Shaping Governance Messaging that Builds Corporate Brand

By Andrew Blum and Robert E. Swadosh

Remember the Emotional Drivers

With the 2017 proxy season well underway, it’s important to remember that what you convey about corporate governance impacts far more than investors alone. It also has the potential to leverage the power of your corporate brand and enhance your corporate reputation. Just ask the scores of activist investors who increasingly focus on issues much broader than operating performance – and do so in real time.

Messaging is key at all times, not just at the Annual Meeting but also during proxy fights and in response to activist investors, such as the May 10 move by Whole Foods to revamp its board. Developing proper investor messages is not simply about responding to governance issues or updating the same old metrics. Ironically, perhaps the most effective way to create compelling investor messaging is to know what your client’s key audiences are thinking.

At the start, understand that up to 20% of non-algorithmic investment decision-making is affected by emotional, rather that rational, factors. So, in addition to providing strategic communications advice, you also are acting as a de facto psychologist. This is particularly relevant as you help a CEO and CFO better understand the underlying dynamics that move investors.

One way to ensure accuracy and consistency in company messaging is to use the PR quiver in your IR toolbox:

  • Today that includes social media content as well as traditional media vehicles such as press releases and advisories for business and trade media relevant to all constituencies.
  • And don’t think its passé to reach out to key reporters.

Approaching IR communications generally, it’s important to tell your client upfront that all companies face heightened uncertainty and increasing doubts about the best path forward – especially in an era of social media and humongous amounts of data (useful or not).

In fact, all of a company’s constituents – employees, customers, investors, and competitors alike – find themselves in the same web. Clients need to understand that now is the time to ensure they have a handle on their most important audiences – and continuing in real time.

We as IR/PR practitioners need to help clients evaluate and improve the effectiveness of their efforts by providing objective guidance that:

  • Identifies the most promising directions for communications strategy
  • Establishes priorities
  • Sets reasonable expectations
  • Implements positioning and messages that address multiples audiences and similar needs.

How To Make It Happen

We recommend using qualitative and quantitative techniques to develop a holistic view of the corporate brand – one that considers cultural as well as business and financial factors. This provides significant actionable insights into the attitudes, motivations and behavior of a company’s most important constituencies.

The first step is to establish a baseline, a rolling, qualitative research study that generates rapid-response strategic development feedback. It will quickly provide an understanding of how investors, business and trade media, a cross-section of C-suite influencers, and others assess the client’s issue or situation and its longer-term impacts.

The objectives of this study are:

  • To gauge the attitudes and beliefs of key audiences about the client, and
  • To identify sources of discontinuity between these perceptions and the messages the company is intending to convey.
  • To determine the Company’s strengths and weaknesses and whether its messages are clear, credible, persuasive and differentiating.

How often? Quarterly at minimum, typically tied to earning reports, and then attendant to significant events, whether planned or responsive.

At minimum, this will help create opportunities. At worst, it may prevent one of those feared “jump off the cliff moments.” At best, it provides valuable insight into the psyche of your key influencers and decision makers.

*Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at ajbcomms@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms

*Rob Swadosh is Senior Consultant – Crisis Communications and Predictive Media Training for Huss Group. He is a trusted corporate advisor who develops strategies to manage crises, enhance brand and reputation, heighten consumer awareness, support a company’s business model, and enrich valuation. He has held senior management roles at The Dilenschneider Group, Golin/Harris, MWW Group and Georgeson, and helped shape iconic brand transformations for clients including Allstate, Cutwater Asset Management, IBM Services, Johns

This story originally appeared in CommPro on May 16, 2017.  https://www.commpro.biz/shaping-governance-messaging-that-builds-corporate-brand/

News from Huss Group: Wine, Cracker Barrel and Wall Street

Author: Joanna Huss, Huss Group CEO + Founder

There’s something remarkable about this time of year. Al fresco dining. The smell and promise of freshly planted herbs. The color green.  And for many, the return of the ubiquitous summer Rosé (or in my case, the Mojito, which really should be treated as season-agnostic). Over the course of four years we’ve sought to bring this optimistic summer energy to our clients in every season, unraveling their stories and working relentlessly to get their great work noticed.

