Defining “Modern” PR & How to Nail It, with Kate Johnson

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Defining “Modern” PR & How to Nail It, with Kate Johnson

Digital, modern, non-traditional…how do you define today’s PR? It has evolved, and brands who understand how to play in the current landscape are gaining mindshare.

In this episode, Kate Johnson, VP of PR at BLASTmedia, dives into what has driven PR’s evolution, how brands should think differently about connecting with millennial buyers, and the new expectations around PR measurement.

What makes PR modern, anyway?
First, let’s get one thing straight: Storytelling is still the heart of PR. Although the world’s preferred mode of communication(s) may have changed, impactful stories still drive impactful PR, and according to Kate, that’s not changing anytime soon.

“It’s still so important to build those relationships with media. It’s important to be able to mine the right ideas out of our executives and be able to tell that story to an external audience and an internal audience — that really has stayed the same,” said Kate.

However, Kate said the way we tell stories is shifting. Specifically, strategic communications have become critical, leading to heightened collaboration between all stakeholders, including internal comms teams, marketing and PR agencies, and C-suite executives. After all, internal communications can become external in the blink of an eye.

“There has to be a symbiotic relationship now between internal and external comms,” said Kate. “So having the same message and how you’re talking about anything from a reduction in force (RIF) to C-suite changes, or even to what’s happening in the world around us.”

For a more in-depth discussion about modern PR, visit BLASTmedia’s new e-book: “SaaS PR: Demystifying Modern Public Relations.”

Millennials love connections

And we’re not talking about the New York Times’ easy-to-love/hate word game (although that may also be true). More than ever, millennials represent a critical segment of purchasing power in B2B discussions — and they crave authenticity.

Kate discussed two apt examples of authenticity moving the needle for BLAST’s B2B SaaS Tech clients.

First, she mentioned Moogsoft’s developer-first approach to positioning. Instead of relying on their C-suite executives to lecture practitioners on the viability of a product, Moogsoft worked with BLASTmedia to connect internal DevOps practitioners with like-minded practitioners at target companies. This approach enabled Moogsoft’s messaging to remain genuine and rooted in common frustrations.

Next, Kate discussed the efficacy of Language I/O CEO Heather Shoemaker’s media presence. Heather recently discussed her personal experiences as a female CEO in Tech with Inc. Magazine. She became extremely candid about her journey, including the ups and downs of venture capital (VC) fundraising as a woman.

“Getting personal and not just talking about product is huge. And it’s up to us (BLAST) as PR professionals to dig out what those stories are and be able to elevate the diverse voices and experiences within a company that can move the needle in those different areas, whether it be with your target buyer or prospective hires,” said Kate. “It’s important to figure out what… needs to be communicated.”

Measuring PR in 2024

It’s every PR professional and marketer’s favorite question: How do you measure the success of your PR strategy? 

Metrics are undeniably essential in 2024. Budgets are tighter and resources are lower, so executives consistently seek validation about the success of their spending in all departments. 

According to Kate, real-time insights are incredibly valuable for measuring success. For example, at BLAST, we use Propel to provide clients with analytics into PR-led leads (somewhat like sales teams and marketers would track leads through a funnel). Similarly, reactive opportunities sourced through Qwoted and other media monitoring sites are more important than ever.

But the mark of a truly successful PR campaign is a comprehensive content marketing strategy.

“Gone are the days where we just send a piece of coverage to a client and say, ‘This is the possible readership of the publication and here’s the domain authority. Do with it what you will,’” said Kate. “As PR professionals, [we now say], ‘Here’s a potential sales enablement email that you can push out to prospects. Maybe this is something that your executives can push on LinkedIn and engage with some of those ABM targets, so we’re taking part in your SEO here.’”

Listen to episode 369 for more of Kate’s insights.

BLASTmedia Survey Reveals B2B Marketers Bullish on Brand Spend in 2024, See Building Trust as a Top Priority

INDIANAPOLIS — March 28, 2024 — A new survey conducted by BLASTmedia, the only PR agency dedicated to B2B SaaS, reveals B2B marketers’ top PR priorities in 2024. The data provides insight into how marketers measure brand spend ROI and which marketing tactics are losing value.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • “Establishing more trust” was marketers’ top priority for investing in PR, followed by differentiating from competitors, driving product awareness, and showcasing company values
  • Web traffic, backlinks and conversions (40%), and quality of media coverage (39%) were the top ways marketers measure the ROI of brand awareness spend.
  • More than one-third of marketers (35%) believe email marketing is becoming less impactful with target audiences.
  • Nearly 80% of marketers anticipate their brand awareness spend will increase in 2024.

