Making an Impact on Earth Day

One of the truly great things about Highwire PR is the passionate group of people that work here. Highwire employees are passionate about improving their communities. We’re passionate about helping animals, working with displaced communities and families, helping people out during times when they need it most, and ensuring the places that we live and breathe are sustainable.

This past weekend marked the 47th anniversary of Earth Day, and so we wanted to take a moment to celebrate some of the great work that our team has done to take care of our Mother Earth.

 

Building a Clean and Sustainable Community

For the past few years, the San Francisco team has joined forces with some of our Bay Area PR agency friends to “Rock the Earth.” Annually, we help clean up and protect a local lake that’s near and dear to our hearts — Mountain Lake.

Mountain Lake is one of San Francisco’s last surviving natural lakes and the only natural lake in the entire 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The lake has been through a lot in its 2,000 years, beginning in 1939 when a highway was constructed nearby, shrinking its size and causing pollution. Since then, runoff from fertilizer at the neighboring golf course has added to the pollution and countless pets and other animals (goldfish, turtles and even an alligator) have been released into the lake, forcing out the native wildlife and damaging the ecological system.

This year, Bay Area PR agencies got their hands dirty to help by removing invasive plant species, laying down mulch for native plants, and shoveling sediment from ditches that led directly to the lake.

Park Clean Up

San Francisco team members Marisa Hutton and Marielle Sedin clear out ditches during “Rock the Earth.”

 

Cleaning up the Trash

Earlier this year, the Chicago team (with special SF guest Shari) got their hands dirty at Lincoln Park Conservancy to assist in wild habitat restoration by pulling and weeding out non-native plant species in the park.

This Saturday, they came together again to pick up trash at the historic Lincoln Park. The team worked with other locals to mulch around park trees and trails, cleared winter debris, planted native wildflowers and grasses, and cleaned up the park. The Highwire crew specifically worked on painting and refurbishing benches in the park.

The New York team joined in the fun as well to pick up trash as part of Central Park’s “Pick Up, Pitch In,” initiative, beautifying the most visited park in the United States.

Chicago Park Cleanup

Brenna Hogan, Natalie Pacini and Erika Ackerman of the Chicago office paint benches at Lincoln Park on Earth Day.

 

Loving the Earth Year Round

Beyond cleaning up our local parks on earth day, the Highwire team makes an impact on the environment all year long.

The Chicago office often partners with Green City Market to support the growth of sustainable food. Green City Market seeks to support small family farms and promote good health through education and appreciation for local, fresh, sustainably raised produce and products.

Earlier this year, the San Francisco team joined the global CleanSpace movement, becoming part of the first cohort of citizen scientists collecting air quality data for “MapSF.” By carrying around iPhone-sized sensors known as a “Clean Space Tag”, the team is collecting data about the air quality of where we live, breathe and work, and contributing to an air quality heat map across the Bay Area. The data will be used to keep track of the air quality across the area and improve our daily lives.

To find out how you can get involved in projects that help the environment on Earth Day and throughout the year, visit the Earth Day website or VolunteerMatch.org.

 

The Art of Bad Publicity

Is there a silver lining in today’s bad publicity?

It’s been widely reported that President Trump masqueraded as his own publicist in the 1970s, 80s and 90s in order to boast about his life. The president is the self-proclaimed master of “The Art of the Deal,” but does he also own the art of bad publicity?  And does his election victory in the face of campaign implosions, leaked scandals and myriad other crises support the old adage that there is no such thing as it?  

PR missteps, even crises, happen from time to time. The online world we live in means everything is amplified and “going viral” can happen in an instant. Seventy-two percent of customers trust online opinions as much as they trust their family and friends, according to Forrester Research. This means publicity, good or bad, is highly influential in a world where we’re constantly sharing and consuming information online.  Recent cases of messaging gone wrong have included Pepsi, Uber and United. While some of these brands have suffered serious damage, the question remains: is there a silver lining in any of this bad publicity?

