Coming up in the PR and comms world in the Twin Cities, Greg Zimprich was always one of those names I saw often. Probably partly because, at the time, he had a killer job managing brand PR for General Mills. And partly because, well, he’s a rock star!
But, over the course of many years, he was just that–a name. That changed in recent years when I met Greg for the first time. We had him on our Talking Points Podcast. I had coffee with him to discuss all matters MN PRSA. And, the more I get to know Greg, the more it’s obvious to me: he truly is a rock star in our field. A titan, if you will.
Let’s hear more from one of the living legends of our industry, Greg Zimprich.
First, can you tell us more about your current role at Medtronic? What made/makes financial communications so intriguing to you?
First, Medtronic is such a great company, with such an engaging and supportive, mission-driven culture. Second, my role in leading finance communications is new, so it’s an exciting opportunity to shape the voice and narrative for the function and our CFO Karen Parkhill. I’ve always gone into every new role with the attitude that I’m going to learn new skills and gain new knowledge. This role affords me the chance to both learn corporate finance and also to help translate the finance story for both the function as well as the broader company.
You’ve spent time on the big corporate side (Honeywell, Medtronic, GM) and the big agency side (Weber, Miller Meester)—for those who might be reading this who are just starting out, how would you characterize the pros and cons of each side?
I’ve enjoyed roles on both sides during my 30-year career. Here are a few thoughts. First, it’s not atypical for corporate roles to require several years of experience, even at the most junior level. And that’s why I think agencies are a great place to start out and to gain meaningful experience. You’ll also gain exposure to how different clients think about PR. Some thrive in the frenetic pace of agencies and learn how to effectively multi-task – plus, the variety is appealing for many people. Corporate roles typically offer the chance to go vertically deep in a specific practice area or industry, and that can be appealing for other people. Either way, we all need to take advantage of the situations that allow us to learn the industry and make ourselves better, because the opportunities in this field are endless.
You also somehow find the time to be an adjunct professor at Metropolitan State University. Why did you decide to take on that role and what has been the biggest learning from your experience so far?
It’s pretty simple. The professors I had in college and grad school who real-world experience made a huge impact on me. Gary Evans was editor of the Winona Daily News when he taught at Saint Mary’s. George Reedy, who was the press secretary for Lyndon Johnson, taught me at Marquette. For me, it’s really important to give back and share what I’ve learned during my career. The biggest thing I’ve learned is how eager these students are to learn and apply their knowledge. They’re like sponges.
A couple months ago, you also assumed the role of President of Minnesota PRSA. As we talked late last year, I know you have a lot of big ideas. I’m curious to hear what’s on your agenda, as president, for the upcoming year?
We have an aggressive agenda for the year and I feel very fortunate to work with such a strong board and highly committed co-chairs. In January, we became the first PRSA chapter in the nation to have a full-voting, board-level Diversity and Inclusion Officer. We are so excited about partnering with Marsha Pitts-Phillips to implement that initiative. We also are in the midst of strategic planning led by Janet Swiecichowski, which will help us set the course for the next 3-5 years as our chapter and industry continues to evolve. We made several changes – including transitioning to a new management firm and new website platform – that will help change our cost structure and put us on strong financial footing. Eva Keiser and I partnered to launch a new integrated partnership program to ensure our long-time supporters receive real value for their sponsorship dollars. And finally, like most professional associations, we’re constantly battling for the time and attention of our members and the broader community of practice. So we need to continually hone our offerings and content delivery to strive for relevance.
Turns out, you’ve already had one big announcement—naming Marsha Pitts-Phillips as the chapters Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Can you talk a little about that role and why it’s so important for MN PRSA and the PR industry?
Our chapter – and our industry more broadly – would benefit from being more reflective of the rapidly evolving world in which we operate, and we clearly have work to do. That includes diversity of skillsets, mindsets and cultures – in addition to the obvious opportunities to improve across racial, ethnic, gender, orientation and religious lines. Building mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics fundamentally requires an authentic knowledge and familiarity with those publics. Diversity of thought inherently leads to better-informed, stronger and more stimulating ideas, discussions and debates. We are blessed to have Marsha Pitts-Phillips leading our Minnesota PRSA Diversity and Inclusion efforts and we’ll be sharing more details about our 2019 plans in the coming weeks.
During your time at Mills, especially, you had an opportunity to meet and work with some pretty incredible sports figures and celebrities. Any stories stand out (that you can publicly talk about, at least)?
