Ten years ago or so, thought leadership opportunities in the business media world were somewhat prevalent.
You could pitch bylined ideas to publications like Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Fortune and, given you were somewhat competent, you had a chance.
In the media relations world, this was huge because a big part of our value is getting clients into big-time publications like these.
However, in 2019, I think those opportunities are shrinking. Which is surprising given newsrooms are smaller than ever, and you would think editors at these publications would be interested in anything that made their jobs easier.
But, on the other side of the coin, I think it’s fair to point out the huge influx of PR people in our industry–especially when compared with our media counterparts. Last year, Muck Rack pointed out that there are now SIX PR pros for every journalist.
If you work in PR, those aren’t great numbers because they highlight what’s now obvious: There’s a lot of PR people out there pitching the same few (and becoming fewer all the time) editors.
Here are just a few examples of what this looks like in action in 2019.
HBR used to be a publication you could get into. You had to pitch the editor your story idea. She would review it. Give you the thumbs up, and you’d go about writing it. It wasn’t crazy to get an article in HBR (I did it with my HealthFitness client in 2016).
But, over the last few years, HBR has changed their process. No longer do you pitch the editor (unless you have an existing relationship, that is). Now, you go through a more formal submission process. They even say right on that site that they get many more submissions than they can run–and that they have a rigorous editorial review process. It all just means there are way more hurdles to jump over to get into HBR in 2019. It’s not impossible, but man, it’s tough.
Or, what about Forbes? The publication, it seems, now completely devoted to contributed content. Sure, it still has content written by editorial staff, but if you’re looking to pitch thought leadership bylines or content–good luck. That’s now reserved for their “highly touted” contributors. Now, they do have a fair amount of people who are well-known in their fields writing these bylines–Ryan Holmes at Hootsuite comes to mind. But, I’ve also noticed a number of people I would call “questionable” penning bylines. Again, it all means it’s really, really hard to pitch thought leadership content to Forbes right now (my new approach–pitch the contributors on my topic!).
Finally, consider Fast Company. One of the pubs I’ve been trying to break into for years–sadly, without much success. But, it might not be a big surprise. Fast Co. certainly doesn’t make it easy. Let’s start with their site. Try to find a list of editor and reporters. Go ahead, I’ll wait 10 minutes. Didn’t find much, did you? You most likely need to subscribe to Cision or Muck Rack for that information (and even then, it’s not always accurate). Pitching thought leadership content to Fast Co. is pretty damn hard.
I don’t know–maybe this is just sour grapes on my part since I’ve struggled to break in with these pubs the last few years. But, I had decent success before. I do feel like things have changed.
So, I pose the question to you: If you work in the B2B space, have you noticed more challenges trying to get thought leadership placements with these bigger business pubs? I’d love to hear about your experiences.
We’ve all witnessed this scene in any number of public spaces, right?
Not uncommon at all in 2019. In fact, I might say this is the new norm.
Here’s a specific scenario. Let me know if it sounds familiar to you parents out there. You’re in the car for a family road trip. The kids are in the back. They quickly pull out their phones and ear buds. Your husband pulls out his phone and headphones to listen to his favorite podcasts. You’re left alone at the wheel to drive without any conversation.
Or, what about this one: You’re attending an industry conference in (INSERT NAME HERE). You head to your first session. You sit down at a table full of other attendees, hoping to meet a few new folks. To your dismay, however, you realize they all have their phones out, with heads down, scrolling away.
Yep, these are all common occurrences in 2019.
And, situations like these may be leading to the death of the art of small talk.
Think about the experience of being on a plane in 2019. You sit down, get situated and plug in your ear buds. That’s what literally everyone on the plane now does, right? How many conversations do you hear on a plane anymore? When was the last time you struck up a conversation with your seat mate? I literally can’t remember (I sat next to long-time PGA Tour golfer Ian Poulter last year and said NOTHING!).
For a FANTASTIC read on this general topic, I suggest reading Shelly Turkle’s New York Times piece dubbed “The Flight From Conversation.”
Why does this matter? Why am I bringing this up today? Because it has implications for the work we do in marketing and communications.
Think about people in media relations roles. How do most PR folks connect with editor and reporters in 2019? You got it–email. Or, text. Or, Twitter. Or, (INSERT SOCIAL NETWORK NAME HERE).
How many people, in 2019, actually call reporters? If you polled 100 PR folks I’d be willing to be the numbers would be in the single digits. And, if you polled PR folks under the age of 30 the number would almost certainly be zero. And that’s a shame. Because so much good can come from a phone call in the media relations game. A phone call can nurture a relationship in a way emails, text and social media posts never will.