Through word of mouth, we’ve grown. New York businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the nation have called upon us, seeking to work with a boutique agency that challenges the traditional ad agency model rooted in insensible retainers to justify even more insensible overhead costs.

I’m proud to tell you that the month of May has been our most successful yet. We moved our headquarters office to the tech epicenter of Pittsburgh – Bakery Square – and now call Google’s third-largest software development office in the world our neighbor. We hired a distinguished Wall Street guru, Charlie Crane, adding a bona fide investor relations practice.

And, most importantly, we got a lot of clients noticed. We’d like to share with you a few of our favorite placements and elaborate on some Huss Group news.

What will benefit you

Wine – Celebrate with the ultimate American wine

We’re working with Michael Hill Kennedy, one of the world’s top sommeliers and founder of Component Wine. Michael recently was named to Forbes 30 under 30 for his innovative approach: give wine lovers the option of experiencing purebred Napa Valley varietals before they are blended to make some of the world’s top cult wines. Check out this video and article in Barron’s by Richard Morais and acquire Component Wine today.

What you should know

Cracker Barrel – A case that will go down in history

We’re happy to work with one of the top class-action law firms in the nation, Carlson Lynch. They’ve worked on the Target data breach case and are lead counsel in the Home Depot data breach class action. Their recent work to hold Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores accountable for ineffective ADA parking accessibility has resulted in great news for people with disabilities after a federal judge ruled that the corporation must comply with ADA regulations. The Associated Press’ Joe Mandack picked up the story last week and it reached several hundred newspapers, including The New York Times.

What we’d like you to tell your friends

Wall Street – Bringing it to Huss Group

Charlie Crane began his career analyzing the world’s largest publicly traded advertising agencies, earning recognition as one of Wall Street’s best stock-pickers from Institutional Investor magazine.  He now brings more than 30 years of experience as an investor and writer to Huss Group’s clients, developing effective communications strategies that build value for an organization’s stakeholders.  Read about Charlie Crane here – and welcome him to the team!

 

 

PR to Pique Investor Interest

Author: Charles Crane, Huss Group Senior Consultant

You don’t have to be a Wall Street wizard to understand that companies that make more money are worth more to their shareholders.  A company that earns a billion dollars is going to be more valuable than one that makes a million dollars, right?

Then how can a company like Amazon have achieved a market value of hundreds of billions of dollars before it ever earned a penny of profit?

By telling its story, perhaps more effectively than any other company in history. 

Amazon had a vision: to disrupt the way products are bought and sold through innovative use of technology.  And in Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos it had a visionary who was (and still is) extraordinarily effective in sharing Amazon’s story of innovation, disruption, and growth.

The lessons of building value through effective storytelling apply to businesses of all sizes, publicly traded or privately held.  If you run a successful business, you know that great advertising, marketing and public relations are the keys to finding new customers–your company’s most important stakeholders–and to building loyalty among those who already love your firm’s products and services.

Those same elements, most notably PR, are just as important to maximizing what your business is worth. Value is in the eye of the beholder, and the more beholders your company has, the more valuable it becomes. 

Even if you are a sole proprietor who owns 100% of the business, you want to grow its value for future owners, whether you wish to sell it someday or pass it along to the next generation.  Telling your story to a broader audience through earned and owned media gets you and your company noticed by more potential owners, and as anyone who has ever attended an auction knows, the more bidders there are, the higher the price when the hammer goes down.

At Huss Group, we specialize in telling stories that make a difference.  We know how to identify your company’s unique competitive edge and then to broadcast your story to the audiences that matter most through traditional, digital and social media channels. We’d love to show you how an effective communications strategy can build value for your business.