I was the senior PR lead for Big G Cereals for about 10 years. During that time, Wheaties rarely had marketing budgets that would support advertising, so PR was the main brand driver. It was during that time we created the concept of unveiling an oversized replica of the package cover as if it were a piece of art. Our box unveiling B-roll packages were used extensively by local and national TV outlets coast-to-coast, and it wasn’t unusual to get 1,000-plus broadcast placements. So for a number of years, the brand team would literally let me write the marketing flow for the year – including which athletes to feature on the box. Naturally, I had a list of some of my boyhood heroes who never made it, so I worked through that list – Roberto Clemente, Bill Russell, Julius Erving, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron – and more. My best memories, though, were the personal friendships with some of the athletes – guys like Walter Payton and Ozzie Smith and others. We had dozens and dozens of other spokespeople through the years outside of sports as well. It was a great time to be in that role.
I know you, like me and many others listening, are also a huge Vikes fan. Since we can’t really talk about “favorite Vikings moments” (um, there’s only one that I can think of recently!), what’s your most painful Vikes memory?
There are far too many to count. Don’t get me wrong – I bleed purple – but it’s difficult for me to ever feel too good about the team knowing that at any minute they could break our collective hearts. The four Super Bowl losses – in 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1976 – certainly stand out. NFC Championship overtime losses with the 15-1 team in 1998 and the Brett Favre interception in 2009 still sting to this day. And everyone universally agrees that Drew Pearson still pushed off in the 1977 championship game – allowing the Cowboys to win. And how about 41-donut loss vs. the Giants. I think I feel my blood pressure rising. Thanks, Arik.
As I approach 50, I see many of my friends and colleagues struggling a little to find positions and the right “fit”. As someone who has seemed to successfully navigate those waters over the last number of years, what advice would you share with those folks?
First, congratulations on approaching that important milestone – and come on in, the water’s fine. Also, don’t believe all those stories you’ve heard! As someone who considers himself a life-long learner, I’ve always felt it’s important to continually evaluate your skills and background to understand your strengths and opportunity areas. Use that assessment to go into every new situation with your own agenda of the skills, background and knowledge you hope to gain. Plus, building a successful career requires discernment and refinement along the way – both in knowing what you like to do, but more importantly, knowing what you don’t like to do. Focus your attention there and the navigating part becomes a lot easier. And most who know me also know my No. 1 rule – always have fun, no matter what you’re doing.
Last week, a friend sent me a Facebook DM: “Should we still be using press releases?”
Simple question, but one that’s full of history and heated debated on both sides of the coin.
But, in 2019, I think it’s a question worth seriously considering. Do you really still need to be using press releases as part of your PR/comms strategy?
Of course, you’ll find the vendors that benefit from press release use are still backing it in 2019. Take this Cision study for example.
On the other hand, Silicon Valley start-up folks have had a rough relationship with the media and the press release for years–take a spin through this old post to get a better sense.
What’s always been missing in this debate is a relatively objective third-party who can take an impartial look at what’s happening, how things have shifted and give an informed opinion on this topic.
OK, fine I’ll share my opinion! 🙂
Press releases were designed, at least initially, as a way to get news out to a mass amount of media outlets with minimal effort. This is why wire services exist, right? “We need to get our press release out on the wire!” is a phrase you used to hear many years ago.
The idea, of course, is that the media will use the release in a few different ways:
- Key message “pull-through” — this is a fancy way of saying the journalist will use your key messages from your release in his/her story
- Direct quotes — you hope the journalist pulls straight quotes from your release
- Client mentions — of course we want this, right?
- Lifting big chunks of the release — in some ways, this is best case scenario, they almost run the release word-for-word!
Now, press releases can, and do, continue to do all these things. In spots, they work quite well (getting corporate announcements out to a large group of reporters, for example). But, today’s communicator also has many more options at his/her fingertips in 2019–options that simply weren’t available 15-20 years ago.
Predominantly, I’m talking about corporate blogs and social channels here. In many cases, media will follow these blogs and accounts for information in real-time. You could make an argument that Twitter is the modern wire service in many ways!
Also: If you think about the goals I talked about above, wouldn’t you have a better chance of success with the first one, and maybe even #2 and #3, if you had a personalized pitch with a reporter you actually had regular contact? I would certainly think so.
