-Lark-Marie Anton, CCO, Gannett
-Amanda Bonzo, senior director of comms, Dick’s Sporting Goods
-Laura Brusca, SVP, corp comms, Forbes
-Adam Collins, chief comms and corporate affairs officer, MolsonCoors
-Emilie Cotter, SVP and CCO, Audi
-Erin Rolfes, director of corporate comms and media relations, Kroger
-Jordana Strosberg, senior director, executive communications and partner affairs, PwC
-Erin Wolford, VP, external comms, Chipotle
-James Wright, global CEO, Red Havas
An unprecedented amount of content — not to mention platforms — is making it harder than ever for brands to reach consumers with messaging. Research shows that only 47% of people believe what brands are telling them, clearly underscoring the importance of creating strong content for a more-skeptical-than-ever audience.
This gathering of industry leaders convened to share ideas and tactics about successfully balancing the need to create content that is both right for the brand and right for the intended audience. And the conversation kicks off with a focus on a classic PR staple that still matters much: good writing.
The bedrock of reaching consumers is crafting written content that they can’t help but read. It’s a skill that can’t be underestimated, according to a recent whitepaper from Red Havas entitled Content That Cuts Through. Roundtable participants agree, sharing the aspects they prioritize when it comes to great writing.
For MolsonCoors’ Adam Collins it’s about knowing the recipient.
“If you don't know who your audience is and you don't understand what's compelling to them, none of what you do matters,” he exclaims.
Panelists noted that finding the right voice and keeping copy clean, concise and easy to consume are hallmarks.
“Making sure a message is laser focused, super precise and super personalized” for a particular audience is the key for PwC’s Jordana Strosberg.
Meanwhile, Laura Brusca of Forbes advises comms pros to not only “think like a journalist,” but act like one.
“We investigate our own organizations and brands,” she explains, “by talking to leadership, our clients and our partners to uncover the stories that are newsworthy and [then determine] how we can tell those stories through our own lens.”
Ultimately, the goal of good communications is to make people feel something, suggests Red Havas’ James Wright. That’s how you “create a connection with your brand that makes them more likely to act.”
The personal touch
Panelists offer some insights on how personalizing a message helps cut through the clutter. Wright cites his agency’s research that shows 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver more personalized interactions, while 76% get frustrated when that doesn't happen.
“Personalization drives performance and better customer outcomes,” says Wright. “Companies that grow faster drive 40% more of their revenue from personalization than their slower-growing competitors.”
“It's all about value for the audience,” notes Emilie Cotter of Audi. “And it’s about discoverability. How do we help them find something they didn't know about our product, our brand or a brand that we're partnering with?”
Roundtable participants were (clockwise from top left): Anton, Bonzo, Brusca, Collins, Cotter, Wright, Wolford, Strosberg and Rolfes.
A look inside
Employees have become a core audience for so much, including the way they can serve as an incredibly effective sounding board to help sharpen messages before they are rolled out to an external audience.
This makes all the sense in the world to Collins. “The folks who show up to work every day here have the best BS meter,” he shares.
At the start of the pandemic, the CEO of Forbes sent out twice-weekly “checking in” memos to employees, a practice Brusca explains set a tone for the organization and can serve as useful guidance for many brands.
“We all need to check in on our audiences to be mindful of the environment,” she advises.
For Amanda Bonzo at Dick’s Sporting Goods, employee communications has a key trickle-down impact.
“It enables action by our teammates,” she explains. “They can then deliver that personalized experience to the people who are shopping with us.”
These lessons take on particular importance when you consider Red Havas’ research that shows only about 12% of brands are effectively mobilizing their employees around campaigns.
“That's a huge missed opportunity in terms of activating them as human media,” says Wright, “and as ambassadors of your company.”
Whatever stakeholder group is the target of a message, “being as honest as possible in that moment” is the goal, points out Lark-Marie Anton of Gannett. “Being upfront and being honest really matters.”
Participants agreed that staying true to your brand and authentically engaging with customers – including listening to them – is a given. “Trust and relationships are everything when you're creating content that shines,” notes Brusca.
And while only 47% of people believe what brands are telling them, business remains as the highest-ranked institution in terms of trust. “That makes our jobs that much more important,” underscores Strosberg.
Transparency is also a huge factor in building trust with consumers, as well as with reporters. Since studies show that journalists only open 3% of the media pitches they get, transparency is critical to gaining their trust.
“It’s critical that the brand is available in times of crisis, as well as in times of success,” says Chipotle’s Erin Wolford. “You can't expect them to tell your good news if you're not willing to step up when the not-so-good news arrives.”
Erin Rolfes spends a good deal of time at Kroger with C-suite executives coaching away their fear of speaking with journalists.
“We don’t want them to be worried about talking to someone that may have said something not favorable about the company back in the 80s,” she explains.
Prioritizing publications based on messaging is also helpful.
“You shouldn't be sending everything to everyone,” counsels Wolford. “Make sure you're tapped into what their audiences care about at the moment and the individual journalist’s personal interests.”
The impact of relationship-building can’t be overestimated. Comms pros who take the time to know what journalists are actually interested in covering and let them know they are available as a resource will reap the benefits of that investment.
Brusca offers journalists off-the-record conversations with top executives so that they can build a relationship with the reporter.
The most successful pitches are brief and tell a reporter why the story will “hit the heart, head or wallet of the audience,” explains Wright.
And, as Bonzo advises, “It has to actually be a story in order for you to gain that credibility with journalists and make them feel like you're being honest.”