direct to avatar

Direct-to-Avatar (D2A): Retailers, Are You Ready for It?

According to our president Catherine Seeds, one of the best parts of her job is learning “the next big thing” happening within the retail industry. Her latest video discusses the latest trend: Direct-to-Avatar.

Prefer to read a transcript of her video? We’ve included one below!

Catherine Seeds presents: Direct-to-Avatar

The best part of my job is learning and researching “the next big thing” happening within the retail industry. For more than 20 years, I have had a front seat for hundreds of game-changing innovations. It’s always exciting to see what’s coming next.

Hi, I’m Catherine Seeds, president of Ketner Group – thanks for listening in.

Right now, there is a huge momentum shift for brands to create strategies around direct to consumer (DTC). We all know that the customer experience is everything.

This means it is critical for brands to figure out how to create closer connections with their customers. Whether that means bypassing the more traditional retail model or even opening retail concept stores. Our very own Jeff Ketner talked about this trend in his most recent blog. 

When it comes to creating closer consumer connections, the “next big thing” on the retail horizon is a step beyond the DTC trend. To be more accurate, it’s a step into the vast virtual world of avatars.

Direct-to-Avatar: changing the digital economy game

The Direct-to-Avatar term, or D2A, refers to the business model of selling products directly to shoppers’ avatars. The model sidesteps the management and logistics of sending an actual physical product to a consumer. 

It was described in a recent Decode_M article, as this, “The DTC business model forever changed how we shop, cutting out the middleman. The next evolution of sales channels (D2A) will bypass humans completely, selling straight to our avatars instead.”

This might sound like a trend for only future generations. Wrong! Direct-to-Avatar is here and now. According to Crucible, Direct-to-Avatar expects to be the largest digital economy in history, topping $1 trillion during this decade. 

Need further proof? 

According to Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president of global business group at Meta, “Within the next decade, the metaverse will reach one billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce and support jobs for millions of creators and developers.” 

The complete potential of the Direct-to-Avatar business model has yet to be realized. The fashion and luxury industries, however, have certainly already taken full advantage of this movement. More on that later!

Roblox and Gen Z: a match made for the metaverse

If you are familiar with the Direct-to-Avatar trend, then you have most certainly heard of Roblox. As the biggest player in the metaverse, Roblox has more than 50 million daily active users with nearly 10 million developers on the platform.

67% of Roblox users are under the age of 16, also known as Gen Z. For fashion brands, Roblox is a perfect gateway to Gen Z – a generation whose disposable income has reached an estimated $360 billion, according to Gen Z Planet. 

Brands dipping their toes into the metaverse should also be paying attention to Generation Alpha, those born after 2010. These young consumers influence $500 billion in purchases per year. 

As Christina Wootton, VP of global brand partnerships at Roblox says in NYLON, “Self-expression is a huge part of any shared experiences, be it in real life or in the metaverse. The Roblox community, over half of which is over 13 years old, is very engaged, spending billions of hours on the platform every month, and digital fashion plays a hugely important role in our community’s creative self-expression.” 

According to Wootton, 25 million virtual items were created by the Roblox community in 2021 alone, and over 5.8 billion virtual items (both free and paid) were acquired on the platform.

Becoming fashion-forward with D2A

Given their proclivity to all things digital, it’s easy to understand why the Direct-to-Avatar model is so attractive to younger consumers. This is especially true for the fashion industry. It creates an easy way to access and engage with younger demographics. It also provides a more impactful way for companies to connect with their shoppers beyond digital ads and content.

Here are a just a few examples of fashion brands releasing D2A digital collections, as featured in a recent Wunderman Thompson blog:

  • Ralph Lauren released a 50-piece digital clothing collection in August 2021, available for purchase in social networking app Zepeto. 
  • American Eagle announced a digital clothing collection for Bitmoji avatars in July 2021. 
  • Gucci and The North Face released a joint collection for avatars on Pokémon Go in January 2021. 
  • In March 2021 Gucci released virtual sneakers that can only be worn with AR, using technology developed by Wanna. 
  • Digital fashion house The Fabricant has partnered with brands like Adidas, Puma, and Tommy Hilfiger to virtualize their garments.

Most recently, youth retailer Pacsun, announced its first dedicated experience on Roblox called PACWORLDa fantasy interactive mall experience where players are the owner and operators of a new mall. Their objective is to make the mall as profitable and popular as possible.

Is Direct-to-Avatar the future of shopping?

Time will tell if the Direct-to-Avatar movement will stick. Looking at the stats, however, the odds are certainly in its favor. Digging into this topic has encouraged me to borrow my son’s Oculus headset and journey into the world of the metaverse.

The Ketner Group team will be keeping an eye on this trend as it continues to develop. For brands, Direct-to-Avatar brings endless financial and customer loyalty possibilities.

As WGSN Insight’s Cassandra Napoli said recently at NRF 2022, “The possibilities are truly endless for brands in this avatar economy, as avatars will extend the scope of storytelling for brands. And while digital fashion is not a new concept, it’s gaining momentum. It provides brands with a potentially more sustainable and inclusive — not to mention lucrative—way to reach consumers.”

Thanks for joining me today. Let’s keep the conversation going! 

Get in touch today to find out how our retail expertise can help drive brand awareness and support your marketing goals. 

Gen Z Madeline Q&A Blog

Dishing With My Daughter: Interviewing “Gen Z” About Shopping Habits

Today we are digging into a topic that I find incredibly interesting – Generation Z and their shopping habits. Gen Z, the group of 72 million youngsters born between 1997 and 2012, can’t remember a time before the internet and widespread digital technology. According to McKinsey, Gen Z has a greater interest in human rights, race and ethnicity issues, LGBTQ+ equality, and feminism than generations before them.

