Dave Carroll’s United flight had just landed when he heard a passenger behind him say, “My God! They’re throwing guitars out there.”

Carroll looked out his window and saw baggage handlers hurling his band’s guitar cases through the air. When he retrieved his luggage, he discovered that the neck of his $3,5000 Taylor guitar had been snapped.

What followed was a nearly year-long saga of false starts, dead ends and unsympathetic corporate policies.

United denied his initial claim on the grounds that he waited more than 24 hours to file it. Follow-up efforts went nowhere fast. Finally, he suggested that United give him $1,200 in flight vouchers to cover the repair costs. That, too, was rebuffed.

Out of options, Carroll wrote a song about his experience and posted it on YouTube. Part catharsis, part attempt to strike back at the airline, “United Breaks Guitars” quickly went viral, amassing more than 3 million views in the first 10 days.

Almost overnight, Carroll and his broken guitar become a national sensation. He appeared on CNN and The View. Within a week, the airline’s share price dropped nearly 10 percent, costing shareholders nearly $180 million.

Under intense pressure, United finally relented and offered to reimburse Carroll. He declined, asking them to donate the money to charity instead.

A Better Response: Starbucks Finds Itself Steeped in Controversy

Earlier this year, Starbucks’ reputation took a massive hit after two black men were arrested while waiting for a colleague at a store in downtown Philadelphia. The location’s manager called police after the men sat down at a table and didn’t order anything.

The arrest scene was captured on video and quickly went viral.

In the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the incident galvanized people who saw it as yet another example of racial bias in America. Protestors descended on store locations across the country as Starbucks scrambled to minimize the fallout.

HOW DID STARBUCKS RESPOND?

Not ideally, at first. The coffee giant’s initial response was vague and glossed over the issue (race) at the heart of the controversy. It read, in full:

“We apologize to the two individuals and our customers and are disappointed this led to an arrest. We take these matters seriously and clearly have more work to do when it comes to how we handle incidents in our stores. We are reviewing our policies and will continue to engage with the community and the police department to try to ensure these types of situations never happen in any of our stores.”

No mention of race. No discussion of solutions or next steps. Just a tepid acknowledgement that somethingwent wrong and an ever-so-slight shifting of blame onto the police department.

After being roundly criticized, Starbucks took a more proactive approach to damage control. The company bucked convention and freely admitted wrongdoing. CEO Kevin Johnson posted an apology video where he took responsibility for the incident, describing it as nothing but reprehensible.

In addition, the company:

  • Closed all 8,000 company-owned stores for an afternoon to hold racial bias training.
  • Developed a series of training materials, group workbooks and videos around racial bias in the workplace.
  • Four days after the event, Johnson sat down with the two men and personally apologized.

Starbucks’ response to the incident was widely celebrated by crisis management experts, who called the decision to close its stores for an afternoon a “courageous,” “genius” and “game-changing” move. As for the estimated $12 million in lost sales? A relatively minor loss for a company that reported $22.4 billion in revenue in 2017.

How Can You Avoid a PR Crisis?

Preparing a crisis plan is one of the most effective ways to prevent a product or customer service issue from spiraling into a full-blown PR crisis.

A crisis plan is a process- and issues-focused document that involves all key areas of your company, from the C-suite to legal, customer service, operations, marketing and HR. It should include answers to the fundamental questions of “what could go wrong?” and “how should we react?”

Most crisis plans never get used, but you should always have one at the ready.

In addition to developing a crisis plan, here are six other ways to minimize the impact of a PR crisis — or avoid one altogether:

  1. Promote a customer-first approach: Implementing a company-wide culture that prioritizes can help employees know how to respond to customer complaints and concerns. On the United flight, Carroll told flight attendants what was happening. They said nothing could be done. He spoke to customer service agents on the phone. He sent countless emails. Each time, the response was a clear and resounding “not my problem.” If one person had flagged the claim instead of defaulting to a corporate policy that was not customer-focused, the crisis would have been nipped in the bud.
  2. Marshal the involvement of any external resources: Crisis management should not exist in a vacuum. Enlist the help of PR agencies, law firms and government bodies.
  3. Respond to internal and external stakeholders within 24 hours: If the problem becomes public, your response must be private and Use all available communication channels, including press, advertising, social media and more.
  4. Follow through quickly: If something goes wrong, accept responsibility and make it right as soon as possible. When JetBlue had thousands of flights canceled or delayed in 2007 after a massive winter storm, the airline immediately offered varying levels of compensation to affected passengers and issued a Customer Bill of Rights within a day of normal service resuming.
  5. Leverage your efforts to make amends: In 1996, a deadly strain of E. coli was traced back to unpasteurized juice maker Odwalla. Initial coverage of the outbreak focused on two key areas – the victims and previous decisions by the company to prioritize taste over customer safety. By apologizing to victims, settling lawsuits and implementing new safety measures, Odwalla was able to shift the conversation onto the company’s response. While it didn’t erase the devastation of the damage — nothing can — it probably saved the company.
  6. Conduct a post-mortem: Conduct an honest post-crisis evaluation and implement needed improvements to avoid a repeat of the problem.