Let’s take Pepsi’s widely mocked ad featuring Kendall Jenner, sister to Kim (Khloe, Kourtney…you know who we’re talking about). Yes, the food and beverage corporation issued an apology after the criticism, but it’s estimated that Pepsi got somewhere between $300 million and $400 million in free media coverage out of the controversy. To put that into perspective, then-candidate Trump earned $400 million worth of free media in February 2016 while campaigning, which is close to what Sen. John McCain spent on his ENTIRE 2008 presidential campaign. Additionally, Pepsi’s mentions on social media were up more than 7,000 percent the day the ad debuted, according to Brandwatch. In one day, Pepsi garnered 1.25 million mentions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Only just over half of those mentions were negative, means that just under half of that explosion of conversation was positive or neutral.  And that negativity might not have been as painful as you would expect. Analytics experts actually say that negative mentions are given somewhat less weight than positive or neutral mentions.  Whether intended or not, Pepsi got the whole world talking about them.

Moving to the airline industry, we recently touched on United’s woes (its stock price and reputation plummeted), but that calls to mind another carrier case. US Airlines once replied to a customer complaint tweeted at them with a pornographic image. The tweet stayed on the company’s profile for a full 60 minutes before it was removed, but not before it’d received 476 retweets. Here’s the thing: After the damage had been done, US Airlines actually gained 14,000 followers as result of the Twitter attention.

Lastly, it’s been an outright battle on the roadways between Uber and Lyft, as the rideshare giants compete to dominate the streets. Uber was plagued by scandal early in 2017, including the popular #DeleteUber hashtag campaign. Lyft, whose value is approximately 10 times smaller than Uber’s, has worked to capitalize on the good feelings surrounding their platform, announcing an opt-in app feature that allows riders to automatically route rounded-up ride charges to charity. But for all of Uber’s troubles, the question of whether the company has been hurt by all the negative publicity remains to be seen. Uber announced recently that their ridership numbers in the first 10 weeks of 2017 eclipsed those of early 2016, and an eventual public offering may be looming, as has been predicted.  

In describing publicity in “The Art of the Deal,” President Trump had this to say, “Good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.” So is any publicity good publicity? From a PR perspective, the battle to stand out from the crowd is fiercer than ever before. But where’s the line between good PR and bad? It’s a question we should all be asking ourselves.

We want to hear from you! What’s your take on the line between good PR and bad? Tweet us @HighwirePR.

What PR Pros Can Learn from United’s Blunders

The airline company boasts “friendly skies” but on the ground, not so much.

We’ve all seen the video, eye-rolled over CEO Oscar Munoz’s callous response, jaw-dropped over Munoz’s leaked email identifying the customer (David Dao, MMD) as “disruptive” and “belligerent” and witnessed United’s $1B financial fallout.

Long story short: United messed up. Big time.  

Less than a month after the airline found itself in the headlines for denying two girls from boarding their flight due their choice in attire, people are still buzzing about the company —and not for good reasons.

Crisis Comms 101

So what can we learn? If the scandal has taught us anything, it’s that United Airlines needs a lesson in crisis comms, and social media certainly has the power to escalate situations beyond our control. Case in point, just look at the backlash Pepsi saw after debuting a commercial depicting imagery from the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Using United as a case study in addressing public backlash, corporate comms teams could take a few notes:

  • Act quickly, but thoughtfully – The first mistake United made was issuing a long overdue statement to address the scandal. While the statement was meant to serve as an apology, the failure to apologize directly to the victim, nor recognize him by name, reflected the company’s intent to protect its own reputation versus its customers. When looking to resolve an already-mishandled situation, all perspectives should be considered. By apologizing for “having to re-accommodate” passengers instead of admitting what happened, the situation became dehumanized.
  • Don’t blame the victim – The first rule of customer service? “The customer is always right.” After Munoz issued his statement, a very one-sided email added fuel to the fire by essentially blaming the victim and his behavior for what resulted in his bloody nose. A smart move would have been to take a step back and recognize that ultimately, United was at fault for letting the situation get out of hand. While Munoz apologized for forcibly removing the victim from the flight, he neglected to acknowledge his initial response to the situation or choice of words in his internal note to United employees.
  • Own up to mistakes and learn from them  – While it’s hard to say what’s in store for the future of United Airlines, social media indicates that customers are fleeing. One thing that’s certain is the carrier won’t be able to bounce back from this quickly. And while they might be tempted to release statement after statement, the best thing United can do for now is stay silent until it releases its review on April 30. Since the offboarding scandal so closely follows the leggings controversy, United should look to its latest crisis as a learning experience — whether that entails re-evaluating its current customer policies or publicly acknowledging the faults of all involved.

