storytelling tips from Nashville to Austin recording

Watch (Or Read) Now: Storytelling Tips From the Frontlines

Getting women like Brittney Oliver, Catherine Seeds, Kelley Griggs and Nicole Delger in the same room is a rarity. Even more unusual is getting an inside look in a conversation they have around storytelling. That’s why we knew we had to record the panel discussion of our Nashville launch event, “From the Frontlines: Storytelling Tips From Nashville to Austin.”

View the Panel Recording

Talk to Us About Storytelling

Interested in learning more about our thoughts on storytelling? We always love to chat about the topic over a cup of coffee. So don’t be shy, just reach out.

Read the Transcript

Kirsty Goodlett: I want to start with Brittney. I am curious to hear from you. Why is storytelling important?

Brittney Oliver: Storytelling is so important, especially to me because I feel like it gives everyone an opportunity to share their truth, right? We all have our own, all our story that deserves to be shared. And I see the impact impacted needs, especially for under represented communities, right? So if you’re a minority business owner, having your stories old can do understory. For example, I have a colleague whose book came out this week. When she received her book deal her publishing house was kind of nervous because she didn’t have a large social media following. They really want to make sure that she could sell this book and the book, it’s called, The Memo, and it’s about women of color and workplace. It’s a great topic but it’s always hard to pitch opportunities or stories around people of color, right? It really is. So her publisher’s feedback really meant some of these are hurting. So I wrote about her for Fast Company. Once that article went live, her publisher gave her a date for her book to be released. That’s how much a story being published can make an impact to someone’s life.

Kirsty Goodlett: So I want to jump off of that point and pass it over to Nicole. Nicole, I’m curious to hear from you how you see storytelling being important to businesses. Because Brittney’s example is such a great example of like someone who’s clearly making money from writing, but we also have sometimes a harder time telling stories about companies. So why is story telling important for businesses?

Nicole Delger: Storytelling gives people to talk about your company and you know, share pride in the things they find. There are so many different things that we can invest in or bring into our lives and it’s harder to be discerning some times as a consumer. So when I think about storytelling, I always put my consumer hat on. What are the brands that I like, what are the stories that I rally around? How are they interesting? And I think it’s important for companies down on what their story is so that people will talk about them. I love your example, Brittney. I just saw another one in the news yesterday in the Shelbyville Times about Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. Have you seen this one? I thought that was so beautiful and it is inspired by a slave that taught Jack Daniels how to distill whiskey. And they are saying, this is the Godfather ofTennessee whiskey. And I think that is really exciting for people who are entrepreneurial, who are wanting to make something meaningful, wanting to create a brand that’s meaningful to go out and find these stories and be inspired by these stories to create something new. So I think it’s made from an entrepreneurial perspective. And so typing into your own story or the story that you want to tell it from a creative business.

Kirsty Goodlett: So, what do you do then if you don’t have that? So, like how does storytelling money vary then between business to business or business to consumer? And what do you do from a toolkit perspective to think differently about those different types of companies or services?

Nicole Delger: Yeah, I mean not to immediately pitch hiring someone. I think it’s not necessarily about hiring communications. company to tell your story. It’s about having conversations with people and starting to look outside yourself, get outside your business, get perspective on what might be interesting. For a story, you might not recognize these really interesting people. I remember Catherine talking about that person that you work with…

Kirsty Goodlett: Yeah, that’s great. That’s a great leeway. Right. Catherine, can you speak to this example or maybe some others that you’ve seen when it comes to finding ways to tell stories about businesses?

Catherine Seeds: Sure. I think with our clients, we work with B2B technology companies, so we’re always looking into why we’d be interested in stories about the products and the services that our clients are providing. And that’s what their marketing is for, of course, but we want to dig deeper. All of us here are storytellers in some way. So you want to take deeper. And what I love to do, what we love doing for our clients is figuring out what has inspired the executive and founder of the company to start that company. In my experience, a lot of CEOs and founders don’t give themselves enough credit for the inspiration for their own companies. One of our clients, we sat down with the CEO and founder to get the backstory. He is from Germany. He went through his story about how when he was 16, he worked in the salt mines and how he remembered the sweat coming down his face, working in the mines, the salt mines. He remembered how his superiors would check on him to make sure that he was okay. And he remembered that and he carried that with him. When he started his own company he decided he was always going to treat everyone the same, no matter what level and that was because of his background in the salt mines. So we put together a pitch to the media and we’ve got some interest in that, which is great because CEO stories are always interesting to tell. You want to tell those stories about the products and services and how they’re affecting end users but we want to go further, we want to dig deeper into telling more interesting, more human inspired stories for our clients.

Kirsty Goodlett: Yeah. So that leads me to a good question for Kelley. When we were preparing for this panel we were talking about, how do you identify interesting stories? Kelley you had some interesting things to say about that. You remarked that when you consider stories, you say, is this interesting to me? So can you speak to that a little bit?

Kelley Griggs: So that’s sort of the question I would ask. I would ask, hey, we are seeking stories about startups. We happen to be seeking stories about startups in the south. That’s like a pretty specific topic. And one of the reasons why we were doing that was because we were looking for the types of things that other people might relate to, both in business and in life. So, I think that one really, really important part of telling your story is just asking yourself, is this an interesting and would it be interesting to somebody else if they were to read it? And what is really the, the hook of the story? If you think about the hook of your story or you know, the reason why you love it so much and emphasize that hook, I think that others are more likely to grab on to whatever you’re talking about. They have to work on, you have to work on that hook. So that’s really, you know, that’s really subjective. Everybody would think a little bit differently and your story is not for everyone. So, I do think though, as a journalist that something I would always think about if someone was pitching me a story is, you know, is this interesting to my audience? And that went back to my topic about startups in the south.

Kirsty Goodlett: That’s a good point. So as a journalist who chooses which stories to write about, can you speak to tips about someone may pitch you to get written about.

Kelley Griggs: Sure and I think, I think Brittney and I will have different perspectives because when you’re, when you’re pitching to me, I have my topic, I have startups in the south and that’s what I’m really looking for. And those stories are very, very interesting to me because I’m telling you a human story, I’m telling the story that a lot of people around here might relate to. I’m telling a very different story than stories in Silicon Valley. So my stories might have more grittiness to them. They might have more culture in the way that we might understand it in our area of the country. They might not be so much about scale and getting investment from, you know, getting millions and millions of dollars. They’re not going to be the story of Silicon Valley. They’re gonna be the story of what I’m used to. But, but my blog is about a beginner, you know, a founder who’s just started a company, who is in the area of maybe Nashville or Atlanta or Raleigh or global or Memphis. And I might be your first person that you’ve reached out to. I think I’m way more likely to be the first or second or third person you reach out to and say, Hey, I think I’m writing to pitch somebody a story. So, people are out there starting businesses. I’d love to hear from you.

Kirsty Goodlett: And what do they say to you?

