Monday, March 20, 2023

PR, Storytelling and Brand Messaging

As a member of the Twitterverse for 14 years, I always enjoy meeting new people and learning from them. However, due to the chaos resulting from Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, I joined the Twitter exodus for a short time and joined Mastodon. One of my new connections on Mastodon is Christina Ferraz from Houston, Texas, and I invited her to appear here on my Blog in a Q&A about public relations and brand messaging. Highlights of our conversation follow a brief introduction.

Christina Ferraz is a high performance, flexible communication strategist, and adjunct professor with 20 years of experience. After matriculating with honors from Temple University with a Master of Science in Communication Management and awarded scholarships to present her research at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, Christina grew her business, Thirty6five, with networks in New York City, Philadelphia, and Houston working with non-profits, small businesses, and public figures. Hispanic Public Relations Association awarded Christina with the Best Non-Profit Campaign for her work with Houston Ballet in 2022, and PRNEWS recognized Christina's work by awarding her Honorable Mention for the Pioneer Award in the CSR and Diversity Awards 2021. She has been quoted by The Washington Post, NPR, CNN, Houston Chronicle and has spoken on panels for to discuss the role of public relations in corporate social responsibility, marketing, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. She was also quoted in my post about 2022’s Brand Identity Changes – a link is provided at the end of this Q&A.

QUESTION: What three brands are handling their public relations campaigns exceptionally well during the Covid pandemic, and why?

CHRISTINA FERRAZ: TikTok is handling their public relations campaigns exceptionally well considering how US lawmakers view the platform as a security threat, because their parent company is based in China and want to ban the platform. TikTok’s popularity exploded during the Covid pandemic due to its videos depicting everyday life and replicable dance challenges. TikTok continues to grow and attract users as well as influence culture, so it will be interesting to see how they handle crises this year, and what they will do to remain dominant in social media if they are banned in the US.
I’m also impressed by Roc Nation and the NFL public relations campaigns in how they are using their strategic partnership to highlight Black artists and target Millennials. Last year, the Super Bowl Halftime Show featured Mary J, Blige, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent and Eminem. The NFL was creative with how they had artists perform away from dancers on the field to respect social distancing among the Omicron wave in January. This year, the Super Bowl Halftime Show will feature Rihanna, an artist who once said that she would never perform for the NFL. Collectively, Roc Nation and the NFL show the importance of strategic partnerships and how keeping brands relevant by tapping into their target audience’s nostalgia is a clever strategy for success.
Walgreens is also a brand that handled public relations well during the Covid pandemic. In addition to managing marketing communications for vaccinations and testing, Walgreens was simultaneously managing crisis communications for its association with Theranos. Owned and founded by Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos was a privately-held health technology corporation that falsely claimed to own technology that could run several diagnostic tests using very little blood. They formed a partnership with Walgreens for these machines to be in their stores so they could expedite testing at a cheaper cost providing more access to the public. By focusing more on the marketing communications for vaccinations and testing, Walgreens was able to minimize blowback for their participation in what has now been called fraud by the SEC.

QUESTION: Due to all the chaos resulting in Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter, we met on Mastodon. How do you envision your use of Mastodon will be different than your use of Twitter?
CHRISTINA FERRAZ: I anticipate my presence on Mastodon to be much more about connecting with like-minded individuals where we can discuss numerous topics without the threat of violence or the proliferation of disinformation. I do not foresee Mastodon becoming part of my marketing funnel for my company, Thirty6five, so I believe that Mastodon will allow me to be more observant and supportive of other creatives while sharing/boosting their thoughts to my followers. I think the biggest difference between my use of Mastodon and Twitter will be the amount of writing I will do when speaking on PR crises. Twitter did not have enough characters to write extensively about any topic without linking to another website or social platform to read more.

QUESTION: What inspired you to join the field of public relations?

