Crisis often presents itself in unexpected ways, at unexpected times, in unexpected places.
Before joining the team here at PivotPR, I had the opportunity to serve as Brand Communications Manager for the U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC). In addition to being an incredible place to call my office, the USNWC provided many opportunities to put my PR and communications skills into practice. One day I would be pitching story ideas to outdoor industry publications, and the next I would be giving media interviews to promote an upcoming trail race or climbing competition.
It also presented a swift and unexpected entry into the world of crisis communications. During the summer of 2016, we received notice of a young lady who had passed away from a rare form of meningitis contracted by a waterborne pathogen known as Naegleria fowleri. The young lady had recently visited the USNWC where she participated in water-based activities, which is how we became associated with the unfolding story. It did not take long for media interest to develop, considering this waterborne pathogen is colloquially referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba”. Whether or not her visit to the USNWC was ultimately connected to her passing, we found ourselves at the center of a media firestorm on a local, national, and international level virtually overnight.
Information began surfacing quickly from various sources including the Centers for Disease Control, the Mecklenburg County Health Department, and others. While we were in constant contact with these organizations, media outlets were eager to acquire and disseminate as much information as quickly as possible. Our goal was always to maintain the public’s trust through open dialogue and clear communication. We leveraged a straightforward communications approach which, in hindsight, can be summarized in one very simple word: ACT.
Authenticity – Every brand has its own voice, and we were no exception. We knew how we had created our voice through public dialogue over the years, and we felt it was essential to maintain that amid these circumstances. This was no conversation about one of our races or festivals, but it was a conversation between the same organization and many of the same audiences. We were not interested in shifting our voice to meet the scenario, but instead addressing the scenario with the authentic voice our community had already come to recognize.
Consistency – In the midst of receiving pressure from various media outlets to provide rapid and immediate responses, we felt the best way to maintain a consistent dialogue was through written statements that we would publish promptly on our website, then distribute through the appropriate channels. This meant the concerned community member would have the same access, at the same time, to the same updates as the national media outlets.
Transparency – We continually received updated facts and information, and we were eager to provide them to the people they would impact: our guests and our community. We were intentional about taking the necessary time to collect the most complete and accurate details before drafting a public statement, while remaining transparent with the public by addressing their questions and concerns with the most pertinent information.
No company or organization can predict every possible crisis they may encounter. Unexpected circumstances can always arise, but having a clearly defined voice and strategic communications approach can provide an essential foundation when it’s time to act.
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We often interview traditional media folks or even social media influencers, but for this Q&A we wanted to demonstrate how a partnership with a local “beer fitness” group can be beneficial to an organization’s PR efforts too. Community relations at its best! I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Work For Your Beer co-founder Melanie Fox. Take a look…
Q: Good morning, Melanie! Can you tell us a little about what your group does?
A: Of course! Work For Your Beer is the directory for all beer fitness events, which means we provide information about beer yoga classes, run clubs, bootcamps, bike-and-brew events, and all other exercise-related beer activities going on around Charlotte. Our goal is to grow the “beer fitness” community by providing people with a resource to help them work out, drink beer, and make friends!
Q: That’s brilliant! How did you come up with the idea?
A: My co-founder, Alicia Thomas, and I saw the need for this resource after going to a couple of beer yoga classes in town. We loved the concept but found it very difficult to keep track of the new breweries, what type of events they hosted, and when the events took place. Alicia even started an Excel spreadsheet to keep them all straight! Then I shot her a text one day exclaiming, “Business idea! Why don’t we create our own community where people who want this information can easily access it?!” We launched back in December of 2016, and the community has been growing like crazy ever since.
Q: Can you tell our readers how you execute these events?
A: Most people think that we organize the events, but that’s not entirely how we work. A brewery will approach us with a new class they are running, and then we list the class on our website and help promote it to our audience of active beer-lovers. We also help connect local fitness instructors into breweries to start teaching more classes. When we launched there were only about 40 events happening each week in Charlotte, and now there are now over 100 classes every week!
Q: You’ve created a business out of this, right? Through your partnerships?
A: Absolutely! We partner with local breweries, gyms, and other companies we adore. For example, we’re working closely with Skipper, which is an on-demand dog walking service in both Charlotte and Austin. In partnership with them, we introduced dog walks into the beer fitness scene. People love it, and so do the dogs! We also work with OrthoCarolina, who provides a health-authoritative voice to help educate our audience. We love partnering with brands that we are passionate about because it gives an additional layer of authenticity when we share that content with our audience.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: I’m pumped about our new technology and expansion plans! Pretty soon you’ll be able to filter classes, not only by location and date, but also by cost, parking, beverage type, and more. We’ll also have different tiers of partnerships for our hosts with a backend system for them to update their own content to make sure everything is as up-to-date as possible. We are planning to expand into the other major markets in the Carolinas very soon!