Kelley Griggs: They usually say something like, Hey, uh, I just started a company. This is what it’s called. Here’s the website. I think my story’s really interesting. I wouldlove to talk to you about it. And that’s how we start a conversation. You know, there are little things, like details like time and getting our schedules right. Then usually I am willing to speak with most people as long as it’s in my topic area; most people who reach out to me as long as they’re legitimate.

Kirsty Goodlett: Brittney, would you say that that’s true for you? Like what does it take for you to get pitched and to write about it?

Brittney Oliver: So I just want to let you know some of the outlets that I contribute to. So I work where I contribute to the career money, entrepreneurial segments for Fast Company, Essence, Nashville lifestyles, and other one line publications. So I have a national reach, so I’m not limited to a region. But to what you’re speaking, you need to pitch it within someone’s vertical, right? So if your topic is on business or entrepreneurial endeavors or innovation at your company, you want to target that specific staff writer or contributor for that particular vertical in your immunity. You want to target the beauty writer, right? So those are some of the tips that you would need when you’re pitching yourself. Also, people don’t realize that you’re so much more than your bio. You’re so much more than your bio. Really dig deep to different angles to pitch yourself. You’ll never know when your experience, your life experience will intrigue somebody. So for example, if you run a company, a cheese company, right? But you have this really interesting background and how you grew up and somehow it impacted the way you run your business. That’s something that made it yourself. Is your company 50% minority? That’s something that’s interesting because right now DNI topics are important and trending. So also think about trending topics in your industry as well. What’s trending? What is some leading data around your industry that you could leave with when you’re pitching publicists? I mean, when you’re pitching publications, those are things that are interesting. Lead with numbers, the data doesn’t lie. It really backs up your story.

Kirsty Goodlett: Yeah. So that leads to a great comment I think from Catherine. So, Catherine, we have done a number of stories where we use data as a way to pitch B2B, which sometimes has difficulty finding a human element. So as Brittney said, that could be another way in. So I’d love for you to share some more insight about how data can be used to help provide pickup.

Catherine Seeds: Right. The clients that we’re working with, we’re always looking for data, whether that’s data with your own customer base or if you’ve gone out and done some consumer surveys or research studies. You know, folks like Brittney and other trade or business media are gonna be interested in that as well as a good customer story. We have an interesting use case about how we were able to use data very successfully in Kirsty you can keep me honest on this one since you were on the team. We have a company in Austin, they’re an ad tech company. We worked in collaboration with them to put together a consumer study around Amazon Prime Day. We were looking at things like, you know, from a consumer standpoint, you know, what are they shopping for during Amazon Prime Day? Have they shopped before? What are they going to be shopping for this year? So we kind of looked at that. It was focused all on Amazon Prime Day. We got really lucky because we have really great data. We also had really great luck from a timing standpoint because the day that we released our was the day that Amazon had announced the date of their official Prime Day. So we have all this amazing data out there. And what we found in that data was that Amazon Prime Day is like the next big holiday shopping event, like back-to-school or any other sort of micro-holiday. So, we have some really great data, but we also had really great timing and our team had been pitching top tier and trade media, up until that day. So the stars aligned in PR world that doesn’t happen very often. And so we’re really glad that it did and we were able to get some awesome media coverage: Bloomberg, Market Watch, Ad Week, and all the trade and ad tech trades. Am I missing anything, Kirsty?

Kirsty Goodlett: No, that’s good.

Catherine Seeds: Okay good. So from a success standpoint, it was a good day for us at Ketner Group when that happened and the client, obviously was very happy. And I know that the team is still being able to use some of that data moving forward.

Kirsty Goodlett: Yeah. The other thing that I’ll add to that, which is interesting from a story perspective is the one thing that was like the hook for the media was Amazon Prime Day is the new back to school holiday, right? Like that’s an interesting hook. But additionally Adlucent is an ad tech company, so we were able to say, okay, it’s the new holiday and what are you doing about it? Right? Like, are you making sure that your advertising is prepared in order to meet this holiday? So that’s another example of how the data is great for getting and securing that trade or that top tier pickup. But then from a business perspective, you want to consider, okay, the data’s going to get me in and then what do I do once I’m in, right? What’s my story after that? So in terms of that logistics stuff, Nicole, I’m curious to hear from you regarding what things you need to consider about stories that you might not expect. One thing with you in particular, and knowing your background, how do you take a story and integrate a brand identity. How do you take that and translate it into different platforms.

Nicole Delger: Yeah, so I do marketing and communications, but my main client right now is a pencil factory, a hundred year old pencil factory. And I’m now all about pencils. I have a bunch in my bag if you want one from Musgrave Pencil factory there in Shelbyville. So I mentioned that because if you don’t know about the pencil industry, they’re notoriously secretive. So when they came on and wanted to rebrand, they were a hundred year old company and nobody knew anything about them. So it was of like, oh my gosh, I have this like chest of things to just uncover. And I think the thing that’s surprising is they have such a great story. They have so many vintage things. I didn’t have to tell it all at once. It didn’t have to just go out there with this really long piece of coverage. I can find a vintage advertising pencil and take an awesome photo of it and find a business that it was advertising 50 years ago and tag them and tell a little story. So especially if you have a company where you feel like there’s so much to tell and share, it’s okay in your storytelling to tell little nuggets, and little Easter eggs along the way and know that over time you’re building that brand identity, you’re building that larger narrative. It doesn’t all have to happen at once. And starting to know when you’re talking to people, what details you can leave out just as much as what details should you put in for whatever that exchange might be. And so I think you can find one story on Instagram through a visual platform. Or another story if you’re doing the longer piece of media, what you might talk about regarding your CEO, and you don’t have to get into that, all that other stuff. And so really thinking, matching the media, matching the story with it.

Nicole Delger: So something else that we were discussing earlier that was something that came up that we wouldn’t expect so much was that Brittney talked about thinking about SEO and what stories people want to hear. So can you speak to your experience, Brittney, regarding from the publication side. What are publications thinking about that would be surprising to companies?

Brittney Oliver: So everything is about clicks, right? A lot of people blame Buzzfeed for the way the media is, but it’s true. It’s about clicks. Let’s, it’s click-baity, right? How are we going to drive traffic? Everyone wants that traffic. And so when you’re thinking about telling your story, think about things that are trending, right? For example, I feel like this is the month of Serena Williams. And the reason why I say that is, one, it’s tennis month, right? Today’s the US Open. So anything tennis relating related is going to pick up some traffic, right? Then she’s someone who advocates equal pay. And that’s been a big topic this month, women’s equality day is today actually. So she is someone who’s trending, circulating. If you have a story idea in those little pockets you’re going to drive SEO. So tell that story, if it is sports, or you know, Serena Williams related, you can tie her in somehow. Any of those things. Think about those holidays that are coming up, the holidays that you were talking about. Those things attract SEO. So when you’re pitching, really think about that because that’s what media companies are looking for.

Kirsty Goodlett: The other thing that I found surprising when we were meeting earlier was that companies aren’t always ready to tell their stories. So, Nicole and Brittney, you were both talking about what to do as you keep telling stories. Kelly, I’m curious to hear from you, when do you know that you have a story to tell in the first place?