The survey was conducted with over 100 marketers, from individual contributors to C-level working in companies of <50 to >5000 employees.

“PR has evolved far beyond press releases and product updates. Marketers are realizing the importance of having a consistent, meaningful PR program that establishes trust and lays the foundation for genuine connection,” said Lindsey Groepper, BLASTmedia President. “However, traditional PR measurement fails to recognize the nuances of modern PR efforts. To determine a program’s effectiveness, a modern PR program needs more comprehensive metrics to acknowledge the quality of coverage versus quantity metrics like Share of Voice.”

In recognition of this variability and the growing complexity of B2B SaaS PR, BLASTmedia recently debuted StoryScore, a measurement tool designed to quantify the varying impact of B2B media coverage at scale. StoryScore gives marketers a simple yet effective rating scale to categorize media coverage into three distinct tiers: Premier, Spotlight, and Highlight. While PR drives immense value across various organizational functions, no two marketers measure this impact in the same way, making PR measurement a long-standing discussion for marketing and communications professionals. StoryScore aims to add clarity to this discussion.

For more information on StoryScore and how it provides a more nuanced understanding of the value of PR efforts, visit the BLASTmedia blog or evaluate media coverage for yourself with BLASTmedia’s ChatGPT-based coverage analyzer, now available for ChatGPT+ users.

Introducing StoryScore: BLASTmedia’s Formula for Coverage Quality at Scale

Hooray! You landed a quality earned media placement. But now you have to explain its value to stakeholders. You know the hard work that went into the accomplishment, but that effort doesn’t pay the bills. According to a 2023 Muck Rack survey, 66% of PR professionals believe that producing measurable results is key to proving PR value. That response rate is higher than securing more coverage (57%).

If you’re facing questions like, “Is our PR program good?” You’ll need to talk about how to measure results in a way your boss, team and other stakeholders can understand. So, let’s talk about it!

Not all coverage is equal, and despite the cliche, not all press is good press. Does a company mention carry the same weight as a positive, in-depth feature on an important launch? Nope. 

That’s why BLASTmedia created StoryScore to help you quantify the power and variation of media coverage at scale. 

StoryScore is a scale from 1 to 8 (or higher, more on that in a moment). This single number can bring the reporting conversation down to a granular level — “what are the components of this piece that are most impactful?”— or zoom it out to the big picture: “is this a good article?”

What’s a good StoryScore? 

  • Premier Tier (Score of 8 or more): This category represents the pinnacle of media placements, showcasing exceptional quality and impact — like features or quotes in Tier 1 outlets. 
  • Spotlight Tier (Score of 4-7): Highlighting good coverage and demonstrating a solid PR program, “Spotlight” placements are worthy of attention and recognition — contributed content in a trade pub, for example — but fall short of the premier category.
  • Highlight Tier (Score of 1-3): This tier covers smaller wins like mentions or earned press release pickups, which still contribute positively to the overall PR strategy.

How does this number fit into standard reporting metrics like Share of Voice (SOV)? StoryScore emphasizes quality, whereas SoV focuses on quantity. If you have one piece of coverage compared to a competitor’s 10 pieces, the competitor will have a much higher SoV. But what if your single piece is an in-depth feature and the competitor’s placements all mention an old data breach? We use SoV here at BLASTmedia, but this hypothetical situation illustrates why SoV doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s not all about quantity! 

So, how do you quantify the quality of these placements? PR pros often like to joke that they don’t love to work with numbers. So we’ll keep this simple. 

First, rate the type of media placement from 1-5.

  • 5 points for features.
  • 4 points for quotes.
  • 3 points for contributed content and podcast interviews.
  • 2 points for paid opportunities, like Forbes Council or FastCo executive boards.
  • 1 point for mentions and non-wire distro PR placements.

Now, we dig into those small nuances that matter but may be challenging to convey. 

  • Land the win in a top-tier publication? Add 4 points. 
  • Did the piece also include a customer? Add 3 points.
  • Was there a backlink to your website, or did the placement include your company’s proprietary data or market research? Both are valuable. 2 points each. 
  • Wait, was this piece positive or negative? If it was a negative story, deduct 5 points. 

A brief sidenote: BLASTmedia defines a top-tier pub as one that maintains a Domain Authority of over 70 and has more than 1 million unique monthly visitors (UVM). 

Once tallied up, specific scores for some placements may exceed 8 points. That’s the sign of a great article, but as a reminder, scores from 4-7 are solid wins and likely the most common.

