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Sergeant Spencer Stone is one of three Americans who helped foil a terrorist attack on a French train on August 21, 2015.  Since then, these overnight heroes have been greeted with opportunities of instant fame that few can imagine.  Though they have dedicated people around them, it’s difficult managing through that level of exposure, so quickly.

Recently, at the National Summit on Strategic Communications Summit in DC, I moderated a panel with Staff Sergeant Stone, U.S. Air Force, Lt. Col Glen Roberts, Director, Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office, U.S. Air Force and Ray Kerins, SVP of Communications and Government Relations for Bayer.  We discussed what really matters in life, how to put fame in perspective and focused on the lessons we can all learn from what Sgt. Stone and his two buddies endured.

Here are a few insights that are striking to me due to their powerful simplicity.

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Our core values matter — Sgt. Stone said that “I always told myself what I would do in a situation like that”. He went on to say that his decision to rush an attacker holding a gun and knives was simple.  “It was how my Mom raised me”.  The lesson in here is that if our values are strong and clear, doing the right thing every day of our lives is a no brainer.  We don’t over think it.

The right actions matter in a crisis – Ray Kerins said, “Will we run and hide or do the right thing?  Sgt. Stone took action.  As corporations we need to think about how we take action in the face of a crisis.”

I mentioned that a lot of people on the train chose not to get up, but Sgt. Stone and his two friends did.  It’s the same inside corporations.  When a crisis hits, who stands up first?

Listen to people you trust not yes men – Sgt. Stone said that he surrounds himself with people he can trust, like his family and Lt. Col Glen Roberts and not people who tell him what he wants to hear.

True humility is life-long, not episodic – Sgt. Stone said “At the end of the day, I could have walked away from this with no one knowing about it, and I’d be fine with it.”

If you are humble, you are all of the time.  And it makes life a lot easier, since you just don’t care about all of the hype.

Leadership is a team sport — Lt. Col. Glen Roberts said that “leadership is extremely important and it’s a team sport.”

We do need each other to stay strong, do the right thing and stay focused.

Maintaining your core values – Sgt. Stone said “keep your integrity and honor. Treat people right.” I would add in one word…..”everyday”.

Want to see a recap of this year’s event? Check out our Storify!

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, April 26 -27, the National Summit on Strategic Communications, will convene at the Hilton Crystal City in Arlington, VA.  The two-day event will explore the increasing digital interconnection of people and its impact on innovation, growth, and purpose.

One of the day 1 sessions (April 26) features a panel discussion on the importance of Relevance for today’s organizations and how it’s becoming the new Reputation in today’s social/digital world.

Below are some initial thoughts from the panelists on this most intriguing subject:

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Chris Preuss, Senior Vice President, Communications and Marketing, Delphi

Living within the somewhat finite universe of the B2B realm, the need for relevance is no less important than in the consumer space. For Delphi Automotive, our ability to maintain top-of-mind presence in what is an intensely competitive and cost sensitive market, is critical to our success.  Complicating the situation is Delphi’s long history of being an off-shoot of General Motors in 1997, and having endured a very public and painful restructuring during the period of 2005-2006.  Even with reasonably informed customers, Delphi suffered from an image of being a one customer entity with little global reach. The good news is that the building blocks of solid reputation – consistently delivering above expectations and doing what you say – has elevated the company greatly over the past several years. In other words, I don’t think there are shortcuts to gaining the kind of relevance that makes a reputation transactional.

Another interesting point to relevance is the need for our brand and our reputation to resonate for the purpose of recruiting. We are now spending almost as much intellectual and execution energy on attracting young engineering and software talent, as we are attracting customers. The need to understand who we are communicating with and where they are consuming their information has never been more important. And to be honest, this is not a great muscle in many B2B organizations. Most of our analytic and marketing automation capabilities have been targeted to a very narrow customer market – now we are having to act much more like a consumer brand to find the talent.  The good news is the environment to effectively and efficiently communicate with broad reach has never been better. Developing the story and content that will engage them is an evolving journey.

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Carol Cone, ON PURPOSE Collaborative

We live in a world where more people care. Public demands – for transparency, for trust, for sharing, for inspiration – have never been greater.  People expect brands and organizations to stand for something meaningful, and want to know more about how products are sourced and made, what businesses do to minimize their impact, and how they make a positive difference.  More than just hearing nice stories, people want to feel and be a part of purpose-driven change.

No longer just consumers, we are now citizens who want more. More sharing. More caring. More meaning. More understanding about why brands and organizations exist, what they stand for, how they engage employees, people and communities, and how they play a positive role in the world.

We’ve believed this for decades, and pioneered the idea and breakthrough programs that brought purpose to life. In the beginning it was “if” an organization existed beyond profits. Now it is about the “how,” with the power of purpose proven across every metric: revenues, productivity, innovation, employee retention, consumer loyalty, and community support.

Bringing purpose into the core of your business is the single most important action you can take. We call it the evolution of purpose. It’s a process. It takes vision, patience, and organizational champions.

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Rob Clark, Vice President, Global Communication, Medtronic

A 2014 study showed the following:

Every minute…

  • Facebook users share nearly 2.5 million pieces of content.
  • Twitter users tweet nearly 300,000 times.
  • Instagram users post nearly 220,000 new photos.
  • YouTube users upload 72 hours of new video content.
  • Apple users download nearly 50,000 apps.
  • Email users send over 200 million messages.

With all of this content flying around, how can a company or institution break through?  How can we meaningfully engage with customers, partners and employees through this noise?  This is the challenge for communicators and marketers around the world – being relevant with our message and growing brand equity in a time of a data and information explosion.

The answer is routed in what we have known for years – we have to fundamentally understand our customers and employees and never have we had more data and insights by which to determine this.  In a digital world, virtually all things can be tracked, monitored, and assessed for insights on what is relevant to our stakeholders.

At Medtronic, we have been tackling the following areas to better identify, understand, and engage with our stakeholders in the hopes of meeting their needs and advancing our reputation and preference in the marketplace.

  • First, infrastructure.  Legacy systems and siloed approaches are coming down.  We recently began implementing a single, global platform for digital and social media that provides a common content, distribution and analytics platform globally.
  • Second, content.  We’ve reassessed our content and how we deliver it.  Technical, bland content goes nowhere.  Though hard for a technology company in a complex, regulated industry, we are striving to develop content that is simple and interesting — crafted through better insights and delivered through compelling stories.
  • Third, data and analytics.   The good news – we have never had more data and information on our stakeholders than now.   The bad news – we are generally bad at aggregating, analyzing and turning into this information into action and relevance.  We are seeking to better track data longitudinally and then close the loop to better craft our content and programs.
  • Fourth, and probably the toughest…culture.   Large companies are not set inherently positioned to win in a digital world.  Historically, IT, HR, Marketing and Communications have operated independently with different roles in customer and employee engagement.  To the stakeholder – the employee or customer – that typically creates a complexity, blandness and lack of timeliness that makes the company increasingly irrelevant.   Bringing those constituencies together to examine and engage our stakeholders more horizontally in a digital world requires a new conversation and a new connectedness.

In the end, this work cannot be divorced from our core purpose – delivering great products and services that meets our customer’s needs.  Actions ultimately speak louder than words.  And, when these actions are paired with meaningful content, the company’s purpose and reputation will find its way through the clutter and be deemed meaningful and relevant.

Looking forward to seeing you there next Tuesday, April 26 at the Strategic Communications Conference in Arlington, VA for what will be an incredible discussion on the future of our work and efficacy! Register using code C786W2O for a discount on the conference.

 

$50,000, three-year commitment to develop future leaders

LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–W2O Group today announced a $50,000, three-year commitment to The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF) to fund the Future Leaders in Healthcare Fellowship Program targeting ethnic minority candidates pursuing careers in healthcare communications.

Spearheaded by W2O Group Founder and CEO Jim Weiss and TLF Chairman and CEO Mr. Kim L. Hunter, the program will build on TLF’s mission of increasing the number of ethnic minorities in the fields of advertising, marketing and public relations.

“Given our expertise and focus on healthcare we are looking to ensure the next generation of leaders are ready for the challenges ahead,” said Weiss. “This partnership with TLF will result in a more diverse workforce, work with client partners to increase diversity in their communications functions, and provide more robust insights and results to clients from a diverse perspective.”