Gen Z has never known a country not at war. As well, most have seen first-hand the financial struggles of their Gen X parents. In my opinion, they are old souls always searching to find their unique identities but are grounded in fiscal and social responsibility.

And I should know – I have two! 

I recently sat down with the oldest of my two Gen Z’ers, Madeline. Born in 2005, Madeline is a high school junior busy with her various school and volunteer activities. She also holds down a part-time job at a local pizza restaurant. But just like any high school teen, she loves hanging with her friends and, of course, shopping.

I was able to pull Madeline away from her very busy life to have a conversation with me – her Gen X mom who still doesn’t understand exactly how Snapchat works – to spill the tea on her likes and dislikes when it comes to retail shopping. 

What I found was not surprising at all. Madeline’s habits match up to the general characteristics of Gen Z. She is digitally connected all the time, but fiscally aware when it comes to spending her hard-earned money.

Check out our full conversation in the video or transcript below!


Transcript from “Dishing with my Daughter”

Tell me a little bit about what you like about shopping in the store and what you don’t like.

I like being able to see all the clothes in person and being able to know what kind of material is really used, because different styles and materials all fit differently.

I like knowing exactly how everything will fit. What I don’t like about in-person shopping is all the other people around me. As well, in my experience, retail workers are sometimes rude.

Gen Z Madeline In Person Shopping

When shopping in store, do you like having the help of a retail worker?

Sometimes. But I mainly do things by myself because they (the retail worker) are not in my head. They don’t know what I really want. I could tell them what I want, but I would rather not. 

I know you do a lot of online shopping! I’m curious, what do you love about online shopping and what is maybe frustrating about shopping online?

I like it because there are more options–in terms of sizes and other options. You could find something you like in-person, but they might not have your size or the color you want. With online shopping, they’re more likely to have your size. It’s easier to find things online because you can just search the style you are looking for. It also seems more organized to shop online than in the store.

Gen Z Madeline Online Shopping

Tell me a bit about the brands that you like to shop at online and why you keep going back to those shops?

I really like Shein because they have so many options. As soon as you think you’ve found all their options or you got to the bottom of the list, there are always hundreds of more items to view. And it’s also very cheap, for the most part. I don’t think I’ve ever spent over $15 or $17 on one thing at that store.

With online shopping, you can take as long as you want, instead of feeling like you’ve been in one store too long. I feel like the retail workers are thinking, “What is this girl doing here for so long? Is she lost or something?” 

I’ve spent almost two hours just on one website making sure I got all the colors in, the size and the style. I spend my own money when I shop, so I want to make sure I’m getting exactly what I want.

Gen Z Madeline Online Shopping

Let’s talk about social media shopping – very popular with Gen Z. Can you give us an example of how you use this?

I find a lot of the things that I’m interested in on Instagram and Facebook the most. Because of the algorithms, I think they (the social media channels) consider what pages I follow and what things I like on Explore pages. I really like a lot of Western, 60s, 70s and early 2000 styles, so I follow a lot of people and small boutiques that carry those styles. 

As I’m going through my feed, I’ll see a pair of jeans or a cute blouse in the styles that I like, so that’s helped me a lot when I’m shopping. It’s helped me expand and learn about new stores, and it’s also helpful for smaller boutiques too. Tiny boutiques will pop up on my feed that I’ve never seen before, so I often end up buying things from them, too. In that way, I feel like I’m doing my part to help small brands. 

My thing is that I come up with my own style in my head, but I don’t always know how to search for what I’m looking for on an online site. For example, I was trying to find my prom dress online last month. I was looking for a dress on Lulus and I knew exactly what style and theme I wanted for my dress – an icy platinum look. But on so many online sites, you can’t really look up icy platinum in their little search engine. So, I went to Pinterest to find what I was looking for.

With Pinterest, I literally typed in icy platinum prom dress! So many options came up and I was able to find some dresses that I liked. From there I looked at the names of the dresses, did a Pinterest search again and ended up finding the exact icy platinum dress I wanted! 

Gen Z Social Media Shopping

Let’s talk about thrift shopping! Tell us a little bit about why you like thrift shopping and how that’s helped you with your style.

I like thrifting, and feel like I’ve been thrifting before it was a trend! I like it because the clothes are super cheap there. I’m also a big fan of early 2000 styles. There are a ton of options in terms of clothes and accessories items from that decade at stores like Goodwill. And, like I said before, it’s also cheap. My friends and I can walk in there with $50 to spend and can buy probably close to that number of shirts! How could you not want to go there?

Side note: After speaking with my Gen Z’er for this blog, I took a closer look at the thrift shopping trend. According to according to a report from GlobalData and the online thrift store ThredUp, the secondhand market is projected to reach $77 billion by 2025 and is growing at a whopping 11 times the rate of the broader retail clothing sector. The drivers of the growth are younger consumers who are drawn to thrifting for its sustainability and eclectic and cool styles.

Gen Z Thrift Shopping

As a Gen Z’er, what else helps influences how you shop, either on social media or online or in a store?

A big part of my influence in what I like to shop for and wear is honestly music. I love older music, like Fleetwood Mac and Lynyrd Skynyrd – mostly bands from the 60s and 70s. I like the styles from that era. Sharon Tate is another style icon of mine. I would say she a big influence on the clothes and accessories that I buy.   

Gen Z Shopping Music Influence

Let’s talk retail!

