Last updated on April 27th, 2023
A secret to being highly successful in business is adopting the right branding and PR practices. It is all about establishing effective communication with a target audience. But, many businesses just do not follow the best practices to make the branding and PR work for their growth. Designhill conducted an online session where the branding expert Katherine S. O’Donnell showed the professional approach to make it all work for businesses. Have a look!
Branding and PR are two main components of taking a business to its target market and customers. Simply putting a product or service without any strategy will leave your audience confused. They will find it hard to figure out who you are and what exactly you do. This leads to a lack of trust on their part as well.
However, not many businesses follow the right approach when trying to build their brand. They also do not have a convincing PR strategy.
To highlight the importance of branding and PR and the right strategies, Designhill conducted an AMA session with branding and PR expert Katherine S. O’Donnell on this issue on 6th November 2020. The topic of the webinar was – Branding And PR: Best Communication Practices To Increase Business Viability.
Katherine discussed key aspects to start branding strategy and gave tips on how to network and build useful media relationships. She shared her experience on how to tell stories to get people to engage in a brand and what is the role of advertisement in the growth of a business. The attendees also got valuable insights on hiring brand identity professionals.
Katherine is a well-known Marketing and Communications strategies. She helps companies formulate data-driven powerful branding and PR plans. Having 15 years of hands-on experience in reputation management, Media Relations, and brand positioning, she ensures that brands adopt the right PR approach that helps build relationships with target audiences.
- Key aspects to kick start your branding journey.
- How to network & build useful media relationships for effective PR?
- How to weave stories and get people talking about your brand?
- What role does advertising & online reputation management play
- Best tips to hire brand identity professionals for your business.
Below, we have shared a YouTube video as well as the transcript of the session in the form of questions and answers where you will learn how to build your brand and PR strategy. Have a look!
Designhill: What should early startups need to do to make most of their PR efforts?
Think Big – Act Small
Katherine S. O’Donnell: When you start, you should always think big, but you can act small. So, think about who your audience is. For instance, you have to think about how they will be perceived on the local, national and international levels. And then, once you have established your business, you want to start branding yourself. You want to start reaching out to the community and on social media networks. And this is what I mean by acting small.
You should, for instance, do the paid media ads on social media. These ads don’t cost very much but are incredibly effective. Because it allows you time, and to see how your brand is getting out there within the community. You know how people are responding to it and how much reach you’re getting.
Avoid PR Until You Have A Story
When targeting the correct audience for your services or products, avoid PR for the period until you know how you want to tell your story. And this is incredibly important. Because you want to be consistent in the way that you tell your story at all times. I would also say that not all PR firms, for instance, can get you traction on every story that you pitch to the media, and they’ll be the first ones to tell you that as well.
So, it is sometimes a hit or miss. And sometimes it is based on luck. I mean, it depends. So I would say, think big, but act small by doing social media and paid advertisements. You could easily do $25 to $50. Also, you can see how impactful you are doing and with your brain at that time.
Pay Attention To Colors
When you are starting your own business, some of the things that you want to think about are colors. What colors do you want? And in your advertisement, you talked about it. For instance, this photographer wanted to start her own business, and she went on to your website. She looked at all the various business logos.
When you think about the type of logo you want for your business, think about the colors. What color scheme do you want? Do you want a primary color or a secondary color? Or do you want an accent color? 8::01
Then, while putting together your branding, be consistent with it. So, find something that you like and stick with it. This is because you can’t just go along and then a year later decide to change it. You have already built a base of people who recognize your brand.
So, think about all of that thoroughly and upfront when you are establishing your business. Find out how you want to establish your brand identity, what it looks like the look and feel of it. And that will all work out well for you in the very beginning if you think all of it through.
Designhill: What are some of the best practices to research and identify the right PR platforms for a business?
Find Out 3 Different Platforms
Katherine S. O’Donnell: You have established your story, and you want to tell it related to the products or services you are offering. And, you need to know how it’s helping the community. Also, what’s going to go a long way. Find out three different types of platforms that I usually know a lot about.
