As uncertainty rises, funding falls. At least that’s what the news would have you believe. But according to Inc. magazine, seed and angel deals are still trending upward, and early stage companies with proven product are still getting most of the deals. In fact, 64% of venture funding is early stage, and seed deals through Q2 of 2022 were on par with the entirety of 2019 (Q2 NVCA/PitchBook). That means for hyper-growth or ambitious companies and challenger brands, there is still an opportunity for you. So what should you do when VC funding is down and inflation is still driving uncertainty? I’ve been through every recession since 9/11 and I’ve been working with ambitious brands and companies since then as well. So I’ve seen what successful businesses do during recessions to position themselves for competitive advantage, survival and growth, despite the economic hurdles. Over the years I’ve noticed, startups who focus on looking ahead while being laser-focused, and tend to survive tumultuous times.

Focus Your Energies and Budget

“Everything you do, do exceptionally well, and if you aren’t exceptional at it, then get rid of it or outsource it.”

Look at everything you’re doing and cut out the things you aren’t doing well. For example, let’s say your internal biz development team is excellent, but your event marketing isn’t producing the results you’d hoped for, take that event marketing budget and focus it on one thing your biz dev team says they need to get to the next level.

Everything you do, do exceptionally well, and if you aren’t exceptional at it, then get rid of it or outsource it. Outsourcing is just more nimble. What you outsource, be exceptionally clear about your goals, so you can maximize your reduced budget. Focusing your time and budget has the additional advantage of clearing out the cobwebs and giving you new insight into operational efficiencies too. Who knows? You might decide that outsourcing certain strategies, like PR, simply works better than doing it in-house, anyway.

Startups should also focus on the long term. Think about ways you can increase efficiencies with agency partners, and where you can maximize the partners you have on board.

 

Bullish on the Future

“Deals are still happening, but they’re more happening on industries and trends which are moving ahead full steam, no matter what happens to the economy,”

What should a startup focus on when thinking about funding? No matter what happens to the economy, innovation rolls forward, and VCs know this. The money isn’t on solving today’s problems, it’s on solving tomorrow’s problems. According to Pitchbook, in Q1 of 2022, VC’s raised more money than in the entirety of 2019. So are coming down? Oh, absolutely, but VC’s know – the future is now.

Even when funding is down, deals are still happening, but they’re more happening on industries and trends which are moving ahead full steam. So do your homework on where your product fits into the biggest challenges or opportunities in the next 5, 10, 15 years. Look at all the challenges the pandemic brought to light – those challenges are still top of mind, and the companies solving those problems will have a head start. Your corporate storytelling should also lean into the future and purpose driven initiatives. These two aspects will allow you to lead against your peers.

FinTech is another area where the gloom and doom may be over-reported – through Q2, FinTech funding was still more than in 2019, but it’s definitely not as frothy as 2021. FinTech founder may wish to focus on thought leadership and tie it into purpose-driven points of view in order to tap into future trends.

Plan For Success

“Companies that survive this time focus… on problem-solving,”

Now is the time to think out loud and do your due diligence for tomorrow. Companies that survive this time focus their operations team on problem-solving. For example, if  VC funding doesn’t seem likely for you right now, turn your attention to policy initiatives at the federal and local levels. For example, the last infrastructure project had a lot of opportunities for climate-related startups. And the 2021 infrastructure package held lots of tidbits for infrastructure tech programs, that emerging industries like drones and UOV could take advantage of.

Consumer tech VC funding really has taken a sharp nose-dive. Storytelling PR campaigns may not be as attractive as they once were for consumer tech. Now is the time to look at product-based programs which increase awareness but not the budget.

You should take this opportunity to do some scenario planning as well. Now is a great time to plan for a crisis, and create plans for things like cyber breaches ,which will help you secure your future.

 

Tomorrow’s greatest companies and emerging industries aren’t going to allow this uncertainty to derail them. This is where the rubber meets the road, and strategy makes a difference.

It doesn’t matter whether your interview is with the Wall Street Journal or a tiny vertical publication with a niche audience. You, the company representative, the thought leader, really do set the tone for the the interview. You control first impressions; you influence the tone and nature of the interview, and you set the stage for a fantastic interview or a deadly one. PR is like building a suit. There are 500 ways to screw it up. This post is part of a series on how to screw up PR. There are literally thousands of thing not to do in a media interview. So, let’s discuss 4 ways to screw up a media interview.