At Ketner Group, we love digging into all things retail – even with our kids! Get in touch today to find out how our retail expertise can help drive brand awareness and supporting your marketing goals. 

relationships with reporters

Top Four Ways for Building a Long-Term Relationship With a Reporter

Our president Catherine Seeds has worked in public relations for many years and one of her favorite parts of the job is building long-term relationships with reporters. Those looking to build their own long-term relationships should check out her latest audio clip, which shares top tips for media relations. Can’t catch the video or prefer to read? We’ve included a transcription of her recommendations below.


Build long-term relationships with reporters:

If you are in PR, then you know how hard it can be, especially in today’s media landscape, to get in front of key media contacts in a meaningful way. Hi, I’m Catherine Seeds, president of Ketner Group Communications and I’m so glad you are listening in. Today, we are going to talk about building long-term relationships with reporters.

Let’s get to it!

So, I like to think of relationships with reporters as a marriage. What do the best marriages consist of you ask? Well, a lot, lol! Relationships are not always easy and they take work, but when you and your partner get it right – it can result in something extremely special. The same goes with your relationships with journalists!

Let’s talk four easy things you can do to create a lasting rapport with a reporter:

1. Be a good listener (aka research!):

This is one of the first things we all learn as PR practitioners. When we think about listening to journalists, this means really understanding what topics they are most interested in and what is going to get their attention. Listening is all about doing your homework on the journalist, reading their previous articles, knowing how they prefer to be contacted and understanding their passions as writers. You can’t possibly expect to build a relationship with an editor or reporter if you don’t LISTEN to the things that are important to them.

Listening and identifying what will make a journalist think “this PR person gets me” could be, as Humphrey Bogart says in the movie classic Casablanca, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

be-patient-with-reporter

2. Be patient:

Once you’ve done your homework, listened and established a connection with a journalist – that does not mean you or your client will grace the top fold of the Wall Street Journal right away. Patience, especially in today’s very competitive media landscape, is critical to long-term PR success. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “To lose patience is to lose the battle.” But that does not mean you have to sit back and wait for things to happen.

As our friends at Muckrack recently wrote, as a PR professional, you need to remember that you are planting seeds – not shot-gunning beers. Having a quality relationship with a reporter does not mean only reaching out to them when you need something – it means putting in the work and planning for the long game to achieve optimum results.

Make it a practice each week or month to simply engage with those reporters that are most important to you. Send them a nice note about a recent article they’ve written, give them a shout out on social media or offer to meet them for coffee to catch up. They key here is to keep developing that relationship while also staying top of mind with the reporter the next time they write about a topic that could be a fit for your client.

be-relevant-for-journalist

3. Be relevant:

As PR pros, it is our job to stay on top of breaking news, relevant topics and differentiated points of view. In short, you need to do what you can to make a journalist’s life a little bit easier!

When pitching a journalist, it is important to bring fresh ideas to the table! In Cision’s “2021 Global State of the Media” report, one of the important key takeaways is to be a trendsetter. In the report, Cision reminds us that “journalists are looking for stories that speak to what’s happening in the world right now, so the better you are at delivering stories with timely narratives, the more of an asset you will be. Sage advice indeed!

Once you’ve secured an interview, make sure you or your client continues to bring their A game to the table with valuable information, such as:

  • What does this news mean for your customers and the industry, and why should the journalist’s audience care?
  • What is one key thing that (your customer or industry watchers) should consider or think about as they are digesting this news?
  • How can you or your company provide further analysis and a point of view for this news? Do you have unique data to highlight the story, or can you point to outliers or differentiators in the story?

In short, think like a journalist would, and not just what is important to you or your client.

be-human-to-reporter

4. Be human:

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that journalists are people, too. They have the same worries, fears, joys, anger, wants and needs as we do.

Journalists are pressed for time more than ever before, and they do not need PR people following up repeatedly on a pitch, especially, if it is not something they are interested in. (Remember, be a good listener!) According to the same Cision report I cited earlier, nearly three in 10 journalists say they never want follow up at all, while many want at least two days to look over a pitch first.

No one appreciates getting annoying emails that are not relevant to us, and journalists are no different. Be human, be kind and be thoughtful when it comes to communication with the media – it will be a win-win for everyone if you do!

There are many other ways to develop long-term relationships with journalists, but the most important thing to remember is approaching it like you would any other relationship. Build trust, create thoughtful communication and above all, be helpful.

Keep the conversation going:

For more tips and advice on building relationships with the media, please visit our blog. Are you Interested in doing more with your media relations strategy? We’d love to see how we can help jump-start your activities and support you for the long-haul. Email us at [email protected]

Until next time, work hard – play hard – and be nice to people!

ketner group parent culture

Parenthood at Ketner Group: Creating an Inclusive Environment for Working Parents

I’m just going to say it, being a working parent is not always easy. No matter what age our kids are, the juggling act that we as full-time working moms and dads perform is not for the faint of heart. We must figure out how to coordinate and balance countless doctor appointments, dance practices, baseball games and various school functions with our work priorities. We sometimes have to be two places at once, all the while worrying how we are going to get it all done.

Life happens, which is why at Ketner Group, we do all that we can to make the surprising and wonderful world of parenthood a little bit easier for our team.

This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, as I was the first employee in the agency to go through the maternity leave process (twice), and I know first-hand what it is like to be a working parent at Ketner Group. We put a huge emphasis on being a family-first agency, making sure that all employees have a healthy work-life balance.

That’s not always the case in this country. According to Small Business Trends, 66% of full-time employees do not have a good work-life balance and 33% of Americans are working on weekends and holidays.