W2O Group launched the program with a $50,000 donation to TLF that will be dispersed over the course of three years, placing two fellows per year. The program will be a 10-week, paid fellowship in one of the following offices: New York, San Francisco, Austin, Boston or Minneapolis.

The program will expose the fellows to careers in healthcare communications and give them the opportunity to work with major organizations including Shire, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

“A program this dedicated to increasing minority representation is certainly beneficial to the PR/Communications profession and the healthcare industry,” said Gwen Fisher, head of global portfolio communications at Shire. “I applaud TLF and W2O Group for their partnership in making this a reality.

Vicky Najar, a senior at California State University Dominguez Hills majoring in communications is looking forward to applying for the fellowship: “Being a Latina, I understand the impact health companies can have on someone like me and the unique perspective I can bring to them. I see this program and future career path as a way to help others in a truly meaningful way through my work.”

The healthcare industry is constantly evolving with a focus on patient care. In order to stay relevant and have the ability to target a wide range of patient demographics, health-focused agencies need to reflect diversity in their workforce to provide maximum value to their clients. The partnership with TLF illustrates W2O Group’s commitment to provide culturally relevant campaigns and services targeting the nation’s diverse population.

“Given the significant demand by both agencies and clients, this action–oriented fellowship program will be designed specifically to develop the next generation of healthcare communications and marketing professionals to meet the current and growing demand,” said Hunter.

Visit the W2O Group Common Sense blog to learn more.

For more information about the Foundation, please visit www.lagrantfoundation.org. Engage with us on: Facebook, Twitter andInstagram.

For more information about W2O group, please visit sentw2ogroup.wpengine.com. Engage with us on: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

About The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF)

Since its inception in 1998, The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF) has provided 331 scholarships and $1.83 million to continue its mission to increase the number of ethnic minorities in the fields of advertising, marketing and public relations. With the generous support of its major donors and supporters, TLF provides students with career & professional development workshops, scholarships, internships, entry-level positions and mentors to African American/Black, Alaska Native/Native American, Asian American/Pacific Islander and Hispanic/Latino undergraduate and graduate students.

About W2O Group

Founded and led by chairman and CEO Jim Weiss, W2O Group is an independent network of complementary marketing and communications firms focused on integrated business solutions that drive change and growth for the world’s leading brands and organizations. W2O Group firms employ proprietary analytics to ensure precise communications in today’s social and digital reality. W2O Group serves clients through a network of firms – WCG, Twist Mktg and BrewLife – via offices in San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Silicon Valley, Boston, London, and Basel.

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I’m excited to share that W2O has partnered with The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF) with the first–of-its-kind fellowship targeting ethnic minorities pursuing careers in healthcare communications. It’s a $50,000 three- year commitment which will fund the Future Leaders in Healthcare Fellowship Program, placing 2 fellows per year in a 10 –week paid fellowship in one of the following offices: San Francisco, New York, Austin, Boston or Minneapolis.

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More than ever, we need to diversify our workforce and continue to help you, our clients, increase diversity in your communications functions. This is a win – win for everyone. It gives men and women something to aspire to and allows a venue for stellar, diverse talent.

When I started this company in 2001, it was grounded in healthcare PR, and the reason I’ve been in healthcare communications for so long is because it fuses two of my passions – communications and health. Now that W2O group has expanded into additional verticals (Tech, Consumer, Auto, Entertainment), I think it’s important to continue to leave a positive impact and I think this partnership is the perfect venue for that.

View this interview with Kim L. Hunter, The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF) Chairman & CEO, Dr. Rochelle Ford, a professor in Syracuse University’s School of Public Communications, and myself for additional insight.

I’m proud to partner with The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF). We’re going into our 15th year in business and I couldn’t think of a better time to team up with an organization like TLF which aligns with our principals of excellence and progress within the marketing and communications industry.

View the press release here for more details.

All the best, 
Jim

Last week, W2O Group won one of the most prestigious awards in marketing research: an Advertising Research Foundation Ogilvy Award. These awards are unique because the entries are judged on the basic fundamentals: the insight, the creative, and the campaigns’ impact on an audience. It’s not about the bells and whistles that typically adorn other research and analytics award submissions. The “bigness” of the data doesn’t matter, nor the does the “advancedness” of the data analyses. All that matters is the research team’s ability to discover a novel truth about the target audience, and the creative team’s ability to execute a great campaign based on that knowledge.

At W2O, we believe one of the most important factors determining the success of creative execution, is the speed at which an insight is uncovered and made actionable by the research and creative teams. The speed of delivery is just as important as the correctness of the results. This is why we tend to favor social and digital data-driven insights in conjunction with panel-based survey data over slower research methods like focus groups and field-studies. If the insight is correct, it doesn’t matter if it’s delivered after the campaign has been executed.

David Ogilvy, who the award is aptly named after, was a huge proponent of “good enough” research. He used to say that many agency researchers favored slow, methodical perfection, over faster, sometimes sloppier, but directionally correct research methods. In his classic book On Advertising, Ogilvy argued that the later type of research was the only useful kind advertising since creatives can rarely wait four months for the research team to come back with insights about an audience. Most agency research needs to happen in a matter of weeks, if not days.

Ogilvy would have been pleased with the fast, directionally correct, and “good enough” research we conducted to win our Silver award in the “new audiences” category.

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The work was done for Western Digital, who was looking to increase awareness and consideration for its personal cloud storage product MyCloud audience segments beyond the traditional tech-savvy, IT-professional. Using social media listening and monitoring techniques (imperfect, but directionally sound), we found a valuable target of personal content “curators,” consisting of 60% women, with an average age of 42, and those who made household purchase decisions. Through research and analytics, WCG, a W2O company identified that this audience segment prioritized security and control when it involved their personal data – photos, videos and personal documents.

W2O’s creative team, led by Creative Group Director, Walt Whitman, created content that was visual, consumable and sharable by capturing life moments that our target audience would relate to personally, including imagery like the sexy selfie, awkward family photos and pet portraits. The #KeepItPersonal campaign was executed across multiple channels both online, and offline (you can see much of the creative content here).

The campaign was a huge success, exceeding targets for engagement with campaign content and conversion rates through e-commerce.

Fast, good-enough research was important 33 years ago when Ogilvy wrote On Advertising. It’s even more important today in a fractured media landscape where brand’s best chance of winning market share is through highly targeted, highly relevant, and timely content that works across traditional broadcast, social, and digital channels. The researcher’s luxury of arriving at insights in weeks or months is quickly becoming a thing of the past. As creative teams produce more content, far faster (and cheaper) than ever before, researchers will increasingly feel pressure to deliver insights at a faster pace as well. That’s exactly why social and digital data are at the center of the agency’s new research toolkit and why they’ll likely stay there in the years ahead.

 

As each year passes, graduating classes of Millennials continue to join the workforce, bringing with them their media and technology focused minds and experiences. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Millennials are on track to make up 44% of the workforce by 2025. To say that Millennials and technology go hand-in-hand is an understatement. Luckily, they bring that insight to the PR industry day-by-day. With this in mind, we went to the movers and shakers themselves to discuss how the Committee of Millennials at W2O group believe that Millennials are shaping the industry and what is ahead for this “disruptive” generation.

Culture and Balance

First and foremost, office culture has drastically changed since we joined the workforce. We’ve said goodbye to the strict 9-5 and hello to connecting outside of the office. Now, thanks to social media many coworkers are able to connect outside of the common cubicle; and thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, offices across the nation as well as with our neighbors across the pond, are able to stay connected through Facebook groups, and up to date on the activities occurring throughout the company, regardless of location.

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Office culture overall has become more laid back, casual and many offices include an open floor plan to encourage collaboration and communication among coworkers. Additionally, Millennials are more focused on developing friendships with those they work with in comparison to Gen X or baby boomers. There is a large push to establish and maintain office culture through fun events throughout the year, outside of the typical annual office holiday party.

In The Know

Say what you will about Millennials being fully absorbed into their phones and social media, but in the PR industry, it is increasingly helpful for those to be “plugged in.” According to study conducted by the American Press Institute, 88% of Millennials use social media, specifically Facebook, as their primary source of news and check it regularly. In this industry specifically, there has been a shift from traditional practices to incorporating more digital media strategy and encouraging a larger presence on social media for clients. Being “plugged in” has us on the frontline of all things tech and consumer based, and with that we are able to suggest different platforms and ideas on how to expand a client’s reach to a different audience in a fresh, new way.

