jerry sheldon ihl group

From Electric Cars to Customer Journeys: Talking Retail with IHL’s Jerry Sheldon

One of the things I love about working in retail technology PR is the chance to develop friendships with so many of the clients, editors and analysts we work with at Ketner Group.

That’s certainly the case with our friends at IHL Group, who helped me learn my way around the retail tech world 20+ years ago.

I recently had the chance to interview IHL analyst Jerry Sheldon about the current state of retail, what’s ahead for the rest of 2022 and why he thinks electric cars could be a disruptive force in retail.

Following are some excerpts from our conversation. Enjoy!

Inflation and recession are the top concerns for the U.S. economy. How is this impacting retail, and what are some of the other headwinds facing retailers in the second half of 2022?

The impact of inflation on consumers is a tale of two cities. If you’re above the median income, your stock portfolio has been hit, but inflation isn’t impacting your day-to-day quality of life.

However, if you’re below the median income, the rising price of gas, food, and other essentials has a significant impact.

In addition to inflation and fears of recession, there are the uncertainties of supply chain challenges, the war in Ukraine, chip shortages and the lockdown in Shanghai due to COVID. As a result, retailers will face a number of headwinds in the coming months.

You’ve expressed concerns about how the lockdowns in China could affect retailers and retail sales for the remainder of the year. Can you elaborate?

As Shanghai reopens, it’s going to take time for manufacturing to get back to normal.

There is a huge backlog of container ships queued up at the port waiting to be loaded, along with pent-up demand to get product to the U.S. In an effort to catch up, shipping levels will be much higher than usual, which will create a logjam at ports of entry.

What happens when all those container ships arrive at in Long Beach? We have rising gas prices, a shortage of long- and short-haul truckers, and limited capacity to unload these container ships.

I’m concerned about the impact of all this on Back-to-School shopping. Schools have re-opened, so there will be a lot more kids returning to the classroom and demand could easily exceed supply.

Inflation will likely continue to be a problem. The food sector has been hit hard with inflation, there’s a massive shortage of cars, and now inflation could spread to the apparel sector.

I hope all this can be rectified before the Holiday shopping season.

IHL has always been a big proponent of unified commerce. Why is it so important for retailers in the post-COVID era?

We published research on unified commerce and optimized customer journeys in January 2020, and then bam! Here came COVID. It’s ironic to see how our findings played out.

During COVID, big box stores had a huge uptick in revenue, and we saw some amazing comps. But if you look at gross margins, they only slightly improved.

The reason is, you had a big shift in how customers were shopping, and retailers had to support a number of fulfillment models that weren’t profitable. (Note: see chart below). There were significant erosion in profit margins, which creates a big opportunity for technology vendors.

Order management, for example, became very important because retailers had to quickly determine the most profitable way to fulfill an order. Do you fulfill it from your store? Do you fulfill it from your warehouse? How do you ship it?

The importance of mobile devices in retail continues to grow. Can you briefly describe the shift you’re seeing in mobile usage?

Mobile is an interesting example of how retailers are adopting technology. Mobile 1.0 and 2.0 were embraced in particular by smaller retailers that adopted mobile devices as their transaction platforms.

Then with COVID the customer journeys changed, with more curbside, ship from store, etc., and mobility helped support this.

So while we saw a significant shift to mobile POS for SMBs, the really big adoption happened in the enterprise space, helping Tier 1 retailers support the new customer journeys. That’s why we’re calling it Mobile 3.0, which we reference in our report on enterprise mobility.

The past few years have seen significant increases in retail IT spending. As retailers implement new technologies, what are some of the pitfalls to be avoid?

Retailers need to be careful to not overlook security. Every internet or network connected device is a potential entry point for bad actors.

All the IoT devices in stores today are potential entry points into the network, and if they’re not secured properly, it can be problematic. There are potential pitfalls in something as simple as electronic shelf labels.

In our research, we have found that there were a lot of security holes that were opened up as a by-product of bringing devices onto the network in a pretty rapid fashion during COVID.

Looking ahead, what are some of the retail trends you’re thinking about long-term? What’s going to be different 5 years from now?

Electric cars will have a profound impact on retail. Supercharging an electric car takes 30 minutes. How does that affect road trips and where you might stop because of supercharging? How does that affect customer visits and dwell time at gas stations, shopping malls and grocery stores?

How retailers accommodate electric cars could be a big differentiator; this could also give consumers a reason to return to shopping malls. Whereas a gas station can accommodate only a handful of cars, malls could have hundreds of charging stations. Why should consumers queue up at a gas station with limited charging stations when they can go to an air-conditioned mall with numerous restaurants and retailers?