We have worked very hard as an agency to keep a family-friendly culture, ensuring that working parents feel supported, heard and understood. Let’s take a closer look at how.

“I’m expecting!”

Telling your company that your family is expecting should be a joyous occasion, not one filled with anxiety and fear.

At Ketner Group, we have always rallied behind our employees anytime there is a birth announcement. (Full transparency, we have had a total of three employees, including me, that have gone on maternity leave while working for Ketner Group.)

ketner group maternity leave

Ketner Group currently provides three months of paid maternity leave to employees. This is a policy that we wanted to provide, ensuring that families do not miss a paycheck during those very special three months and reinforcing our commitment to being a family-first agency.

We feel very fortunate to be able to offer this to our employees, given it is not something many small businesses are willing to do. According to a Department of Labor survey, only 12% of employees at businesses with fewer than 50 employees have access to explicit paid parental or family leave benefits and only 28% have access to paid medical leave.

During the time between the official announcement is made to the team and when an employee goes on maternity leave, we get to the business of planning for that leave. That includes making the announcement official to our clients, making adjustments to team leads and handing off any other agency tasks to other team members.

And of course, Ketner Group loves to celebrate, so we throw baby showers for the parents-to-be! The past year has not slowed us down in that department, either – we have already thrown two virtual baby showers for Amanda Reed and Kirsty Goodlett – complete with sweet treats and fun baby gifts! (For a good laugh, check out the song Jeff wrote celebrating Amanda’s baby.)

During leave, we make sure to only reach out to those employees for important updates and fun company gatherings – otherwise, we want them to enjoy their time with family.

“My kid has strep throat…again!”

Being a parent is truly a full-time job. The needs of children don’t just stop during the 9-5 workday. That is why we have created a culture of flexible work schedules for all employees, but this is a policy that is especially critical for working parents.

When my kids were younger, I felt like I lived at the pediatrician’s office! I can’t tell you how many times I had to email my team early in the morning, and a few times in the middle of the night, to let them know I wouldn’t be in because of a sick child. There were also many, many times I had to stop what I was doing during the middle of the workday to run to the daycare or elementary school to pick up a sick kid or leave work early or come in late because of a special occasion at school.

working family ketner group

Never once, however, did I worry about how these parent errands or last-minute emergencies would affect my job. I knew I had the support of my team and would not be penalized or judged for needing to do what I needed to as a parent.

When it comes to being a parent at Ketner Group, flexibility and support is the name of the game.

During the summer months, my kids often spent time with me at the office when I didn’t have a summer camp planned or childcare available. They always enjoyed those days because it meant getting to draw for hours on the big white board or getting to have a cool “grown up” lunch with Mom! Never once did my team make me feel bad for bringing my children up to the office, they were always kind to them and made them feel welcomed.

“I got a promotion!”

Of course, the elephant in the room when it comes to being a working parent is whether planned and unplanned time away from the office will affect one’s career. In short, at Ketner Group, it doesn’t.

We believe that bringing a new life into the world and putting family first does not mean the end of someone’s long-term career goals. All of our employees are important to us and being a parent doesn’t require anyone to take two steps back.

ketner group parent career

In my time at Ketner Group, while also going through two pregnancies, maternity leaves and the countless times my children needed to come before work priorities, I continued to work hard and was promoted to account manager, director, vice president and most recently as president of the agency. Being a parent at our agency does not put a warning mark on you, and it never will.

2020 and 2021 have been tough years for all working parents, especially mothers, and we continue to do all that we can to make the transition of a being a hybrid remote/in-person company as easy on working parents as possible. There have been plenty of Zoom calls over the past year that have included our kids on the screen, whether it was planned or not!

“I can have it all!”

I’m not going to lie, being a working parent can often be a hard gig, no matter how wonderful your company is – and that is the truth!

There is the ever-present parent guilt combined with the worry that you are never doing enough at the office. But there is a silver lining! Once you get the hang of things, it is the most rewarding experience you could ever have, especially if you work for a supportive and parent-inclusive organization.

At Ketner Group, I get to have the best of both worlds, and my children get to see first-hand the aftereffects of a family and employee-first company. More importantly, they know that it is possible to have a successful career and be there for them no matter what. I am grateful for this and hope this kind of support for working parents will become the norm in the near future, rather than the exception.

kg 30 year anniversary video

30 Year Anniversary Video: A Picture is Worth…Countless Words and Memories

When we began planning our 30-year anniversary campaign we knew early on that  we wanted to do something really special to celebrate digitally since we would not able to host a big, in-person soirée.

Of course, we wanted to incorporate all the elements of a good PR and marketing campaign, but it was equally important that we include our industry friends and family, who have been such a great support to the agency over the past 30 years.

Voila! I present to you the KG 30th Anniversary Video, which we think meets all these goals!

Sharing the video with Jeff was a treat

We surprised Jeff with the video a couple of weeks ago via Zoom, and it was so special to watch his reaction to all the fun memories shared and the wonderful accolades spoken from friends, peers, former co-workers and his family.

I wish we could have included all of those who have been a part of the KG team over the years, but you know who you are, and I am so thankful for each one of you. You are equally a part of our story!

A special thank you to those who shared a video

I’d like to thank the following for taking their time to send in their kind words for Jeff and, in the words of our good friend Dave Murphy, the entire Ketner Group dynasty.

  • Brian Kilcourse
  • Debbie House
  • Joe Skorupa
  • Caitlin New
  • Valerie Martin
  • Dave Murphy
  • Terry Barnes
  • Molly Ketner
  • Elizabeth Winterroth
  • Andrew Ketner

Keep the anniversary celebrations going

If you have any pictures of your time at Ketner Group, we’d love you to share! Feel free to post and tag us on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter!

