Marketing communications planning and executive thought leadership tips

Tips by Jeremy Woolf who is a public relations, communications and integrated marketing consultant. Jeremy Woolf Consulting

JEREMY WOOLF: I’m Jeremy Woolf. I run a consulting firm. My background is in public relations and communications. I’ve spent the past 26 years in public relations, looking more broadly at communications techniques beyond media relations in social, digital, influencer relations, and so on. I’ve done that through working for PR agencies, mainly with technology firms like IBM, Sysco, Xerox, Microsoft. More recently, as I’ve said, I’ve started my own firm, and I’ve got a couple of clients I’m supporting today.

B2BNXT: What do you provide for your clients?

JEREMY WOOLF: I have a simple approach to communications planning and thinking. It really comes down to three questions: What do you want to say? Who do you want to say it to? What do you want them to do with that information? I apply that, at its most basic level, to almost any communications challenge I have, because often people say … Years ago, I had someone say, “I need a Facebook page.” You would say, “Well, why?” They would say, “Well, because my competitor has one.” That wasn’t a good reason. That wasn’t a valid reason to go down that path. They’d actually forgotten to ask themselves those questions.

From my point of view, I start with that basic level of consultancy, then look at things like research-based planning. You try to establish what’s different in the market about the brand, the product, or the service. Develop a strategy based on whatever insight you derive from research, and then look at the tactics that will support that strategy, and then the measures that show those tactics are actually working.

That’s the core process that I apply to communications. I’ll give you one example. I had a financial services company that I worked with for several years, and they had a challenge. Their challenge was they have many partners throughout the United States and around the world that use traditional marketing techniques, so it was media relations, it was ad buys, and so on. But they were struggling in social, because they knew social, in particular LinkedIn and Twitter, were important channels for their audiences, but their time-poor partners were busy doing accounting services and audit services and so on. They didn’t have time.

They came to me and my agency, and said, “Well, okay. What are we going to do to improve this?” We developed, using those three steps, a response. Built a strategy, partnered with a software vendor who built us a communications platform, and then we built very good content, because we’re really trying to solve two problems. One is the executives don’t have the time, and they don’t know what to say. So we’re building a content platform, we created lots of social content for them, and then trained them how to use the apps, so they could actually push it out to audiences.

It was a great way to get them engaged. By the end of the program, we had around 6,000 people using the app on a regular basis. About a quarter of them said that they had had feedback directly from clients, from prospects, and also had business leads directly attributed to the program. It was a great way, using that three-step approach, to figure out the problem, look at the appropriate strategic solution, and then develop the appropriate response, and then, obviously, manage that process.

B2BNXT: When should a company start thinking about PR?

JEREMY WOOLF: I would say at the very beginning. Again, I mean, there are new companies starting all the time. I think, if you define PR … Let’s go back one step. If you define PR as simply “media relations,” then you’re missing what public relations is actually about. I mean, PR as a discipline is a strategic communications discipline. It’s designed to build strong relationships between organizations and the publics that they serve.

If you start from that mindset, if you’re a small company … Let’s say you’re a startup with a really good idea, working out of a WeWork, and you want funding. Okay, you’ve got a public that you want to reach. That public might be venture capitalists. You need to talk to a PR agency about how to construct a message that’s appropriate. What are the appropriate techniques to reach that audience? Then, how can we measure our ability to do that?

Don’t just jump in and say, “I need a media relations program.” Because quite frankly, you probably don’t need a media relations program at that stage. As the company grows, you start to broaden your audiences you want to reach, and then broaden your communications techniques accordingly.

B2BNXT: What works best for B2B companies?

JEREMY WOOLF: It’s funny, because it’s hard to generalize across my discipline, which is now, again, it’s paid, owned, earned, and social, so it’s covering a whole bunch of different techniques. For B2B, typically, it’s a longer sale. It’s an 18-month sale … This is technology, which is the background I have.

It’s an 18-month sale. It involves normally around seven decision-makers, and they typically are downloading at least 14 types of content, normally from the vendor side, as they go through their process from awareness, consideration, intent, through to purchase. Public relations can help all the way through that process for B2B.

The key, and this is where a lot of companies don’t invest properly, is they tend to focus very much on awareness. Awareness generation techniques like media relations, creating own-content. These are all good things, but they tend to go into the void, because if you’re a passive B2B buyer, you’re interested in what the company is saying, because you’re interested in the environment in which you work. But you want to make sure, as a PR professional, you’re helping a company once they become an active buyer, and actually looking to buy something, that you’re supporting their needs throughout their buyer’s journey.

I would say, from a PR perspective for B2B, you want to focus on awareness. You want to make sure, using appropriate techniques, especially with earned media, because again, that’s a great way of getting your message out to lots of people, and you have the endorsement of the masthead, which is still critically important today.