For instance, PR Newswire. This is where you could pay a minimal amount and you put it out there over the wire. It reaches a whole bunch of different reporters. And you want to be specific to whatever your product is to try and reach those reporters because you’ll get the best bang for your buck that way.
The Business Wire is more specific to the business-related situations and stories. So investor relations, public relations, public policy, and marketing professionals will rely on the Business Wire, for accurate distribution, etc. And, the news is constantly moving, it’s revolving so, things get lost.
You just kind of have to just be very strategic in the times that you are sending out this press release as well. And then also Newswire, so that’s specific to top pop culture, news, music, TV, and gaming. And those are the three that are well known out in the PR world.
Designhill: How can we quantify our PR and branding efforts to convert it to something measurable?
Katherine S. O’Donnell: There are six impactful ways to see how well your PR efforts are working, and how much visibility you are getting.
There is website traffic. When you are establishing your company, for instance, you get a logo, you register your company. And then you want to start building your website. This is what I was talking about when you figure out the look and feel of what you want your business to look like. You must build that website to also look like your logo, and it all fits together.
There aren’t any random font fonts, for instance, you are very consistent in your look and feel, and the color scheme, all across the board to what fonts you’re using. And then not only that but like sizing to make sure that all the sizes are the same.
So, when you build your website, you can look at the back end to see how much traffic you’re getting on your website. And this provides an excellent gauge of how your campaign, your PR and your branding efforts are going.
The second one would be market surveys. And you can see out in the community, how that is working and how impactful, your brand is within the community.
Then, the number of backlinks. And for people that are familiar backlinks are incoming links to a web page that tend to rank higher on search engines such as Google, and others.
Then the other is higher rankings for specific keywords. You will have keywords for your branding, make sure that you are consistent with that. That’s what’s going to be picked up online.
Media and Social Media Monitoring
Media monitoring is also one of the most essential parts of your PR exercise. And then last but not least, is social media monitoring, and measurement. Digital and social media are an integral part of PR and data-driven powerful branding.
So, if you are on LinkedIn, you can see how well you are putting your message out, what your brand is, and how it’s getting a lot of traction. I would say that those are the six integral ways of PR and branding.
Designhill: We often hear of the term media money where a prospective collaborator asks us to convert our cross-branding efforts into media monies. How is that done?
Collaborate With People
Katherine S. O’Donnell: Collaborations can be incredibly important to your brand. It helps you reach more audiences. You reach people that you would never be able to get an opportunity to have them see your brand, your products, your services.
For instance, you want to find people who have the same values who are reaching the same types of audiences. You want to be able to reach out to them. Then, you say, hey, I have got this brand or I have got the service that I want to try and get out there.
For instance, I will put your information out there on the websites. Then if you can do the same for me, and you kind of cross-reference your audiences. It helps you get a wider base. And I would say that one really good example of collaboration. I am going to kind of go into a story about this. When they came out with the iPhone six, they had collaborated with the brand YouTube. YouTube had not come out with any new albums for quite some time.
So, when they made this big presentation about the apple I watch, and the iPhone six, they brought on YouTube, and everybody got a new album from YouTube, and they didn’t put it out through any other recording label, they put it out through iTunes. So this was a great collaboration, because this not only got you back on the, on the stage, no pun intended.
But, it allowed for people to say, you too have it still around, and we can get this new album without paying for it. There was something kind of out of the box that Apple had come up with. And it was very smart. It got a lot of visibility for the Apple brand, but also the YouTube brand.
Then I would say, in terms of influencers, for instance, you hear a lot about Instagram influencers. And so if you want an influencer to get your brand out there. You find somebody who you think has the same values. You don’t want to go to a whole bunch of people just to put it there. You have to be incredibly strategic and consistent in how you are reaching people.
So, either they will reach out to you or you reach out to them. But you want to make sure that you all have the same values. And I can’t stress that enough. Because as you go along with your brand, you don’t want to say I made a mistake.
Or, somebody has created a crisis communications issue for my brand. And it’s something that you can’t come back from. So you want to make sure that you are very careful as well.
