Recently, Cision® CMO, Chris Lynch, sat down with Steve Barrett, editorial director of PRWeek for the inaugural podcast of the show Earned Media Rising. The podcast will be published each month and feature topics about issues in earned media communications today along with knowledgeable experts. Check out the first of this two-part podcast by clicking below, or read the following transcript.
Steve Barrett: Welcome to Earned Media Rising, a new podcast powered by Cision and brought to you by PRWeek. I'm Steve Barrett, editorial director of PRWeek and I'll be your host for the initial installment of this new and exciting podcast. Each month we’ll hear from c-suite level communicators and marketers as they discuss challenges and opportunities facing companies in an ever-changing business climate.
Topics covered will include earned versus paid media, the role of influencers in PR, the importance of aligning the comms function with other disciplines and much much more.
Today I am delighted to be joined by Chris Lynch, the CMO of Cision, Chris is responsible for Cision’s global marketing strategy spanning communications, product and digital marketing. Previously, Chris ran product marketing and go-to-market strategy for Oracle’s Marketing Cloud business. Chris welcome to the Earned Media Rising podcast.
Chris Lynch: Thanks Steve, it's great to be here.
Steve Barrett: Yeah, great to have you here. We got a lot of topics to discuss and we're going to start with a perennial one, I think, in PR — buy-in from the C-suite. We heard that old cliché about getting a seat at the table and having the ear of the CEO. Where do you think we're at as an industry in terms of PR at the moment? It seems like maybe the C-suite is much more aware of the value that communications and reputation can add to an enterprise.
Chris Lynch: I think they are, and I think that's being driven in part by just how granular we can look at communications now due to the technology that we have in place to measure it. Previously, so much of how you the c-suite would value comms and PR was sort of based on a lot of anecdotal stuff — “Are we getting coverage?” “That's fantastic!” “We were in this publication and we had an executive showcased.”
Well, that stuff can be good for the ego of the individual, or the company ego if you will, I think it was very difficult to say, “How does this actually drive revenue for the business?” “How does this actually drive value for the business.”
Steve Barrett: That's true, marketers could always say, “well we drove sales and we got the Nielsen data to back it up, etc., etc.” We've never had that, have we, in PR? To the extent that we do these days.
Chris Lynch: No, there's been a lot of vanity metrics, if you will, things like share of voice, looking at how much coverage you get relative to competitors, and that stuff is important and I don't think that goes away but the level of granularity with which those tie ends were made between a campaign in the communications function and a business outcome were always a bit tenuous in the past. But I think that's changing and part of the reason it's changing is I think communicators are saying, “Hey let's not reinvent the wheel.” If we look at our counterparts over on the paid media side, or the owned media side, the folks who own the website or the commerce experience, they can look at that and say, “Look there's a lot of technology already that is measuring things like user behavior that we can go in and tie back.” And I think they're going to borrow and have been borrowing a lot of the same concepts to get more buy-in from the C-suite.
Steve Barrett: And what would your one tip be to the CCO for demonstrating their value to the CEO and the C-suite?
Chris Lynch: I think it would be — number one, ask them as it relates to externally facing functions in general, whether it be a marketing campaign, whether it be a comms campaign, what is the type of business outcome they're looking to drive? I think some in the C-suite do know things like brand awareness are important and they kind of just feel it in their gut that it's the right thing to do. But then you're having this new crop of leaders that come up that, you know, they maybe went to business school or they come up from a finance background and that's just simply not good enough for them.
So, what I tell a lot of communicators that I talked with in the market is just ask them what's important rather than try to sell them on a set of metrics before you even kind of got that initial buy-in. So, the things we'll see in the market, you know, if it's a retailer were seeing things like, “Well could you help us with driving some more traffic for shopping cart conversions?” As an example. Or, if it's in B2B, “How might some of these initiatives help drive a demand generation program?” Those are the types of metrics that I think the rest of the marketing organization has done a pretty good job of aligning towards.
Steve Barrett: Yeah that's a good segue actually, and to our next topic which is really how you align with other functions, and how you do that. It's never been more important for marketing and communications to work together. So, we're working for marketing, but also there's a value that communications can bring to the marketing function as well. What are the big trends you are seeing in that direction?
