The role of the CEO is ever-changing and one of the most notable evolutions is the expectation that a CEO be a visible leader. Some of the world’s best-known brands just wouldn’t be the same without their visible CEOs or founders. Ambitious companies from startup through IPO can take some cues from these leadership examples. With everything that a CEO has on their plate, why would they focus on thought leadership? Thought leadership checks off the optimal business outcomes from PR from increased brand value to easier recruiting, from investor awareness to consumer adoration, the reasons ambitious CEOs stay visible are clear:

  • 60% of decision-makers will pay a premium because thought leadership shows deep thinking and other virtues important to them.

  • People who follow both a company and one or more of its executives are twice as likely to purchase from that company.

  • 71% of decision-makers agree: thought leadership is one of the best ways to get a sense of the type and caliber of an organization’s thinking.

  • 81% of consumers say CEOs should be personally visible.

 

Today, CEOs of public companies and private companies alike are finding creative ways to keep their company in the news and remain the face of the brand. Savvy leaders are looking for ways to weigh in on social or business issues that impact their customers or clients. Leaders are driving purpose and speaking about it openly, they’re weighing in on newsworthy items, and they do it without ever pitching or selling their products or services. The Wall Street Journal won’t be a brand’s shill, but it will cover remarkable ideas and perspectives – and CEOs tend to have those. Dollar for dollar, the time invested in thought leadership PR pays off handsomely.

Steve Jobs: Thought Leadership Pioneer

An early leader in thought leadership strategy was, of course, Steve Jobs. With his signature black turtleneck and visionary ideas, he kept both Apple customers and the media hanging on his every word.

We may never know why Jobs, who was famously persnickety, embraced a more public persona, but the outcomes were undeniable. Because Steve Jobs stood in front of the press, he was instantly more credible when he delivered high-flying ideas about how his newest Apple products would change the world. Jobs’ presentations always had a restrained flair of showmanship, but showmanship nonetheless.

Another advantage for Jobs? After Apple ousted him-HIS OWN COMPANY-being the face of the brand made him indelibly connected to Apple. Firing Jobs would have been much harder to do the second time, but because he embraced thought leadership, there was also less reason to do so – Apple products did very well. To this day, Jobs is inextricably tied to Apple’s brand.

Richard Branson: Innovating with Public Failures

Richard Branson’s key message is crystal clear: innovation. Branson walks the walk. several times, Branson took to the skies in a hot air balloon, risking his own life to set world records and at the same time, creating opportunities for people to talk about Virgin Airlines. This stunt paled in comparison to the ultimate flight into space he took with Virgin Galactic.

According to LinkedIn: [Branson is] popular with everyone from entrepreneurs to HR professionals and in industries ranging from tech to construction. The only continent where he doesn’t have a single follower is Antarctica. This kind of broad-based appeal is almost unheard of, but Branson has pulled it off because he has one other secret to success: authenticity. He is actively involved with his own press.

At one point in his native England, Richard Branson was famous for being famous. The press actually heckled him for his publicity stunts – but they never failed to cover them and Branson took it all in stride, knowing that his stunts appealed to consumers who would appreciate the distinct spin Branson put on the Virgin brand and its products. Branson also weighs in on topics popular with his audience, like income inequality and universal basic income, which he called for in 2018. Should UBI ever come to be, Branson will be able to say he was the first CEO to advocate for it, and if it never does, it’s not his fault. It’s a brilliant PR move.

Thought leadership is more important today than ever before, and yet there are PR landmines for CEOs everyone where. Don’t rush thought leadership, be strategic and purposeful. Positioning yourself as an expert is best done in stages as it takes time to find the right cadence and the right rhythm. Be prepared to spend some time developing your own personal brand in conjunction with your thought leadership PR agency. Taking the time to develop your own brand will create authenticity and trust – both essential elements of a successful thought leadership strategy.

 

For all Branson’s attempts to make history, there is one founder here who did it well before he did.

