Bluetext’s public relations client SAS has long been a trusted partner of colleges and universities around the world, leveraging their advanced analytics capabilities to provide safe, effective learning environments for students.
This year, the task of providing a safe and effective learning environment is much more challenging as an abundance of COVID-19 makes gathering in tight quarters like dorms, classrooms, and campuses without spreading the virus next to impossible. As a result, many universities have taken detailed measures to plan for student safety in the event of new outbreaks upon their return to campus.
One of these is Oklahoma State University (OSU), where administrators are leveraging SAS technology combined with unique campus data to track the spread of COVID-19 using contact tracing and data analytics.
To be ready for the return of students, faculty, and staff, OSU has integrated different data sources to create inferred links between people, places, and times. OSU connected institutional data such as time and location-based information from its extensive campus Wi-Fi network with over 5,000 access points. This data is then combined with other location-based information such as campus store purchases, card swipes, class schedules and more, which can be linked directly to individual students and provide a more complete picture of anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID and anyone who has been in the same location for more than 15 minutes.
These OSU data models generate alerts if the data indicates quarantines or isolations are broken, or if a super-spreader is suspected, and provides general alerts for faculty and students. The data will also be used to help identify areas in need of increased cleaning, social distance monitoring, and other education efforts.
The Today Show recently visited Oklahoma State University and followed a freshman student through a day in his campus life amid COVID, illustrating how the university is leveraging its campus data to track where students have been in the event that new cases of COVID are identified.
Watch this segment of The Today Show here.
PR and marketing have changed overnight. There is still a need to reach customers and prospects, but it goes without saying that priorities have shifted in the “new normal” brought on by COVID-19.
It is a challenging tightrope to walk; the news cycle is rightly dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, which means many narratives that resonated pre-coronavirus will struggle to reach your target audiences. For our technology clients selling to government and enterprise decision makers – as well as consumers – we’ve preached several key PR and marketing tenets.
Chief among them is “do no harm.” If we have a client that can offer valuable expertise and insights to advance the conversation and help individuals and organizations navigate the current climate while protecting consumers and businesses, we support those efforts. But you can’t force connections that aren’t there and detract from those better positioned to make a positive impact. In other words, don’t be an opportunist. Don’t be an ambulance chaser. Those efforts will backfire and damage your brand.
Bluetext Digital Briefing Centers
Second, clients and their PR/marketing agencies need to be measured, but also creative and nimble. A government contractor or enterprise software company that relied on physical conferences and in-person sales meetings to engage with customers and prospects must now turn more attention to digital strategies.
Check out how Bluetext has developed Digital Briefing Centers (DBCs) for clients needing a dynamic way to digitally showcase to customers and prospects their full range of solutions in action. Customized presentations, live demos and in-depth discussions can be arranged while offering a proven short-term alternative and long-term complement to physical, face-to-face environments.
PR In the Age of Telework
Businesses can’t just throw up their hands and wait it out; there is still a need for smart PR and marketing to grow or at least sustain sales for the near-term. Digital Briefing Centers address the fact that your website and digital presence is by far now the most important doorway to your brand and brand experience while traditional, physical doors remain closed.
On the PR side, the best way to illustrate how Bluetext thinks when it comes to remaining proactive and creative with clients is through a real-life case study. Transaction Network Services (TNS) is a leading global data services provider with a telecom unit that provides robocall detection technology to U.S. telecom providers. Recognizing that scammers seize on the fear, chaos and confusion caused by health crises, we knew this was an opportunity for TNS to share its important data to help protect consumers from risks to their savings and personal information. Coronavirus scams cost people $7 million in the first 9 days of April alone — so the stakes are high.
Bluetext worked with TNS to rapidly build a strategy to communicate the financial risk to citizens and analyzing data to determine which robocall scams were most prevalent in which parts of the country. Some of the media coverage generated in a two-week period is included below.