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However, we argue that it is more than just our strong connectivity that puts us at the cutting edge. Rather, it is our desire to question common practices, to ask and learn more, which sparks yet another difference between us and other generations. Millennials love to contribute and suggest new ideas so a company that promotes that kind of participation is key for prospective jobs.

What We Look For

 When asked, “What attracts you to a job,” or what made our Millennials choose W2O Group, many of us reported that the opportunity to communicate and bring ideas to the table is a huge attraction in a potential workplace. Overall, many noted that when interviewing, they highlighted that having strong and natural conversations with interviewers was something that they took into account when choosing a potential workplace. In this day and age, it is no longer only about a skillfully crafted job description and a decent salary, but rather the work / life balance and culture a company supports that this generation is looking for.

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Gone are the days where an entry level employee is discouraged to share their thoughts and ideas. Where previously, they would have to go through their manager and then their manager’s manager to get an idea pitched at a meeting. Now, we are encouraged to contribute wherever possible and at all times. Many also suggested that it was a lack of “red tape” at W2O that drew us here and what we saw was a company that recognizes the flexibility to do what is needed to get the job done.

Moving Forward

Regardless of the daily criticism Millennials receive, whether it be for being too self-involved, too out of touch with traditional concepts or pushing back more than some would like, this generation is shaping not only the workplace, but the public relations industry as a whole. We don’t claim to know everything and our tech savviness will soon fade with newer platforms emerging every day, but until then we will continue to ask questions, remain “plugged in,” and look forward to what is yet to come.

 

In 2016, it should be no surprise that many doctors have translated their offline influence into social influence, sharing health information with colleagues and patients. While HIPAA and the need to maintain patient privacy are well understood by physicians, what is less understood is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidance on social media. In order to protect the general public and ensure that online influencers are transparent about payment and gifts, the FTC issued Endorsement Guides. The FTC suggests that this be accomplished using hashtags such as #ad, #paid, #sponsored or #promoted in posts.

STATNews recently highlighted a few physicians who did not make their relationship with biopharma companies readily apparent when commenting on the company products. When we work with physicians to educate them on using social media, central to this effort is how to use it appropriately, including an explanation of the FTC regulations. The FTC notes that “if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed.”

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What’s a Physician To Do?

If a physician is working with a biopharma company and is being compensated for their expertise as a key opinion leader (KOL), we recommend that this be disclosed. One way is to add a hashtag with the name of the company and the acronym KOL (#CompanyKOL) to social posts. This makes it clear that the physician has a relationship with the company. In order to provide this clarity, one of our clients requests the healthcare professionals use #spokesperson in their posts. And, because the relationships between healthcare professionals and biopharma companies can be multi-faceted, another way to highlight the connection is for the physician to add a link to in their bio that explains the details, such as involvement in clinical trials.

It’s also important to note that, similar to bloggers, the physicians are not being paid for their positive opinion, but for their expertise. Consumers want to hear from physicians and learn from them. It’s just important that the context is apparent.

Always Keep Fair Balance in Mind

Many physicians also aren’t aware of the complex Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on promoting drugs. This includes the need to include “fair balance” (i.e. if you feature the benefits of a medication, you need to equally feature the potential risks). The FDA is clear that this requirement needs to be maintained even when there are only 140 characters on Twitter. A link to the important safety information does not suffice.

When working with influencers, whether patients or physicians, we always share the FDA and FTC guidelines so that they can make educated choices when sharing on social. No matter who you are, authenticity and transparency are essential to building relationships via social media.

 

 

Even though I can only assume, I think it is safe to say that most people with college degrees can relate at least a little to the job search conundrum facing recent graduates. Just six months ago, I was in that position myself. I had applied to many different internships and jobs over the course of a few months, but had not gained much traction. I was beginning to get a little nervous about my options after graduation, and then I found W2O Group. W2O Group was willing to take a chance interviewing an internship candidate without a degree in communications, but instead in Spanish Literature. Although I cannot deny my love of Garcia Marquez and Cervantes, something told me that I would not go on to write the next great Spanish novel. So I dove head first into the interview process, fully embracing the chance to work at an innovative company like W2O.

Andrew Echeguren and his rock-star team
Andrew Echeguren and his rock-star team

After the hiring process, I moved back home to San Francisco and walked excitedly through the doors of 60 Francisco St. thinking that I was about to embark on a two and a half month PR journey. I was wrong on multiple accounts. Instead of focusing solely on PR, my internship at W2O Group engaged me in many roles within the company. During the internship, I was able to combine account management experiences with media relations work, all while collaborating with my fellow interns to complete a challenging yet rewarding intern project.

All these experiences made a lasting impression on me, and I made it clear to my supervisors that I loved working at W2O Group. At this point, I knew my destiny of becoming the next Garcia Marquez was not in the cards just yet, and that instead I wanted to become a full-time employee of W2O Group. Thus, in addition to clearly communicating my aspirations to my colleagues and mentors, I worked hard to establish myself as an important member of my teams. All the hard work I put forth paid off, and I still clearly remember the day when I accepted an offer to become an Account Associate in the Tech Practice here. One of my coworkers even organized a welcoming party for me, which is when the thought crossed my mind, “This is the place for me, because they value what I can contribute to the company, but also, more importantly, who I am”.

After completing my internship, I transitioned into a more account management focused role, and I feel like I have grown tremendously, both professionally and personally, in these first few months. Truthfully, if someone had asked me six months ago if I had planned on doing what I do now, I would not have even understood my current job title. That just goes to show how much one can learn with hard work and support from the right people. After these first six months working here, I can safely say that this beats reading and writing about Don Quixote’s adventures in Spain (despite how awesome they are), and that I am even more excited about the next six months here at W2O Group than I was on my very first day.

Andrew Echeguren is now an Account Associate at the W2O Group office in San Francisco. Learn more about him on LinkedIn and at @therealbigech .

This post, written, by Dr. Augustine Fou, Chief Marketing Science Officer for The Advertising Research Foundation is part of our CES-Inspired blog series.  This topic is our first, Geo-location.  My related post is here.  

What?

As more and more consumers spend more and more time on their mobile devices (even exceeding their time in front of computers) we are aggregating a massive new data set — geolocations based on the GPS locations in their mobile devices.

There are obvious benefits to having this data. Waze (Google) uses real-time speed information to crowdsource traffic stats that inform navigation systems. Ads for the closest barber shops or listings for restaurants in the vicinity can be brought up based on where the user actually is. Furthermore, geolocation can be used for additional context to understand the meaning of users’ searches. For example a search for “pizza” on a Friday night from home, usually means the user is looking for home delivery of pizza for dinner; while the same search for “pizza” at noon from an office location might mean the user is looking for a restaurant near the office to go to for lunch.

Along with these enormous benefits there are new risks that should not be overlooked. For example, knowing that someone is not home during certain hours every weekday could allow bad guys to easily burglarize the house. Knowing someone’s favorite restaurants, bars, or home address may present personal safety risks if that information falls into the wrong hands. So it really boils down to who has access to what information about individuals’ locations, at all times based on their mobile devices.

So What?

For the most part, the forerunners in the mobile data space like Foursquare, with location-based “check-ins,” have done a good job protecting users’ privacy by careful handling of their geolocation data; these were “walled gardens” with unique, custom data sets. But more recently, data management platforms, which sell user targeting data to programmatic ad exchanges, collect users’ place-based information via their mobile devices, often without their knowledge. They collect this information on users via many partners, from mobile apps, analytics packages, and even telecom providers (that pre-install tracking on locked phones).  Then they sell the data to drive prices higher — i.e. higher premiums associated with greater targeting, because advertisers are willing to pay more for users whose locations are known.

But while these members of the ad tech supply chain are making higher profits from the buying and selling of user data, most users are not aware of the extent to which their data is being used, nor do they have any means to determine that and control their own information. That leads to bigger questions — who owns this geolocation data — the users or the companies that collected it? What rights do users have and what can they do if they wanted to “get their data back?” There is clearly enormous value in that data; but consumers are not getting any value from it at this point, while companies are profiting from it. Is this sustainable or does it have to change?

Now What?