A huge thank you to Melanie for sitting down with me. I hope you learned something from this post, whether you’d like to participate in an upcoming class or even partner with Work For Your Beer for your business.
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We recently interviewed the founder of one of our city’s newest publications, Charlotte Lately. Take a look at what Courtney Schramm had to say about what makes her publication so different and how YOU can work with her.
What brought you to Charlotte and inspired you to start Charlotte Lately?
My husband and I moved out here with a job offer straight out of college. I quickly fell in love with the area but saw a need for a quality platform showcasing Charlotte. I wasn’t looking to compete with having the latest news story or restaurant opening but wanted to learn more about the businesses and people that already make up the city.
How did you decide on your platform?
I had been working in commercial photography and quickly saw how positively people were responding to well thought out imagery. My goal was to use photography to share the mission of good people and businesses, allowing them to be competitive on virtual outlets. Instagram was a natural place to start building the brand. In the last two years, it has grown to have a 30,000-person local reach, of what I think is the cream of the crop in Charlotte. People then go to our website to sign up for our community networking events or to subscribe to our new print publication.
What types of stories can we expect to see with your print publication?
Our audience responds very well to what we do and has solidified my drive to want to be a little bit better at showcasing stories that aren’t well represented now. I really enjoy uncovering people who might be unextraordinary to other news stations or outlets but have a great lesson to share to connect our community.
We are not limiting the content of our print publication. When you are trying to create a publication of the city, you must be okay having a medley of stories. Our city has so many different types of people, businesses, experiences and passions so we’re trying to do a bit of everything. Our biggest audience is in the 25-34 age range, with 45-56 being a close second, so you will see a wide variety of stories that allow people of all ages and demographics to connect. It is a very exciting time to get involved with Charlotte Lately.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
I have found that the higher I reach for advice the more I get it. I am thankful for all the connections I’ve made through Charlotte Lately. A byproduct for me of meeting so many people is feeling compassion for all the doers in our city. People work so hard. I believe your network and relationships with people are your biggest assets.
Something I keep in mind that a mentor recently told me is, “You ask for money, you get advice. If you ask for advice, you get money,” — now that’s not always the case but it sure keeps my “why” in check.
How do you handle advertisers and pitched stories?
We love receiving stories and ideas from readers, PR firms or anyone when they know what we are looking for and have a good story. We sift through and take the best fit.
As for advertisers and partnerships, we turned down a lot in the first two years because we wanted to build trust in our audience so that when we did make the choice to partner, our audience knew it was a brand that we believed in.
When we do allow advertisers, we go so far as to take all the imagery for their media. Showcasing businesses with quality imagery should be a bare minimum for advertising campaigns. Be careful where you are putting your money. Looking good should be a standard for the virtual world we live in.
I feel that any time I partner with someone, paid or not, I’m giving that business or person an opportunity to invest in a platform more focused on people in Charlotte that isn’t just about what is next. It is rewarding to see and I’m happy to play even just a small part in connecting our community. Just since the beginning of 2018, we have seen more traction and growth then all of 2017. We’re excited for what is ahead.
A huge thank you to Courtney for sharing her story and giving us such useful insight. You can check out the first issue of Charlotte Lately here.
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I recently had coffee with WBTV’s local content producer, Maggie Solomon, to discuss her brainchild, Queen City Weekend.
Q: Queen City Weekend is refreshingly different. How did it come about?
A: I was a television reporter in Panama City, Fla., and realized that I really valued storytelling as opposed to breaking news. I happened to run across this opportunity, applied, and the next thing you know I got the job and was heading to Charlotte!
Q: For those who don’t know, tell us a little about what Queen City Weekend really is.
A: All our stories are very video-driven. We value telling the story from the Queen City’s perspective, not the reporters’. You’ll notice everything we do is more documentary style.
Our goal is for you to be able to go and find something you can do on any given weekend, whether you’re new to Charlotte or have been here for several years. It’s unique. It has been quite a ride and I’ve had a blast building it.
Q: What’s one of your favorite stories you’ve covered so far?
A: Southern Grace Distillery in Mount Pleasant. The facility itself is actually an old prison! I enjoy finding unique things within driving distance of Charlotte, not just within the city limits.
Q: Is Queen City Weekend just about the weekend?
