Just before the holidays, Eric had the opportunity to sit down with Cristina Bolling, managing editor of the Charlotte Ledger and former 20-year reporter for the Charlotte Observer. Check out their conversation about a career in Charlotte media!
Tell us about yourself… what brought you to Charlotte?
“I grew up in the D.C. area and attended James Madison University in Virginia. Then I went to graduate school at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University where I got a masters in Newspaper Journalism. From there, I got my first job at the Associated Press in Albany, New York. it was really a great first job for someone in their early to mid-20’s. The AP is a great training ground… they let you loose, learning the essentials of editing, writing, covering the statehouse (George Pataki was governor, Elliot Spitzer was the Attorney General, Hillary Clinton was running for Senate… so I got to have pieces of that). I stayed there for a couple of years then decided, ‘I’m a Virginia girl… it’s too cold!’ I couldn’t take it anymore! So I went looking for journalism jobs nationally, and the Charlotte Observer at that time was really well known for its writing. They would bring in writing coaches from around the country, they would send you to writing conferences… stuff like that. So I came here not knowing anybody. I just thought this would be a good place to stay for a couple years, learn how to write, figure out where else I’d want to go… and that was 20 years ago!“
You had quite the run with the Charlotte Observer over two decades. How did that experience impact your career?
“Everything had I hoped would happen at the observer happened. I received really good coaching. I really feel like I learned to write from some of the top editors in the country. I stayed there for 20 years and I wore a variety of hats. I covered everything from county govt to immigration (I speak Spanish so that was really useful), real estate fashion the arts… so pretty much anything I wanted to write about, I found a way to do it.“
Are there some stories from your time with the Observer that really stand out?
“There are certainly some exciting ones. I covered a few hurricanes out in the Outer Banks, and even rode over the OBX in a Black Hawk helicopter. I really love some of the stories I wrote on the immigration beat. I did a story one time about this choir of Liberian orphan boys who came to sing in Charlotte and wound up all being adopted by families in Union County. Oprah even picked up that story that the Observer had first! I’ve always been a believer that everyone has a story to tell. You just have to ask the right questions and listen. I did cover stories about celebrities or fixtures in the news… but sometimes, its everyday people who have the stories that blow you away.“
How did the opportunity come about to join the Charlotte Ledger? Did that represent a pretty big change career wise?
“This past year (2019), an old Observer colleague – who I started with in the Gastonia bureau 20 year ago – was starting up this newsletter – the Charlotte Ledger. We had stayed in touch, so back in the spring, he invited me to come on as his managing editor. I thought ‘this will be kind of a fun new challenge after doing the same thing for 20 years… this will be fun to try something totally different and help start up a media company.’ It’s been a pretty fun ride since then.“
“When I started at the Observer, it was sort of the heyday of newspapers. We had huge staffs with a lot of local expertise in the room, and it gave me a lot of appreciation for that institutional knowledge. Charlotte is a such a fast-growing city with a lot of newcomers, but it has (like any city) a very deep and interesting history. So spending 20 years on all these different beats, and knowing what stories are being covered and aren’t being covered made me interested to try out a new way of writing about Charlotte without any walls. Tony (Mecia) and I don’t necessarily have any “beats” between the two of us. We consider the whole city to be our fertile stomping grounds to write about whatever we think is interesting. Having built that institutional knowledge working at the Observer, we also know who else has that knowledge. It made it an exciting thing to try at the Ledger.“
How would you describe the Charlotte Ledger’s value proposition? What makes it stand out?
“People frankly don’t have a lot of time to read long stories. They’re choosy on how they consume media. So we try to really prioritize what we write about, and some stories don’t need to be long. Some stories you can tell succinctly… just tell people what they need to know and get out of it. Part of what we bring is a curation, a “not wasting your time” approach to news… satisfying your curiosity, sharing some institutional knowledge that we have, and then letting you move on with your day. And a newsletter format is nice for that. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. You get to the end and you feel like you know what you need to know for that day… and you move on.“
What projects are you currently working on that get you excited?