In addition to developing a rapid response strategy, we started to think longer-term about robocall risks in the coming weeks and months. First, we worked with the client to gather data on political robocallers who were capitalizing on confusion regarding postponed Democratic Primary dates in a way that could influence election outcomes – and ensuring the data could be easily visualized.
The bottom line is this: we are in an uncharted phase as a society, and it is a phase that may last for months and even years. The organizations able to adapt to the “new normal” will be those best positioned to support their customers, partners and employees.
If you are looking for a partner to better position yourself to support your customers, reach out to Bluetext.
This Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will square off against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV; anticipated to be one of the most entertaining sporting events of the year brought to you by gunslinging quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Thanks to two electrifying football teams and the unofficial holiday that comes with Super Bowl Sunday, a projected 100+ million viewers in the U.S. will tune into FOX at the same time, creating an unparalleled opportunity for marketing pros to cultivate a memorable brand association with more than a quarter of the U.S. population.
But these opportunities do not come cheap
Outside of the cost of producing the commercials, (which anyone in marketing can tell you isn’t cheap) you have to pay egregious dollar figures just to place it on the primetime Super Bowl stage. FOX sold out of its Super Bowl ad slots in late November, which reportedly sold for between $5 million and $5.6 million.
Let that number sink in. $5.6 million could buy you a five-bedroom house with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge in downtown San Francisco. Or 10 five-bedroom houses in the Kansas City-area. Suffice to say, there’s a lot you could do with that money.
From a marketing standpoint, if your brand is considering purchasing a primetime 30-second Super Bowl ad, or you’re simply wondering how you could make a splash during the event without blowing your entire annual budget, consider these marketing alternatives that you could buy for the same price:
1. 20 years of a PR retainer at 20K per month
While it probably does not make sense to stretch one year’s marketing budget over the next two decades, this illustrates how far your marketing dollar could go over time with a PR budget as opposed to a single, 30-second Super Bowl ad. A monthly PR retainer could produce the ability for your brand to demonstrate expertise to more targeted audiences than the general public watching the Super Bowl at a fraction of the cost. This is typically executed with media relations and strategic placements of messaging within publications of interest to the brand’s most important audiences. Spending your marketing dollars in this way would create a steady burn of messaging over a long period of time as opposed to one, 30-second firework explosion of your brand that a large portion of the Super Bowl audience could miss.
2. Multiple omnichannel digital campaigns
In order for any Super Bowl campaign to be successful, it must eventually migrate to the digital realm in one way or another. Outside of the $5.6 million it will cost to run the ad in the spotlight, brands also have to shell out at least another $1 million to market the ad via social media. So why not go straight to digital with your campaign?
Newcastle Brown Ale was among the first to attempt this digital-first Super Bowl strategy in 2014 with a satirical YouTube commercial featuring Anna Kendrick about the Super Bowl commercial they almost made but didn’t have the money. By posting the video directly to YouTube and spending all of their resources marketing the commercial online, they found a witty way to poke fun at the nature of Super Bowl commercials by making one while also saving A LOT of money in the process. Digital campaigns can be an extremely effective (not to mention more targeted) way of maximizing your exposure to your key audiences. Ultimately the third-party validation that will come from individuals sharing your content will be the mark of a successful campaign, so digital-first strategies could be the next iteration of Super Bowl commercials.
3. Yearly platinum sponsorships in ten of your audience’s favorite publications
If your brand is targeting audiences that congregate around specific media outlets, paid partnerships with those media outlets can be a great way to enhance your exposure to the people who matter most. Sponsorship packages at media publications vary based on their target audience, the type of content they typically publish, and what you’ll get for your spend. But with big dollar figures in the hundreds of thousands, you could expect millions of unique viewers, digital ad space, thought leadership content, lead-gen, sponsored webinars, and more!
As Americans and football fans around the world tune in to the game on February 2, household brands will be vying for your loyalty and lesser-known companies will be introducing themselves to the world on the hottest advertising real estate money can buy. However, you can also expect to see many organizations turning to alternative marketing to make their splash during the game.