Kelley Griggs: So some of you might be wondering like, Hey, I am just getting started. I don’t have any customers yet or I don’t have, you know, my business is less than a year old or the things that I want to share with the world just happened. And obviously it depends on your personal preferences and circumstances, but, I will say you wouldn’t believe how many pitches I get that are pre-revenue, like barely have a put together a pitch deck, they just want to reach out to me and like get on my radar. I don’t want to give advice because I don’t know if bloggers find that annoying or if they if they like it. I don’t really know. I only know how I feel and I’m just naturally curious and I like stories. So if you were to send me the pitch deck, even if I were to to turn you away. Or even if I said like, hey, this isn’t ready yet or I would really like to see, you know, some other things. Come back to me again. You should still send them to me because odds are I’m interested because I’m interested in startups because I truly like starting businesses and I like talking about it and I thoroughly enjoy that world.

Kirsty Goodlett: What do you put in the pitch deck?

Kelley Griggs: So if you have a deck…something that should be included in the deck is your information, what your business is, where your website is, what it does, you know, the 32nd elevator pitch of who your competitors are. What is your revenue plan, if you haven’t made money yet, ..if you do have customers, I would like to know that you have customers. But remember, you have to be careful with what you share with me because I am a writer and I will want to write about things. So if there’s something that you just don’t want to share, you don’t have to share it even if I ask for it. So just always remember, remember that.

Kirsty Goodlett: Is it a PowerPoint typically or a pdf?

Kelley Griggs: It’s usually a pdf. Sometimes it’s like on a different website, but sometimes it’s just an attached pdf like in keynote or it could be PowerPoint. I get a wide range. Some of them are very well polished, they look like they’ve been in front of investors, others are like done with them in PowerPoint. And I think all this is to say that some of my favorite startup stories in Nashville are people that you may have heard of now like ** for example, like they have raised millions of dollars. Now they’re an instrument that, uh, you can put your phone into and you can play any instrument using their device. Some fans in Nashville have used the ** on stage and they’ve now gotten to the point where they’re probably written in big publications more often than I would write about them. But you know, when they just started out in Nashville, like somebody had to find them. So I wrote about them a long, long, long time ago. Another Nashville startup, there’s one that does lawn care. It’s almost like an Uber for lawn care. Um, they started very young. When they started out, they pitched me with like, I think just like maybe a one sheeter or a pitch deck or something very light. And I had to sort of go out and keep following them and dig for those stories. So I don’t know all this to say that I really like to encourage people to just get started. I’m probably a little bit more approachable. Like I don’t think that other media should or will give you feedback like I do. And I try to keep it non-biased and according to my own rules of my blog. But I will say that I would love to hear your stories in general.

Kirsty Goodlett: So now we’ve heard about about what’s happening now. Catherine, I’m curious about your perspective regarding how storytelling is evolving. Like what do you see in terms of new ways that people are telling stories like podcasts or social media? And also what are you seeing staying the same?

Catherine Seeds: So we are spending a lot more time looking at podcasts. I don’t know if there’s any podcasters in the audience but we are starting to put you guys on our media list because our clients are asking for that. It’s another new interesting medium to, for our clients to tell their stories and also to share on social media platforms inside. So we are really taking a close look at podcasting. They’re more and more popping up every day especially in Austin. There’s, there’s a ton of podcasts, a startup focused podcasts in Austin. Social media: social media has always been there for us, but we’re really, um, trying to build better relationships with the media that we work with on social media. And not in an annoying way, but you know, if they are tweeting about something, you know, or if they wrote an article about something interesting that had nothing to do with any of our clients we might want to say, oh, that’s really interesting or share that. It always goes back to developing really great relationships with the media that you’re working with. Social media is a really great, great way of doing that. And so we’ve been able to really kind of deepen our relationships with the key media and also we get, you know, first insights into people that are moving around. So someone that may be at Fast Company and has moved on to Bloomberg and this and that, so we’re able to keep tabs of what’s going on in there to help us tell better stories and tell the stories of the right people.

Brittney Oliver: I just want to say that’s, that’s the most organic way to build a relationship with someone who is a journalist, what you’re doing. And for me personally, I don’t like pitch decks or pdf. If you can’t send like a quick one paragraph blurb, then it’s probably a no go for me. But the most organic relationships that I’ve built are the people who usually get features from me. Like if you come to support me at an event and you need to spend a moment of time with me afterward. And you tell me something interesting. I keep that in mind. I’m also always listening to podcasts. If I hear someone on there and I think, oh, that was really unique. I’m going to reach out to them for an opportunity. So journalists are looking everywhere for the next story. So if you don’t have, you know, an Essence or a Fast Company, that is fine. That blog, that news letter, that podcast is another way that someone can be seen.

Catherine Seeds: I was just going to say one more thing. As far as things staying the same and we kind of touched on it a little bit, but building the relationships with the media is so important, no matter how you’re communicating. You know, with you guys building those relationships and not, you know, just coming to them when, when you need something. We found that we have better luck and I’m sure you guys, you all are communicators, you find better luck in getting things that you would want for your client or for yourself if you have that relationship. It’s a two way street. So I really encourage you all to do what you can to develop those relationships, whether it’s again, you know, talking with them on social media, going to the events that they’re going to. We go to a lot of trade shows for our clients and it’s a really great way to get face to face. But again, all of this ties back to like, how can I help our clients or my company tell a better story? And it really is ties back to developing really good relationships.

Kirsty Goodlett: Awesome. Thank you. I’m going to switch gears here. and pick up on the Austin Nashville theme for the event. So, Kelly, I’m curious to hear from you how you see storytelling supporting the growth of Nashville.

Kelley Griggs: That’s a great question. Look, we’ve been growing as a city far before I came to Nashville. So I feel as a writer, like I am an observer and I’m only telling the part of the story that I know how to tell. The part that I see in the world. Back when I moved to Nashville in 2012, that happened to coincide with the tech scene starting to grow really rapidly. Some of that was due to local and regional investments. Some of that was due to accelerators starting up. So that was due to coming off the flood and the last recession. People were getting really comfortable and some of it was due to the success and the stories that people heard from other places in the U.S. So, you know, when I think about growth and where, where we go from here, I think there’s so much opportunity. Part of the thing I get excited about when I’m telling a story is that we are all part of it. If you’re here in Nashville right now. And I will add that location really shouldn’t matter if you’re on the Internet, that you’re in the conversation, so that kind of goes against like my, my regional focus. But, in reality, you know, we all exist no matter where we are. And since, you know, people are more interested in things like remote work and longer maternity and paternity leaves and different people are interested in different benefits that might apply. And that is really exciting for people who live in places like Nashville. I think that is a very important emerging story. So for us here, you know, starting a business, I don’t know, to me it’s never been more exciting. But I would say that every year, since I’ve lived here, you know, since I moved here in 2012. And I think the most important thing that I see is that we are in charge of our own story. And that doesn’t have to be the same as other places. It can be really our own brand and it can come from our own place and it can come from our own history and our own experiences. And it should be that way because we have our own identity.