StoryScore in action

A BLASTmedia client recently secured 30+ pieces of coverage for a funding announcement, a campaign we deemed a success. But, was it? We ran coverage through our StoryScore, and the average score of each piece was a 6. That’s smack in the middle of our Spotlight tier, validating good campaign performance. 

Here’s what went well: 

  • The biggest win was a feature in TechCrunch, a tier-1 publication that included a backlink to the client’s website. This piece scored an 11. 
  • Other placements hitting a StoryScore of 8 or more include features in a local business pub and an enterprise technology trade with a customer quote and backlink.
  • While we also secured coverage in WSJ Pro VC, Fortune and Axios (4 points each for top-tier wins), these hard-won hits are mentions (only 1 point) and don’t include backlinks or a named customer. 

Armed with these results, we brainstormed how to make it even better next time, like how pitching the news as an exclusive may have helped us secure an additional tier-1 feature.

Want to try this out yourself? A pen, paper and a calculator aren’t necessary. We’ve created a ChatGPT-based coverage analyzer (for ChatGPT+ users) to help you calculate a StoryScore based on your coverage links and a few questions.

If you aren’t subscribed to ChatGPT+ and want our team to calculate a StoryScore for you, email Lindsey Groepper, BLASTmedia President, and let’s chat more about modern PR measurement!

Widening Your SME Bench For a Modern Corporate Narrative

Cultivating trust with a prospect is arguably the most important — and difficult — aspect of conversion. Our recent survey of over 100 marketing leaders revealed building trust as the top priority for 2024. But how can SaaS companies genuinely earn that trust? The answer lies in humanizing your brand through an authentic corporate narrative that moves beyond product talk tracks and CEO speeches.

The rising voices of subject matter experts like CHROs, DE&I leaders and ESG specialists are key to adding depth and resonance to your story. These SMEs provide an inside look at your company’s culture, values and real-world impact that today’s purpose-driven buyers crave. Incorporating their perspectives is a powerful way to reveal your brand’s humanity.

Example: Laurel McKenzie of CoachHub discussing how organizations can keep employees engaged: “A Behavioral Scientist’s Antidote to Resenteeism

Why does humanizing your narrative matter? For one, millennials now make up the bulk of B2B decision-makers. These buyers prioritize aligning with companies that reflect their values around purpose, DEI, sustainability and more. Older buyers are increasingly adopting this mindset as well. When all else is equal between you and competitors, that authentic connection can be the deciding factor.

So what defines an authentic, human-centric corporate narrative in 2024? It should embody traits like:

  • Authenticity – Genuine, unpolished stories revealing your personality and core values.
  • Transparency – An open book on company practices, partnerships and even shortcomings.
  • Conscientious – Clearly incorporating social and environmental impact and sharing proof points on prioritizing and elevating diversity within your organization.
  • Community-Focused – Positioning your company as an active local/global citizen.
  • Risk-Aware – Effective policies and clear communication on data use and protection.
  • Adaptability – The flexibility to respond in real time to current events.
  • Consistency – A unified narrative across all channels and human interactions.
  • Conversational – Using accessible language that speaks to people, not businesses.

Example: Ivori Johnson of ChartHop quoted on the struggles DE&I leaders face in an enterprise: “DEI leaders are burning out from diversity fatigue: Here’s how to survive

Putting this into practice means creatively integrating SME voices and perspectives across your content and communications. CHRO thought leadership on work culture, DEI leader bylines on equitable hiring practices, ESG specialist commentary on your sustainability roadmap — all of these can bring more authenticity to your narrative.

The corporate narrative is evolving, with SMEs taking center stage to reveal the human side of your brand. By embracing transparency and elevating diverse voices, you can craft a narrative that breaks through and earns the trust of today’s discerning buyers.

The Evolution of Modern SaaS PR

We’re here to talk about modern PR. What is it? Well, it’s not so much modern, but evolved. The PR discipline, like other industries, had to level up to keep pace with tech innovation, ever-changing culture, and a media landscape that’s more unpredictable than than a reality show.

It’s still PR, but we’re not out here rebranding it like New Coke (remember that?). We don’t call our smartphones “modern phones” either, do we? They’ve gone from basic flip-phones to mini-computers with more power than the ones they sent to space in the ’60s. Yet, we just call them phones.

So, how has PR evolved? Let me break it down for ya.

PR has gone multi-channel. 

Take The Wall Street Journal for example. It’s not just a newspaper anymore; it’s a whole digital extravaganza with podcasts, TikToks from editors, videos, and more. It’s like a digital octopus with tentacles reaching every corner of the internet and appealing to both super-broad and niche audiences alike.