On the other side, today’s reporter is more stretched than ever before. They don’t have as much time for research as they once did. So, a well-written press release in their inbox can go a long ways toward securing coverage–especially when it comes to goal #4 above.
All that said, I’ve been leaning away from the traditional press release for a number of years. My big reasons?
1: Banking on quality vs. quantity.
I’d rather take a few hits with some key publications vs. 25 hits with publications I (and the client) have barely heard of before. It’s quality over quantity. I can’t think of too many clients that wouldn’t want just 1-2 hits in key pubs they really want to get into vs. 10 hits in pubs in that “other” or “nice to have” bucket.
2: The SEO angle is dead.
As if it were really ever alive! Years ago, many would argue there was true SEO value in getting a high volume of stories placed in the media with links back to your site. This was almost 100% an SEO strategy by PRs. But, I never saw it that way. It felt like people were gaming the system. It didn’t feel effective. And, I really never heard too many stories about it working all that well. Certainly, in 2019, this is not an effective approach, or justification to use a news release.
3: In it for the long run.
I much prefer an approach similar to what my friend and podcast partner, Kevin Hunt, has done at General Mills. They run media-ready stories on their blog first–then pitch. Or, better yet, over the years, they’ve conditioned certain media to look for them! Many media will reach out to them for a story based on what they saw on the corporate blog! That probably doesn’t work for most companies, as GM is a Fortune 500 company with a big following. But, the concept still works across many different industries and niches–it’s more about the long play than the short-term reward. And, that’s what I’m interested in when it comes to developing media relationships and generating value for clients.
Just my two cents in the “press release is dead” conversation. What about you–got an opinion on this always hot topic?
One approach companies have long struggled with since the dawn of social media marketing is the simple concept of giving content, information and data away–for free.
I see this in our own profession all the time.
You have some agencies, like Top Rank Marketing, for example, who clearly believe in the power of giving it away. For years, Lee Odden has been giving away his tips, tricks and best practices when it comes to digital marketing on the Top Rank blog. For years, I have been doing the same thing on this blog–and now, on the Talking Points Podcast and e-newsletter.
On the flip side, I see plenty of agencies here in the Twin Cities that focus their social content on no one but themselves. No free info. No free advice. The content is all about promoting the agency. And, in some cases, you’ll see the dreaded “gated content” pop up as well.
Gated content is simply any content you award to customers who complete a form–essentially giving you the opportunity to market to them incessantly via email marketing. That’s really what the gated content strategy is all about.
And, that’s exactly where it has always lost me.
Think about how the customers views those two approaches.
First, the “give it all away for free” approach. A customer might see your social post in their LinkedIn feed because a friend liked it. They then follow you. A couple weeks later, they click on a blog post you share they found interesting. A few weeks after that, they like one of your posts as it made them think of a project they were recently working on. After six months of passively interacting with you online, a business need comes up and the customer thinks of your company, since they’ve been seeing more of you in their LinkedIn feed lately. An initial email turns into a phone call which turns into actual business. The customer never gave you an email. They only saw a slow drip of content over many months on a couple of social platforms. And, here they are, buying your service.
Now, think about the gated content approach. A customer might see your social post in their LinkedIn feed because a friend liked it. They then follow you–same as before. But then, a week later, they read a blog post and at the end of the blog post, you ask for their contact information in exchange for an ebook on the topic they just read about. The customer agrees, because they’re interested in the topic. But, then the customer is inundated with emails from your company–to the tune of 2-3 per week. After two weeks of that, the customer unsubscribes, frustrated with the ongoing marketing when all they wanted was some helpful content via the initial ebook.
In one example, your company gave away a series of free content and wound up with a customer (hopefully, for life).
In the other example, your company gave away some free content but then used gated content and wound up pissing the customer off–most likely never to come back.
It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to see which approach is more effective.
Yet, I continue to see gated content used across so many industries.
I just wonder why this is still happening…
If there’s one thing I learned from my years on the corporate side (and in my years since working with larger corporate clients) it’s this: Managing up is everything.
I’ve seen many people who are/were talented strategists and writers passed up for promotions because they didn’t understand how to “manage up.” Heck, I’ve been one of those people in the past!
But, in my 20-plus years in this business, I’ve picked up a few best practices–mostly by observing these people who had mastered the art of managing up. Admittedly, I haven’t been the best at this in previous lives. But, I’ve found ways to implement these tips I’ve observed into the work I do today with clients. Because it’s so important–one could argue, just as important as the quality of the work you do!