We hope you enjoy the anniversary video, especially our motivational speech towards the end! In true Ketner Group fashion, we manage to inspire through laughter. Just the way we like it!

jeff ketner and catherine seeds 30 years

Lessons Learned and Memories Made: 30 Year Anniversary Q&A

It’s been 30 years since Jeff Ketner founded Ketner Group Communications, and it’s been an absolutely incredible – and sometimes wild – journey. To help us celebrate, Jeff and I kicked back for a stroll down memory lane. Check out the full video below or read our summary to learn more about some of the highlights of the last 30 years!

How Ketner Group began: striking out on his own

Catherine: Tell me about the day you decided to strike out on your own. Did you have any memorable conversations with your family? Or friends or peers?

Jeff: It wasn’t planned that far in advance; it was pretty spontaneous. I was vice president at a technology PR firm here in Austin when one day the owner walked and said that she was retiring and shutting the whole place down.

What?!

At that time, I was very fortunate to have Texas Instruments as a client and a strong 5-plus-year relationship with them. So, after the owner of the firm said she was shutting it down, I told her I was going to talk with TI. “That’s fine,” she said. Literally the same day, I talked to TI and they told me not to worry. In just a few days, I was set up as a vendor.

I would like to say that it was planned out. I had wanted to set out for a while, but I was sort of thrust into it.

Indelible memories (alt: Ketner Goofs Communications)

Catherine: There have been a lot of crazy, silly things that have happened to us over the years. What are some of your favorite moments from the past 30 years?

Jeff: I remember the time at NRF when we had a snowball fight with the team from Digby, now known as Phunware, at one or two in the morning. We were in New York City, it was cold, and we were all stranded because the airports were shut down. So, we had a snowball fight on the streets of New York!

Or another time at NRF’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Retail. Just being able to play guitar onstage with some fun people like Brian Kilcourse, Steve Rowen and Cathy Hotka. Just to be able to be onstage — and I used to be pretty good, but I hadn’t played in a long time — it gave me a chance to get the rust out and to have some fun and play with people that became my friends. Plus, I get to tell my grandkids that I was onstage at B.B. King Blues Club in New York.

The fun and silly things that happen around the office are amazing, too. People spontaneously breaking into song or just laughing and being together as a team. The things that make anyone feel special. Like the times when I come back from a day off for my birthday and my office is decorated to the max. Of course, there is Bosses Day – which I didn’t even know was a thing – during which people dressed up like me: flannels and blue jeans.

It just things like that that are fun and make you feel special. We do a lot of that as a team, just to really maintain a sense of caring for one another and trying to each other’s back and have fun together.

The lessons learned in 30 years

Catherine: What lessons have you learned as a founder and CEO of your own business?

Jeff: Well, there are a lot of them. The most important is to build a great team, give them a lot of freedom and just trust them. I think the people really make it work. We have a very collaborative team, and we work together well. That’s what I’m most comfortable with. It’s not really a top-down organization that’s driven by one, singular personality. We’ve worked to establish a culture of openness and trust and collaboration.

As much as anything, it’s about getting the right people in place and doing everything you can to hang on to them and make it an exciting place to work, but also give space for a work-life balance. At the end of the day, it’s the things everyone does outside of work that are going to stick with you for the rest of your life. What you do at work counts, but there is life beyond work, and we give our team the space to realize that.

Finding a niche in retail technology

Catherine: We’re known around town for specializing in retail technology, but what is it about retail tech that is so exciting to you?

Jeff: It’s fun! We’ve worked in semiconductors, we’ve worked in servers, we’ve worked in both the fun and the boring parts of technology. But everyone shops. Everyone eats. Retail touches every part of life and it changes so fast. Ten years ago, all the shopping was done in store, and that’s just totally flipped. Over the last three years, no one used to order groceries online and have them delivered or arrange curbside pickup.

It’s changed, and it’s changed really fast. I can’t think of any technology sector that is changing and that touches every facet of our lives like retail. To me, it’s the most fascinating, fast-paced industry to be in.

Overcoming current and future challenges

Catherine: I’d like you to share some advice on how you’ve overcome challenges.

Jeff: When you have a challenge that comes up you have to do a couple of things. First, face it honestly and straightforwardly. You can’t sweep it under the rug. If there is a tough conversation to be had with a client, it’s much, much better to pick up the phone than send an email. You also have to double down and work through it. Rely on your team. Be honest. Be transparent.

I know you didn’t want to bring up the “pandemic” word but working through this has been something I’m most proud of. The team came together even when clients were having issues and cutting budgets. There was a mass freak out throughout every sector of business. We’ve worked through it, we’ve focused on bringing on new clients, and we did everything we can to take care of our existing clients.

We worked our way through it and I’m grateful for that. The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating for so many people and businesses. It’s really because of the team that we’ve overcome it.

Bad times will happen, there will always be unexpected things that come your way. Look to your team and rely on your instincts. Over time, you will develop a resilience that will allow you to get through things that are difficult.

Remote work

We Were Remote, Before Remote Was Cool

When it came to the topic of remote work and how Ketner Group has addressed it over the years – I immediately thought of the 1981 hit country song, “I Was Country, When Country Wasn’t Cool,” sung by Barbara Mandrell.

In it, Mrs. Mandrell talks about how she listened to music from the Grand Ole Opry growing up while her friends were “digging on rock ‘n’ roll” and how everyone is now trying to be what she was back then.