Chris Lynch: So, one of the pieces of value that I think communicators can bring to the rest of marketing is more insights around the market message. You think about so many other parts of marketing — like advertising, some of the different brand campaigns that you do, I want to say that stuff is done in a vacuum but there still is a lot of old school ways of you get in the conference room with your agency, whiteboard a bunch of things out, everyone congratulates each other on how smart they are about their brand campaign idea, but a lot of times it's not as tested as in the market. And communicators, especially now that they pulled more of social into their overall domain, I think they have this ability to say, “You know what, based on what we're seeing in the market, how our influencers are getting engagement from certain types of customers, or consumers, we can actually give you some insight into what you might want to think about for those campaigns.” So, that's an area of strategic value that I think communicators can think about.
Steve Barrett: And that's social media really in many ways it's the thing that's knitted this all together and made the alignment make sense, hasn't it? It means comms and marketing have to talk to each other. You can't be on parallel lines you've got to be aware of what each is doing on social and how to respond in certain situations. What about the old chestnut about reporting lines, you know, does it matter if the comms person reports into marketing or just the CEO, or HR? Or, is it just more about how that structure works in practice — egos aside?
Chris Lynch: I think it is more about how the structure works in practice. I think that what we've seen is that it is a little bit vertically dependent. So, if you look at certain industries where marketing is such a beast from a paid media perspective, and in terms of the millions and millions that are getting pushed in monthly around advertising, in a lot of cases communications might be managed as somewhat of a discrete function because the discipline is very different. In other cases, you're seeing the alignment start to make a lot more sense as marketing organizations start thinking about the customer experience more broadly.
Because communicators, I think, often it's easy to forget that going out and reaching influencers it's still just a means to a greater end — which is how you're going to influence end customer behavior, right? So, marketers work at doing things like customer Journey mapping, customer experience mapping. Looking at your earned media campaigns is really important because you might say, “Hey, look, this is another mechanism by which were going out and influencing the same people who open our email campaigns, or engage with an ad.” So, in industries where they're starting to think more about the customer experience, I think you're going to see the occasional perspective of comms moving up under marketing where you have a head of comms that is reporting into a CMO. In other industries, especially the really highly regulated ones, I think you're still going to see communications as a stand-alone function because the CEO needs to have that kind of oversight, and in that case what you want to just do is have a good complementary relationship.
Steve Barrett: So, Chris, this podcast is called Earned Media Rising, there's never been a more exciting time to be in the profession. Talent and recruitment is so much of a strong issue for communications and all marketing functions, but why should a young person come into PR, and what's the, what are the exciting opportunities for people who are already in the profession and want to rise up in it?
Chris Lynch: So, number one, I think what I've told a lot of communicators that I talk to in the market that are thinking about how they recruit talent is to think a little bit outside of the box in terms of where they go for certain skill sets. So, as an example, it used to be that, for instance, going into the journalism community and finding someone who wanted to jump that proverbial fence into PR and comms made a lot of sense. I still think it . . .
Steve Barrett: And get paid a proper wage as well.
Chris Lynch: Yeah, right. Right, it still makes a lot of sense because those are people who are natural storytellers and having great storytelling capability, I think, will be a perennial thing and should always be something that's always there for comms. But more and more, I think that it might behoove communicators to look at other types of skill sets — like someone who has a little bit more of an analysis background, who understands how to work with some data sets and say, “Look if we want to craft a story that's fantastic, but we should know a few of the data points when we go to build that story as to what's going to resonate at the front end of that story.”
So, I think what will end up happening is, I think, a good healthy mix on the recruiting side is to say, “I am going to hire some people who really come more from that storytelling background and I'm going to get someone who kind of has a little bit more of that analysis background,” and kind of get those complementary skill sets working.
Steve Barrett: That's a good point because we talk a lot about AI, now, don't we? And we go to industry conferences it's always top of the agenda, and it's going to decimate jobs in the industry. But actually, it's going to help smart, analytic focused and data focused, people do a better job and be more creative in many ways.