Of course, any crisis plan must be customized to the unique needs of your organization. At Karbo Communications, we work with clients to drive crisis responses from the initial strategy meetings to the development and execution of a plan. Prevention is critical.

Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too: Why Socially Conscious Advertising is In

For a long time, most companies shied away from mixing business with social issues.

Even athletes like Michael Jordan, as much a walking, talking brand as any person alive, drew a hard line at expressing any type of controversial opinion.

In 1990, the state of North Carolina was divided by a heated Senate race between two polarizing candidates. On one side stood Sen. Jesse Helms, who once called the 1964 Civil Rights Act the “single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress.”

On the other stood Harvey Gantt, a black Democrat and former mayor of Charlotte who promised to work for the voters, not play on their worst fears.

With the race deadlocked, Gantt’s campaign reached out to Jordan – native son and local hero – for an endorsement. The NBA superstar declined. He wasn’t into politics, he claimed, and didn’t know the issues. Privately, he told a friend, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

Months later, Helms narrowly won re-election.

Brands are getting bolder

Twenty-eight years ago, Jordan’s reluctance to get involved wasn’t all that unusual among star athletes and brands alike. Most companies walled off their products and services from the world around them, content to let the debates play out elsewhere.

Commerce, not conscience, was the operative word.

Today, brands are finding that the number of values-based consumers is on the rise, especially among millennials. According to a recent Forrester report, nearly seven in 10 millennials consider a company’s values when making a purchase — nearly 40% higher than the adult population as a whole.

Most of these consumers are not looking for companies to endorse a political candidate or ballot measure. Instead, they want them to declare – and act on – corporate values. Whether it’s promoting inclusivity, pushing back against traditional gender roles or making a commitment to environmental responsibility, people what to know what matters to their favorite brands.

What does values-based marketing look like?

The challenge for marketing teams is figuring out when, where and how to promote their brand’s corporate values.

After seeing villages full of barefoot children in Argentina, founder Blake Mycoskie returned to the United States and built his company on a simple but powerful idea: if you buy a pair of TOMS, you help someone in need. To date, the company has sold more than 75 million pairs of shoes.

Other companies have enjoyed success by re-positioning their brand to appear more authentic or inclusive. Whether it’s American Eagle exclusively using unairbrushed models in its Aerie ads or Louboutin expanding its line of nude shoes to include additional skin shades, companies are finding ways to make more of their customers feel like a reflection of the brand.

Some brands have even used values-based marketing to connect with specific customer segments. In 2017, Yoplait launched a campaign that showed new mothers addressing common criticisms, from breastfeeding in public to returning to work.

Did it have much to do with yogurt? Not really. But it positioned Yoplait as a modern, progressive company and engendered a lot of goodwill among a key demographic. According to analysis from Google, the campaign resulted in a 1,461% increase in brand interest.

How can my brand get started?

Aligning with a social cause is popular right now, but it still has to make sense for your brand and track with your public and private efforts. The following questions can help you determine whether your brand will benefit from a values-based marketing campaign:

1. Does it track with your brand’s values and core offering?

Like good chemistry or the splits, values-based marketing is not something that should be forced.

If you want to incorporate values-based marketing into your outreach, be sure to pick a cause that makes sense. Hitching your wagon to the cause du jour will make you look mercenary and could negatively impact your brand.

2. Does it make sense for your target demographic(s)?

While millennials are most likely to be influenced by values-based marketing, other generations are also paying attention. In 2017, more than half of Gen X consumers (ages 44 to 53) said they consider a company’s values when making a purchase.

Base: 5,005 to 5,396 U.S. online adults (18+)
Source: Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics’ North American Omnibus Surveys, 2015 and 2017

The younger your target demographic, the more you should incorporate values into your marketing.

3. Be transparent and tangible

Between the number of internet watchdogs and the ease with which information can spread, saying your brand is committed to a cause isn’t enough. You need to be able to show tangible proof, whether it’s corporate policy, charitable donations or a specific program.

Where is values-based marketing headed?

If the last few years are any indication, values-based marketing isn’t going anywhere. In fact, as millennial (and younger) shoppers gain purchasing power and take on a larger market share, the need for brands to connect on a socially adept, customer-centric level will continue to increase.