When it comes to remote work at Ketner Group, this song seems spot on. We’ve been at this for quite some time – way before it was cool, and (now) necessary.

The way we were, and are: Ketner Group and our history of remote work

While I know that Ketner Group is not the only company to have instituted flexible work-from-home policies prior to the pandemic, our agency was founded with an emphasis on offering a good work-life balance for all employees.

That became very apparent to me in 2005 when my daughter was born. My two bosses at the time, Jeff Ketner and Terry Barnes, made it clear that my family was very important and that they were just fine with a work schedule that was best for me and my family.

"we were remote before it was cool (or frankly necessary)" pull quote

This philosophy started even before my tenure at Ketner Group, when Jeff launched the agency in 1990. He was to be at home every night for dinner, and if he needed to work from home, he would lug home a big laptop to finish any client work after his kids had gone to bed.

Thus, the roots of Ketner Group’s flexible work standards started to grow, and we’ve never looked back.

Our attitude toward working from home has always been simple: plan accordingly, meet your deadlines, and communicate with your team and managers of your schedule. In normal times, we always encouraged the team to be in the office as much as possible, but life happens.

Whether it be a doctor appointment across town, picking up kids from school, or being at home for the cable guy – working from home to take care of things is sometimes just easier. There are also times when one needs to work from home to concentrate on a big writing or research project – we’ve always encouraged that, too.

We’ve been everywhere

In recent years, Ketner Group has continued to walk the walk and talk the talk when it came to working remote – a sentiment I talked about last November in the Austin Business Journal. One of the most important things we value at the agency is trust, and we have a very high level of trust with all of our employees.

For example, we have had employees take extended vacations to Europe and Asia (learn more about Mariana’s time in Bali here), where they worked remote for a period of time while they were overseas and then take an additional two weeks off for vacation. A few years ago, one of our employees spent a year working from Ireland, and it worked out beautifully.

It is important to support these remote work options because we want our team to live their best lives, see the world and have amazing experiences.

W.O.R.K in the USA

Since March, our remote work game has been in overdrive – along with the rest of the world.

In fact, a global survey conducted by Gartner, Inc. found that 88% of business organizations all over the world mandated or encouraged all their employees to work from home when the COVID-19 virus started to spread at exponential rates.

team culture ketner group

The move to full-time remote work for the Ketner Group team was seamless, and again demonstrated how much we value and trust each of our employees. Not only is everyone currently working from their respective homes, but we have a few employees that have hit the open road in RVs to fully experience remote work life!

It’s been an adventure for all of us so far.

Our team is spread out across five states, but our productivity and company culture remain strong. The pandemic has been hard on all of us – professionally and personally – but we remain a strong and dedicated team because of the processes and work policies we put in place 30 years ago.

I look forward to when we can all be in an office together again. Until then, we’ll be seeing you on a Zoom somewhere.

3686-festival-ketner-group-communications

Back to Where We Started in Nashville: Ketner Group Participates in This Year’s 36|86 Festival

I love anniversaries. It gives one the opportunity to look back at where you’ve been, what you’ve gone through and all the good things that lay ahead.

This time last year, Kirsty Goodlett, our director of Nashville, and I, were putting the final touches on our soon to be Nashville launch. Our anniversary “week” in Nashville kicked off with an amazing launch party, complete with signature cocktails, food and a panel of brilliant, all-female storytellers.

We continued our launch activities by participating in and attending 36|86 Festival, the premier entrepreneur and start up event of the Southeast. As Kirsty said in her recap blog last year, it was truly nothing short of magic!

We were honored to kick off 36|86 with a panel featuring Kirsty, Ben Kurland and Lisa Roberts, chatting about how to win press and influence customers. Kirsty also did a podcast interview with our friend, Clark Bucker, for the 36|86 podcast, and we secured some wonderful media coverage for Ketner Group in Nashville and Austin.

Our launch was perfect, and was made possible against the wonderful backdrop of 36|86. Which is why, when asked if we wanted to participate in this year’s festival and manage media relations for 36|86, we responded with a resounding “YES!” to our friends at Launch Tennessee.

36|86 Festival goes global, interactive and virtual!

Due to the ongoing pandemic, this year’s 36|86 Festival will look a bit different, but will still include all of the amazing speakers, sessions, networking and that Nashville pizazz that attendees have come to expect from the event!

The fully interactive, online experience will take place over two weeks for a global audience from Aug. 17-28. 36|86 will offer human stories, real strategies, 1-on-1 networking opportunities and shared experiences in its most accessible form yet.

Here are just a few of this years “can’t miss” featured speakers:

  • Garth Brooks, country music superstar
  • Eddie George, entrepreneur and former NFL running back
  • Van Jones, CNN host and political commentator and CEO of REFORM Alliance
  • Ian Rogers, Group Chief Digital Officer of LVMH
  • Dr. Stacey Edwards Dunn, founder and president of Fertility for Colored Girls, NFP

Ketner Group brings a bit of Austin to Nashville

Our team is so proud to again participate in this year’s festival, bringing our love of PR and entrepreneurial innovation to the 36|86 stage. And this year, Kirsty and I are bringing a few more of the KG team along for the fun!

On August 25, Jeff Ketner and Mariana Fischbach will be talking about all things press coverage in a session titled Ketner Group Wants You to Get More Press – teaching attendees how to craft PR-worthy news messages that hook the journalist, build your brand story, and define a call to action from readers.

Right after the session, Jeff and Mariana will be available for a live “ask the experts” session for festival attendees.

