Chris Goddard: Take it from this 20-year PR veteran, media relations is no do-it-yourself job

CGPR President dishes out social media tips, how to react to negative news, and where small brands on a budget should focus their PR efforts.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Think you have complete control over your brand message? CGPR President and public relations expert Chris Goddard has two words for you — social media.

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Posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, message boards and online customer reviews are increasingly painting the picture of what consumers see and hear from companies. It’s the Wild West out there with few rules and the potential for good or bad news to go viral in a matter of seconds.

Social media, along with the 24/7 news cycle, is the biggest shift in public relations Goddard has seen in the past 20 years of business. She’s here to lend some tips to help brands get handle on it all.

Congrats on CGPR’s 20th year! What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen with respect to media and public relations within the outdoor industry during the past two decades?
The news cycle is 24/7 — so there is no shutting off, ever. PR professionals need to find a balance, determine how best to handle the huge influx of email and decide on what action is required, as we don’t have the luxury of time. Social media is the obvious one — today the dialogue is two-way, not one-way. And as there are a multitude of channels with which to make your point, to be heard or tell your story, we need to figure out which is the best channel and then, the best approach. Lastly, if one makes a mistake with the media now, this is magnified globally in a nano-second. It takes much much longer to correct your mistake that may now live in perpetuity online. In other words, it takes much longer to get out of the PR doghouse than it takes to get in.

What steps should a brand take if something negative goes out?
Reputation management is key for any brand. They need to have a strategy in place for dealing with negative feedback. You have to walk a fine line between restricting dialogue and letting commentary explode that might damage a brand. Here are some tips: 1.) Have someone in place who is responsible for dealing with negative criticism that can respond in 24 hours or less. 2.) Just outright eliminating a comment is likely not appropriate, especially if a complaint is valid. But vulgarity or inappropriate language has no place — these kinds of comments should definitely be deleted. 3.) Be responsive. Organize negative comments into categories, e.g. larger issues that seem to be trending and smaller one-off comments. In some cases a statement or official status may suffice for things that continue to come up. 4.) If there is a particular respondent that continues to be angry online, one option is to publicly offer to take that conversation offline, especially after a brand has initially responded. 5.) For thoughtful and consistent commentary, it is good gesture to thank those enthusiasts. 6.) Be authentic and honest. How you respond speaks volumes about the brand.

Live-tweeting events is another area where brands can benefit, but also get in trouble without a filter. What are your thoughts there?
Have a clear goal for what you want this to accomplish.Ensure that whomever is tweeting is authentic, understands the personality of the brand and understands the overall objective of the event and the social media associated with it.Goals and guidelines need to be established and discussed before the event so that realistic expectations are met — so that there are no surprises that will come back to haunt the brand in the end and possibly ellipse the entire event. Anticipate everything that can go wrong with live tweeting and have an action plan in place in addition to a crisis communications plan.

We see plenty of new outdoor start-ups every Summer and Winter Market at Outdoor Retailer. Many can’t hire an all-encompassing PR agency right off the bat. What’s your advice for a young brand to invest in on a budget to help them with PR and media?
Start with finding an expert to talk to. There are plenty of great PR professionals that service this channel that would be willing to have an initial conversation to provide guidance. Attack the basics first, then consider additional initiatives. Do not try to do PR yourself; I promise you it does not work. Be prepared to share you future growth goals and where you want to be in two to five years with your PR partner. Have patience. PR is a process; it does not work overnight. If they say that your story is not worthy of a feature in Business Week, respect that expertise. Understand that it will be an investment over time.

You deal with all sorts of media and people in and out of the industry. What are people outside the industry asking about the outdoors?
The outdoor category has always been of interest to the media, but now, more are interested, especially financial media. Outdoor companies have shown resiliency in tough times and this is of interest to potential investors that may share outdoor passions. Wall Street is playing a much larger role in the future of outdoor companies and investor relations plays a larger role as a result.

--David Clucas

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