It’s almost like a good phone call with a reporter is equal to about 20 emails. And, think about the act of pitching on the phone itself. By doing it voice-to-voice you can overcome objections. Shift the conversation based on the reporter’s tone. Or, change gears entirely and go a completely different direction based on what the reporter is saying. Yes, a simple phone call (and the small talk that goes along with it) are a complete game-changer for media relations–and they have been for years.
On a larger scale, think about your career path for a moment. Many people aspire to VP and executive roles, right? What do you think those types of folks do all day? Well, I can tell you since some of them have been clients over the past 10 years. They sit in meetings. They build consensus. They work to convince colleagues of their point-of-view. In short, they’re using interpersonal skills and conversation–ALL THE TIME. In fact, I usually have a hard time getting their attention via email. They rarely text. And, it’s like pulling teeth to connect with them on social media. So, if you want to someday be a VP of comms, you’re going to have to learn how to master the art of small talk and conversation.
So, as technology continues to kill the art of conversation and our ability (and desire, in many cases) to interact with others, think about the ramifications of that shift for your career. And remember, it is acceptable to be active on social media and text your friends and colleagues and STILL have the ability to hold a conversation with eye contact for more than two minutes!
If you’re a Minnesota Wild fan, you’ve undoubtedly heard the news: GM Paul Fenton is out.
According to ownership, he wasn’t a “culture fit.” That’s typically code for: he was a jerk to employees. And, that’s not me saying that, it’s talk show hosts, media and fans over the last week or so.
Think about that for a minute: A major-league sports franchise fired a GM for, essentially, being an a**hole.
That got me thinking: Have the scales finally started to tip in our industry? Are we starting to see the phasing out of **holes in communications leadership positions?
Because, let’s face it, this has been an issue for a while. I’ve worked for some fairly awful people in my almost-25 years in this business. Some people where I was like “how did YOU get in THIS position?” I’m sure many of you reading this have experienced the same thing.
I’ve seen some horrific behavior from leaders I’ve worked for. Yelling. Inappropriate comments. Mean comments. Personal comments. Not qualities that define great leadership. And, certainly not qualities that would stand up in this era of transparency.
But here’s the thing: I’m starting to notice the pendulum swinging.
Let’s just look at a few people who have seen success of late, and who are climbing the leadership ladder in communications here in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
First, what about Jeff Shelman, senior director of comms and public affairs at Best Buy? Just 10 short years ago, he was making the jump from media side to PR. Now, he’s a key leader on one of Minnesota’s most well-known company’s PR team. And, he’s almost universally loved among colleagues–and more importantly, former colleagues. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a harsh word about Jeff–from his days at Best Buy, HealthPartners and Augsburg to his time with the Star Tribune. Clearly, Jeff is a leader with a rock-solid reputation.
Or, what about Anna Lovely, (relatively) new global business communications lead at Cargill. She moved into this new role last fall. I’m sure trust and reputation have played a big part of the work Anna has done in the last nine months to move into this role. Like Jeff, Anna is well-respected across the PR landscape here in Minnesota. I’ve worked directly with Anna in the past during her work with Cargill Risk Management. Her reputation–much like Jeff’s–is sterling across the board. Another one of those people I have never heard a negative word about. And, it’s paying off.
Finally, Stacia Nelson has grown her Pivot Strategies from a one-person shop (her) to a team of 15 in four short years. She also happens to be a generous, thoughtful and kind leader. In fact, she’s the kind of person a lot of people would love to work for (and do, at Pivot). Admittedly, I don’t know Stacia all that well, but she certainly seems to be another example of a good person ascending to a leadership position here in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
And, those are just three I thought of off the top of my head. I know there are others. I can sense a trend. Kindness is winning.
Good people are succeeding.
And, a**holes are getting fired!
Here’s to hoping this is one trend that continues in 2020.
Is 2019 the year of the social CEO?
I wrote about this trend in my recent 2019 trends presentation. And, I’ve noticed a few more prominent CEOs taking a more active stance in social recently. Shelly Ibach, CEO and president of Sleep Number (client) comes to mind.
In many of these situations, CEOs start on social because they want to build thought leadership–for them, and the brand. So, they share articles they have authored. They share articles where they have been featured in the media. In general, they’re mostly sharing content either they have authored or content where they are prominently featured. And, if the goal is thought leadership and brand-building, that makes a ton of sense.
But, it’s not the only way to go about it.
There is a more well-rounded approach that a few CEOs are taking that I think is very interesting. And, it has more to do with community-building than it does thought leadership.
One CEO who is doing this well at the moment if H&R Block’s Jeff Jones.
For Minnesotans, you might recall Jeff is the former CMO of Target. And, in that role, he had a fairly famous post on LinkedIn during the Target financial crisis years ago (I wrote about it here, if you’re interested). So, Jeff’s been on my radar for years.
But, his most recent activity on LinkedIn caught my eye. Not because he was active on LinkedIn–it was the WAY in which he was active that really intrigued me.