History has shown that any significant imbalance of value must ultimately be rebalanced in order for a healthy ecosystem to persist. We see this in physics – areas of high energy will balance with areas of low energy. We see this in nature – ecosystems with an explosion of invasive species will rebalance and settle into a new steady-state. In our digital advertising ecosystem, as consumers continue to gain power, they will also start to exercise their rights to see what data is being collected of them and demand the ability to control, edit, take it back, or delete it.

Other ecosystems have had to “rebalance” and acknowledge the rights of the consumer – think, Do Not Call List. There is already the digital equivalent called Do Not Track and Ad Choices, pioneered by digital advertising trade associations. Facebook and Google both now allow users to download their own data from the cloud — from emails to photos to videos, and every other type of asset — if they so choose to take their data with them.

Further, past analyses of how ecosystems evolve show some consistent patterns: 1) when a new market is being developed, pioneer companies create walled gardens in their attempt to set and become the standard and own the entire market, 2) then in order to continue to achieve growth, fast followers promote interoperability in order to gain access to previously established walled gardens — the interoperability increases the value of the network effect, and 3) once most players are interoperable, most of them no longer have unique, defendable competitive differentiation, which leads to waves of consolidation and eeking out more efficiency.

In the programmatic ad tech ecosystem, we may already be in phase 3 and some consolidation has already been witnessed. But the companies in the ecosystem that can most proactively make changes to empower consumers to know and control their own data will likely be the ones that succeed long term.

 

Recently, after being briefed on the company’s internal communications strategy and plan for the year – the CEO of a global organization posed a compelling question: “Fast forward to December, tell me why all of this didn’t work.”

As we enter a new year, it’s always a positive and somewhat idealistic time. Strategies and plans come together with their requisite measures and synchronized business goals. For communications professionals, specifically those involved with organizational effectiveness, the challenge remains – how can we improve employee engagement.

Former General Electric CEO and leadership guru, Jack Welch, often describes employee engagement as the most important measurement for a CEO. “There are measurements you need to understand at a business to know if you’re on the right track, Welch once told a major business journal. First and foremost, is employee engagement.”

As you begin the year, ask yourself the following questions as a means to test your internal communications programming to ensure the results are met and possibly, exceeded.

What are you Solving for?

The most important question to answer is whether internal communications is directed at improving employee engagement. This can be done based on specific business goals – providing line of sight between people’s jobs and customer needs, marketplace expectations. Engagement includes but is not limited to leader rhetoric and commitment; manager involvement; feedback and discussion; and recognition.

Is it a Conversation-based model?

How are you planning to catalyze dialogue internally? Without dialogue, discussion, and debate, internal communications is nothing more than a cadence of information with no real intent or meaning. A key measure of this approach is to constantly discern what people are talking about inside, which leads to the next point.

In order to ignite discussion, are you provocative?

How is Data informing decisions?

Where do employees go to get specific information inside the company? Do they prefer video? Are they active on social channels? What is the volume and the key themes from feedback?

All of this is now available through technology and must be incorporated into your planning and decision-making. Data and insight provide precision allowing for course corrections during the year.

Is your plan Activity-based or Solution-based?

Step back and objectively size up your plan. Is it designed to solve the key objectives of the business. Or is it a series of activities? Do the elements connect and work together to create a better destination? Often this simple exercise is an eye-opener leading to a more strategic realignment.

Is the CEO involved ?

The most critical determinant in engagement, as Welch stated, is the CEO’s commitment. Engagement and effective communication starts at the top and is based on leadership’s view of the business, its prospects, challenges, opportunities, and competitive reality. Internal communications professionals must have access and influence in the C-Suite helping to direct the organization’s narrative and counsel the appropriate actions that link strategy to execution. When this takes place, companies achieve coherence and most importantly, clarity.

Are you Mobile?

With organizations increasingly featuring employees outside of their own offices and placed across the globe working across time zones, while more office stable or manufacturing oriented employees operate across boundaries, companies are building their IT systems including communications platform outside their walls. Mobile applications allowing everything from benefits updates, to stock price alerts, to CEO briefings, and up-to-date competitive news, are becoming more visible.

Delving into these questions at this point to avoid end of year mea culpas can prove to be a wise investment of time and talent.

Is the Organization Getting Smarter?

Ultimately, employee engagement and organizational intelligence are inextricably linked. At the heart of engagement lies information (content). Is it contextual? Is it relevant? Does it challenge assumptions? Does it encourage experimentation that leads to innovation? Does it help people to make the argument themselves?

One notable organization, upon naming a new CEO, went from focusing on what they knew to what they didn’t. Translation: Internal communications became more provocative and meaningful touching on competitive moves and products, societal shifts, internal issues such as quality and productivity, etc. It’s focus is on expanding people’s knowledge and building confidence in the future. Results thus far indicate a more robust interest in important company initiatives and a more active discourse among employees on topics that just a few months ago were never broached. A recent CEO blog to employees reflects this new found approach. In it the CEO asked a very profound question – “Who is our most dangerous competitor?” He explained that competition today comes in all shapes and sizes and is no longer confined to a company’s competitive set. After an incredible amount of employee posts, most offering key competitors as the answer, the CEO stated that Amazon was the most dangerous competitor because it keeps “changing the level of customer expectations.” Amazon, which is not in this company’s competitive set provides a different way to think about the business and is a proxy for a new business strategy about to be introduced.

This is particularly important to capture employee attention with so many distractions. It is also crucial for long-term business success especially as companies continually redesign business models in a social and digital context to be more fluid, agile, and omni-channel.

As business becomes more seamless and friction free the very nature of the workforce will be revolutionized. Analytics will provide more specific information on employee engagement making it easier to discern performance and thus merit compensation. This type of transparency will result in higher levels of organizational acuity that couple with new technology will force a more sophisticated approach to internal communications.

Now Ask Yourself …

The role of internal communications as we’ve reiterated is to improve engagement. To do that, it needs to move the workforce to become future smart or capable of recognizing and navigating the myriad changes taking place around them. It’s about balancing the marketplace with the organization and the individual. And then balancing the individual with improving the lives of others as well be it colleagues, customers, communities, etc.

Given all of that, how will your own performance be evaluated at the end of the year?

It’s December 2016…

Spending time now to address the inherent discrepancies or gaps in your internal communications strategy and plan will go a long way to ensuring you get the results you seek and the company demands.

It really comes down to seeing ahead … just as this CEO did!

Less than a decade ago, we experienced an explosion of new social media channels. This led to the birth of the social media listening industry. In the early days, if we could just capture what people were saying, we were thrilled. We stared at pie charts and looked at graphs and learned the basics of what our customers were really doing online.

Fast forward to 2016 and the world has changed. Social listening doesn’t cut it. Audience intelligence is replacing it.

We all know in real life that listening is valuable only if you are listening to the right people. We don’t treat all opinions as equal or react to every comment unless we want to drive ourselves insane. Instead, we are moving toward an ability to identify the exact audience that matters so that we can listen to what our audience cares about and we can know what content it prefers, which channels are its favorites, what time of day its members go online, what their patterns of behavior are and what they mean to our brand.

In 2016, the trend away from social listening and toward audience intelligence will be driven by five changes in how we view listening and its next-generation cousin, intelligence. They are listed here:

  • The Importance of Non-Verbal Listening: When we are in a sales situation, we know that as much as two-thirds of what we learn is non-verbal. The non-verbal equivalent online includes search queries, downloads, retweets and likes, shares and other non-verbal communications that are critical to understanding reality. We must account for behavior in new ways in our listening approach.
  • The Ability to Build the Right Profiles: There are many false positives in listening, ranging from spam to simply tracking the wrong information. Analysts today must be craftspeople who can build profiles that focus exactly on what you want to learn about. These profiles are highly precise and contain a range of keywords and phrases.
  • Measure the Conversation, Not the Instance: When consumers react online they often share and talk across multiple channels over a period of time. Our ability to identify their patterns helps us build the right trail of measurement. Think of a conversation starting in Twitter, going to Instagram and ending with comments on Facebook. If you measure Twitter only, or look solely at Instagram, you have just a partial picture. Consumers follow patterns, so you can see their trails over time. As we do offline, we tend to walk the same path over and over again.
  • Compare and Contrast Audiences: If you are tracking each audience, you can see how it differs on the same topic from another group. What are cardiologists saying vs. general practitioners? What are enterprise IT leaders in cybersecurity saying vs. your employees vs. CIOs? If you compare and contrast audiences, your ability to see new insights greatly increases.
  • Understand Your Data Sources: We need to ensure that the data we are measuring really represents where your audience is. Know what channels you are receiving data from so you can see if it matches up with the location of your customers. And be careful to determine if you are paying twice or thrice for the same data vs. different providers. It’s time for us to engage in de-duplication of data so we don’t overpay for the same data. After all, we need more resources to improve our audience intelligence.

