By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

Best of the PR Maven®: The Top 21 of 2021

It’s been an interesting year for public relations professionals.

We’ve all learned countless lessons amidst COVID-19. The PR Maven® podcast allowed me to glean wisdom from industry leaders and online influencers. I even had the privilege to share some of my own strategies as a guest on a number of podcasts this year.

Consider this your 2021 year in review: 21 “aha moments” to add to your PR professionals toolkit.

Best of the PR Maven®: The Top 21 of 20211. Be positive

Being a positive inspiration can build a following for any brand, as Shane Leketa learned through hosting his podcast, CoffeeTalk with Liquidshano1973. He talked about how sharing positivity can help to build a brand while also supporting others.

“If I can be paid to make a positive impact on people’s lives, that’s euphoria,” said Shane.

The seeds for Shane’s podcast were planted when he was journaling and blogging about his weightloss journey. As people began to read his reflections on the mental health aspects of weight loss, they encouraged him to expand into podcasting. His podcast now has 200,000 total new downloads and 1.75 million plays.

2. Go back to snail mail

Christine Richards’ love for writing letters has been a constant throughout her life. A graphic designer by trade, for Christine, writing handwritten notes and letters is more than just good manners. The practice also demonstrates to your professional contacts, colleagues and even potential mentors that you’ve taken the time to connect with them using a medium that’s a bit more intentional than email or text.

“It helps them to remember you because people don’t get a lot of mail,” Christine said. “It can make an impression on people that’s unexpected.”

3. Protect your reputation

Matias Rodsevich, founder of PRLab, reminded us that most public relations strategies have one thing in common: a focus on reputation. A strong reputation is not built overnight, and developing relationships with journalists and other contacts is an ongoing process.

“Ultimately, what we’re doing is creating a reputation,” Matias explained. “And while that reputation is not created from one day to the next, it can be ruined in five minutes. It’s very important to take care of it and to think about it in the long run.”

4. Foster personal connections

Founder of GreatHerGood PR, Jackie Berlowski said everyone needs to make the time to form connections, even Oprah, whom Jackie met while she was working on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Jackie said Oprah took the time to make eye contact, repeat her name and address her directly. Forming these connections is what Jackie calls her “PR Passport.”

“It’s a real functioning person who is receiving my email!” Jackie reminded us. “And it’s not just about my agenda and what I need to get done. If you make that person feel like [they’re worth your time], that’s when the deep-seated relationship is made.”

5. Do your homework

Sabina Hitchen, a PR professional in New York City recommended customized pitches that can really lead to media hits.

“When you customize your pitches — especially as a small business owner or entrepreneur — and you’re landing in the inbox of one specific journalist or blogger or reporter, there’s an exponentially higher chance of your story landing,” she says. “To me, press releases are like sending out mass news with fewer results.”

Sabina turned the strategy of doing your PR homework into a digital prep school called Press for Success. The platform gives entrepreneurs the tools they need to self-manage and implement publicity strategies.

6. Add a brand touch

Doing business amidst COVID-19 taught brands a lot of lessons about how to connect with customers and audiences.

One strategy I talked about on the PR Maven podcast is to brainstorm repeatable processes that you can use in your normal flow of business. This can demonstrate a little extra kindness, what we call at Marshall Communications, “the brand touch.”

For example, consider the specific, reliable language that chain restaurant employees use to greet customers when they pull up to a drive-through.This training happens because the business wants you to know you are seen and appreciated. Mirror those little details in your own business. For example, integrate consistent messaging in your emails and newsletters.

7. Know your target audience

Katie Shorey, Live + Work in Maine’s director of engagement, shared how her team connected with people in Boston who have a personal connection with or affinity to Maine. They then created specific communications for those people in Boston who had Maine on their minds.

“Maybe they grew up here,” Katie said. “Maybe they went to college in Maine, but now they live in Boston. Maybe they went to camp here, but now they live in Boston. That’s a typical, ideal candidate.”

Having a clear understanding of the audience for any PR or marketing campaign can inspire targeted approaches.

