How Charitable Partnerships Can Boost a Brand’s Profile

We’ve talked before about the importance of community impact for businesses both large and small. In any community, there are a wide array of ways to get involved and help improve that community for those living and working in it.

Forming charitable partnerships is another way to get involved and improve the community around a business. Of course, businesses can provide support in ways that individuals cannot to a nonprofit or charity. But these partnerships should always be done with tact and taste — the opposite effect can easily happen if a move is done for seemingly ulterior motives.

Finding the Right Charitable Partnership

When selecting a charitable partnership for a business, there are many things to consider. One of these factors is what charity or nonprofit to partner with. Here are some considerations for this decision:

  •     Core values and mission of the business
  •     Nonprofits that align with these core values naturally
  •     Reputation of nonprofit and of the supporting business
  •     Required budget to support a charitable partnership
  •     End goal of charitable partnership

Core values lie at the heart of a business’ purpose. These values are important. They give consumers a look at the belief and value systems of those in executive positions, and they provide a roadmap of how a business conducts itself in public dealings.

With that in mind, it’s equally important for a business to align itself with a nonprofit that also values the same ideas. The purpose and mission of the nonprofit must also make sense. For example, a leather goods company may not look the best if it were to support PETA, nor would PETA be likely to accept their partnership proposal. This is, of course, an extreme example, but it shows that a partnership should be genuine, not self-serving or just “for looks”.

Forming a Charitable Partnership

Once a business has selected a nonprofit to enter into a partnership with, it’s time to figure out exactly what that partnership is going to look like.

Not every partnership has to look the same. Remember, this has to be a beneficial arrangement for both the business and, more importantly, for the nonprofit. Whether the support is financial, in the form of volunteer help, or other services provided, it’s important to set clear expectations and guidelines for the new partnership. Contracts are helpful in this situation, to protect all parties involved.

Before jumping in, take the time to form a strategy about how a business can best assist a nonprofit. Perhaps a marketing agency can offer its services to a local animal shelter each month. Or maybe an event planning portal can donate a portion of the proceeds to local community programs in an effort to create a safer neighborhood in which to host events. Maybe a local consultant can jump on board to help plan a fundraiser for a nonprofit. The possibilities are endless!

Finding creative ways to help out is important too — it doesn’t always have to just be about writing a big check. In fact, finding other ways to get involved is often even more helpful, especially for under-staffed nonprofits.

Aligning business with a nonprofit is a smart move for many reasons, but the biggest motivator should always be the betterment of community or the helping of others. From this motivation can come a great, fulfilling partnership on both sides.

Using Content to build thought leadership

There are many ways to highlight your brand and what it does, content being one of the main and most effective ways of doing so. Content can also be a very effective way to highlight your expertise and knowledge of the industry. The goal is to get your brand front and centre, both online and offline, when people are searching for solutions that you can provide.

In marketing, thought leadership is a tool that establishes you as an expert and authority in your industry. By establishing your brand as a reliable and go-to source of information and expertise in the industry, it will improve brand awareness as well as market value. Here are a few ways in which content can help build thought leadership:

Build credibility

To establish yourself as an expert and authority, you need to prove that you are a credible and reliable source of information. This can be done by illustrating your knowledge and know-how by providing relevant and accurate answers to your audience’s questions and concerns. Providing people solutions and answers will ensure that your audience gets an insight into the level of expertise of your organization and your employees.

For instance, a local fitness studio can demonstrate their knowledge on fitness and nutrition by having instructors contribute to blog posts providing advice and answering questions about health and wellbeing. You can also monitor local Facebook pages and answer any questions locals have pertaining to your industry or in case of offline efforts, go to relevant local events and community gatherings to provide expertise.

Move beyond your website

While your website is an optimal place to provide information and expertise to your audience and customers, expand your online presence beyond your website. The goal is to drive traffic to your website, so find ways on social media and online forums to do so. For example, ask questions to experts in Facebook ads and provide a link to your website for the answer or create short video ads that get people excited and ultimately direct people to your website to learn more.

Foster partnerships

Build strong connections within the community by focusing on strong partnerships rather than sponsorships. Create mutually beneficial relationships with local organizations with whom you share a common audience. These relationships will enhance your visibility, build your reputation since you have the green light from another business and open doors for new opportunities.

The best kind of partnerships are active partnerships. Don’t just be partners on paper, actively promote and foster your partnership by sharing content with your partner, featuring their experts on your website and participating in each other’s events. Don’t forget to share each other’s content on social media as it will help boost your online presence and visibility.

Create useful branding material

Last but not least, don’t be lazy and just hand out brochures as promotional material. The most likely place the brochure will end up is in the trash. Give your audience something that focuses on your expertise and something they are more likely to hang on to or use. If you’re at loss for what kind of promotional material to provide, then even a refrigerator magnet will do the job better than a brochure!