CHRISTINA FERRAZ: I’m a former journalist, so I’ve always been drawn to telling stories – it’s my passion. I found that public relations allowed me to focus more on writing and provided me with a variety of experiences I wasn’t privy to working in radio and TV. I realized I enjoyed bringing attention to brands and entrepreneurs making a difference in their communities and improving the lives of others. It’s incredibly rewarding to support these leaders and help them reach their targeted audiences to get the attention they deserve. I also love managing crises. Creating crisis communication responses that both inform the public and protect brands is thrilling!

SHARE THIS: I’ve always been drawn to telling stories. ~Christina Ferraz #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: In an article for NPR, you said, "Trust with [a] brand is what's going to make [consumers] invest in the brand." With that said, how do you align public relations with brand marketing?

CHRISTINA FERRAZ: Building trust with consumers requires a consistent approach to public relations such that media placements, crisis responses, and strategic partnerships build an identity that aligns with brand marketing. What you say is just as important as what you do -- and what you say you’ll do -- and in that way, public relations and marketing need to be in lock-step in the formation of brand identity and tone when it comes to media mapping and marketing campaigns.

Additionally, corporate social responsibility has become more important in recent years, most especially with Gen Z consumers, and responding accordingly to crises lends to the importance of brand reputation. Social media allows for both the documentation of a brand’s history and instantaneous reactions that can immediately reach millions of people.

A thoughtful approach to public relations and brand marketing is important in building trust by maintaining a positive brand reputation that convinces consumers to invest in that brand.

SHARE THIS: Building trust with consumers requires a consistent approach to public relations. ~Christina Ferraz #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: According to Laura Holloway, Founder and Chief of The Storyteller Agency (@StorytellerAgcy on Twitter), “Storytelling is our obligation to the next generation. If all we are doing is marketing, we are doing a disservice, and not only to our profession, but to our children, and their children. Give something of meaning to your audience by inspiring, engaging, and educating them with story. Stop marketing. Start storytelling.” What does this quote mean to you?
CHRISTINA FERRAZ: I appreciate this quote by Laura Holloway because it is the same approach I take with public relations. The difference between marketing and storytelling lies in the way a brand values its consumers. If you only see consumers as a sale to make instead of human beings connecting to hear the difference/sameness in our stories, you will be talking AT people instead of TO people – and people hate being sold. To me, this quote means that storytelling is greater than marketing, and to be successful in communications is to ENGAGE WITH your audience instead of JUST SELLING TO your audience.

QUESTION: What are your three favorite brands, and why?

CHRISTINA FERRAZ: Here are my three:

I am a fan of Coca-Cola because of their approach to branding – from design to marketing to strategic partnerships. Coca-Cola demonstrates a level of consistency and global reach most brands will never achieve. Their brand identity revolves around family which is a universal theme by which any culture can relate.
I also support Lush Cosmetics because of its commitment to recycling, fair trade practices, advocacy, and philanthropy, refusal to test on animals, and global presence that influences them to create products reflective of the local culture in addition to their evergreen campaigns and products. I especially like their brand consistency because no matter where you are in the world you can recognize a Lush Cosmetics store with its black packaging, white script, and tongue-in-cheek marketing.
Lastly, I have a great deal of respect for Nike and its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. From groundbreaking campaigns with celebrities like Michael Jordan to creating adaptive clothing for people with disabilities, Nike is a case-study on the ways in which consumer feedback influences branding. Social listening can be incredibly helpful in helping a brand to remain relevant, and Nike demonstrates how social listening can contribute to the longevity and success of a brand.

My gratitude and appreciation to Christina for sharing her public relations and messaging insights.

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.

Quote featured on Debbie Laskey’s Blog:
“2022 Was the Year of #BrandIdentity Changes”

Article referenced in first question’s response:
“Lawmakers are trying to ban TikTok. That won’t be easy – it’s part of our culture now”

Article referenced in final question’s response:
“Nike launches hands-free shoes inspired by man with cerebral palsy”

Connect with Christina at these links:
Instagram: @theprprofessor

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