New Perspective on “Global Reach, Local Knowledge”

By Monty Hagler

Sitting in a conference room high above the crowded streets of San Jose, Costa Rica, among a group of public relations agency CEOs, I witnessed the Worldcom Public Relations Group tagline in action.  Partners from Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and other Latin American nations passionately discussed how to help clients in their respective countries succeed by understanding the communication, political, economic and cultural nuances that so often trip up companies.

I attended the Worldcom LATAM Regional meeting for several reasons – to represent the North American region and Global Board, to meet new partners who have joined the world’s largest and oldest partnership of independent PR agencies and, most importantly, to learn how RLF can better support clients as they evaluate expansion into Latin American markets.

Just as colleagues at work are more than images on a Zoom screen, Worldcom holds in-person meetings for the express purpose of ensuring we do not look at our partners as simply dots on a map. In an emerging, Covid-fragile world, we are starving for interactions that are not defined by a screen, text or call. While the work world is definitely a better place with the freedom and flexibility technology provides, there is no substitute for face-to-face interactions, casual conversations over coffee or meals, spontaneous brainstorms, subtle mentoring and a host of other ways we build trust, confidence and bonds with our colleagues and clients. That’s particularly valuable for younger workers. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on studies in which Generation Z workers love the flexibility of working remotely, but their levels of stress, loneliness and anxiety from never meeting their colleagues and working in isolation are incredibly high.

The LATAM meeting was organized by local partner Agencia Interamericana de Comunicación. They did an excellent job blending presentations from current partners with outside speakers. One presentation detailed the impact of COVID-19 on educational access in Latin America. Virtual learning in countries with significantly less than 50 percent of the population having broadband accessibility will have a dramatic, negative, long-term impact on the poor and vulnerable. We’re hearing a similar story in the United States as well; there will be societal consequences for reducing in-person learning to young people who need education the most for emotional development, social mobility and stability.

Presentations also detailed the dramatic shift in consumption patterns. Almost overnight, and in almost every corner of the world, people shifted from consuming services to consuming goods. Since we could not go out to restaurants, entertainment or take trips, we invested more in home makeovers, automobiles, new technology and other consumer goods.

In effect, there is a hurricane sweeping through companies and organizations, driven by the dynamics of health (COVID-19 and all its permutations), logistics (supply chain distributions), production (slowdown of manufacturing due to labor and materials), technology (lack of semi-conductor chips), energy (sharply higher costs) and commodities (rising costs driven by rising demand for corn, wheat, soy, beef and grain).

Challenging times bring out the best and worst in leadership teams and amplify the impact of their decisions. Consumer goods companies that reacted too slowly to the demand or were still overly dependent on brick-and-mortar retail to drive sales, lost market share and leadership positions. Companies that moved much too aggressively and stretched themselves too thin (think Peloton) have suffered similar fates.

Clear, consistent, transparent communications remain at the heart of how companies navigate complex challenges. It is much more than marketing, advertising or promotions with customer. Short and long-term success is dependent upon connecting with the internal and external audiences that matter most – employees, vendors, suppliers, regulators, legislators, investors, analysts, media and community partners – and ensuring all parties understand and have input, on the who, what, why and how of a company’s decisions. Because those decisions carry ripple effects for everyone associated with an organization, not just the executive suite.

Everywhere in Costa Rica one sees the slogan Pura Vida. It means “Pure Life” or “Simple Life,” and it reflects a desired way of living. For many people and organizations, it is easier said than done in these trying times. Our partners in Latin American described challenging economic conditions in their countries and all the steps they have taken to protect their employees and others who depend on them. I am honored to be their partner.

Perspective on Measuring Public Relations Value

In conversations with clients and potential clients, the issue of measuring the value and impact of investments in public relations is a frequent topic. It is a simple question without easy or straight-forward answers. RLF Communications’ (RLF) point of view is that measurement can and should be implemented if the client is committed to long-term investments in strengthening its brand, building awareness for its products and services, and deepening its relationships with stakeholder audiences.

At the simplest level, public relations can be measured with “ad equivalency,” “share-of-voice,” or other metrics that track earned media coverage. For example, ad equivalency metrics assign a value based on what that same “space” would have cost if it had been purchased. A story on a local television news program that airs for 60 seconds would be assigned the value of what that same airtime would have cost to run a commercial. Most formulas also assign a multiplier of 3-5 times to reflect the third-party credibility that comes from earned media. It can also be measured by creating dedicated landing pages or phone numbers tied to specific news releases.