According to Forbes, people 23 and younger already account for $143B in annual spending, not counting the influence they have on household spending. By 2020, they are on track to become the largest generation of consumers in history.

Friendly bit of advice for marketers everywhere — get ready for Gen Z.

Are CMOs missing the PR opportunity?

In the B2B tech marketing world, PR – and earned media – holds an important place in the overall marketing mix. However, what considerations should CMOs be aware of when balancing their owned, earned and paid media strategy? We put 7 quick questions to Julie Karbo, CEO of Karbo Communications, an award-winning U.S. technology PR and marketing agency, about where PR fits in the marketing mix, and whether a good PR campaign can actually drive sales.

1. What should CMOs be prioritizing in their PR strategy?

You need a solid foundation if the house is to stand, so it all starts with effective positioning – including market need/pain, target perceptions, competitive differentiation and compelling trends, to name a few. I find that as you go through the positioning process, your strategy and program path become illuminated. But, because there are so many options in PR now, it’s important to prioritize. Before tactics are chosen you must rank order—verticals, buyers, important seasonal elements, and then the tactics that influence each market segment the most. Earned tactics such as news announcements, opportunistic pitching based on news events or trends, contributed articles, surveys, primary data sharing, case studies, etc. can then be rolled out.

2. How can brands balance their owned, paid and earned media efforts?

PR provides the credibility quotient to the brand. Both earned and paid media are important elements of a fully integrated PR program and part of the emphasis and value placed on content as a whole.

CMOs are cognizant of the value of quality, earned media. For many, the gold standard remains positive feature coverage in the top publications. With earned media it’s all about validation from credible, independent sources.

“For new or stealth companies, an emphasis on owned media will help them craft a specific narrative and position themselves within their market.

For more established companies, a blend of the three will reach a wider audience and allow them to take advantage of social shares/mentions by brand advocates and market influencers.”


Paid content works best when it mirrors the credibility of earned content.
 It has to be trustworthy, not overly promotional and it has to tackle topics that are important to a company’s targeted stakeholders The areas where you have a little more latitude to be promotional are social media, blogs, newsletters, video, and events.

To balance earned, owned and paid media in a full-blown content marketing strategy, CMOs should start with a clear understanding of both the target market (e.g., customer personas and buying patterns) and the brand’s current goals and positioning.

Of course, the exact balance for any company should remain fluid based on the efficacy of each program, changing market goals or dynamics, and any seasonal or opportunistic trends that arise.

3. What are the metrics for PR and earned media? Can a PR campaign drive sales numbers?

For me and most of my clients, the holy grail is the bottom line. We can talk about thought leadership, Share of Voice and Sentiment Score – and those things do have an important role in most programs – but the ultimate ROI measure is how you drive sales. We use Google Analytics to track website traffic, length of time on site, and bounce and conversion rates. We also survey customers and track all the standard metrics that show brand affinity, sentiment and number of impressions.

4. For global enterprises, should CMOs balance the global brand voice with local messaging imperatives?

Absolutely. Global efforts must be localized. While technology has in many ways eliminated geographic borders, almost every key market has its own cultural, physical and intellectual distinctions that should affect how a business approaches that market. I’ve yet to meet the communications pro that knows what it takes to be successful in a widely diverse group of markets. Having local feet on the ground and best of breed boutique agency partners is imperative to long-term success. Having said that, there has to be an established brand voice and centralized strategy that can be modified to take local nuances into consideration. It has to go both ways – great ideas and experience should also travel from the local market back to central command.

5. What role can or should marketing technology play in PR?

Technology has and will continue to play an essential role in PR planning, execution, and measurement. Early on we saw everyone jumping on the technology bandwagon and they really weren’t looking at tools strategically. There are success metrics such as Share of Voice, Sentiment Score, Media Exposure and Potential Reach that are best measured with tools such as Meltwater, Cision, etc. On the other hand, no tool can measure how something like coverage is tracking to a company’s messaging, how competitors are reacting to – and frequently co-opting – that messaging; or how a reporter’s perceptions about a company have evolved over time and how that can be leveraged. This may change as AI technology is integrated into more of our tools, but at this time, human judgment, knowledge, and experience can provide the most accurate analysis.

6. What skills and capabilities should a CMO be looking for in someone responsible for the PR and earned media deliverables?

The CMO should seek the experience and skills that she or he would look for in any good marketing person:

  • Ability to acquire superior results that ultimately drive sales.
  • Strong strategic and analytical marketing abilities
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Drive corporate and product messaging that differentiates the company against competitors
  • Work with corporate spokespeople to help them develop the communication skills and vision to become respected market experts and leaders
  • Possesses deep editorial and analyst relationships and media and analyst relations skills
  • Can sell ideas, products, people, programs and budgets
  • Ability to think creatively
  • Upholds the highest ethical standards

In addition, the CMO needs to pursue someone who has the fortitude to be honest and forthcoming with executives, even when there is pushback. Top PR and marketing professionals need to function as strategic partners, not echo chambers or sycophants.