What’s your take on the United scandal? Join the conversation @HighwirePR and let us know what you thought!

Battle of Email CRM: Streak vs. MixMax

Highwire Labs Reviews Popular Gmail Extensions

We all know the familiar outreach story, you email out a pitch and hear nothing back from a reporter. You follow up in less than 24 hours giving a brief overview but still hear nothing. Now questions start to build internally: Is it the subject line not eye catching? Should the body be edited? Is this the right contact? Did the reporter even see the email?? 

For PR professionals, new email extensions like Streak, Mixmax, Boomerang and PitchFriendly look to answer those questions and alleviate other challenges by adding clarity and relationship management to the outreach process.

Internally, the Highwire PR team was using a variety of platforms, so in an effort to streamline our internal processes, the Highwire Labs team did a deep dive into the leading platforms.

 

Streak:

In full disclosure, a majority of the Highwire Labs team went into our demo loudly touting the merits of Streak based on personal use. In fact, a few members of the team actually referred to the free version of Streak as the “Beyoncé of email extensions.”

Streak promises to allow you to run your entire business from your inbox. And with that promise comes a plethora of tools. Most notably for our uses was its email tracking capability. Streak allows you to track your emails, determine who saw the email, when they saw the email, how many times they viewed the email and even how they viewed the email. Slightly stalkerish at first glance, this tool ultimately allows us to A/B test pitches and subject lines to increase pitch effectiveness, while also honing in on journalists’ interests and content preferences.

The free version of Streak outranked additional email extensions like Mixmax or Boomerang. It limits freemium users to only 250 tracked emails a month, but if you were selective about what emails you tracked, it was not an issue.

 

Pros:

We loved its easy Gmail integration, ease of functionality and variety of tools. Also unlike Mixmax, Streak did not upset email formatting or Gmail functionality. Other pros for Streak include:

  • A pipeline function allowing you to share contacts, emails and files, and assign certain work to members of the team
  • The ability to schedule emails and snooze emails
  • Integrated tasks list based on requests/actions in emails
  • Snippets – previously created pieces of content that can be included in messages at will
  • A Streak CRM review, allowing you to create reports directly from your inbox.
  • A robust mobile app

 

Cons:

As you can see from the above, there are a lot of positives with Streak. However, in the case of our office, that actually created the biggest issue with Streak – an effective onboarding. Nobody wants to have to go through an hour plus training to better understand a tool that’s meant to simplify their lives. Other cons included:

  • Streak is only available on Google Chrome.
  • Complexity – the pipeline feature seemed clunky and hard to understand for effective use.
  • Lack of features that ultimately enhanced the email experience for both the sender and responder.
  • No glitz, no glam, no millennial love (aka where are the gifs???)

 

Mixmax

If you’re glued to your Gmail all day as the average PR professional is, chances are you’ve probably tried Mixmax. But it was likely the free version, which meant you had a prohibitive limit of 100 tracked emails, consistent and nauseating Mixmax branding and an annoying amount of pop-ups encouraging a paid upgrade.

To Mixmax’s defense, their efforts at trying to persuade you to pay for their services are well-intentioned — our team received a demo of the Professional version and were blown away by all the features and integrations. Cue open mouths and fevered Streak users quickly upgrading Mixmax’s hierarchy in Destiny’s Child – sorry Boomerang, you’re Michelle. From unlimited email tracking and basic automation with “send later,” reminders and easy-to-use slash commands to some of the cool-kid factors (undo send, embedded links and polls/surveys), Mixmax provides a variety of tools to make you and your team super productive. Plus, no more “Sent with Mixmax” branding. Score.