Chris Lynch: Yeah, that's right. One of the things I talked about a lot this Spring, when I had the opportunity to go out in the market and talk in some rooms with some communicators, was that I don't think the idea of doing storytelling and working with data need to be mutually exclusive things. And frankly, I think that's why communications was a little bit more sluggish than other parts of the externally facing function at company's to kind of embrace all this digital stuff that's going on. And it was intimidating, but if you look at some of the different pillars of storytelling — things like being really original with an idea, really appealing to a specific type of demographic, all those different areas of storytelling have different data points that support them.
So, being able to look at, “Hey I want to tell a story that's really original for my audience.” Well, let's look at your audience, look at all the data points that the rest of people in the marketing organization may have, to inform the story that you are going to create.
Steve Barrett: Yeah, I think there's going to be some really exciting opportunities ahead in that and being truly creative in that environment where you've got so much more data to inform what you're doing, but you're leading it rather than the technology. So, really exciting opportunities ahead and some great opportunities for people to come into the industry.
Thanks, Chris, that's the end of part one of our Earned Media Rising. Stick around with us for part two. We're going to discuss the chatter about your brand among external sources, which is higher than ever, and that old chestnut about tightening budgets. As well as, how do we operate in that environment where clients are always looking for more value. So, we'll see you in part two of earned media rising.
Steve Barrett: Welcome to part two of Earned Media Rising, our new podcast in partnership with Cision. Here at PRWeek, before we get into it, I want to tell you about the new website that you can go to get all of the podcast and lots of other content. It's called www.earnedmediarising.com.
Launched in mid-September, and the news site focuses on the rise of earned media and aligns with the challenges and opportunities on this podcast. So, loads of content there for you to check out to go and have a look and let us know what you think. And if you got any ideas bring us an email and we’ll try and implement it.
On the site right now, you can see social journalism key takeaways from that big trend, a feature about Instagram detailing the channels best practices for business and sharing you make the most of its unique qualities and benefits, and there's features on how fake news is an increasing risk, not only for the industry, but also for clients. And, we also have opinion pieces from Aflac’s Katherine Hernandez-Blades on monitoring and measuring media activity, and much much more. So, do check it out, www.earnedmediarising.com, which goes along with these podcasts.
So, as I said it, welcome back to part two — Chris Lynch, CMO of Cision is here. Welcome back, Chris.
The 24/7 chatter about your brand on external sources, now it's just definitely isn't it, you can't be in communications or marketing and not be on top of that. How has it changed the job, and what does it mean in terms of the communications function? How important is it to be aware and react properly to what's going on?
Chris Lynch: it's certainly important to, I think, parse up the different use cases that you're trying to solve for. And that's like sort of a good clarifying exercise to start. If you look at social just from a corporate responsibility standpoint, it still stretches across a variety of different functions so comms is responsible for, sort of, what is the corporate official message on a lot of things. But then you also have customer service and customer experience teams that are focused on when someone just has a bad, or a good, customer experience and how you react to that.
Steve Barrett: We've all seen those go viral haven't we?
Chris Lynch: Yeah, and I mean, those are always, those are always the staple use cases at the beginning. It's like, “Oh, look how the cable company now responds better to angry tweets,” and all of those pieces. So, just from a, before you even get into the technology and analysis piece, usually what I recommend companies think about is— just who is responsible for what? Because social is become that broad of a function, and all the different things that people are saying about your brand really do impact so much of the organization.
Steve Barrett: There's no point having a crisis plan on, on the hoof, and generating on the hoof, you've got to have it ready. You got to have done gone through the drills just like any other team, and have it off pat, and ready to implement quickly.
Chris Lynch: Exactly, the other piece that I think is important is if you look at . . . there is technology that can monitor what's happening with brand sources that's obviously important. What can you pick up on these different social channels this technology can help you, kind of sort through the signal-to-noise ratio. What kind of topics do we care about the most as a brand, and that we want to really focus in and make sure we're having proactive conversations and responses around. But no matter how good the technology is, I think you also need to kind of augment it with people who can actually look at that data intelligently and start to bubble up some things, and some topics, especially to the executive level around how you want to start responding to these different brand messages. Because it's very tempting to think that you know you can just set up one of those social media war rooms and, you know, pay a bunch of folks right out of college to just respond to this stuff in real time, but I don't really think that's a strategy.
