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.

PRSA Corner: Breaking Through the Noise and Reaching Your Target Audience

ClpsEJ3UYAAqeNFWe recently attended and were the official sponsor of the June PRSA Austin Chapter Luncheon. The luncheon titled, “Media Relations: Insights from the Newsroom,” featured three journalist panelists who discussed how media has evolved over the years, the integration of skills and technology in media relations and how PR professionals can (and should) break through the noise to reach target audiences. Here are some highlights:

Tara Doolittle is the Viewpoints editor for the Austin American-Statesman and is in charge of the editorial pages and online commentary. She began as a rookie reporter in 1997 and has worked with the newspaper’s reporting teams covering education, city hall and lifestyle. As many journalists do, Tara receives over 400 emails a day, which means getting her attention is no easy task. Although she gives first priority to local pitches over others, she tells PR folks to send short pitches, know who you are pitching and focus on the journalist’s interests, and course, always be sensitive to deadlines. Other key take-aways from Tara:

  • For hard news and community engagement pitches, Tara recommends doing research on how other publications (in other areas) report certain trends and how those trends might play out locally. Look for ways to tell the local story. As well, Tara says PR professionals should “think broadly” because the Statesman is not just a print newspaper, but a multimedia content platform.
  • According to Tara, the digital space is the way to go, especially with social media and sharing. She recommends PR professionals think about this when it comes to pitches. Photos and videos are a great way to keep people on the website for longer periods of time – it’s a win-win for everyone!
  • Tara said the biggest struggle she faces as an editor for a daily local newspaper is serving three sets of readers because they all want different things: folks who don’t pay for online content; folks who do pay and read online content; and full subscribers.

Erin Quinn-Kong is the editor-in-chief of Austin Monthly and the editorial director of Austin MonthlyAustin HOME and austinmonthly.com. A Missouri native, she attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism and worked in New York City as an editor at Allure and Us Weekly before moving to Austin in 2008. Compared to the Statesman, Austin Monthly operates with a smaller staff who has to work very hard to keep up with daily and monthly deadlines. It’s a fast-paced environment (with a small staff), which definitely makes it hard for PR professionals to get the attention of the editorial team. Knowing that, Erin says it is critical for PR professionals to know why the story would work in her publication, and know who you’re pitching to and why. Other key take-aways from Erin:

  • Pitches come into play when they make a connection to something that relates to the local area, or that may have appeared “buzz worthy” on social media. That is the sweet spot on pitches!
  • Erin recommends asking them to coffee. As editors, she believes it is part of their job to know the PR people in town. Having the opportunity to be “face to face” with PR professionals is a much better way to connect than an email.
  • Her biggest challenges as the editor of Austin Monthly include creating boundaries between her job and life and the struggle of small budgets and staff combined with high expectations.

 Haley Cihock is Executive Producer for KXAN. With 15 years of experience in broadcast news, she writes, edits and manages a team of producers, anchors, editors and field reporters working on the noon newscasts across two channels. According to Haley, the best stories come from community engagement – listening to the buzz around town, hearing what local citizens are talking about – and then figuring out how to cover the story. She believes that Austin has an engaged audience and people in the city really want to talk. At KXAN, social media is a huge tool for listening for potential stories. Other key take-aways from Haley:

  • Make no mistake, there is limited “on air” time, so Haley recommends that PR professionals pass story ideas and news to the digital side to get more bang for the buck. Using multichannel media is a great way to disperse the message, and it is how stories evolve, especially when it is resonating with people. Haley also says the evolution of media means that things are moving faster and faster, things get lost, so PR folks should try more than one platform to tell their story.
  • As an on-air journalist, Haley has to think of the bigger picture, but often times receives “micro” pitches from PR professionals. Pitches have to be bigger than just one thing. It is important to think beyond your client or your one story – try to make connections that could turn into bigger feature stories.
  • Her biggest challenges as an on-air journalist is always trying to be the first with the story, but to also to get the story right and do it better than anyone else. Erin believes that, for TV journalists, the challenges haven’t changed much, but the ways of approaching them are changing. Her two biggest pieces of advice is to not send video to the newsroom (they have to shoot their own) and to not send gifts to on-air journalists.

Looking back on SXSW Interactive 2015

Originally posted on PRSA Austin Chapter website. 

SXSW Interactive celebrates  its 21st year in Austin, Texas.
SXSW Interactive celebrates its 21st year in Austin, Texas.

Every year, South by Southwest Interactive brings together the most innovative, entrepreneurial and accomplished individuals to showcase their products and ideas in front of eager audiences. 2015 was certainly no different.

A number of PRSA Austin Chapter board members were in attendance and answered a few questions about their experience. Check out their insight below:

What was your favorite session/panel at SXSW Interactive and why?