“I actually have a side hustle right now for Charlotte Magazine called You Are Here. Every month, I throw a dart at a map of Mecklenburg County, and wherever the dart lands, I go to that place and I do a story. It’s so fun for me because it confirms what I’ve always known – literally anywhere has a story. It started in January 2020, and I’ve done maybe 14 of them so far. That feature has taken me to an old, abandoned airstrip out in east Charlotte where I interviewed a man who used to run planes there. It’s taken me to little neighborhoods where kids are growing up together like Hidden Valley where people have seen that neighborhood completely transform. I love hard news, breaking news, gritty news… but I also love going to a place and learning everything I can about the people who live there or the history of that location. I just think everyone has a story to tell. I’m just an insanely curious person!“
You’re Almost a year in now at the Charlotte Ledger… how has that sense of curiosity manifested itself differently now as a manager of a newsletter vs a reporter at a newspaper?
“Charlotte is a growing city and its media landscape has changed a lot. Newsrooms aren’t as big as they used to be and just can’t get to everything like they once did. We try to figure out what some of the big stories are and tell them in a way that they aren’t being told right now. We ask ourselves what are we curious about when it comes to a story, then we set out to answer that question.“
How to you collaborate with other writers?
“We do rely heavily on former Observer writers who we’ve worked with in the past. Back in the Observer’s heyday, there were so many good beat writers who specialized in religion and food and restaurants, politics, business… stuff like that. So we do lean on them as freelancers because we know that they know so much. Who better to tell that type of story than someone who made that their career? We also have relationships with some people in the PR industry who are just good writers and know how to tell a story. We’re definitely growing our freelance platform. Tony and I still write most of the stories for the Ledger, but it is fun to work with people you know who do good work and have interesting things to say.“
How has COVID effected your day to day/the Ledger?
“It’s interesting… we talk often about what we think we would be writing about right now if it wasn’t for COVID. I guess what I miss most is going out on stories… you get a lot more out of meeting with someone. Noticing what’s on the wall of someone’s office or going into their home. You can’t replicate that, but you make the best with what you have. COVID has really presented a challenge in focusing, there’s just so many different directions you could go. It’s almost been more of an issue of trying to whittle down and put your horse blinders on to focus on what story we need to tell or what has the biggest impact.”
What’s on the horizon for the Charlotte Ledger?
“We’re always planning for the future, but it’s hard to imagine past the end of our noses sometimes! We’re a subscription-based publication… we don’t do a lot of advertising. Our growth has surpassed what we had planned for 2020 for sure. We really rely on subscribers to help spread the word about us, and the future looks really good. We would like to become one of those news outlets that when you talk about Charlotte media, [the Charlotte Ledger] rolls of your tongue. I think we’re on our way to being that. We are relatively new, but if you’re looking for honest, reliable, and essential news… we hope you’ll come to us.”
To learn more about the Charlotte Ledger, be sure to subscribe to the daily newsletter!
How can you most effectively reach diverse generations? Generational marketing is a marketing approach that uses generational segmentation. Each generation varies greatly in their interests and their consumption methods — some grew up in a world before technology existed and others cannot imagine a world without it.
While there are six generations that are alive and well today, there are four main generations that make up most of America’s population. In this blog we will explore the four key generations and the most effective ways to market to each.
Baby Boomers: Baby Boomers are the oldest of America’s four largest generations. While they have a working knowledge of technology, Baby Boomers are the least technologically-savvy. Research shows that Baby Boomers are open to direct marketing tactics with detailed information and prefer to consume their online content on a desktop.
Generation X: Generation X is the smallest generation of the four. While they are not social media experts, they are more social media savvy than Baby Boomers and the majority of Generation X uses Facebook over other social media platforms. This generation is most responsive to online content that relates to entertainment and lifestyle, and most are consuming their online content on laptops and tablets. Facebook, email marketing and blogs are some of the best methods to use when marketing to Generation X.
Generation Y / Millennials: Generation Y, also commonly known as Millennials, is the largest living generation. Research shows that Millennials are the most receptive to online shopping and often seek to make informed decisions when making purchases. They are likely to turn to friends and family for recommendations, check ratings and read reviews. Millennials prefer brief, online content and social media is the best marketing method to use.
Generation Z: Generation Z (or, “Gen Z”), today’s youngest generation, is the most diverse generation with the most technological know-how and are becoming marketers’ new targets. Both Gen Z and Millennials heavily use social media, with the most popular platforms being YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Gen Z spends more time on their phones per week than any other generation, so marketing tactics must be made for mobile when targeting this generation.
It is important for businesses to recognize the behaviors and consumption methods of each generation to adjust and modernize marketing strategies. With four key, and very different, generations making up today’s society, how can you effectively market to various generations under one campaign?
Research Your Target Audience
Before creating a marketing strategy and campaign, define your target audience and research the best platforms and tactics to use for that audience. How does your audience consume their news and media? What platforms are they most active on, if any? What type of technology does your audience prefer to use?