Designhill: Can you just emphasize a little more on how effective storytelling can help position a brand more effectively?
Ensure Consistency Of Message
Katherine S. O’Donnell: So I would say that, I know I’ve mentioned consistency a lot already. But in PR that is incredibly important. And the same thing with your branding. So, I would say that, come up with your message points and make sure that everybody’s on the same page within your team on those message points. This is because you can’t go back.
Know Your Brand Persona
Once you put it out to the public, it’s out there. You want to figure out what type of style you want to direct towards your audience and then your brand voice? Is it true to your brand’s values and persona?
The persona could be playful, severe, highbrow, or humorous. Then go ahead and tell your story. So share how your company or brand is impacting others. How is it making a difference? And how is it changing lives for the better, and then tell your story in a way that captures your brand voice and resonates with the target audience?
A long time ago, Chevy Chevrolet in America had put out the Chevy Nova car. And in English, Nova means new. But when they tried to put the new car out into Latin American countries, they couldn’t understand why their car wasn’t selling in Latin America. And supposedly, the story goes that they have made a mistake. They had thought they were bringing out a new car, and everybody was going to be excited about it. But when you are coming up with all of this, think about how it could be translated into different languages into different countries.
Another example is that of a country with the Cyrillic alphabet. I happened to be standing in line at the grocery store. And I see in big letters Barf, B, A, R, F. It was for detergent and in English, and I got such a kick out of it. But I thought, why should I buy something that I am going to clean? using birth. So when I think big, think about how you can position your brand. Think of positioning it not only locally, nationally, but internationally too. This is because you can’t go back on that, it becomes kind of a PR nightmare to make changes to it.
So you just want to think all of these things through and be very strategic in the way that you want to message your audience on a local, national or international level.
Designhill: Do PR, machinery for organizations, or people involved in unethical practices?
Katherine S. O’Donnell: I would say that not all publicity is good publicity. Also nor do you want it because if you put publicity out there. If you have not thought of every single angle that you possibly can, it could come back and bite you. And it becomes really difficult to change your image to come back from a crisis. So, that is when I would most definitely have a PR firm on speed dial to help you. This is because the news moves so incredibly fast. Therefore, if you don’t have a team to help you regain your reputation, it will be difficult to come back from that.
When I was starting in this industry, I thought that it would be incredibly easy to put whatever news out there about the services. We had great products. But, we weren’t prepared for the likely repercussions and answering some of those questions. I’ve learned from experience that we’ve got to look at this from every single angle. We must find out how this can be perceived and make sure that we pick through every single message. In this way, we can avoid any negative connotation.
Designhill: Is it the time where PR machinery should be the most active?
I would say that PR is a constant effort. So, pay attention to all the details, not only for your branding but also for your stories. How you are conveying it out to the public, all need to be very constant. This you should do to increase your visibility, especially as the audience is starting. I would say that is something that they could easily do themselves, and do that internally,
Establish Media Relationship
The way to do that is by establishing relationships with the media. So, one of the things that I have always loved in all of my jobs is connecting with reporters. In this way, I am on their speed dial, which is a great position to be in. Therefore, I don’t think that PR is only for a mistake, I think that it’s something you could do internally, where you establish these relationships.
For instance, my business partner and I worked in healthcare. And during the time of the Affordable Care Act, which came out a few years ago, we were working for a health care agency. I pitched the reporters that said, that, I have a chief medical officer here who could answer your questions anytime that you need. And so whenever things were coming out, after the Affordable Care Act, she would continuously be called me. She needed somebody she could interview and that she trusted.
We provided them sometimes with talking points so that they knew how to keep our brand out and the name of the organization out there. But then he was also very consistent with the way that he was putting the messages out.
I think you could do that very internally and at a smaller level. And I would say, with research PR firms, and that way, if you need any assistance, right away, you can contact. It can help you get back on track with your image for sure.
Designhill: How do you get past the small perception of a startup? Is there a way to easily get past the resistance to a new brand?