The real winners of this international media event will not be limited to just the Chiefs or the 49ers, but also to the organizations who strategically employ ALL of the marketing tactics available to them.
Assumptions can be a dangerous thing. Often, sales, marketing and PR teams make assumptions that not only undermine integrated marketing efforts, but the viability of the business itself.
Marketing Team Assumptions About Sales
A marketing team might assume that content it is creating for sales teams proves invaluable to generating leads or closing sales. The fact is, however, a 2015 survey by Highspot indicates that 65 percent of that content is never actually used by the sales teams. That same survey indicates less than 10% of the marketing budget goes to efforts that produce sales results.
An effective integrated marketing effort requires a two-way conversation between marketing and sales, and these conversations must happen frequently and with multiple members of the team. Sales executives can provide marketing leaders with a holistic view of market trends, sales team paint points, and competitive challenges, but on-the-ground sales troops are the ones who interact with existing and prospective customers every day. They understand nuances between different market verticals (i.e. – government buyer v enterprise buyer v non profit buyer), and what content is proving most valuable in meetings. Integrating that sales team feedback must happen before – not after – marketing content strategies are developed.
PR Team Assumptions About Sales
PR teams might assume that media coverage is creating “air cover” for sales teams to go in and close sales. But often this is not the case. First, PR and marketing teams may not understand the buyer “trigger point.” Too often, integrated marketing efforts attempt to solve a sales problem that doesn’t exist – or doesn’t exist yet. For example, a marketing team might assume that the primary paint point for sales is that competitor technology product offerings are positioned more strongly in the market, thus requiring content to demonstrate your product is superior based on price, performance, efficiency, etc.
This may be valuable; however, it is possible the more immediate sales team obstacle is that the buyer is stuck earlier in his/her decision journey. They may require content that educates buyers on why an underlying technology is more secure and superior to what is currently being used. There may be a lack of understanding on the company’s suite of offerings, or even credibility issues with the brand itself. Only through in-depth and frequent conversations with sales teams can you be sure that the content being created is optimized to the buyer trigger point, and timed correctly on the buyer journey.
Another false assumption often made by PR teams is that there is a process in place to ensure any media coverage generated or thought leadership content produced is funneled in real time to sales. The Highspot survey indicates otherwise, finding that 28% of content is never even found by sales, and that sales teams spend nearly one-third (31%) of their time searching for it. Highspot also found that 24% of companies have formalized marketing to sales handoffs, which helps explain why PR and integrated marketing content often never quite makes it to the individuals who can do the most with it.
Everyone company’s definition of “integrated” is different, but for organizations to truly benefit from valuable marketing content and efforts, it is critical to ensure sales teams are not on the outside looking in.
Back in 2006, I had a conversation with Washington Post Magazine columnist Gene Weingarten, one of my favorite humorists. If you’ve ever happened upon his column, you know that he’s not exactly an admirer of public relations professionals or publicists. So I made him an offer: let’s switch jobs for a day. I’ll write your column for one week while you handle all my PR clients. Gene thought about it for a bit, and then said yes…with a catch. He’d only do it if I would admit, on the record in his column, how pathetic and meaningless my existence as a PR professional was. Intriguing offer, but ultimately I passed. Then I went home, grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels, shut the closet door, and cried.
Ok, so I’m kidding the last part. I don’t actually own a closet. I’m not sure why the exchange with Gene recently popped into my head, but perhaps it results from what seems to be a Groundhog Day cycle of working with traditional DC tech press, which goes something like this: Establish relationship with DC tech reporter, work with reporter on multiple client stories, watch reporter leave publication after relatively short period of time (typically right at the moment when I have 2-3 stories on precipice of publication), bang head into wall, dream about being a farmer, realize I wouldn’t survive six hours on a real farm with live animals, start process all over again with replacement, and hope springs eternal.