Kirsty Goodlett: Yeah. So that leads to a nice pass off to Catherine from Austin. So, Catherine, I’m curious to hear from you how you’ve seen storytelling support the growth of Austin.

Catherine Seeds: Well, I mean, I’m sure you all know it’s a huge tech hub, much like Nashville is and is becoming. And it’s been that way since the 80s. I mean, um, Dell computers started there, Twitter, got its start at South by Southwest. I mean there’s a ton of really cool startup stories in Austin. And I think from a storytelling standpoint, if like when we’re talking to companies and pitching our clients, especially those that are based in Austin, that comes with a certain cache. Oh, I’m from Austin! Or that comes from Austin! Oh, that’s cool. Oh, I love Austin. Yeah, it’s the same thing with Nashville and we’re so glad to be here because I feel like there is a lot of similarities between the two cities. Because, again, you say, Oh, I’m from Nashville, I’m starting a company in Nashville.. Oh, that’s cool. I’ve heard great things about Nashville. You know, it doesn’t really change so much of like how we tell the story, but I feel like it does kind of give us a differentiation when we’re pitching for business because a lot of our clients that we’re working with are either global or across the U.S. and so for them having someone in a tech hub like Austin or Nashville is important to them.

Kirsty Goodlett: Great. So the other thing that is true about this panel is that we’re all women. So, Nicole, I would love to hear from you regarding why it’s important for us to discuss diversity and inclusion as it pertains to the future of storytelling.

Nicole Delger: Absolutely. You know, stories are how we make sense of the world. It’s how we cooperate. It’s how we work together. I don’t know if has anybody read the book Sapiens, it is a fantastic book. And you know, his whole thesis is essentially, you know, we’re an animal and the reason that we were able to be the dominant animal is our ability to work together, to cooperate and to tell stories. So when we talk about the importance of inclusivity and whether it’s women or people of color or people who have been disenfranchised, when they don’t have the ability to tell the story and to shape the narrative then they don’t have the opportunity to create the world that we all want to live in that is different than the narrative that we’ve been told for hundreds of years, thousands of years, by whoever was in charge at that given time. I think that’s really interesting. We have to make sure that a lot of voices get to shape and get to tell their stories so that we can create a better world for everybody.

Kirsty Goodlett: So then Brittney, I’m curious to hear your response to that same question. Where do you see diversity inclusion being important to the future of storytelling?

Brittney Oliver: It’s important because it’s impactful. Like I said earlier, it really makes a difference for a minority owned businesses when your story is told. And so I want to give a, a quick story about just my experience moving back to Nashville. So I lived in New York for seven years and diversity and inclusion is such a big topic in New York. It’s something that everyone’s talking about. All the companies are really trying to make changes. But when I came back home a year ago, I noticed that conversation wasn’t happening here. It wasn’t loud, people weren’t really making noise. And when I looked at the publications here, I didn’t see a lot of black owned businesses featured in the publications. I kind of made it a priority to be that vessel for those black owned businesses and for minority businesses. So for example, Ashley is here today,. She has a website called Urbanite and she really highlights a lot of the businesses that are left out in those major publications here in Nashville. And because I’m a subscriber to her newsletter, I came across Nicole, who is the owner of Clarity, which is a candle shop. And I loved her story. I pitched her to Nashville Lifestyles and she’s in the current business, women in business issue. That’s something that was important to me to see more diversity in that magazine and to see more diversity just throughout Nashville, but it’s so it will change her business being featured in that and it will change other people’s businesses. And so diversity inclusion, really being able to tell those stories is impactful. There’s a Nashville mother and daughter team, Mixtroz, well, they just moved but I featured them in Essence. I featured them in Dssence and they were really close to hitting the million dollar mark raising money. After essence, they hit that mark the next week. You know, so you can leverage those things. That’s how much your story being featured being featured in major publications as a minority can help. And so when people say no, it doesn’t matter if you have press or not, it does. It really makes an impact.

Nicole Delger: I love what you’re doing. The voice you’re bringing because we talk about how Nashville is booming and we want to make sure that it’s booming for everybody, that everybody is, you know, because there’s so much industry coming in here, like tech, and I love that you’re telling those stories and you have that forum because it’s so critical at this key time for Nashville, for everybody to get that lift.

Brittney Oliver: Yeah. Nationwide, nationwide, the numbers don’t lie. You know, we’re an all women panel, but in business and major companies, you don’t see women on the C-suite like that, right? So telling those stories are important. It really can change the game. It starts to challenge what’s happening in corporate America, right? And it starts to make people see different things about what they’re doing. And so the numbers don’t lie. You want to be impactful. We want to make change in our culture, in our communities. So definitely diversity and inclusion is a big deal.

Colorful school supplies for back-to-school

Going Back to School In Style

Kids are starting to swap swimming goggles for backpacks and flip-flops for sneakers, which can only mean one thing – it’s the end of the summer and it’s time to go back to school.

There’s always a buzz of excitement among students, parents and teachers alike as shoppers flock the stores looking for the most colorful pencil cases and the coolest fall wardrobe. To cater to these preferences, we see retailers doing new and innovative things for the back-to-school season. Take a look at these consumer and retailer trends to discover what’s cool for school in 2019.

Trend #1: The Bell is Ringing for Record Back-to-School Spending

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the average spending per household for back-to-school shoppers is $696.70 – the highest ever recorded. And that’s not all – the average spending per household for back-to-school college shoppers is $976.78. In total, that’s a projected $80.7B combined spending for clothing, supplies, laptops and other items for the next school year.

NRF also predicts that clothing and accessories will top K-12 families’ expenses at an average of $239.82, followed by electronics, shoes and school supplies. College shoppers plan to spend the most on electronics, followed by clothing, dorm and apartment furnishings and food items.

With a strong economy and high spending all around, retailers are prepping for an increase in sales this year, but only if they continue to innovate and keep ahead of the competition.

Trend #2: In-Store Shopping Gets an A+

Despite the growth in online shopping overall, Deloitte found that most back-to-school spending will continue to occur in-store, especially for school supplies and clothing. In fact, households plan to spend 56% of their budget in stores and 29% online, with the remaining 15% up for grabs with undecided shoppers.

With kids constantly growing and having their fair share of opinions on which notebook is their favorite, it’s no wonder that in-store shopping is still the channel of choice. Students want to be able to touch, feel and see all the options in-person. Still, Coresight Research estimates that approximately 28.3% of total US back-to-school spend will be online this year, up from 26.1% in 2018. This number will likely continue to grow as online becomes a popular channel for families looking for ways to save time and beat the back-to-school rush in an increasingly popular category.

Trend #3: Retailers Help Shoppers Beat the Back-to-School Blues

It’s always fun to see retailers come up with creative ways to make back-to-school a lot more exciting, whether through fun festivities or memorable shopping events.   