Sara Blakely: From Scrappy Sales to History Maker

From the start of Spanx, Sara Blakely took complete control of her reputation, and she knew what set her apart could be a differentiator for the brand,brand,brand,brand, too. One of my favorite Blakely stories is when she bought Olivia Newton John’s famous Grease pants at auction. Her target market, feeling slightly nostalgic for the days when they could have rocked those pants, celebrated the move – even as it was an extravagance, it was one that made her relatable to her target market. She got a ton of press on it, and she never even had to talk about Spanx – the press did it for her every time they said “Sara Blakely, CEO of Spanx,” and the purchase was so on brand, it was difficult to ignore the brand.  But that move was only one of a thousand steps Blakely took to control the narrative. She positioned herself as a thought leader by leaning into her differences as a woman CEO. She told, retold, and retold the story of how she founded Spanx without apology for its humble beginnings.

Blakely’s willingness to be the face of Spanx paid off with the ultimate metric: she is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

 

Whether your goal is to make history or maximize achievement, thought leadership for CEOs have never been more important than it is now. You’ve already done the hard work of becoming an expert – why not leverage it?

 

Well-crafted content is so much more valuable than promotional content. What should cannabis brands focus on right now? When the 2019 Farm Act passed, the CBD industry widely celebrated it. But not long after, newcomers overran the CBD industry and even established brands found themselves surprised by the competitive environment. Despite the challenges, the biggest brands, the most well-known, continue to thrive. In fact, Charlotte’s Web recently became the first CBD brand to sponsor Major League Baseball.  There are a few reasons for this. The first is from the start, CW invested in branding and PR.  But there’s an even bigger reason – they immediately embraced the realities of DTC sales and their website had digital authority because they had been investing in it for years. That’s why it’s more important than ever for cannabis brands to commit to their online presence with these 3 tips to improve cannabis digital marketing with quality content that pays dividends for years to come.

When federal legalization happens – history will repeat itself. It will excite marketers in the industry that FINALLY Instagram can’t boot them. But social media sites come and go (apparently, IG is already “over”), and owning your own corner of the internet has never been more important. While it remains important to HAVE an Insta account, it isn’t a place where cannabis brands can maximize their digital marketing or their content. Once cannabis brands can sell online more directly or even advertise more freely, in a more DTC fashion, mature digital destinations will thrive.

Building an authoritative website takes time, and it takes strategy. You can not start too soon.  Make 2023 the year you invest in your cannabis digital marketing with these 3 digital marketing tips that supercharge digital PR.

Create Lifestyle, Not Medical Content

Historically, cannabis brands have built content to educate consumers. And that’s been a really important step in cannabis normalization. But between new formats that make cannabis more accessible to Google’s suppression of “fake news,” including non-authoritative sites providing anything akin to medical advice, you’re just wasting your time by creating anything that could be considered health advice, or expertise.

Unless you’re already a credible, published authority on these matters,  you’d be better off taking a page out of a publisher’s took kit and creating like “5 Games That Are Better When You’re High.”

The better you know your customer, the more dialed in you’ll be to creating content for them. Be disciplined. Be consistent. If you create 3 pieces of content a month, you are already miles ahead of 99% of cannabis brands. Not only does this help people find you today, but it will be a rich resource tomorrow. Creating content YOU own is still the most impactful marketing and PR tactic you can do.

Trigger The Seeking Hormone

A while back, I wrote about creating Instagram content that would trigger anticipation while also solving some of the Instagram violation problems by using anticipation triggers in cannabis digital marketing.

Use can use that to your advantage right now while circumventing Instagram challenges, and even advertising challenges while ALSO adding authority to your website. Use unexpected prompts, both audio and visual, to keep consumers on your site longer. And while we’re at it, if you aren’t already, you MUST incentivize people to join your email list. Again, owning your list is an actual asset, while Instagram followers are so fluid, and Instagram itself so unreliable, it’s questionable whether there is any long-term value there at all. And believe me, as one of the earliest adopters of social media for brands, it truly pains me to say that.

But there are lessons to be learned from Instagram. The scrolling feed, for example, is an outstanding example of a “seeking hormone” trigger. In the early days, it was genius. The way it scrolled felt like a slot machine, juuuust enough of the next post would appear on the phone screen. It was nearly impossible to stop scrolling. TikTok’s interface triggers that too. The latest digital website designs use a similar approach. Your cannabis digital marketing can mimic some of the most tried and true digital best practices used by today’s leading consumer brands.