  • Sara Lasseter: I immensely enjoyed the panel on the Next Generation of Retail Innovation with the CEOs and founders of StitchFix and Rent the Runway. They had wonderfully insightful commentary on the state of retail and ecommerce operations, as well as where they see their innovative companies going in the future. As a woman in the technology industry, it was inspiring to hear the obstacles they faced in a male dominated startup/venture capital world.
  • Madison LaRoche: My favorite panel of SXSWi was on Reinventing the Cooking Show, in which representatives from PBS Food, ingredient sourcing show Original Fare and online cooking site ChefSteps.com discussed their experiences with digital cooking and food content. Regardless of their goals or plans for how their content would be consumed, all agreed that the digital format allowed for flexibility that was nonexistent in the time of Julia Child. Versus broadcast TV, the digital format allows for greater audience participation, allowing for content to create a feedback loop and a channel for dialog not previously available. At the close of the panel, the message was clear: stay true to the story you want to tell and maintain your authenticity in order to build and maintain brand equity. This lesson rings true well beyond the foodie content culture.
  • Erica Schuckies: My favorite session was called Entertainment and the Edge: Post Millennial Culture. Ian Pierpoint and Jack Horner (who both had very sexy English accents, by the way) provided insight into the minds of ‘Generation Edge,’ which consists of individuals born right after the Millennial generation (after 1995). Pierpoint’s research into this group showed that kids today are more socially aware of the pitfalls in our society and feel a responsibility to make positive changes more than any other generation (at least at their age). Horner described this generation as “rebels with a cause,” acting against the norm to make life better for not only themselves, but also their peers and future generations. Generation Edge is also more thoughtful of what they post on the web and social media; as Horner so eloquently put, “posting less shit.” Let’s hope this is true for all our sakes.
  • Alison Kwong: I really enjoyed the Lyft keynote on Monday afternoon. CEO and co-founder Logan Green is such a smart, articulate spokesperson who was very clear about his company’s story, vision and key differentiators from his competitors. It was apparent in the messaging and what he said about the marketing and plans for growth and future expansion. I also enjoyed Charles Barkley’s panel about staying relevant in the digital age. As a well-respected member of the sports media, I thought his perspective on why he doesn’t participate in social media was interesting as most of his peers and athletes do. The main takeaway was that authenticity and honesty go a long way in the media, especially in the sports industry.
  • Catherine Seeds: My favorite session by far was What Fashion Can Teach Women-Led Companies, which included a panel of the CEO and co-founder of Birchbox, the founder and CEO of Reformation Apparel and the founder and chief editor of Snob Essentials (Great blog on hand bags, by the way, if that is your thing!). This was a wonderful session on how these women have differentiated themselves and their companies by the way they communicate and engage with their customer base and by knowing exactly what their customers (mostly women) want and expect from these fashion and beauty brands. The panel discussed the social media effect on their companies, advice to other women on successfully launching their own companies, and some of the challenges they’ve faced as women-owned companies.

What were the trends that stood out to you while attending the Interactive portion?

  • Alison Kwong: Big data and analytics; the Internet of Things and how it drives innovation; the importance of good content.
  • Catherine Seeds: Retail tech was HUGE this year at SXSW.
  • Sara Lasseter: How to harness big data; mobile tech, of course; the customer experience.
  • Erica Schuckies: Customization of EVERYTHING, from wearables to user experiences to marketing & advertising; short-form video and social platforms catering to this concept (Meerkat, Meerkat, Meerkat); mobile-first mentality.

Did you Meerkat at all during SXSW Interactive? If so, what did you Meerkat?

  • Madison LaRoche: I downloaded Meerkat but was too scared/busy/uninterested to experiment with it at the time.
  • Erica Shuckies: Same as Madison – I downloaded the app with all intentions of Meerkatting my life away. To be completely honest, I kind of forgot about it most of the time, especially in moments that would have been perfect for it.

What was the coolest/most unique thing you saw during the Interactive portion?

  • Madison LaRoche: Unfortunately I didn’t see many amazing brand executions at SXSW this year, but to be honest, I wasn’t looking for them as hard as I have in the past. One of the most interesting panels I attended was the last Interactive Keynote of 2015, in which Dr. Astro Teller, captain of moonshots for Google[x], gave a passionate speech on failing with purpose. At his “moonshot factory” – a sci-fi-esque arm of Google devoted to exploring new technology to solve global problems – Teller encourages his colleagues to fail fast and harness those failures as learning opportunities toward success. He gave case study after case study of huge, time-intensive and expensive projects in which failure was part of the process to figure out what doesn’t work to get to what does. Though these examples were fascinating on their own, the best part of the speech was Teller’s extraordinary tenacity for and promotion of this “fail fast, fail often” approach. During the Q&A portion at the end, an obviously inspired but desperate attendee asked via Twitter how a company without the luxury and budget to fail could harness this approach. An exasperated Teller exclaimed that this poor soul missed the whole point of the talk, which was the simple fact that failing at the START of something (and being able to fix it) is much cheaper than failing at the END (when it’s simply too late to do anything about it).
  • Catherine Seeds: My colleagues and I had the opportunity to sit in on a session with the editor of Lucky Magazine, Eva Chen. She was fantastic and very down to earth. Here is a great write-up on her.