For example, Walmart is hosting events such as STEM Day of Play, with DIY fun for kids. Meijer is treating incoming college freshmen to a party that includes a DJ, photo booth and interactive contests.

Retailers are also doing what they can to give back and get the community involved. Amazon is giving customers an easy way to donate a backpack full of school supplies to a student in need with Alexa. Food City hosted a back-to-school fair which gives away backpacks and school supplies to children in need.

Going the extra mile to create these experiences and campaigns will build a positive brand association in the minds of the consumers and keep them coming back beyond the back-to-school season.

Trend #4: Focus on Social Media

Of course, we can’t forget the power of social media. Students are invested in their social platforms, and it’s a great place for retailers to build up brand recognition and keep them top-of-mind.

Let’s take a look at Macy’s, who launched a back-to-school promotion that includes shoppable commercials on Snapchat and a video-sharing challenge on TikTok. By catering to U.S. teens, Macy’s is urging mobile users to record videos and inspire others to share their style. With mobile usage set to grow to 60% of back-to-school shoppers this year, it’s a great way for the brand to interact with their audience and find creative ways to meet customers where they’re at.

These four trends highlight the evolving changes that are happening around one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year. Retailers are gearing up for back-to-school sales by meeting consumers’ changing demands and getting ahead of the competition. With dedicated studying and strong execution, innovative retailers will surely ace the test!

NYC retail scene

NYC Retail Hits and Misses: Edition 1, Volume 2

A better title for this edition of “NYC Retail Hits and Misses” is “NYC Retail Hits and a Fix.” Or, a la “Friends,” in honor of its 25th Anniversary, “The One Where Whole Foods and Amazon Prime Now Redeem Themselves.” But this did not come without one last blunder.

Before we dive into my ongoing NYC grocery saga, let’s talk about some happier retail happenings.

Hit: The Lead

No, don’t worry, “The Lead” isn’t a hip new retail store or direct-to-consumer brand that you’ve missed out on. But it might be one of the hottest new retail innovation events.

Launched last year, The Lead “bridges the fashion & retail industry with the global Silicon Valley, empowering the industry’s transition to digital centricity.” With more than 1,300 attendees at this year’s Innovation Summit, The Lead is quickly capturing the attention of retailers, brands, solution providers and influencers, alike.

Last month, Catherine made the trip to NYC and joined me in Brooklyn for the summit. Over two days, we heard from innovative solution providers like NewStore, Yotpo and Afterpay. Speakers also included executives from some of the hottest young brands and retailers in the industry, including Bombas, Shinola and AYR. We heard how Bombas is creating a culture for today’s workforce, how Shinola is reinvigorating Detroit, and how AYR is reaching millennials and Gen Z.

After two days of great speakers and conversations, I’m excited to see where next year leads (pun intended) the event.

Miss Fix: Whole Foods and Amazon Prime Now

Okay, now back to the grocery drama.

As you might recall, after my last experience with Amazon Prime Now and Whole Foods, I was left without groceries. Soon after I wrote that blog, I learned the Whole Foods on the Upper West Side allows customers to shop in the store and pay for delivery anywhere in Manhattan. For a small fee of $4, my LaCroix, watermelon and other heavy items were delivered to my doorstep. Problem solved.

But not for long. On June 6, Amazon and Whole Foods ended their relationship with Instacart and moved all of their delivery in house. Long story short, when I went grocery shopping on June 11 and asked for delivery, I was out of luck. Whole Foods now only delivers to customers within 10 blocks. My nearest Whole Foods is 20 blocks away.

After a lot of back and forth, I was once again left without groceries. I was told my only option for delivery was to order through Prime Now. <Insert face-palm emoji>

After explaining my ongoing saga to the store managers, I was told to call corporate customer service. I then received a call from regional headquarters and was told to email the details and share the blog I’d previously written. This was the last I heard in mid-June.

Fast forward to early July. I see a courier delivering what appears to be a Whole Foods order from Prime Now in my neighborhood. I gave it another go. It was July 4 weekend and I had time to go to the grocery store if needed. But wah lah! Later that day, I had a fridge full of Waterloo sparkling water!

Two orders later, and the Whole Foods-Prime Now drama appear to be solved.

The NYC Retail Adventures Continue

With a Friends-themed pop up on the way and the opening of ThirdLove’s first brick-and-mortar concept, the adventures continue. If you’re in NYC, let’s grab coffee and discuss all things retail.

Omnichannel Options for Austin Shoppers

Exploring Omnichannel at The Domain

When looking for a new place to live after I graduated college, proximity to work topped my list of requirements. Luckily, I was able to find an apartment that I loved within a seven minute distance from work. My new home also happened to be only seven minutes away from the place I sometimes jokingly refer to as my second home: The Domain, a shopping center featuring some of Austin’s best omnichannel options.

Moving to North Austin has only made that statement even more true. What once was a light-hearted joke, is more of a reality for me now. As a frequent visitor of Austin’s premier retail hub, certain stores have caught my eye. Since I’m constantly reading about omnichannel trends, I thought I’d assess how my favorite stores are implementing these tactics. For a look at how The Domain exemplifies some of the most positive trends in retail’s ongoing renaissance, check out Jeff’s blog from 2018. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve learned about omnichannel options in Austin as a local consumer.

Nordstrom Provides Expanded Order Pickup Options

When it comes to omnichannel options, Nordstrom is no stranger. Nordstrom’s app is an essential tool for digital shoppers who like to browse online before they buy. When searching for items in-app, shoppers can even custom tailor the search bar to reflect their store location of choice. Plus, the app will curate personalized outfits based on your past purchases and search history.

A few months ago, I tested out the “reservations” option, which allows shoppers to reserve up to 10 items online. Through the app, I reserved a pair of shoes. Within a couple of hours, I got a notification that the pair of shoes I picked out were ready for me to try on. Upon my arrival at The Domain, I received a second notification explaining where to go to try on the shoes. After parking, I entered through the doors to the second floor and found the designated kiosk immediately. Subsequently, a sales associate directed me to a reserved dressing room and assisted me when I requested to try on a different size.

I’d call my experience a success. As retailers start to provide more omnichannel options where the digital and physical sides of the store work together, I’m looking forward to quicker and easier shopping trips. In addition to the reservation option, Nordstrom at The Domain also offers buy online, pickup in-store. In a jam-packed parking lot, customers picking up their online orders can park in reserved spaces, speeding up their shopping journey.

Away Creates Seamless Shopping Experiences

Away, a luggage startup and lifestyle brand, caught my attention on Instagram. With its “clicks to bricks” model, the formerly online-only retailer now has seven physical locations. Lucky for us Austinites, The Domain is home to one of Away’s stores. I’m taking off on a plane to Europe this month and realized it was time to upgrade my luggage. Perfect excuse for my first trip to Away!

Before visiting the store, I researched options and decided which pieces of luggage would be best for my traveling needs. Based on Away’s website and social media platforms, I’ll admit my expectations for the store were already high. To my surprise, my experience at the store exceeded my already-high expectations.