Back in the day, PR pros pitched stories to newspapers, TV, and maybe radio. But now? There’s a bazillion blogs, podcasts, social feeds, communities, you name it, all clamoring for content. Brands are churning out their own stuff too, with influencers, social posts, and videos. It’s like a content tsunami, and PR teams are out here trying to surf it.

Analytics are a game-changer. 

PR vanity metrics like impressions and ad equivalency are archaic and have been enhanced by measuring against clear objectives like Share of Voice, influence on organic search and web traffic (to name a few). We’ve gone digital from top to bottom, from strategies to results. It’s adapt or die in the digital world, and SaaS PR is no exception. 

PR is no longer one-way communication. 

It’s a dialogue. We’re building real relationships and engaging with our B2B SaaS client’s audience instead of just shouting into the media void. Audiences want to be heard, so we’re listening and using their feedback to shape our messaging and client narratives. 

Authenticity is key in this age of fake news. 

People want real stories and personalities, not overly-messaged corporate spiels about earnings and product features. Brands need to stand for something genuine to earn trust and connect with today’s millennial buyers. And a human-centered PR program can help achieve this. 

Agility is essential in modern PR. 

We’re moving at hyperspeed, jumping on opportunities and controversies before you can say “crisis management.” We’re out here shaping the conversation in real time, not stuck on the sidelines watching it unfold. When news breaks, there are new expectations from audiences around the speed of response and ability to address issues in near real-time. 

The evolution of SaaS PR is undeniable. It has transformed into a dynamic and essential component of modern communication strategies. As we continue to witness the evolution of PR, one thing remains clear: its impact extends far beyond traditional media relations, shaping narratives, building relationships, and driving audiences to action.

Cheers to Season 5: BLASTmedia Kicks Off New SaaS Half Full Podcast Season with Inspiration for B2B SaaS Marketers

INDIANAPOLIS — Feb. 12, 2024 — BLASTmedia, the only PR agency dedicated to B2B SaaS, celebrates the launch of the SaaS Half Full podcast’s fifth season, hosted and bartended by BLASTmedia President Lindsey Groepper. SaaS Half Full is inspired by candid bar conversations after conferences and events, providing insights from SaaS marketers and others charged with growing a SaaS business.

The new season kicked off with positioning expert and author, April Dunford, on category creation and positioning; strategic brand builder and storyteller, Totango CMO Karen Budell, on marketing’s vital role in customer expansion; and martech and customer experience expert, Seismic CMO Paige O’Neill, on surviving a new CEO transition.

“From the very start, our vision for SaaS Half Full was to provide listeners candid access to some of the brightest minds in B2B SaaS marketing and growth. Since then, I’ve shared a drink with a line-up of incredibly inspiring SaaS marketers,” said Groepper. “I’ve had so many amazing conversations that give our listeners a peek into the minds of the industry’s biggest luminaries but stripped of the overly messaged and canned responses.”

Since its launch, SaaS Half Full has seen significant traction on top marketing and SaaS podcast lists and featured experts in SaaS marketing and growth, including former Drift VP of Revenue Marketing Justin Keller, former Atlassian Head of Brand Sarah Emmott, 15Five CMO Julia Stead, G2 Head of Marketing Palmer Houchins and more.

Listen to the SaaS Half Full podcast on all major listening platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. For past episode archives and recaps, visit BLASTmedia.com.

About BLASTmedia

Established in 2005, BLASTmedia is the only PR agency in the US dedicated to B2B SaaS, representing companies from growth-stage to publicly traded. BLASTmedia understands the unique challenges associated with scaling a SaaS business and uses media coverage and thought leadership campaigns to impact four primary pillars: investors, employees, partners, and customers.

BLASTmedia Named Top PR Agency in 2024 by Vendry

INDIANAPOLIS — January 30, 2024 — BLASTmedia, the only PR agency dedicated to B2B SaaS, has been named to Vendry’s Top PR Agencies list for 2024. The list showcases agencies that blend traditional PR wisdom with digital-age tactics.

For more information about BLASTmedia and its services, please visit www.blastmedia.com/our-services.

About BLASTmedia

Established in 2005, BLASTmedia is the only PR agency in the US dedicated to B2B SaaS, representing companies from growth-stage to publicly traded. BLASTmedia understands the unique challenges associated with scaling a SaaS business and uses media coverage and thought leadership campaigns to impact four primary pillars: investors, employees, partners, and customers.

