PR Wars Podcast: Navigate an opinion charged landscape

How do you engage with public relations when public temperament is permeated with division… and dipped in napalm. On today’s PR Wars podcast, Brooke Hammerling, founder of The New New Thing, helps companies navigate an opinion charged landscape.

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A.I. generated show transcript: 

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
Hi, everyone. Welcome to PR Wars. I’m Chris Shigas. So you want to engage with public relations at a time when the public temperament has been permeated with division and dipped in napalm. It seems like you can’t say anything without half the comments supporting you and the other half disparaging you. Arguing doesn’t work. Well, today on PR Wars, fellow carnival barker, Brad Grantham and I, talk with the founder of the New New Thing. It’s a strategic communications advisory with clients like Oracle, and Live Nation Entertainment. And among other things, the New New Thing helps companies navigate an opinion charged landscape. Welcome to the show, the founder of the New New Thing, Brooke Hammerling, thank you so much for joining us on PR Wars today.

Brooke Hammerling
Wow, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Chris Shigas
All right. PR people all over the world are taking a deep breath right now. And they’re saying all right. But that’s besides the point, the world hasn’t changed, right? This highly charged, opinionated, consumer base nation that’s divided. So tell me a little bit about how your company is counseling corporations in navigating these these twisted roads of consumer sentiment?

Brooke Hammerling
Yeah, I mean, it’s it’s an incredible moment in time. And, you know, we were talking a little before before we started here, but starting in tech, and that’s really where my bases, tech for many years, for decades now. I think we are so accustomed to being the number one story, it was always leading with technology. Now the innovation and the consumer technology that even the enterprise software stuff would take for the front and center stage. And for the last four something years, it’s been politics, and it’s been a divisiveness amongst that, and that’s changed, right. So even the media coverage of companies, there’s sort of a lens to it, of where do they fall in terms of you know, whether it’s whether it’s politics policies, you know, now it’s it’s an I think these are some really wonderful changes that have happened, where media are now holding companies accountable. Why do you have an all white male board? And why are all your employees, white men, and you know, these things are changing on a on a day to day basis. So I don’t have a cookie cutter approach to every to every company. And I think that’s the biggest lesson, I can always teach people that are starting out in communications, or remind

those of us who have been a little long in the tooth here, but is that there is no playbook. And you can’t what is good for client a is not going to be good for client B or C, it really, really depends on a, who that what that company is, what their, what they stand for who their audiences, what is natural to the spokesperson, generally, the companies, I work with the spokespeople, and I think more and more so. And every industry is that founder or CEO, it’s not the CMO, it’s not the spokesperson, company spokesperson, it’s really you know, people are being held accountable at the senior leadership. And so what I would tell you know, one client who might be a, you know, a over 50, white male CEO who has a consumer facing business might be very different than what I would tell another client who’s a 25 year old, you know, black woman with a with a b2b business, and it would depend on so many different things, but you have to be aware of everything that’s around. So it’s a 360 approach, right? Because we’ve really seen a lot of CEOs moving forward and really providing a moral leadership right in the country, and that’s good, but if it’s from a real place, right, it’s I think what we find now is that the inauthenticity is so we can sniff it out. People can sniff it out, right? And whether it’s on Twitter or whatnot, you can sniff it out. You can sniff out if it’s a CEO that’s just following somebody you know, because they feel it’s the right thing.

Do you can sniff it out if it feels like they’re just fabricating something for you know, for dollars and mindshare, it has to really be authentic and it doesn’t work otherwise, in fact, it’ll backfire. And immensely, I’d rather, I’d rather a CEO do nothing. And you know, like, in this moment in time, for example, there are a bunch of people like, what do we do? There was such divisiveness when when the capital was taken, oh,

Chris Shigas
yeah. Do you put out a statement on Twitter?

Brooke Hammerling
Do you put out a statement on Twitter? Do you send a note to your, you know, 1000s of employees or your 25 employees? You know, it doesn’t end but the thing is, every company is different. So there was the end, what I hope and what I think all my clients achieved was what was right for them. There are some there are some CEOs who have companies where 50% of their workforce might be on the other side of it. They might believe that the storming of the capital was, you know, this was patriotic, and how do you navigate?