While there are multiple variations and flaws with these approaches (how to measure tone, how to account for negative coverage that could have been so much worse without skillful PR support, etc.), it is the easiest way to create charts and graphs that can be shared with senior leadership teams. Although most companies have moved away from ad equivalency metrics, there is still a role for them as a baseline to track earned media efforts over time, particularly for specific projects such as product launches and promotional campaigns. RLF invests significant resources in monitoring systems and databases such as Cision, Sprout Social, Mention and other platforms to help provide this type of reporting and analysis.

Tracking the deeper impact of public relations initiatives to support company\organizational brands requires a more sophisticated approach. New services such as Signal AI are developing tools that harness the power of Artificial Intelligence in data gathering and analysis. Beyond that, there are a multitude of studies that address how to arrive at brand equity formulas but do not segment out the specific role public relations plays in creating that value. Even the Valid Methods Framework (VFM) adopted as part of the Barcelona Principles in 2010 does not provide helpful measurement tools that can be applied by organizations.

RLF defines public relations as “communicating, connecting and influencing stakeholders who can help or hurt an organization by what they think, believe, say and do.” As companies\organizations seek to establish or maintain leadership positions in their respective industries, establishing original and relevant business metrics will help determine the value of their public relations efforts with stakeholders. Those metrics start with RLF helping to clearly define what “success” looks like and what goals makes a meaningful difference to the company\organization.

Once we know which way is “True North,” RLF advocates adopting the “outcomes” model identified in the Guidelines for Measuring Relationships in Public Relations study commissioned 20 years ago by the Institute for Public Relations. It is still considered the gold standard in PR measurement techniques. The model identifies five outcomes of successful relationships with key stakeholders:

  • Control Mutuality (The degree to which parties agree on rightful power to influence each other.)
  • Trust (Built through integrity, dependability, competence and confidence.)
  • Satisfaction (Where positive expectations are reinforced, and benefits outweigh costs.)
  • Commitment (When the relationship is worth spending energy to maintain and promote.)
  • Communal Relationship (Both parties provide benefits to the other because they are concerned for the welfare of the other, even when they get nothing in return. This is in contrast to “exchange” relationships where all actions are predicted on expectations to receive benefits of equal or greater value to what has been given.)

Organizations that communicate effectively with stakeholders develop better relationships because management and stakeholders understand one another and are less likely to behave in ways that have negative consequences on the interests of the other. Therefore, the value of public relations can be determined by assessing the quality of relationships with strategic publics and measuring effective outcomes.

Every company\organization has a different set of key stakeholders, but they generally encompass both internal and external audiences, such as senior management, employees, boards of directors, regulatory bodies, legislative bodies, activist groups, analysts, retail shareholders, institutional shareholders, trade media, business media, local media, vendor partners, retail partners, suppliers, financial partners and labor unions. Let’s also not forget customers and the myriad of combinations they form. The list goes on and on, driven by an organization’s size, complexity and industry.

There will often be times when a company\organization is at odds with the needs and desires of certain stakeholders. In fact, there are times when going to war against those groups is required to accomplish organizational objectives. In those instances, the value of having done the hard work required in public relations pays off. As Sun Tzu recorded more than 2,000 years ago in The Art of War, “Know your enemy and know yourself, and fight a hundred battles without danger. Know yourself but not your enemy and win one battle but lose another.”

If companies\organizations truly want to understand where they stand with friends and foes, RLF recommends developing a Perception Matrix that assigns a current score for each “outcome” with every stakeholder audience. Strategies and tactics can then be developed to stabilize, improve and track outcome scores, with the desired objective to more effectively operate and achieve business objectives.

For example, companies\organizations can establish baseline scoring systems ranging from -5 to +5, with 0 serving as neutral. For each stakeholder group, an initial score can be assigned in each outcome category (Control Mutuality, Trust, Satisfaction, Commitment, Communal Relationship) and then work to create strategies with specific outcome objectives such as increasing positive share-of-voice, reducing regulatory cycles, aligning third-party supporters and other metrics that ultimately lead to improved company\organizational performance.

There is a no question this is tricky to figure out. Professor Jim Macnamara has written, “human interactions, relationships, feelings, attitudes, loyalties, perceptions and engagement do not yield easily to numeric quantification.” But companies\organizations can and should be able to develop a model that assigns numerical value to the investments they make in establishing (and maintaining) leadership positions in their respective industries.