1. Be Unresponsive to the Interviewer’s Time

Journalists are under more pressure than ever today. The average journalist covers 4 beats, up 25% from last year, and 21% say layoffs or furloughs contribute to an increasing workload. More journalists are freelance, meaning they work for many publications and don’t get receive benefits, like paid time off, or even health insurance. From scheduling your time with a journalist to sending follow-up information like headshots, or company stats, journalists need you to do what you say you’ll do, and they need you to do it fast.

Many people think because so much content is digital, there are no deadlines. We indeed deal with PRINT deadlines less, but more than ever, there are deadlines. The pace of content creation that publishers and editors must keep up with necessitates deadlines.

So when you’re working with a journalist, it’s just good practice to be ultra helpful and responsive. Doing so might be the difference of getting in the story or not.

2. Treat the Press Like the Enemy

The press needs an angle, a story, something that people want to read. That’s what they really need. That every person in the press is out to get you, personally, is overblown. There are very specific circumstances where an investigative journalist

Now, that doesn’t mean you can drop your guard, it means you come to the table playing offense, not defense. Treat a media interview with the same level of professionalism you would treat an important meeting with an investor or a dream client, and you will probably be just fine.

A journalist is another human with a job to do. That’s all. Treat your interviewer like a human, and you will probably get the same professional courtesies back. Or you could screw up your media interview by treating them like the enemy and receive the same professional courtesies back.

3. Act Like the Journalist is Working for You

Let’s be clear: Aside from an accurate representation of your quotes and conversation, a journalist owes you nothing. They don’t owe you approval of the article; they don’t owe you a link to your website. They don’t owe you any. thing. They do not even owe you a retraction of an embarrassing statement. If you actually said it, you own it, don’t ask for a retraction or edit unless the quote is just wrong. This is not a paid placement, it’s not an ad. You do not have editorial control.

For example, during an occasion where we secured a magazine cover for the most prestigious cannabis industry magazine. The CEO went on a full-throated campaign to art direct the cover and the entire photo shoot, a photo shoot the magazine was paying for. He insisted on making the photographer come to his difficult-to-get-to home, for an outside location shoot even though outside shoots are harder on the photographer, and despite being told that studio shoots present better on magazine covers. The photo journalist was lovely and gracious and in touch with our team, but there was little we could do from a distance since the CEO declined to have a representative at the shoot.

When the publication came out, the cover disappointed the CEO. And I had to agree with him. It wasn’t the most flattering photo I’d ever seen. I’m sure there were better photos, but in a situation like this, the editor has full editorial control and I’m also sure the photojournalist had had enough with the prima donna he was throughout the entire process. So while the photojournalist was incredibly professional to our team and on-site, she felt completely disrespected and her work reflected her feelings.

When you’re working with photojournalists and journalists, be gracious. Take your cues from them. Make their jobs easier, not harder.

4. Be Unprepared

Remember the recommendation to treat your interview like you would a meeting with an investor? Would you go to an investor meeting unprepared? Of course not, so don’t screw up a media interview because you didn’t prepare.

Do your homework, because the journalist has. According to MuckRack’s State of Journalism, 77% of journalists say Twitter is their most valuable social platform, and LinkedIn is a distant second. Jump on Twitter and see what they’re talking about, and while you’re at it, take a sharp eye to your own Twitter and LinkedIn to make sure it’s your best self.

Read a few recent articles by the journalist and get a sense of their style and beats. As a bonus, you’ll also get a look at some of the other publications they write for and you may create interest in another angle for another publication.

What are your must airs? Decide ahead of time how you will answer the likely questions, and what’s most important for you to say what are your “must airs”? Also, decide in advance how you will handle the tough questions. Be purposeful, strategic, and planned.

Know your facts. You need to be able to cite the facts and the source, and you need to be confident when you do it. If you don’t have your facts straight, you will lose the confidence of the interviewer, or worse, the audience.

If you’re meeting is on Zoom, dress for the moment and make sure your lighting is on point. If you’ll be on TV, brush up on what does and doesn’t look good on TV.

A really great media interview is a skill, it takes practice. But you CAN have a successful interview if you simply give yourself the best chance by being empathetic to the journalist, respecting their job and being prepared.