So, today I thought I’d share a few of these tips I’ve learned over the years. I’m sure you will have your own best practices to share–and I’d love to hear them in the comments below. For now, here are mine:
Keep an “Arik is awesome!” file
With one small change: use your own name, not mine! In all seriousness, make sure to organize an email folder where you can collect notes and remarks from your manager, your direct reports and others across your company who have said nice/great things about you in the previous year. Couple different things you can then do with this content: 1) You can share it randomly with your boss–particularly when you’re having a really bad day!, 2) Bust all of these out during your annual performance review. No better credibility than third-party credibility! Bonus: Reach out to some of the people who gave you the highest marks and ask them to write you a quick LinkedIn recommendation with the same comments.
What’s important to your boss?
Do you know the answer to that question? If not, you best find out ASAP. This is a key way the best “manage up.” By figuring out what truly matters to your boss, you can then figure out how you can help solve those problems or achieve those goals. For example, let’s say a huge priority for your boss is raising your CEO’s visibility. Your boss is handling speaking gigs, awards and media efforts, but isn’t finding the time for social media. Could you volunteer to help brush up the CEO’s LinkedIn account and make suggestions for how she might be more active on the social network? By taking on work like this–work that matters to your boss–you’ll definitely be putting yourself in a completely different group within your peer set.
Use the 20% rule
Managing up includes managing the expectations of your boss. One the most effective tricks in the books is what I like to call the 20% rule. In other words, when managing deadlines with your boss, always ask for 20% more time than you actually need. That way, you’ll almost always deliver on time. And, most of the time you’ll exceed expectations by delivering ahead of time.
With communication, be uber-responsive (except on weeknights/weekends)
This tweet from Maggie Lamaack sums up how my thinking has changed on this front.
I am the psycho that responds to emails 30 seconds after I receive them and I am not sorry.
— Maggie LaMaack (@MaggieLaMaack) February 25, 2019
When it comes to communication with your boss, try your best to be as responsive as you can. You probably don’t need to respond within 30 seconds as Maggie mentions above. But, within an hour or two–you bet. There’s really no excuse with how tethered we all are to our phones. Now, the trick comes in at night and on the weekends. My feeling is you should be as responsive as you can from 7-7 (roughly) Monday-Friday, but resist the urge to respond on evenings and over the weekends (unless, of course, it’s an emergency). Being responsive is great–and it will distinguish you from others. Believe me, not everyone is responsive. Many more than you would think. But, being responsive on the weekends can be detrimental to your career and your health. After all, once you set that precendent than you’re responding to emails from your boss at all hours of the day, he or she will take advantage of that. No doubt about it.
Surprise and delight…with little things
One of the most effective ways I’ve found at building long-lasting relationships with managers and clients is pretty damn simple. Take the time to learn more about your boss. Her interests. Her passions. What she does outside of work. And, then use that information to surprise and delight her in little, and unexpected ways. For example, I have a client (read: boss) who loves the North Shore as much as I do. We both professed our love for World’s Best Donuts, the small little coffee shop in Grand Marais. So, the next time I was up there, I bought her a mug from that store. Just a small little gesture, but I’m quite sure it went a long, long ways.
Like I said before, those are just my tips. I’m sure you have other than have worked over the years. Please share what’s worked for you in the comments below.
When it comes to influencer marketing, a lot of the content I’ve read over the last year or so has focused on one of two areas: How to SELECT influencers that are right for your brand; and how to MEASURE success once you’ve engaged these influencers.
Very little has been written about the PROCESS of engaging the influencer.
And, there’s a lot to talk about there. I’ve been a part of a few different influencer projects with my clients (mostly larger, Fortune 500-level clients) over the last few years, and there’s a ton of work that goes into the process of managing these influencers from the minute you sign with them to the measurement of the content.
I could talk a little about my experience, but instead today, I thought I’d ask other luminaries in our field how they actively manage the influencers they work with in their client campaigns.
Jason Schumann (Ampere Communications), Bridget Jewell (Periscope) and Maggie Lamaack (Fast Horse) have been a few of the folks way out in front of influencer marketing the last couple years. Sure, there are a ton of people DOING influencer marketing right now. But, there are very few people doing it well. Judging from what I see (and my spidey sense!), these three are doing it more effectively than anyone else.