Shopping malls could potentially disintermediate gas stations and provide shoppers with the kind of customer experience that creates long-term loyalty. Electric cars have the potential to impact nearly every retail vertical.

Ketner Group Domain ATX

Deep in the Heart of Retail: Ketner Group’s New Home

Moving into a new home is a lot of work—boxes to pack, movers to coordinate, juggling a seemingly endless array of details. However, it’s also a cause for celebration, full of excitement and new possibilities.

That’s certainly the case at Ketner Group these days. We moved to a new office in Austin last month, and it already feels like home. Our Austin team feels we’re right where we belong, in the middle of one of the best retail developments in the country.

Ketner Group’s Austin office is located in the Domain, the landmark mixed-use retail development that has helped make Austin one of the most desirable retail markets in the country.

With Ketner Group’s focus on retail technology PR for 20+ years, it’s the ideal location. Our clients have been on the forefront of retail tech trends for over two decades, and many of the most innovative brands in the business are right outside our door.

Austin’s Domain is retail at its best

Remember how the so-called retail apocalypse was supposed to put an end to physical retail? The Domain is a prime example of why that prediction never came true. Experiential or destination retail has been all the rage in the industry the past few years, and the Domain is a case study of experiential retail at its best. People actually love to work shop, dine and live here.

Here’s a quick rundown of the numbers:

  • 38,000 residents, making the Domain its own mini-city.
  • Well over 2 million square feet of office space, with major employers such as Meta, Amazon, Indeed,  Vrbo and hundreds of smaller companies.
  • Over 50 restaurants and nearly 200 luxury and exclusive retail stores and brands, with more on the way.

Austin is on every list of the fastest growing metro areas in the country, and retailers are paying attention. Last month Gucci opened a store at the Domain, joining other top retail brands including Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom, a flagship Restoration Hardware, and many more­—running the gamut from A (Apple) to Z (Zara).

As a local real estate analyst said, “if you’re a retailer I don’t know of a place you’d rather be than in Austin.”

An ever-changing retail innovation lab

For Ketner Group’s Austin team, the Domain is a retail innovation lab that showcases the best in  modern retail, and it’s right outside our door. As an agency that lives and breathes retail technology PR, it’s the ideal location.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon I visited the Herman Miller store at the Domain and was immediately greeted by an employee who was busily sketching store layouts and designs. She’s a staff architect at Herman Miller and is using as the store as inspiration to study and imagine new store concepts.

Herman Miller calls its Domain Store an “experiential retail concept,” one of only a handful of company branded stores. The staff was friendly, accommodating and excited to work at the Domain. One associate I talked to has lived at the Domain for several years and is glad to be able to walk to work.

With thousands of high-tech office workers within walking distance, it’s a smart location for the iconic office furnishings designer and retailer.

Herman Miller Domain ATX

Directly across the street is the first Texas location of The RealReal, the popular online marketplace for authenticated, resale luxury goods.

The RealReal exemplifies one of the retail trends that are most prominent at the Domain—online brands that have opened physical stores. It’s a colorful, well merchandised boutique that invites shoppers to stick around and browse.

Harmonized retail with an Austin vibe

The best retailers today are moving beyond omnichannel to what our friend Steve Dennis calls “harmonized retail,” putting the customer at the center of the experience regardless of where and how they shop.

The Domain is a successful case study in harmonized retail—a totally immersive experience where you can work, live, shop and dine.

No wonder it’s on the radar screen for the best retailers in the business. Even as it’s grown, though, the Domain has managed to retain an “Austin vibe,” even offering its own version of Austin’s famed Sixth Street entertainment district.

Our team loves the opportunity to explore great restaurants and retailers that are just a short walk from our office. Like many PR agencies and professional services firms, we’ve adopted a hybrid office model that gives everyone an opportunity to work from home, a coffee shop, the office—whatever works best for them.

However, there’s an extra incentive to show up at the office now. Ketner Group’s Austin team is thrilled to be in our new home at the Domain. Reach out to schedule a time to come see us and we’ll show you around!

retail tech company nrf 2022

NRF Wasn’t the Same This Year, But the Show Goes On for Retail Tech Companies

Our CEO and founder Jeff Ketner started going to NRF about twenty years ago. It’s always been the event for building relationships in the retail tech industry. But this year, like last year, was different. His latest video discusses the shift in the landscape and how tech companies can respond. Prefer to read than watch a video? We’ve included a transcript of his discussion below.


The show goes on for retail tech companies

Hi, I’m Jeff Ketner, founder and CEO of Ketner Group. NRF may have gone haywire, but every marketer knows that the show must go on. And that’s what we’re talking about today.