Katherine S. O’Donnell: Let us say that a way to get past your perception of the startup is that you have to power through. It might take a long time but building your brand does not happen in a day. Breaking down a brand can happen in a day, but building a brand will take a long time. And so you have to be patient and power through.
I would say if you are not getting past the resistance, then try something else. You can try doing some paid media. Why don’t you put it out there within a small section of your community and see how the brand gets out there? Know how people understand it? How are they reacting to it? How are they understanding it? It is simple for them to understand, and allows you to pick what you might have within your brand. You can start small that way.
Designhill: When you start a new startup and want to brand your business, should one conduct service and find out what the people want, or do whatever the owner wants and see what works?
Katherine S. O’Donnell: If you are being strategic, you want to put it out there, to see how it is going to be responded to. Surveys are always great. But I would say you should focus on where you could choose and what you want to do to impact people. You can always tailor it based on the needs of the public.
I would say, you should find something that you enjoy doing. Think of what you put out there, and how it impacts people. So, focus on your business and then allow people to conduct online surveys for money to see how best to get it out there to the public.
Designhill: Tell us the difference between the two, grand strategy and PR?
Katherine S. O’Donnell: The brand strategy is constant. That is just something that you always have to do. You always have to think of every single angle every single day. I would say every day you as a representative of your organization, product, program, and service. You are always constantly building your brand and your reputation.
So PR professionals can help you keep your reputation intact. And they can help you elevate to the next level. And I would say that it is up to you to decide what your brand’s strategy might be and how you want to carry it through consistently. And, and then a PR firm can also help you be more strategic, tactile, and move past conflict.
Designhill: Do you foresee any challenges in the social media landscape or public relations?
Katherine S. O’Donnell: I would say that brands, marketers, and PR professionals always have to tailor their craft to best accommodate the brand. It is a pandemic or no pandemic, they always have to do that. The world is constantly on the move. Some people think that they might have the best product for today. But tomorrow might change and they might not.
Think Out Of The Box
So, you have to think outside of the box at all times. You should be very creative and figure out how to angle your story, product, or service. How it makes the most impact. You need to move very quickly and easily. That is where agility comes in and is incredibly adaptable. If you wait, you might miss an opportunity to build a brand that people recognize. So, you have to think of every single angle quickly. And you just have to be able to put it out there.
An example of this is a recent viral video of a man whose car won’t work. So he just picks up his skateboard. He’s got to get to work. And he is drinking Ocean Spray CRAN raspberry and lip-synching to Fleetwood Mac’s dream song. The video is really short, 15 seconds. Well, he posted it on his lunchtime. And then in no time, he gets 400,000 hits on Tik Tok. And then in no time, it’s 18 million views.
So, Ocean Spray jumped on this opportunity to be able to get their brand out there, they reached out to him right away, they donated a truck to him. And they put it into a PR opportunity where they donated cartons full of Ocean Spray Cran raspberry juice. So, I mean, he’s probably stocked for the next 100 years at this point.
But what it did was that it allowed for Ocean Spray to be the hero too, showing that they cared about somebody. It also allowed them to become relevant. Again, the same thing with Fleetwood Mac. Their sales just skyrocketed. And so, people benefited from this 15-second video, and ultimately, the man who lost his car, got a new car, and he benefited from it. And people are reaching out to him and saying, hey, how can I help you? So, think about what the possible outcomes could be and then react to them.
Designhill: Could you please give us some tips on carving and maintaining a personal brand?
Represent Your Brand All The Time
Katherine S. O’Donnell: It depends on your brand. Is it your product or service that is the brand or are you your brand? think of that constantly. You need to put yourself out there in the community and the public. And, you have to represent your brand at all times. Therefore, when you are coming up with any kind of situation, always make it positive. This is a great way to get yourself out there as well as a spokesperson.
So, your name is associated with your brand. You are the spokesperson, you are attending events, your name is associated with your product or service, and your brand. If people like you, they’ll like your brand. You should utilize yourself as the brand and as the sponsor of the brand.
Designhill: Do you think we need to show a lot of faces, like in a video to increase branding?