Kirsty and I are also back in full swing at 36|86 this year, judging two pitch competitions with some new and old friends from Nashville! Startup companies and student groups are competing for bragging rights as well as cash prizes. Don’t miss this opportunity to see some of the brightest and most innovative minds in Tennessee!

If that hasn’t been exciting enough, we have also been managing media relations for this year’s festival. It’s been wonderful taking them on as a client and telling the most amazing entrepreneurship stories.

Building community across the global startup ecosystem

Right now, a year after our official launch in Nashville, Ketner Group and the entire world find ourselves in a unique situation. Our lives have become disrupted and turned upside down, but, we’ve all become closer and more connected than ever, and that’s exciting! Think of all the possibilities!

36|86 has embodied what it means for events, right now, to make timely, engaging and entertaining content available to anyone around the world. The show must go on, and the Ketner Group team is thrilled to again share the stage with an amazing collection of game-changers, disrupters and future-seekers!

I hope to see ya’ll there!

Click here to register for 36|86, which kicks off in just a few days!

Person reviewing printed survey results at computer

How to Create a Research Survey Press Release That Gets Results

As part of our new webinar series, KG Connects, we recently invited Jeffrey Henning and Tony Cheevers of Researchscape to give attendees an overview of the types of PR surveys and custom research they have been working on during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as their best practices for conducting newsworthy surveys.

As PR practitioners, we know that some of the best media coverage is powered by data that can tell a unique story. In other words, it’s a PR goldmine if you can find those one-of-a-kind nuggets of data that will generate the publicity you are looking for.

According to the Researchscape team – and PR people all over the world – stories that can place a company in the larger context of sweeping changes, backed by recent data, will resonate best with journalists.

There is never a bad time to field a PR survey. In fact, Researchscape has conducted 21,000 surveys since March 1. Three out of four research surveys today have a COVID-19 angle.

But, how can you ensure that you are putting the right information from a survey into your press release or proactive pitch? Better yet, what are the best practices for setting up your survey for long-term success?

According to Researchscape, focusing on the following five processes will set you on the right track:

Set Goals

As with any PR and communications campaign, setting a goal focuses your efforts and saves time and budget that might have gone to extraneous details.

Companies should develop long term goals such as building brand awareness, generating leads or developing content for a content marketing strategy. Executing a PR survey should also have short term goals such as providing support for a product launch or leveraging a holiday or trending story/event for coverage.

Remember this critical first step or risk losing the overall vision of your campaign.

Design and Field the Survey

Now that you have your goals set, the next step is to brainstorm possible headlines that you would love to see – kind of an “in a perfect world” exercise with your team! Researchscape suggests you “let your team’s imagination go wild, envisioning the results that would best drive coverage.”

Once you come up with your dream headlines, now is the time to come up with the questions. This is where academic discipline and a little bit of art in surveys comes to play.  According to Researchscape, the main problems that lead to inaccurate survey results and will reduce credibility with reporters are asking leading questions or encouraging acquiescence bias.

A good rule of thumb: a well-designed questionnaire can provide material for two or three news releases. As outlined in a Researchscape whitepaper, the average survey news release typically reports the findings from five questions (not including demographic questions).

A 15- to 20-question survey can easily provide content for three or four news releases.

Develop Campaign Assets

Most survey news releases simply include a summary of key findings of the survey, without commentary or context. But, with additional effort and detail, you can get far better results.

How to get survey results covered by media:

Include:

  • Exhibits: These include high-quality charts and graphs that can be used by reporters. Don’t forget to put your company’s name in the graphic!
  • Topline Results: These should accompany the press release and include the full list of complete questions and the answers selected for each question. As one reporter says, “I want to see what the questions are and what order they are asked in.”
  • Methodology FAQ: Don’t push the methodology summary to the last paragraph of the release. Create a methodology document or section in the release that answers the questions that journalists are trained to look for in surveys.

Write the News Release

Once you develop campaign assets, it’s time to write your killer press release(s) and make your push to key media.

Rule of thumb: Journalists prefer timely content. Announce your findings as soon as you can.

When writing your survey press releases, pay attention to these common mistakes as reported by Researchscape:

  • Overgeneralizing
  • Being overly precise
  • Claiming a margin of sampling error
  • Reporting on questions with too few respondents
  • Failing to disclose the basics
  • Not linking to resources
  • MISSING THE POINT!

Adapt and Re-Use

You’ve drafted a strong press release, pitched it to your key media targets and have secured press all while building brand awareness and generating leads – now what?

Do it all again next year, of course!

At Ketner Group, we have had clients conduct the same survey for consecutive years with great success. It allows us to do year-over-year comparisons so we can give reporters “trend reports” that provide more than just a snapshot in time. This is one of the best ways to become a go-to expert and thought leader on a given topic.

For more information about the process of creating newsworthy PR surveys, I encourage you to read the Best Practices for Newsmaker Surveys whitepaper from Researchscape that analyzes more than 3,000 surveys done over seven years.

Put Your Ideas in Motion

If you need help designing or getting the most out of your next PR survey project, connect with me at [email protected] to set up a free 30-minute consultation.

NRF 2020 Expo Hall

What to Do After NRF: Post-Tradeshow PR, Marketing and Lead Nurturing

Ah, tradeshows! Those giant beasts that take over our lives for at least six months, if not longer. We know B2B tradeshows are often a major line-item in a company’s yearly budget, and as such, should be treated with care. We often see a lot of time and focus on the first two, but it’s critical you know what to do after NRF to keep the momentum going.