As a retail technology PR agency, we’ve attended more than 20 NRF Big Shows. Before COVID, there was always a buzz of excitement. Our clients were there, we managed countless press and analyst briefings, and it was an annual celebration of all things retail.

This year was different. With Omicron raging, NRF attendance was off by as much as 2/3. Most of our clients stayed home. We did, too. It felt strange. On the other hand,  retail is back. It’s healthy, and that’s good news.

Retail sales in November and December grew more than 14% compared to 2020–far exceeding the most optimistic expectations. Retailers overcame huge challenges last year dealing with inflation, supply chain disruptions and the continuing impact of COVID.

Much of the success retailers have found can be attributed to their technology investments. Which begs the question, without NRF, how can retailers find their next big tech initiatives?

For technology vendors, strategic marketing and communications is more important than ever. One important way to get the word out is through media and analyst relations.

Give media and analysts news they can use

In the past, retail tech companies looked to NRF as a opportunity to make an impact through media relations. Ketner Group has managed hundreds of 1:1 meetings over the years.

Those in-person press meetings at NRF didn’t happen. However, the media still needs to hear about your new products, customer wins and trends you’re seeing in the industry. And there’s no better time than now. Retailers are finalizing their IT priorities for the year, and they’re looking to retail and business media as key resources to help guide decisions.

retail-awareness

A retail technology-focused PR agency like Ketner Group can help you break through the noise and get your story out to the media that matter most. With a great story and the right agency support, the resulting media coverage can help get the attention of prospective customers.

It’s the same with industry analysts. They rely on PR firms to help them stay current on the changing technology landscape. Analysts are key influencers with retailers; time and effort here can make a difference in bringing tech vendors to the attention of analysts.

If you write it, the leads will come

What about all the sales leads you didn’t get this year?

For many retail tech companies, NRF has always been the #1 source of leads for the year. That’s something that’s hard to replace, so now is the time to double down on new, creative content initiatives to develop and nurture leads.

retail-content-development

Thought-provoking content is important. You own it, and you control the message. It gives you the opportunity to engage readers with your viewpoint on some of the biggest issues they’re facing. Your content can include press releases, bylined articles, case studies, blogs and LinkedIn articles, as well as long-form content such as bylines and white papers.

Content marketing is essential for engaging retailers as they research technology vendors. It can help replace some of the leads you would have received at industry events, and it’s a critical part of your marketing strategy.

The great technology reset

With or without NRF, marketers have lots of opportunities to help their companies make an impact in 2022. According to our friend Greg Buzek of IHL Group, retail is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation technology reset; you can’t afford to miss out.

increase-retail-tech-leads

This represents a huge opportunity for technology vendors—and a specialized retail technology PR firm like Ketner Group can make a difference. We’ve focused on retail technology PR for over 20 years. Our understanding of the industry makes us experts in retail tech marketing, and we’ve developed invaluable relationships with key retail tech influencers – both media and analysts.

2022 will be an exciting year in retail and technology. And with proactive PR and creative content in your marketing playbook, your company can play a big part in it.

Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to connect with us.

retail associate experience

Why Retailers Must Create a Great Associate Experience—and How We Can All Help

As I write this, the retail industry is in the home stretch of the holiday shopping season, and the news is enough to make even the Grinch smile.

Retail sales are on track to rise between 8.5 and 10.5 percent this holiday—the largest growth rate on record. Shoppers returned to stores in droves this season, with foot traffic up 48 percent from last year (although still below pre-pandemic levels).

The retail industry has proven its resilience despite persistent supply chain challenges; leading retailers have become “logistical ninjas” in order to meet consumer demand, according to the president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

By almost every measure, Holiday 2021 is looking very merry indeed—unless you’re a store associate.

The retail associate paradox

For many in-store workers, the record-breaking shopping season means extra headaches dealing with unreasonable customers, the stress of working harder, longer hours and only a brief respite before the onslaught of holiday returns and after-Christmas sales.

retail workers quitting

There’s a paradox at work here. Retail sales are soaring to record numbers, yet retail associates are leaving their jobs at an unprecedented rate.

According to U.S. Labor Department data, a staggering 721,000 retail workers quit in August, making up a large proportion of employees in the Great Resignation of 2021. And who can blame them?

Rude behavior wasn’t always the norm

The title of this recent Business Insider article says it all: “Rude shoppers are fueling America’s crippling labor shortage.” Rude treatment of store associates and restaurant workers is nothing new, but it’s gotten worse during the long pandemic.

