PR Wars Podcast: Purpose driven communication

How do you move the needle when you have a limited budget? On today’s PR Wars podcast, we’re going to dive into the world of advocacy and nonprofit PR and see how purpose driven communication is doing more, with less. Our guest is Laura Gross, President of Scott Circle Communications on a mission to make the world a better place.

Listen to PR Wars on:

“We want the truth!” “We want the truth!” “We want the truth!” “I have news for everybody. Get over it.”

Announcer
It’s time. Welcome, to PR Wars. Coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here’s your host, Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Hello, everyone. I’m Chris Shigas. Thanks for joining us on PR wars. How do you move the needle when you have a limited budget? Today, we’re going to dive into the world of advocacy and nonprofit PR and see how purpose driven communication is doing more, with less. And joining me as always is co host and fellow communications magnate… Brad Grantham.

Brad Grantham
Hey, Chris, good to talk to you as always looking forward to this episode. And I think we’re all doing more with less at this point.

Chris Shigas
Thanks, Brad. And our special guest today joins us from Washington DC. Laura gross leads Scott Circle Communications with a mission to make the world a better place. Thanks for joining us, Laura. Tell us a little bit about advocacy work, nonprofit work, and what drew you to that form of public relations?

Laura Gross
Right. I’ll start with what drew me to nonprofit and advocacy work. It sounds cliche, but growing up in my family, we were a family that always watch television always followed politics. I remember my parents reading books about politics and the Kennedy family and it was just something always discussed at the table, whether it was reading the newspaper or watching the news during dinner, which is probably not the right thing to do, but what my family did. So I think I was just drawn to making a difference and change. And when I graduated from college, I jumped right into politics. And what really motivated me was that there was an end goal of really helping people and making a difference. And, and really purpose driven work is what drives me when I’ve tried to do other work, like tech startups are things like that. I’m just not as motivated. I’m really motivated by the purpose driven work.

Chris Shigas
When you’re in this line of work, a lot of the clients you deal with may not have giant corporate budgets. So as you’re evaluating how much you can push the needle on very low resources, how do you approach that?

Laura Gross
What my firm does is when we are talking to a potential client, and we ask a lot of questions up front to really hone in on the scope of work when somebody says they want to raise their profile. Well, what does that mean and what do they have time for? Is this really going to be writing materials? Is it going to be social media? Is it going to be media relations? Is it writing more content? intent is it rapid response, we really try to hone in on what’s going to be not only most effective for them, but how we can work with them as well, and how we can implement what we can do with their small resources. And some organizations are bigger than others, like any nonprofit, or even Corporation, so we really hone in on what they need. And then we hone in on how we can be effective right now a lot of people still want media and press coverage. And it’s really hard. So we’ve been going to our clients like, Look, we will pitch our hearts out for you, we will work so hard for you. But let’s be realistic, and maybe it’s creating content or a digital campaign for you instead,

Brad Grantham
Just like any client, when when you have a new one come on board. You’ve got lots of different stakeholders, with advocacy work. It’s a lot more complicated, because you may have one common goal. But all the different stakeholders want all these different subset outcomes to that goal. How do you navigate that?

Laura Gross
How we handle Something like that is we all have to keep in mind the end goal and what really is going to take us there and what’s going to move the needle. So if we’re trying to target a vote in Congress, for example, are we targeting a certain member? What’s going to appeal to that member? What language is going to appeal to that member? What outlets does that member read? What social media are they following? How can we really target and work with them, and we just need to prove that that’s going to be the right approach. You can’t be everything to everybody, because it’s not going to work. So we have to make a lot of these different. You know, we’ve worked in coalition groups before where you’re really bringing together so many different people, and we just have to make a recommendation on this is what we’re going to do. This is our approach. This is why we think it’s going to work. This is the timeline we’re giving to implement it and to see success with it.

Chris Shigas
And when you’re evaluating those target audiences, particularly in advocacy, lots of times you’re not necessarily arguing people into an opinion From the other side, lots of it is sometimes identifying maybe some of those people in the middle that you can move. And so how do you approach evaluating a target audience and figuring out which audience you can actually move.