7. What trends are you tracking in content marketing, earned media and PR going into 2020?

  • AI and machine learning applications in marketing and PR
  • Better measurement – always
  • New social networks and vehicles for interaction and influence
  • Balancing data analysis with a respect for privacy
  • Impact of IoT on content marketing
  • Values-based marketing and the intersection of social activism/consumerism

 

More about Julie Karbo

Fun Fact: Julie began her technology marketing career at iconic video game firm Atari in 1981.

With more than 30 years in the technology industry, Julie, an expert in tech PR, has provided positioning, planning and tactical counsel to executives in a wide array of technology areas, including enterprise software, the Internet of Things, Big Data, mobile, advertising tech, e-Commerce, marketing platform, storage, virtualization/cloud, security, social networking/media, Internet infrastructure, networking, Internet television, and consumer electronics.

This piece was originally published in MarTech Advisor on July 25, 2018.

New Employee Spotlight: Meet Jeff Curtis

Meet Jeff Curtis, Content Manager and Writer

Jeff joined the Karbo Com team in April as a content manager and writer, bringing experience as a project manager and visual storyteller. Jeff earned his B.A. in Print and Digital Journalism from the University of Southern California. In his spare time, he enjoys watching sports, going on hikes with his wife and trying to sous vide everything.

Q: What is the best piece of career/PR advice you’ve received?

A: Whenever you’re dealt a setback, spend five minutes feeling sorry for yourself and then move on. The worst thing you can do is let a bad result compound and impact future decisions.

Q: What recent tech trend do you find particularly interesting?

A: I’m always interested in the social implications of technology, so I find the rise of telemedicine – from video consultations to networks of doctors answering questions in real time – to be an exciting development. It removes a huge barrier of access to quality health care for people who have mobility or support issues.

Q: What is your least favorite word and why?

A: Really. As a writer, you’re taught to avoid intensifiers and instead come up with a better verb or adjective. Why say really tired when you could say exhausted or drained?

Q: Tell us something we wouldn’t know about you.

A: My dream retirement is owning an 80s-themed pizza parlor on the Oregon Coast, with checkered tablecloths, arcade games and a healthy dose of nostalgia in each pie. Guests could play it safe with The Spicoli (double cheese and sausage) or try a Stranger Things pie with creamy labnah, ground kafta, spicy red sauce and poached eggs.

The Smart Machine Era: The Rise of the Robot Overlords

The smart machine era will be the most disruptive in history. Medical treatment systems, the power grid, manufacturing lines, process control and transportation systems work today almost the same way they did 20 years ago. But in the next few years, engineers in every industry will find a way to leverage the amazing change in computing and networking power. And these new system designs must last decades. That feat will threaten everyone and everything that does not respond.

As a system designer, the challenge is to look beyond today’s experience and into a future dominated by intelligent distributed computing . . . the Robot Overlords.

In his latest eBook, Dr. Stan Schneider, CEO of Real-Time Innovations (RTI), one of Karbo Communications’ clients, discusses the stunning rise of fast computing and networking and the economic impact it will have on almost every industry. The smart machine era is here, and the implications could not be more profound.

Moore’s Law and the Smart Machine Era

Moore’s Law says that computers double in capability every 1.5 years. This rate shows few signs of flattening. Assuming it continues at a similar pace, computers in 2060 will be a mind-boggling 100 million times more powerful than the ones we use today.

At the same time, the last decade has seen a steady rise in pervasive device networking and artificial intelligence, two key technologies that make up the Internet of Things (IoT). There are already more devices online than there are people. Soon, there will be hundreds of devices used per person.

This transformation – the Industrial IoT – is a potential threat to any industry or company that fails to adapt. Already, engineers and product designers are finding ways to utilize smart, connected devices. Success will come down to a company’s ability to compete in this new reality.

The Rise of the Robot Overlords

Dr. Schneider’s eBook opens with a story that will resonate with parents everywhere.

A teenager brings home a less-than-stellar report card. His father, eager to motivate, asks him what he wants to do with his life. After glancing down at the family dog, sleeping contentedly on the floor, the teenager looks up and replies, “Dad, I want to be a pet of the robot overlords.”

The father is floored. Is this quick wit? A sudden lack of ambition? Or simply the recognition that people who use the current technology best enjoy the most success?