As the article points out, while retail associates were hailed as frontline heroes in the early days of COVID-19, they’ve increasingly borne the brunt of shoppers’ frustrations with mask mandates, long checkout lines and product shortages. Grocery workers died from COVID while keeping the doors open to serve customers, and some retail workers have been killed by gunmen while trying to enforce mask mandates.

retail dehumanized

It wasn’t always like this. My mom spent her working years in retail, first in accounting and then in the credit department at Sears (back when it was actually a great retailer). She had stock options, decent pay, benefits and a job she looked forward to every day.

This used to be the norm for retail. But as retailers focused on cost-cutting and low labor costs, employees increasingly became “commoditized and somewhat dehumanized.” And the effects of the seemingly never-ending pandemic have led many retail associates to say “enough.”

Retailers are stepping up in response

To their credit, a number of large retailers have stepped up.

Retail Dive recently reported that retailers such as Walmart, Kohl’s and Amazon “are betting on higher wages, bonuses and even tuition assistance in a bid to woo potential candidates.” Nordstrom is one of many retailers that is offering competitive pay and generous employee discounts of 20%. Target’s new associate mobile app lets them add or swap shifts to better fit their schedules.

As Business Insider points out, ”retail businesses are realizing that they need to address working conditions, wages, and career prospects if they want their jobs to be seen as desirable.”

Some of the best retailers are taking a hard line against rude behavior.

retailers improve associate experience

“Dick’s Sporting Goods has a “zero-tolerance” stance regarding disrespectful behavior toward team members,” according to Fortune. “This includes a hotline number for employees to call if they feel they have not been treated with dignity and respect. Customers who shop in the store also can use the hotline. The stance empowers store managers to escort customers from the premises when efforts to de-escalate conflicts do not succeed.” Dick’s head of inclusion and diversity said that employees have been escorted from the store for using abusive language and some have been asked not to return.

After years of focusing on creating better customer experiences, retailers are finally paying attention to the associate experience. It’s essential, too, if the retail industry is going to carry over some of the momentum of holiday 2021 into the next year.

Shoppers can make a positive impact too

As shoppers, we have a role to play, too.

Every year the head of the school my kids attended told the students she expected only three things of them: “Be kind, be kind, be kind.” The tagline for season two of Ted Lasso is “this year, kindness makes a comeback,” and it can’t come too soon for retail workers.

We may be impatient, frustrated and overwhelmed with the demands of life and the holiday season, but we can’t take it out on the restaurant staff, store associates, delivery people and countless other retail workers we encounter.

Working in retail has never been easy, but it’s especially difficult today. A little empathy on our part can go a long way in helping retail workers feel appreciated.

As a store associate told me this weekend, “It’s been a really busy day. People just need to be patient–and most of them have.” Hopefully that trend will continue, throughout the holidays and into the new year.

Happy holidays from all of us at Ketner Group!


Ketner Group is a PR and communications agency that’s passionate about retail and technology.

We help retail technology companies build brand, drive demand and grow stakeholder value. We’d love to hear from you! Contact us

grocery technology communications strategy

Retail’s Big Opportunity Is Grocery Tech: How Communications Can Support Market Leadership

Grocery continues to be the healthiest, most rapidly changing segment in retail today. Grocery and essential retailing were the bright spots in retail during COVID-19, and that trend is continuing. 

The most dramatic shift, of course, has been the surge in online shopping. Research from our client Mercatus and Incisiv found that online grocery sales will reach $250B by 2025, a 60% increase over pre-pandemic projections. To support this, grocers are investing in e-commerce, fulfillment, omnichannel capabilities and other technologies at an unprecedented rate.

According to Progressive Grocer’s 2020 Annual Report survey, grocery executives view new technology as a key priority, “Tech as a whole is top of mind for most grocers. When survey respondents were asked about the best investment their companies could make to be successful in the next five years, the top response was technology upgrades/new investments.” 

Many of our Ketner Group clients are at the forefront of these changes, with technologies that cover a broad spectrum of grocery retailing: e-commerce, personalized engagement, mobile advertising, shopper data, forecasting and replenishment, omnichannel POS and more.

The rapid changes in grocery represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity for technology companies, and a targeted, high-impact communications program can help them make the most of it. 

Here are just a few communications strategies that are increasing engagement—and leads—for our clients.

Content that engages your prospects

With the disappearance of events and in-person prospect meetings, content became an even higher priority for technology companies, as we talked about in our recent KG Connects webinar, and this trend is continuing. 

From blogs to case studies, thought leadership articles and long-form content, content (or owned media) allows companies to build influence and position themselves as an expert resource for prospects and customers. Companies can utilize content in marketing campaigns, sales outreach and social media, further amplifying its impact.