Finally: United’s CEO Gets Public Relations Right

Author: Joanna Huss, Huss Group CEO + Founder

Carpool drop-off. Morning Cortado. Forbes Avenue traffic. It felt like a usual morning drive to the office. Eh, not quite. Listening to my usual local NPR station, where Trump policy talk takes the deafening shape of white noise (shout out to WESA, 90.5), there it was. The consummate nectar for every public relations professional: A long-form radio interview with an on-the-brink CEO. And even more fun, the CEO of maybe the 21st century’s largest PR disaster stories – United AirlinesOscar Munoz. But Munoz isn’t done yet. Embattled, but not broken after his tone-deaf #UnitedGate response, he did a kickass job with this radio interview hosted by David Brancaccio. A terrible nitpicker when it comes to food, drinks and, oh yes, media interviews – some call me The Judgmental One – I was surprisingly impressed.

It’s clear that a top-tier crisis communications firm intervened, and since you aren’t a popular writer these days  if you don’t present a “Top 5” or a “Top 10 Ways” list — here it is, spoon fed for you — the Top 4 Reasons Why United’s CEO Finally Gets Public Relations Right.

1. He Stayed On His Lifeboat.  

And squarely on it he did stay. You’ll get rocked and rattled by a reporter, especially when you’ve acted, well, not smaht.  Munoz didn’t take the bait. When the reporter tried to rattle him with pointed, hypothetical questions, he got right back onto his heartfelt “it’s about the people” apology. His lifeboat message points never failed him. He came off as passionate, sincere, and yes, media-trained.  

2. He Humanized Himself.

At one point Munoz talked about going against his gut in his initial response, saying – and I abbreviate – “backing the foot-in-butt policy was like putting my foot in my mouth.” But he acknowledged the error and used relatable language to communicate his fault, saying, “It just didn’t feel right in my gut.”  That shows he’s human. And now I must mention why companies need PR firms as constant partners. It’s too easy to go tone-deaf when you are surrounded by your employees whose world is working for the company under fire. Ever hear of group think? Outside counsel – PR counsel – is always needed. Especially in today’s 24/7 news cycle.

3. He Communicated Something Tangible.

The press sniffs out fluff better than a pig on a truffle hunt. Had Munoz done this interview before United’s new policies were announced, he wouldn’t have something to back up his apologetic response. He can tie his communications to the tangible changes his company is making to be, well, better. This tells us a sophisticated firm with a public affairs practice intervened.

4. He Engaged in a Conversation.

While following his carefully crafted messages, Munoz still came across as if he were having an honest conversation. He balanced the need to be scripted with the even more important need to not come off as phony. How could we tell? His intonation. His tone was melodic and his pace was natural; he left no time for awkward pauses.

Although Munoz did very well in the interview, there’s always room for improvement.  Radio offers no body language communication for its listeners to absorb, so you have to overcompensate for that. We tell our clients to turn up the energy level in their voice by at least three notches. The last thing you want is to come off sounding annoyed, low-energy, or disinterested. In the very beginning of the interview – literally at the “hello” – we would have liked to have heard more energy from Munoz. It’s a new day for United. Be positive about it while reflecting on mistakes. No one died. It wasn’t a plane crash. It’s not the end of the world.

And lastly – for goodness sake, boards of multimillion-dollar corporations – stand united (wah, wah) in making these CEOs act immediately in hiring a professional PR firm. It took Munoz more than two weeks to get it right. Stocks and consumer confidence took a dive while memes and late-night TV jokes about the airline skyrocketed. United’s biggest failure was letting its passenger policies get in the way of common sense. Every CEO and board chair should look at himself or herself in the mirror and ask:

“If my company is faced with a public relations crisis, will I ask for help?”

 

Effective Storytelling Shines Your Nonprofit’s Passion on its Donors

Author: Sandra Tolliver, Huss Group Senior Associate

Passion is the lifeblood of your nonprofit: the passion you and your colleagues share for the mission, the passion of your clients for your organization’s services, and the passion of your donors for the dynamic, unselfish work you do.  Passion is what turns on the lights in the morning and gets you through the inevitable twists and turns each day brings.

Whether your organization is small and financially challenged or large and richly endowed, your ability to convey that passion to your funders is critical to your nonprofit’s continued success, especially in today’s world of intense competition for finite resources.

Telling your nonprofit’s story loud and clear—and with passion—is the key to connecting donors to your mission and ultimately those who benefit from your work.