 

Pros

The Labs team were hyped by the Google Calendar integration because, as any junior staffer knows, trying to schedule those internal syncs across the calendars of five equally busy people is miserable. The prospect of a “One-Click Meeting” feature had us looking like the Success Kid meme.

Success Baby Meme

Image via Know Your Meme

Also, in an attempt to downplay our creepy excitement over Mixmax’s extensive tracking qualities, the team was happy to learn about live analytics, which ultimately help to provide insights on which subject lines and/or pitches are or aren’t working. The team function also gives account managers the ability to see the team’s outreach and which emails have been read.

Mostly though, Mixmax is just beautiful and easy to use.

In-brief:

  • Very intuitive interface
  • Tracking to the max, e.g. you’d know exactly who opened your email and whether or not they downloaded your PDF
  • Send later feature for easy email scheduling to help with those bi-coastal team communications
  • One-click meetings through Google Calendars
  • The most essential integrations, including ~Giphy~
  • Team Live Feed: shared analytics, messaging templates, and contact lists
  • Polls and surveys for those last-ditch efforts when you need reporter feedback – send a quick “yes, no, maybe so” poll!
  • Emojis.

 

Cons

There weren’t many drawbacks with the paid version of Mixmax, however, in-brief:

  • Mixmax didn’t have as many features as Streak (though, in our humble opinion, this is for the best)
  • Only available on Google Chrome as an extension

 

Highwire Labs’ Take

In case it’s not clear yet, Mixmax Professional was the winner. In a mystical world where time is on the PR pro’s side and we’d have the bandwidth to do a deep dive training on Streak, perhaps it could be a worthwhile decision. But if you want an option that requires minimal onboarding and does what you need it to do, Mixmax is the way to go. It’s an effective email extension that’s easy to install and use, promising better insights into your media outreach and relationships.

 

WINNER: Mixmax Professional

For our next battle of the best tech, Highwire Labs will review influencer marketing tools. In the meantime, let us know if you agree with our analysis on this hotly debated email extension comparison by commenting below or @ing us on social.

 

This post was co-authored by San Francisco account associates Christine Zuniga and Ebolutalese Airewele

5 Ways to Get More Mileage from Your Tweets

Social Content That’s Irresistible to Tweet

Is Twitter really dying? If you’re in marketing and communications, you’ve probably heard the rumor going around for some time. Even the recent elections and Trump’s penchant for 3 a.m. tweets seemingly failed to reignite user growth for Twitter. In fact, it only grew by 2 million users worldwide in its fourth quarter (with no growth in the U.S.) — compare that to the new 72 million users Facebook garnered over the same period.

But it’s no time to fret. Last year, Twitter repositioned itself as a news platform according to its blog. It’s less for sharing baby pictures and more to share current world and industry events. Less to track someone’s birthday, more to track when your favorite artist finally released their latest single.

Seeing Twitter this way changes the game entirely and makes it clear that there is still a place for Twitter in brand awareness and marketing. I recently heard the bright minds behind Andrew and Pete (@andrewandpete) at Social Media Marketing World (SMMW ’17) in San Diego, who understood this nuance and wanted to help everyone create content that was irresistible to the Twitter-verse.

Their high level message was that Twitter is often misused, giving the impression that it’s failing. But it’s not Twitter’s fault. We should stop falling for the usual suspects we think may lead to success. Don’t blog about everything, don’t promote tweets expecting instant ROI, don’t pin just any tweet, don’t hashtag everything, don’t use automation for all your processes — the list goes on.  

The problem with Twitter is that it’s become spammy and automated. It’s a nuisance. In 2017, we’ll have to break through this barrier to effectively use and create re-tweetable content.