Let’s start with Jason. He has an interesting, and I’m sure effective, way of on-boarding influencers. See his step-by-step approach below:
Step 1 – Immerse influencers in the brand experience
- If possible, invite influencers to your headquarters and/or key business environments (manufacturing facilities, farms, stores, etc.) to gain firsthand knowledge behind the brands they are about to represent
- Design an agenda that exposes them to key team members, insights and practices that inform them what the brand stands for, who it appeals to and why
- This upfront investment helps build greater appreciation for the business, strengthens relationships and sparks additional (earned) social sharing
Step 2 – Create a detailed brand guide
- Develop a creative brief outlining brand objectives, target audience, desired outcomes, tone and key messaging
- Share instructions on proper product naming and trademark use
- Include tips on brand use/positioning in video and photography with examples
- Share preferred tagging and links
- Include detailed product descriptions with important facts (i.e., ingredients, features, applications)
Step 3 – Share ongoing brand and company updates
- As trusted partners, share interesting and relevant company and brand updates to keep influencers informed and engaged, such as:
- Product extensions
- Sustainability efforts
- Company awards/honors
- New communication channels (newsletter, blog, etc.)
- Marketing/ad campaigns
- New hires
- Significant media coverage
- Consumer insights
How do you best prepare influencers to create content on your brand’s behalf? Bridget Jewell has some great ideas here.
- You’ve already had a call with them to make sure they are a great brand fit. Once the contract is signed, schedule another call to go into details and brief them on the project like a client would brief their agency.
- Prior to the call, give your influencers a project brief. This should include a project overview, brand framework, considerations and verbiage. Tell them where they can’t go, share with them the work that you’re doing and then let them be creative.
- Have them send their work before posting so that you can make sure there aren’t any issues. This is not a creative review, it’s a review to make sure there are no brand red flags or things that are outright wrong. You have to remember that they know what’s going to resonate best with their audience and you picked them for a reason. This review should happen in 24-48 hours.
“For every influencer program we do, we create a brief. The brief is basically like a bible that the influencer can read to ensure the content they are creating is what the brand is looking for. If they read and follow the brief closely, there (ideally) should not be any issues with their content. Whether they actually read the brief is a whole different story 😊.
I try to keep briefs as short as possible, but based on the client they can be up to 10 or so pages long. If the instructions are very specific or detailed, I’ll usually also create a one-pager or just write the influencer an email with the most important takeaways.
Before I get into what we put in them, I’ll also note that we include a clause that the brief needs to be followed in every contract we send out.
Here is what we like to include in a brief:
- Brand details – What the product is, what we would like the product to be called (this sounds insane but you would be AMAZED how much content I get back with the brand name misspelled or wrong), basic brand positioning as needed. We also include all brand social channels and relevant hashtags in this.
- Partnership overview – Just a page that outlines the partnership details and what the brand is looking for in terms of content and deliverables.
- Key messages – This is usually a half dozen bullet points about the product. I like to include a handful, and then just ask the influencer pick the 2-3 messages that align with their content and voice. I also always include a note that the influencer is free to put the messages in their own words (within reason) – this just helps the content feel more authentic and less like a straight up ad.
- We’ll also require that they tag us in every post here.
- FTC disclosures – We always include brand rules around FTC disclosures and how they need to be used in every piece of content.
- Example content – I like to pick 3-5 photos that already exist on the influencer’s account that reflect the kind of content we are looking for from them. So, for example, if we’re trying to promote some sort of food item, we would choose some photos of the influencer in their kitchen or eating that showcase the kind of photos we would like them to create. Then we also write example captions the influencers can draw from.
- Watch outs – If the ask is very specific, we like to include a page on “watch outs” which are basically common mistakes that could be made while shooting content that would force the influencer to have to reshoot. This includes things like: No other logos or brands can be visible in the content, don’t use any music you don’t own the rights to, anything the influencer can/can’t say about the brand from a legal perspective
- Styling guidelines – This is basically just how the brand would like to be represented in the photos. It can include things like “find packaging with the expiration date on the back vs on the front of the product,” “use a muted color palate,” etc.
- Other items:
- In my experience, images usually perform better if the influencers themselves are in them. This obviously isn’t the case for everyone, but it’s a note I like to sneak in where it makes sense.
- We use a metrics tracking system, so I like to include the instructions for the influencer to link up to that in the brief.
- Any exclusivity details.
- Timeline/post dates.
- Make it clear that everything needs to be approved before it goes live.
- Contact information – I usually include my email and phone number.