Brad Grantham
Which leads me to a question. Last week on CNN, there was a full screen that showed all the companies that have withdrawn or stopped political contributions to candidates on both sides, you know, somewhere GOP somewhere democratic. Do you think that’s a dangerous move for companies to make? Because you just touched on the internal stakeholders? I mean, obviously, this is external facing. But it could backfire internally, like you just kind of mentioned.

Brooke Hammerling
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s when you were heading into really, I don’t know what I don’t know what I would have done in advising Twitter, for example, right? I don’t know, if I would have advised. You know, I think what what jack did with his transparency, just recently with the tweets were why, what what? That was great, but like five days too late, right? Sort of, it’s like we’ve had for years of this wine now. Yes, there’s been inciting violence, but there’s been violent acts before and, you know, so forth and so on. I think with companies now suggesting that they’re outing different people on different sides. It’s it’s tricky, right? And I think there we just saw Bumble or one of the dating apps trying to navigate that as well. The fact is, they’re 50% of this nation have different views than the other 50%. And just because and that’s the thing about this echo chamber of Twitter, it’s sort of like I saw somebody tweet recently, like, what I say is right, and if you disagree with me, you’re wrong. You know, this is sort of like the idea of what how everybody is on Twitter right now. Like everything I say is right. And I even see that with myself. Like when I tweeted something about peloton, which is a little bit off mark for me, because I was, you know, I wasn’t thinking necessarily about the fact that everybody’s in a pandemic and peloton is an on luxury thing, but I was tweeting about people’s experiences, not mine, but people what I saw as a as a, as a brand issue that people were complaining about the lack of communication from the brand on on the product delivery, anyway. And then so many people just got up in arms with me, and for various reasons, some of them, you know, misconstrued some of them, you know, completely valid, and I had to check myself and not be like, all of you were stupid, and I’m right, and you’re all wrong. But, you know, you feel that that’s, that’s happening, I think we’re, you know, we have to, if you’re in a place, there’s obviously places where CEOs are going to have to take a stand, and they’re going to have to let their people know that they’re protected, and they’re safe. And but it gets very tricky when it’s asking them to take a point of view in this environment, because you’re inevitably going to find a bunch of people that don’t agree with you.

Brad Grantham
And to that point, you know, we have a general lack of trust in our neighbors, you know, our co workers, our organizations, at least in North America, I mean, social media has divided us now more than ever. So if you’re advising a company, and you’re saying, look, this is the landscape at this moment, it’s very torn apart. But you’ve got to drive home your message b2b or b2c, you’ve got this product, you’ve got this feature, how can we break through this? Right? You know, some people would say you need to go to data, you need to find, you know, do surveys, you need to do this to bring your own information out to the public or to those potential stakeholders. You know, that’s just one tactic. What other tactics should people be thinking about? Again, realizing it’s not a one size fits all situations? For

Brooke Hammerling
sure. No, I think it’s a good question. I think first of all the the problem with data now is that it’s so ubiquitous that we’ve almost lost like, you know, it’s like everybody’s putting out a survey and it’s a survey goes back to whether or not it benefits that company. What I always tell the clients when they’re putting together these surveys are, are these interesting questions are these is this data that’s really good arise, like, that’s going to surprise people, that data is going to be impressive and then also having a name connected. To that, like if you do it in partnership with a name that it’s really recognized as opposed to just your company that offers a validation. And I think that’s important, but that data needs to be really, really interesting, not just self serving data, you know, and not and it has to be big picture. And it has to be surprising, but it also has to be something that media or others can use to sort of paint a broader picture. So that’s definitely one. In terms of social media, it’s so interesting. I mean, now we have so many channels, right? It’s not just Twitter, but it’s Instagram. It’s it’s tik tok. It’s, it’s whether you know, some I mean, we have younger clients on on tik tok. We have younger clients on Snapchat. You know, there’s now these group things going on with telegram and WhatsApp. And there’s clubhouse, which is obviously a growing phenomenon in the new sort of audio world of social media.

Chris Shigas
And my kids won’t go on Facebook at all.