8. Know your strengths

Gallup Certified Strengths Coach Christine Tieri’s passion for coaching developed when she was running her own agency.

In her interactions with employees and clients, she began using the Gallup Strengths Finder assessment (now known as the CliftonStrengths assessment), which analyzes individuals based on 34 specific strengths. Whether it comes to individuals working on their careers, or a brand communicating to the world, Christine shared that focusing on strengths is the ticket to success.

“Why spend all that time and energy fixing your flaws, when if you spent that same amount of time and energy enhancing your natural talents, the sky’s the limit?” Christine explained.

9. Start with ‘why’

Opening a restaurant, especially during the peak of COVID-19, was a challenge, but Jordan Rowan, the general manager of Front & Main, used the restaurant’s ‘why’ as the path to success. The restaurant’s ‘why’ was about giving guests a true Maine experience and inviting them to enjoy the state’s local tastes and culture. Jordan shared how he dedicated extensive time communicating with his team about this purpose.

The restaurant’s executive chef, Jesse Souza said of the restaurant’s ‘why’: “We’re trying to stay true to our roots and show some respect to a lot of the great food traditions of the state. We have a lot of different people coming through. We want to showcase what we can do with these dishes that you grew up with, in your own household.”

When you define your why, you showcase what makes your brand unique, and give customers a reason to connect with you.

10. Walk a mile in your client’s shoes 

As a guest on the Make Meaning podcast, I shared the all-in approach that I like to take at Marshall Communications. I’ve learned that I can represent my clients much more authentically if I really delve into their business. This involves lots of research … and sometimes literally doing what your clients do.

Over the years, I’ve been certified as a ski instructor while representing a ski resort, become a rafting guide while representing a rafting company and so much more.

Doing the thing that the company or brand I’m working for actually does has made me a stronger voice for my clients.

11. Make friends with social media

New England sports broadcaster, Tom Caron, considers himself a broadcaster and fan first and foremost, but he’s also found his niche on Twitter. He told us that social media is one of his best ways to engage with fans — a strategy that can apply to any brand.

“Early on, I realized Twitter was a really good place to exchange ideas, to promote things and to engage fans,” Tom said of the platform. “I do try to engage and react there.”

While Tom has dabbled in other popular social media platforms, he hasn’t found any of them to be a natural fit for him, so he continues leaning heavily into Twitter. He advised other brands to focus on the channel that works and stick with it.

12. Get creative with advertising

When Wyman’s launched its innovative Just Fruit cups product, brand manager Colleen Craig worked on crafting an equally innovative ad campaign to match. The marketing campaign even included a scratch and sniff advertisement in Portland Monthly.

Colleen explained how this type of interactive ad invited readers to engage more of their senses to learn about wild blueberries — it also created a memory that stuck.

Colleen invited us to consider: “Rather than having just a static ad (which can be beautiful and really impactful as is), how do we get people to engage more of their senses?”

This kind of surprising experience can be a powerful tool to expand a brand’s reach.

13. Build cornerstone content

I shared with the Fast Forward Maine podcast that I am a big believer in cornerstone content. Cornerstone content consists of big pieces of content you can use to explain your unique point of view and to develop a platform, which will also help you build an audience.

When people find their way to this content, they can learn a great deal about what I do and the style in which I do it.

In order to effectively market your personal brand in today’s media landscape, you need to have plenty of content out there. As your personal brand evolves, look for opportunities to share your expertise and experience via blog posts, podcasts, books, videos and more.

14. Embrace digital 

Digital already reigned before COVID-19. Then the pandemic forced organizations to embrace digital even more — particularly for virtual meetings and classes at educational institutions. Even with the return of live events and in-person gatherings, the shift to digital can help brands connect with a wider audience.

Raffi DerSimonian, principal at DerSimonian LLC, talked about how his firm’s client, Maine Media, embraced online learning to connect with students across the globe and increase its enrollment.

He said: “It’s really about embracing both modes of education: digital and traditional. For any institution, it’s critical to think about how curriculum is delivered digitally, just as we’ve seen a shift across many industries.”

