1. Corporate Strategy

4 tenets for earned media success

Carve Communications’ David Barkoe shares his approach to snag a reporter’s attention.

Everyone’s startup wants to be in Tech Crunch or in another prestigious outlet—pronto. When Carve Communications’ CEO David Barkoe hears such aspirations, he likes to offer a little context.

“Have you received $10 million? Are you being purchased for $100 million? Or are you involved in some kind of scandal?” He gives a chuckle as he describes the imagined back and forth with the attention-starved client looking to make a big media splash. “Give me one of those things and I can get you into Tech Crunch.”

However, he says there is plenty of room for smaller—perhaps more meaningful—earned media wins when you focus on what he describes as his “four tenets.”

  • Awareness
  • Authority
  • Engagement
  • Activation

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years and the only constant in PR over those 22 years is there has been no one way to measure PR,” Barkoe says. When looking to explain the value of his team’s efforts, he focuses on his four tenets as tentpoles that hold up a holistic strategy.

Awareness

This is the traditional part of earned media, Barkoe explains. “Media relations generates that awareness through the press, right?” he says. With awareness as its goal, he looks to “get coverage across the board, big media, traditional, trade media, etc.”

Authority

This is what is built by thought leadership efforts and through a targeted executive communications strategy. Examples of tactics that build authority include “bylined articles, speaking opportunities, creating content for LinkedIn,” Barkoe says.

Engagement

This is where two-way communication and community building plays a role, though Barkoe says his firm doesn’t engage in traditional social media work like community management. Instead, his work focuses on partnerships with influencers who have built-in audiences that they work with—a tactic which Barkoe calls “advocacy marketing.”

Barkoe says this tenet tries to answer: “How do we generate that engagement…whether it’s a piece of content, through an influencer on Instagram,” or through other means.

Activation

The final tenet of the overall strategy focuses on how the campaign gets the consumer to take an action.

“How are we then getting customer—whether it’s consumer or an enterprise customer—to activate…to sign up for an email newsletter, to purchase a product, to sign a lead form?” says Barkoe. This is where all the previous three tenets combine to drive an outcome—and ensures that whatever effort is being sought aligns with business goals and other consumer-facing brand messaging.

As an example, Barkoe explains how a piece of earned media coverage should be used to elevate email marketing and sales efforts. “If we get an article, that’s got to be in your email newsletter tomorrow,” he says. “You’ve got to give that to the whole sales team to pop into Salesforce or HubSpot.”

Focus on results

Barkoe makes it clear that in the current business landscape, a successful PR pro will be able to show tangible results.

“The focus in PR has always been results,” he says. However, there is a new imperative to show clear ROI on everything you do, or risk being cut as superfluous. In describing how things have changed, Barkoe explains, “there was always wiggle room for taking a lot of time to focus on strategy … and can we do other programs that don’t necessarily result in immediate tangible results?”

Yet, it’s a tenacity for measurement and going beyond metrics like impressions and “unique monthly visitors” that has been the recipe for success for Barkoe, using a proprietary measurement tool that reveals the value of a piece of media coverage.

The system looks to evaluate the quality of a piece of coverage rather than just counting the number of hits on a web page.

“We try to look at the individual value of each individual piece of coverage,” Barkoe explains, a process that is performed for every media placement. “Where is that article placed? Does that article contain any, all, some, or none of the messages we want to get across? Is it just a name of a company?”

The measurement effort also takes into account if someone was interviewed or if any assets that were provided to a reporter were used, such as a video, web link or picture.

This is how a PR pro can prove the value of niche or trade publications above a cursory mention in The Wall Street Journal.

Barkoe gives the example of a company that sells Post-It notes. “We might get mentioned for our Post-It note [product] in The Wall Street journal, but if I go to ‘Post-It Notes Weekly,’ which is only read by 5,000 people who are in the Post-It industry but it’s a 700-word feature article on why my Post-It note is better and includes a video of how we make them with an interview with our CEO and a quote from a customer, that article is inherently going to have more value for the client.”

Lessons from the pandemic

When it comes to the extraordinary events of 2020, every communicator has some takeaways. For Barkoe, one of the top lessons of the past year has been: “Listen to your team.”

“Don’t make decisions in a vacuum,” Barkoe advises. “Listen to your team on the adjustments that need to be made, and what they’re saying regarding work-life balance.”

He says that as a leader, you should listen to your team both directly “as they ask for things or complain about things or make requests” and anecdotally, “what they’re saying in meetings or during calls.”

Another lesson for leaders from 2020 is the importance of having teams work on projects rather than individuals working in isolation. It’s a facet of Carve Communications’ workplace that Barkoe is able to tout to potential new hires as they assess whether they will receive institutional support in their work or be expected to perform in a vacuum.

“No one is left on an island to work on six accounts by themselves,” Barkoe says. “In this day and age, when we are all basically living on Google Meet or Zoom—this is what allows us to be successful.” Through designing a workflow that requires collaboration and connection, Barkoe and his organization have engineered a remote culture that builds collegial relationships.

“We’re not in an office and we can’t just chat,” he says, “but if three people are working on an account, they’re almost forced to talk four or five times a day about what needs to be done.”

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