Brooke Hammerling
And oh, by the way, did you notice I didn’t even mention? I mean, I guess by by mentioning WhatsApp and Instagram, my default I do but no, I mean, Facebook, I can’t even I mean, I grew up with it. And I can’t navigate it. I don’t it seems to be like, I don’t know. But I A great example. And in the difference of how this this, there’s just so many different variables. Now I tweeted, like January 4, or fifth? I said, Can Can I have a dry ish January, like, trying to be like, everybody in my world would know that it’s dry, January is a thing and can dry ish January, I mean, like, I drink ish, or I don’t drink ish, right? Well, the blowback I got on that, which was, there were I heard from about 20, maybe more, all of them men over the age of 15. Sorry, guys love you. But they all thought I was talking about not wanting it to rain in California, if you can believe it, I got messages from people saying, Go back to fucking New York, you know, you don’t belong in California. I’m so disappointed in you, Brooke, California needs water like. And I just was like, take a deep breath. So my point that was you missed it. And that’s my point is that not everybody should be on social media. And I tell my clients like, yes, they’ve been told by many like, you need to have a, you need to have a presence, you need to have a footprint, you need to have a sort of, you know, a personal brand out there. You don’t, if it’s not natural to you, if you don’t feel comfortable in that situation, then it’s never going to be a good position for you, if you’re not comfortable being on Twitter, or putting out tweets, or you have to get somebody to, you know, write a tweet for you, everyone. It’s not your like, use Twitter as a resource, read it be up to date with it, you know, track people, but you don’t need to own the narrative. If it’s not authentic to you in that format. There may be other formats, maybe it’s writing something that you put out on medium, maybe it’s you know, having a daily sort of interaction with people off of social. But if it’s just because it’s there doesn’t mean every every leader should be doing it. Now a brand should be I think a brand should have a presence in social, whether it’s consumer facing or not, whether it’s used for information or interaction or just brand awareness, but the leadership does not need to be having that.

Chris Shigas
There’s a distinction there between the CEO and the brand. Yeah, you’re absolutely,

Brooke Hammerling
absolutely. So that’s what we tell. We tell our clients, I tell the CEOs, like if you want to, let’s see what’s most authentic to you. And then let’s work out from there. Is it writing? Is it not? Is it is it storytelling, is it interacting with media, but if it’s if it’s getting like your knee jerk reaction, where you just want to, like, get up there and start to fight or if you just want to post pictures of you on vacation, or you in your luxury home where you have, you know, a different a different lifestyle than many of your employees or customers. It’s like, let’s rethink

Chris Shigas
corporate comms it within the corporate comms. As an industry, we’ve worked really hard to get a seat at the CEO table to be considered a function that is amongst the leadership of a company and in some level really function as a conscience for a company. Edelman just came out with their trust barometer for 2021 business as an institution is now the only trusted institution in the United States. Now it says something about our other institutions and where the trust is, but

Brooke Hammerling
what were the other institutions that they were looking at

Chris Shigas
things like government media,

Brooke Hammerling
okay, so,

Chris Shigas
so with that said, How are we doing something, right?

Brooke Hammerling
Yes, I think we are. I think it’s an evolution. I mean, I think there’s still a lot of work to do. But I think what I find so interesting, I’m sure Do you guys see it is that when when I first started out in this business, there was never chief communications officers, there were heads of communications that reported under marketing. And their earned media fell under paid media with a very different that was there, they all fell into the same goal sort of like, and it was never really thought of it was, as you know, as anything more than just getting a press release out getting reporters that you like to write stories and the old school model, and I think where, you know, some incredibly smart and thoughtful communications. people over the years have been incredible in their impact here, but also the evolution of the founder and CEO, who now understand that the story can’t be a manufactured sort of, it’s not just about marketing and buying advertising, that the CEO, we know the names of the CEOs of our companies, like my parents who had like they loved certain brands, they loved IBM, they love their, their electronics in their house, they love their car, they didn’t know the names of the company of the CEOs behind those companies are the founders. Whereas we live in a world now where we do they they’re interchangeable. And so those CEOs now realize that their story their how they communicate, it is so crucial that they have to have that trusted

Chris Shigas
person. And if you’re if you’re buying a Tesla, you’re buying into Ilan Yuan dream.

Brooke Hammerling
100%

Brad Grantham
don’t don’t don’t get that Tesla.

Chris Shigas
I’ll talk about Tesla, oh,

Brooke Hammerling
I just got my new car. It’s the opposite of a Tesla.