This article originally appeared in the January 11, 2016 issue of PR News.

In 2015, marketers set the bar for memorable brand experiences, from the hi-tech U.S. Open American Express Fan Experience to Disney’s show-stopping Star Wars premiere.

As we head in to 2016, brands continuing to put more dollars behind event marketing. In fact, a recent study by the Event Marketing Institute predicted a 5 percent increase in experiential marketing budgets last year. It’s easy to see why once you realize that 74 percent of participants who purchase a brand once are likely to become regular customers after engaging with the brand at an event, and 93 percent say events are more effective marketing tools than television commercials.

As we ring in a new year filled with major national and global events including political conventions and the Olympics, there’s no better time to look back and highlight the biggest event marketing trends from the past year, and what’s on the horizon. Check out our key learnings from the past year that will continue to drive event marketing, and what we’re most excited to see in 2016.

  1. If it isn’t on social, your event didn’t happen. Unless you’re planning events for a secret society, one of your event goals is most likely to spark social conversation about your brand. It used to be that events allowed for a high-touch brand experience, but only reached a small audience. Social media has completely opened up the potential for an event’s reach, providing a greater ROI for marketers. However, it’s not necessarily enough to expect that people will post about your event just because they were invited. Brands must create an environment that will inspire guests to share their experience, whether that’s designing a visually evocative display that ties back to your brand’s narrative, or providing an opportunity for guests to create their own share-worthy content. When we partnered with DigiFest – the world’s largest social media festival – to target Gen Z on behalf of a new teen-centric brand, our key priority was to make our activation share-worthy. By incorporating fun, eye-catching designs that referenced the brand and an interactive GIF booth for attendees to create content, SOV about the brand among our target audience skyrocketed.
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  2. Attendees vs. Participants. At this year’s BizBash Live conference, the leading meeting for planners from around the country, a key theme heard from more than a few presenters is that attendees are no longer passive. As with other forms of media, control is shifting from marketers to guests who can shape the event by streaming and creating content. For brands that are up to the challenge, this is a good thing. Seek ways to make your event attendee-centric at every turn.bizbash
  3. The infiltration of influencers. It’s all about the influencer in marketing these days, and the same holds true for events. Brands are bolstering their events’ reach by incorporating influencers – paid or organically. Sponsoring a live event? Consider negotiating influencer content as part of your deal. Oh, and remember those shareworthy moments we discussed? Those are even more important when your guest list is comprised of high profile influencers who are building their own brand. If you’re goal is organic engagement, make sure to emphasize the details. Personalize, surprise and delight in a way that influencers can authentically share your brand’s message with their audiences. As with any successful influencer program, key word = AUTHENTIC. Check out some more insight on influencers from my W2O colleagues here and here.
  1. Want to reach millennials and Gen Z? Plan an event. It may sound counterintuitive when thinking about marketing to the most digital-savvy and tech-innate generations, but despite the ubiquitous nature of digital, these groups crave interaction with brands in real life. For millennials, the economy of chessexperience trumps material things, so brands that seek to create unforgettable, shareable, bespoke experiences first and foremost before selling a product will succeed among millennials. In its second year, Bud Light’s Whatever, USA takeover garnered 1.7 million entries (5 percent of the millennial population) for a chance to participate. The weekend-long festival offered hundreds of unique experiences that had nothing to do with America’s favorite lager, including #UpForWhatever events and classes like hula hoop workouts, life-size chess and an improv comedy performance based on attendees’ own social media accounts.
  1. Focus on health. From corporate meetings to branded activations, companies are finding ways to add health and fitness into live events. For the past few years, hotels and caterers have increasingly offered a wide array of healthy food and beverage options to keep conference attendees feeling energized and meet ever-evolving dietary requirements.  Brands are now getting fit too – in some cases, even building product launches and events entirely around wellness experiences. Take Reebok for example: the brand partners with wellness companies to bring fitness-based experiences to its target consumer is known as the “Fit Generation,” or Fitgen: stylish twentysomethings who view working out as a social activity.
  1. Event data at the forefront in 2016. You may know that everything we do at W2O Group is deeply rooted in analytics, so it’s not surprising that one of the event trends I’m most excited about uses biometrics to take the focus on health and data to a completely different level. In 2016, expect to see more companies using wearable and RFID technology to get feedback in real time to improve attendee experience. Take that a step further… and turn that data into event décor and content through imagery, reactive lighting, music and more. (Confession: I totally geeked out when Lightwave’s Rana June spoke about this topic at the BizBash Event Innovation Forum).biometrics

Tell us: what was your favorite brand event from 2015 and what 2016 event are you most looking forward to?


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I have a lot of respect for the pioneers of advertising who created a discipline that has shaped how we communicate, market and sell.  Bill Bernbach, one of three founding partners of Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1949, was one of those amazing people.  His impact lasts well beyond his own lifetime.

Bill wrote an impassioned letter to the management of Grey Advertising where he was creative director in 1947.  Here we are in 2016, 69 years later, and we’re about to host a roundtable at CES on Wednesday with top thought leaders in this same world to discuss what is relevant to our future.  In preparation for our roundtable, I thought I would “respond” to Bill’s note due to its timeless common sense.

Here are quotes from his letter and my response.

“I’m worried that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals.” 

Agree.  In today’s world, we can spend too much time analyzing every new social media channel, start-up, unicorn or new technology.  The fundamentals of marketing and communications have not changed.  However, they do evolve.  The key is to stay focused on solid fundamentals, e.g. how we tell a story, how we handle an issue, how we build a brand’s reputation as we concurrently evolve that same model via new technology.  What matters is how we evolve the fundamental models.  If we focus on chasing each new butterfly, e.g. new channels, start-ups and technologies only, we do simply follow history as it is created.  It’s our job to think ahead, yet slow down enough to realize what will actually work in the marketplace.  Don’t let the endless parade of new innovations distract us.

“Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

Times have changed.  Great stories now combine science and art to optimize their ability to persuade.  You can create the coolest ad in the world, but if no one sees it, who cares.  In today’s world, we focus on audience architecture, so we know where our customers are, what content they prefer, when they go online, which media outlets matter to them and who influences them.  We can see how persuasion works in a market without advertising.  Now, it is becoming our job to catalyze interest in topics, pull through stories throughout the ecosystem of a customer (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and mainstream media outlets) and identify those customers who are as persuasive as any ad could ever dream of being.  Science shows us “where”, “who”, “how” and “when”.  Great content provides the “why” and that can come from agencies or customers themselves.

“In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people……..But look beneath the technique and what do you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas.  But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising.  It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.”

Agree.  In 1947, agencies could defend their actions with their own persuasive arguments.  In 2016, we don’t care, since we can see what our customers think about our campaigns, stories and general content.  Mediocre ideas are exposed for what they are in hours, not months.  Bill would probably love the fact that all of those arguments he thought were bogus would now be exposed.    Our ability to listen to our customers and create agile content that shapes behavior every day is replacing the long-winded, hard to produce campaigns that are outdated the day they hit the streets.  This raises the game for all of us.  Our only ritual now is to listen, learn and act on what the market needs and wants (or could want) each and every day.

“All of this is not to say that technique is unimportant.  Superior technical skill will make a good man better.  But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability”. 

Well said.  The answer is never just a data scientist just as it is never just a creative director or never just a consultant.  We now live in a world where we must have the most relevant and timely insights about our target audience from data scientists to inform agile content that is informed by the industry and client knowledge of the consultant.  Creative, Data and Consulting all live as one team.  The speed of the market due to technology and the ability of customers to act self-sufficiently without any intervention from a brand demand that we all get along to build a new approach to creating, delivering and evolving persuasive content.  This is a journey with no end.

“We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed on us.”

Agree 100%.  Bill left two years later to start his own firm in 1949.  Entrepreneurs know that they must respect the fundamentals of marketing and communications, yet never just accept what worked yesterday as being good enough.  In fact, those folks who say “well, we used to do it this way at our firm” are often the ones holding back innovation.  The most creative people in our world are forward-leaning in how they apply data and ideas.  They know that Insights + Industry Knowledge + Ideas = Innovation that matters.