Though I had an idea of what I wanted, I had a few questions before making the investment. One of the sales associates was quick to greet me and patient with my questions. She even looked up measurement restrictions for the airlines I am flying to ensure my luggage would make the cut. Her help ultimately led to my decision to purchase a set, including a carry-on suitcase and bag. I left the store feeling refreshed and satisfied with my purchase. What started as browsing on Instagram turned into visiting the store and making a purchase. Yet another example of an omnichannel option in action!

Omnichannel Options Are On the Rise

All in all, omnichannel is putting a spin on traditional shopping and giving consumers something to look forward to. Whether it’s through a personalized app, store navigation tool or expanded pickup options, omnichannel is only growing. I consider myself lucky to live in a city that often gets a “first taste” of omnichannel options that later evolve. The latest and greatest is right in my backyard, so to speak. If my experiences at Nordstrom and Away are any indication, the future is bright for omnichannel retail.

Consider the Cost: Why Free Shipping Is a Shared Expense

Free shipping is basically expected nowadays. When shopping online, you may be caught off guard if you see a shipping charge added at checkout. At that point, you have a couple of options: decide if the product is worth paying $5-10 extra to have shipped; search online at another retailer who does offer free shipping; or, take advantage of in-store pickup if there’s inventory near you.

Free shipping is an incredibly powerful tool to motivate a purchase, but it isn’t really all that ‘free’ – it’s just a matter of who covers the cost. And in a cultural climate more concerned with protecting the environment, retailers and shoppers aren’t the only ones sharing the burden.

The Sliding Scale of Free Shipping

I mentioned the motivating power of free shipping and the role it plays in the buying journey. If I know a retailer offers it, I’m more likely to spend my money there, and that translates to my increasing loyalty. The way I see it, free shipping is a bit of a sliding scale, where the retailer or the shopper covers a smaller or larger portion of shipping expenses, depending on the scenario. The company may eat the cost at one time to win consumer affinity, but through devoted shopping dollars, the consumer helps to lessen the blow.

What immediately comes to mind as an example is my identity as a Target REDcard holder. I don’t have to pay for unlimited, free two-day shipping, as one does with the membership cost for Amazon Prime, but Target sure does get a chunk of my budget each month. Big picture: I see it as a great deal. The retailer is rewarded with my loyalty, and in the end, we’re both pretty pleased.

Because of my work with Ketner Group client OrderDynamics, I watch the industry closely for trends related to order fulfillment and shipping. Our friends at OrderDynamics put out a study this year called Omni-2000, in which they found that 75.7% of retailers with an eCommerce site provide free shipping with a minimum purchase. In cases like this, the retailer foots the bill to deliver your goods. However, the cost to you as a consumer is often spending more than you intended. And because you’re increasing the size of your order, the added sale helps to reduce the hit the retailer will take for covering shipping costs.

It all costs someone something – it’s just a matter of how you look at it.

A Greener Future for Free-Shipping Shopping Habits

Financial costs aside, retail fulfillment has become increasingly complex, and the associated logistics have ramifications for the environment as well. Turning orders around more quickly means more trucks are on the road. In the name of timely and convenient delivery, those trips aren’t optimized to fit the most boxes in one vehicle at a time. Plus, there’s the additional waste associated with cardboard boxes and packing materials.

With Earth Day right around the corner, this is an interesting conversation to have in the industry. I found this short five-minute video extremely insightful, discussing the environmental cost of two-day shipping, if you’re interested!

I believe because of present discussions around global warming and carbon emissions, we’ll start to see retailers become more vocal about their proactivity to reduce their global impact, while still coming through on omnichannel convenience. And if it’s an important issue in the heart of its customers, retailers ought to gain even more loyalty in the process.

I’m also curious to watch for the emergence of other fulfillment channels as retailers work on efficiencies, cost savings and waste reduction efforts. Will there be wider availability of BOPIS, BORIS and ROPIS offerings, perhaps? Incentives besides free shipping to nudge conscious consumers to select a “greener” option? Driverless cars and drones? We’ll have to wait and see.

The Holiday Season Is Upon Us: Top Retail Trends in 2018

As the year comes to an end, retailers have one thing on their minds: maximizing the peak shopping season. Between consumers shopping for Christmas gifts and preparing for holiday festivities, sales spike in November and December. Even more so, NRF expected this year’s retail sales to increase nearly 5% over 2017. In addition to a higher percentage of sales, more competition between retailers also ensues. Vying to stand out, notable retailers and brands have proved their value to consumers with a few innovative trends.

Taking the cake in 2018 are those who understand what their customers want and deliver the highest quality in response.

A Personalized Approach Goes a Long Way

In today’s on-demand economy, traditional deals won’t capture shopper’s attention alone. Instead, customized apps and email promotions help on-the-go consumers know what discounts are available ahead of time.

In my own personal holiday shopping this season, Nordstrom’s app has helped me stay up to date on which products are on sale. Furthermore, the app creates a personalized “looks” page that generates outfits based on a profile I’ve created. As I shop for friends and family and snag last minute outfits, the app has been a lifesaver. Browsing online gives me insight into what items are in stock at the store closest to me. When I’m in a crunch and know what I want, I can easily place an order online. If I’m unsure about a size, I can reserve up to 10 items online and swing by the store to try them on. Needless to say, personalized apps go a long way when the holiday season rolls around.

Apps are taking over, but email marketing isn’t a lost cause either. While clogged inboxes aren’t exactly a shopper’s dream, I’ve enjoyed receiving specialized discount codes from my favorite retailers this month. In many cases, I’ve bought something online or stopped by the store to browse because of the emails I’ve received.

Social Media Drives Results

The cellphone is an integral part of the modern-day shopping experience. Specifically, social media platforms have a dominant hold on users. According to the 2018 Holiday Social Marketing Trends report, 56% of consumers said a brand’s social media presence affected holiday purchase decisions. Additionally, 79% of marketers planned to run a holiday campaign on social this year. Out of those who ran a holiday ad campaign last year, 88% of marketers said it was effective. Hence, the strategy seems to work in most cases.

This year, retailers from various industries are getting in on the action. Companies are using relevant hashtags and Instagram stories to capitalize on increased shopping. Target, for example, features a “Gift Ideas” highlight on Instagram to offer some ideas based on who shoppers are buying for from babies to teachers. Though this is a practical approach to increasing awareness among customers, some brands are going for a more emotional effect.

Air Canada pulls on heartstrings with an ad showing emotional reunions as airline passengers come home for the holidays, associated with the hashtag #FlyTheFlag. The Instagram community took to the video with nearly 5,000 likes.

VR and AR Give Glimpse Into Retail’s Future

A recent addition to the holiday marketing repertoire is enhanced reality. Whether virtual or augmented, the technology is gaining traction among retailers. Most noteworthy, Facebook launched augmented reality camera effects for ad campaigns over the summer. This holiday season, Office Depot is using the technology to offer “Elf Yourself” ads. With this feature, consumers can animate themselves with elf-like effects.

