-Erin Rolfes, director of comms and media relations, Kroger
-Michael Cinque, senior account executive, Enterprise Solutions Division, Meltwater
Creating and delivering effective comms strategies has become more difficult in an ever-changing landscape. Today’s PR pros are further challenged to influence, engage and build relationships with an increasing number of stakeholder groups.
The good news: There are certainly a lot more tools at communicators’ disposal than ever before to help them excel at their increased responsibilities. And during this webinar, presented by Meltwater, a pair of leaders drilled deep to not only focus on those tools, but truly counsel on how to most effectively use them for everything from crisis response to ESG messaging to executive positioning to staying ahead of the media conversation.
“Technology brings PR the ability to monitor brand coverage more effectively than ever before,” explains Meltwater’s Michael Cinque. “Social media is the fastest ear to the ground, the biggest pulse of what's to come.” Speedy feedback also helps PR pros quickly double down on messaging that’s working or pivot when it isn’t.
It starts with data
With that broader, overarching premise established, data quickly takes center stage in the conversation. To start, the ability to quickly gather data helps brands detect a problem before it becomes a crisis or put out a fire before it spreads very far.
“Data matters because it's cold and emotions often run hot during a crisis,” notes Cinque. Determining when something is a crisis and deciding when to take action on it are two pivotal inflection points that are often rushed or done at once when they really should be separated.
“It helps to slow down and make sure you're approaching the crisis in a more data-driven way,” he adds. The contextualization that data lends is important, though it “doesn't happen enough.”
Contextualizing data helps Kroger’s Erin Rolfes and her team separate noise from a true brand threat.
“The folks who monitor our social media tend to get spun up quickly by a couple of negative posts or something that seems to be gaining steam,” she reports. Data helped lend perspective on the impact of unsupportive local media coverage of a proposed merger versus coverage in The Wall Street Journal that took a positive view of it. Data, adds Rolfes, helps her team “be that calm voice in the room.”
Data bears out how Kroger's Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative is resonating with customers and employees alike.
Cinque and Rolfes also explore how a data-driven communications approach intersects with ESG efforts, particularly how it can help build consumer trust and brand authenticity.
Data can help a brand identify a target audience with values that align with those of the brand – a crucial element that enables ESG efforts to truly work. Cinque notes that while ESG efforts need to be authentic to the brand, communications must also be authentic to truly resonate with a key audience.
Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social and environmental impact plan is a good example of how a company’s ESG can resonate with customers, as well as employees.
“Our associates tell us it makes them feel great to work for a company with 100% of stores that participate in food rescue,” explains Rolfes. “It resonates with associates from a retention perspective.” Kroger’s ESG positioning works because the supermarket retailer has made a commitment to reducing waste and hunger across many platforms and because the positioning “is authentic to who we are,” she adds.
Authenticity is critical for alliances with influencers, a marketing tool that is now de rigueur. “Influencers’ power is increasing whether we like it or not,” counsels Cinque. He cites research revealing that nearly 50% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations, while 82% of consumers trust the opinions they see on social media.
Bringing leadership along
When it comes to ESG, communications teams are too often tasked with bringing the C-suite on board – yet another area where data can play a key role.
“Data can help inform why it’s important for the C-suite to take part in this exercise,” suggests Cinque. As the representation or personification of the brand, executive leaders serve as the face of ESG.
“ESG sentiment online is generally a strong and engaged reputational driver on how a business is showing up,” he continues. “If leadership is presenting in a different way, that could be a crisis in the waiting.”
Cinque offers Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, as a great example of an executive with a genuine commitment who is viewed as authentic. He notes that when Chouinard and his family transferred their ownership stake into two newly created entities whose profits are used to combat climate change, “it didn't come off like greenwashing.”
Unsurprisingly, comms teams are devoting more resources to ESG training for their executives.
“We spend a lot of time making sure our officers are prepared from a key messages perspective and stress how they can weave in our commitment to Zero Hunger | Zero Waste whenever it makes sense,” explains Rolfes. “We have them embrace the messaging and understand how it can connect back to sales and the bottom line.”
Connecting the PR function to the bottom line is another key aspect of data-driven communications.
“Consumers are more aware of the environmental and social impacts of their decision making,” says Cinque. “They actually factor that into purchasing intent. Communicators can impact that directly.”
“The more people understand about the good we do in the community,’ adds Rolfes, “the more they want to shop at Kroger. Ultimately, the end number is sales and what are we doing to drive people into the store.”
The webcast's featured speakers are (l-r) Rolfes and Cinque.
In addition to connecting comms to core business objectives, Cinque and Rolfes discuss other key KPIs they view as must-haves. They agree that while volume of mentions is great, PR pros need to think about coverage more strategically.
“You have to think about quality and quantity,” emphasizes Rolfes. She explains that while volume of stories is important, it’s critical to think deeper about storytelling, such as a profile with a division president in a newspaper of record or a broadcast story focused on how a brand delivers value for consumers.
The most impactful metrics a brand can get are ones that help them measure message resonance and key message penetration.
“If an organization has really strong themes, measuring how much PR is pulling that message through target publications or other media is a tactical example of more qualitative measurement,” says Cinque. He adds that there is a notable increase in brands “digging more into sentiment” to assess how coverage is slanted and how consumers feel about the brand after exposure.
Technology will continue to arm PR pros with more tools to monitor brand coverage even more effectively. Visual analysis can evaluate images of consumers to provide a sense of how they are reacting to the brand.
“The technology now exists and can be weaved into a communications protocol,” notes Cinque. “These are opportunities to identify moments of consumption that can be used to inform content strategy or ESG positioning.”
Predictive analytics, concludes Cinque, is “another area where AI augmentation can work faster than a human through large datasets. That could be the next trend. These are two big technological innovations in their infancy that we’ll see more of in the coming years as a way to inform comms strategy.”
Click here to watch the full webinar.