Content is a key pillar of the communications strategy for our long-time client GK Software. Our team runs GK’s blog program in the U.S., and grocery technology is a recurring theme, as demonstrated by this blog on dynamic pricing in grocery. Bylined articles, such as this recent feature in Chain Store Age, are another excellent way to use content for thought leadership.

Media relations that drives leads

Media relations can be a game-changer for grocery technology companies. And while every company aspires to be featured in The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and the like (and we’ve made that happen for many of our clients), executives also pay attention to the retail and grocery trade media.

As Kirsty Goodlett wrote in her recent blog, a single press release helped generate more than a half dozen leads for our client Birdzi. Retailers are always curious to know what technologies other retailers are adopting, so this press release about Birdzi’s engagement with their customer Coborn’s sparked a lot of interest—and demonstrated powerful ROI.

Press releases are just part of a successful media relations program. Our team monitors industry trends and news to keep their finger on the pulse of what journalists need, and we create the right strategies—proactive pitching, rapid-response commentary, interviews, background briefings and more—to ensure our clients are included in the most important industry stories.

Analyst relations that create influence

Given the dizzying pace of technology changes in grocery and essential retail, industry analysts such as Gartner, Forrester, IDC, IHL Group, RSR Research and others rely on communication firms to help them stay current on the changing technology landscape. 

Adrienne Newcomb’s how-to blog on analyst relations analyzed the importance of a disciplined, proactive analyst relations program. Analysts are key influencers with large retailers in particular, so time and effort here can make a difference in bringing tech vendors to the attention of analysts, and ultimately retailers. 

I encourage you to check out our latest KG Connects webinar on analyst relations for unique insights from both the analyst and vendor perspective.

Grocery technology vendors must seize the opportunity 

These are just three strategies that are creating success for our grocery tech clients. There is much more we could talk about: original research, digital media, sponsorships, virtual and physical events (live events are beginning to return as more and more people receive COVID vaccines), and more. We’d be glad to talk to you about the communications strategies that are working right now.

The point is, be sure to communicate. You may have a great story to tell, but if you don’t tell it effectively and powerfully, no one will hear it. Grocery technology is arguably one of the biggest opportunities in retail right now, and the right communications program will help create success. 

media relations helps your startup startups

Six Ways Media Relations Can Help Your Startup

Ketner Group has worked with dozens of B2B technology startups, and we often see familiar patterns in how they approach PR and media relations.

Startups naturally spend their first few years building their technology and team and ensuring the success of early customers. However, as a company wins significant customers, receives additional funding or begins seeking investment, PR ultimately becomes a priority.

Media relations is often the starting point for creating a larger communications program and engaging with a PR agency.

Why is this element of public relations so important? Here are several reasons why.

Media relations helps companies hone their story

Storytelling is at the heart of media relations. After all, media relations involves telling your company story in order to convince an editor to write about your solutions, which in turn can influence prospective buyers.

Stories must be easily understood, believable and persuasive. That’s why we always recommend that startups evaluate their company messaging and value proposition before engaging in media relations, to ensure they’re accurately communicating their story.

PR agencies like Ketner Group can provide the expertise you need to help you get ready to tell your story to the world.

Media relations demonstrates market acceptance

The very nature of startups is disruption—taking a fresh look at solving business problems with new, innovative technology. But how does the technology work, and what benefits does it really deliver?

media relations validates tech

Media relations is a critical way to validate your technology, as it gives you the chance to tell stories about your vision for the industry, the challenges your solutions address, and how customers are using your products. Because these stories are told by outside media, they gain credibility.

It boosts your market profile

Over time, editors and writers will turn to your company as a resource for articles and reports, creating more opportunities for media coverage and boosting your company’s overall presence. A well-honed media relations program can give you a competitive marketing advantage, too.

A key index of media relations performance is share of voice, which represents a company’s share of earned media coverage in a given month. By “owning the conversation” through a larger share of voice than competitors, companies can increase their marketing presence and punch above their weight class.

We use Cision as our preferred PR platform, and its share of voice reporting provides valuable metrics for measuring the effectiveness of media relations.

It supports fundraising

As startups raise funding, media relations can help attract the interest of investors and provide an important source of validation. Articles and press releases about customers are particularly important, as they provide external proof that goes beyond your investor deck.