Keep Marketing Efforts Diverse and Do Not Make Assumptions
Keep your campaign diverse. Now more than ever, customers want to see themselves reflected in marketing efforts. Customers notice when a campaign leans into diversity and inclusion, so it is important to feature a diverse group in a variety of ages and lifestyles. Do not fall for the assumptions and stereotypes that society has placed on each generation.
Do Not Play Favorites
When selecting a medium to use, do not limit yourself to one and do not choose a platform considered as the most popular at the time. By limiting yourself to one platform, you eliminate the possibility of reaching an entire audience because you chose not to use other methods.
The key takeaways when marketing to different generations is to do the research and keep marketing efforts diverse, both in the message portrayed and the methods used. Keeping these takeaways in mind, you should be ready to successfully implement a marketing campaign for any generation!
A message map is a concise and visual tool used to create captivating and relevant messages that will resonate with your target audience. The graphic above serves as a template for which you can create your own customized map, and below describes the core elements of each section, and why they’re important.
Step 1: Develop a Value Proposition Statement
A value proposition is an innovation, service, or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers. Sounds simple, right? It’s not. Before you’re able to develop your value proposition, we encourage you to take a step back and agree on your target audience and the problem you solve for them. Only then you can develop a succinct value proposition to the appropriate audience. Think high level.
Step 2: Create Key Messages, Supporting Facts and Common Objections
If you could only pick three key messages to tell your audience, what would they be? Prioritize these messages and, once complete, also create supporting facts and answers to common objections you may receive.
Step 3: Create Foundational Content Which Can Be Repurposed
Now that the groundwork has been laid out, you should also develop other important messages that can continually be repurposed such as your elevator pitch, tagline and boilerplate.
Message maps put you in control of your business’s story and answer questions on the minds of customers, employees, investors and media. Understanding your target audiences, anticipating their questions and roadblocks, and developing a key message will better position your business for success.
Brittany recently had the opportunity to virtually ask DeAnna Taylor, a local freelance writer, a few questions about her role as Editor in Chief of Charlotte’s newest publication: The Block. DeAnna shared her goals for the new publication and what she hopes Charlotteans will take away from it. Check it out!
Tell us about yourself…where are you from and what brought (or kept) you to (in) Charlotte? I am a proud native of Charlotte. I was born and raised here, so I have seen firsthand all of the changes (good and bad) that my city has gone through. I went away for college and law school but came back to be near my grandmother who was sick at the time. I moved away again from 2017-2018 to live in South Korea. Now, I am back again…for now.
Tell us more about The Block…how did it get started? The Block is a digital publication focused on Black creatives and creative entrepreneurs. Some will say that having a publication for Black creatives is “racist,” but we are the only people who can truly tell our stories from an authentic perspective. So often, Black artists and entrepreneurs get overlooked or their stories covered up due to white counterparts. We are simply bringing a safe place and a space for their voices to be heard.
The publication was created from a series of in-person workshops that were launched by Hue House (founding members: David J. Butler, David “Dae Lee” Arrington, and Davita Galloway). They reached out to me for the Editor in Chief role and to take over the creative direction of the digital platform.
What are your goals as The Block’s Editor in Chief for the publication? My goal is to share as many untold stories as we can, while empowering our community and audience with any resources needed to take their brand to the next level. I want to share stories from creatives and entrepreneurs all around the globe.
What do you hope Charlotteans will take away from The Block and the stories it shares? While we are based in Charlotte, we ultimately want to reach the world. But as far as our Charlotte community, we hope that they are inspired by the stories and information that we put out each week. A big component of our publication is our visuals. We invest heavily on striking visuals through our own in-house team of photographers and videographers. We understand that people today are drawn in by what they see, so we are ensuring that we put out quality visuals that will keep people coming back for more.
How would you describe The Block in three words? Empowering, Uplifting, Culture
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned working in the media industry? Not everyone will appreciate your work. With the internet at everyone’s fingertips, you are bound to get some negative feedback or trolling. But, you cannot let that deter you from your mission or the overall message within your work.
You’ve probably heard of a case study, but what exactly is a case study and how is it beneficial to your business or PR agency? A case study is a great way to highlight the scope of work that was done for your business by analyzing a successful campaign or project.
Case studies are structured with three basic elements: a problem, the solution to the problem, and the outcome or results of solving the problem backed with quantitative data. We’ve gathered five key steps for developing a successful case study.
