Public relations

The CEO’s role in a brand crisis

brand crisis ceo

In the middle of a crisis for your brand, who do you want facing the public and weathering the storm? The instinctual answer might be your CEO. However, even in the midst of an exceptionally terrible time for your brand, someone other than your CEO could be a better option to help communicate with the public. There are a variety of factors to consider, and the planning for these scenarios should happen long before a crisis occurs.

The debate

As the head of your company, the CEO probably already has a public presence. Whether or not they’re always the best spokesperson for your company, however, is up for debate.

Public perception of business executive duties and roles is one of the strongest arguments for having your CEO step up to the plate in a crisis. As the highest-ranking executive, consumers expect them to know what’s going on, care about finding a solution, and figure out how to implement this quickly. Especially with corporations, where CEOs are often well-paid, consumers assume CEOs are adept at managing their businesses and place a high priority on customer experience. In a brand crisis, having the person highest on the executive chain publicly address it can go a long way in quelling public upset. A CEO who appears absent (or worse, isn’t good with the media) can prolong the crisis.

On the other hand, however, certain crisis situations can benefit from having the CEO be present, but not serving as the “mouth-piece.” Interacting professionally with the media and public isn’t a skill that comes naturally, and a CEO not prepared to defend their brand while keeping public perception in mind can create a long-term brand reputation issue. Additionally, a CEO doing rounds of media interviews may appear to be doing nothing more than talking; if they’re always on TV, are they jumping in and doing any of the hard work to solve the problem? In some cases, it makes more sense to have the CEO on the ground, visibly working to solve the issue, and leave the speaking to a lower ranking executive or official spokesperson.

Preparing for a crisis with your CEO

Whether or not they’ll be the spokesperson, a CEO needs know the crisis communications plan inside and out well before an issue arises. Plans to address a crisis and the role top executives will play should be developed to address a wide variety of potential problems, and should be revisited and updated often. Key things to keep in mind:

  • Transparency and authenticity above all else. “No comment” is not an option. Brands and their spokesperson need to be ready to be transparent about how the problem happened and what they’re doing to solve it. The response needs to show concern for the customers affected, authentically – don’t have a Tony Hayward And if your CEO does slip and make a statement like Hayward’s “I want my life back,” make sure they’re not photographed on their yacht a few days later.

 

tony hayward BP

Tony Hayward, former BP CEO

  • Media training. Even if they won’t be doing the press rounds and will be focusing on being hands on, media will likely still approach and cover the CEO’s activities during the crisis. CEOs should be fully media trained, with refresher courses frequently. Beyond speaking to journalists in person, this should include how to present themselves in public in case of any photos, and how to handle their personal social media channels.
  • Understand the level of response required. Not all crises are 5-alarm fires. Adidas’ recent flub with their Boston Marathon congratulatory email was bad, but the majority of the public understood the intern. It didn’t require a groveling press tour from the CEO, and their response was quick, open, and authentic. United Airline’s recent troubles, however are definitely a serious crisis that requires the visibility of the CEO.

 

In times of crisis, the CEO certainly has a role – it just might not be that of spokesperson. As United Airlines’ Oscar Munoz has shown recently, this can backfire – and Munoz and the airline are both paying for it. Whether or not the situation calls for the CEO to be the spokesperson, the key thing to remember is that planning for a crisis can often avert one before it starts, and save your brand a lot of trouble.

How to tie your social media strategy to your SEO

social media and seo

Public relations and marketing professionals have learned over the last few years that they can’t exist in silos and get exceptional results for their brands. Integrated strategies are vital for success. PR and marketing live in different sandboxes, but they have to learn how to play well together. This is particularly clear with the relationship between social media and SEO. These two areas can and do exist separately, but when paired together can produce stronger results for both teams.

Both social media and SEO are part of a long-term strategy. You might not get a million followers or a hundred new links within a month, but with the right foundation, these strategies can bolster your brand reputation and bring in new customers and leads. Together, these two tools can expand and strengthen the “touch points” where your customer interacts with your brand. With enough “touches” over time, you can create dedicated and repeat customers. Here are three tips for tying your social media strategy to your SEO plan.