It influences lead generation and sales

Clients often ask the question, “will media relations help generate leads?” As my colleague Mariana wrote in a recent blog, the purpose of media relations isn’t lead-generation, but it can help influence lead-gen and sales when considered as part of a well-rounded communications program. We’ve seen plenty of examples of this.

media relations supports sales

When one of our clients announced a major implementation of the company’s solution by a well-known top 10 retailer, the CEO quickly began hearing back from other retailers the company had been courting. In this case, one highly visible customer win opened doors for our client.

Companies want to know what technologies the leaders in their industries are adopting, and it can ultimately help influence their purchase decisions.

Media relations supports your exit strategy

A retail analyst friend used to introduce us to tech startups by telling them if they work with Ketner Group, they’ll get acquired. If only it was that easy!

Over the years many of our startup clients have undergone successful acquisitions, and we’re proud to have played a supporting role. Media coverage and share of voice can help attract the attention of would-be acquirers. When one of our retail software clients was acquired, the press release referenced an industry awards program that boosted our client’s reputation and visibility in the market. That program was one of the key elements of our PR program.

Media relations is a key strategy to supporting your startup overall

Media relations plays a vital role in your PR strategy. However, media relations should never exist in a silo, as it is only one facet of public relations.

As you consider establishing a media relations program, be sure to evaluate all your other communications channels, too—website, social media, content, blogs, paid media—in order to make sure you have a well-rounded program that’s firing on all cylinders.

That way, your startup will get the most out of its investment in media relations and every other communication channel.

Need help with media relations?

We’re experts in media relations, so if you’re ready to kick start a media relations program or just want to make sure you’re on the right track, we can help.

Schedule a free 30-minute consultation to learn what we can do for you.

jeff ketner ketner group 30 year anniversary

30 Years Young: Ketner Group Celebrates Our 30th Anniversary

Ketner Group celebrates an honest-to-goodness milestone this month: our 30th anniversary.

Has it really been that long? As one of my favorite clients said, “how is that possible when Jeff is only 29 years old?” (Hint: if you tell me something like this, you, too, can be one of my favorite clients.)

Weathering it all: from the dot-com bust to the pandemic

Three decades means that we’ve weathered the ups and downs of the dot-com bust, the Great Recession, the Retail Apocalypse and the biggest one of all, the global pandemic. Through our history, we’ve managed to thrive and become a stronger, better agency.

We’ve grown year-over-year for the past five years, opened offices in New York and Nashville, and expanded our client roster to include new verticals and companies in Canada, the UK and Europe.

growing pr agency - ketner group history

We’ve won industry accolades, too, including being named to PR News’ 2020 Top 100 “Agency Elite” list, which recognizes the industry’s most innovative PR and communications firms.

How did we do it? Specialization.

As we celebrate our anniversary, I’ve been asked several times, “how did you do it?” One of the keys to our success is specialization. Ketner Group has never wavered from B2B communications, and in particular we focused on retail technology early on.

We’ve expanded into other business segments, too, but we’ll always maintain a strong practice in retail tech.

Retail is a fast changing, fascinating business, and our team has been fortunate to make lifelong friends among the many clients, editors and analysts we’ve worked with.

But really, how did we do it? A great team.

But I must say, the biggest reason we’re successful is the “group” in Ketner Group. My name may be on the proverbial door, but it’s the team that makes it work, day in and day out.

Teamwork is the key to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s success as the longest-tenured coach in the NBA. And it’s the secret to our longevity and success, too.

From our senior leadership team to our account management staff, they’re whip-smart and a joy to work with.

retail b2b pr agency

If Tim Duncan was the X factor behind the Spurs’ five NBA titles, then Catherine Seeds — our president, my partner and a friend and co-worker for over 18 years — is our Tim Duncan.

Simply put, there would be no 30th anniversary without Catherine. We couldn’t have done it without her. She’s a leader who has earned the respect of our clients, co-workers and many friends throughout the industry. I’m thankful every day for Catherine’s professionalism, integrity and “can-do” spirit as her role at Ketner Group continues to grow.

The unsung hero in all of this, though, is Molly, the love of my life. We celebrated our own big anniversary last year – 40 years – and she’s always been my best adviser, most patient listener and biggest supporter through everything. She’s also put up with me working from home during the pandemic, Zoom calls and all. It’s fun to both be under the same roof during working hours.

The future is bright at 30 years young

It’s only natural to look back to your history as you reflect on a milestone, but it excites me even more to look to the future.

Ketner Group has a lot to be proud of, and the best is still ahead of us. Our team continues to expand our capabilities, work with great clients and build a strong foundation for the future. At 30 years young, we’re just hitting our stride.

In case you’re wondering, I’ll continue to be part of Ketner Group for quite a few more years. As one of my guitar heroes, Mark Knopfler (formerly of Dire Straits) said at a 2019 Austin concert I had the pleasure to attend: “what could be more fun than this?”