Laura Gross
A lot of times as communicators, we need to rely on the government relations people, a part of these organizations, the political people at these organizations, they’re going to know the ins and outs of what policy is going to appeal to either it’s a member of Congress or it’s a state legislature. That’s what we need to depend on. And once we hear from that, about what language is going to impress them, what they’ve supported in the past and not supported in the past, what’s moved the needle for them before, who they like to vote with, then we can create a strategy but since we’re not lobbyists, we need to work with these lobbyists or government relations people or policy experts to really know what language is going to make a difference. We’ve worked with everything from you know, getting a small panel at the FDA to Proof of drug to having legislation approved on the hill. So it really depends. I actually remember one phone call I was on I don’t even remember the client. We were talking about a Supreme Court case, we were working on a Supreme Court case and the communications for that. And it came down to what does this one justice read, and I was sitting up in closing, you’ve got to be kidding me. we’re arguing over the National Review, or the weekly standard, whatever it was, I don’t even remember. But it really came down to what’s going to appeal to this one justice, because we knew it was the sweet vote.

Brad Grantham
You’ve done a lot of nonprofit work over the years, the channels and the mediums have changed over those years. Obviously, this year is an exception to everything that we’ve ever seen before, not just in daily life, but in those channels. So if a nonprofit were to come to you now, and say, you know, here’s our cause, we know you believe in it, your passion driven about this, what would you sit down and tell them at this moment, like I think we can we might be Be able to move the needle a little bit. Yeah, let’s look at these newer channels that are coming on board. I think you mentioned content earlier. You know, walk me through what your thought process would be if you’re onboarding a nonprofit at this time. You know,

Laura Gross
even before the onboarding process with these clients, were very honest with people. If someone comes to us and says they want press coverage right now, we are very honest with them, unless it has something to do with COVID are very, very much into the presidential campaign, like of the moment being talked about right now, which all they’re talking about right now is COVID. And some other stuff, we say it’s gonna be very challenging. And once again, it goes back to what I said before, we will pitch our hearts out for you. But let’s talk about alternatives we can do for you. Let’s talk about a digital campaign online. Let’s talk about creating more content online. Let’s talk about getting your coalition together and really amping up the noise and making it louder right now. Do you need to do a rally right now to create a good visual outside a member of Congress’s office? What does that look like right now? Do you need any video that goes with this to tell the story online? Also, what are the graphics look like? Everything needs to be visual and online right now. I always think media is great. It’s just so challenging right now we’ve got to come up with alternatives.

Brad Grantham
In your experience, what’s your best success story? And what’s the failure that you learned from

Laura Gross
and we were working with an organization called the National League of Cities, and they are an association of all city leaders, not mayors but other people involved in city leadership, elected most some elected officials, some administrative officials, we got word or one of their policy people from the National League of Cities, I found out that there was going to be a lot of funding cut from Veterans Affairs that went to help cities help veterans with different services. And so we got word that that was going to be cut. We decided, well, what’s our approach? Do we go big with this? Do we just send out an alert to our members do we just call the VA and stay quiet about this, but we decided to To do was offer an exclusive to the washington post about this, The Washington Post wrote about it. And within, I believe 48 hours the decision was reversed and it never went through in this safe 10s of if not hundreds of millions of dollars to help these cities help service their veterans, it got all type of action online. And it really that truly made a difference in everyday lives because we were very strategic about how to approach this story. And then what’s something I mistake?

Chris Shigas
Yeah, maybe a mistake that you learn from, of course,

Laura Gross
back in my political days, I was working for someone. We offered some exclusive news to The Washington Post. The Washington Post went with the story their competition, The New York Times was mad that they’re that the post got the exclusive and I understand that but what they were more upset about and this is a reporter I had a relationship with for a while and knew this politician well, was that I didn’t give him any type of heads up. He hung up on me. We never had a A relationship really moving forward. He didn’t want to work with us again. I think part of it was his ego was bruised, I think and he was mad. He didn’t get the exclusive. This is how it works. And he took it out on me, but he thought he was just maybe I could have handled it a different way. I’ve

Chris Shigas
had a reporter write me off as well. I had one with with I didn’t completely understand why. But at the same time, the competition amongst rival news organizations, sometimes there are reporters who take this very personally.