An even more immersive and novel experience is virtual reality. Though more of an enigma, we can expect more VR experiences in retail’s future. Macy’s is an early adopter of the technology, launching “See Your Space IRL”  in time for the holidays. Available in about 70 Macy’s locations, shoppers can use a VR headset to envision a room in their home and experiment with different furniture pieces.

All in all, holiday shopping has come a long way from overnight campout sessions outside of stores to catch the latest deals. With a more digital, customer-centric approach, securing the season’s top purchases is a bit more seamless. Don’t get me wrong, I still think holiday shopping is a stressful time of year, but I’m thankful that so many retailers have stepped it up in hopes of a more fun and less chaotic experience.

Grocery Fulfillment: A Curbside Chat with Greg and Jeff

OK, we’ll admit it — the KG team likes to eat. And we have several very cool clients in grocery technology. So it’s no wonder that we spend a lot of time talking about the fast-changing world of grocery fulfillment. And in this blog, we’re taking a slightly different approach as our own Greg Earl and Jeff Ketner have an online chat about one of our favorite topics.

***

A More Convenient Way to Get Your Groceries

Jeff: It’s the perfect day to chat about grocery fulfillment.  As I write, the KG office is getting its monthly mega-delivery of frozen dinners, snacks, sandwich stuff and everything else it takes to feed our hungry crew, courtesy of HEB home delivery. Our team’s ready to descend on the kitchen like a plague of locusts. And at noon, I’ll swing by HEB to pick up a Curbside order to take home, since our fridge at home is just about empty. Speaking of HEB Curbside, Greg, you’re one of its most outspoken fans — your love of curbside is probably only slightly behind your love of Cabo Bob’s.

Greg: While Cabo Bob’s transcends my love for everything in this world, I love HEB Curbside. As the area around my local HEB keeps developing, the store becomes more of a mad house. Even finding parking isn’t worth it for me. Being able to avoid the chaos, swing by and grab all of my groceries is a godsend. However, I will say that they could do a better job at updating their real-time inventory. Nearly every time I shop, they substitute items. This isn’t a deal breaker but can throw a wrench in my cooking plans every now and then.

I haven’t personally tried HEB delivery yet, but today’s office order went incredibly smoothly. Plus it’s much cheaper than when we used Instacart, right?

Be Careful – Not All Grocery Delivery Services Are Equal

Jeff: Yep, our first HEB Curbside pickup order was WAY less expensive than our Instacart deliveries. So I’m glad to see that Instacart is lowering its prices. Hopefully they can up their level of service, too; I tried Instacart one time with Central Market, my favorite grocery store in Austin, and it can politely be described as a disaster. The delivery was late, the communication from the person picking our order was incomprehensible, and I had a lot of trouble using my $15 off coupon code, which was the only reason we tried Instacart in the first place. A recent delivery experience from Randall’s, a perennial also-ran in terms of Austin market share, was far superior. I’m not sure who they use for fulfillment, but it was a surprisingly good experience.

Speaking of surprises, I find it interesting that our office is split nearly 50-50 among those who use grocery fulfillment and those who don’t. What’s up with our team here?

Believe It or Not, In-Store Shopping Advocates Are Out There

Greg: That’s too bad about your Instacart experience. I guess it’s difficult for them to maintain quality across all of their employees throughout the country. Speaking of quality, I think that’s exactly why some folk around here are torn on letting other people pick their groceries — especially when it comes to produce, which is very fair. I’ve received a few fruits or veggies in the past that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked for myself.  

However, some of the luddites around here just enjoy going to the store for the sake of grocery shopping – ridiculous! I think I can understand where they’re coming from though. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to pick out exactly what you want, roam the aisles and grab something that you didn’t even realize you wanted (a dangerous approach sometimes when your cart ends up well beyond your budget). Plus, a trip to the store is very worth it if there are free samples throughout the aisles.

The team especially enjoys shopping in-store at the more experiential/unique grocers including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco. When you consider the option to drink a beer while shopping at Whole Foods, it does sound much more enjoyable. As for Whole Foods/Amazon delivery, the only experience I’ve had was extremely disappointing. I tried to order some prosecco for the office because Amazon touted a free two-hour delivery promotion. However, this ‘free delivery’ required a minimum that we didn’t need to reach and the ‘two-hour delivery’ meant I could select a two hour window, not that the item would be delivered within two hours of ordering. Going to Twin Liquors down the road saved me a lot of money and time. I’m curious about placing an entire grocery order though.

Jeff: Interesting! You’d expect a better experience from Amazon based on how fast they’ve been rolling out Whole Foods delivery – maybe it’s more worth it for an entire order. There sure are a lot of options out there and I don’t think we can expect the industry to slow down any time soon. There are a lot of factors for grocers to consider — cost, product selection, inventory, customer service, etc. I think we both are looking forward to seeing these services get even stronger and more rewarding, right Greg?

Greg: That’s right, Jeff. Unlike some of the colleagues, I’d honestly love to never have to think about getting my own groceries. Maybe I should move back home…

In the meantime, I can just eat Cabo Bob’s for every meal.

Shop if You Dare: Spooky Halloween Data and a Premonition of the Holiday Season

Today’s the day we’ve all been waiting for, ghouls and goblins alike. Children are trick-or-treating, parents are eating their candy and the country is celebrating peak fall weather and aesthetic. However, Halloween isn’t just the spookiest day of the year, it’s also a significant retail holiday that kicks off the upcoming holiday season.

For most, it’s easy to forget that Black Friday is less than four weeks away but here at Ketner Group Communications, retail’s always on our mind – which is why I’m dressed up as ‘J.C. Pennywise (It)’ to celebrate Halloween and the rapidly approaching holiday retail season.

Halloween Retail Projections

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, total spending for Halloween is expected to reach $9 billion, the second highest in the survey’s 14-year history and similar to last year’s record of $9.1 billion.

Seventy percent of Halloween celebrants plan to hand out candy, 50% will decorate their home or yard, 48% will wear costumes, 32% will throw or attend a party and 30% will take children trick-or-treating. Also, whether or not pets want it, pet costumes continue to gain popularity, with nearly 20% of celebrants planning to dress their pets in costumes this year up from last year’s 16%.

Where are people shopping? According to NRF, 45% of shoppers will visit discount stores and 35% will go to a specialty Halloween store or costume store. Additionally, 25% will visit department stores, 24% will buy online and 24% will scour grocery/supermarket stores.

Possessed Stores

Following the untimely demise of Toys ‘R’ Us this year (RIP), you may have recently seen their storefronts back in business. But don’t be fooled. These abandoned locations have simply been possessed by the likes of Spirit Halloween and Halloween City, pop-up stores that are only open for a few months each year leading up to the holiday. Also called the “hermit crabs” of retail, these Halloween stores quickly move into empty storefronts – making closed Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us locations perfect spaces for the Halloween season. This also points to the ever-growing, opportunistic pop-up trend that utilizes events and relevant audiences to reach customers in unique ways.

What’s Next?