QUALITY Inbound Links Still Matter

 

Your current and past coverage from respected, authoritative sites is your hedge against link inflation.

Google says it’s deprioritizing inbound links, but that’s only compared to how much they’re increasing the value of trusted content. Simply having inbound links isn’t enough. Gone are the days when thousands of low-value affiliate links could stack up to a credible website in Google’s eyes.

Today, Google wants to improve its search algorithm by presenting trusted answers. The recipe to trust is a closely guarded Google, but what we DO know is credible content = trust. And Publishers have Google’s trust. And when Google presents it, consumers trust it more too, so your site gets a super boost. Customers who trust you buy faster and stay longer, so incorporating quality inbound links is a triple home run for your cannabis brand.

Preparing for federal cannabis legalization is THE business strategy for 2023 and digital marketing and PR are the levers to pull your brand along. Since our earliest days, we’ve been the best cannabis PR agency for digitally savvy brands. We know successful cannabis digital marketing and PR advice of today is the backbone of tomorrow’s most successful cannabis brands. Today, it’s more important than ever to coordinate cannabis digital marketing with cannabis digital PR.

Why Purpose-Driven Public Relations Have an Edge 

It’s easy to see why some companies are skeptical of shifting to a “purpose-driven” business model. Doing so requires companies to take a position on important, potentially controversial issues like environmental protection, workers’ rights, racial and gender discrimination, income inequality, and so on.

Is Taking a Stand the New Social Media in Public Relations?

Taking a stand can generate a swift backlash from the community and consumers. For an example, look no further than the reaction from many fans of the National Football League when several players, most notably San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, knelt during the national anthem as a protest against police violence.

The NFL is one of the few monolithic institutions left in American life, and the response from its fans would seem to discourage other brands from getting involved in political and social issues. Even President Donald Trump got involved by putting pressure on team owners and league officials. And yet, the NFL’s handling of its players’ police violence protests offers an instructive example of why brands should lean into social causes instead of avoiding them.

After all, what was the ultimate outcome for Kaepernick? The NFL caved on player protests and is allowing social justice messages in the end zones this year. Kaepernick partnered with Nike on their “Dream Crazy” ad, which helped spread his message to a much wider audience. Though the ad was criticized in some quarters, most people responded positively to it. Younger audiences, one of Nike’s key demographics, responded especially well.

Making that ad was a risk for Nike, but it’s a risk that clearly paid off. By being aware of social trends — particularly among some of its core customers — and partnering with someone who had legitimate social justice credentials, Nike scored a public relations coup and rode the wave to increased sales.

Jumping into the realm of social activism is new for Nike, but other brands have engaged in social, political, and environmental causes for many years now. The clothing company Patagonia, for instance, supports many social causes, especially groups focused on the protection and preservation of public lands in the United States. They’ve also imposed a “1% for the Planet” tax on themselves, in which they spend 1 percent of their sales (not just their profits) on environmental activism while encouraging other companies to do the same.

Another brand that’s making headway in terms of changing the way business is done is King Arthur Baking Company. Unlike many larger bakeries, King Arthur is a private company that is owned by its employees and is a benefit corporation. This means that having a positive impact on the world is built into the company’s corporate structure. In an article for the New York Times, Ralph Carlton, one of King Arthur’s chief executives, said “Being accountable to our employee-owners means we have to take them into account. We don’t believe in growth for growth’s sake.” The company’s message is clearly resonating with consumers; according to the Times article, King Arthur’s sales tripled this past spring when many people went into quarantine and started baking their own bread and other goods.

Is a Purpose Driven Public Relations Strategy for Everyone?

These examples and additional research illustrate the gains to be had for brands that embrace social causes. For instance, the research firm Accenture found in 2018 that 63 percent of consumers prefer to support brands that share their values and beliefs. In that same study, Accenture also found that 62 percent of consumers want brands to take a position on social and political causes, and 65 of consumers said their buying decisions are influenced by the values, actions, and words of a company’s leaders.