Here are 5 ways to get more mileage from your tweets:

  • Focus on Brand Advocacy: It’s important to remember that some people share your content simply because they like you. When fostering brand advocates, do personal things for key followers. This could be done by replying with a personal DM or video message from a brand account. For instance, Indian Motorcycles effectively engaged a customer by reposting a customer’s image and then going as far as paying a month’s bike payment. The customer became a brand ambassador for life. In the end, it’s about questions that lead to conversations, which then foster relationships and sales.
  • Be Emotional: We need to stop using social platforms mechanically and think about the emotions you can evoke purposely. Twitter may be full of bots, but it doesn’t mean you and your followers should be the same. The goal is to avoid being “vanilla” by providing emotionally arousing content — think gifs, images, video, etc. You want your followers to react to your content.
  • Quantify Coolness: Social Currency! Social media heavily revolves around how the retweeter would look like when they repost content. Think about brands like Dos XX, Red Bull or Chubbies, whose entire marketing scheme is more about the message and activity than the product itself. No one posts something they think will paint them in a negative light. So reverse engineer this process and make people feel cool.
  • Align with a Cause: Aligning your brand with a broader cause or message consumers are passionate about could be a boon for sales. Think Dove commercials or Always’ Run Like a Girl campaign for video. On Twitter, Uber took on drunk driving with its #LeaveTheKeys hashtag, which essentially translates to #BookAnUber. But remember, it has to be REAL and RELEVANT to your target demographic.
  • A Compilation of Greatest Hits: Ultimately, all the strategy in the world will be for naught if the caliber of the content is subpar. The more useful, the more shares you are going to get. In essence, every single piece of content should be GREAT! Generating a constant stream of high-value content can sound daunting, but it can be simpler than you think. It doesn’t even have to be about your product or service. Instead, it can focus on helping solve the problems your target consumer demographic is facing or just simply entertain them. Think of all those great memes and one-liners Taco Bell has been behind.

Pepsi/Kendall Jenner: Huge Fail or Big Success?

Picture:Pepsi/AP

Picture:Pepsi/AP

Pepsi missed the mark this week after their ad titled “Jump In” received massive backlash from the online community. “Epic fail”, “tone deaf”, “fiasco” are just a sampling of the online reaction to Pepsi’s advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner — top model and a member of the infamous Kardashian dynasty. Even Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Bernice, tweeted: “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi,” alongside an iconic photo of the civil rights leader being pushed back by police during protests.

In response to the fallout, Pepsi apologized on Wednesday for the controversial spot, saying they “missed the mark.”  Sure, the message, which showed a happy band of Millennial protesters, led by Jenner, who offers a can of Pepsi to a smiling police officer, is unlikely. What can brands learn from this disastrous ad?  Was this simply an example of messaging gone wrong?  Or was this roundly criticized ad a success — because at the end of the day, we’re all talking about Pepsi?  

From a PR perspective, the miss was not fully understanding the audience and not properly crafting the right message. By trying to be edgy, Pepsi angered the very community it was trying to reach. And by borrowing imagery from the Black Lives Matter movement, it created a backlash instead of starting a conversation like its ad suggests. In pulling the ad, Pepsi said they were “trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding” but instead they cast a negative light on the brand and only time will show the true ramifications of its actions.

What are your thoughts? How do you think Pepsi handled the situation? Do you think the backlash was warranted?

Twilio’s Road to IPO

Image via MarketWatch

Image via MarketWatch

Breaking the Tech IPO Drought

None of Silicon Valley’s famed “unicorns” went public for the first six months of 2016. VC funds seemingly dried up, which fueled concerns in North American tech hubs. It seemed no one would dare to brave the unpredictable market.

Enter Twilio, a fast-growing cloud communications platform with a developer-centric business model and an impressive list of innovative customers such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Box and Coca Cola. The company turned heads with its S-1 filing and the tech community began buzzing about the year’s first IPO.

However, to achieve a successful NYSE listing and continue its aggressive growth trajectory, the company needed to shift from its developer-focused narrative to tell a larger story that resonated with business audiences and potential investors.