Winning the PR battle with Twitter

Best Practices Using Twitter for PR

Twitter is close to becoming the de facto conversation medium for news and current events commentary outside of the mainstream broadcast media. It’s a source of stories, an archive of opinions, and a real-time stream of perspectives relative to whatever topic is hot at the moment.

So, it stands to reason that any brand hoping to elevate their profile would want to employ Twitter as part of that effort. After all, just look what it did for Wendy’s. But, is Twitter what journalists are looking for in communication from PR pros? According to the polls, not necessarily.

In fact, recent surveys have shown, time and again, that journalists still prefer email as their go-to method for communicating with public relations professionals. Does this mean Twitter is off the table? No, not at all. In fact, in the very same survey, the majority of those same journalists ranked Twitter as their number two communications preference.

Of course, this does come with a few caveats, a fairly straightforward list of guidelines for how and when to contact journalists using Twitter.

As a general rule, if you plan to connect with a journalist on Twitter, direct message them. Don’t just comment on their thread. Additionally, just before you DM them, send them an email with more information about the topic at hand.

Don’t use a DM to create the initial connection. Preferably, you want to have already connected with that journalist in a recognizable way before you send them a substantive DM with a media pitch. Start by determining which journalists you want to connect with. Then read their tweets, explore their perspectives, and respond to or retweet them. Show them that you see them as a person and not just a means to an end.

When using Twitter to pitch a story include specific data points. Statistics and specific facts can be attractive to journalists, because they can quickly and easily determine if your information is on the level and, thus, establish you as a potentially valuable source of information.

Do your best to keep all Twitter communications related to your pitches private. Don’t share them with the world. Especially, if you are seeking to establish or build trust with the media representative. They are less likely to appreciate your information if anyone following them on Twitter also has the same access to that information.

Be certain that all information you DM pitch to reporters on Twitter is specifically relevant to their standard beat, industry, or niche. And, in most cases, there should be an element of immediacy to the content, something they can read and immediately act on, rather than a story that has a slow build or a long shelf life.

crisis pr

Looking Back at 3 Serious PR Miscues in 2018

As 2018 comes to a close it’s time to reflect on some of the PR lessons we have watched in real time over the past year. There have been a few wins and a few good crisis responses, and there have also been a handful of PR disasters. Some of these scenarios were disasters right out of the chute, and others grew worse based on the response.

Apple Catches Heat for “Throttling”

The year started off with a fizzle for iPhone maker Apple, when it was announced that the company had been “throttling” iPhones – slowing their performance – for older phones. Customers had suspected this for years, but to find out it was actually happening upset a lot of consumers.

Then came Apple’s reasoning: “We’re doing it all for you.” According to Apple, the reason for the slow-down was to “preserve battery life” in order to keep the phones working longer. That message did not sit well with iPhone customers, who felt slighted and manipulated into buying newer models.

In response, Apple apologized and initiated a more cost-effective battery replacement program for customers with older phones. That blunted the trauma somewhat, but in the end, this was an avoidable PR misstep. If the company had been proactive, customers would have known all their options and felt more of a connection with the brand.

Roseanne Crashes and Burns

2018 could have – and should have-been the Year of Roseanne. The noted comedian had returned to form, riding a successful reboot of her family sitcom to huge ratings and a major win for the Roseanne brand. At the time, nearly every news outlet was singing her praises, touting the new show as a great addition to what has been ranked as one of the best American sitcoms in generations. Then came the meltdown.

Roseanne, who is no stranger to stirring up controversy on social media, decided to go on Twitter and torpedo her resurgent career by tweeting out comments many considered to be overtly racist. ABC responded by immediately canceling Roseanne. Then, pouring salt in the wound, the network announced it would be re-making the show without its star and namesake.

If there was a highlight of the whole debacle, it came via Sanofi, maker of the sleep aid, Ambien. Roseanne, in her apology for the tweet, blamed Ambien for her errant posting. Sanofi responded with this: “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Southwest Airlines Makes Bad Worse

Of all the airlines to be in the news in a bad way, most people would not necessarily guess Southwest. So when the company had a major issue this past spring, some people registered surprise. During a flight, one of the engines exploded, killing a passenger. Reports from the scene were graphic and scary, and Southwest was left answering very uncomfortable questions.

That alone may have qualified for a PR crisis, but when reports came out alleging the company was promoting timeliness over customer safety and mechanical operations, that hit the bottom line hard. Bookings dropped immediately, and Southwest was left to do some very public soul searching.

Why Can’t Wells Fargo Get Out of its own Way?