Here’s to the next 30 years, with a heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who has helped us get here.

marketing investments 2021

Retail’s Big Show Has Gone Digital: What Should Tech Vendors Do Now?

NRF, the National Retail Federation’s annual expo, has always lived up to its nickname of “Retail’s Big Show.” For the past 20+ years, Ketner Group has braved New York’s frigid January weather to help our clients make the most of retail’s signature event.

That’s ancient history now, of course, for NRF and every other industry event. Almost overnight, virtual events have replaced physical events, and 2021’s January NRF is now a two-week digital event, with a physical expo to follow in June. Since no one knows what to expect from the new format, it’s opened up a huge void in sales and marketing that retail tech vendors are scrambling to fill.

This has also freed up new marketing budget for some companies, since their NRF 2021 budget may go largely unspent for the remainder of the year. We’re actively working with many clients to help refocus their marketing activities in the absence of NRF, and here are four recommendations to consider.

4 marketing investments instead of nrf 2021

1. Double down on PR

As we wrote in a blog post this summer, this is not the time to go dark on PR. Companies have typically viewed NRF as a prime event for new customer and product announcements, and we see no reason why this should change.

After all, retailers will have set their priorities for technology investments, and they’ll want to know more about your solutions, customers, technology direction and understanding of the challenges they face in 2021 (and there will be plenty, coming off retail’s most disruptive year in decades).

So start planning your PR strategy and campaigns now. This includes press releases, thought leadership content, editorial briefings, media relations campaigns and more; if you have a robust pipeline of announcements, get started this fall and keep your foot on the accelerator pedal through January.

2. Step up your analyst relations program

Retailers’ technology priorities have shifted dramatically in the wake of COVID-19, and they will be looking to industry analysts to help them prioritize investments and vendors.

This fall and winter will be critical times to refresh your messaging and conduct analyst update briefings. It’s important to understand key analysts’ viewpoints and to demonstrate how your solutions help retailers meet the challenges of the new, post-COVID world.

If you’re not currently investing in analyst services, this may be the time to redirect some of your NRF budget, to ensure constant access to analyst research, strategic direction, inquiries and feedback.

Research projects can pay big dividends, too, whether it’s with a traditional analyst firm or through a market research group such as Researchscape, who we’ve partnered with on multiple occasions.

3. Remember: content is still king

In the absence of face-to-face meetings at events, content is more important than ever. Conversion rates are six times higher for companies that use content marketing, according to Aberdeen Group, and fresh content will drive greater engagement on your company website and provide fresh material for your lead nurturing and content marketing programs.

Content comes in a wide range of formats, including blog posts, infographics, customer case studies, ebooks, whitepapers and more.

Repurpose your content when it makes sense, in order to get the most out of your content marketing investments. One long-form piece of content can be condensed and reused for blog posts and thought leadership articles for media, for example, and also be used to drive social media engagement.

4. Complete a messaging and website refresh

Many companies have used NRF to launch new marketing messages, and that shouldn’t change. After all, NRF has gone digital; what better time to revamp your digital presence?

With all the changes in retail in 2020, your company’s messaging and website is likely due for an overall, too. Make sure your messaging and your website are current, relevant and speak to the real needs that retailers will face in 2021.

After all, your website is the foundation for all other marketing initiatives. When done properly, PR, analyst relations and content will always drive people back to the website.

Focus on the future

These are some of the key initiatives that companies must focus on in the coming months, and there is much more that can be done.

Companies should also take a close look at NRF 2021’s virtual offering, too; just because an event has gone digital is no reason to not be involved. But given the uncertainties of a new format, it’s important to put even more emphasis on the initiatives we’ve described here. 

If you’re interested in diving into one of these initiatives and would like some help, we offer a free 30-minute consultation. We’d love to talk about how we can power an impactful marketing initiative. Get in touch.

woman at laptop planning PR and marketing

2020 PR Planning, Take Two: What to Do Now

2020 PR planning was derailed for many companies far too early this year. The global pandemic forced companies to scrap carefully laid business and marketing plans and adjust at lightning speed to constantly changing conditions. We’re now at the mid-point of 2020, and the question is: what comes next for marketers?

Despite the ravages of the coronavirus, we’re seeing some signs of optimism among our clients. They are focused on the future and have moved quickly to pivot their products and services to meet the uncertainties of the post-pandemic world. Companies are rethinking business models, looking for new opportunities to help their customers succeed, and aligning their marketing and PR plans accordingly.