15. Contribute to the community

Allagash Brewing Company is a certified B Corp. The brewery’s founder, Rob Tod, shared how Allagash’s community support inspired his commitment to sustainability. Before COVID-19, its philanthropy department was giving about $375,000 a year to the local community.

When Rob saw other brewers in the area struggling with sustainable practices,  the company launched a co-op recycling program to collect hard-to-recycle materials from local breweries including stretch wrap, cardboard and other packaging supplies.

Said Rob: “I’m a believer in the B Corp status. It really is delivering tangible value to things that are important to us.”

16. Take one step at a time

As a college senior and an entrepreneur who is more than two and a half years into running his first startup, to say Josh Kim — founder and CEO of the online art marketplace The Cubby — got a head start on his career, is an understatement.

Josh shared with us that if he had started his entrepreneurship journey knowing he would build a successful company, he might have been discouraged with everything involved in the process. But by starting small through networking and sharing his ideas, he eventually got to where he is today.

He said: “Take it as one small win at a time. If I looked at this entire journey as one big win, I wouldn’t have gotten here. I would have given up and failed and struggled a lot more.”

17. Align passions with instincts

Phil Harriman, founding partner of Lebel & Harriman helps his clients who are trying to find the next iteration of a family business. His solution for finding the right path while staying true to his clients’ brand is to align passions with instincts.

The key, he said, is to match the company’s future with how the client is thinking logistically, emotionally and instinctually — aligning head, heart and stomach.

“When people are aligned logistically and emotionally, and their instincts are all lined up, they can make and implement life-defining decisions,” said Phil.

This approach has been an essential part of his personal success when working with clients and building his own brand, and it’s a lesson to apply to any brand strategy.

18. If you mess up, fess up 

In crisis communications, you need to act quickly. It’s essential advice I shared with Cheryl Broom on the Higher Education Coffee & Conversation podcast.

I talked about how having strong relationships with local reporters is especially beneficial in times of crisis. When a connection is rooted in trust, reporters are more likely to work with you as you develop a plan of action for your client.

How you handle the media requires poise and honesty. If you mess up, you need to, as I call it, “dress up, and fess up.”

19. Build your brand through creative multimedia 

Mark Fleming and Kevin Sennett combined their skills in photography and videography to create Lone Spruce Creative, a media production company based in Maine.

They talked about how great imagery can aid a cohesive marketing campaign, using photos and videos across all channels to tell a story. The challenge, they shared, is creating content that makes people stop and take a closer look. To do this, creation is key.

Mark said: “You have to go out there and create. Whether that means writing, taking photos, taking videos or drawing. Whatever it is that you really feel passionate about, there is no excuse, as many as we can come up with, for not creating.”

20. Promote yourself

The key to landing a new job, securing a client or running a business altogether is self-promotion, as I shared on episode 162 of the PR Maven® podcast.

However, many people are hesitant to promote themselves for fear that it may come across as bragging. But self-promotion doesn’t have to be synonymous with gloating. You can think of it as making yourself available to help people who need you. Think about their problems and how you — and only you — can help solve them. You can position yourself as the “white knight” who swoops in and saves the day as a PR expert.

21. Become an expert

The importance of thought leadership, when it comes to media interviews, transcends even the pandemic, as I discussed on episode 157 of the PR Maven® podcast.  Whether you’re an expert on public health or wild blueberry picking in Maine, the time may come when you will be called upon to be a spokesperson. You need to be ready.

One way to do this is by writing bylined articles, to show yourself as a subject matter expert. What’s important is to present information that shows you are an authoritative source. You can also carve out your own niche, by narrowing your area of expertise to the subject that you know the best, whether it’s working with a certain industry, or showing your passion for social media. You want to show that you are the one to turn to for the answers.

As we saw in 2021, any PR moment can be a teaching moment, and there is always more to learn, no matter how many years we’ve been in business. With these 21 tips, you’ll be ready to be an expert for any PR challenge that might come up as we head into 2022!

This is based on The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.