But as the buyer gets further and further, or closer to purchase, you’ve got to think about a broader range of techniques. This is where influencer relations can be helpful. This is where case studies can be very, very useful. It’s where video can be very useful, as well, especially with animation, if you’re trying to communicate a more technical message.

Again, I feel I haven’t really answered your question. But the answer is a variety of techniques, based on the audience, and based on what you want that audience to do as they get closer and closer to purchase.

B2BNXT: Which awareness techniques work best?

JEREMY WOOLF: I grew up in media relations. I still think that works really well. I think that, again, the media is very, very powerful. You can reach lots of people. It does come with the endorsement. I think in B2B, you’re talking to an audience that’s pretty sophisticated, and knows when they’re being advertised to. If they see a story that comes up in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, then they know that’s gone through a range of filters, and they know that the journalist writing that story has actually asked questions and the responses are appropriately filtered, and can be very useful for the brand. I think awareness … That’s one good awareness technique.

Owned media. I think your ability to publish, to create a video, can be useful for awareness, as well. Especially if you have appropriate SEO, and if you’re creating content that people want to come to. Because obviously, that’s going to improve its Google ranking. If someone’s typing in a search for, I don’t know, “I need a new cloud-computing setup,” then you want to make sure you’re landing appropriately.

I think social can be very useful, especially, again, if you’re trying to establish your executives as influencers. I think many B2B companies are starting to do that more and more. I feel that if they’re using their LinkedIn channels appropriately, if they’re using Twitter for amplification, that can be very helpful, as well. And I think paid techniques can be incredibly useful for amplifying the content and making sure your messages reach the right people at the right time.

B2BNXT: Where should a startup focus first?

JEREMY WOOLF: Be very, very focused. The first step is, don’t try to reach every possible audience you can. I know you’re probably … You’ve had this great idea you’ve been nurturing, and your friends and your family have told you how great it is. You think it’s going to change the world. The reality is, if you’re using an agency, or looking at your PR, you want to focus on the smallest possible audience group.

If you’re being that focused, and let’s say it’s … I don’t know. It’s in a digital commerce platform, or something like that. You want to really make sure that any type of outreach you do, whether it’s media, whether it’s social, is somewhere where you believe your audience is. You want to make sure you’re hitting the right audience at the right time.

The New York Times may not be the right channel for you. In fact, you’re going to have very few opportunities in the New York Times, especially as a startup, so if you are going for the Times, you want to make sure you’re ready. They’re going to need from you a very solid story, a very solid differentiator. They’re going to ideally need customers that they can reference and talk to, as well. There are a bunch of things that you may not actually have.

If you’re that startup, I’d be very, very focused on your audience. I’d be very, very focused on who we want to reach, and again, what we want those people to do. Quite frankly, before you even think about outreach, you want to make sure you’ve got your story straight. That’s, again with PR, can help you in defining a message, in thinking about the proof points you can use to validate, and then think about turning that into a story that’s going to be appropriate for those audiences.

Start there, and then have the conversation about “Which techniques do we use to amplify?” You may have a great story that lands in the New York Times, but if you’re trying to reach, I don’t know, IT developers, they might not be reading the Times. That could be a wasted effort.

I would say think about the one place that you know your audience is, and that could be a technology publication, if you’re a tech startup. Or it could be Mashable, or something like that. That could be a great place for your case study. You could sell that as an exclusive, which means you’re not selling, then, to multiple outlets. Once that story runs, that becomes a great piece of content. That’s an asset for you.

The next question, again, not enough people ask this question, is “What else can I do to amplify this story?” Can we use it as the basis of a conversation on our LinkedIn group? Or could we use it in advertising, and could we promote the fact that Mashable has written a story to other places? I mean, can we print it out and give it to our sales force? Can we have a newsletter that sends it out to our customers, as well? I would identify the one right place, and again, it could be Mashable, or it could be somewhere else. Then think about how you amplify that story across your channels.

B2BNXT: How do you become an influencer?

JEREMY WOOLF: Yeah, if you’re looking to become influential in any industry, or any sector, or around any particular message, it takes effort. I wouldn’t just rely on LinkedIn as a channel, but I think in B2B it can be a very powerful channel. If you want to become influential, you’ve got to have a platform.

What are the three key messages, and three is a good number, that you want to communicate? Or what are the three topics that you want to own? Is it cloud computing and customer service, or whatever it may be? Once you’ve identified those, you need to understand what the landscape looks like. Who is driving conversation around those topics?

You’ll need a content platform, and that could be LinkedIn, using the publish feature. It could be your own blog, or a company blog. But you need to be able to write or video, and communicate your key message and support it.

You need to have some building blocks in place. You need to have a great social profile, so it needs to have good photography. It needs to be up-to-date and current. It needs to be written using language that your audience is going to respond to. You need to talk frequently to that group. Again, you’re going to become influential not if your executive assistant or your PA does it for you, but if you’re actively involved in that community.