Choose the right platforms, get them on brand, and update regularly

You don’t have to be on every single social media platform, but the ones you have add links to your online presence. Choose the ones that are right for your brand and focus on doing those platforms well. Make sure your content is planned out and integrated into your overall communications strategy. Update each platform regularly and with content targeted to your specific audiences on each channel. Facebook is different than LinkedIn, and LinkedIn is different than Pinterest, so be sure to craft and fine tune content for each. Be sure that the branding, logos, and overall tone of voice match across each platform. When someone Googles your company, they may click the Facebook link rather than your website link; be sure they get the same story and message (just honed for Facebook etiquette) that they would from your homepage.

Create shareable and engaging content

With social media, crafting and posting your content is step one. Step two is getting engagement, shares, and mentions from your followers – and in turn, boosted SEO results. The more people publicly share your content, the more links and mentions are available for your brand, which helps boost your reputation with search engines. To get your followers to share your content, it needs to be right for the platform, relatable, and well crafted. Sharing content on social media as an individual is often an endorsement of the thoughts and ideas within – it has to be great for your followers to associate with it. Posts that are short and succinct and include a photo or video are more shareable. It also helps if your content is tied into current social media and pop culture trends that are relevant to your brand.

Use your keywords on social

Though there have been changes in the way SEO works, a good portion of it comes back to the keywords you want to be tied to and optimizing your content with these keywords. This is also true on social media; you want your posts to be searchable by the keywords your brand is focusing on. Once you have a solid idea of the keywords your SEO campaign is targeting, find authentic ways to work them in to your social media content. This is particularly helpful on Pinterest and YouTube, where users are often searching for new content by keywords. It can also work on Facebook and Twitter, especially if your pages are well done and have a good reputation with search engines.

Download our Social Analytics POV

free social analytics

“Today, knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” – Peter Drucker

More than ever, public relations professionals are working to quantify PR’s value for their clients. This can be difficult for a number of public relations tactics, but social media is notoriously hard to pin down in terms of ROI. Executives and business owners have been told their business needs to be on social media, but without the hard numbers to back the “why,” many still aren’t on board with investing time and manpower into social. Social analytics tools exist that provide in-depth data for social channels, but these are often pricey, prohibiting smaller PR agencies and small businesses from using them.

Thankfully, there’s still hope for those who have tight budgets or are overwhelmed by the idea of tackling Google Analytics. Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all provide free, built-in analytics that offer a wealth of information. For businesses on these platforms, these free tools can tell you what’s working, who your audience is, and help you build stronger content for social. The key is knowing which numbers are important.

We’ve created a new, downloadable white paper covering our perspective on free social analytics to help you better understand how to use these tools strategically. Meaningful Measurement: The Social Media Data You’re Underutilizing— and How to Put it to Work for Free includes guides through Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest’s free analytics. Key stats on each channel are highlighted, are well as which numbers aren’t important.

 A few highlights:

  • Discover why page “likes” on Facebook don’t really matter
  • Learn how to understand the impressions stats on Twitter
  • Explore your Pinterest audience demographics in-depth

 

Download the full POV here, and start turning your social media stats into knowledge: http://awordsmithcomm.com/about-us/thought-leadership/

Authenticity and PR

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You’ll often hear that public relations is an industry built on relationships. This is true, but there is an added element that goes hand-in-hand with relationships—authenticity.

In an age of curated social media posts (#blessed) and glossy corporate stories sans reference to long hours and employee burnout, consumers are left feeling dubious and duped. Instead of connecting to the brand or business, they are left wondering if what they’re observing is real—and oftentimes it’s not.

People want passion, struggle and relatable content. Storytelling in communications provides the perfect example for the importance of authentic communication. A story is one of the most common ways humans connect, hence its popularity among PR pros. The elements of a story are important: the hero, their obstacle and their solution are essential to drawing the reader in. However, who tells the story and how they tell it can have a big impact on the authenticity.

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Who’s telling the story?

The storyteller is often the one responsible for how the story is perceived. If there is misalignment between the storyteller’s voice or personality and the story they’re sharing, it’s glaringly obvious to listeners.