If you weren’t able to attend the Interactive portion of SXSW this year, we did the hard work for you and compiled a list of some great SXSWi recaps. Be warned, there are plenty of Meerkat mentions.

How about we all meet back here around this time next year? Until then, we will be catching up on sleep, nursing our blisters and over-tweeted fingers, and putting our learnings to good use!

What Makes Things Popular Online?

“108 High Resolution Dark Denim Social Media Icons” by webtreats, on Flickr

The PR industry is rapidly changing. To stay competitive, PR agencies are learning how to develop digital skills or are maximizing marketing partner resources in order to satisfy the new media landscape. In a media world where anyone can be a journalist, news breaks on Twitter and memes are popping up and disappearing every week, PR professionals have their work cut out for them.

To address this, I recently planned a PRSA Austin Chapter event titled “There’s a Meme for That,” where our panelists discussed how to incorporate new digital media ideas into company strategies to boost chances of getting noticed, and increase social shares and engagement. Our panelists included digital marketing executives from Bazaarvoice, Edelman, Facebook and W2O—and they collectively had an extensive portfolio of examples of brands successfully using digital marketing strategies to reach consumers.

We started with the golden question: What makes things popular online? Why do some memes take off while others fall flat? What makes people share content and why do images and videos go viral? There are several inherent traits that exist in successful digital marketing strategies.

A human element

People need to be able to identify with the things they interact with every day. Dove, for example, has created a successful way to engage with its audience using “real” people in their ads and other communications. Recall the “Dove: Real Beauty” sketch campaign executed back in April. Dove expanded upon its “real beauty, real people” theme with this internet campaign that went viral, featuring sketches of women describing themselves to a sketch artist opposed to sketches of these women as described by someone else. The results were surprising. The message was positive, relatable and had that core human element that made the video such a success.

Socially shareable

If a campaign isn’t easy to share on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and other blogs, it won’t do well, obviously. What makes something socially shareable? Images! Today, images go much further than words have ever taken us. Most social sharing sites are geared towards image-based storytelling, and visuals trump the written word in today’s fast-paced media environment. Before a message can ever go viral, it must be depicted in a visual, succinct medium. Such media include short videos (take a look at these cool Vine videos from brands), meme-like photos like these, infographics or just plain photos.

Timely

Popular online content is usually centered around a timely topic or event. Do “The Royal Baby” or “You can still dunk in the dark” sound familiar to you? Both social media-born topics—one from pop culture and the other from a food brand, Oreo—gained popularity during high profile events. Even though campaigns such as these are short lived, the boost in visibility for the brand has a much longer lasting impact. Companies should be careful how they jump on the trend bandwagon, however, as people can tire quickly of memes. Check out these examples of brands attempting to capitalize on the Royal Baby trend, and then the people’s reaction to it.

Engaging

People love to share their experiences (good or bad) on social media. People share information online because they hope or expect to get something back in return. This is part of the reason why product reviews are so popular. People are open to sharing commentary, because in return, they’ll get feedback from likeminded people or recognition from the brand. This psychology is similar across the social media landscape—and everyone is a movie, food, music, or [insert any category here] critic. The key is to share good, positive messages and never capitalize on negative trends or tragedies (like an Epicurious intern did).

Measurable

Companies absolutely must pay attention to their audiences. What do they want to see? What performs best with them? Once this is understood, companies can shape their media and PR around those understandings. The Facebook panelist let attendees know that there are Page management tools that allow brands and companies to see which posts garner the most engagement. This is a good example of measuring the effectiveness and sociability of campaigns. There are many PR reporting tools and platforms that track and measure social campaigns, as well, such as Hootsuite, Radian6 and Meltwater News.

 

What are some of your favorite memes or digital campaigns? Have you run any that were positive and successful? Feel free to plug here!

Caitlin New is Austin’s PRSA Member of the Month

We just wanted to give a shout-out to our Director of Company Branding, Caitlin New, as she’s featured as the Public Relations Society of America’s Austin Chapter member of the month for January.

Caitlin is currently serving on the PRSA Austin board as Programs Chair, and is also on the planning committee for the PRSA Southwest District Conference (June 5-7) as the Special Events Chair. Check out her member spotlight article here!

Enough shameless bragging, now.