Companies\organizations interested in these issues should also review insights gathered in the Authentic Enterprise report commissioned a decade ago by the Arthur Page Society. Page is composed of the top corporate public relations executives in the United States. The study was updated in 2013 and reaffirms that a proactive narrative is a key part of explaining an enterprise’s social value and defending the company’s reputation in the global marketplace.

Another resource that can be helpful is the annual Global Communications Report conducted by the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California. This survey is endorsed by the leading communication associations, and RLF participates in the data gathering process through our Worldcom Public Relations Group partnership. With more than 100 leading independent agencies around the world to draw on for trends, insights, proprietary research and best practices, we are able to access a multitude of resources for our clients.

RLF deeply believes in the power of public relations to move companies forward and build brand equity. Absolute quantification is a challenge in our industry, but we can develop metrics to inform our progress. We are devoted to ideas, strategy and service that help our clients succeed and we welcome the opportunity to work with clients who aspire to great things.

Spring Intern Spotlight – Chelsea Korynta

RLF’s internship program strives to offer students a holistic agency experience that exposes them to both the challenging and rewarding aspects of public relations. Throughout the course of a semester, interns enhance their skill sets, gain firsthand experience and acquire new knowledge to prepare for a career in public relations, marketing or advertising.

This spring, two new interns have joined the RLF team: Erin Reilly and Chelsea Korynta. Our second intern spotlight is on Chelsea Korynta.

“Hello! I moved to Greensboro for school in the fall of 2014 and have grown to love my college town. I am majoring in English and media studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and will be graduating in May! I grew up in a few different small towns throughout the Midwest, but I feel like I belong in North Carolina where the beach and mountains are both a short drive away. When I’m not working or at school, I love going to concerts, thrift shopping, or taking my dog for a run through my neighborhood.”

What has been your favorite part about working with RLF?

I have a few favorite parts! Above all I am very grateful for the opportunity to work on my writing skills in an environment like RLF. The internship coordinators and account leads are always available to workshop my writing and give thorough feedback, which is crucial for any developing writer. The work itself is engaging and interesting, too. Through the specific clients I’ve been assigned to, I’ve been exposed to some fascinating industries I probably would have never thought to look into on my own. For example, I’ve gotten to do some research on esports players that compete in world-class video game tournaments. It was fun to read about how insanely good these players are at their chosen game – and how invested fans are in stats and rankings, just like a non-virtual sport! Some other obvious perks of working with RLF are the fluffy dogs that are always roaming around and the beautiful rooftop workspace. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so I can spend more time up there – the view is beautiful!

What is your favorite movie?

Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is absolutely my favorite movie. The creativity and time that went into the production of the film is unreal! For those who aren’t familiar with the movie, it’s a stop-motion animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s original story. The characters are very detailed clay models of forest animals, and every frame had to be constructed extremely carefully by the production team to maintain continuity. The story is fast-paced and funny, with some great quotable moments throughout. Plus, Wes Anderson is a master of film aesthetics. The colors and music in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” give it a retro storybook feel!

What would your dream job be?

My dream job is to work with NPR! I listen to its programming all the time. The news coverage is reliable, and I can tell they report with integrity. My favorite segments have always been the on-air interviews. I love hearing a good story, and I’m always practicing asking good questions! All things considered, I’d love to work somewhere where I’m always writing!

Do you sing in the shower? If so, what is your favorite song to sing?

I have a pretty consistent rotation of Fleetwood Mac songs I like to sing in the shower. “Dreams” and “Rhiannon” are my current favorites.

Do you have any pets?

I am a dog mom to two pups! I adopted my first dog, Delilah, from the Guilford County Shelter about a year ago. She is a two-year-old pit-bull/lab mix who loves to cuddle and cause trouble. I also have an English bulldog named Heaven, who is a grumpy old man living in a dog’s body.

