PR Wars Podcast: Holiday retail PR

Holiday retail. It is a tough pitch to get your clients products under the Christmas tree. Our guest today on the PR Wars podcast worked a decade for the National Retail Federation. She even worked with the team that originally coined the term “Cyber Monday.” Join us as PR Wars talks holiday public relations with Kathy Grannis Allen, Director of Media Relations at SalientMG.

A.I. generated show transcript: 

Chris Shigas
Hey PR Wars fans. I have some sad news today, PR Wars co-host Brad Grantham is mourning the loss of his father. His dad, Bill Grantham, passed away from COVID-19 this week. As we pass this 300,000 deaths in the US, it’s more than just numbers. It’s a devastating illness that is impacting too many families. You see, Brad’s dad, Bill Grantham, lived in North Carolina but spent most of his life in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And in this world of inconsistency, Bill Grantham’s legacy represents commitment. He was completely committed to God, to his wife, and to his family. Bill Grantham was 71 years old. So this Christmas, honor Bill Grantham by committing. Commit to something in your life that’s important. We’ll welcome back Brad to the show next week. Now, let’s roll.

Show open: “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 is your host… Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Hey, everyone, welcome to PR wars. I’m Chris Shigas. Holiday retail. It is a tough pitch to get your clients products under the Christmas tree. Our guest today on PR wars worked a decade for the National Retail Federation. She even worked with the team that originally coined the term Cyber Monday. Huge now, she’s the director of media relations for the marketing agency SalientMG. Kathy Grannis Allen, thank you for joining us on PR Wars today.

Kathy Allen
Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Chris Shigas
Here we are, it’s the rush of holiday shopping season. And you have clients who, who are really trying to make this quarter work for them in this space in this holiday retail what’s working in 2020?

Kathy Allen
Man, that is the question, isn’t it? You know, veteran PR professionals go into the situation, knowing the reporter there be the outlet, what works and what doesn’t, you build up to this level as a PR professional, where you have a very good understanding of how to access a reporter how to research their beat, when to pitch them when not to how to evaluate the new cycle. But 2020 he hit has changed. Even all of that, for sure. For everyone, for every single pair professional, you know, whether you’re you specialize in communications in general or, or if you are strictly PR media 2020 has changed everything. And I think this year, so far, what I’ve really noticed has worked, regardless of whether it’s about the election, or COVID. Or if or if you happen to be in the space where Amazon, Facebook and tick tock play, what really works is a concise, well researched and well thought out and well timed pitch more so than ever before. Because if you’re going to get a reply in your email, it’s only going to come if it provides true true true value to that reporter

Chris Shigas
right. So So you started off the year and you had planning and then mid year you changed your planning probably and that now you’re executing. So So what’s working what channels do you see I know different clients have different objectives. But but but if you look at it from a broad picture, which channels are really working in retail PR

Kathy Allen
that’s it that’s a great question. And Funny enough, I think only in the last year or so have I become the Twitter retail PR person that I am today. Honestly, I I was always of the mindset that social media is great when it comes to interacting with reporters. But it was always a side gig. It was always just something that was there but and and I would use it to keep up with my friends right to keep up with the beat reporter if they were having a tough day or if a lot of them were piling on about a story or a trend I would jump in but these days It honestly has become a mechanism to see what media is saying and what they’re saying about how people pitch them. Because sometimes it’s not. It’s not the most friendly, obviously, because they receive so many crazy pitches, but there’s a lot of feedback about how to pitch them. There’s questions about what they’re looking for. So Twitter is one channel that has worked for me in terms of, of getting through. Exactly,

Chris Shigas
yes, they do like Twitter. Yeah. And I guess, are you at the school where you’re engaging with these reporters, even when you’re not pitching them?

Kathy Allen
Correct. Exactly. So there, there are more things, I’ve always believed that media relations is a two way street. it you know, you can expect to go to a reporter just with the, the idea that they’re going to cover what you have available to them, you have to also be available to them when you have nothing to offer, except guidance, or a name or a suggestion for a source or a website they haven’t seen. So getting in front of them with with ideas of who to go to who has great research, who has, you know, great contacts is just as important. And I’ve sent DMS to you know, CNN business reporters to protocol to, you know, LA Times you name it, just introducing myself saying, I’m here I’m working with such and such, it’s very nice to meet you. Please let me know if there’s anything I can ever do. And that is actually believe it or not, has worked worked very well for me. And in just having them come to me, again through Twitter or come to me even an email with a follow up question. Even if it has nothing to do with me or require

Chris Shigas
media lists had been shrinking and shrinking, just the whole industry has been shrinking. And as you look for ways to expand your contact list, and stakeholders, obviously, one thing that’s coming up is influencers. And you mentioned Tick tock, and you mentioned other kinds of things. And what role do you think influencers are playing today in your industry? And do you treat them the same as a media reporter? Or how do you work that?