 

Setting the Stage

Highwire positioned Twilio as a company with strong leadership, a sound business model and industry-leading technology. We had set this strategy in motion from the beginning of our partnership (three  years running at the time of filing) by examining issues, trends and determining the positioning that would explain Twilio’s technology and business model to a broader audience. We had also developed a concrete base of media relationships before quiet period restrictions impacted communications.Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 12.58.34 PM

In addition, Highwire used measurement platforms to monitor relevant conversations, focus on the top-tier business media landscape, create more opportunities for executive profiles and uncover the key trends and potential narratives resonating within the industry.

In the post-S-1-filing quiet period, we turned our focus to Twilio’s customers, using their stories to highlight the company’s key offerings, capabilities and core technology.

 

The Big Payoff

Twilio Forbes Cover October 2016

Image via Forbes

As part of the IPO listing day communications strategy, Twilio conducted a live coding demo on the NYSE floor featuring its developers and customers to educate business audiences and the media.

Following the IPO, Highwire continued generating top business coverage by focusing on CEO profiles, including lessons from going public and the company’s continued momentum. Media coverage credited Twilio as an oasis in the tech IPO drought of 2016 and positioned the company as driving the next generation of innovative companies such as Uber and Airbnb.

Media Wins:
  • Forbes cover story
  • Fortune’s 40 Under 40 profile
  • Jeff Lawson awarded TechCrunch Crunchies’ Founder of the Year
  • #8 on Fast Company’s most innovative companies list (#1 in the enterprise tech sector)
  • 310% increase in YOY overall media coverage
  • 552% increase in YOY business press coverage
Twilio's Jeff Lawson on-stage at the 2017 TechCrunch Crunchies accepting the award for Founder of the Year

Twilio’s Jeff Lawson won the TechCrunch Crunchie for Founder of the Year 2017, image via TechCrunch

Business Success:

  • Stock price rose from $15 per share to as high as $70+ per share
  • Captured 84% of industry share of voice; closest competitor was 7%

Telling the story of Twilio’s IPO didn’t happen overnight. Instead, it was the product of our strong partnership built over years. It proved what a PR program based on solid storytelling and thought leadership can do for one of the biggest moments in a company’s history and most importantly beyond.

IBM InterConnect: Connecting the Dots Between IBM and the Cloud

InterConnect, IBM’s annual cloud and cognitive conference, may have ended at the end of March, but we’re still feeling the effects of the cloud hype.

IBM InterConnect 2017 Stage

Photo via IBM

This year’s conference, a four-day long celebration of everything cloud, drew more than 20,000 attendees to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, where IBM showcased its latest innovations and made it clear that it’s committed to an enterprise-strong cloud centered around cognitive technologies. Sessions by influential speakers such as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, H&R Block CEO Bill Cobb, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and even Will Smith were a major highlight of the conference.

With notable partnership and software announcements, the focus of InterConnect was learning how to “become cognitive”, encouraging organizations to weave human-intellect-inspired cognitive computing into their applications and business processes. Highwire worked with the IBM team to develop an announcement strategy that would resonate with media and other key audiences and positions IBM as the leader in cloud technology.

Delivering on the Hype

The conference kicked off with the unveiling of IBM’s “Blockchain as a Service,” allowing customers to build secure blockchain networks. Continuing the momentum, IBM announced two Watson partnerships with PlayFab and Galvanize.

 

 

 

Another highlight of the conference came from CEO Ginni Rometty’s keynote address, which focused on how cloud and cognitive can come together to change the way we work. After the keynote came two more partnership announcements with Wanda Internet Technology and AT&T.

 

 

Throughout the conference, a major focus area for our team was organizing roundtables with IBM cloud executives to allow media and analysts to discuss the implications of these announcements. These roundtables covered topics such as cloud video, hybrid cloud adoption and the future of developers and offered reporters the opportunity to participate in smaller, interactive sessions.

The announcement cadence, sessions and other events proved to be successful. The conference garnered 291 articles in the U.S., further cementing IBM as a leader in cloud technology with a commitment to innovation in the enterprise.