To cut to the chase: Jeff seems to spend more time liking and commenting on other content than he does creating and sharing his own. And it’s a brilliant strategy.
First, what is he doing? Jeff is actively commenting on a variety of content–mostly that produced by the corporate H&R Block account, like this post.
And, here’s Jeff’s comment on the post–as you can see, nothing too complicated:
He also frequently comments on H&R Block employee posts like this one:
Again, here’s Jeff’s simple comment:
And finally, he’s re-sharing other H&R Block employee content, when it makes sense:
Not to mention, Jeff “likes” a variety of content on LinkedIn from H&R Block posts to employee posts to general news posts.
Why is this a brilliant strategy?
One big reason.
Imagine you’re Joe, the HRB district manager from the post above. You make a simple post on LinkedIn celebrating your week. You see a few comments and feel good about the post. Then, THE CEO OF YOUR FREAKING COMPANY comments on the post saying how much he loves it. Think about the impact that had on Joe. Think about the pride he feels in working for a big company where the CEO takes the time to comment on his post. Then, think about all the other people that saw Jeff comment on that post. Employees, prospective employees, vendors, customers. They all saw a CEO of a large company take the time to recognize and comment on a single employee’s post. Now, take that same example and apply it to vendors, or customers.
That’s leadership. That’s building culture. It impacts recruiting. It impacts employee retention. It probably even impacts customer acquisition, in a seven-degrees-of-separation type way.
Now, think about the time it takes Jeff to do this each day (assuming he has no help, which he probably does). I’m guessing it’s about 5-10 minutes at most. Time to scan LinkedIn quickly (again, some of this stuff is probably flagged for him). Time to leave a short comment. Time to “like.” That’s 5 minutes every few days–5 minutes that can have an enormous impact on the brand.
Now, measurement is the tricky thing here. How do you measure what kind of impact all this liking and commenting has on the HRB brand? That’s no easy task. And, I’m not sure I have a great answer. But, there are some lagging indicators you could look at:
- Glassdoor CEO approval ratings. This is the kind of stuff that impacts those ratings (not coincidentally, Jeff has an approval rating of 74% on Glassdoor). Sure, all sorts of stuff internally at HRB would impact that ranking, too. But, this kind of public-facing commenting on LinkedIn would work into it, too.
- Internal surveys. Why couldn’t you bake a question or two into your next employee survey about your CEO’s actions on LinkedIn? I wonder if HRB does this with Jeff (if not, they should!). Easy way to see if and how employees’ perceptions are changed by his engagement on social media.
- Engagement on Jeff’s engagement. Look back at the HRB intern post above. Jeff’s comment generated 15 likes. That’s a pretty good indicator of sentiment given how the post performed overall.
Want a more local version of what this looks like here in MSP? Look no further than Dave Schneider, CMO of Red Wing Shoes. Now, Dave’s not the CEO (yet–see Jeff Jones career path), but he is on the C-suite with a major Minnesota brand. And, he’s taking a similar approach to Jeff.
Dave regularly recognizes Red Wing Shoe employees for their work (and volunteering efforts, in this case).
He’s also a regular commenter on all sorts of posts–including those highlighting other marketing/communications leaders in Minnesota. Case in point: This post featuring CLR’s Julie Batliner.
The point of all this: There’s more than one way to get your executives more active on LinkedIn. It doesn’t need to be all about them. It doesn’t need to be all about thought leadership. A more community-focused approach can be the perfect strategy with the right leader and the right situation.
For years, Ryan Pena was one of those people I definitely knew about, but never had a chance to meet. I recently figured it was time to change that, and asked Ryan to happy hour. And man, am I glad I did. Not only is Ryan a leading-edge social media marketer (and future pop star–have you seen his Facebook videos this past week? :), he’s also–and more importantly–one of the nicest and most engaging people you’re ever going to meet. Our happy hour went by just like that–you only get that feeling when you’re talking with someone like Ryan Pena. So, maybe I should stop chit-chatting so we can meet this Social Media Rock Star!
Can you start by telling us a little about your current role at Be The Match?
I work for their Marketing team as a Social Media Strategist. In short, I oversee the day-to-day social media efforts we do and how those initiatives and campaigns perform…I then identify ways to improve those efforts to help drive more people to join our registry, which will then help save more lives!
Now, you started in social at Be The Match, but then transitioned to be part of an Innovation Lab before returning to social. Can you talk a little about that? How did that come to be?
It was a crazy yet awesome time for both my career and our organizations company culture. In the summer of 2018 our CEO announced to the organization that we will launch our first-ever Innovation Lab in 2019 and they would recruit 6 people from within the organization to completely step away from their current roles and come together to innovate around a specific challenge the organization/industry is faced with.