Kathy Allen
Well, from my standpoint, at least the influencers that I would rely on most, or that I am relying most at least may not have the million plus followers, you know, like your YouTube or Instagram stars, your tech stars, per se, but I I rely a lot on the analysts and the and those types of global influencers. You know, there’s a research firm out there Forrester Research and I’m a very big fan of sushi relates to Karina kodali, she is been an influencer in the retail and e commerce and digital retail space for for as long as I can remember, that kind of influence to me matters a little bit more than somebody who would be getting paid by a brand to speak about it. That’s not to say that the value of these influencer firms isn’t real. Imagine social media was only born 10 years, 15 years ago, right? And the things that we’ve seen come from that just not even in the world of PR, just the world of marketing, and just that digital visibility is huge.

Chris Shigas
I’m aging myself here. But my first Facebook campaign that I did, I had to use one of our interns, because when if you remember when Facebook started, you had to have a college email address in order to have an account. So my first campaign in Facebook, I had to enlist my intern so that we could even create a site. Yeah,

Kathy Allen
yeah, exactly. Yeah, I was. I was at the National Retail Federation. For a year Cyber Monday was coined and invented and created. I worked with the the team that actually coined that phrase, and the idea of having somebody come in. And you know, they were in their early 20s. They came in twice a week to help us manage Twitter, and social media, because it was so new, and it was burgeoning. But we weren’t accustomed to this idea of what of our was gonna grow or what it was, but to be there at the beginning of it was incredible.

Chris Shigas
Now, there’s lots of ways to reach out to a reporter you mentioned kind of slipping into some of these DMS on Twitter, right? But But there’s also okay, traditionally, you send out a press release and you blast it out other ways. There’s a what you you send a pitch, right, maybe it’s just a couple of lines. And here’s an idea. There’s we used to do these old school press kits where you mail them to reporters, and I’m thinking in retail, maybe even giving that if the product isn’t expensive. You could send some stuff to a newsroom. What’s your go to what’s what’s working for you this year?

Kathy Allen
Oh, let’s see. Well, yeah, clearly, email is the easy Yes, but I have we, as all of us we’ve struggled with getting that reply right? So, I have found that even if I get, let’s say, five replies a week, for four, again, this is proactive. This is just proactive PR, right? This wouldn’t be necessarily a breaking news story. I, one of the one of the things that also works for me is, believe it or not going to somebody I might know at that outlet, whether it’s a Fast Company, or if it’s Reuters, and saying, Hey, I realized this isn’t your beat. This isn’t your stick. But we’ve worked together for X number of yours. Do you happen to know the person who’s covering supply chain, or the person who would be covering digital online or you know, online retail, it’s all the same, that kind of ask for advice method has actually worked for me a couple times, I went to a fortune reporter, I was trying to get in front of one of their lead diversity inclusion reporters, she she runs this awesome newsletter and this, this great DNI beat, but I don’t really know the retail reporter. And I asked him for, for an introduction. And he had no problem with that introduction, because I’ve known him for so long. And we had such a great relationship that he knew that I in No, no way was going to spam this reporter or harasser or send a send an unnecessary email. That is I’ve used that in many beats at dozens and dozens of outlets. And it’s actually worked quite well for me.

Chris Shigas
Interesting. Now, one thing, I’m interested in you, you work with a full service marketing agency, and you lead the media relations portion of that. So you may be more than a lot of people in a media relations agency, really learn how to integrate your media relations with the overall marketing mix. Can you talk a little bit about that, and kind of how you approach that and when media relations is one piece of that marketing plan?