Unknown Speaker
What is it?

Brooke Hammerling
I’m a Jeep girl. I love Tesla, but I have the regular I have and I have had a Wrangler. But I got the new 2021 Wrangler. And it’s amazing. And it has it has all the bells and whistles and I love it and I can’t wait for the hybrid, it will be great. And I can’t wait to have an electric car when I don’t have to worry about the anxiety of like I run out of juice in the middle.

Brad Grantham
Well, I mean, I was gonna say, Well, at least once you stuck in traffic in LA, she will look good and feel good.

Unknown Speaker
I will

Chris Shigas
Brooke that range anxiety is so 2016.

Brad Grantham
Let me let me jump into another question. Again, with the changing landscape, Chris kind of mentioned the role of corporate comms and yeah, agencies as well have evolved over the past 100% 20, even even the past two years, not even 20 years, the past year before we went into COVID-19 I think many would argue that it looked like we were heading into some type of recession, right? Because the market has to rebalance every decade and 100% you know, so then COVID hits, which is his own set of problems. So as you are coming to the table, our clients are pursuing you and saying, look, you know, we’re thinking about working with you and the new new thing. But we have got to prove ROI. Now more than ever, to our board. What is your definition for ROI? And how do you prove that to your clients?

Brooke Hammerling
Well, I mean, it’s in your asking about this, I launched brew, back in 2000. And set whenever it was, it was three months before the financial crisis before all the banks quit, you know, before Bear Stearns everything, it was like a nightmare. And I thought, Oh, well, that’s great, I launched a company, I’m gonna go broke, And we thrived. We thrived because of the type of service we are providing. And the same here I launched the new new thing, which is, you know, it’s it’s, it’s an extension, most of the companies we work with already have built in communications teams or have agencies, we’re not looking to replace roofing to amplify. So it’s a, it’s a luxury service. So three months into launching, you know, the world falls apart. And I assumed it you know, at the same thing I assumed the last time around, but this would be it that I was going to start moving into you know, friends, guests houses and, you know, become an Au Pair or something, I really the end of the end of days. But what happened was CEOs really need that trusted person. That is their gut check that they can call and just understands the bright, broader landscape that sort of perspective outside of their own company that sees the sort of that hears and sees things outside of there because they’re so focused and you should be if your internal comms to you got to be so focused on what is happening with your brand and your team and your that to have somebody who that the CEO trusts and that they can get a really good read and it’s all about EQ. Frankly, it’s about reading, being able to have that instinct that EQ that emotional sort of capabilities of connecting with the CEOs and understanding how to navigate that. That said, really important. I think, you know, in my case, I have built up a bit of a brand around who I am that a lot of the CEOs either don’t need buy in from their board, or the board was part of the reason why they brought me On they brought, you know, and so I think what I always tell people is just remember to build those relationships and build your own network because it’s that is so powerful as my own network of those of those people. But I think what they saw was that now more than ever, we’ve This isn’t the time for press release PR, we’re not doing it’s not business as usual. We can’t just ignore everything that’s going on and just pretend like we’re gonna put out we have our we have our roadmap here. It’s our product roadmap, and it’s not we’re not deviating. It’s just not even if you didn’t have to deviate. That doesn’t mean that the story doesn’t change, we have to be much more thoughtful. How can you think about how each company I work with, regardless of their business, or their industry had had a story to tell in this moment in time? And how could they get in? How could they be of service? How can they be of value to, you know, whether it’s their customers or just you know, in general, the the world and, and it was important for them to be able to figure out how that story needed to be told for each and every one of them.

Chris Shigas
Well, great, well, thank you so much for helping us navigate through this opinion charged landscape. Thank you so much for being on PR wars.

Brooke Hammerling
Thank you so fun,

Chris Shigas
You can listen to a new episode of PR wars every Sunday night at 8pm eastern, and please reach out to Brad and me on PR Wars Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. On behalf of Brad Grantham and the entire PR wars crew, we would like to thank Brooke Hammerling, founder of the New New Thing, and do me a favor. Your customers and your employees may expect or even demand moral leadership. If you engage in this opinion charged landscape, make sure it’s authentic. Let’s do less criticizing and more leading a vision of success. Now go get ’em.

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2021 by Feedspot.

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