Spring Intern Spotlight – Erin Reilly

These days, even entry-level positions in public relations require real world experience. That is one of the reasons RLF strongly believes in hosting an internship program that exposes college students to the what agency life is really like on a daily basis. Over the course of the semester, local college students gain practical experience and firsthand knowledge by working closely with qualified professionals on a variety of client accounts.
This spring, two new interns have joined the RLF team: Erin Reilly and Chelsea Korynta. Our first intern spotlight is on Erin Reilly.
“I’m a Boston native who made her way down south for school. I’m a senior at Elon University majoring in strategic communications with a minor in business administration. I love cooking and travelling, but I love dogs most of all.”
If you could live in any country, where would you live?
If I could live in any country, it would be Italy. I come from an Italian family, so the culture and traditions are close to my heart. I also studied abroad in Florence for a semester and fell in love with it! There are so many beautiful places to visit in Italy and I can’t wait to go back and explore more.
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RLF’s Take on the Best Super Bowl Commercials of 2018

This year’s Super Bowl ads seemed a bit different than years past – gone were the Budweiser commercials featuring cute puppies or the beer’s trademark Clydesdales. Instead, the company chose to focus on the donations of water it made following recent natural disasters here in the U.S. Other brands also took a more somber tone, with humanitarian and feel-good narratives. However, humorous commercials remained a Super Bowl staple, with brands such as M&M’s, Doritos and Mountain Dew continuing to lead the way in generating laughs.
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A Reflection On My Internship

By Taylor Lord
This post is bittersweet, as it signals the beginning of an end of an incredible experience. When I first applied for an internship at RLF Communications, I was interested in the hands-on learning and the opportunity to work on different accounts with industry professionals. I could have never imagined all the good times of laughing with my co-workers, playing with the dogs as they roam around the office or heading to the rooftop deck after a long day.
Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t spend the entire internship socializing. Through these short months, I worked on four different client accounts, gaining a greater understanding of what it means to be a PR professional. Each day is different – sometimes, I create media lists or research speaking opportunities. Other days, I write blog posts or find articles to share on Twitter.
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The Art of the Pitch

By Taylor Lord
Pitching. It’s the reason that reporters have a love-hate relationship with PR specialists. A trick to improve your media relations lies in effectively pitching media outlets without hounding reporters. When thinking of a story idea, make sure you remember to consider tactics to accomplish the three pitching steps: the “before,” the “during,” and the “after.”
Media relations don’t begin by picking up the phone to call an outlet about an intriguing story. You need to establish a relationship first. Just think of the name: “media relations.” It implies a connection between you and the reporter. Before even thinking about dialing or clicking send, plan for the pitch.


1. Research

Imagine that you are working on a pitch for a new hire release. You create a media list and settle in for a long day of calling. The first outlet answers and, whoops, they only want product releases. If you keep contacting this publication to pitch new associates rather than new products, the reporter begins to think you are simply wasting their time and will ignore you when you do have a new product to pitch.
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What’s All the Buzz About Personal Branding?

By Taylor Lord
Ever called a tissue a Kleenex? Or asked a friend to borrow Chap Stick? Brands have infiltrated every aspect of normal life and each one of us is guilty of referring to an object by a trademarked brand name. In a culture that is branded to a T, it’s not surprising that the idea of creating unique and distinctive labels for individuals is a topic that seems to come up constantly.
From seasoned industry professionals to untried college students, people are concerned with their personal brand and how they can stand out from the crowd. Even if you say that you don’t have a personal brand because you don’t post three to five times a day on Twitter, guess what? That reluctance to be active on social media is an integral part of how people perceive you, and thus part of your brand.
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Fall Intern Spotlight – Camille Vargas

Classrooms are an effective way to learn the basics of the communications industry, but companies are always looking for applicants with practical, demonstrated industry experience. This is part of why RLF likes to engage students in our immersion-style internship program. Students can apply their skills on real client accounts, work with both mid-level and senior communications professionals and bring new strengths to the RLF team.
This fall, we welcomed two new interns to our team: Taylor Lord and Camille Vargas. Our second intern spotlight is on Camille Vargas.
“I am majoring in political science and media and journalism, while pursuing minors in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies and medieval and early modern studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I grew up in an extremely tight-knit Italian family in Edison, New Jersey. I love national parks, horses, autobiographies, the ocean and just about anything that involves the word cheese.”
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Fall Intern Spotlight – Taylor Lord

RLF’s internship program gives college students the opportunity to gain real world experience in an integrated communications agency. Over the course of the semester, interns learn practical knowledge by working closely with qualified professionals on a variety of client accounts.
This fall, RLF has two new interns that have joined the team: Taylor Lord and Camille Vargas. Our first intern spotlight is on Taylor Lord.
“I’m a native of the Tar Heel state, born and raised in Raleigh. I am a senior at High Point University, majoring in Spanish and strategic communication.”
Continue reading “Fall Intern Spotlight – Taylor Lord”