Kathy Allen
Yeah, that’s a that’s that’s a good point. Because back, I don’t know how long, there was a time where you would simply leave the marketing side of the house to the marketing side of the house, and you would have the PR side of the house or the PR side of the house. But these days, because everything is so integrated, and so digital, there is no such thing as just hitting send on a press release. Nor is there such thing as just scheduling a tweet, nor is there such thing as just a direct mailer, right, you know, the direct mail or has a QR code that sends you to a website that has to be updated, that you know, should direct people and media to the right place. So I, I’ve really benefited and learned more about marketing and integrated communications than ever before, with this role with where, you know, it’s salient, because my team of marketing experts are really, you know, they are making back end changes for our clients that I’d never heard of, or knew of. And not to say that I want to become a marketing expert in any fashion. You know, I love what I do, but I’ve learned so much from them. And it’s been important for me to stay up to date with their trends, just as it is for them to understand what I’m battling with PR and media, and especially in this landscape when they say and they asked me a question about a press release that came up while I wasn’t on a call. They know, my messaging enough to know, you know, sometimes the answer isn’t just a press release most of time. It’s not, you know, sometimes it’s just a targeted call or targeted email. And it’s it’s been, it’s been really beneficial for all of us to to be a part but yeah, that handling that media relations alone is actually not really I’m not really alone there. There is a you know, a nice team effort.

Chris Shigas
So you you burn up messaging, and and sometimes a marketing message looks a little different than a media relations message. And which looks a little different than a social media message. But But tell me about kind of your approach to messaging and what you’re looking for when you’re helping a client.

Kathy Allen
I’m really glad you you asked that literally just the other day, we were working with a client who was drafting a press release, there were two paragraphs that read like a marketing brochure. Mm hmm. And, you know, and in the comments and and through some edits, we had to remind them, this wasn’t newsy that this was salesy. This was promotional.

Chris Shigas
Yeah. Like an advertisement.

Kathy Allen
Yes. And I find that I’m having to do that a lot more with communication teams that do focus more on the marketing side, right or if our point of contact is a vice president of marketing, so instead of them having a PR expert on hand, you know they’ll will as their agency of record obviously, it clearly we work with them and help them but a lot of the materials when you break it down, you know when you try to put them through the PR lens. It is Very easy to spot that promotional language. So I, you know, I mostly, and honestly, what I ended up doing was I ended up just putting quotation marks around one of those paragraphs because it read like a quote, it couldn’t, you know, it was also the quote from the chief marketing officer,

Chris Shigas
right. And that is where you can get a lot of the opinionated stuff in. And instead, the one thing I hate throw away quotes, I hate the quotes of we’re thrilled to be a part of this, whatever, you know, I like it. Let’s make these quotes work a little bit. And if you have to put in some marketing language, yeah, let’s use this quote.

Kathy Allen
Right, yeah, and especially the more provocative you can be in it right now, the better, right, you know, you can certainly thank your partners, you can say it’s a match made in heaven, etc. But by literally saying that there are millions of people out there just waiting to tackle your cyber platform in erupt with fraud is better left as a sentence, if you can back it up obvious or as a quote, then then it’s been his press release. And then obviously, then there’s the next level of messaging, which is your CEO messaging, which I also work on every day, whether it’s for prepping for an interview, or honestly, if they are themselves, just trying to wrap their head around a launch, you know, we want to put them in the right, the right frame of mind, let’s say it is a marketing launch. But they need materials that are going to be something that they would speak whether they speak on the record or whether they speak speak to a partner, or virtual coffee, you know, with a reporter, there’s there’s definitely that level that difference. And it’s been important to keep the promotional side promotional on the newsy side newsy. Well,

Chris Shigas
you have about a couple of weeks left in this holiday shopping season, and then you’re going to wrap up, you’re going to do some measurement, and then you’re going to do some reporting back. Can Can you foresee maybe how 2020 how what’s happened this year is going to change for your plans next year for your clients, how they’re gonna shift?