“Let us blaze new trails.  Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art and good writing can be good selling.”

One of his most famous lines of all time and his closing sentence.  Insights differentiate.  Being dissatisfied and always searching for the edge matters.  No matter how big or how small you are, nothing changes in this reqard.  We should always “blaze new trails”.

On Wednesday, we’ll discuss how we stay true to the fundamentals of our business as we absorb the continual innovation of industry and blaze new trails that are relevant to today’s brands.  Our job is to stay focused on pragmatic disruption of the status quo.  Innovate where it improves sales, leads to a better health outcome or it makes a difference that our clients and our customers care about.  The rest is just noise.

Thank you Bill for a timeless piece.

Note: My next book, Storytizing (available March, 2016) will discuss more on the history of advertising and its relevance to today’s digital world. 

One of the keys to evolving the communications function at any company or agency is to step back and think through what we can and will do better or differently each year. For this look-ahead issue of PR News, I asked leaders in the communications and marketing world to share what is important to them as they look toward 2016.

Compass

The Influence of Speed

It is clear that several forces are influencing and shaping our world with speed. Those forces speak loudly. More than 50% of all content is consumed via mobile phone. The other force is the sheer volume and impact of video, whether it is Facebook’s 8 billion views per day or the compression technology improvements that make it easy to view video anywhere, anytime on any device.

Here is what Torod Neptune, vice president of corporate communications and public affairs at Verizon said about this.

“Digital video will play a much more significant role in overall brand content strategy. As mobile continues to expand even further, the convergence with more capable, ubiquitous and lower cost networks will make short-form video (e.g. Twitter, Vine and Periscope) one of the most effective and impactful tools for communicators. A big catalyst here will be the creative use of shareable video by presidential candidates in the 2016 elections.”

Measurement: Influencing Attitudes

A related trend to what Torod shared is how we measure all of this activity, so I asked Chuck Hemann, global digital analytics manager at Intel, what he sees as a key insight related to measurement. Here is what Chuck added to the conversation for 2016.

“There are attitudinal shifts during a campaign, so we need to optimize toward those shifts. It’s not purely a post-campaign perspective that we want to get. Probably one that is applicable to us, but likely applicable to all, is a shift in focus about how we measure…. We entered this year with a mandate to shift the way we measure from a purely behavioral perspective [think clicks, efficiencies, etc.] to how do our campaigns change the attitudes that we want to change. There’s a decreasing interest from senior executives to know how many clicks something received, though, in certain contexts it can be important, but rather how we influenced attitudes and ultimately drove conversion. It’s important to also note that this doesn’t necessarily apply only to digital media. It applies to digital, social, on-domain, native advertising, all of it.”

Mind The Planet: Avoid Content Pollution

Knowing that digital video, particularly short-form, is increasingly important and our measurement of behavior must evolve, we often can make the mistake of rushing to simply churn out more content. That rarely is the answer, however. Being smart about how we tell our story always matters, which is why I asked Andrew Bowins, vice president, corporate reputation at Samsung Electronics America, to share his views. Here are Andrew’s insights.

“In 2016 communicators need to look in the mirror and decide if they have become content polluters. In the frenzy to be brand publishers and leverage digital channels we may have forgotten the basic rules of PR: communicate with purpose; target your audiences and be relevant. Pull back the throttle a little, embrace data to understand your audience and shape content that actually stirs a desired reaction.”

This sounds like a great combination of what Torod and Chuck are teaching us. It’s also a reminder to avoid content pollution, one of my favorite phrases.

Building Your Team, Diversity, Innovation

I then asked Dorothy Jones, chief marketing officer at Interstate Batteries, to reflect on what we need to do to build great teams and the most innovative environment. Here is what Dorothy said:

“There are two important areas that affect our business today. We must embrace diversity in the workplace, which we view as gender, ethnicity and experience. When we do this, we have millennials and boomers learning from each other, we improve our cultural relevance, we have more depth of experience and we’re a truly authentic team. This benefits our customers directly and it is the best environment for all of us to grow professionally and personally.”

Dorothy went on to add that, “We must all be champions of change and reinvention. We need to stay ahead of the curve and build a culture of innovation, which strengthens our companies or agencies.”

I agree with Dorothy and will add what I say to those I mentor. Stay curious and keep learning every year. Learn a new language, read up on topics that are brand new, take on responsibilities that make you nervous at first and keep challenging yourself to grow intellectually and physically, reshape your habits to be the best communicator in the business that you are capable of becoming.

CONTACT: @bobpearson1845

This article originally appeared in the December 14, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.

Column published in the November 23, 2015 issue of PRNews

It’s relatively easy to anticipate macro trends in technology for 2016.  It is much harder to predict how those trends will change the communications profession.  Based on work with large brands and entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes, here is a list of top trends that will matter most for the Chief Communications Officer and his/her team.

  1. Audience Architecture Starts to Replace the Coverage Model: We now can see exactly who our audience is online (all social media channels and mainstream media), so we can listen to its needs, align our story with its desires and measure our success in reaching the target market for our brand or topic. Getting coverage is only one piece of this puzzle. Why? Blogs and Twitter drive 2/3s of content flow. Mainstream media has become a catalyst that blogs and Twitter drive. Think of the audience as becoming more important than the outlet. When you get coverage, the PR pro’s job is just beginning.  He/she needs to ensure that this coverage reaches the audience; the job calls for sharing it via social channels so it gets to the right people.  The end game used to be coverage itself. No more.
  2. Responsive Experience Replaces Responsive Design: Since more than 50% of content is consumed via phone and that figure will rise to more than 75% in three years or fewer, we have to provide the right experience the first time our customer looks for it online. If we direct people to a website and make them hunt for the desired information, we will lose most people and they won’t come back. We have to deliver the exact content right away.  Since people tell us what they want via search, e.g. “company x, product y pricing”, we can deliver this exact content on the first visit.  The search words serve as a trigger for the right content, which you have pre-packaged, to show up.  Imagine preparing for ten types of customers to visit your site.  Once you know who they are via their search terms coming into the site, the content changes to meet their needs.  This is simple technology we can all use today.
  3. We are Entering the era of the 9%: In the 1,9,90 model, fewer than one percent of people create content, approximately nine percent share the content and 90 percent lurk and learn, benefitting from the 1 and the 9. The first ten years of social media have been about the 1 percent. Now, technology advance has made it super easy for the 9 percent to share content, add comments and continue the conversation in any channel and on any device.  This is the second sales force for a brand.  We must know who they are and start building far better relationships with the 9 percent.  They are the best friends of the one percent and should be of us as well.
  4. We Have Fewer Than Three Seconds to Make an Impression via Video: Facebook boasts 8 billion video views per day, so it knows a thing or two about how users react to video. Its data show that we have fewer than three seconds to grab the viewer’s interest. The result is how we produce video must change. We need to create a strong first impression and should be investing in a wider range of lower cost video, not longer, expensive video.  Disagree? OK. But I usually avoid arguing with what we learn from 8 billion views per day.  That’s a big enough focus group for me.
  5. Internal Communications will Start Learning from External Audiences: We have long made the mistake of examining only internal metrics to measure internal satisfaction of our employees. Now, we realize via new models that we can identify what matters to specific employee groups by analyzing their external activities: where they hang out (social channels, forums, blogs), talk, share and learn from each other.  The answers to how better align with employees can be found outside of our walls and inside their tribes.
  6. The Full Story of a Brand Must be Delivered to the Customer: We can now use technology platforms to deliver the full story of a brand (think 4-6 articles and 2-4 links) directly to our customers in any social channel. We can then watch what they like, what they share and dynamically change the content in all channels in seconds. Interactive storytelling is emerging as a new discipline, since we can deliver content anywhere, any channel, anytime.  It’s time for us to go to the customer, not ask him/her to visit us.
  7. The Agile Campaign Starts to Replace the Traditional Campaign: Since we now can see what our audience is doing and thinking in close to real-time, we can introduce the right content into the market based on their current needs. This means that we need to proactively build out libraries of content, so we have pre-approved material ready to share. The days of spending 6-9 months to create a campaign, get approval for it and then enter into the market are ending.  In the future, we’ll only do that when we have a specific end date, e.g. when we have a product launch or a drug approved.  When we have a choice, we’ll move to agile campaigns 365.