As a business-savvy executive director, you’ve got that special knack of talking to people about your organization. You wear your passion on your sleeve. With any audience, you can inspire people with specific examples of how your nonprofit carries out its mission.

But do you connect those inspiring stories to funding?

With some nonprofits, it’s easy to make the “where your money goes” connection: $100 buys food, medicine, or building materials, for example. For others, it’s not so clear.  In some cases, even small contributions have a notable and measurable impact, while in others the cost of a specific program may seem large relative to the population served. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the challenge of connecting funding to stories – it must be tailored to your organization.

Human stories that pique your funders’ interest–stories about your clients, staff, volunteers or even donors themselves–are the natural centerpiece of any communications strategy.  Many donors, especially those who can make substantial contributions, are keenly interested in where their money goes and want to know the mix between programs, overhead and fundraising. A pie chart that breaks down expenses is one easy and visually appealing way to show this data. A favorable report from independent agencies that measure nonprofits’ efficiency (such as GuideStar) should also be a part of your story. And if you have corporate sponsors that underwrite the cost of your fundraising events, allowing 100% of donations to go towards programs and your mission, shout about it!

Huss Group has extensive experience in the art of effective storytelling for nonprofits, and we can help yours establish that crucial link between your mission and your donors.

When Candace Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, started a new nonprofit, We Save Lives, to make drunk, drugged and distracting driving unacceptable in society, she turned to Huss Group to tell her story. We helped to generate buzz for the nonprofit’s #ReflectionsFromInside campaign. With a viral video in which a man in prison for a DUI fatality tells his story to bar-goers, we got to work pitching national media networks. A producer from NBC saw the video on his Facebook feed, and we negotiated the best possible segment time with NBC Nightly News and granted them the exclusive. Then we worked to share the story across social media platforms and NBC UNI distribution channels. Ultimately, the story reached dozens of major media outlets in many countries from Canada to Japan.

When the Pittsburgh-based Hopital Albert Schweitzer wanted to raise awareness of the 60th anniversary of its hospital in Haiti, Huss Group stepped in to share compelling human interest stories during the 2016 outbreak of Zika. We told the story of the hospital’s network of 42 mobile medical workers and several hundred medical volunteers who delivered Zika preventative education and family planning to more than 10,000 Haitians and began tracking several dozen pregnant women who experienced Zika-related symptoms. To some media, we told the story of the purpose-driven life of Manhattan socialite Louise Stephaich, the niece and goddaughter of HAS founders Larry and Gwen Mellon, highlighting why family members born into unimaginable wealth continue to embody the founders’ fiery passion to provide a stable source of hope for one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.

You have a story to tell. Let us help you tell it in a way that gets noticed and ignites your donors’ passion.

A New Media Landscape: Part 1

Author: Joanna Huss, Huss Group Founder + CEO

 

An early-morning walk through any neighborhood tells the story: no bagged newspapers in driveways. People get their news online, choosing Facebook or other social feeds over traditional news outlets. Think about the 2016 presidential election: according to Pew Research Center, two-thirds of U.S. adults cited “digital sources” as their primary outlet for information.

And it’s happening in our headquarters town as it has elsewhere – long-standing, trusted media companies cutting back, consolidating, restructuring, or remaking themselves. Pew pegged 2015 as the worst year for newspapers since the recession: circulation fell by 7%, and advertising declined by 8%.

Pittsburgh was the latest major American city to change its status as a two-daily-newspaper town when the Tribune-Review stopped its print edition after nearly 25 years of publication. The newspaper became online-only, joining traditional papers in Cleveland, Detroit, Harrisburg and other national markets. Even Pittsburgh’s dominant news source, the Post-Gazette, announced plans to invest more into digital platforms to keep up with consumer choices and the 24/7 news cycle.

So what does all of this rapid change mean for you?

In Huss Group’s three-part series, “A New Media Landscape,” we’ll examine what this shift means for businesses and nonprofits seeking to get noticed, or to manage their reputations during unexpected crises. We’ll go behind-the-scenes talking with new media businesses in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Washington, D.C. and New York, bringing you essential information on how these new players operate and how you must adapt – or risk getting left behind.

