•Sarah Houseknecht, director of global brand comms, Wilson Sporting Goods; 2020 PRWeek 40 Under 40 honoree
•Priyanka Shah, VP of comms and IR, Kinnate Biopharma; 2020 PRWeek 40 Under 40 honoree
•Ben Chodor, president, Notified
The role of communications is evolving and there has been a notable increase in the areas over which the function now has oversight. A recent Notified/PRWeeksurvey indicates that over the past two years, 95% of survey respondents cited purpose and ESG as areas over which PR/comms has increased its reach.
Ben Chodor, president at Notified, sees the shift as a huge opportunity for PR professionals.
“ESG is important to corporate stakeholders, investors, potential and current employees and partners,” he notes. “We also know it's good business. It powers growth, helps attract talent, impacts cost saving and supports brand reputation and trust.”
Chodor adds that the spotlight on ESG is continuing to grow, as the “SEC is moving forward with proposed rules that would require that companies disclose how their operations affect the climate.”
Gauging the impact of ESG efforts
With ESG so critical to a company’s DNA, Chodor says PR pros need to adopt metrics to measure the impact of their work, zero in on the proper channels to tell their story, stay on top of media trends, know why and when to insert executives into the program, and monitor investor, shareholder and customer feedback.
It’s a tall order, but the participants on this panel highlighted how they are handling it.
Sarah Houseknecht, director of global brand comms at Wilson Sporting Goods, says her team is more focused on corporate narrative to ensure that the company’s ESG practices are clear to both its internal and external audiences.
“Making sure we're proactive with that storytelling, as well as reactively prepared, has been a huge lift in the recent past,” she explains. Crisis preparedness has also been an area of intensified concentration.
“The PR pro is responsible for building, advancing and protecting company and brand reputation, so matters related to purpose or ESG are no different,” asserts Priyanka Shah, VP of comms and IR, Kinnate Biopharma. “I think about ESG as the quantifiable measures that ensure business accountability.”
She adds that while many companies are already working on business ethics, human-capital topics and community giving, they may not be communicating it.
“The first step is to identify and describe the actions the company has already taken in ways that strengthen the company's brand and positioning,” advises Shah. “It’s simply good business.”
Webcast speakers (l-r): Houseknecht, Shah and Chodor
Increased eye on employees
Matters related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE+I) and employee experience and engagement are also becoming a larger part of the comms function.
“Internal communications isn’t just sharing the message, but engaging your employee population to be brand ambassadors and serve as the primary frontline voices of what the company stands for,” says Shah, who is also seeing increased attention to patient advocacy and IR.
“Treating the internal customer, our employees, as priority number one is incredibly important because they really can serve as the microphone for a brand, whether you want them to or not,” adds Houseknecht. “It's important to arm them with the right information.”
She has seen a shift to involving PR or comms even more any time a message is communicated, regardless of the channel.
“The message should be consistent for the brand regardless of where it's showing up,” stresses Houseknecht. “How we bring our messages to life through ambassadors, such as influencers or sponsored athletes in the social space, is super important for us.”
Meeting the greater data demand
The use of data and analytics is also becoming a central part of the practice. When asked to rate their ability to use data and analytics, 90.6% of survey respondents felt strong in this area. On the flip side, comms pros had a weaker grasp on how to show PRs direct impact on the bottom line – a continuing battle.
“This is definitely still a huge challenge for our industry,” admits Houseknecht. “We use a variety of tools in addition to agency partners to constantly track and measure our earned results.”
“We use audience reach as a priority way to show the value of comms as an integrated role,” notes Shah. “When you look at traffic or click-through rates or even impressions, it has no meaning until you can say who clicked through or how much time that person spent on your story and if they shared it. When you go beyond the quantitative to look at how your priority audience is actually engaging, that data becomes even more rich. The C-suite is looking to comms and PR to provide strategy-driven programming.”
Chodor offers some ways comms pros can demonstrate how their work is helping to advance the business.
“Share the actual data, use your social listening and media-monitoring tools to see where your campaign was picked up, who picked it up, what they wrote about,” he counsels. “Assess whether it moved the needle, created more funnel for sales, moved the stock price.”
Panelists also underscored the importance of working closely with marketing to impact the business. Houseknecht’s team is looking at how the function can pair marketing efforts to retarget earned audiences.
“We've tried targeted affiliate links as part of an early lead tactic,” she reports. “We offer one outlet an affiliate link as the only place you can shop a particular collection for a set period of time. That offers them not only the exclusive on the earned side, but also an opportunity for early access to show how we can drive sales through earned media.”
PR influencer, social and marketing are done together, allowing her team to function as one group.
“We can also leverage our individual content creators from an influencer perspective as affiliates,” continues Houseknecht. “That's a tactic we're trying not only on the earned side through PR, but also on the influencer marketing side through our different creators.”
Shah uses talent acquisition and retention as metrics for measuring impact to the bottom line.
“Retention and talent acquisition are clearly in the HR camp, but there's a lot of integration with how comms is supporting those goals – and you can clearly show how you've helped to achieve that,” she asserts. “You can measure visits to the career page. You can measure how many applied, how many went on to interview. If you want to show true conversion rate and impact to that bottom line in terms of retention, you can show how that interviewe led to an offer.”
Creating more content
The types of content PR is helping produce is also expanding, with social media and press releases being the most prominent, according to survey results.
While Shah notes that there are many innovative ways to share newsworthy information, the press release still fills an important function in companies that are targeting the investment community.
“Press releases are a tool often used for explaining data,” she says. “They can be more of a financial document than just a news source.”
“If you're a publicly traded company, you have to do a press release about your earnings four times a year,” notes Chodor. “A press releases is trackable, traceable and still gets the best SEO. It’s the best way to use your media contacts and gives everyone a reason to get back to you for more information. Use it as just one of the catalysts and follow it up with a lot of social and other ways to get your message out there.”
Participants agreed that an online newsroom is a must for any company. Houseknecht is continuing to evolve Wilson’s newsroom.
“We’re creating a hub that media and consumers can visit to find news that is content driven with tons of product information and stories behind the making of products,” she shares. “It allows the company to control the narrative.”
The Notified/PRWeek survey also showed that 98% of PR pros recognize the importance of mastering and applying marketing competencies. Respondents were presented with four metrics and asked to indicate how strong they were in each area. Brand awareness was the one which inspired the most confidence (87.3% reported doing a good job using the metric).
“We have so many different sports categories and all of them reach very different audiences and are at different phases in their brand lifecycle,” says Houseknecht. “We have to think about those pieces very differently. We've got a lot of work to do in the brand awareness space when it comes to our retail and apparel business and are measuring how we're driving our website traffic to stores as a collective across marketing, PR and social.”
Panelists say working closely with marketing has given them an appreciation for the importance of an omni-channel approach.
“The more time we have to work as a collective team and shape the way we come to market, that makes the omni-channel message consistent across all of the touchpoints,” notes Houseknecht. “We've gotten a lot better at making sure that story is aligned regardless of where the consumer is meeting us.”
“You also don't want to cannibalize your own efforts,” concludes Shah. “The omni-channel piece is very important because you want your efforts to be complementary from a product perspective.”
Click here to view this webcast for free on demand.
Later this month, Notified and PRWeek will be deploying an eBook that will share the detailed findings of the survey referenced in the article above. Check your emails and prweek.com for that.