One example of this in PR is influencer marketing. Edelman’s 2017 Digital Trends report focused on the trend of influencer marketing. Influencers and those who are highly visible on social platforms often have a distinct voice and personalized connection with their followers which makes them optimal story-sharers. However, scripted and impersonal language can derail an influencer’s ability to connect with their followers.  Consumers are smart enough to recognize what is forced and what is real.

How are they telling it?

An element that is often passed over in storytelling is the “struggle” aspect that resides between the problem and the solution. This is what’s real and real is what matters! Don’t leave out the hard stuff because of concern that it doesn’t position the brand in a positive light.

This quote from a MarketingLand article sums it up perfectly, “The world is hungry for more truth, realness and transparency. Social media platforms are enabling our consumers to express their authentic selves — and they expect the same from the brands they choose.”

Next time you are crafting a story, consider who is telling it and how they’re doing so. It’s these (sometimes) intangible things that make the difference between authenticity and inauthentic content.

 

 

Let it go: don’t worry about control on social media

brand voice social media

Brands put a lot of work into fine tuning their voice, and can understandably be protective of their image. Companies want their audience to talk about them a certain way, and marketing, advertising, and public relations all work together in the hopes of achieving positive buzz and brand loyalty. However, brands often have trouble getting their social media platforms to “play nice” and stay in control. The conversation on social media is tough to control, but brands should embrace this fact rather than fear it.

Social media channels don’t function the same way an advertising piece does, where the content is tightly controlled and distributed. You can put in hours of work into a piece of content, just to have it turn into an unflattering, viral meme. Social media moves quickly, and brands can struggle to keep up. However, companies shouldn’t bail on social media entirely or resort to a corporate, sterile voice on these platforms. Instead, brands should jump into the deep end with both feet and utilize social media platforms for what they are – customer experience tools, not a brand megaphone.

Plan, and then let it go

Social media still requires planning and knowing your brand voice inside and out before starting to post. Companies should make sure their brand voice and image is unified across all the channels they’ll be using, and have a set of guidelines in place for tone and style for whoever will be posting on their behalf. Know what your brand would say and would never dream of saying before beginning. Make sure posts are edited before going live.

Once the content is out there, it’s in the hands of your audience. Brands must be ready to “let it go” to a certain extent after this point, as the engagement that happens may not be what you expect. Whatever the response is, take it and run with it rather than try to change it. It’s bad practice to delete negative comments; instead, use them as a customer service opportunity (or a humor opportunity, if it’s right for your brand and the complaint being made). Engage with the positive responses too, and shine a spotlight on the users responding. In some cases, you can even take advantage of user generated content in response to what you post. It might not be the quality or style your marketing department would have chosen, but it makes an authentic connection with your audience, something an ad rarely does.

Choose transparency over control

The days of “no comment” in response to a crisis are long gone thanks to social media. Social media users have no tolerance for slow responses, no response, or robotic corporate responses. When a brand crisis arises, it will be talked about on social media. No matter how appealing it can be to state “no response” or stay quiet until you’ve had ample time to come up with a polished statement, this is rarely the right choice.

While having a few days to think and present a response spears to give a company the chance to get a handle on the situation, they’re losing valuable time with an audience that is already discussing it. Transparency is far more important than an illusion of control on social media. Sometimes it’s even fine for a company to say “we’re aware, and we’re taking some time to collect our thoughts” rather than avoid posting for a few days and then attempt to look like they were always in control. Honesty with your audience (and even admitting you were blindsided) can go a long way with social media users.

Social media is a PR tool, not a marketing one

Marketing and public relations departments must work together to achieve success for the brand, and social media is no different. However, given the inherent lack of control with social media, PR professionals are better positioned to drive these efforts. Public relations is a two-way conversation, as is social media. Marketing is a brand megaphone; great in certain circumstances, but not really a fit for social media. Social media users have an extremely low tolerance for ads, and have high expectations for authentic communication from the brands they follow.

Public relations should work with marketing to ensure that the brand voice on social media is up to par, but marketing should be comfortable with PR leading social and communicating with their audience without several rounds of content approval. Conversations on social happen at the speed of light, and the key to success on these channels is listening and jumping in quickly. When a brand remembers that social is more about their audience than their company, they’ll be able to stay on top of conversations while getting comfortable with letting go of control. The rewards of social media can be numerous when brands let go – for both companies and their audience.