In our last segment, we’ll define strategies that will help your organization land that quintessential, objective, earned-media story you deserve and suggest hyper-targeted marketing strategies that will get you noticed. And, as this rapidly changing media environment unfolds, we’ll keep the information coming to you, with the launch of my podcast, in collaboration with one of the top marketing minds, ImageBox’s CEO John Mahood.

For now, let’s set the foundation of this series by diving deeper into some of the “Whys” of this shift. It starts with money. After all, the news media are first and foremost businesses.

Quite simply, consumers don’t pay for news, advertisers do. As Americans’ fascination with TV and the Internet soared, suddenly newspapers no longer were the place to find ads from department stores, auto dealers, restaurants, even employers offering jobs or people selling things they no longer want. The traditional business model for print papers (relying on advertisers, subscribers and newsstand sales, with costly fleets of delivery trucks) began to buckle.  

Younger people clearly aren’t interested in investing time to read a daily newspaper the way that their parents and grandparents did. Why bother when cyberspace offers a wealth of information and entertainment from around the world, around the clock, tailored to your exact interests?

Still, some traditional newspapers couldn’t accept that technology was changing their world and didn’t immediately invest in it. And many that did create digital publications couldn’t meet the challenge of making money online.

With the loss of their exclusive control over advertisers, newspapers began to consolidate and cut back during economic ups and downs of the 1970s and ‘80s. As they competed for readers, papers dramatically changed their design and content, largely replacing “watchdog” journalism with news that would appeal to the masses without offending too many people, such as sports, lifestyle features and hyper-local “news.” Some editors and reporters, beaten down by budget and staffing cuts, became lazy with content.  All this, as the Internet exploded in the late ‘90s.

And here we are today, where Google rakes in more ad dollars than all U.S. print media combined.

What’s next?

In A New Media Landscape: Part 2 we’ll share first-hand insight from leaders of digital media companies on how you must adapt in today’s changing media landscape.

Why Your Business Needs A Social Media Strategy in 2017

In today’s world, social media is undeniably the most powerful resource for marketing and public relations. Your target audience most likely spends a significant time on social networks. Your dream customer could be scrolling down a Facebook feed at this moment. A marketing plan without a social media strategy is a huge missed opportunity.

Statista predicts an estimated 2.67 billion social media users worldwide by next year. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram have the capability to connect people across the street or across the world. What other media source has the clout and capability to disseminate information to a worldwide audience just by clicking “post”?

Your business or non-profit needs a social media strategy.

Data from Facebook shows that- every minute, 293,000 posts are published, 510,000 comments are posted, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.

It’s easy to get lost in the sea of content, but with a strong and well-managed strategy, the right message reaches the right people. In the past couple of years, we’ve watched videos and photos go viral without intention. By studying this phenomenon, we’ve learned that a great social media strategy depends on the right content delivered to the people who care about the message. Changing algorithms are changing the heart of social media marketing. Hyper-targeted delivery is more important than ever as organic reach is losing value. That means social media marketing is no longer free.

To stay relevant it’s important that brands of all scale and size uphold the goal of being “discoverable.” How will anyone find your Facebook page, read that awesome blog, or stumble upon that quirky tweet that describes their life in 140 characters? It’s not an exact science, but there are several factors that have led Huss Group to success:

  • Consistent– It’s important to keep your post frequency consistent to create a system that works.
  • Attentive– Social media is ever-changing. It’s important to pay attention  and adapt your strategy, budget, and message to meet the need of your audience.
  • Creative– It takes creativity and unique ideas to cut through the density of online content and make your message stand out.
  • Engaging- Social networking is like socializing in real life. You have to give your audience a reason to want to talk to you.

Content that makes a splash will trigger a response. Our job is to help you guide that conversation.

There are 40 million active business pages on Facebook. To help yours stand out in 2017, Huss PR Group offers social media services ranging from isolated campaigns to full page development and daily management. Our goal is get clients noticed through creativity and business acumen that cuts through the clutter so your business can shine in the space where that matters.

Interested in receiving a free social media consultation? Contact Lauren Kucic at lkucic@hussprgroup.com.