Washington Business Journal tech reporter Kasra Kangarloo is the most recent area tech reporter to leave the position, a beat he held for less than 8 months. Actually, I spoke to soon; Washington Post reporter Amrita Jayakumar (who covered tech as part of a broader beat) departed a few weeks after Kasra. Preceding these tech scribes were Bill Flook at WBJ and Steven Overly at the Post. All four were good writers and good individuals who invested time to get to know the tech community – which is all you can ask for.
Editorial churn is not unique to this market, and there is no need to run through the upheaval occurring with traditional publishing. But one has to assume that the revolving door partially derives from the fact that these writers did not feel the position was stimulating or rewarding (financially or professionally). Traditional publishers in this market have been de-prioritizing local tech coverage due to a range of factors. This begs the question of whether it matters – not just for individual tech companies seeking to generate awareness for their brand, products and services – but for the DC tech community as a whole.
While most of these reporters transitioned quietly to their next professional stop, Kangarloo hopped out with somewhat of a bang. It wasn’t an exit on par with George Costanza scraping up New York Yankees championship trophies as he spun his car around the parking lot, but it did capture the attention of the DC tech community. Kangarloo led off his exit post stating, “Fare thee well, D.C. tech. It’s been real.” In fact, Kangarloo didn’t think it had been real at all:
“Obviously, it’s in every startup’s interest to drum up positive press, and there is a genuine financial incentive for any one of them to, shall we say, bend the truth a bit. And since I’m leaving the beat for good, I’ll just go ahead and say what I really mean by that — the startup realm seems to rival even political coverage for the sheer amount of spin that’s employed each day. But why so many reporters give in so easily is a mystery. And that’s not to exclude myself, by the way. I’ve fallen into that trap plenty of times, and had I stayed longer I’m certain I would again.”
If a startup announces a major new customer and no one is around to write about it, did it happen? If the next set of tech reporters at WBJ and the Post cast an equally cynical eye towards the DC tech community, does that impact the ability for startups and others to get important stories out? I can understand, as a reporter, that it is far more fulfilling to dig into more controversial, investigative pieces than it is to regurgitate funding announcements or hearing a founder wax on about some grandiose vision to change the world…or supply chain efficiency as the case may be. And investigative stories should be told. But so should stories of startup and tech success.
The good news for DC is that the next generational of editorial players, including DC Inno, Tech Cocktail (yes, have been around for a while), Technical.ly DC, Tech Bisnow and even the DC Tech Facebook page, have stepped in to fill the gap. They’ve also served notice, for the most part, that they aren’t satisfied to just repost press releases.
For DC starts and other tech firms, all of this change means a couple of things – none of it revolutionary. First, proximity matters, and startups and tech innovators may have to leave their comfort zone, metaphorically and geographically speaking, to find the outlets that matter most to them. It may be TechCrunch, it may be The Wall Street Journal, but it could just as likely be Builder Magazine or Hotel Business. Because as many layoffs or job switches that might be occurring across the industry, you will find greater stability at influential outlets outside of the market (TechCrunch, Re/Code, The Next Web, QZ, etc.), where some writers have been there for years, not months. This stability is important, because reporters get to know a company and don’t need to be re-educated on a continuous basis.
Second, think about how traditional and emerging DC tech writers want to cover the space. Don’t just email a press release about what a new product does, connect them with a customer who can provide tangible ROI evidence your product makes a difference. If your funding announcement is not a big number – relatively speaking – connect the funding to a broader local or national trend that expands the story beyond your own. The press release isn’t a news generator; it’s simply an SEO information capsule representing one small part of your announcement strategy.
The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “…a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
This definition is of course part and parcel to a CMO’s core objectives, which is why marketing teams are devoting a greater share of budget and resources to content marketing. In a 2014 survey of Fortune 500 CMOs conducted by The CMO Club and Spredfast, 60 percent of respondents intend to increase their content marketing budgets. Their enthusiasm is not based on a “cross our fingers and hope it works” approach; almost two-thirds (66%) of CMOs are predicting a positive return on investment (ROI) from their content marketing campaigns.