Laura Gross
Now what was I supposed to do was really tell them in advance that I gave the post something I don’t know if it’s really a lesson but maybe just to develop those relationships in a different way

Chris Shigas
in your relationship building with reporters when you are offering exclusives, which is a great tactic for a PR firm and a client to get a tier one publication. But at the same time, you have to be aware of the collateral damage that will happen With your other beat writers,

Laura Gross
right? So what I learned from that was, is, look, we made a tactical decision to offer this to one outlet, knowing it might damage the relationship with another outlet. And we just had to be prepared for that and be willing to take that on where I don’t think I was willing to take it on. And I thought we ruined our relationship with that outlet forever, when in fact, we did it we were able to find other reporters and and work with that outlet again,

Brad Grantham
for those employees that you’re hiring, that are coming to Scott’s circle. You know, obviously, you branch out into a lot of different areas. And you work with businesses after the advocacy groups, nonprofits, what do you tell that employee coming out of college? You know, what’s different about the work that you do compared to traditional PR firms? And what do you expect of them?

Laura Gross
Sure. So it’s got circle communications, since we work with such purpose driven clients. I believe that makes us different from a lot of other PR firms. We’re not selling consumer goods. We’re not b2b, we’re really advocating for issues that matter whether that’s a corporation that’s doing some community work, or really putting purpose driven messages into their everyday corporate life, which so many corporations are doing now. And I don’t think a lot of firms are specializing in this. And what we also do that’s that I think is different is we’re small and we’re nimble, because we can be flexible working with clients, we’re happy to take on a lot of different things and be flexible as well. I like to say this, and we do do this, we return phone calls. It sounds silly, but when I first started in the business and return phone calls and emails, when I first started, I had another consultant, tell me if you did that, you’d be 10 steps ahead of every other consultant in town, and I really take that to heart. We’re also really honest communicators. We were just talking about media relations. If someone wants to hire us to do Media Relations right now for an issue that’s not going to get traction. We’ll tell them and we won’t take it on and we’ll say we’re happy to recommend other people and if they tell you they could do it, more power to you But I wouldn’t feel confident in taking that on. And I’ve been told that our honesty really stands out from other PR firms for better or worse for our business. But at least we have some integrity behind what we say.

Chris Shigas
I have an existential question for you. So in advocacy work, you have to personally believe the causes that you’re representing. So if you’re representing a conservative client, do you have to be a conservative or likewise, a progressive client? Do you have to be a liberal?

Laura Gross
I think it depends on the individual on what you support and what’s going to motivate you. I know what motivates me and I wouldn’t take on certain issues because I wouldn’t want to work on them. And I know my team well enough, we never asked anybody’s political leaving or political party, of course, but I know them well enough at this point that I wouldn’t take someone on that stands against for what I personally stand for is the owner of the firm. We did have someone come to us, and there were some human rights violations we knew about from that company and that goes against what we stand for in person and actually one of our clients that we’re fighting for Human Rights for so we wouldn’t take it on. It was a lot of money out the door, but we wouldn’t take it on. It’s not right.

Chris Shigas
I was reading about your agency. And there’s an interesting program you have called the purpose program. And you’re helping some nonprofits in Washington, DC who might not have a lot of resources and you’re helping them bolster their in house communication ability. What’s some of the advice that you give these the small nonprofits who are trying to do more with less?

Laura Gross
I’m so glad you brought up the purpose program. We just launched it this year. We are we are we’re giving classes to nonprofits in DC. It’s free PR training. What we’ve told them is we know you have small staff. Sometimes it’s just a staff of one that we’re helping the executive directors doing the press the social media, fundraising, management, board management, you name it, you’ve got to do the best you can pick one thing you want to focus on when you just say you want to raise the profile of your organization. What about your organization and who is your audience? Really just focus on that. You don’t have to be everything to everybody. You don’t have to have a social media plan and a media relations plan and a newsletter plan and you know, be a thought leader do the best, you can just do something to raise your profile and be specific and be targeted, just like any other communications advice you’d give anybody.

Chris Shigas
Excellent. Thank you for joining us today. Laura Gross President of Scott Circle Communications in Washington, DC. And remember, you can download a new PR Wars podcast every Sunday night at 8pm Eastern. Do me a favor. If you don’t have a big budget for the year, focus on one area, maybe one tactic where you can make a difference, move the needle and make the world a better place. Now go get em’.

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2020 by Feedspot.

Leave a Reply