- Identify the Problem: Identifying the problem you’d like to highlight is the first step to developing a case study. Has a client seen a drastic decrease in social media engagement? Has your business launched a new product but has seen little-to-no sales? A good case study will focus on a challenging problem.
- Identify the Solution: Identifying the solution to the problem is the next step in developing a case study. The solution is going to be the project or campaign implemented. It’s best to pick a project or campaign that was especially unique and successful. The solution will showcase your business or agency’s capabilities and creativity, so it’s important to pick a strong campaign or project.
- Identify Key Messages: Once the problem and solution have been determined, identify the key messages you want the case study to highlight. One way to determine key messages is by looking at your goals in developing the case study in the first place. Are you developing a case study to showcase your business or agency’s creativity? Are you developing a case study to showcase whether your business or agency is successful in delivering results? These goals will help you determine the key messages to focus on.
- Analyze the Outcome / Results: The next step in developing a case study is to tie the problem, solution and key messages together by analyzing the outcome of the project or campaign. This step is a key step, as it showcases the success of a project or campaign and examines why it was so successful.
- Include Quantitative Data: Data speaks volumes, so providing quantitative data that backs up the success of the project or campaign is a must. For example, when completing a case study that focuses on a social media campaign, be sure to include engagement metrics. Most clients view public relations as a cost rather than an investment, and case studies are a great method for changing that perception. Clients are looking for a business or a PR agency that can provide results, and a case study can showcase just that.
Case studies can be very beneficial for your business. Not only can they highlight the scope of work done through a successful project or campaign, but they can also showcase your capabilities and be an advantageous resource in attracting new business.
This year has been a rollercoaster. 2020 has brought a global pandemic, protests and activism, murder hornets, natural forces and so much more that seems to be the cherry-on-top of a disastrous year. Trying to navigate these unprecedented times, it’s important now more than ever that businesses lean on the support and expertise of public relations professionals. PR professionals have recognized that 2020 has changed the industry and are doubling-down their efforts to point businesses in the right direction. In this blog post we’ll explore how 2020 has changed public relations and how those changes are here to stay.
A global pandemic is enough to cause a crisis, and adding layoffs and state-wide lockdowns is more than enough to cause panic among businesses. COVID-19 has shown the importance of developing a crisis communications plan for a wide spectrum of events — including a pandemic. Not only is it vital for businesses to develop a crisis communications plan, but it’s even more important to properly implement that plan. Sure, businesses can rattle off suggestions and best practices to be included in their crisis communications plan, but are these ideas realistic and can they be properly implemented and successful among consumers? This is where PR agencies come in by pulling their expertise, experience and extensive research to determine what strategies will work best and be most successful.
Adjusting to A Virtual World
Due to COVID-19 and state-wide lockdowns, businesses and employees have been forced to move their operations fully online. Businesses with events and product launches scheduled throughout 2020 have been forced to cancel or host events and product launches online. Moving events online have businesses scrambling to reconstruct event plans and work through the logistics that going all-virtual brings. Having a PR agency on hand can ease the stresses that come with virtual event planning and event promotions.
The global pandemic and state-wide lockdowns have drastically hurt small businesses and communities. Consumers are looking at big brands and PR agencies to see how they are supporting local businesses and their communities during these trying times. Now is the time for larger brands to utilize their local PR agencies and immerse themselves in the community. PR agencies can support their communities by encouraging people to shop local and can support larger businesses by researching ways to get involved and give back.
Political movements have gained tremendous momentum this year. While they can have an enormous impact on our society, it’s important to thoroughly think through campaigns and slogans that display solidarity and support. Using generic slogans without backing them by extending meaningful support is heavily scrutinized and looked down upon. It’s a quick way to get backlash and lose support from consumers. Having a PR agency on board is advantageous for a business because it is a PR professional’s job to research all the negatives about a brand and create a plan to address those negatives. It’s never too late to admit to past wrongs and move forward by doing the right thing.
Diversity & Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion in both a business’ staff and promotional campaigns is now an absolute must. Consumers and employees are demanding more diversity and inclusion, and the best place to start is within. Both PR agencies and businesses must address the diversity and inclusion sensitivities and challenges they face, and having diverse insights and experiences will lead to smarter and more sensitive campaigns.
PR is an ever-changing industry, going with the ebb and flow of media and market trends. While 2020 has quickly shifted the strategies and goals of PR, these changes will certainly affect PR for years to come.