Quick, can you tell me how many years it’s been since Wells Fargo was one of the most trusted and appreciated brands in the financial sector? Don’t worry, most people can’t. In fact, Wells Fargo, as a brand, seems to have given up trying to answer that question. The company’s most recent ad campaigns are going almost all the way back to the beginning, talking about events – whether true or apocryphal – that transpired a century ago or more.

But, even as the ads are taking viewers all the way back, the brand itself seems to keep ending up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. This continued habit of taking bad and making it worse, has a lot of people wondering why Wells Fargo can’t seem to get out of its own way. If the company could stop long enough to focus on a single PR crisis, they may make some headway in brand confidence, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

That lack of ability to get past one crisis before another negative headline drops has some in the PR business blaming not just a few bad apples but a “faulty culture” for the continued woes. Instead of arguing that Wells Fargo was just too big and too desperate to play it straight, some are saying the company simply lost its way, slipping further into a morass that festered for years, creating a series of interwoven issues up and down the leadership chain.

The result? A culture that allowed the company to miss it when thousands of employees created millions of fake credit accounts, many in the names of very real customers. Thousands of employees were fired, and that could have been that. Wells Fargo should have been able to pick itself up, dust itself off, and get moving again.

Unfortunately, those in charge didn’t look at thousands of bad actors and see a cultural issue. They said everything was fine now that those folks were gone. Turns out, almost no one, including elected officials and federal regulators, agreed with that assessment. Soon, the CEO was sent packing. A new leader, Timothy Sloan, was brought in and given the task of giving Wells Fargo a fresh start.

But the optics were terrible. Sloan, after all, was a longtime Wells Fargo guy, and those who saw institutional corruption didn’t see renewal coming from within. Worse than the optics, though, was the messaging. While Wells Fargo promised to do better, their campaigns failed to take responsibility, and the problems were rarely, if ever, addressed.

Then came more horrendous headlines. Charging customers for insurance they didn’t want and never asked for. Hitting mortgage customers with incorrect fees. And the insult to injury, a “computer glitch” that accidentally foreclosed on hundreds of properties. Fines were levied and headlines were merciless. Wells Fargo could not seem to stop driving into the proverbial ditch.

And, speaking of poor optics, in response to the flurry of negative headlines, Wells Fargo CFO John Shrewsbury went after the media, accusing the news of over-emphasizing and over-dramatizing Wells Fargo’s missteps. While he may have a point, it certainly was not one that millions of jaded customers was in any mood to hear.

And that, in a nutshell, may signal why the company can’t seem to get back in the good graces of their customers. Instead of changing in the present they are offering visions of the past and complaints of unfair treatment.

StarKist Caught in Bad PR Net

If you had to guess which popular food brand found itself in the PR hot seat last week, you probably wouldn’t have guessed StarKist Tuna, and yet, that’s exactly what happened. The brand was obliged to plead guilty to a price fixing allegation that could wind up costing the company $100 million, as well as a loss of face in the consumer market.

While most shoppers don’t worry too much when a brand changes a logo or tries to get an edge in the marketplace, when that company is accused of price fixing, people stop and pay attention. According to prosecutors, StarKist “colluded” with two other major brands to keep their prices “artificially inflated.”

Now, the company has been caught, publicly outed, and forced to admit culpability. What remained to be seen is if they would accept responsibility. To date, StarKist has taken a step in that direction. CEO Andrew Choe said, “We have cooperated with the DOJ during the course of its investigation and accept responsibility… We will continue to conduct our business with the utmost transparency and integrity.”

Those who have been following the case say it was just StarKist’s turn. After all, its co-conspirators have already been pushed out into the harsh spotlight of negative media attention.

Back in 2015, Chicken of the Sea attempted to buy Bumble Bee, but that attempt failed to be realized. At that point, Chicken of the Sea executives went to federal authorities and admitted to a conspiracy to inflate prices that involved them, Bumble Bee and StarKist. Subsequently, Bumble Bee paid a $25 million fine, which was more than $100 million lower than prosecutors had asked for. Given that information, it was only a matter of time before StarKist faced the music.

So, what does this mean for all three companies? Well, each has a black eye from all the proceedings. StarKist has yet to hear its penalty, and Bumble Bee, which is still struggling financially, now has to be a fine over the next five years.

But what does that mean for their brand bottom line? Hard to say, but it’s not helping when the Assistant Attorney General is pointing out that “the conspiracy to fix prices on these household staples had direct effects on the pocketbooks of American consumers…”

If that narrative takes hold, the fines may be the least of these tuna companies’ worries. No grocery brand wants to be on the bad side of cost-conscious American shoppers, especially when there are easy alternatives to choose.

