PR

Breaking: Provident Communications & Citizen Relations announce exclusive strategic partnership

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Provident was founded in 2016 as a new kind of communications agency. We’re home to experienced, senior counsellors who move fast and work with clients from strategy through to execution. We’ve sat in executive boardrooms, advised some of the world’s biggest brands and solved every challenge you can think of. In short, we know what it takes get the results our clients need.

Staying true to that promise has helped us grow quickly and do great work for our incredible and growing roster of clients. Today, we’re excited to extend that commitment even further by announcing an exclusive, strategic partnership with Citizen Relations, a global and award-winning integrated creative communications agency.

While we remain as two agencies with individual brands, we’ll be working side-by-side to offer our existing and future clients Citizen’s award-winning expertise in the social and earned media space, along with influencer marketing, experiential and analytics. And for our part, we’ll continue to provide our clients with best-in-class, senior level counsel, strategy and execution in the areas in which we excel: corporate and B2B media relations and content development, issues and crisis management, and executive thought leadership.

From left to right: Michael MacMillan, EVP at Provident Communications; Wojtek Dabrowski, founder and managing partner at Provident; and Nick Cowling, North American president at Citizen Relations.

From left to right: Michael MacMillan, EVP at Provident Communications; Wojtek Dabrowski, founder and managing partner at Provident; and Nick Cowling, North American president at Citizen Relations.

The partnership (which you can read more about on Strategy) is already in full effect and producing some great work. Combining our firepower means there’s very little we can’t do for organizations looking to restore, defend or enhance their brands or reputations. 

We’re beyond excited about this massive forward step in Provident’s growth trajectory, and what it means for our clients. If you’re looking for a new agency partner to help bring your brand’s story to life, or just want to learn more about us, get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you!

The modern workplace: why you should consider a flexible work environment

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While companies increasingly say they offer ‘remote’ or ‘flexible’ work opportunities for their employees - whether work-from-home Fridays or a ‘results only work environment’ - very few actually enforce it as part of the company culture, and employees are often hesitant to take advantage of these so-called work perks. In reality, you’re often still expected to be at a desk, Monday through Friday, from nine a.m. to five p.m. (at minimum) if you want to keep up appearances that you are thoroughly doing your job and producing business results.  

This is an old-fashioned mentality that must be addressed if organizations are expected to meet the needs of an evolving workforce. Lack of trust is often the common denominator preventing employers from enforcing more remote or flexible work arrangements. It is difficult for some business leaders to believe their team will in fact be working outside of the office, whether it’s from home or elsewhere. This trust gap is inevitably a big hurdle, but one that must be overcome if organizations want to move with the times and keep their employees happy over the long-term.

When you trust your team, treat them like adults and give them the flexibility to choose where they work from, they are bound to be more satisfied with their job. Retention is also much higher if your employees are offered flex work. Not convinced? Here are some other benefits to a flexible work arrangement.

Productivity

A key benefit is improved productivity. I know this from personal experience - less distraction and interruptions typically experienced in an office helps me complete my tasks in a more focused and efficient manner - but research also supports this theory. A recent survey by FlexJobs found that 66% of workers polled are more productive in a home office. According to the survey, some of the most common reasons for increased productivity, in addition to fewer interruptions or distractions, are: less commuter-driven stress, less office politics, and reduced noise levels. Now that’s data I can work with.

Autonomy

Not all employees are made the same. Everyone has their own preferred work zone and it most often depends on the situation. As someone who does a lot of writing for my job, I often feel most inspired when I lock myself away in a quiet space at home. Others may find a coffee shop the perfect place to spark creativity, while yet others may benefit from the structure of a shared office space. The bottom line is that, depending on our personalities and the tasks we undertake (which are often varied in the modern workplace) will underscore where we like to work the most. Having the autonomy to choose that environment depending on the task - with less micromanagement throughout the day - is a major benefit of a flexible work arrangement.

Collaboration

Yes, you can still collaborate in real time, even if your team is working from various remote locations. The advent of technology has made this increasingly simple, so being in one designated workplace, five days a week, is no longer a necessity for many technology-reliant jobs. In this plugged-in era, employees are typically within easy reach of their laptops, mobile phones, and other devices. Combined with the prevalence of cloud-based collaboration tools for chatting and video-conferencing, there really is no shortage of ways to connect from afar.

Work-Life Balance

When you don’t need to travel to a dedicated workspace day after day, particularly during busy rush hours, you can use that time in other ways. One option is to work through your deliverables so you have more time for home life after-hours. Alternatively, it can give you an added opportunity to focus on ways to increase your physical and mental health and well-being, by freeing up more time to exercise, make a hearty breakfast, read, walk your dog, spend more time with family, and so on.