The Evolution of the Corporate Narrative

Corporate Narrative by Jodi Ireland

The corporate narrative no longer focuses solely on the CEO, category and product talk tracks. It’s broadened in topic and scope to act as another influencer on today’s generation of talent and buyers valuing purpose and connection. 

And really, every company needs a narrative. We’re not talking about self-contained stories with a set beginning, middle and end, but rather an ongoing, open-ended tale focused on the customer — not the company. 

Far too many companies struggle with crafting a compelling, inspiring corporate narrative that’s customer-focused. Successful companies have included Nike, with its “Just Do It” slogan, Google’s “Telling our Story” initiative, Zendesk’s “Let get real” story or Apple’s “Think different.” 

In this post, we’ll talk about the merit of corporate narratives and how companies can expand their storytelling to reach more audiences, create customer loyalty, build resiliency and more.

A brief history

In the early 20th century, most large companies focused narrowly on selling products and services, and corporate messaging centered on product features, quality and customer service. By the mid-1900s, companies expanded their narratives to include related topics such as their history, relationships with communities, social responsibility efforts and value — a significant shift from the original product focus to building a broader identity and reputation.

More recently, companies have extended their narratives to include cultural branding, purpose-driven messaging, social causes and weightier topics like inequality and climate change.

Now, organizations seek to convey compelling stories across multiple channels — advertising, PR, social media, etc. — infusing those stories with personality, emotion and pillars that go beyond profits.

Benefits of telling more stories

So, why do stories matter? Have stories always been important, and we’ve only just taken notice over the past few years? Or have the audiences themselves changed?

There isn’t one single reason why stories have become more important. Still, the numbers show that Gen Y and millennials — who value purpose and meaning when choosing vendors — comprise most of today’s decision-makers. 

Millennials expect something beyond the typical, traditional sales pitch. They crave meaning when selecting a vendor, and since millennials are involved in 73% of all B2B buying decisions, companies need to step it up to sate this craving. Brands must employ any strategy to attract those buyers, including creating a strong narrative beyond products and:

  • Building an emotional connection.
  • Inspiring evangelists.
  • Driving culture.
  • Guiding decisions.
  • Cultivating trust.
  • Sparking movement.
  • Differentiating the brand from its competition.

Drive authenticity by involving the C-suite in narrative development and leveraging more “internal” SMEs — think CHROs, DEIB and ESG leaders — externally to add layers to the corporate narrative and its importance.

Sure, marketing can distribute the message, but leadership must immerse itself in customers’ needs and expectations. By understanding the full scope of potential opportunities, your leadership can author a narrative that truly resonates. 

Once the C-suite is invested, invite employees to embrace and buy into it. Help them grasp the narrative’s significance, connecting it to their roles in enabling customer success. An inspired, unified workforce multiplies the narratives’ power. When each employee lives out a meaningful story, customers feel the impact.

Looking beyond products fuels inspiration. Delve into your customers’ needs, aspirations and ambitions. When their purpose resonates with your own, passion ignites. Let that intrinsic excitement guide you toward other paths for shared growth.

Then, empower meaningful action. Outline achievable steps to engage customers’ potential. The path to action should challenge — not overwhelm. Progress takes commitment; with care and courage, customers can act on the narrative to drive change.

Best practices for creating a corporate narrative

Corporate narratives have grown increasingly multidimensional and sophisticated, focusing on invoking something beyond a transactional relationship with target audiences. These expanded narratives help attract talent, connect with customers on a deeper level and portray the company as more than just a business. 

But the narratives also invite more scrutiny if actions don’t fully match messaging or aren’t backed by meaningful policies and practices. Avoid serious missteps with these best practices.

  • Articulate a clear purpose and values driving your organization beyond profits to build a solid and consistent foundation.
  • Align the narrative with business goals and strategies to ensure you’re not simply sharing fluff.
  • Get to know and understand your audiences so you can tailor your messaging and channels to resonate with target customers, stakeholders and communities.
  • Showcase company culture authentically, with transparent glimpses into what’s really happening versus portraying more idealistic interpretations of the culture.
  • Make corporate social responsibility (CSR) integral to your company, incorporating it into practices rather than treating it as merely an add-on or afterthought.
  • Evolve and grow the narrative as your company and social expectations change.
  • Substantiate the narrative and claims with action via concrete policies and measurable progress.

Not “The End” but rather a continuation

Investing in your brand is the most powerful intangible asset on your balance sheet. When you invest in expanding your corporate narrative to tell stories that your audience wants to hear, you foster customer loyalty, influence perceptions, drive advocacy, establish credibility, differentiate yourself from the competition, build a solid foundation in a changing world — and perhaps most important of all — create resilience.