As we saw with Nike, these trends are even more pronounced among younger audiences and consumers. Other researchers have found that 54 percent of teens age 16-19 boycotted or bought from a brand because of its ethics. Furthermore, 63 percent of teens say they are more likely to buy from brands that back charities or other causes they believe in.

These figures provide more evidence that consumers are eager to buy from brands they perceive as having strong morals and values. However, brand trust is a precious commodity that companies should not take for granted. About 37 percent of teens surveyed in the study mentioned above said they didn’t trust the claims brands make about the causes they support, and 69 percent of teens in the survey said brands overstate how much they support the causes they supposedly champion.

That last point is critical. It’s not enough for companies to say they want to make the world a better place, they have to back it up with their actions and policies. If you tell consumers you’re moving to a purpose-driven business philosophy, you need to give them proof.

Once again, we can look at Nike for an example of this theory in action. Regardless of other criticisms the company has faced in the past, making Kaepernick the centerpiece of a campaign took courage, as he was a pariah in many circles and hadn’t been a star player for several years. But because Kaepernick had sacrificed his career and his reputation for his beliefs, Nike benefitted from his social justice bona rides.

As more consumers push for brands to become more socially and politically engaged, companies that have already adopted a purpose-driven approach or are willing to make a good-faith effort have a tremendous advantage in the marketplace. If you can show consumers that your brand shares their values, they’ll flock to your business.

How to Celebrate a Purpose-Driven Public Relations

 

Of course, getting your message in front of consumers is easier said than done. You need a public relations firm that understands the challenges purpose-driven brands face and the benefits they can provide consumers. Fortunately, PR for purpose-driven brands is what we do at Avaans Media, and we can help show the world what makes your company special.

It’s important not to be too bold or too generic when it comes to PR for purpose-driven brands. You need to be specific about what you’re doing and how it’s generating the kind of positive change you’re striving for. We’ll create a campaign that’s tailored to your company’s specific strengths and goals, and we’ll show consumers that you’re serious about achieving those goals.

This kind of campaign is something we already have experience doing. One of our biggest successes came from helping a nonprofit create content to help parents who were non-native English speakers improve their children’s early education outcomes. We listened to what they wanted to achieve and created streamlined, easy-to-understand social media content for parents to share with each other and their children. Furthermore, we helped the nonprofit lobby the state legislature to fund early education programs for pre-kindergarten students.

Our campaign was a tremendous success, generating over 401,000 impressions over six months among our target audience, with an engagement rate of over 50 percent. The state legislature also saw the extensive community support for the program and funded more early education programs, providing an even greater benefit to the community.

Our organization has the tools and talent to bring this kind of success to your purpose-driven brand. To learn more, visit our contact page to schedule a call with one of our offices. You can also find us locally in New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Phoenix, Denver, and San Diego.

What’s the difference between PR vs publicity? At first glance, they look the same. Publicity is a specific tactic to attract media coverage, it might be good or bad coverage. Public relations is a holistic brand-building, loyalty building and trust-building strategy that includes positive media coverage.

Should you choose publicity or PR?

Most brands do not subscribe to the “all media coverage is good media coverage” philosophy and want ONLY positive media coverage, which is why most brands choose PR. PR refers to the deliberate efforts that organizations make to build and maintain positive relationships with the public. Public relations will create a path toward media coverage including key messaging, brand positioning, making the news, jumping in on breaking news, and strategizing positive company announcements. A PR strategy may also include a crisis communication plan which is important for any consumer brand, but especially DTC or CPG brands. PR is an investment in your brand’s reputation. If your business goal is to be the #1 brand against your competitors or to secure investment that launches you into hypergrowth, then you’ll definitely want to choose PR.

Publicity is a narrowly focused goal, any form of media coverage or exposure for an organization or individual. And it might be OK for a brand that just wants to get into gift guides, for example. That would be an example of publicity without the added benefit of public relations. If your key messages are solid, and you don’t need any additional help building the brand’s trust or loyalty, or your long-term reputation isn’t important, then publicity may be an option for you.

Long Term or Short Term Media Coverage?