Overall, communications is moving into an era that I call Storytizing, which represents what is possible beyond advertising.  We can align directly with our customers via earned, shared and owned media and supplement these interactions with the strategic use of paid media.  Our job now is to meet customers on their home turf and pull our stories through the customer’s entire ecosystem in full alignment with their needs.

A new era calls for new techniques and the full embrace of what technology has to offer.

Contact: @bobpearson1845

Note: Bob Pearson’s next book, Storytizing, will be available in March, 2016. 

Kelly Jeffers
“I think the most valuable motivator is simply providing individuals with new opportunities and showing them what might be possible.”

Greetings fellow technophiles! Today, we are launching a new series of client interviews designed to showcase marketing/communications thought leaders who are making big waves in tech. For our first “Thought Leaders in Tech Marketing & Comms”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Jeffers, vice president of corporate communications for Surescripts. Kelly gave us some fantastic insight into the world of health information technology, and how she and her team work together to ensure every communications opportunity is maximized to its fullest potential.

Q: What does your company do?

A: Surescripts is a health information network that connects doctors, pharmacists, health plans and others, so they can communicate and share information with each other to deliver better quality and more efficient care to patients.  We’re an enabling technology – similar to the network that connects ATMs and banks. Because we move information around at such high speed, I’ve heard users of our network refer to us as the “Intel inside” the US healthcare system.”

Q: Describe the role that you and your team play in advancing the company mission.

A: At Surescripts, Marketing is solely responsible for the company’s brand. Our primary focus is on raising awareness and visibility for our brand among a broad set of constituents – doctors, pharmacists, technology partners, hospitals, health plans, etc.  Our business has evolved pretty drastically over the past few years, so we’ve been really focused on broadening people’s understanding of the role we play in connecting healthcare and the value we add to the healthcare system as a whole.

Q: What is your biggest success in the last year and why does this make you proud?

A: There isn’t a single campaign or initiative that I’m most proud of, but looking back, I’m pretty overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content we created. We have a small team with limited resources, but we really maximized every dollar and every opportunity to its fullest.  What I’m most proud of this year is the transition we’ve made as an organization, from an old-school, analog approach to marketing, to a “digital first” mindset that has come to life not just in the tools we use or the processes we follow, but ultimately in the work we delivered. The age of the paper brochure is officially over. And we now have some really impressive digital capabilities and content that I think is really forward-thinking.

Q: Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?

A: One of the things I love about my job is that I’m so plugged into the entire company and am always getting input and feedback from my colleagues, whether they’re in Customer Support, Legal, Product Innovation, or IT.  We get great ideas from everyone, and we make a point to take them all into consideration.  You just never know when a brief conversation by the water cooler is going to turn into your next great campaign.

Q: Outside of work, what are your favorite things to do?

A: For the past 15 years, I’ve traveled to Honduras to work with girls who have been abandoned, abused or otherwise neglected as a result of being born into abject poverty.  For one week, I’m disconnected from technology and focused on helping them become stronger, smarter, and more successful young women.  We do this by taking the time to play games, do crafts, go to the movies, and cook meals together.  It’s a good reminder of the value of being present in other people’s lives and finding your own small way to make a big difference.

Q: How do you empower and motivate your employees to do their best possible work?

A: Most of my career highlights have been the result of seeing other people succeed – especially the individuals and teams I’ve lead over the years. I think the most valuable motivator is simply providing individuals with new opportunities and showing them what might be possible. I’ve found that most team members will rise to the occasion if you just point them in the right direction. In doing so, they learn to look for new opportunities themselves, which is so refreshing and ultimately motivating to me as well.

The case for a new professional competence based on well-known functional expertise

Business strategy is designed based on multiple variables. Core competencies, competitive advantages, marketplace dynamics, threats, consumer traits, talent, etc., all form the internal decision apparatus necessary to plot strategy. In the end, the true mark of an effective business strategy is, of course, performance.

That’s why in today’s volatile environment most businesses operating in a strategy that they led with may find it’s not the most potent or even viable.

Much like a football coach who architects a detailed game plan against an opponent only to discover that after the first quarter it’s not working, business leaders now must be more agile and adept at recalibrating strategy to reflect the realities of the marketplace.

In football there is always halftime to pivot to a new strategy but in business no such time out exists. In business, organizations must be clear on intent and capable of harnessing employee behavior quickly to a different set of priorities once it’s evident change is necessary.Tyson Knock Out

“Everyone has a strategy until they get punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

Companies in all sectors are discovering the validity of this premise shifting initial strategy as soon as it’s known the original game plan is proving to be ineffective. Look no further than JC Penney, Ford, Xerox, Dell, and McDonald’s to reflect the point.

Juxtapose that with companies who maintain a business strategy regardless of its effectiveness wasting resources and de-valuing its purpose until it’s too late. Think Kodak, Burger King, AB, Sears.

But how do leaders orchestrate such a shift while the business is moving at such a fast pace? Again, unlike football, there is no half-time to recalibrate and come back on the field with a new game plan after the original one was battle tested and you were able to witness how the competition reacted. It is here that strategic communications based on today’s progressive model is critically important to achieving the level of organizational agility to migrate to a different place on the board.

Pivoting to a new strategy…a new profession emerges

Following is a partial overview of the latest thinking and practices on how progressive organizations (and marketers, communicators) are “game planning” for success by rethinking the traditional definitions of PR, Communications, and Marketing.

It’s worth asking yourself which of these your company is – and isn’t – doing.

Create Context Through A Narrative: When things are uncertain, it’s important to at least provide a framework for how people should follow the situation. In this case, the need for a corporate narrative, or story, detailing the current state and evolving as conditions change allows people to latch onto something tangible. The narrative is the foundational story for not only all communications but management actions as well. It provides managers a baseline on which to build their priorities, budgets, resource plans, and communications.

Initiate New Conversations – The Power of Influence: Starting with a complete understanding of how your brand, company, product, etc., is being perceived and then determining who is generating the commentary, adopting an Influence model is now table stakes for business of any size. Communications must drive discussion, dialogue and debate to be effective and relevant. At its most basic, communications is about conversation. Communicators can facilitate new conversations inside and outside the company as a means of conditioning new attitudes and behaviors.

Get Closer with Managers: Other than their immediate peers, mid-level managers enjoy the most credibility with employees – even more than C-suite leaders. Invest time making sure your managers are engaged in the current business reality and the management thinking that’s driving decision-making. Equip them with information and tools while holding them accountable for their use in employee interactions.

They have to be convinced first or else all bets are off!

CEO: An increased role for managers aside, it’s been proven through our experience that the more senior-most leadership calibrates communications as they lead and manage the business the greater the chance that people will connect in the right ways.

One executive recently described his senior leadership’s efforts in this regard as “drive-by” communications. His point: Leaders are scheduled for town halls, diagonal slice meetings with select employees, and plant visits with managers and employees that have the appearance of communicating but are sometimes nothing more than choreographed “events” that neither reflect how the business is being managed nor provide answers to how employees need to be working. CEOs were often removed from customers except for well-choreographed events and media interviews. Social media operating in a digital context allows senior leaders to be more actively engaged with all stakeholders on a daily basis bridging gaps in understanding and interest.

Always tricky, but the closer communications are aligned with CEO actions and business decisions versus designed around them, the clearer things become and the greater the chance for trust to be sustained.

Empathy is Appreciated: So often, the rational aspects of communicating during a turbulent time overwhelm the internal discourse that employees don’t pay attention and ultimately, lose faith. Talk with people and share the emotional side of what they are feeling through your management behavior, communications and messaging.

Challenge the Status Quo; Challenge Your Instincts: Are you actually getting through? How do you know? Is your strategy just a bunch of tactics without a central premise and is your communications part of a broader management plan to engage people, influence behavior, and impact performance? Your instincts tell you to just communicate to everyone the direction and benefit of the enterprise…your instincts could be wrong as credibility may be frayed preventing your narrative from getting through. Thus, a completely different strategy and communications approach is needed.

Insight that Influences Decision-Making: In this environment, communications functions are focusing more than ever on aggregating information from multiple sources both within and outside of their control – turning this information into nuggets of insights, trends or red flags and sharing that information with senior management and other functions, thus impacting decision-making at a level and pace not seen before. What is the blog chatter concerning your situation? What’s the predominant characterization being perpetuated? This is essential in developing a new business strategy quickly and effectively.