New Line in the Sand for Vanity Fair

A change in leadership can be a defining moment for any brand. When that brand is a popular international news and culture publication, a shift in leadership can open up the opportunity for a new vision or a chance for the new leader to reinforce the brand’s current message. And, sometimes, the new leader is caught in the middle between ownership that wants a little – or a lot – of both.

When Radhika Jones took over as editor of Vanity Fair, she entered a situation in which the magazine’s ownership is engaged in a stark and wide-reaching cost-cutting program. Positions are being eliminated and some media properties are being off-loaded, even as Jones begins her tenure.

In an interview with CNN about the new challenges she faces, Jones was positive and upbeat, saying it’s a “vital time” to be in the media business. A veteran of both hard news and popular media, Jones brings a strong sense of media culture and a recognition of the tectonic shifts happening in the industry, largely driven by populist and consumer trends.

And Jones’ message? She knows what her audience wants: “Audiences are hungry for new faces and new voices… My goal is to reflect the culture as I see it…” And, culture as she sees it appears to be young, diverse, and groundbreaking. In recent months, Vanity Fair has put Michelle Williams, Felicity Jones, Michael B. Jordan, and Kendrick Lamar on the cover.

Some of her editorial choices have surprised loyal Vanity Fair readers, and Jones said this is a good thing. “It’s been heartening to me to hear that people are surprised by our cover choices…”

One of the biggest challenges put to the new editor was the future of the publication, specifically in print. Jones said she fully expects Vanity Fair to still be available in print in a decade, maybe longer. She said, despite many reports to the contrary, media consumption is not a “zero sum game.” People are consuming both print and digital, so she’s not going to give up on print any time soon.

That’s not to say Jones won’t look toward expanding on Vanity Fair’s online and social footprint. Those efforts, apparently, are partly to entice more subscribers, rather than trying to depend entirely on advertising efforts. This is a tough tightrope to walk for any media editor. Advertising has been a longstanding moneymaker for media, but that market is redefining itself almost by the day. Media companies continue to look for both short- and long-term solutions.

That’s not to say Jones is stepping away from the brand’s successful backstory. “You want to learn what the traditions are, (those) that are worth keeping and that are valuable… Then you want to learn which habits that maybe could be broken… The truth is, Vanity Fair has this fantastic formula, back from when Tina Brown reinvented it in the 1980’s. It’s about a mix of high and low. We cover these certain areas: politics and technology and finance and course Hollywood and celebrity culture. And those things are really the same. We’re doing those stories.”

business model ronn torossian

John Hancock Announces Shift in Business Model

In business, disruption in the market is inevitable. New ideas, better methods, improved tools, and sudden shifts can all create tectonic change. And, in the modern era, these changes can happen practically overnight. So, if you’re brand isn’t hearing your customers, they may be someone else’s customers before you realize it.

One of the largest – and oldest – currently operating businesses in the United States, John Hancock insurance, recently faced that stark reality. For more than 150 years, the life insurance market operated on pretty much the same business model. But, recently, consumer needs and wants have shifted, and these consumers, offered myriad options at the touch of a screen, are starting to find these needs being met in different ways.

For John Hancock, these market realities necessitated an abrupt and drastic change, explained in the following statement:

“John Hancock … will no longer sell traditional life insurance policies. All of our policies will come with John Hancock Vitality – a platform designed to help policyholders live longer, healthier lives by giving people incentives to make healthier choices linked to physical activity, nutrition and mindfulness. Our path here started with a simple, revolutionary thought: Your life insurance company should care how long and well you live…”

Someone who understands the insurance industry may read that statement and think, “well, sure, of course insurance companies want their customers to live longer… That helps their bottom line…”

Hancock’s message anticipates that perspective and addresses it, offering this:

“For too long, our industry wasn’t truly investing in the very thing it is designed to protect: life… The time to act is now – lifestyle diseases are now the primary cause of death in America. Today just four choices — physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol and smoking — cause more than 60 percent of deaths and 80 percent of the disease burden in the United States, according to the Oxford Health Alliance…”

This statement reads as bold and bluntly honest. While, yes, Hancock knows longer-living people mean a stronger bottom line, the company is introducing initiatives to help improve the quality of those lives as well.

This message is communicated in simple terms, with an easy-to-remember list of “enemies” to combat: lack of exercise, bad diets, too much alcohol, and smoking. There’s also a collective call to action. John Hancock has announced its intentions, but the tone and the message implies an invitation for consumers to come along with them.

This is a smart tactic to take in communicating this change. Making it about responding directly to consumers’ needs and offering to partner with them in building a happy, healthier life, shifts the focus away from the “change,” which people often dislike, and onto the “features and benefits” being offered.