Publicity is great for a blast of short-term coverage. Something consistent with a calendar event, or a word-of-mouth campaign with a celebrity for a product launch. Publicity is also great if your brand is willing to do “anything” for media coverage. Stunts in Times Square or the Santa Monica pier often get coverage simply because of the location and the unexpected commotion. That’s publicity. Another example of publicity is an April Fools stunt.

If you’re looking for consistent press coverage regardless of whether you have a product launch or an activation, then you definitely want PR. PR will enable your brand to build trust with your audience, while also building loyalty with your existing customers.

Rinse & Repeat or Bespoke?

Publicity tactics are very similar to one another. Your publicity in gift guides, for example, will also share coverage with other products and possibly even competitors. Think of a publicity campaign as a short-term boost to secure coverage, regardless of quality. If you simply need additional exposure for a specific period of time in order to get noticed by potential customers or clients, then publicity may be a cost-effective solution.

In contrast, public relations will develop custom strategies to build and manage your reputation, reach key audiences and achieve your business objectives through strategic messaging and tailored PR campaigns. With the right PR firm on your side, you can effectively reach your target audiences, build positive relationships with key stakeholders, and stand out from the crowd in today’s competitive marketplace.

 

Many people think public relations (PR) and publicity are synonymous, but there is actually a clear distinction between the two terms. If you’re interested in discussing the difference with Avaans, please contact us, we will help you decide based on your business goals and budget, which type of media coverage is best for you.

Tech PR needs to be reinvented. Telling a great tech story today differs from what it used to be.

For the past 15 years, tech has been leading much of the conversation, so with a few press releases and a TED Talk, an upcoming and coming CEO could set the agenda. Zuck set the “let’s make an interconnected world” agenda. Steve Jobs set the “intuitive design” conversation. And while there is plenty more innovation headed our way – tech itself is no longer the story.

Emerging tech companies need to connect to the conversations their community is having or going to have in an enormous way. Why?

Today’s reporters need stories that capture the moment, not navel-gaze into the future. 90% of tech writers are curious about backend technology, but won’t write about it. Most outlets only have one tech reporter, that poor person receives over 500 pitches per day and an uncomfortable number of them are still using buzz words like “innovative”, “disruptive”, and the worst of them all, “unique.” These words now cause journalists to glaze over because they’re so overused and increasingly unbelievable. The question comes down to “WHY?”

 

So if Tech Itself is No Longer the Story…What Is?

Technology companies need to tell stories about how they’re connecting to the stories consumers are watching. Great tech stories often start with core values and it isn’t just consumers who want to know more about how you’re solving the world’s actual problems, it’s investors too – 88% of institutional investors are evaluating ESG (environmental, social, governance) with the same scrutiny they give operations and finance.

Let’s look at what people are searching for on Google:

How to Tell a Tech Story today

Look how emerging tech doesn’t even register compared to climate change and racism. There are far more reporters covering these emerging trends than the tech itself. Tying your tech story into the zeitgeist, that’s where tech companies become indelible.

Here at Avaans, we write a lot about purpose, what it is and why it’s important to fast-growing companies. Even though we are a boutique firm, we have guiding principles as well.

That’s because not only does a clear purpose give the company and the brand extra internal fortitude, but it allows consumers to connect with your storytelling on a deeper level.

Regardless of stage of growth, having purpose is the path to longevity and a connected customer base. It’s also a great launching pad for purpose-driven PR.

Digging deep to find these stories may take some time and candor about corporate culture – but these are the stories that stick. These are the stories that create memorable brands. You can’t start telling this story too early.

 

What Makes a Great Tech Story Today?

Every story needs to be:
Relevant
Inevitable
Believable
Simple

As you look at these components, you may think about how your technology fits into these buckets; resist that urge for a moment.

The first two are the lowest hanging fruit, the last two can take years. Take, for example, Salesforce. When they wanted to grow, they made a simple but audacious claim: the end of software. Establishing relevance and the inevitability of tomorrow’s cloud-based world were the simple parts. Notice how they made that claim about the user, the client, not themselves, and it was simple. The stories about how this changes business and the world are immeasurable. But, Caryn Marooney who worked with Salesforce during those early days says “it still took us years to establish true believability,”.