It’s not just pushing stuff out there and hoping someone reads it. It’s what can you do as an executive to help communicate that message? Do you update it on Twitter? Do you use Facebook, if it’s appropriate? Are you engaged in other conversations with people of influence? Are you commenting on their work? Are you encouraging them to comment on your work? I mean, social media is social. A lot of people forget that. But it’s really, really important that you’re actually playing an active role in building your own profile.

Also, focus on a few messages. Too many people start out and try to be everywhere, and they’re not. Google’s going to punish you if you’re everywhere. Make sure you’re focused on those messages. You’ve got something to say. You’re topical. You’re not afraid to communicate. You’re not afraid to engage. And that you reward other people for doing work by sharing their content, by commenting on their content, and so on. Those types of things will get you down that path to influence.

That can be measured. You can certainly measure it in a relatively easy way, on a base level, in terms of how many followers, how many connections you’re making, depending on the channel. Then you start to look at engagement, and so on, and then you’ve got third-party software tools like Tracker, that can actually measure your ability to grow influence against a subset of other people who already have established authority.

B2BNXT: What should a startup look for in a PR Agency?

JEREMY WOOLF: Firstly, develop an RFP. Develop something that actually says what you want to achieve. If you don’t do that, or you can’t do that, you’re probably not ready to get an agency. If you’re trying to get the agency to solve that problem, you’re not ready to have an agency.

Get in a room, work it out, what is your problem? What are you trying to change? Who are you trying to reach? What are the main products coming up over the quarter? Whatever it might be, but be very clear on what you’re wanting the agency to do, because they’ll need that to be successful.

Once you’ve got that, I’d look for agencies that have a track record in your space. That have experience working with companies of your size. I’d also look for agencies through references who can show that they’ve got the appropriate experience, as well. Make sure you meet the team who is actually working on the business, not just the people selling you, because agencies, in some cases, will present very well but then not deliver.

Be very clear on the deliverables that you expect. Startups, in particular, can be challenging for mid-size or larger agencies, because quite frankly, they’re often not ready for media relations, for example, but they want lots of media. The fact is, you have to earn media. You have to earn that through your reputation.

You have to earn it by the things that you do. Just because you have a product or service that you think is the greatest thing in the world, it’s up against thousands of like products. It’s important that you listen to your agency, and they do a good job of setting expectations.

I’d follow down that path. The biggest thing I would say, as well, is subject-matter expertise. Do they actually know the product, or are you going to spend the first six months teaching them? Because, quite frankly, that could be a very expensive six months.

B2BNXT: Difference between small and large agencies?

JEREMY WOOLF: I think a smaller, boutique agency is likely to give you more personalized service. They’re likely to be cheaper, to be honest, which means you’ll probably get more hours than you would from a larger agency. They may have more specialized expertise in a particular space, and so if you … Let’s say a senior person is playing a large role in your campaign, you’re likely to get both content expertise as well as the ability to run a solid program.

I think the larger, or the mid-size, agencies, you’ll get the benefit of, obviously, of having many, many more people they can potentially tap into. Frequently, they’re more expensive. The retainers will be higher. You’ll get different pockets of expertise. Let’s say there’s a crisis. You might now have a crisis team that rolls in, as opposed to the smaller shop, where generally, that would be some of the senior practitioners.

There are always going to be trade-offs. I would advise a smaller company, with a limited budget, again, to start with an agency where they like the people. They think it’s a good balance. A good mix. In time, you might find they lack the scale to help you grow. But if you’re starting out, they could be a good place. But again, be very, very clear. Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve, and that will help the agency.

B2BNXT: What’s your favorite book?

JEREMY WOOLF: My favorite business book is a book called Legacy, by James Kerr. I’m a New Zealander, and New Zealanders are very fond of the game of rugby. Rugby football. Legacy is a book that uses 15 lessons from the All Blacks, which is a very, very good, in fact, the world’s best, rugby team.

It looks at things like their longevity, their team culture. It looks at how they’ve been able to succeed year-on-year. How they’ve been able to innovate. Then it applies those to a business context. Again, for me, it hits a couple of things that I enjoy. One is, obviously, the rugby. But the second is thinking about those lessons as they apply to my own business and my own business relationships.

The biggest lesson, I would say, in that is a lesson about continually learning and adapting. Because rugby, like most sports, doesn’t stand still. You’ve got to keep bringing in new ideas, new thinking, new players, to be successful. That’s something, as my career has evolved over the years, that I’ve taken to heart.

Jeremy Woolf


Founder of Board Studios Inc, an animation production agency that helps B2B companies simplify and communicate more effectively. Specializing in B2B makes a big difference because we know what information your clients need, what works and what doesn’t. B2B communications can be very different than B2C, so if you get your video explainer from a B2C agency you may not get the results you deserve.

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