So, how can you take your bearings and set a new marketing course for the remainder of the year?

Here are some initiatives that are a must for every company and marketer.

Re-examine your brand proposition.

COVID-19 put a pause on business as usual, but many companies are using this time to re-examine their brand proposition and the value they bring to their customers. Companies are asking if their value proposition in the pre-pandemic world still makes sense as we face the uncertainties of a “new normal” that is still taking shape.

For the B2B technology companies we work with, the challenges their customers face are sharply different now. How can their solutions help companies in a world that’s constantly shifting, and how should their messaging change to reflect that?

Forward-looking companies are taking time to re-examine their 2020 PR planning.

This process includes:

  • Re-evaluating messaging across channels – making sure that their messaging around products and services remains relevant;
  • Conducting research that helps them understand trend changes;
  • Rolling out new messages through PR initiatives, website relaunches, social media and owned content.

Innovate fearlessly.

If there was ever a time to roll out new strategies, this is it.

Some changes will be born out of necessity—the overnight rise of virtual conferences and trade shows, for example. There is also increased emphasis on content marketing, social media and earned media.

We’ve quickly made changes here at Ketner Group, too.

When business-as-usual ground to a halt in March, we launched a new webinar series, “KG Connects”. In doing so, we built a new avenue to help clients, partners and other companies explore fresh marketing ideas. It also helped us reach new audiences and showcase our expertise.

At the same time, we started monthly office hours for clients only. The private setting promotes candid conversation about their unique PR and marketing challenges. We’ve used this time to build closer relationships with our clients, and they’ve reacted positively.

Focus on the fundamentals.

Innovation is critical, but don’t lose sight of the fundamental PR and marketing activities that are important to your brand.

This is not the time to go dark on press announcements and corporate communications. These initiatives are essential for securing the media coverage you need to get the attention of customers, prospects and investors.

Are you announcing a major new product or making another significant company announcement in the second half of 2020? Be sure to check out Adrienne Newcomb’s recent blog on the necessary steps for a great product or business launch.

Reallocate your unspent marketing budget.

Remember all that budget you had earmarked for events later this year? If at all possible, use it—don’t lose it.

The cancellation of SXSW early this year was just the first of a wave of event cancellations in 2020. Many events planned for early 2021 will likely be rescheduled, too. You can reallocate that budget into marketing initiatives that will keep up your visibility. We’re actively working with our clients to help them do that, and we’d be glad to offer our strategic advice.

The key thing to keep in mind for marketing now is simple: don’t stop.

Your customers and prospects are looking to you to provide expert guidance in turbulent times. So, it’s critical to communicate with them through carefully planned and executed campaigns. Take this opportunity to re-examine your brand, innovate with new ideas and keep up your PR presence.

These are the kinds of challenges that can bring out the best in our companies and marketing efforts. With these initiatives, your updated 2020 PR planning will help you showcase that.

coffee shop open for business

Reopening Retail: What We’re Seeing

There’s only one topic that really matters in retail now: when and how to safely reopen retail so consumers can begin to shop and dine. The trick is to strike the right balance.

As retailers and restaurants open up their brick and mortar locations and slowly enter into a new way of doing business, it’s essential that shoppers feel safe and able to practice proper distancing and health practices.

Industry leaders such as Kroger have stepped up with their roadmaps for reopening. For example, Kroger’s “Sharing What We’ve Learned: A Blueprint for Businesses” has generated a lot of well-earned interest for its detailed recommendations.

What the experts are saying

In addition, Ketner Group has been in the middle of lots of discussions with clients, editors and analysts on the best ways to reopen retail. And we’re seeing interesting ideas begin to gain traction.

Ketner Group recently worked with our longtime client NGC Software on developing thought leadership on how to reopen retail in the era of coronavirus. NGC’s concepts are quickly gaining traction with leading brands and retailers, and we’re confident that they can play a role in helping to jumpstart retail.

This article in Sourcing JournalHow to Shorten the Timeline to Get Stores Back in Business – grew from a series of LinkedIn posts that generated 9,000+ views.

Another article in Glossy about how fashion brands plan to slowly reopen stores quotes NGC president Mark Burstein, along with retailers and other industry leaders that are working together to get retail up and running again.

We’re also helping Cathy Hotka and the Store Operations Council promote their recommendations for safely reopening retail. The Store Operations Council consists of leading retailers and industry thought leaders, and we’ll share those guidelines as soon as they’re available. As Cathy says, “We are in the second inning of a 9-inning game…we’re going to be dealing with this for a while.”

The key is for companies to work together, and we’re encouraged to see so many positive initiatives focused on the future of retail.