3 Ways to Make the Most of December

make the most of december

2016 has been nothing if not eventful. Whether you felt this year dragged on forever or thought it went by in the blink of an eye, the end is quickly approaching.

When I was younger, my dad jokingly referred to tendencies to hibernate and indulge in holiday sweets as “cookie foot”. While December is a month full of festivities and bustle, it’s also easy to lose momentum and find yourself doing the bare minimum instead of transitioning to the New Year full steam ahead. Here are 3 ways to make the most of December for your clients and yourself.

1. Reflect

In the fast paced environment of PR it can be easy to quickly move on to the next task, the next project or the newest client. Take a moment (or several) to reflect on the last 11 months. 2016 has been a bit of a whirlwind in terms of current events. What were your key successes for clients this year? Did you have any major failures? Both of these questions are important for growth and goal-setting for the upcoming year. Which brings me to my next point….

2. Plan

With many projects wrapping up before the end of the year, December can feel like a waiting period. Take advantage of this time by getting a jumpstart on your 2017 planning. End of the year planning falls into two categories: planning for clients and personal professional planning.

Take the time to meet with clients and ask about their goals for the upcoming year. Suggest new projects or initiatives you’ve been holding back on for whatever reason.

In terms of personal professional growth, December is a great time to set new goals for yourself for the upcoming year. Set aside some time to evaluate where your strengths and weaknesses stood out during the following year.

You’ll thank yourself in January for taking the time to plan now.

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3. Give back and Celebrate

Giving back is a surefire way to beat any holiday sluggishness. Give to your clients, to your co-workers, and to anyone else who needs it. Let your co-workers know you appreciated their help on a project or admired their poise in a difficult situation.  Don’t let good work go unrecognized.

I hope these ideas will help you avoid cookie foot, make the most of December and head into 2017 feeling energized and motivated.

#ThisHappened – 2016 in Twitter & YouTube

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Major social media platforms are truly a global community. If the Twitter Year in Review and YouTube’s 2016 Rewind video are any indication, this community connects on big issues like social change, elections, and human rights – but also undeniably fun carpool karaoke videos. 2016 has also shown just how powerful brands can be on social media, and that there’s right and wrong ways to create or jump on digital trends.

Twitter’s top hashtag this year was #Rio2016. Even in digital form, humans enjoy coming together for a common cause, and the friendly, global competition is always a time for us to consider how much we have in common with our neighbors around the world. #BlackLivesMatter was also among the top ten hashtags this year, along with #Election2016 and #Brexit. While all of these hashtags certainly had positive and negative tweets, their popularity shows that Twitter isn’t just a time-waster. The third most re-tweeted post this year came from Hilary Clinton’s account during her election concession speech. Social media channels continue to be a place where important discussions happen, and information on major events is distributed.

The top hashtags highlight other topics social users like to connect on, including a big focus on entertainment. Number ten was #GameofThrones, where multitudes of the show’s avid fans theorized and commiserated together (often accompanied with #HoldtheDoor and a crying emoji). #RIP was a trending hashtag several times this year as the world mourned the loss of several beloved celebrities including Prince, David Bowie, and Muhammad Ali. The #Oscars was a popular event on social, and an example of brands falling over themselves to jump on a trending hashtag to boost impressions without putting enough thought into their content. Total Beauty, a fashion site, was one of the worst offenders when they misidentified Whoopi Goldberg as Oprah in a tweet during the red carpet pre-show.

Despite slip ups, brands in 2016 saw the value of reaching out to the social media community and connecting with them where they “live.” Brands are the most dominant “community” on YouTube according to The Verge, and produced most of the platform’s top videos this year. Some of the most viewed videos mirror the Twitter trends – there’s Donald Trump’s interview on John Oliver tonight and a pre-Olympics video by Nike featuring some of soccer’s biggest stars. But the entertainment category wins out on YouTube, with Adele’s carpool karaoke version of “Hello” racking up an amazing 135 million views. The YouTube Rewind video references many of the similarly goofy viral videos that were popular this year.

So, what can brands learn from this? First and foremost, companies need to be very careful about using trending hashtags. Plenty of brands could have a good tie in to #Rio2016, but few if any would have an even remotely appropriate reason to use the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. Social media is often a place for silliness, but serious conversations are happening on these platforms that most brands should shy away from.