Dr. Schneider goes on to discuss some of the ways connected devices can already improve industries, from smart medical systems that reduce hospital error (the third-leading cause of death in the United States) to autonomous vehicles that will potentially eliminate the source of 94% of accidents.

The eBook includes a deep dive into:

  • Key architectures and applications of the Industrial IoT
  • Economic implications of the smart machine era
  • The theoretical basis for data-centric and device-centric system integration, scalable cloud-to-edge system design and security
  • Connectivity technology required for autonomous vehicles

It also includes a selection guide on what the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) defines as the most popular Industrial IoT connectivity technologies, helping companies identify the best technology for their application(s).

Download the eBook: The Rise of the Robot Overlords: Clarifying the Industrial IoT

About the Author

Dr. Stan Schneider is CEO at Real-Time Innovations (RTI). He was named a Top 10 Industrial IoT Influencer in 2017 by IoTOne, along with Jeff Immelt of GE, Elon Musk of Tesla and Bill McDermott of SAP.

Dr. Schneider serves as vice chair of the IIC Steering Consortium. He also chairs OpenFog’s “Fog World” keynote committee and serves on the advisory board for IoT Solutions World Congress.

Dr. Schneider has published more than 50 papers in both academic and industry press. He speaks widely at events and conferences on connected medical systems, intelligent transportation, smartgrid and the role of the DDS and other connectivity standards in the IIoT.

He holds a BS and MS from the University of Michigan and a PhD in Electric Engineering and Computer Science from Stanford University.

About Real-Time Innovations

Real-Time Innovations (RTI) is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connectivity company. The RTI Connext® databus is a software framework that shares information in real time, making applications work together as one, integrated system. It connects across field, fog and cloud. Its reliability, security, performance and scalability are proven in the most demanding industrial systems. Deployed systems include medical devices and imaging; wind, hydro and solar power; autonomous planes, trains and cars; traffic control; oil and gas; robotics, ships and defense.

RTI lives at the intersection of functional artificial intelligence and pervasive networkingSM.

RTI is the largest vendor of products based on the Object Management Group (OMG) Data Distribution Service™ (DDS) standard.

RTI is privately held and headquartered in Sunnyvale, California.

Pitch Perfect: How to Secure Business Press Coverage

As PR professionals in the high-tech industry know, crafting a compelling story around a product update or opportunistic trend and securing interest from tech and trade publications is a key component in providing top-shelf service to clients across the technology industry.

What becomes a bit more challenging is determining how to tell the story of your enterprise technology client to a business press reporter whose coverage areas tend to be a bit more general. Securing coverage in the business press can provide a B2B or B2C client a level of visibility that they’d often be unable to get otherwise, leading to a number of benefits, including a heightened brand image, a boost in sales and an increase in executive and company awareness across a broader audience.

Here are six ways to develop the perfect press pitch targeted toward a business reporter and ensure that pitch leads to coverage:

Do Your Homework

Before developing your pitch, research your targets thoroughly to ensure they are relevant to your story and make sense to contact. Never rely on their “About” section alone in order to do this. Instead, read through their articles to identify themes and how your pitch would help extend their content further. You should also comb through their Twitter page for an idea of the topics that interest them. Just because two reporters cover the same beat, doesn’t mean they are interchangeable. Only through sufficient time spent researching can you develop a strong, comprehensive list of media targets. The time it takes is worth it! You’ll yield much better results if you don’t have to go back and pitch new people later because your initial targets weren’t a good fit. Reporters will also view you as a more credible and trustworthy source if you pitch them on something they actually care about. Building that trust is essential to fostering mutually productive relationships.

Get Personal and Don’t Forget to Customize

There may be nothing reporters hate more than being sent what appears to be a mass and extremely general pitch. Customizing each and every pitch you send is essential to securing interest from a business press reporter. Utilize the research you’ve already done to inform your introduction and make it clear why you’ve reached out to them specifically with this story idea. Whether it’s due to a recent story they wrote, a topic they discussed on social media or previous experience you have working together (which is always great to mention), it should be clear up front why this pitch makes sense for them.

Develop a Strong Pitch and a Stronger Subject Line

When developing your pitch, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First, develop a compelling subject line. Eight words or less is ideal. Try to think about what will make the pitch stand out to a reporter, through the subject alone, when he/she likely gets hundreds of similar emails a day. Don’t be afraid to be say something bold in order to hook them. Subject lines are often underrated but are frequently the key to success, as they are the first thing a reporter sees, and often, what will make them read through the rest of a pitch. For the pitch itself, paint a picture of a bigger problem and how your client will solve it. Use facts and statistics when possible to add credibility. Always focus on differentiation—think about what is the most newsworthy or interesting piece of the story and call that out right away. Try to think about things like, “why will this reporter care?” and “how do I make this something that they can’t say no to?” Keeping these things in mind will force you to focus on what’s most important in your pitch.