A few months after this announcement, I learned I was one of the 6 selected and we worked off-site for 7 months working on what needs to be done to increase one of our life-saving donation options for patients in need. We recently came back to the organization with our recommendations backed up by research and data. After off-boarding our recommendations, we have all come back into the organization with a refreshed approach to problem-solving as we reconnect with our careers again.
Like a lot of people who work in social media marketing, you didn’t start out in comms/marketing. Can you talk a little about how you made the transition from your HR/IT job to one in social media marketing 10 years ago?
I was struggling in a sales role. Constantly cold-calling people that I knew had no interest in speaking to me, since they didn’t know me or the value I genuinely wanted to offer to them. It was 2008 during this time and I decided to start leveraging LinkedIn as a tool to identify and connect with these managers I wanted to get in front of. I focused on doing what I thought would be valuable to me, so I provided them with valuable market information on the platform, engaged on their content, and started meaningful conversations online with them. Those conversations eventually turned into in-person meetings and the organization caught on to this process and had me train other team members.
While that specific job didn’t formulate into an actual social media role, when I moved to the next organization, we worked together to build on my passion for social and created a role that would elevate their business goals by leveraging this marketing channel.
You’re one of a small number of people in town that have been working in social now for almost 10 years. What’s the single biggest change you’ve noticed recently about working in the industry?
Automation…or the lack of the true human element come through on social as much as it used to “back in the day”. While I’m all about change and understand the need for automation with users in the billions, I am constantly pushing organizations I work for to bring the human element back into our social strategy. It’s something we are all thirsty for and, unfortunately, don’t see as often as we can with the power of social media.
Over the years, you’ve built quite the reputation as a video host for the brands you work for. I remember you playing host with MentorMate at MIMA Summit a few years ago. I know you’ve been a video emcee of sorts for BTM. Why do you continue to find this role? And, where do you see video going with social in the years ahead?
It plays into the previous question I answered…people CRAVE human interaction, especially when it’s for a brand that’s not broadly known, like most brands out there. For example, MentorMate is a custom software company…not something that’s very sexy to see/learn more about on social media from a traditional brand awareness standpoint. Because of this, I worked with the team to shoot and produce dozens of employee spotlight videos that brought out the people behind the brand, their passion, and the work they do at MentorMate. Though those videos, we saw a major increase in traffic to the brand.
In short, video is one of the most effective ways to bring a brand to life and humanize the mission.
You’re in charge of a small social media team at Be The Match. What skills and abilities did you look for when you were assembling your team? What were the skills you absolutely felt you like you had to have and why?
One of the top things I look for is their problem-solving abilities. During interviews, I give them challenging scenarios to think though that could happen on social media. Hearing how they think on the spot is a super helpful way for me to determine how their quick-thinking works since social is NOW. I also look for elements on collaboration and communication skills since that’s critical to an effective team.
Any interesting projects you’re working on at BTM right now?
Apart from building out a revised strategy for social, I’m also working with our team to find creative ways to increase diversity recruitment within our registry. It’s exciting because the more we uncover with what works best, the more lives we can save!
We talked about this when we met, but you’re a big bike commuter. In fact, you commute from Plymouth to downtown Minneapolis! That’s quite a commute on two wheels. How did you start commuting via bike? What do you enjoy most about it? And, what tips would you give those considering it?
I used to be a runner before my wife and I started a family. I’d train and run marathons and that kept my body and mind healthy. Once kids got into the picture, I was trying to find a way to still have my “alone time” while being able to work it into our new lifestyle. While the initial idea of commuting from Plymouth to MPLS sounded nuts, I tried it one weekend, learned the route, enjoyed it and thought it might just work out. 8 years later, I look forward to riding every single day! It helps me think through and plan out my day in the morning and then allows me to decompress from work on my way home.
What’s the one social media trend you have your eye on as we head into 2020?
Short-form content, like what’s blowing up on TikTok. While new social platforms are always popping up and then quickly dying down, TikTok is the exception. Start as a video meme app in 2016, it now has over 500 million users, acquired Musically for one billion dollars in 2018 and continues to set new records while taking a very different approach to video content. Most people write it off as an app the kids use, but trust me…check the app out to see the completely new level of creativity and entertainment happening on the platform. From not showing video views to how easy it is to share content onto competitor platforms directly from the app, they are completely changing the game. I’d expect to see a lot of their features being implemented in some capacity within the top 2 social networks soon.
Finally, you’re increasingly showing up on the speaker circuit locally and nationally. What is it about speaking you enjoy so much? And, where can we see you in the coming months?
Simple: I attribute most of my success in this space from what I’ve learned from others over the years. Having an opportunity to share my learnings with others to give back to the social community–that’s the motivation right there. I learn by making structured mistakes, which often times lead to major success. Being able to give back is a humbling experience.