What should we expect once we wake up on November 1st, thankful that we made it through the frights and dangers of All Hallow’s Eve? Almost immediately, we’ll begin hearing about Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, and the holiday shopping season will be in full swing. In fact, Target already announced its strategy for the holidays – it will offer free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase required starting on Nov. 1. Meanwhile, Nordstrom announced that from Dec. 3 through Christmas Eve, they will offer “early bird” pickup before stores open their doors in the morning – and even around the clock at 23 locations. We’ll undoubtedly see more retailers expand fulfillment options during the holidays in order to compete against each other and Amazon Prime’s reliable, simple delivery options.

Meanwhile, with Toys ‘R’ Us gone and Sears a member of the walking dead, the question of who will take over these retailers’ business and customers this holiday season reverberates. We can expect to see retailers clamoring to take advantage by more aggressively promoting deals on toys like we never saw when Toys ‘R’ Us was the dominant industry player, with Target and Walmart matching Amazon step for step.

We hope that you enjoy your Halloween festivities this week and are as excited as us for the holiday season to begin. 2018 retail forecasts for the holidays look very promising, but beware… there are always frights waiting around the corner.

PRSA ICON 2018: It’s All About Relevant and Data-Driven Content

Last week, the Ketner Group team attended the PRSA 2018 International Conference, better known to the public relations community as PRSA ICON, in our own backyard here in Austin, Texas. If you are not familiar with the conference, it’s designed specifically to help the communications community enhance our personal and professional network through career development and connecting with other PR practitioners.

Needless to say, the KG team definitely networked, and we DEFINITELY returned to the office with new ideas and methods for bettering our professional craft. We heard inspiring keynotes from Do Something’s CEO Aria Finger and digital marketing pioneer Ann Handley. The PRSA ICON breakout sessions we attended were all about perfecting your messages in clear yet relevant ways, and also explored new sectors of the communications industry. Here are just a few tidbits of the best practices we learned at PRSA ICON this year:

Lesson One: Communicating should ALWAYS be about your audience

Although as communication professionals we may think we are clearly delivering our messages, that may not always be the case. As we learned at the conference, we currently live in the age where content is king, but that can lead to a vicious cycle of “churning and burning” an immense amount of content, losing sight of one key component: your target audience. For example, think of a scenario where someone is just talking at you, instead of trying to understand what experiences or topics may be relevant to you based on your experiences and former knowledge – chances are, mid-lecture your mind will start drifting away to more relevant thoughts.

Therefore, your audience should always be at the forefront of the message. Key questions like ‘what is my audience’s point of reference?’ and ‘why would this be relevant to them?’ and ‘what does my audience need?’ should always lead your messaging strategy. After all, if you lose your audience, who is going to read your content?

Lesson Two: We are all, or should strive to be, data analysts

We live in a digital age where every search and click is tracked. And while we in the PR world are notorious for disliking math and preferring words over figures, it’s time to join the data revolution. At PRSA ICON, we discussed the need for PR professionals to dive into the world of data to create an even bigger need and sense of interest for each and every story, while continuing to make our pitches and strategies not only timely but also informed and relevant. As IBM’s Brandi Boatner explained during her workshop, while the world of data is intimidating, the key here is to start one step at a time. She recommended starting with Google Trends and then identifying data sets that are relevant to your communications strategy. As Boatner explained, when you dive into the world of data, you should not try to analyze a large amount of data all at once, as both you and your audience will be overwhelmed: “A good storyteller masters things that are unseen and with AI and data analytics, you can create a communications strategy that quickly identifies and gets ahead of trends.”

Lesson Three: Social media influencers are now a staple in public relations

As industry conversations continue to heat up on the effectiveness of social media influencers, the fact is, social influencers are now and will continue to be a staple in the world of communications. (Ketner Group recently profiled one such influencer in a recent blog!) What’s more, social media influencers can help companies effectively grow organic audiences and customers they would not have had before. As we learned at PRSA ICON, leveraging social media influencers for your communication efforts is a matter of conducting diligent research to identify the right influencers that will create a new level of authentic communication between you and your target audience.

As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” And in public relations and communications as a whole, there is something new to learn every day! We look forward to implementing the lessons learned at this year’s conference into our communications craft as we continue to be life-long learners in this industry.

Retail Pop-Ups are Popping Off

Pop-ups are everywhere these days. What once started as an occasional, opportunistic trend has blown up to become an extremely POPular (nice one, Greg) industry worth billions of dollars that seemingly every brand and celebrity wants a piece of.

Just within the past few weeks, some interesting pop-ups have been announced:

  • Abercrombie & Fitchhas partnered with SBE Entertainment Group, a lifestyle hospitality company, for a series of co-branded events and pop-up shops at select SBE properties over the upcoming months.
  • Nordstrom, as part of its [email protected] program, has teamed up with Casper Mattresses to launch its Sleep-In at Nordstrom collection until August 26th at select locations.
  • Sephora will host an interactive beauty “house” in Los Angeles that will bring technology, products, and industry experts together for two days in October.
  • Plenty of brands will be present in the Hamptons for another highly anticipated summer of retail pop-ups.

Who’s Popping Up?

While iterations of pop-up shops have existed throughout history, Target is credited with launching one of the first contemporary pop-up shops in 2002 when it designed a Christmas-themed store on a boat on New York’s East River. Since then, we’ve seen a litany of pop-up shops by high profile players – from general consumer brands like Adidas to luxury brands like Tiffany & Co, to celebrity brands, such as Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics and Gwyneth Paltrow’s pseudo-medicine lifestyle brand, goop, and more.

The music industry has taken a special interest in pop-ups. One of the most effective is Kanye West, who since his Yeezus album, has launched pop-up merchandise shops coinciding with his album releases that have fans lining up for the exclusive products. The most recent were his #ProjectWyoming merch bonfires for his latest album, Ye, where fans gathered around bonfires, listened to the album and purchased merchandise. Other artists have followed suit, ranging from Rihanna to Kendrick Lamar to Justin Timberlake, whose most recent album spurred a “Man of the Woods” shop in New York with Levi’s and other brands.

The Key to Successful Pop-Ups

While pop-ups obviously sell merchandise and products, more importantly, they sell an experience. In an era where long-term retail space can be expensive, e-commerce grows stronger, and customers want to be entertained, pop-ups are the perfect way to offer a completely unique experience, anywhere.

A great way to reach people is to figure out where they congregate and go to them. Nordstrom, for example, launched pop-up pods at SXSW and other music festivals across the country in 2016 to offer their shopping experience to thousands of festival-goers. They undoubtedly did their research to make sure these attendees were their target audience, and reached thousands of relevant music-lovers who were probably in a (possibly alcohol-induced) spending mindset.

Whether it’s at a festival or on a street corner, brands are seeing the benefits in the unique and flexible experiences that pop-up shops offer. As physical retail becomes more digital, pop-up shops will undoubtedly become even more unique and prevalent. With the right approach, they will allow any brand to reach new customers, bring a sense of exclusivity, or just simply engage their core audience in a new and exciting way for years to come.