Don’t Beat Around the Bush

Whether in the pitch itself or in any type of email/phone follow-up, state the story and the ask upfront and let the business press reporter know exactly what the story is and what the call to action is. A call to action with a solid deadline is necessary and creates a sense of urgency. Try to make it as easy as possible for them to get the information they need in order to determine if they’d like to pursue an interview, follow-up, etc. If you are looking to send them a press release for review or set up a phone briefing with your client’s CEO, make the ask casual and frame it as something you’d like to do in order to help them, and not as if it’s something that will help your client. After all, it’s our intention to help both parties. Don’t beat around the bush and try to butter them up or hide your ask within a mountain of email text. Get to the point fast—let them know what the topic is and why it makes sense for them.

Get and Stay Organized

Especially when pitching a large list of business press reporters, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people alone. Staying organized throughout the pitch process is crucial. Developing a spreadsheet or word document is a great way to keep everything straight and make sure no mistakes are made. This will help you stay on track of who you’ve pitched and how many times, what their response was and why, next steps to be aware of (whether that’s moving forward with an interview, reaching out to a new target at that publication or circling back later), each of which is imperative to successful media outreach campaigns.

Follow-Ups Are Your Friend

Following up persistently and strategically is an aspect of the pitch process that should never be overlooked. Don’t feel tied to one type of outreach. Do what works best for you and mix it up. Starting with email follow-ups can be helpful to reporters, especially since your original message may get lost in the vast number of emails they receive each day. Keep follow-ups brief and to the point and change up what you say in each one, while still capturing the essence of the pitch and what is most important. Try to offer new pieces of information to capture their interest and offer depth to the subject, whether it’s news that just came out that is relevant to the story or a recent article they wrote on a similar topic. If email follow-ups aren’t capturing their attention, moving to a phone call is a natural next step. Keep time of day in mind when calling reporters (avoid first thing in the morning, lunch and end of the day) and be mindful of different time zones. Rather than leaving multiple voicemails, keep calling until you reach them live. Get straight to the point on the phone and be kind and respectful, while remaining assertive. It can be helpful to prepare notes or a cheat sheet ahead of time, but you should try not to sound rehearsed. Twitter is another way to reach reporters, and some even prefer being pitched or followed up with through a direct message. Whatever method you choose, don’t be afraid to be aggressive in your efforts and always try to stay flexible about the way things end up going.

Throughout the business press pitch process, it’s important to stay positive and try not to get discouraged if you don’t get the responses you want right away. Be confident and feel empowered in telling your client’s story. Trusting your skills and abilities will lead to the end result that you want to achieve for your clients while helping to strengthen your long-term relationships with important influencers.

Hyper-Personalized Marketing That Won’t Land You in Front of Congress

Oh, to be an ad man in the 1960s.

If you believe everything you see on TV, marketing back then was a simpler game. Successful ad campaigns looked something like this: one perfect slogan, jotted on the back of a cocktail napkin and delivered en masse to a single audience.

Marketing segmentation? Not needed when your “ideas guy” was equal parts intuition, good looks and whiskey. Hyper-personalization? Heck, they hadn’t even gotten to personalization yet.

Halcyon times, indeed.

Fast forward to today’s marketers, who understand that effective messaging requires a more personal touch. Modern consumers want to be recognized – and treated – as individuals. The success of most campaigns is determined by a company’s ability to interpret consumer data and predict future behavior.

Getting up close and hyper-personal

A big trend in content marketing is hyper-personalization, or campaigns tailored to an individual’s past behavior. Modern consumers expect companies to get them on a personal level, and they prefer nuanced, relevant messaging that speaks to their interests.

In fact, Marketo found that 79% of consumers will reject an offer from a company if it isn’t tailored to their previous brand experience.

Today’s personalization goes far beyond yesterday’s tricks of inserting a subscriber’s name into the body of an email or sending a reminder about the toaster sitting in their shopping cart.

Hyper-personalized campaigns can predict when a person is most likely to open a message, whether they respond better to emails or push notifications, and even where in the customer journey to send a discount code or BOGO offer.

Target the right people… the right way

Few things are more frustrating to consumers than the kind of “spray and pray” marketing that led to the creation of junk folders.

According to a recent Accenture survey, 75% of people are more likely to buy from brands that provide recommendations based on their unique wants and needs.

Data-driven marketing that drives hyper-personalization campaigns can help brands reach consumers more effectively by answering these questions:

  • Who should I target?
  • Where in the customer journey should I target them?
  • Who should I filter out of a message?
  • How often should I contact each consumer?
  • Which channel should I use?