Steve Barrett: They've got to have the right level of seniority and experience, haven't they? To know —sometimes I want to stay quiet, sometimes when there's an opportunity to really get your brand engaged in a conversation, and to mutual benefit and also encourage your own stakeholders, whether they’re staffers or other people, customers, to be part of the story as well and part of the conversation.
Chris Lynch: And part of that comes down to empowerment, and being very smart about at what levels of the organization are people empowered and encouraged to have those conversations. At what level do you need them sort of kicked up in a certain direction? Where you’re saying, “look, a senior communicator needs to make that decision,” around a, some type of message, or some type of storyline that's brewing out there. So, I think that's an important piece too — is setting that policy and then once you have the policy set, then you kinda need to work out what is your right blend, or recipe, of technology and analysis to get that right.
Steve Barrett: Yeah, and you got to have access to the right people. If you need access to a lawyer, or a senior exec, they need to be contactable at all times. So yeah, that's a good point.
We're going to finish by talking about budget. It's our favorite subject, and you know, we all know that clients are looking to save money these days. You've heard about zero-based budgeting a lot, so, tightening budgets your competing with paid media, there's always the concern that marketing gets more money in its budgets. So, how does the poor old communicator prosper in this environment and sort of make the case for more bang for their buck, and to get proper funding for what they're doing? Because as we've talked about on Earned Media Rising, the storytelling is coming, the markets coming to us, isn't it? it's engaging all of the disciplines. It's not just PR and communications anymore.
Chris Lynch: For earned media to get a greater share of the budget they do need to focus a lot on, “How can we attribute the value for the different campaigns that were running back to the business.” So, in part one of this podcast we talked a little bit about that — the idea that as, I, as a communicator, I'm going to run a campaign, what type of business metric do I want to try to map that campaign too. And sometimes you're not always going to get that hard-lined correlation that you want, but at least being able to show some type of correlation I think it's important, especially as your starting to go up the food chain and talk to a lot of C-level executives about securing that budget.
The other thing I'd say is, I would encourage folks who worked on the inside of the house to go ahead and remind a lot of the people inside your organization that even with the issues with trust in media — the presidential election in the U.S., fake news, all that stuff notwithstanding — consumer trust in earned media remains very high. People generally trust someone who is not in the employee of a brand more than they trust someone who's paid by a brand to deliver a message.
Steve Barrett: People like themselves, don't they? That's what the studies show.
Chris Lynch: Yeah, and so, I think it's important to remember that consumer trust in these mediums is very high and it's important to double down on that investment. And I think on one hand you do need to work on sort of, not only the technology, I mean the technology, you know at Cision we're working on this — the technology is becoming there to be able to start making those ties from business metrics back to comms. That's one piece of it.
I think the other piece, in that, you know, it's a tough thing sometimes to go out in the market and talk with communicators about, because I never want them thinking that I'm insulting their business acumen — but a lot of times I do think communicators need to up their game a little bit in terms of how they talk the language of the rest of the business. And that does involve going to night school a little bit some of the times, and just sort of saying, “You know what, I had a long day, I just want to get our campaigns out the door, we had some kind of comms issue to deal with today that was not planned, but I had to deal with it.” But the more you can kind of learn to go at different parts of the function and say, “Hey, this person who works on the e-commerce side, or this person who is a head of sales, I'm going to try and deepen my relationship with this person and really understand what's important to them.” Because, you start to get that stuff floating in your mind, I think your communication strategy will start to attack with it.
Steve Barrett: That's really a good point, because at the end of the day comms can be the glue that holds all those functions together, and if you want to be taken seriously by the C-suite, and by the CEO, you got to have that same understanding of the business, and the business, generally as they do. So, really good point there, Chris, to finish on.
Thank you for joining us, great conversation. Check back in at Earned Media Rising. As we said, earned media is rising in this podcast and in content on the website, which we've partnered with Cision to bring to you is going to reflect all that.
Hopefully, you'll join us next month on this podcast. We're going to discuss the great debate — earned versus paid media, so don't forget check out the website www.earnedmediarising.com. Thank you again, Chris, and we'll see you next time on Earned Media Rising.