Another key reason to advocate for a flexible work space is that the best ideas often don’t happen between nine to five. I enjoy writing in the evenings, while others may feel most productive in the early hours of the morning. The flexibility of choosing your work setting and, to a degree, hours, can foster increased balance between work and home life. The key is finding what works best for you while simultaneously meeting the business needs of your employer.

Sociability

I would argue that creating opportunities for in-person interaction is still incredibly important in the modern workplace. While being able to work remotely is a great perk, certainly there are times when employees crave more interaction and sociability - I know I do. Going for meetings at a local café is one way to tackle this. Having a shared or co-working office space is another great way to counteract periodic feelings of isolation. Moreover, in-person meetings may foster improved brainstorms and innovation. The reality is, even as the way we work continues to morph and evolve, sometimes people need face time (actual, in-person face time, not the technological kind). We are human, after all.

What are your thoughts on the modern workplace and the future of work? Whether a business owner or an employee, do you embrace a flexible work environment? There is no shortage of compelling thinking on the subject matter, and I would love to hear your viewpoint.

What makes a “strong writer?” The answer has big implications for your communications strategy

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In the marketing and communications field, we’re always on the lookout for talent. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked if someone is a “strong writer.”

It’s a simple question, but what does it really mean?

There are the clean writers – those who love grammar debates, can edit like rock stars and always produce clean copy, but who would never thrive as a copywriter at an ad shop or PR firm. Others lead with their creativity – they couldn’t care less about Oxford commas, but their stuff is original, compelling and interesting. There are also skilled technical writers, Web and SEO masters, and so on.

Communications writing suffers from a particular problem, and it is this: too often we assume that anyone who can string words together with any kind of proficiency is good to go. It's odd, because we go to such great lengths to pigeonhole other roles in the field – too much, in my opinion - based on whether they’ve done more consumer and business-to-business PR or crisis communications and social strategy.

Not applying this sort of critical analysis before handing someone a writing assignment can lead to bad fits. Sponsored content aimed at consumers written by a technician is more likely to be flat, while a sensitive internal memo from the CEO may not capture the right tone if written by someone who mostly produced content for an energy drink.

The problem for communicators is that, as earned opportunities continue to shrink, paid and owned channels are becoming more important than ever. And there are only so many videos we can make - or watch. Someone has to get busy writing, and the competition for eyeballs is unrelenting. It’s not enough to just get it done. It must be done correctly, and that starts at the source.

So, if any of your 2018 strategic plans include the word “content”, you need to look long and hard at your stable of writers, and ask yourself some important questions.

Do I want an industry expert, or do I want someone who can entice readers?

Most journalists who cover an industry have never worked in that industry, and never will. They get assigned to a beat and they do their homework to build up their knowledge. What’s important on day one is not that they can distinguish a mutual fund from an exchange-traded fund, but whether they can write about these things in a compelling, attention-grabbing ways. Same goes for corporate writing.

I’m not saying industry knowledge isn’t important, but when it comes to creating content, place the ability to write above the ability to speak and understand jargon. In fact, stomping out jargon, or the ability to distill complex and wordy explanations into simple concept can be the hallmark of a great writer. Keep this in mind when building or reviewing your writing team.

The person who knows your organization and industry inside and out is not automatically the best candidate for the content role in your department.

Is my current writer excited by their role, or are they simply writing because no one else wants to?

Especially in smaller organizations, the task of most blog and web writing falls to the person in the room who either doesn’t hate the thought of it, happens to be the best speller or who is too junior to say “no.” Once this person is identified, it’s very tempting to consider the problem solved and move on.

Don’t do it. If the person tasked with developing the voice and tone of your organization is doing it as nothing more than part of their to-do list, the result will speak for itself. Find someone with passion and chops.

Do I want a capable writer or a skilled storyteller?

The blogs you read regularly, the novels you download and the magazine articles you share on Facebook are written by people who can do more than just write with good grammar and correct spelling – they have a way with words that leave an impression. In other words, they’re storytellers. It looks easy, but it’s not, hence the old joke about people meaning to write a book after they retire but never getting beyond the first page.

If your strategic plan involves reaching a large group of consumers who have no shortage of distractions, then you absolutely need someone who can break through to them – who knows the art of the story just as well as the rules of grammar. The bigger your audience, the more important that skill is.

Am I constantly struggling to provide my writer with feedback because it’s hard to put into words what’s wrong?

A piece of copy reads well, but it’s just not “right.” The tone is off, or it’s just not capturing the spirit of the purpose behind it, or the organization that supports it. If that’s happening more often than you’d like, then it’s quite possible you have a mismatch – a writer who can write, but isn’t right for the assignment, or perhaps even the role. If you’re finding yourself having to often rework because of this, or lack a comfort level with your writer that’s not related to their technical ability, it’s time to reassess.