To answer these questions, marketers are collecting data at every touchpoint — and using artificial intelligence to help make sense of it all.

There and back again: Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

In March 2018, The New York Times and other newspapers reported that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that counted former Trump aide Steve Bannon among its board members, improperly used Facebook data to build voter profiles before the 2016 presidential election.

The scandal – and resulting fallout – landed Mark Zuckerberg in front of Congress and brought “big data” into the national zeitgeist. This event triggered millions of people to start to realize just how often their private information was being used by businesses.

By May 2018, a number of companies and public figures had paused their Facebook marketing campaigns or deleted their profiles outright. Additionally, Facebook suspended 200 apps amid an ongoing investigation into whether services on the site had improperly used or collected personal data.

The long-term effects of the scandal are still unknown, but it has forced companies to re-evaluate their data collection practices — and how they communicate these policies to consumers.

What’s next for data-driven marketing?

The age of big data and personalization is upon us.

A recent study by Frost & Sullivan concluded that customer experience would overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator within three years.

Unfortunately, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has cast a pallor over the industry and raised questions about data-mining practices going forward.

How do companies deal with privacy in a world of readily available personal data? How should they collect information that will help them make better business decisions, without betraying customers? Most importantly, how do they communicate this to consumers in a way that builds trust?

Getting people excited about hyper-personalization

While it would be a stretch to draw too close a parallel between most hyper-personalized campaigns and Cambridge Analytica stealing private data, there’s little doubt that people want to know when, where, how and why their information is being used.

As a brand, how do you build trust and communicate the value of your data-driven marketing efforts? Try some of these best practice guidelines from your peers:

  • Be transparent: Being honest and upfront about how you collect – and act on – user data is a great starting point. You don’t have to share your marketing team’s secret blend of metrics and personas with the world, but you also shouldn’t act like you have something to hide. Whenever possible, use clear, simple terms to describe your brand’s data mining and use policies.
  • Avoid marketing fatigue: No one likes to waste time deleting unread, barely relevant messages from their inbox. Knowing who to filter out of a message can be the difference between a successful campaign and a lost subscriber.
  • Be engaging: If your brand is able to turn user data into content that is engaging and personalized, you’ll have a much easier time convincing people to share their personal information. Just make sure they understand that hyper-personalization can only happen when you know what they like — and why.
  • Follow the rules: The topic of data rights has been a hotly contested issue for years. With the May 2018 implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the conversations surrounding data protection and privacy will continue to evolve. Even if your company does not do business within the EU, you still need to be aware of the rules surrounding your website and online presence.

The ability to send more relevant, better perceived messages is changing the way brands and consumers interact.

As companies gain new insights into the way people think and behave, they have a growing responsibility to use this information in an open, honest manner. Failure to do so – as demonstrated by the Cambridge Analytica scandal – can have disastrous effects.

So how should you communicate your brand’s data-mining practices?

Like all the best marketing campaigns, the right strategy will be uniquely tailored to your brand and audience. As long as you pay attention and listen to the data, you’ll be able to share this information in a way that builds trust.

New Employee Spotlight: Meet Madeline Kalicka

Meet Madeline Kalicka, Associate Account Executive

Madeline joined the Karbo Com team in February as an Associate Account Executive, bringing experience in B2B marketing. Madeline earned her B.S. in Life Science Communications from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, going to the movies and exploring the Bay Area.

Q: What is the best piece of career/PR advice you’ve received?

A: Always be open to new professional experiences because you never know where they will lead. This could come in the form of volunteering for a project or client team you wouldn’t typically see yourself on. Trying new things at work can create a newfound appreciation for aspects of the job you didn’t know you were interested in.

Q: What recent tech trend do you find particularly fascinating?

A: Working with a variety of technology companies allows me to see many applications for emerging tech in different industries. One trend I find particularly interesting is the use of augmented reality in the healthcare industry. The fact that AR is helping doctors identify cancerous cells faster and more accurately than ever blows my mind. It’s hard to wrap my head around the technological advances the healthcare industry will see in the next 10, 20, 30 years.

Q: What is your least favorite word and why?

A: I’m not so fond of the word, “like” as a go-to sentence filler. I grossly overused this word as a pre-teen and am still scarred from it.

Q: Tell us something we wouldn’t know about you.

A: Upon returning from a trip to Madagascar, I had to receive a full round of rabies shots.

Bridging the Gap Between the Tech World and the Outside

When I first started looking for PR internships in Silicon Valley, I was nervous that most of the opportunities were in tech PR. B2B tech seemed highly technical. I felt like I had to have an engineering degree to even begin to comprehend what tech PR clients were doing and I was terrified of being a fish out of water, of being a liability to my firm.