SELECTED CALIFORNIA CANNABIS BRAND PR MEDIA COVERAGE

Los Angeles Cannabis Brand

SELECTED CANNABIS EDIBLE PR MEDIA COVERAGE

Binske Cannabis Public Relations

When the economy is unpredictable, it’s difficult to plan. Yet, plan you must. Even when you love your PR and marketing agency, during these times, it’s tempting to cut marketing and PR budgets. I know both sides of this fence. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 75% of my career, including during 9/11, The Great Recession, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Having witnessed the fallout from slashed budgets, I’ve learned that taking your foot off the gas doesn’t slow the engine. It kills it. You can’t eliminate marketing and increase sales. What you DO need to do is shift marketing strategies. These 4 ways to save on your agency budget will ensure you gain or maintain valuable market share while reducing marketing and PR agency fees

If you like your marketing or PR agency, keep them. You can negotiate with your existing agency and hiring a new agency has hidden costs.  Eliminating a well-oiled, top-rated agency will cost you productivity and results when you need it most. If things are going well, check out our advice from leading agency owners about reducing your agency budgets. If you’re hiring a new agency, these tips will help you get off to a great start and a budget that allows for growth while you work efficiently with your new agency.

 

1. Content: Make It Sticky

When times are good, brands with ambitious goals do whatever they can to get meaningful results faster. But if you’re reducing budgets, then you should focus on the things that last longer. As a colleague of mine once said, “I don’t know why everyone wants to go viral. I want my content to be cancer. I want it to stick around and be hard to get rid of.” This is the mindset to be in when you’re trying to reduce costs.

There are two types of media that stick around forever: owned media and earned media. Your owned media is any channel you control, where create 100% of the content, like your blog or your email marketing. Your earned media appears on channels you don’t control or create, think magazine articles, and (organic) reviews.

Blog posts and earned media are the super glue of sticky marketing and PR levers. Because they DO last so long, and they are customer-facing, these are excellent areas to focus your PR agency on. The ROI will pay dividends now and in the future. 

But longevity is only one benefit of this content, repurposing is another. For example, blog posts that are listicles are excellent SEO boosters, and you can use a listicle to generate many social media posts, same with an article that includes your product.

You want your stickiest content to be the best quality. If you’re reducing your budgets in other areas, now is not the time to hire an untested blogger referred to you by your nephew. Now is the time to focus your budget on doing what you do well. Very well.

Highly useful, sticky content is the most valuable and should be a budget priority.

2. Strategically Reduce the Scope

Chances are your agency is providing you with a suite of services. Instead of eliminating high-value output, focus your budget on those items to reduce your scope.

Take a deeper look at what your agency did this year that worked for you. How did they excel? While you’re asking yourself this question, think about it in the “Make it Sticky” content, but also in the areas where narrowing in on the scope would provide outsized value.

One way to secure high-value PR is product-driven PR and bringing thought leadership and awards programs in-house, or vice-versa. 

Another idea, instead of working with 15 different micro-influencers, you work with one on a strategic year-long campaign. Maybe your branding company could produce long-form content only and you can craft social media posts in-house.

Instead of a campaign every quarter, work with your agency to develop one exceptionally solid, well-thought-out campaign throughout the year and focus your efforts on making that campaign exceptional. This brings me to my final recommendation. 

Another area that can save you money is fewer meetings with your agency. While meetings are important, especially early in the relationship, this is one area that could drive some savings if you’ve been with your agency for a while. 

3. Plan Ahead

Nothing is more expensive than last-minute. If you’re reducing your budget, planning can save you a lot of money. For example, if you’re planning on a video shoot, secure your videographers and editors well in advance with a solid deposit and you’ll find it easier to negotiate the rate.

The same goes for your agency contract. Sign early regardless of whether it’s a new-to-you agency or one you’ve had for a while. Signing early gives you an edge in negotiation. If you like your agency and you will commit to a longer term, you’ll be able to command better rates, and even lock in “economic downturn” rates for two years.

Press releases can be purchased in bulk as well. So if you’re planning on several announcements, if you buy in advance, you can save thousands of dollars. 

4. Strategy: When They Zig, You Should Zag

To save money and get more bang for your buck, redefine your calendar. Shy away from the dates and times of the year when your competitor is most likely to do something, and instead select a campaign period when you can own the conversation.

Alternatively, re-thing your share of voice KPI. When dominance is your key strategy, you want to track it against your biggest aspirational competitors, but if simply staying present is your goal, track your share of voice against a competitor nipping at your heels, one who is your peer, and one who is aspirational. For your aspirational competitors, your strategy should be to cede some of your share of voice so you can squeeze in on your competitor’s territory. For your peers, you want to maintain equal, if not better, footing and for the one nipping at your heels, you want to own the conversation so they don’t squeeze in on yours.