Set your expectations accordingly. Expect to get two to three of those messages across in the early stages. As you grow, as you show more credibility, and as trust between your company and the media increases, “Believeable” will come. Trust isn’t something manufactured in a boardroom, trust is earned.

Today, Salesforce continues to tell stories relevant to their customers and the media that aren’t about technology. Salesforce recently claimed that the “Salesforce economy will create 9.3 million jobs and $1.6 trillion in new business revenues.” The white paper is chock full of bite-sized data that an entire story can be built around the new economy, what this means in today’s labor shortage, the threads are endless and the study gives legs to talking points that can last a year.

 

The Case for Tech Storytelling Over Trade Shows

Let’s be clear – we’re big fans of tech tradeshows and conferences. Many a product has gotten media from its standout strategies at CES for example. But the coverage around CES, like any tradeshow, is diluted and noisy. Reporters at conferences are looking for clickable headlines: they want big dollars, ticker symbols, known brands.  At tech trade shows you need to stand out with remarkable, word-of-mouth activations, to give extra lift to your story – or you’ll probably share the story with 1 or 2 competitors. Sure, a trade show can give you a lift, and it can be an excellent place to connect with the media – but you simply can not rely on a trade show to do all the heavy lifting. We so often see companies make a trade show their launch or the key message for an inordinate amount of time. The fact is, trade shows give a temporary boost, but great tech storytelling goes on for decades. 

Here’s more good news: the more simple your key message, the longer your tech storytelling will last. Counter-intuitively, simple messages last longer and provide more room for interpretation.

 

A colleague of mine once asked “Why does everyone want to go viral (with their content), I want to go cancer with my content, I want it to last a long time and fight to stay,” Tech storytelling is the same, tapping into current media trends and the mindset of the customer. Core values, Purpose, a solid mission, and knowing your next 3 steps will ensure your tech story starts out great. 

If you’re looking for a tech PR agency that goes the distance with you to find the great tech stories of today and tomorrow, then drop us a note, we’d love to dig deep with you too.

 

Hyper growth DTC brands appear to have some things in common. If you’re a DTC brand or the CMO of a DTC brand, the future looks bright. We also wanted to connect a few dots about emerging industries we think are going to be increasingly important.

  1. Average Order Value (AOV) is a Key Indicator of Hyper Growth DTC

    RetentionX has discovered the fastest growing DTC brands have a 55% higher AOV than everyone else. They attribute this high AOV to customer loyalty. Customer loyalty is a holistic and multi-discipline objective.

    But this is where DTC PR really shines.

    Brand loyalty comes from trust. Trust in the product and trust in the brand values. If you’re the CMO or founder of a DTC brand, customer loyalty is your key KPI for revenue growth. One strategy for increased customer loyalty is premium branding, and PR delivers. According to Morgan Stanley’s research, Apple’s premium DTC branding came through a sustained PR campaign that helped deliver  90% brand retention.

  2.  Voice Search: DTC’s Premier Opportunity

    55% of American households own a smart speaker in 2022, according to Juniper research. And according to Navar, slightly more than half of consumers use voice-activated search for things like groceries, and by 2030, the global AI-based and voice recognition market should reach $27.3 billion (insightSLICE).

    Voice activation is likely to take advantage of a multitude of signals, just like SEO. A great start, if you haven’t already gotten there, is making sure your product FAQs include “how,” “why,” and “what” questions. The type of questions your buyers are likely to ask in various stages of product consideration.

    While you’re at it, look at Google’s Review requirements, because these types of reviews are likely to play into voice search, at least on Google. From a trust perspective, combining your owned content with trusted third-party reviews is a home run. Also, remember the added benefit of media coverage is stickiness – what Google can count on when creating its interpretation of your online reputation, which will undoubtedly play into your voice-activated reputation as well.

  3. Partnerships For the Win

    From collabs to join placement and pop-ups and the metaverse, DTC brands can double their exposure by partnering on campaigns. These campaigns can get a huge amount of lift from PR initiatives like media relations and events.

    Forgetting the PR component of these opportunities really misses the chance to secure customer retention and new acquisition. While social media, especially social advertising, is a must-have for DTC brands, DTC brands can look at the PR around partnerships as an opportunity to decouple their dependence on social media.