The bottom line:

When it comes to content, settling for good-enough writing is a dangerous proposition. Anything you post under cover of your brand must be more than adequate. It must strive for excellence. That takes writers who really know their stuff. Whether in-house or from an outside agency, make sure you have at least one that you can count on.


 

Ten things you can do this Summer to re-energize your PR machine

If there’s one thing all PR pros know, it’s the futility of “planning your day.” All it takes is one phone call or email to shatter your lovingly prepared to-do lists into a million pieces.

The good news (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) is the arrival of Summer – a perfect time to tackle the things we’ve all been meaning to do, but for which there hasn’t always been time.

Now I know Summer does not necessarily mean things slow down. In fact, vacationing team members have a way of increasing workloads for those still stuck in the office. And for some industries, Summer is what Christmas is for retailers.

But for many of us, things gear down in July and August, which usually means September will bring with it a rude awakening. That’s exactly why you should use the next eight weeks to do a tune-up on your PR machine so that you’re ready for when the busy season returns. Here’s how:

1. Schedule those face-to-faces

Maybe it’s the reporter you haven’t met, or someone who has been identified as a potential influencer. Or, maybe it’s that elusive executive. Regardless, even with vacations, Summer is a great time to actually meet and talk with someone. Do it now before family, work and business travel obligations once again wall them off from you.

2. Clean up your contact list

People move around, and things can get out of date fast. We’ve all been there: you turn to your trusted contact list, only to find out it’s no longer accurate. No more excuses; now’s the time to whip it back into shape.

3. Get some blog posts under your belt

Even people who love writing under pressure know it’s no fun squeezing out a post an hour before deadline while juggling five other things. Create a few “timeless topic” pieces and store them so that you can publish them when they’re needed the most.

4. Conduct a competitive analysis

We’re all drowning in data, so you should know quite well how you and your team are performing on metrics, whether it’s articles, CTRs, engagement or message pull-through. But many are less sure how their competitors are doing. Now’s the time to take a cold, hard look in the mirror and compare yourself – do an audit, talk to colleagues in sales and marketing and see how they view the world. Bottom line: learn not just where you stand, but also how you stack up against the rest of your industry.

5. Revisit that crisis plan

You know that crisis playbook that’s laying around somewhere, right? The one overseen by your long-departed predecessor, with the outdated contact information and messages? Yeah, that one. Now’s the time to update it – before the next crisis hits.

6. Take a vacation from your routine

With non-stop busy-ness comes a “just get it done mentality”. That usually means no one, least of all you, is in the mood for experimenting with new tactics, or digging deep to find new sources of stories or content. Summer is a great time to stretch your legs a little. Read up on best practices, talk to your peers, learn what people like you in other industries are doing. Or connect with colleagues in the organization you never normally see – mine them for ideas, and ideally, experiment with something new before Summer is over.

7. Review your vendor list

PR pros get their fair share of cold emails from people looking to offer their services, everything from monitoring technology to photographers. If you use vendors, take an honest inventory of where you’re weak or where there are gaps, and then go back into your inbox and follow up with some of them. There’s no shortage of talent out there, and you shouldn’t settle for second-best in anything.

8. Test-drive an agency

If you're a startup you’re lucky enough to work in a business that doesn’t require 30-page RFPs and a mountain of procurement rules, and you’re strapped this Summer, then why not acquaint yourself with a new agency? I’ll happily be self-serving here and say that smaller agencies are far more likely and able to accommodate a small project on short notice, especially in Summer. Doing so will help you get a sense of what’s available to you when bigger projects comes down the pipe later in the year.

9. Award submissions

Winning awards? Yay! Filling out submissions? Nope! Summer is not award season by any means, but you may have sense by now of what project or campaign you’re considering submitting later. So, go find a patio somewhere and do the heavy lifting now, and then circulate copy for early approval. You will thank yourself in a big way months from now.

10. Take a break

Finally, don’t be that person who accumulates loads of vacation time. This job can be tough. Use that time. Believe me, your colleagues, clients, friends, family and dog will all thank you.

Any other ideas for things to tackle this Summer? Let’s hear them!

What Saturday Night Live can teach you about managing a PR crisis

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A Forbes contributor recently published a list of the biggest PR crises of 2017. Among the no-brainer inclusions was the Pepsi ad, which is interesting, because there’s a video out there that should be mandatory viewing for every PR professional.

That would be the SNL parody of that same Pepsi ad.

It’s a must-see not just because it’s hilarious, but because, like all good comedy, it hides important truths within the laughs.