As CMOs gain confidence directing more resources and budget towards content marketing, there is very likely a team within the organization growing less sure of its footing within the content ecosystem – public relations. There is irony here, as public relations professionals no doubt read the content marketing definition and grumble to themselves (or perhaps out loud), “sorry to burst your bubble here, but we’ve been doing this content marketing thing for quite some time.”
This is true, to an extent. The efforts may not always be branded in this fashion or as inclusive of as many channels, but PR professionals have long been tasked to create and distribute high-strategy content. And therein lies the danger; that CMOs may forge ahead with content marketing and pull in the PR team as an afterthought, or not at all. This approach threatens to create counter-productive silos by leaving capable, experienced PR teams without a role that can add the most value to the organization.
Because content marketing increasingly lives in an organizational gray area, CMOs with ownership of content marketing budget, staff, and direction should consider the following to fully maximize the value of PR staff, and ultimately the content marketing program itself:
Recognize budgets are growing, but not infinite
Content marketing budgets are expanding, but unless CMOs are seeing immediate, across-the-board ROI it will be difficult to get blank checks from CXOs. Earned media is a no-cost (beyond labor time) investment that can allow content marketing efforts to continue interrupted – even during periods when budget is not allocated to “paid media” channels.
While drawing a straight line between media relations and lead generation or website visits can be difficult to see, it is there. Earned media can drive down customer acquisition costs for a content marketing campaign, as long as the right measurement tools are in place to capture the results of these earned media efforts.
Earned media remains top purchase influencer
Not only can earned media be the most cost-effective content marketing channel for CMOs, it can also be the most effective. A 2014 Nielsen in-lab study commissioned by inPowered exposed consumers to three content sources: third party news and other credible sources (earned media), branded content (owned media), and user-generated content (reviews, etc.). Not surprisingly, earned media emerged as the most effective information source at all stages of the purchase lifecycle and across all product categories. And the difference was not subtle; against branded content, earned media was found to be 80 percent more effective at the bottom-of-the-funnel or purchase consideration stage, 80 percent more effective at the middle-of-the-funnel or affinity stage, and 38 percent more effective at the top-of-the-funnel or familiarity stage.
Bottom line: content marketing initiatives are ultimately judged by sales and revenue generation, and earned media continues to prove itself as a powerful purchasing influencer.
Be cognizant of PR paranoia
The current state of media likely has your PR team fairly freaked out at this point. Print publications continue to disintegrate faster than BlackBerry’s market share, and chasing the social media payoff pot of gold is a tedious exercise. If the CMO shuts PR out of content marketing strategy and execution, or brings the team in so late that it is relegated to a tactical role, significant PR brainpower is going to be left rotting on the sidelines. Identify areas where public relations – whether it is an internal team or external agency – can add the most value, and then provide them with the mandate and resources to execute in those areas.
All content writers are not created equal
Marketing teams excel at developing content designed to sell – whether it is through collateral that provides air cover for the sales team, website and landing page content that can convert leads, advertising copy, etc. Editorial content opportunities however, tilt increasingly towards sponsored content, advertorials, and even earned thought leadership content that requires a much softer sell. In fact, much of the time this type of copy cannot reference the company’s product/service or be in any way self-promotional.
PR teams understand how to walk the tightrope of creating and placing content that communicates core messages without reading like overt marketing copy, and CMOs should leverage this expertise.
Don’t let content volume kill content marketing
Ending up with too much of a good thing is problematic enough – the gourmet cupcake craze is Exhibit A of that fact. Too much of a bad thing is even worse, and therein lies the danger for content marketing operations that spew out page after page of useless content. PR teams are a proven source of valuable content, understanding that low-quality articles cannot be placed in reputable, high impact articles.
$135 billion will be spent on new digital marketing collateral (content) in 2014, and automation tools will spike this volume even further. In this scenario, quality content becomes the great unequalizer for CMOs to differentiate their products, services and brand.