Turns out, I didn’t have to worry! While tech PR can become very technical, the basic skills and fundamental activities associated with generating coverage for our clients remain the same. I came to California from the East Coast with just one PR class under my belt. I had a basic idea of how to use platforms like Cision and vaguely knew what pitching entailed. All I had to offer was a willingness to learn and curiosity for how the tech PR field actually worked and if it was something I could see myself doing in the future. After three months in Silicon Valley, I think I can safely say that tech PR is not the great unknown. It is not the exclusive, specialized club I was afraid it would be. The research skills I obtained writing college history papers transferred effortlessly to researching speaking and award opportunities for clients. Organizing dashboards was similar to juggling deadlines with assignments and projects as a college student. While continually following up with spokespeople was a little nerve-wracking for fear of being aggravating, I think my relative inexperience and lack of a reputation helped me be aggressive in the pursuit of obtaining tactical information.

While I’m slowly feeling more at home in the tech ecosystem, it seems a little isolated. The world of technology enjoys a more prestigious reputation than other industries for its track record of turning out high-achieving individuals and companies. From my perspective, this high level of success as well as the developer stereotype can discourage traditionally “non-techie” people outside of the Valley from taking a shot at the industry. But as the outsider coming in, I now know that anyone can learn the ropes no matter how inexperienced they are. While there are always speed bumps, the tech space is a learning environment where collaboration is key. I think the industry would benefit from promoting inclusivity, so people who are currently under-represented can inject fresh talent and add new value to the industry. While people don’t hesitate to take a shot in other industries, the tech world seems invite-only. Although most residents of Silicon Valley are from around the world, they largely consist of young men who have been interested in computer science their whole lives. They tend to devote large amounts of time in pursuit of their passion. Looking at these people makes it seem as though the tech world is highly skilled and specialized; if you haven’t coded every day of your life, you won’t make it in the Valley.

I think the tech ecosystem would benefit from showing outsiders that if they are committed to a career in tech, they can do it. Basic workshops and training sessions in schools and colleges can show young people that anyone can learn the skills the tech ecosystem requires. Additionally, exposure to careers that are not entirely technical but still support the industry (like tech PR!) would be beneficial. While the learning curve in tech PR is steep, it’s no different than trying to learn a new sport or language. If the tech world embraced this concept, their reputation as an out-of-reach field would decrease and lead to the drastic change in culture that is overdue in Silicon Valley.

Spread A Little Love For Your Brand With These Thought Leadership Tips

It’s February and love is in air! As many brands look to launch their romantically themed mini-campaigns designed to bring “warm fuzzies” to the masses, don’t forget to bring thought leadership into the mix. At Karbo Communications, we believe that “thought leadership is a verb, not a noun.” We help our clients to communicate their problem solving ideas to the right audiences.

Thought leadership campaigns are a way to spread the love for your brand, not just on Valentine’s Day, but all year long. Here are four tips to help your brand get started:

Highlight the Right People
The first step in launching an effective thought leadership program is to identify the right people to participate. Who makes a great thought leader? An ideal person is an expert in their field who has the ability to connect the dots in the market before others do. They pioneer a point of view.  Not only a visionary, this person sees a path forward, inspires others to action and (here’s the tricky part) manages to do all of the above without directly promoting the brand, product or oneself.

Inspire Many Company Leaders to Participate
The CEO is a great choice to speak on behalf of the brand, but what other interesting ideas are percolating across the leadership team that the marketing team should explore? Consider empowering several company leaders and delve into the ideas that have the potential to resonate with different audiences. By looking beyond the CEO’s office, the company has the opportunity to showcase a range of expertise and creativity, which will attract the right audiences and help the business to continue to grow.

Help Your Friends in the Media: Don’t Disguise Self-Promotion
Unfortunately, you can’t identify a market problem and offer your product as the solution and call it “thought leadership.” No matter how cleverly the marketing team believes they’ve hidden the direct references to the brand, a skilled editor will recognize how closely the piece resembles the company’s messaging and reject it immediately for being promotional. Keep your friends in the media engaged by speaking to trends objectively. This comes with a very pleasant side effect: stronger media relationships, boosted visibility, added credibility and perhaps an edge over the competition in terms of market expertise.

Be Authentic and Charming  
Showcase your authenticity and credibility, but don’t forget to pepper in personality and charm! Being a trusted voice in the market builds confidence with customers and has the potential to deepen their loyalty (especially when your competition fails to offer helpful insights). Shining a light on what’s to come in the future will also help prospects find your brand and attributes to sales growth over time. But it has to be memorable too – show the world what makes your thinking and brand special.