Reversing the Times Square effect

I love to sit across the table from someone and just talk.

I love to sit across the table from someone and just talk. In fact, there's nothing I enjoy more than sitting with a client, an editor, or a blogger to learn their story. After all, stories connect us as human beings and create the foundation for relationships.

Increasingly, we hear clients talk about “engagement.” They want to connect consumers but find it difficult to elevate the brand-consumer relationship to a higher plane.

This hit home for me the other night as I walked through Times Square after a Broadway show. Although it was 11:15 p.m., the square was lit up like midday. We were bombarded by lights and flashing signs and giant brand names -- all competing for our attention.

What a perfect metaphor for how today's consumer feels. How could someone passing through that environment come away with an understanding of what any of those brands actually stands for?

Those companies advertising in Times Square have wonderful stories to tell – stories that would cut through the noise clutter. It's our job to help our clients tell those stories in a way that counters the “Time Square Effect.”

By definition, a relationship is a two-way connection between parties. When I started in this business, relationship-building was focused on journalists who could tell the brand story from their expert platform. The word of a journalist alone could make or break your product with consumers.

Today, the consumer is one of the storytellers. It began with citizen journalism and has evolved with bloggers, online influencers, and others who can use social platforms to weigh in.

Brands exist in a new kind of ecosystem that relies on relationships not just with traditional and online media, but with consumers themselves.

Consider a social curation site like Pinterest. Its roots are in social engagement: activities like women going shopping together or sharing lip gloss tips in the ladies room. In the 1990s, those connections moved online with sites like iVillage, where women could gather in a virtual community to share ideas. Today, social sites let us connect with the whole world as we curate and share our tastes and interests.

All of this adds up to a new paradigm for relationship-based PR: where we tell client stories in a way that involves two-way exchange, but begins - as does any great relationship - with listening.

That means we have an opportunity to reverse the Times Square Effect, eliciting loyalty and advocacy among the consumers we want to reach.

Liz Kaplow is the president and CEO of Kaplow.

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