A: Every day is someone’s weekend, but we do post a rundown of what’s going on each weekend. We have a calendar of events for folks to post to as well.
Q: Are your stories sponsored or do they go through “editorial?”
A: We have a good mix. It really depends on the story and how much exposure our clients are looking for. Your readers are welcome to ping me for a media kit if they’d like. There are some additional options like WBTV’s Morning Break, depending on how the story is structured.
Q: Do you have any advice for PR or marketing folks that would like to work with you?
A: Don’t be afraid to pitch me! What’s the worst that can happen, right? We love how-tos and upcoming events and attractions.
You can connect with Maggie and Queen City Weekend through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or email Maggie directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to use our hashtag #queencitywknd!
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Laura Leigh Elliott, the smiling face behind life and style blog, Louella Reese, let us in on how she is able to do what she loves full-time, the dos and don’ts of working with bloggers, and what she sees for the future. Check out our conversation below.
How did you get started as a blogger and when did it turn full-time?
Out of college I was as pharmaceutical representative; I was reading the same script in every office, wearing a uniform and my creative side was dying. During some down time, I came across a blogger on Pinterest and a few hours later, after reading ALL of her posts, I decided to give it a try. I didn’t have a plan or any kind of consistency when I started, but the more I blogged, the more I fell in love with it. That was four years ago and about a year ago I was able to make it my full-time job.
Once I began making the same money blogging part-time that I was in my other full-time job, I felt comfortable making the jump and knew I could succeed even more if I was doing it full-time. Also, the flexible schedule allows me to spend more time with my husband and do the things I truly enjoy.
What is the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
The hardest part for me was reaching out to companies, pitching myself and not being afraid to ask for money. I had to look at it as a business, not just a passion project, get out of my own head and grow my confidence. I have come a very long way since the beginning and enjoy helping others find that voice inside themselves too.
Another hard aspect is letting whoever you are working with know just how much work goes into a blog post about their product. Sometimes I might have to get supplemental items for the shoot, schedule a photographer or work a clothing item in with my current wardrobe, which can take additional time and effort. Many times, companies don’t think about compensating you for this time, so you have to explain what all is involved.
Where do you see blogging world going in the future?
I think it is around for the long haul. However, I do think that bloggers are evolving into influencers and are focusing in on one or two outlets, instead of having a blog and every form of social media. Long-form blogging is time consuming to write and sometimes for readers to keep up with, so more influencers are using social media as their main outlet.
I also see more brands, marketers and PR firms going to influencers instead of celebrities. Not only will they get more bang for their buck, but they will also see influencers as better able to relate to the people they want to touch, compared to celebrities. There are so many brands and companies out there that this will only continue to grow.
What entices you to work with a brand, company, PR firm, etc.?
There are a few factors that come into play when I am choosing what to say “yes” to. I get a good vibe right off the bat if I feel like whoever I am working with knows me, has done their research and truly cares. A lot of time people will address emails to my blog name thinking it is my name, which it isn’t, and that shows they probably haven’t read the blog at all. Not doing your research sets a bad tone from the beginning; I expect them to get to know me the same way they would expect me to get to know their company.
Before saying yes, I ensure it is a product or service that fits in with the rest of my brand and will be something of value to those following me. I ask for a lot of feedback from my followers using their comments, polls and Instagram stories, so I am pretty in tune with what they want to see and what keeps them coming back.
I also appreciate being able to meet the people I am working with. A lot of what I do is based on relationships and being able to put a face to a name and developing that rapport can make the experience for both sides more positive and enjoyable. This also helps to facilitate the conversation about what they are looking for by working with me so that I can provide the best service. I like to know if they have a very specific vision for the post or if I have most of the creative control.
Lastly, when I have a positive – or negative – experience, those stories usually end up being shared with my larger blogger community as well when we get together. All the girls in this world of influencers are very supportive of each other, like to work together and want to steer each other in the right direction. So even if you are working with one influencer, that experience can trickle down to others you might want to work with in the future.
What are you looking forward to as you go into year two of working on Louella Reese full-time?
I enjoy – and have seen great traffic – from my localized posts on things to do in Charlotte, such as my personal top five restaurants. I would love to incorporate more posts about weekend getaways, travel tips and top restaurants from Charlotte and other cities around the South.
I would also love to have my own clothing line or even just a few pieces under the Louella Reese name. When I was deciding on the name for my blog, I made sure that it was long lasting and one that meant a lot to me no matter where this adventure went. (Side note: “Louella Reese” is a blend of her family nickname, her grandmother’s name and her beloved dog’s name – so sweet!)
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