Quick synopsis: The skit imagines the ad’s director about to start shooting on what, in his mind, is the biggest and best day of his career. Excited, he hops on a call with his sister and shares the details of the commercial. We can’t hear her response, but his face says it all. She’s reacting the way most of us would  - and ultimately did. He goes into a panic as he looks around and suddenly sees what’s really happening: imminent disaster.

Simply put, she burst his bubble.

You’re in a bubble, like it or not

Most corporate or “in-house” PR professionals work in a bubble. It’s almost unavoidable. They spend every day inside a rah-rah culture (that they often help create). Their organizations are full of people with competing roles, priorities, agendas, viewpoints and personalities. What binds them together is a shared desire for the organization to do well, but also to keep their jobs secure and career plans on track.

It’s not a bad thing. It’s just life. But once inside a bubble, it’s hard to be objective about things. It’s also harder to speak up in a way that could single you out.

Then along comes a troublesome issue, and it passes through the bubble with grave consequences. Or a full-blown crisis hits, demanding a speedy response, firm and bold decisions, and very often a need to speak uncomfortable truths or admit wrongs. But the problem with being in a bubble limits your ability to think objectively and can lead you to overlook the obvious.

As SNL notes, bubble thinking played a role in the Pepsi ad. But have a look at the other PR blunders on the Forbes list. From the outside looking in, their solutions seem too obvious – just apologize, fix, delete, admit. These are sophisticated organizations, home to endless pools of talent, but I’m convinced they were too deep in the bubble to do what needed to be done.

What you need to do

The lesson is clear. You need to inoculate yourself against bubble thinking so that when issues or crises hit, they can be addressed properly, objectively and with speed. Here’s how:

  • Forget the words “it’s just…”. I can’t tell you how many times in my career someone called me to flag a potential issue, but worked extra hard to downplay it. “It’s just someone venting on Facebook” or “It’s just an isolated incident” or some such thing. One sure sign of bubble thinking: overestimating anything good, downplaying anything bad. Give every issue close attention, no matter how small it may seem.
  • Go outside. Talk to your agency, if you have one. Or contact one if you don’t. If an agency is not a viable option, call a friend or colleague you trust. No matter how you do it, get an independent temperature check. People with nothing at stake will give you the real goods.

 

  • Trust your gut. You have your job for reason – you know this stuff. Listen to what your inner voice is telling you, even when everyone else feels otherwise, and speak up! It could make you a hero.

Do you have a bubble story to share? Or your own tips for dealing with bubble thinking? Share them below!

The one question you can’t forget to ask when searching for a PR agency

Sometimes you read something and all you can think is “couldn’t have said it better myself.” That’s how I felt reading  Roy Osing’s fantastic column  yesterday in the Globe and Mail on the need for leaders to get way deeper into the trenches with their teams, and to never delegate truly strategic work.

Osing writes: “Strategic actions require the fingerprints of a leader who is a master at do-it-yourself.”

It wasn’t about the PR industry, but it easily could’ve been.

Sound familiar?

One question clients always ask their prospective PR agencies (and behind closed doors, agencies ask of themselves) is who the “lead” will be on the team. It can be difficult to answer.

Do they mean the “day to day” lead? That’s the person best defined as the throat to choke. They put in the hours, they are on speed dial, and on the “to” line of every email.

Or, do they mean the other kind of lead? Call them what you will, be it strategic oversight, senior counsel, senior lead. It’s the person who a) is the most experienced and who b) will typically be seen most often during the initial sale and onboarding, or at major milestones. Otherwise, they’re the name on the "cc" line.

It works... in theory

On the surface, it may seem like clients and agencies like this arrangement, mostly due to budget. Clients worry that too much senior leader time will run up billables (although let me be clear: if your agency sends you surprise bills, you should switch your agency). For agencies, spreading senior talent across as many clients as possible is ideal.

The result is that senior leaders can’t dive into execution, and the barriers to changing that are put in place early by both sides. Over time, the risk is that everyone comes to believe the leader shouldn’t execute, and that more junior people will carry the load. And that’s where breakdowns can begin.

There are lot of good reasons to senior leaders to stay above the fray. Juniors learn from mistakes. No one wants to work for a micro-manager. And how do you build capacity when a handful of people are doing all the problem solving? But there can be too much of good thing.

That’s why small agencies see their own size not as a disadvantage, but as a winning edge. Senior people see things through from start to finish. And when they can’t handle it all, they seek out fellow experts to get it done. It’s fast, it’s efficient. And it’s what I’ve come to embrace.

The takeaway

So, as part of your agency search ask yourself this question: how important are senior counsel and real industry knowledge to the successful execution of your mandate? If it the answer is “very,” then be prepared to ask some tough but necessary follow-up questions.