Katherine S. O’Donnell: It depends on you who is the brand because if you are the brand your face is associated with the brand. Take any opportunity to get your face out there so that people can see and associate your face with your brands.
Designhill: What do you think, are some of the common mistakes you see professionals making in the space of PR and branding?
Lack of Consistency
Katherine S. O’Donnell: I see a lack of consistency a lot of times. So, that could be from when you started your business. For instance, creating a website that might have multiple fonts. You might have different color schemes because you want it to be colorful. But how is that going to impact the viewer? Are they going to be able to see all the colors? If you use white on a grey, it is not going to be seen properly. But if you use blues and reds and purples, and greens, are people going to be able to see that on your website? So, think about being minimal and consistent with that.
Lack of Logo Placement
Another mistake the starters make is regarding the lack of logo placement. If someone is trying to build a brand and want to put it in the left-hand corner of all their collateral materials, all their marketing materials. They start putting it around in different places. Then, people say this is the same company and the same brand. It is not what they are used to. So, figure out where you want to position your logo.
Not Having A Branding Guide
One of the mistakes professionals make in branding and PR is not having a proper branding guide. I would highly recommend putting together a branding guide. And this guide kind of keeps you on track with how you want to put your brand out.
So, your branding guy could involve what fonts you are going to use to what size. You are going to use the color scheme, what your brand feels is, and what your message points are. When your company grows, your employees can see that branding guidance. You can make modifications, but that keeps your employees on track for branding consistently out there.
Not Using The Brand Photos
I would say, you should utilize the photo that best represents your product, service, and brand. For example, I was working with a client in California, and they wanted to highlight their product, which was outside. So, they wanted to use a sunset. And I thought that well I see this picture.
However, it’s a sunset on the east coast. I knew by the light that it was the sunset on the east coast. And I thought, there is no way that people are going to understand that. Whatever product we will try to sell on the west coast, we will use a visual on the east coast that people are going to believe. So, find visuals that people can relate to.
Designhill: When you have limited funds, how can you utilize social media alone to grow your brand?
Katherine S. O’Donnell: When you’re using social media, it can be very effective for you. So maybe if you could, and I’m just going to use $5, for instance. And you could just start small, so you can target, say, who you are trying to reach. That target audience is where you live and work. Try that first, and then see if you can grow that, then maybe put another $5 in social media monitoring to get your word out there.
Designhill: How important PR is?
Katherine S. O’Donnell: If you are in project management, then going PR is great. You should consider this as a big project that you are managing. So, the PR people that you are managing also get more visibility for yourself.
Also, as you do email newsletters as part of PR, you talk about your story and what products you are trying to sell. So, if you are starting in project management, and you are wanting to go into public relations.
Designhill: Is there a way to establish email contacts outside of social media and work in the business?
Purchase Media Lists
Katherine S. O’Donnell: You can purchase media lists that have email contacts. And it can be specific to whatever your product service is so that you are targeting your audience. So, you can purchase emails, which is a good way to start and reach out to people. When you come up with your social media strategy, you want to put it out to your social media, say for $5. But then you also want to send out an email and do it strategically.
So, your email at nine o’clock in the morning. And then, you put out on social media, the same type of message points, but just condensed. We know that words count, and you want to put it out soon afterward so that people can see it multiple times. That is what you want. You want people to see your brand, your product, or service multiple times.
These are the major considerations you should follow while working on your brand and PR strategies. But have patience as the results will take time, maybe many months, to realize.
At the same time, revisit your brand identities such as logo, business cards, websites, brochures, and many others. These are your key visuals that must be designed to grab your target audience’s attention.
This is where the leading marketplace, Designhill comes into the picture. Also, don’t forget to use both printable and digital versions of a business card. An electronic business card proves to be easy to share without physical contact.
You can access winning logo designs etc by launching a design contest on this creative marketplace. You can get a winning visual identity of your brand shortly at a reasonable price.
Branding and PR are two crucial exercises that businesses must come up with the right strategies. The expert on these issues, advises businesses to start small on doing their PR and first have a brand story to share. Establish a good media relationship and be consistent with your approach in terms of placing your brand visuals.