Kathy Allen
Right? Well, you know, like you said that any playbook we may have had, in early 2020, was thrown out the window, we’ve had to learn how to become a referenceable. And newsy. When it is on it is virtually impossible. So with that, what we’ve found ourselves doing And to your point, as we are currently making our year, yearly rap reports for clients, right. And actually, the metrics aren’t as far off as I think we would have had in a normal year. But let’s say even Chris, even without this pandemic, it was still an election year. Right? So. So regardless, we were still looking at a difficult year ahead, even if COVID had not spread the way it had. And it hadn’t become this this huge tragedy. And taking over the news, an election itself takes up editor’s budget space for eight, nine months, regardless. So I think, when we do speak to our clients, we always remind them about expectations. And that is, that is, that is the one thing, yes, I don’t ever want to be the PR person that says that I’m making an excuse for why I didn’t get coverage. It’s not my job to explain my life away. But it is my job to make sure that they understand the absolute realistic, the realistic atmosphere, you know, the the environment that we’re all in. And that’s going to be the only way we succeed together is if they understand the definition of news, and not news, saying, hey, you should cover my client, because they’re interesting, is it? It’s a puff piece, right? It’s not going to work. Right. But but saying, you should meet my client, they’re the only black CEO in this space. They were the first to market with this product. He’s you know, raised $43 million since inception. And by the way, the numbers he’s seeing with his product, you know, are up to 543%. That’s the new story. It’s not meet my meet this client. He’s news where they have

Chris Shigas
some of those those specifics, you know, yeah, you have $1 figure, you have numbers, you have some specific information, you get the reporter and it’s not just a piece of marketing fluff. Yeah,

Kathy Allen
exactly. Yeah. And then there’s you and there’s year over year and there’s change and there’s, there’s stuff that goes into it that makes the reporter at least reply back and say, Wow, that’s great. Can we connect next week, or I loaded up for the next three weeks can remind me that I want to connect with you and you know, next month, and trust me, I’m writing that down.

Chris Shigas
A big part of my plan so far has always been to do decide briefings and to take when when you’re doing something like you just mentioned, pitching as a CEO Bringing them on a media tour where they can shake hands and they could look someone in the eye and a reporter can get a briefing. And that was kind of taken away from us, right? We can’t do that and done a little bit on zoom and things like that to do reporter briefings. Have you found that the reporters have been more willing to to just meet? Or is it hasn’t been tough,

Kathy Allen
really tough, really tough? The way the way our firm works, you know, we actually only work by referral only. So we don’t respond to RFPs. And then the clients that you know, we take on because

Chris Shigas
I’ve never had to write another RFP again, it would be too soon.

Kathy Allen
I know, trust me, um, it’s great. But you know, with that, I say that because our level of trust and commitment to our clients is hands down, explicitly different than a lot of other firms, you will find, right, like we are into, you’re intimately involved in the success of these individuals, because we also work with minority and underrepresented executives, specifically, to help them find their voice in the market. I feel and I know in my heart is a good pitch. And I know is is a good story idea I’ve offered for these virtual coffees or I’ve offered for a 510 minute introduction has been very, very challenging, very challenging to get through, you know, again, I’ll get the reply from a Fast Company. I’ll get the reply from you know, a Mashable, it’s on that, you know, the consumer side?

Chris Shigas
Absolutely. Well, it takes tenacity, takes persistence. Last question. If there’s a young person graduating college, maybe with a degree in PR, and they come to you, and they say, you know, what, what kind of skill sets? Do I need to be where you are and to be successful in this industry? What would you tell them?

Kathy Allen
Well, I think they have, you have to like people. I’m not saying you have to be an extrovert, right. But you have to be able to meet in the middle when it comes to emotional development, right? If you’re pitching a reporter who is bubbly, or who is not bubbly, you have to be able to meet them in the middle. And you have to enjoy that and you have to sound like you’d like it. So that’s why I think liking people is a big part of it. That’s maybe maybe a little bit like in the personal development. But you also to your point, tenacity is a great is a great point, because you can’t give up after the first pitch. But you also can’t spam them, right? So you have to find a balance. And it does it has to be thorough research with your pitch like you have to, you have to get in bed with your pitch. You have to you have to marry your pitch and figure out if it is going to work the way you want it to and don’t waste reporters time zone never they’ll never reply.

Chris Shigas
Okay, great. Well, Kathy, thank you so much for joining us on PR Wars today.

Kathy Allen
Thank you so much for having me. That was a lot of fun.

Chris Shigas
All right, great. You can listen to a new PR wars podcast every Sunday night at 8pm. I want to thank Kathy Grannis Allen, Director of media relations for SalientMG and do me a favor. Commit to your loved ones this holiday season. The year has taken a toll on everyone. And when you return to work, commit to this profession that we love. Use communication to lift people. Commit your skills to make 2021 better than ever. Now, go get ’em.

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

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