Second, “virality” isn’t a strategy. Some of this year’s trends make sense, and some don’t. There’s not one type of content that rules on YouTube. Although none of his videos were the top ten most viewed, PewDiePie was the highest paid YouTuber this year, bringing in $15 million from his video gameplay channel. His content wasn’t always the most viral, but it brings in money. Brands shooting to be a viral sensation will likely be disappointed.

Lastly, social media users love cat videos, but they also highly value authenticity. We’re facing what might be called a “post-truth” world, and the digital community wants to be engaged with in an authentic, personalized manner more than ever. Every trend isn’t right for every brand, but there are ways companies can join the conversations in a realistic an appropriate manner. It takes a bit of research and understanding that social media is a powerful tool, but the rewards can be much longer lasting than those from a one-time viral video.

What Public Relations is Teaching Me

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Six months ago I confidentially strode across a stage and collected my diploma. While I now possess a piece of paper that claims I’ve learned, I definitely didn’t stop learning after graduating. After several months working for a public relations agency, here’s what PR is teaching me.

Relationships are Key

Public relations is an industry focused on relationships. These can take many forms, whether between PR professionals and businesses or with members of the media. In order to be successful at PR you have to constantly be putting yourself in other’s shoes and looking at concepts from a wide range of perspectives.

Make Use of Resources + Ask Questions

Resourcefulness is valuable, especially when it comes to problem solving and research. The internet doesn’t have every answer, but it has quite a few. PR is teaching me that using the information I have at my fingertips is crucial.

Using resources also encourages continued learning. Organizations like the PRSA are a great tool. At A.wordsmith we listen to one of their webinars per month. The PRSA webinars cover everything from Snapchat to crafting effective pitches.

As mentioned, resources are plentiful and useful, but they have their limits. I’ve learned the importance of asking questions. Use others’ experience and knowledge as a resource. Gathering as much information up front as possible saves time and energy down the road.

Read, read, read and READ

Most people will tell you that writing is a central skill in PR, and this is true. However, I’ve learned reading is essential as well.  Reading public relations news sites like Ragan’ PR Daily, or PR Week or Bulldog Reporter has helped me learn about the industry, current events and trends.

Public relations is about telling stories. One of the best ways to become a better storyteller is to read well-told stories. Whether its news articles, industry specific blogs or thought leadership interviews—reading quality writing helps you produce quality content.

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Learn by Doing

Finally, PR has taught me that one of the best ways to learn is by doing. Looking over the past few months in a professional position, the points where I felt like I learned the most where when I was assigned a task I had never tried before. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to attempting things that stretch you. If you succeed, it’ll be an added boost of confidence. If you don’t get it right the first time, ask for feedback and adjust.  In trying new things you may surprise yourself and find you have a knack for something new.

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

“What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me” is part two of a mini-series on education and being a millennial in the world of PR, from some of our young professionals at A.wordsmith. Read part one here.

 

I veered towards PR after five years in the education and nonprofit world. The overlap between development and communications is significant, but I realized that specialized training would give me an advantage in the market and elevate my skillset. I pursued a Master’s in Management Communications with a Concentration in Marketing and Public Relations. This mouthful of a degree combined a wide mix of journalism, sociology, social media, marketing, research, and rhetorical methods courses into a surprisingly cohesive curriculum. While I certainly had a lot to learn post-graduation, I graduated with an excellent grasp of the core capabilities required in public relations. These are a few  of the things my public relations degree taught me that helped me get a head start in my PR career:

What makes great writing

The writing skills taught in kindergarten through college programs often focus on grammar and basic style guidelines. I believe that great writing requires this knowledge. I can easily bore even the most earnest listener with my zeal for the Oxford comma, my personal relationships with Strunk & White and Harbrace, and my embarrassing crush on The New Yorker’s diaereses.

However, advanced writing requires something richer. One of my courses focused almost exclusively on metaphors. Another guided me through sensory writing about music and food. Still others spent time on the logistics of understanding and cooperating with your audience. These exercises gave me the toolbox and the je ne sais quoi that makes great writing great, and the ability to tap them for the vast range of topics and markets that our PR clients belong to.