As we have many clients, prospects and industry peers that attend the BIG Show each year, aka NRF (National Retail Federation), our goal for this blog is to provide recommendations for retail technology vendors to make note of in their post-NRF plans. After all, Ketner Group has been faithfully making the trip to New York every January since 1999.

That’s 20+ years of learning from our clients on what works and what doesn’t!

Now that the Expo Hall is officially closed, below is a quick checklist of things from the Ketner Group team to keep in mind as the dust settles from the Big Apple:

(As a general caveat, the best practices called out in this blog can really be applied to any B2B tradeshow.)

Post Show Emails to New Leads – Get Them Out, STAT!

We can’t reiterate this enough: post-show emails to the leads you generated at NRF MUST happen, and fast! Retailers have made a point to attend NRF to see what technologies they want to implement in 2020 – this is your chance to keep those conversations going.

Make sure to send personalized “thank you” emails to each person you meet; i.e., if a salesperson meets a prospect, he or she should take the lead on the follow-up. The email should contain a variety of helpful, unique information, and focus on the products they cared about specifically to give the email a more personal touch.

If you were not able to connect at the show, send “sorry we missed you” emails to the rest of your list. Their inbox will be less hectic, and there’s no pressure for them to work you into a packed schedule. This can also be a great time to get in front of someone who was underwhelmed by other vendors they may have met with on site.

If time is of the essence, you can also send out a general, visual email to everyone that was met at NRF.

Media and Analysts – Keep Those Conversations and Relationships Going

Sales leads are important at NRF, no doubt, but so are the face-to-face meetings with key media and analysts. You’ve likely executed on a successful communications/PR plan at NRF that has landed you targeted media briefings, an interview with Retail Touchpoints TV and/or inclusion in RIS News’ Top Ten Takeaways article – all hopefully with our help! – but what should you do next?

An example of an NRF recap article, from RIS News

Media and Analysts You Met With

This is critical: follow up on every media and analyst request and conversation after NRF.  This can be done by you and via a PR partner like Ketner Group. Conversations at NRF invariably lead to post-NRF follow-up, so it’s important to follow through on all the details. A simple thank you is helpful, but even better is following up with specific deliverables, like a demo, more insight into a customer you discussed, or a new pitch angle that might have come up, etc.

Media and Analysts You Did Not Meet With

Don’t forget to follow up with key media and analysts that you didn’t get to meet with or that were unable to attend, too.

Lastly, we’ve seen way too many cases where retail tech companies make all their announcements at NRF and then have a drought of several months when they make no announcements at all. In the past, media have been receptive to story pitches several weeks after NRF, when so much of the noise from the Big Show has died down.

If you have the luxury of multiple press releases around NRF, especially a retail customer announcement, hold one back for early February.

Content – The More Unique, The Better!

If done right, post-NRF content can help motivate prospects to continue having fruitful conversations with you. Content, which includes press releases you send out after NRF, is the best way to you top of mind with prospects AND media/analysts.

Publish a Recap Blog

Do a recap blog on your key themes from NRF, or the major topics that seemed to come up in every conversation you had, then share them on social media. Focus on adding as much unique content as you can – including images, videos, podcasts, quotes, stories – to make your content stand out. As well, include a call to action for demos of products that address those topics.

Here’s an NRF recap blog we wrote last year and a great example from Kibo.  

An example of a great NRF recap blog from a technology vendor, from Kibo Commerce

Consider an eBook or Long-Form Content

As part of your pre-NRF preparation, consider creating an ebook (we recommend interactive or image-driven that is easy to read) that you can also send to prospects that showcases how your solution can help solve their challenges. This can be effective for both pre- and post-NRF marketing.

Most of us have little time to read these days, let alone retailers. Make sure any content you send is easily digestible as well as informative.

Promote it prominently on your website, including alongside your recap blog, and push via email and social to capitalize on the power of each channel.

Social Media – It’s All About the Hashtag (#NRF2020)

Speaking of social, your social media platforms are the perfect way to amplify the successes you achieved, promote post-show content and of course to further develop the relationships from NRF. It’s your branding megaphone, take advantage of it post-show!

If you haven’t already, follow all media and analysts you engaged with at the show to keep the conversation going. Share their NRF recap thoughts and have your leadership engage with their content, especially if you earn coverage with them.

Social Engagement Is a Full-Time Job

Note: beyond any NRF coverage, as part of your relationship building, we always recommend commenting on published articles throughout the year, even if they do not include your company. This goes a long way, especially with journalists.

And remember, the hashtag doesn’t end when the show does. Make sure to use any key hashtags, especially #NRF2020, to share any follow-up content you post.

Website – Your Branding Homebase for All Things NRF

Your website is your North Star, so make sure it has everything prospects and industry playmakers might need to get any information about your company after the BIG show.

We always recommend taking down your NRF 2020 promo branding as soon as the show ends. However, you may want to consider leaving a spot on the homepage for the “Missed Us At NRF?” crowd. Bring them to the recap blog and highlight the demos/calls to action.

As you prepare for 2020, get ready for the next show early! Wherever you’ll have a presence, promote it prominently on the site. NRF might be the biggest retail technology show, but there’s a ton of value in other shows like EuroCIS and Shoptalk coming right up. It’s never too early to get ready.

Lastly, make sure your details for 2020 are on your website. It’s best to have an events page that lists all of the events you attend in a given year.

NRF – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

We know that you put in a ton of time preparing for NRF and working overtime during the show to execute on that planning. Just don’t forget that the show isn’t over once the booth is broken down. The people you meet and relationships you build continue on for years.

Need PR and Marketing Support?

If you are looking for a retail partner for 2020, we’d love to speak with you. Drop us a line at [email protected]!