5. Maximize Partnerships and Internal Initiatives

Now is a great time to double down on successful partnerships, or find new ways to align for new partnerships. Be creative in the ways you align, and you may be able to create a news worthy story just by creating a collaboration. Another way to maximize your budget is to turn your storytelling focus on highly valued stories the media is already writing about, like purpose-driven initiatives. These types of stories are much easier to get a lift on than the traditional “thought leadership” strategy that most of your competitors will flock to.

Reducing your agency costs doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Working WITH your agency to find the sweet spot for your specific needs can be an excellent exercise in creativity. By shifting strategies, outcomes, and outputs, you can find the sweet spot that keeps your marketing and PR on track even during cost-cutting seasons.

If you’re a smaller consumer brand, it might feel impossible to compete with the big guys. But according to Nielsen, in the United States “manufacturers outside of the top 100 have contributed to 52% of their region’s annual fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) growth,” that’s an incredibly promising trend for any consumer product, from skincare to cannabis. But the challenges to increasing market share aren’t imagined. In some categories, especially consumables, over 50% of consumers have no brand preference. This underscores the importance of small, independent CPG brands to invest in branding with awareness and loyalty strategies. Neilsen IQ has done some fantastic research for small, independent DTC and CPG brands.

Nielsen Chart for Consumer Product Brand Loyalty

 

 

 

 

 

69% of consumers are actively looking for new and trendy CPG products. Tapping into current trends is a key way to appeal to this audience.  Whether the brand is launching, or already launched, there are always PR opportunities to increase sales by driving awareness and loyalty. The key takeaway on all the most recent Neilsen data: premiumization is absolutely key for small, independent CPG brands. 

Driving Awareness for Small Consumer Brands

When Snapple tea was a small independent brand, it relied on PR, including crazy stunts with two ambitions in mind: acquisition and sales. When they were acquired by Quaker Oats, the PR stunts stopped and sales decreased. In fact, PR is often responsible for trends that drive consumers. Before CBD, a wellness ingredient that almost everyone now knows was allowed to advertise, it relied on firms like Avaans Media to create PR campaigns that educated consumers and created awareness for their brands. PR is almost single-handedly responsible for launching CBD into the public’s general knowledge. Other wellness products have benefited from PR, including melatonin.

Independent brands often turn to PR because while PR is an investment, it’s still more affordable than many other branding initiatives such as advertising, especially when you include videography costs. Facebook is famous for launching thousands of new DTC brands, but of late, many independent CPG brands are finding Facebook’s advertising to be less effective. Ambitious consumer product brands are turning to PR in ever greater numbers to reach consumers, and stay in front of buyers. A PR campaign can reach hundreds of billions of annual impressions. Is it any wonder that everyone from new consumer products to old standbys is moving dollars to PR?

New CPG brands can use PR to validate the brand. An upfront burst of PR is a powerful trust indicator. Many consumer brand startups showcase PR wins on their website and in advertising as a way to increase consumer trust. Independent boutique products use PR to nail their launch because they need to appeal directly and immediately to their consumer. As Nielsen notes in small brand, “There is little room for error in small launches. Nailing your activation requires planning and strategic execution. Whatever your differentiation—hitting your target, justifying your premium or communicating a new usage occasion—it must land, and land well,”

 

Driving Loyalty for Independent CPG Brands

If your consumer brand isn’t exactly new, but also isn’t a household name, then using PR to increase loyalty and awareness is effective. 25% of consumers are mainstream followers who sometimes try new products, but don’t seek them. This is a critical audience to penetrate. If you’re broadening your audience to this important, but slightly elusive group, you want to make sure your customer product reviews are solid, and that your early PR had at least 1-2 tier 1 press hits so you can use the ever-so-important social proof to lure this audience in.  Good PR also allows existing customers to have their choice validated and is a great opportunity for them to sing your praises to their friends.

But that’s not the only way PR helps early and mid-stage CPG brands. PR helps your customers see you understand who they really are. Bob’s Red Mill used PR to improve its already stellar reputation through purpose-driven storytelling. Not only does PR help new consumers find your product, but it also reinforces the good choice your current customers have made. A good PR firm will help you identify ways to differentiate and to secure brand-improving earned media.