How to become an expert in anything

When I explain that much of my work involves writing and working on articles with media outlets, the next question is always, “About what?”

“Whatever the client needs.”

On any given day, I may be producing content about anything from the FDA approval process for prescription drugs to the hidden gems of southern Oregon wine country. The tasks can rarely be boiled down to simple copywriting or editing – most of the time I am researching, developing, and presenting complex subjects. I spend hours poring over articles and blogs, perusing competitor thought leadership, and interviewing subject matter experts. Fortunately, rigorous research requirements in school left me quite adept at zigzagging through academic databases and lay publications. My marketing coursework primed me in strategic competitor research. I owe my interview skills to a fastidious journalism adjunct and a supportive qualitative research methods professor. These skills let me become an overnight expert in just about anything – and I couldn’t produce quality work without them.

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

Why we tell stories

We tell stories because they work. Stories are at the root of communication. They’re more engaging and can reach a wide audience. In every course I took – from Social Media and Culture to Applied Marketing Strategies – the importance of storytelling was pounded into our minds. Journalists and editors can sniff right through a pitch about a nonstory. The case studies A.wordsmith writes tell a company’s success story with a certain goal in mind, and even web copy has greater impact if it illustrates the point. PR shares messages, and the best messages are usually couched in stories.

Look for part 3 of this series next week!

What My Public Relations Degree Didn’t Teach Me

public relations degree

Part one of a mini-series on education and being a millennial in the world of PR, from some of our young professionals at A.wordsmith.

In 2014, I graduated with my master’s degree in public communication and finally headed out into the “real world.” Since I basically went straight from my undergraduate studies to my graduate program, I hadn’t yet had my true introduction to the public relations field. I was armed with a lot of knowledge, research, and some experience with in-house PR departments, and eager to apply what I’d spent the past six years of my life studying.

However, in the past two years, I’ve discovered that there are some things about being a PR professional that college just didn’t teach me. I had the public relations degree, theoretical background, the critical thinking skills, and the writing ability, but I wasn’t prepared for some of the important facets of PR that school couldn’t provide a lesson plan for. Most PR professionals learn a lot as they go, and continue to learn throughout their career, so I know I’m not alone. However, I’d like to share the top three things my college education didn’t teach me to help other new PR pros get a head start:

No one knows what PR is

public relations degree

You will quickly discover that no one will understand what you do when you say “I work in public relations.” It seems super obvious to us, because we’ve spent our college life immersed in the industry and worked with professors who have years of experience. Your family won’t quite get it and occasionally even the clients you work with may even be confused by what you do. Early on, practice an elevator pitch that describes what public relations is and what you do for work. If you don’t understand what you do well enough to describe it at fifth grade level to others, you probably don’t know the PR field well enough. Creating this elevator pitch is a good exercise to highlight what you’d like to know more about yourself.

Quality wins over quantity

As a new professional fresh out of school, you probably have dreams of your clients appearing in the New York Times, Good Morning America, and Vogue –all in the same month! PR is all about the big wins and the glam, right? Well, not always. Hang on to these goals, because (for the right clients) they’re great long term ideas. However, you will quickly find these are stretch goals for even well-known companies. Most of your wins will come in the form of local news and industry outlets. Outlets you’d never heard of previously will soon become a source of excitement for you when your client is mentioned in them after a month-long conversation with an editor. These publications are often targeted more specifically to your client’s audience than large national outlets and get the content in front of the right people. It’s also often better to get one, well placed piece than a bunch of mentions in outlets that aren’t right for your client’s audience. Someday your client might be sitting down for an interview with Matt Lauer, but for now you’ll find plenty to be proud of when their article in your local newspaper goes live.

There’s not a template for this

While each class is different, much of college follows a similar format: come to class, take notes, complete your projects following the guidelines. Though there are certain ways of doing things in PR and sometimes you can follow a guide in certain documents (like press releases) ultimately, good PR doesn’t happen with a template. You won’t get very far using the same email pitch to every reporter you reach out to. Every pitch, project, and client deserves an individual strategy and considerations. Templates can be a starting point, but true PR happens when we work beyond the traditional format and take risks.

Look for part 2 of this series next week!