Organize Before You Strategize: Take an opportunity to rethink what skills are critical for the organization today, and where those skills are best deployed. Also, ask yourself if the company physically brings together all areas of communications, along with select management, on a weekly or even daily basis to continually reassess the situation at hand and how to gain more control over the story the company is telling. The tendency in difficult times is to just do something without comprehending the purpose, effect, or result.

Rather, first organize the various elements surrounding the situation in a manner that can be visualized and internalized by all parties in order to then strategize about what needs to be learned and accomplished.

Employees As Your Next Product: Employee advocacy is a major differentiation to achieving relevance and gaining advantage from a strategic standpoint. Your workforce is the best set of knowledgeable and credible spokespeople you possess. Train them, outfit them, listen to them, and engage them in the business and with their own networks to amplify your narrative and stories and gain interest in a distracted world.

An active form of business strategy formulation and execution driven by a new skill set

The pace and seemingly always-transforming nature of business today is making it increasingly challenging for leaders to gain success by employing a new business strategy and not determining its effectiveness in a timely fashion.

Rather, business strategy is a means to engage and test the marketplace in order to shift course, assimilate competitive and consumer moves, and come back quickly and confidently with a new approach and fresh thinking better suited for sustained performance.

As a result, a new form of public relations, communications, and marketing is emerging – based on data, analysis, and insight – that embraces a more open, transparent, seamless, interactive, and engaging approach to stakeholder relationships and strategy formulation.

The impact is nothing short of a revolution in business strategy thinking and practice.

In a professional sense it means discarding your title and even your role based traditional descriptions.

What matters most now isn’t what you do but how you Solve!

Ever wonder why a new initiative, such as a product launch, a cost-cutting measure, a business strategy, an M&A integration, or even a turnaround effort didn’t succeed or even take hold as expected? Believe it or not, it probably has nothing to do with the initiative itself, but rather the way your organization chose to communicate it.

Our latest issue of Common Sense for the C-Suite explores common challenges and best practices in the development and implementation of effective corporate initiatives.

Common Sense Volume 4 Issue 3 Cover 8.28

Lifecycle of a Technological Revolution_today

With the revolution of media and technology disrupting the marketing industry, and business models altogether, marketers are trying to navigate through the storm. On the communications side, TV dollars are shifting to digital. But, digital ads aren’t nearly as effective nor transparent as we want them to be. The traditionally distinct and siloed roles of marketing communications (once upon at time, just known as ‘advertising’) and PR are converging.

Because of the advent of social media, and the frustration with traditional and digital advertising, marcomm is moving into earned media with influencer marketing, native advertising and more responsive campaigns and editorial content teams. Because of the rise of the new influencer – everyday people and celebrities using blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, SnapChat, Periscope and other platforms to create personal media companies – PR is expanding beyond traditional media relations and ‘the pitch’, and into influencer marketing, sponsored content and responsive editorial content teams as well. It’s a race to the middle where the lines are blurred. That’s why agencies and publishers are partnering to create wholly new content companies that service brands.

If we take a step back from the race, though, things haven’t changed much since 2009. The big three: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter had launched and matured as three distinct and valuable social communications platforms for users. Since then, other social platforms have launched – Foursquare (and Swarm), Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, SnapChat, Meerkat and Periscope being the most touted. But, each of these just feels like an iterative evolution of the discontinuous leaps that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube made. Platforms, and the content they enable, shifted to become more visual, shorter and ephemeral. When Meerkat and Periscope launched, didn’t it feel like they already existed? And, the fundamental rules for how to engage audiences on those platforms is the same; we must adhere to the Reciprocity Theory.

So, I actually take a contrarian point of view: innovation has slowed in media technology. We’re at the tail end of our current technological revolution’s lifecycle, moving past the discontinuous revolution and into the iterative evolution. While folks in the industry are making claims that: “Advertising is dead.” Or that, “Data will tell us what content to make, so we don’t need creatives anymore.” I’m claiming that we need creative more than ever. The discipline just needs to evolve too. As the roles of advertising and PR converge, storytelling becomes an even more critical discipline for marketing.

Just pushing the message through TV and radio and print and display ads is lazy creative and lazy advertising. Great creative has always been about great storytelling. Now we just tell that story across new media platforms/channels in partnership with the new social influencers and in partnership with our customers. Sometimes those influencers and customers are the same. Great creative (‘the story’) is the glue that holds the story together, wherever we’re telling it. It’s what inspires people to participate.

In the late 2000s in the entertainment industry, we began exploring transmedia storytelling. This is where we would develop a core story – characters and the world in which they lived. And, then we’d plan out those stories across media (books, graphic novels, movies, TV, web series). It was a shift away from the linear model of: writer publishes book –> studio buys book and makes movie –> network turns movie into TV series. Instead, we developed it all at the same time. They lived together as extensions, or chapters, of the same story instead of separately as different and distinct adaptations of the story. This style of storytelling became particularly popular in the fantasy/gaming/comics genres, as we could delve deep into the story of a world we were creating.

Now, in marketing, we have the opportunity to take the same approach. How do we create a core story – the story of our brand, which reflects the story of our customers and employees – and tell that story through new (and traditional) media platforms and people? Like a vision, the story we tell requires an intuitive leap of faith. It must inspire. It must create new possibilities. Is that so different from great advertising fifty years ago? Maybe. Maybe not. But, in an increasingly ephemeral world, wouldn’t it be nice to have some moments that impact and last?

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This post originally appeared on The ReciprocityTheory blog.

If you’ve been in a communications role for a decade or more, chances are you have lots of experience in traditional comms. In recent years, there’s no question that social media has had a significant impact on communications. While social media has overwhelmed many communicators with a dizzying array of platform choices and a firehose of data to make sense of, it also provides them with new ways to connect with reporters, influencers and customers more efficiently than ever.

Over the years, one thing hasn’t changed: communications is fundamentally about building relationships. To me, social media augments ways communicators can build those relationships. Like I’ve said before, it doesn’t replace phone calls, email conversations with or face-to-face conversations with reporters. But many times, a brief back-and-forth discussion on Twitter or via the comment thread in a blog post can go a long way to answering questions from reporters (and many times, your customers too). This is especially true if your company uses its social presence to respond to news-related items.

One thing that has changed: press releases aren’t what they used to be. While there’s still a place for them (company earnings information, acquisition news, corporate reorganization updates to name a few), social media platforms provide companies a more efficient way to communicate news. The problem is that not enough companies use social media to communicate and respond to news.

I’ve blogged about what I think it takes to be an effective communicator in 2015 (see here and here). Hint: combine that newsworthy sensibility with a little bit of tools and technology. It may require you to step out of your comfort zone, but doing so will yield solid results.

One example: a tool I mentioned before called Nuzzel. It’s a website/ mobile app that highlights articles people you are connected to are sharing. While that’s useful on its own, the real power is that you can use it on any public or private Twitter lists you create. See my Pioneers private list in the Your Custom Feeds section near the bottom right in the image below. In my view, that alone makes creating Twitter lists worth the hassle. Imagine clicking on one link to see the stories that 25 of your top reporters are sharing, or the 17 strategic topic influencers, or the top 15 subject matter experts in your company. All it takes is to create those private (or public) Twitter list, then connect your Twitter account at Nuzzel.com. From there, you are one click away to seeing what’s being shared most on Twitter or Facebook at any point in time.

Image for Lionel's Summit Post

 

If you’re not sure who the online influencers are, or if you need help identifying the topic conversations that are most relevant to your brand, W2O can help. Our analytics services are built to help communicators and marketers understand the online conversation that’s happening about your brand, identifying strategic topics that affect your brand (and that you can impact) as well as identifying individuals who are most influential about your industry, your competition and your brand even as they change over time. Those are people you need to foster relationships with. In many cases, those influencers are reporters you already know. Engaging them via social will deepen the existing relationship—especially when you focus efforts to adding value to their online conversations.

On September 14th, a global panel of social experts from across industries will converge in London for the #PreCommerce summit, hosted by W2O EMEA, with a special focus on how we work, live and create in the digital time. Social media has forever changed our world and it’s our responsibility to evolve with it! More on what to expect from the event here. Register for free here, or by clicking on the image below.

London Summit